Tag Archives: memory

Tin saucepans: a brief rumination at the bus-stop

P1060172I had an old (price 95p) copy of 1984 in my bag before meeting newspeaks (or maybe duckspeaks?) ‘mumbod’ and ‘dadbod’ made me realise that it was time to enter Orwell’s distopia again, this time with brain engaged.

Why had I been carrying it about? Simply because one day it had come to hand as a slim (therefore light in weight) alternative to those copies of Saga and Hello which accompany a wait for the attentions of doctor, dentist or hair-stylist. I am one who can’t be without a book and who curses any guest who wantonly carries off my reading matter from the lavatory.

This morning at the bus stop I found that previous sittings had taken me to page 59 of the Penguin edition which, according to the book-plate at the front, came from the library of my elder daughter. (Way back that must have been since it was before she changed the spelling of her name.)

To recap: Winston works in the Ministery of Truth (‘Minitrue’) ‘rectifying’ malreports and malquotes so that they fit in with ‘the thing which had actually happened’. He hardly dares to think for fear of the Thought Police. He wonders, as he reworks events and speeches, if he is the only one who remembers the past, a past which is being rewritten out of history. He has just begun, in great secrecy to entrust his thoughts to a diary…

…..

If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles

   If there was hope, it must lie in the proles, because only there in those swarming disregarded masses… could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated. The Party could not be overthrown from within. … But the proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning. Surely sooner or later it must occur to them to do it? And yet–!

He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices – women’s voices – had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep, long ‘Oh-o-o-o-oh!’ that went humming on like the reverberation of a bell. His heart had leapt. It’s started he had thought. A riot! The proles are breaking loose at last! When he had reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market… But at this monent the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with their saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and of having more saucepans somewhere in reserve. There was a fresh outburst of yells. Two bloated women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another’s hands. For a moment they were both tugging, and then the handle came off. Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, just for a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?

He wrote:

   Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.

……

Orwell continues to elaborate on how the despised proles are managed (‘Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds’).

……

To keep them in control was not difficult. A few agents of the Thought Police moved always among them, spreading false rumours and marking down and eliminating the few individuals who were judged capable of becoming dangerous; but no attempt was made to indoctrinate them with the ideology of the Party. It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. …..

Now I am certainly not labelling the mass of my compatriots (however defined) as proles but Orwell should not be remembered only for Big Brother (aka Facebook which persists in suggesting I make a friend of people whom I have reason to believe are no friend to me or my perceived interests). Texts, Twitter and Newspeak? The Two-Minute Hate and the election orgies we have just gone through?

Just ruminating. MaybP1060173 - Version 2e things are changing? The book was published almost 70 years ago, indeed Winston, who thought he was born in 1944 or 1945, would be 70ish today. Anyway I have moved 1984 from my bag to the pile by the bed. Timely to read on from page 61. In hope.

And perhaps put Animal Farm in my good-for-your-back bag? I suspect this thought is not unconnected by the bunnies on my daughter’s book-plate.

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Walking back into the past

A friend was nagging me to up my getting-up-and-going rate to at least one hour a day so that is what I’ve been aiming at in the past week. But a purpose other than health is needed to drive me on, preferably not always with the hope of a view attached. Views, in an urban setting at least, tend to require going up hills.

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The Harrison Arch

I did that last Sunday peching my way beyond my least favourite archway (just avoided it once when the car’s clutch failed on a downward run). So, while I am grateful for his part in Edinburgh Corporation’s acquisition of Blackford Hill, I wish the friends and admirers of George Harrison (1812[perhaps 1811]-1885) once Lord Provost of Edinburgh and very very briefly elected MP for Edinburgh South, had chosen some other way to mark his works and character.

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Topical reference to the constituency at the start of my walk: the office of the Last Labour MP following the general election…

Onward and upward I was rewarded with magnificent views over the city. Blackford Hill was once a regular stomping ground. Together with a crocodile of other beret-topped small girls I was marched up and round it on most of those days when hockey or lacrosse was not forced on me. Not all these outings were carefree: my time as a boarder must have been not only the year when Blackford Pond froze sufficiently for skating but also that of rabbits blighted by myxomatosis…

DSCF1989One illicit and pleasurable memory however: the school had a flu epidemic and myself and a fellow ten-year-old convalescent were sent for a walk. I clawed my way, gymslip and  dutifully polished day-shoes, up the steep muddy bank opposite the pond as my companion wailed well below. A rare breakout by a child conditioned always to set a good example. Still joy in the memory. What on earth was the school thinking of to send us out on our own.

However that was last week. Today, inspired by a miscellany of unplanned pre-birthday treats: my very first Edinburgh tram rides (slow and grinding trip to Ingliston and back), a stroll round Greyfriars graveyard, and some ancestral monogrammed spoons, I set out grave hunting. Aim: to locate some ancestors not on my Irish father’s side but belonging to my mother’s Edinburgh and the Borders line. I knew where they lay, in the graveyard of St Cuthbert’s parish at the west end of Princes Street. Refinding the stone was not as easy as I thought however but I was pleased to find that walking there then zigzagging St John’s and St Cuthbert’s burial grounds piled up paces sufficiently  to evade a blustery May shower and bus home.

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Long neglected by the family, indeed by me. I removed bits of branches, plucked out groundsel and wondered what seeds I might strew. Crocuses would not be a good idea– too many squirrels

The stone marks the grave of my great-great grandfather, his wife and several of his sons:

1847

The Burying Ground of Robert Chishom Jeweller Edinburgh

Sacred

To the Memory of

Robert Ainslie, who died 7th Oct. 1847 aged six weeks also

Robert Peattie Chisholm who died 25th Augt 1858 aged 9 years and 10 months

Robert Chisholm, Goldsmith who died 7th June 1874 aged 75 years

Ann Wyse, widow of Robert Chisholm, who died 1st Sept 1875 aged 64 years

John Fleming Chisholm who died 15th August 1885 in his 29th year

Edwin Millidge Chisholm, MB CM who died 8th September 1885 in his 32nd year

On a side panel: In Memory of John Thomson who died 28th April 1890 aged 64. The other side panel is illegible.

Ann Wyse, born in Glasgow in 1811, was already a widow by the time she married Robert Chisholm in 1842. Her first husband, a minister in Shetland, had died a month after she had given birth to twin daughters, both of whom died as they reached their first birthday. In Shetland? I doubt it. In Edinburgh? Glasgow? The death notice in the Scotsman does not say.

There, achieved my 10,000 paces. And at last started to add words to pictures. So walking back into the past works on more than one level! More on the family to come.

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Just do it!

When it comes to doing family history I prefer the thrill of the chase.

I am not good at getting round to collating and filing bits of information, especially if they come in various formats such as computer files, photos, certificates, notes and thoughts on the backs of envelopes. Paper can be tucked into a file (if big enough) but how to integrate this with what’s on the computer? Scan all the paper and concentrate on identifying and bringing together all this electronic mass (and buy a big screen on which to view it)? Or, print out all the stuff on the computer and commandeer the sitting room floor? But even this is a way of avoiding getting down to making sense of the material and thinking about what might be missing, about the things unsaid, unrecorded.

Photo of section of a very large OS map

For the past few months I’ve been attending a writing workshop entitled ‘Blood Lines: Creative Memoir’. It’s been an experience I have approached with caution. Having poor recall of past events I am keen to hang on to what I do have and am reluctant to create false memories. Dredging our memories for matter to write about is also a trifle unsettling for all participants in that it stirs up feelings, not all, indeed it would appear very few, happy.

One of the premises of the course is that ‘each family has its fund of tales’  which further implies that these are passed on, often by grandparents, and that the recipients listen. Would this were so.

I have no memory of one grandmother who lived in another part of the country and who died when I was six. Fortunately the grandfather on that side was part of a female-dominated line who hung on to scraps of paper which enable some reconstruction of the family’s history. He was also interested in family trees. My mother, moreover, did a sterling job, collecting information and writing about her relations once she realised that not only were there years of family life and background of which her own children were ignorant but that her younger sisters were also strangers to much of it. Among the things she discovered was that one of her grandfathers had abandoned his children after the death of his wife and later died in a poorhouse. The children were rescued from threat of the orphanage by an uncle, brother of the absconding parent, who took them in. Mother had not known any of this before the researcher located death and census records; her own mother had never mentioned it. Nor were the younger sisters happy that my mother made public family information.

The other, Irish, side of my ancestry, is The Challenge. My father’s knowledge of his ancestors seemed to stop

Helpful Blackrock taxi driver tries but fails to find an ancestral site via a snip of a 19th century OS map

with his grandparents, and of them he chiefly recounted that his grandfather, Zeno Sloan, had introduced the tonic sol-fa into Ireland and that his grandmother ran a school and continued to do so with the assistance of her daughters until retirement age. Father and all his brothers bar one moved away from Ireland, seas and oceans then separating us grandchildren from grandparents who might have told us that fund of tales. Our visits were brief and not occasions for bonding or story-telling. I have spent the last couple of years trying to track down members of the family to see if I could get further back but even our combined memories and delvings into archives have not got very far, or gone very far… Photos and emails on the computer. Letters and photocopies in a file. Maps? Clippings? Must make a start on bringing some of it together.

This is not a new thought.Once of the reasons I signed up to the Creative Blood Lines course was to force myself to write regularly. Write what? Well anything, at least anything readable.  Same reason I started these blogs and it is evident from how few I have published that solo creation is not one of my strengths.

Also in the pursuit of, or let’s face it as a diversion from, my first novel I have put in time reading lists of tips provided by various authors. This was not the result of googling ‘top tips’. I do google the names of authors whose work I enjoy. Sneaking up on Rose Tremain online produced the first of these lists.

I have also been reading my way through Muriel Spark, first her short stories and then the novels, most recently The Abbess of Crewe, in the hope that some of her vivid style will rub off on me. And because her books are a joy to read as she is a brilliantly inventive writer with a lashing acerbic wit.

One of these lists produced from Muriel Spark the following advice:

“For concentration you need a cat…And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give you back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence is enough.” 

I have made a start on improving my concentration. He looks like this (but if he steps across in front of me, where his eyes are pointing, he becomes a writer’s block):

The Aide-Memoire waiting for food

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