It’s about a year now since I finished creating Listening to our Grandmothers. After that came the long process of finalising the proofs and preparing the book for publication with the beautiful image by Liz Kalloch on the front.
Since then I have spoken about the wisdom I gleamed from older women’s stories at TedX Covent Garden and almost 1000 people have ordered or downloaded the book.
Recently it occurred to me that the stories of elder men also held some fascination. That I see young men lacking role models of healthy and positive manhood and I began to wonder what valuable wisdom elder men might have to share.
And since it is Father’s Day today I am sharing a short excerpt from my interview with him here.
My invitation to you is that this Father’s Day, or sometime soon, you make the time to listen to the important older men in your life, your father, grandfather or someone else who is important to you and find out more about their stories.
I am not sure what form this new project, which has the working title of ‘Listening to our Grandfathers’ (!) will take yet; but if you or anyone you know is a man in their 60s or older and is interested in getting involved and being interviewed then do get in touch with me and we can explore what’s next.
In this excerpt from the interview with my Dad, Dudley, he talks about his parents and the impact of recent war on his own childhood. Interestingly enough I interviewed Debbie Warrener this morning for the StoryPower course that I am currently running; we spoke about our collective stories and the impact that events such as the two world wars of the first half of the twentieth century had on the collective stories of whole generations of people so pondering this feels like a bit of a theme for me this week.
‘I was born on the 15th Sept 1946 in a Council House on Sweet Briar Grove in Edmonton. It was the house that my Grandparents, my Father’s parents were given after their previous one was bombed during the first air-raid on London in 1940. In 1949, when I was 3, my parents moved, taking my Grandfather with them, to a house they bought in Bush Hill Park with my mother’s inheritance from the late Sir Samuel McCaughey who was a relation and originally from the same part of Northern Ireland as my Grandfather. Sir Samuel made his money in farming in Australia and left almost £2m (a lot of money at the time) to his relatives, a number of charities and the University of Sydney.
In about 1955 my father was made redundant and so when I was 9 we moved to live with my aunt in Benfleet where my Mother’s family had lived before the war. When my father got a new job they bought a house in Benfleet which I know cost them £2,400 which seemed like an awful lot of money then! They lived in that house until my mother died.
My mother’s father was killed on the Somme in March 1917 when she was just 8. Her birth certificate called her Marjorie but she was always known as Margot. After her father died her mother re-married though I always had the impression that she never got on very well with her step Father. He died too in the 1930s so by the time she was in her mid 30s she had lost both her father and her step father. She was the second of five children. Her step father was an accountant I think and her father had been a teacher. Anyway they were both middle class professionals and my mother was used to having a maid. I remember as a small child meeting the last maid she’d had at home!
She was a short hand typist and had been a nurse during the war. In my judgment (and I don’t think that either she or my father would have disagreed) Mum was a bright girl denied an education by the culture of the time. Middle class girls didn’t need an education because they weren’t going to go out to work. And although two of her brothers went to university I don’t think it crossed anyone’s mind back then that Mum should have gone too. Her older brother (who was known as Simon) and her next younger brother Dudley (after whom I am named) both went to Cambridge and both read Maths. Mum wasn’t offered the chance to go to university but what she did do was that she designed houses for fun. She once won a competition in a magazine during the war, 1944, I think. It was to design a post-war house and I remember that it had a maid’s room which in the end wasn’t really going to be needed after the war; but she didn’t know that then! I have the impression that they just didn’t know then how much the world was going to change.
My Dad, Edward though always known as Ted, had working class roots. His father was illegitimate; the son of a parlour maid called Mary Ann. I think he came into London from Norfolk when he was old enough to work; but he also went off to fight in the Boer War and went back into the army at the beginning of the first world war and was invalided out from Mans. He had had rickets as a child and so he was very short. He had worked as a painter decorator and was married in London to Elizabeth Hollywood who was my Grandmother and was originally from Northern Ireland. My father was the first in his family to go to Grammar School, the Latimer School in Edmonton though he left at 16 without his school certificate which he said was because he failed Spanish! He worked all his adult life as an accounts clerk. He worked for the Gas Light and Coke Company before the war and then as you know registered as a conscienscious objector when war began. He was then required to work as a porter first at the Charing Cross Hospital and then on a hospital train which is where he met my Mother who was a nurse on the train, during the war.
If you are interested in Ted and Margot’s story you can also listen to this recording of me reading a short story, Make Love Not War which is based on Margot’s war time diaries, at a recent Story Party event.