Home again, home again, joggety jog.

alfred

It has been a busy month or so…off to England for mother’s one hundredth birthday, to Spain to check on the house, back to England and then finally, blissfully, home, to meet the latest dog to arrive on the doorstep, a little mite named Scruff.

Although my mother’s friends were organising a party for her, on the day itself she had another appointment…one with her friends of seventy five years ago….those she met following the outbreak of World War II.

The dead.

She was still marching past the Cenotaph in her early nineties, so she knew – through the grapevine – what had become of her friends in the ATS…..but after her basic training she had first served in Winchester, alongside the Royal Greenjackets and the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and so many of the men she had known (though not in the biblical sense) had perished with no further word reaching her….

Apart from the Light Bobs, she and her friends had met a young American army engineer, a history buff, while waiting for the opening of the church that had once been the chapel royal of William the Conqueror’s palace in Winchester and had signed the visitors’ book together. He had run tame in their families’ houses, a boy far from home….but he disappeared shortly after D Day.

st-lawrernce

She has his letters to this day…a young man whose frankness and charm seduced all the watchful mothers, some of whom had sons serving far away from home too…

We had booked an hotel in the centre of the city..the Royal Winchester Hotel…which mother remembered from her time there in the war: nothing could have been better. Super staff, a specially adapted room, and a peaceful garden in the heart of the town.

hotel

Somewhat better than her original billet with a maiden lady on Oliver Cromwell’s Battery whose gentility disguised an ability to use mother’s rations to feed the two of them which would not have disgraced a modern banker.

Mother and I have not been the best of friends: our prejudices do not coincide, our interests differ. As an adult I might understand her frustrations but as a child I resented her attacks on my confidence, the undermining: the armour I erected against her – and the world – only crumbling when I found unconditional love.

But she is my mother. Rancour cannot reign. So I was ready to accompany her on her pilgrimage and to respect it.

As always, humour assisted.

On a boiling hot day our train was delayed….station announcements advised passengers to carry bottles of water while traveling and not to pull the emergency cord between stations…

Mother sniffed.

She remembered traveling north from King’s Cross in London on a wartime train so packed with passengers that each supported the other…the only drink on offer came at York when jam jars of tea without milk and sweetened with golden syrup were circulated – the men offering them to the women first – a train which, when the platform gates were opened, under bombardment, people desperate to leave London had run for the train, trampling over  those overtaken in the rush…she remembered the feel of bodies beneath her feet, impelled by those behind, petrified of falling in her turn.

However, our train was a delight….staff to install mother and staff to meet her at Winchester to take her to the taxi rank, thence  to the hotel.

She started her pilgrimage that afternoon…up the hill to the remains of the castle housing the Round Table. She remembered the hall being chock a block with stored furniture so it came as a great delight to see the Table clearly…with, of course Henry VIII enthroned within.

round-table

Going downhill again I was surprised that, despite the modern shopfronts, she recognised so many buildings: the tea shop that she and her friends frequented…the butcher…the shop selling honey…the Buttercross….

buttercross

The next day, that of her birthday, we started in earnest.

First to the church of St. Lawrence where the friends had signed the visitors’ book…behind the Buttercross. A tiny church, once part of the Norman palace and still the mother church of Winchester.

A fire in the 1970s had altered the church beyond mother’s recognition, but we were fortunate enough to meet one of the curates who could show mother photographs of the church as it was when she knew it and, more importantly, could draw mother out as to her experiences in the period.

A super lady.

On to the cathedral…

winchester-cathedral

I had to park mother outside while I went to enquire of the staff how best to assist her.

In that time two ladies asked her if she had been abandoned…makes you wonder just what goes on in Winchester…

Once my enquiries had been sorted, the head verger took charge : he opened the cases containing the rolls of honour of the two regiments and searched for the names she gave him.

He also put a fresh paper into the handicapped loo for mother…from the sublime to the cor blimey…with the same panache and care.

A super chap.

To our surprise, as we were about to leave the cathedral  red robed vergers on duty sang ‘Happy Birthday’….which reduced mother to tears of happiness.

No wonder she loves Winchester.

On to the Greenjackets’ museum up the hill in what had been the Peninsular Barracks…now private flats.

Mother remembered returning there after church parade in the cathedral: there were various army contingents present, but the light infantry had to wait until the others were almost at the barracks before they could set out as their marching pace, one hundred and forty to the minute, would have had them overtaking the rest in moments and causing an unseemly traffic jam.

She remembered the lung draining haul up the last stretch of the hill and the bugles  of the band  blowing fit to bust from their stance on the parade ground to accompany the troops.

greenjackets-museum

At the museum the big white chief – a brigadier general – came out to greet her and I was privileged to observe one of mother’s master classes in obfuscation.

He obviously thought he was dealing with a  little old lady…and she took agin him from the start…

I have always been of the view that aspiring barristers should be given the chance of an examination in chief of my mother. Getting blood from a stone would be childs’ play in comparison.

He made the mistake of asking the question exact…what did she do?

She replied that no one was ready for the girls, like her, who were volunteers.

But what did she do in Winchester?

No shoes…no uniforms..had  to dye our own blouses…

But what did you do?

Ah…now you’re asking.

Well..he had.

They didn’t know what to do with us…but they thought the invasion was coming so they sent us down to the New Forest to stop the German tanks.

So you weren’t in Winchester very long?

Oh, yes,  once they’d shown us how to blow up tanks…we came back.

And what did you do there, then?

Served.

He retired in the  face of superior force.

As I pushed mother’s wheelchair down to the hotel – via a super caff outside the museum which had the best pork pies I have ever eaten – she commented that the sort of chap exemplified by the brigadier general was what had ruined Britain…complacent, conventional…but holding power.

These were the people that she had voted against  in the post war election which saw Churchill out and Attlee in….but here they were again.

Needless to say mother had voted Leave in the referendum on  Europe…

We recovered in the hotel garden, a green oasis in the midst of the city and  at dinner mother was greeted by a group of the staff bearing a birthday cake….now that moved her: young people who did not know her had gone  to the length of making her a cake for her birthday.

It was as if she had not realised that her age brought with it any recognition.

But it was clear that the visit had brought to mind all the friends that she had lost…not being next of kin she had had no notification…just the names in the illuminated manuscripts seventy five years down the line…

And yes, on her return her friends had arranged a super party and had had the forethought to book the hairdresser for her to avoid her complaining that she could not go because her hair was untidy. They know her well.

Advertisements

54 thoughts on “Home again, home again, joggety jog.”

  1. That’s a beautiful post in many ways Helen. And very many congrats to your mother. As there are no more telegrammes how did her younger compatriot Liz congratulate her on her centenary?

    I think that is a fantastic way to celebrate such a birthday that most of us won’t even reach. Well, not in my family.

    I remember reading a tat book about wrafs but what they had to do was amazing. No uniforms, no decent accomodation, no nothing really, not even wanted, until, then, they were.

    Leave huh? Us old people have ruined the UK. Doesn’t matter whether we are 50,60 or 100. Still our fault for ruining the future. Trouble is, we see what has happened.

    1. These days the telegramme has morphed into a card with a photo of the monarch…very posh, with gold tassels…much admired by all.
      She also received a card from the current minister for Work and Pensions which did not receive quite the same acclaim…

      Mother said that when she volunteered nothing had been prepared…it was chaos for months before there was any idea of what to do with them…
      She enjoyed the blowing up tanks course though…

      I would have voted Leave too….rotten old spoilsport that I am.

        1. I didn’t look to see if there was anything on the back of the card….but if he had so done I reckon that she would have had a good try at throwing a Molotov cocktail in his general direction.

      1. I am old enough to have enjoyed telegrammes for my wedding in Sydney. Wonderful things. Still have loads of my mum and dads for their wedding. Think I chucked mine!
        Ah. Yes. A greeting from the minister for drop dead or die in the workhouse?
        That was actually the message in the slush novel that was quite interesting. Can’t remember the author, but I enjoyed reading about what was actually involved.
        Bit of sloppy romance but the actuality was good. One went on to do roughy toughy aircraft stuff although no blowing up of tanks. I can imagine that 😈
        Leave? Let’s have a referendum and thwart it by all means we can. Delay. Denigrate. Racists. Ignorant ill-educated self-interested people. Etc. Oh, working class, unemployed, worthless scum of the earth. Forgot that one.

        1. Telegrammes usually meant my father’s mother thought she was dying again, so they were not too popular….in the end he used to ring up her doctor to check before getting the train to Scotland.

          Mother had a varied career…featuring a haunted castle, doodlebugs chasing her down the road, being shot at by a returning German pilot, making radios for the Dutch and French resistance and keeping well clear of trainee tank drivers who couldn’t judge the width of their vehicles…

          Best days of her life.

          L>eave? Scum of the earth who refuse to drink EU wine…

          1. Or can’t speak French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish (well I can still count in all those and order food and drink). Or don’t wish to holiday in Normandy, Brittany, Provence, Tuscany, Andalucía. Hell! My holiday home!
            In my health service life, the best days were the adversity under Thatcher. Everything was tame afterwards. Hardly compares with your mother’s life but trundling along isn’t quite the same.

          2. Yes, Thatcher enlivened my working life too…
            The vilification of people who just did not want to do as they were told by their masters and their hangers on astounds me…though I suppose it shouldn’t.

  2. What a tremendous post and you have an amazing mother. I had to laugh as she certainly has a mind of her own and being 100 gives her the right more than ever. Bet she was great at blowing up tanks LOL. Thanks for sharing her story with us. Diane

  3. You poor lass, striving for others all over the world and going home to find another waif in your seat!
    I could look up names for you if you passed them on, I would see if the Yank could be traced also.
    The cathedral has been very good to your mum, and all those places she remembers that have not changed much, super. I hope she has written down all her memories so you can publish them one day…

    1. How did you know that the waif had taken my favourite chair! I suppose it was inevitable, though…

      She traced all the names she wanted from her Winchester days…I know that the American was called Alexander Grant and I could see if she remembered his regiment…many thanks!

      People were absolutely super….nothing too much trouble – down to changing the loo roll!

      Mother’s memoirs would be quite something…pre war, wartime and post: she remembers post war helping out at a mother and baby clinic where one baby was brought in wrapped up in sheets of brown paper to preserve the goose grease with which he had been slathered ‘for the winter’…

      1. Just had a quick look and it is harder than I thought. I have however found possible enlistment details for 17 of that name. It’s a start.
        Too ate to do more, any other info would help.

  4. Whimsy, raw courage, practicality and a good salting of humour. Seems to me that’s the basic recipe that gets us through just about any trauma.
    Your mother and the many like her are made of The Right Stuff.

  5. Even as children they seemed so removed from us, superior, distant. I, too, discovered the unconditional love, later. My mother was born in 1918 and worked alongside her father and another skilled tradesman, producing time recording machines for the US Army. I still have the bill of sale for the fine metal lathe the Army purchased for him to use. But my mother was more meek; I hear my grandmother in your mother. My grandmother could “out general,” as you said, any man she encountered. Then, she was the one who lived to be one hundred. A glass to the greatest generation.

  6. I’m still trying to decide who was running whom into the ground. The pair of you must have been exhausted given that itinerary. But oh what a story! Such a great way to spend so auspicious a birthday. And yes, blowing up tanks is always a good skill to post on one’s CV.

    1. If I tell you that Winchester has a steep hill and that I was pushing the chair then you can make an informed guess….
      I did fail to take her out to St. Cross Priory where the dole of beer and cheese was available – some twenty minutes on a boiling hot day – but she graciously told me that I could do that next year…must have been in a good mood…

  7. By the way… growing up I always heard the expression “Home again, home again, riggedy jig. Praise the Lord and thank the driver.” It was a standard comment by my Grandmother anytime we returned from a trip involving any kind of vehicle. This “joggedy jog” stuff is new to me.

    1. It comes from a nursery rhyme….
      To market, to market, to buy a fat hog
      Home again, home again, joggety jog.

      There are endless versions, but that is the one i remember and it certainly did feel like a jog home….
      Heathrow Terminal 4 is bad enough, but Aeromexico’s plane was leaving from sort of annexe down a long corridor and fitted out like a bus driver’s restroom from the sixties.
      Still, the ‘plane was empty so I had three seats to myself, Mexico City is a super place to change planes – well, in Terminal 2 anyway – so there was only the flight down to San Jose to be endured in proper sardine class conditions.
      And they did not lose my luggage.

  8. A lovely piece. Your mum’s pilgrimage was a lovely and appropriate celebration of a centenary. I too, have had a less than easy relationship with my mother over the years … But as she ages (a whipper snapper of 84) I find myself less harsh and it is interesting reading an account through the eyes of one who clearly experiences some of the same. I suppose it is me who relaxed in the end and decided to just let it be whatever it might be … I’m glad for you and for your mother that you have achieved that so splendidly. Long may YOU ride!

    1. We have a form of armed neutrality….but it seems to work.
      It was an emotional journey for her, but one she wanted to make and a journey eased by the kindness and consideration of those she met.

      1. Armed neutrality is a good way of expressing it. I will steal it privately. And by the way, I can’t wait to hear more about the new canine kid on the block. I’m sure there will be tales of tails to tell aplenty

        1. Scruff is a delightful little thing, still a puppy: she has gained confidence, loves to play – and to eat – and the three small dogs run about together very happily. The two big boys are alarmed when she darts at them ready to play and run off, but are quite happy to let her cuddle up when she is peaceful.
          Needless to say she follows Leo everywhere……

          1. This makes me very happy! My daughters tell everyone that it is best mum isn’t settled in her forever home yet and is somewhat nomadic because when that day comes it will be akin to Mr and Mrs Darling in 101 Dalmations … Basically a dog colony! That said, I have recently discovered that there is a big problem with abandoned whippets in this area of Massachusetts and it has set my grey cells a-whirring! I’m delighted that Scruff is thriving in her new home and wish you all, dogs and humans alike much joy!

  9. Happy Birthday to your mother, and congratulations on having reached 100! I’m glad she got to go on her pilgrimage, I’m sure it meant so much to her even if she wouldn’t admit it. She sounds a force to be reckoned with and I pity the poor general who crossed verbal swords with her!

    Sounds like quite a trip you made there! Must be a relief to be home even if you can’t sit in your own favourite chair any more…

    1. Originally she had planned both her trip to Winchester AND a trip to Spain with her friends, so thank goodness I was spared the latter. The mere idea of running round council offices as well as seeing to the needs of the Naughty Nineties would have finished me off….

      As it was I was glad to be home…looking for another chair…

  10. So you may have had your differences, may still be opposites in many ways but, to judge by this post, you have a great affection for the old body. Amazing that somebody of her age can still put the fear of God into others.

    Carting her around would have finished me off.

    I can well understand that you are happy to be back home. Cuddling Leo and the new dog.

    1. She can be a battleaxe when things don’t suit her…age has certainly not withered her in that respect!
      The relationship is easier in that we live far apart and have our own worlds.
      She can walk, but we used the wheelchair so as not to tire her unduly….but that hill!
      Always good to be home with Leo and the menagerie even if I found new building works in messy progress.

  11. What a delightful post. So many different experiences wrapped up – 100th birthday, reminiscences of friends long gone, time with a mother who had, at minimum, a very interesting life, the opportunity to enjoy historic sites together and so much more. I’m glad you were able to enjoy the occasion with your mom, and to let us in on it.

      1. It’s got to be difficult in a lot of respects to get to that age, when so many friends and family members have died. I had a great aunt who died last month just four days short of her 105th birthday. She had been the validictorian of her high school class, which graduated in 1929. Obviously, no one she went to school with was around any more, her siblings had all died and anyone she’d met before the age of at least 30 were gone. She lived a very active life, but I’m not sure I want to be the last one standing when it’s all said and done.

        1. She has lost all her wartime friends…and several of a later vintage.
          She has, though, a number of friends in their eighties and nineties and a surprising number of young friends, male and female, who make her part of their families.
          I lost count of how many BBQs she was invited to share after her birthday bash.
          One of her friends’ sons is a jockey and invites her up to watch the horses in training from time to time…the trainer treats her like a queen.

  12. I think your mom and mine were cut from the same cloth. 🙂

    It was wonderful that you were able to be with her as she celebrated her 100th birthday, and what an experience to see those places through her wartime eyes. It can be a challenge trying to please people who aren’t easily pleased, but it sounds like you did a terrific job of it. And I must say it sounds much better than Las Vegas, which is where my mom picked to celebrate her 80th birthday

    1. A mind boggling thought, letting mother loose in Las Vegas!

      Mark you, she would never get past the airport on arrival from England….one attempt to take her fingerprints and have her look into a camera would have her erupting into her well known ‘I didn’t fight Hitler to have jacks in office telling me what to do…’ which would no doubt end in an orange jumpsuit and Guantanamo Bay…

  13. Your mum is quite a character isn’t she? I think you did exceptionally well with all this organisation for her special birthday, and it seems there were some lovely helpful and kind people along the way too. Congrats to your Mum and well done you xxx

  14. I loved the details of what she remembers. The one that will stick with me is feeling the bodies beneath her feet. I think I must have done something like that in my life because it brought that very queasy feeling back to me. It is always interesting to go round somewhere with a very old person, it’s as if they’re drawing another picture over the mundane place of today. To me Winchester always seems smug and complacent, but it sprung to far more vivid life in your piece.

    1. I did see a number of what I mentally categorise as composite middle class women about…the same expression of detachment, small range of hair styles, similar garments….and some distinctly fartarse food stands in the pedestrianised area.

      However, mother met with much kindness and help there….

      I was surprised by how much she remembered of the city…despite all the changes in the facades…and that she could still find her way around without a hitch.
      We stood in a street now housing the Hampshire Constabulary where she said that she was going off duty late one night when all the bells started ringing…the signal that the invasion had started – and simultaneously, in the street below, came the sound of marching men. She was about to turn for the barracks when the cursing from below indicated that the force involved was friendly but she said that she can still remember the horror of the moment.

  15. It sounds as if she had a wonderful day, with many people putting themselves out to make it a perfect visit. My own mother, now 94, is no longer up to making such visits, but she remembers her wartime days in the WRENS very well.

  16. I’m so glad I’ve managed to catch up with this splendid post at last. Despite your differences, you gave your mother a wonderful birthday treat and she obviously appreciated it very much. I would have given a lot to be a fly on the wall during her conversation with the brigadier-general. 🙂

    I’ve always loved listening to older people talking about their experiences of the world as it was before I was even born. Sadly my mother-in-law’s failing memory means that we don’t have many of these opportunities now and my own mother, who would also have celebrated her 100th birthday this year, died many years ago at the early age of 66. Odd to think I’m now older than she ever was.

    1. So sad that your mother died so young: it seems now like no age at all.
      She can describe things vividly:it was quite uncanny, standing in a street lined with modern buildings while she explained how it was there that she heard the church bells late at night, and the sound of a body of men marching along the street below, and thought that the invasion had started…
      Poor Brigadier General…it was like attacking a Tiger tank with a cigarette lighter…he didn’t stand a chance!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s