Needing something to get me back into blogging mode again, I thought I'd try doing a throwback Thursday, one of those alliterative tags people sometimes use as prompts, based on some article from bygone times. So I rummaged in the box of old photos and other sentimentalia and came up with this one, which I've always found quite interesting, and I'll set myself an hour after dinner to write something about it.
These are my maternal grandparents, Ellen and David Cutmore, with Dorren the dog. Unusually the photo has a date on it, 1950, perhaps in my mother's hand. Granny was the only grandparent I knew and can remember. Granddad died when I was a baby, I think, but we never met because my mother and her mother were in a period of estrangement at the time, sometimes known in the family as the Nine Years War. I've a vague idea what it was about, but it's not important. My father and my eldest brother, who were among the Blessed Peacemakers but not pushy about it, kept lines of communication open, so my birth and Granddad's death did not go unreported. Mostly the place of this episode in my awareness is as part of a body of evidence of the Cutmores' aptitude to fall out and have long feuds, silences and estrangements. This fact is a sad one of course, but it also reassures me somewhat, in a carrion comfort sort of way, that my own shortcomings as a daughter were perhaps neither peculiar to me nor entirely one-sided.
Something that strikes me is how old Granny looks here; she would have been only just over sixty, less than ten years older than I am now, much younger than many of my friends and family with whom I feel no difference of style or outlook. She died twenty years later at just over eighty, but here she looks exactly as I remember her at the end of her life. Her look was always archetypal Old Lady, as you see her here - Lyle stockings, little hard shoes with buttons on, high-neck blouses, felted wool coats and jackets, hats of the kind I used to love to try on in British Home Stores. But I suppose it was a kind of echo of the style of her youth, before and around the First World War. I wonder if, in the eyes of children and young people, I am heading towards, or even trapped in, some similar atrophied recreation of how I dressed and styled myself when I was young? Probably. Yet one still occasionally sees old ladies who dress like Granny did, so they must adopt it as their age advances.
Yet Grandad is in a timeless, casual open-neck shirt; it looks quite a warm day, a picnic perhaps.
They both came originally from East Anglia, from Norwich. Granddad's parents were bakers, they were well regarded small business folk, fair haired, solid. He was a racing cyclist, a very popular figure. Granny said, with a mixture of pride and jealousy, I think, that there were times when the whole stand of spectators around the race track resounded with the chant of 'Davey, Davey, Davey!'; there were cabinets full of silverware and other treasures he had won, some of which we still have. He earned the local fame of being the first cyclist to cycle up Gasworks Hill in Norwich without stopping, still no mean feat. Later he sold bicycles. He was a gregarious man, a man's man, clubbable: cycling clubs, angling clubs, the Freemasons, often a source of worry, bitterness, jealousy for Gran. My mum was, frankly, quite hard in her judgements, yet she rarely spoke harshly about her father, though she didn't idolise him either, and had her reasons to feel bitter and short changed too. On rare occasions when, as an adult, she was able to spend relaxed time alone with him, he was, she said, good company. For a man of his time and class, there was much of the bon vivant about him; outgoing, fond of company, enjoying the finding, catching, preparing and eating of fish and seafood: salmon fishing in Scotland, deep sea fishing off Brighton, prospecting for cockles in bare feet, my eldest sister a toddler on his shoulders, on some sandy stretch off the east coast. In a compliment to my fondness for unusual food and foraging, my mum once said he and I would have got on well. Though when I rather sentimentally expressed a wish to have known him, my sister looked a bit doubtful; he was, she said, rather grumpy and not very friendly towards his grandchildren, accusing them of peeing in inappropriate places when it was really the dog. In the photo he does look somewhat dour, with a set of the mouth that bespeaks perennial impatience, disappointment even, but then you can't always tell from photos.
Granny's background was perhaps rather less happy. She was born out of wedlock, though her parents married shortly after. Mum said she remembered her weeping when the law was changed, some time in the 1920s, to legitimise children whose parents married after their birth. Her father often resented her as being responsible for trapping him into a marriage he didn't wish for. Cruel, that. At these times her called her Rachel as an insult, because she looked quite Jewish. But when he lied about his age and enlisted to fight - and die - in the War, he visited her before he left. My mum was a baby, and he emptied his pocket of change and put it in her hand, which with a baby's reflex, curled round it. 'She'll be all right,' he said.
Ellen was quite a beautiful woman in her youth and liked to dress up; she looked not unlike my sister Alison. Somewhere I may have a photo of her in her heyday, if so I'll post it another time.
The Jewish strain came from Dutch immigrants to East Anglia some time in the 19th century, no one was quite sure when. It was clear to see in my uncle Jack, the youngest of my mother's generation, who was presumably the one taking the photo. He was able to procure good meals from Kosher eateries in times of rationing with no questions asked. I was watching Danny Finkelstein on telly today and thinking how much like Jack he is. The Viking traders and Saxon yeomen of my father's and grandfather's genes had altogether subsumed it, however, by the time of my generation.
Dorren (I assume it was spelled that way, it rhymed with sporren) was a cairn terrier of lively temper but quite good repute. He starred in a photograph taken by uncle Jack which won a prize, called 'A Game of Patience', in which Granddad was playing the card game (solitaire, I think in American English) and Dorren is waiting at the end of the table with his lead in his mouth.
These stories are as I remember hearing them. They may not be the true ones.