Rummaging in Research

Sat in the garden, coffee to hand, laptop open, snatches of sun sneaking through gaps in the clouds, and I can hear that familiar sound of summer: someone cutting their lawn. Ah! And here comes cake. This is a lazy, go-slow sort of holiday – just what we needed. This morning we collected daughter no. 1 from a single carriage train that dropped her off on a teeny-tiny archaic Victorian platform. It reminded me of my University days and my father collecting me from a request stop on the Tarka line. She’s been working and has come to join us for a few days. Now she sits playing Connect Four with daughter no. 2, coffee and cake beside her, while an ancient rusty tractor trundles past. Though there isn’t a lot to do around here, I am told we are booked to visit an observatory tomorrow to have a look at their big telescope. We will walk again this afternoon.

My husband plans to walk a long-distance path (135 miles) starting on Saturday. He has more time off than me and has chosen to spend it exploring the ups and downs of country lanes, fields and forest on foot. He will be crossing stunning countryside. No consideration forgotten as he plans the expedition, but I am feeling a little exhausted from listening to all the preparation talk; his need for this and need for that. It would seem that the preparation is as exciting as the walk itself. He has also been eating to gain weight so that he can take less food with him – at least that is the idea – but his habits are placing a lot of temptation on my table. I feel that all I have done this week is eat, sleep, read and rest.

In truth, I have indulged in a favourite past-time. I have been able to do some more research for my writing and have been rummaging through the big old kist that harbours my great-grandmother’s hoards: photographs, letters, postcards, journals, invitations, newspaper cuttings, magazines, all sorts.

The kist

She started a good thing and my grandparents continued it. I am so grateful to them. It has made for a fascinating holiday. I have found two letters from Lord Louis Mountbatten in the 1960s, one inviting my grandfather to join him for a drink. Someone has stuck a ‘post it’ note to them commenting on the colour of the ink. Apparently only the Admiralty write in green ink! I have found the negative for a magazine photo of four leading political figures in the establishment of the Union of South Africa. I cannot think why we have the negative, but I also can’t help feeling it is of some significant historical interest. It would seem to be from the early 1900s. I also found a postcard, which I think is in my great-grandfather’s handwriting (not 100% sure) sent from German East Africa during the First World War and written in German. German, why German? I encountered other letters from my great-grandfather written in later life to my grandfather. My own father always spoke so highly of my great-grandfather. He adored him. I have to say that reading these letters really touched my heart. My great-grandfather does indeed come across as such a lovely, lovely man with a strong faith. There is also a pamphlet written by him about the League of Nations’ Finances. I was most intrigued to see the list of countries that continued to pay their membership fees to the League throughout the war. The name that surprised me most was Afganistan.

There are so many letters to and from a variety of people. One I particularly enjoyed was from 1935 to my great-grandmother. I have no idea who the writer is other than her name is Geraldine and she lived in England. Her letter tells the story of her young daughter bouncing into her bed and bursting a hot water bottle. The poor ‘wee lass’, as the mother writes, was very badly scalded and needed the skill of a privately employed nurse to help her get better. With all the research I have been doing of medical practise at the time, this fits. The letter goes on to complain about the servants! The writer is in quite a dilemma about how to handle them and the temper of one in particular.

My great-grandmother appears to have been very sociable and a great letter writer herself, but why did she keep some letters and not others, I wonder?

My greatest pleasure was to discover some more letters and photos from the protagonist of my story. The two sweetest things are a summer holiday diary from when he was 13 and the log of a road trip he made with his mother across Europe when he was 21. Such beautiful fuel for my fire. I love this puzzling and piecing things together to build a story.

I think the kist could produce many more stories yet, but it will take some time and dedication to sort. In the meantime, we will enjoy this ‘nothing ever happens’ holiday place and relax with the slow tempo of life. Oh! What was that? I have just heard a scrap merchant disturb the peace with a call from his vehicle for “Any old Iron?”. Well, I never! Something does happen here after all.

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s