Tuesday 29 December 2009

Going home

 Snowy Tree

The River Gaunless

Bishop's Park

P1050244A snowy walk in the Bishop’s Park

  Auckland CastleA dozen years ago we were married in this chapel. Catching a glimpse of it in the winter sunshine always makes me smile.

So eventually we got here, the car packed with cat and dog and niece who needed a lift, gifts and galoshes, thermoses of coffee and orange-scented hot chocolate, sharp knives and soft blankets, bottles of port and jars of mincemeat, driving north through the snow and sleet with heating and Christmas carols on full blast.

We took a detour on our 300 mile journey to collect our Essex bird, that most important of Christmas guests. In the pre-Christmas frenzy to meet work deadlines, the one deadline I missed was the last mail order date for the turkey from Kelly Bronze. Years ago, I did a telephone interview with Paul Kelly for a magazine. After 20 minutes, I knew more about turkeys than I did about some members of my family. He was the perfect interviewee – passionate, informed, funny – and writing up the piece was a doddle. The next day, the picture editor rang. She asked, ‘Paul Kelly, did you interview him in person or over the phone?’ Oh God, I thought, the pictures have come in, he looks like Essex’s own Gollum and they won’t run the piece. ‘Erm, no, it was over the phone.’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I’m looking at the pictures now and I’m telling you, he’s the George Clooney of turkeys’.

The turkey collected from TGCOT has been devoured by a happy crowd, leftovers turned into pasta sauce and the bones into stock. Mountains of wrapping paper, so carefully and fleetingly folded around books and sweaters and bottles of scent, have been concertina’d into the recycling bin. The Christmas cake is down to its last, ragged slices.

I wanted a picture of my grandmother in her nurse’s uniform. This afternoon, mum and I hauled out boxes of old photographs and sat by the study fire going through them. A picture of my great grandfather, darkly handsome with his waxed moustache, stout great aunts in their Sunday best, my grandfather, smiling, in tennis whites, my parents looking impossibly young cutting their wedding cake, my mother in her fur-collared leather coat with me, a symphony to the 70s in a brightly coloured kilt and horizontal striped jumper, my brother with his first, miraculous, salmon, longer than his own arm. Time passing in the length of a hem, the curl of a fringe, the narrowing of a collar. Decades apart, a familiar curve of a brow or tilt of a nose, the same strong hands.

Family Photos

Sometimes, it’s the unpresents that are the best. My mother is more likely to cook up a good story than she is a cake. She cleared out a whole cupboard of glass cake plates, jugs and butter dishes and gave them to me in a big, glittering pile. Years ago, with two young children to care for, an old house to furnish and little money, my parents used to frequent the local auction house, where a book case might come complete with the previous owner’s Penguin classics, a sofa as a job lot with a box of china. These plates and jugs have graced tea tables not our own and have been hidden away for 30 years. I’m looking forward to giving them a brand new life in the big city.

Glass set for London

I hope you shared some old stories this Christmas, and made some new ones too. My great grandfather sent my great grandmother hundreds of postcards from France during the First World War. He always signed off in the same way. ‘I hope this finds you as it leaves me, in the pink.’ And I do. And I am.


  1. Beautiful stories. Thank you for sharing them with us. And as your Great Grandfather would say, I hope this finds you as it leaves me, in the pink. (I just love that!)

  2. Dearest D

    Great to have you home. I relish your telling a bit of our mutual story here - also the wonderful image of my glassware, which shines like Christmas. The flourish of food, cooking and olfactory delights has been a fingerprint of your presence here. (Sorry about the lack of wooden spoons...)
    I love your collage. I was moved to tears as we went through the photos. I now have the photo of your Grandma in uniform on my blog. Today is her birthday...
    Amongst many other things you are inspirational.
    Much love, M,

  3. Thank you so much for visiting, Danisse. It's a charming salutation, don't you think? Sadly, he was killed in the last days of the war, leaving her alone with half a dozen children to care for. But that's another story for another day.
    Joy, thanks, so pleased you enjoyed it.
    Mummy - So lovely to spend time with you, wooden spoons or no (guess what you're getting next Christmas...). Your post about grandma made me cry - that big, red, splotchy crying with no dignity about it at all. Much love, Dxxx

  4. Happy New Year Debora!! - loved the post, loved the photos too! The Bishop's Park is just so beautiful in snow and I envy you having married in the chapel there - I envy you too your afternoon by the fire going through the family photos - what an amazing collage. Reading your post made me realise I need to unearth the old photos from home and preserve them before they are lost. A woman's job I feel - keeper of the memories and stories. Ax

  5. Welcome back - best post yet!

    XOXO Marty

  6. Avril - And a happy new year to you too! We had a wonderful break and I'm (almost) ready to go back to work now. I hope all's well with you - I hear your conservatory is marvellous.
    Marty - Hello darling, happy new year and thank you for your lovely comment. Lots of love to you and yours. Dxx

  7. i love the pictures and i love the post...
    amazing collage, i just love old photographs, very touching indeed!

  8. That made me smile... and brought a nostalgic tear to my eye. I have had to leave my village outside of Durham to live and work in the East Midlands but we go home at every opportunity. We, too, have a suitcase filled with embroidered cards my Grandfather sent home to his fiancee, my Granny, from the First World War.. such devotion and love. Thank you for sharing that.

  9. Hello Wendy, What a lovely message. It's always wonderful to go home isn't it? I think the landscapes of our childhoods exert a strong pull on us all of our lives. Those cards are so touching, how lucky you are to have so many of them.


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