Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 17 November 2007

Where I'm from

I've been wondering whether this blog really has a "voice", or any sort of online personality. A bit of digging suggests people visit because they're interested in the individual events and places I write about; it doesn't look as though visitors feel they require any comment - apart from Daphne (who was obviously brought up proper, and kindly acknowledges my all-too-feeble comments on her blog).

It comes of years of bureaucratic writing. I occasionally slipped a sly joke into para 34 of some committee paper or report (one way of checking whether anyone read it), but on the whole, anything I wrote had to get to the point and summarise facts and arguments as concisely and non-controversially as possible.

So when it comes to writing anything really personal, I welcome the idea of filling in this form - the link to which I picked up from Claude's English blog (now there's discipline - to be able to write blogs in two languages, and make them both interesting, as she does).

Forms I can do. Forms I understand. Heaven knows, I had to construct enough in my time. You wouldn't believe, for example, how difficult it is to collect people's names, given all the different naming conventions and systems. "Christian name" is obviously meaningless in large parts of the world, "surname" seems to be a particularly British usage, "first name" and "last name" have completely different significances in Anglo-Saxon and Chinese cultures, some people still have purely patronymic systems, some people simply use one name, and so on. I felt like giving up when I tried "family name" one year and an American student put in "Bud".

But that's by the by.

Here goes:

I am from mincers, mangles and apple-coring gadgets, from Bemax (ugh) and extract of malt (yum).

I am from a tall, narrow Victorian house, where every move from room to room taught me to plan (never go up or downstairs empty-handed; take what you'll need for the next few hours, or you'll be dashing up and down those cold stairs and landings).

I am from the candle-flowered chestnut tree and a resident blackbird, its summer afternoon song and evening alarm call; from the smell of the flowers on the lime-tree several gardens away; and from the rolling Thames.

I am from fossicking in junk-shops, from music, shouting and sulking.

I am from make-do and mend, never throwing away something that "might come in useful", be it string, brown paper, clothes or the remains of the air-raid shelter.

From learning not to fear the wasps with yellow stripes on black, only those with black stripes on yellow, and concentrating on telling the difference.

I am from somewhere between Congregationalists, Baptists and the low Church of England: conscience comes before pings and pongs; and now I'm the kind of atheist that most irritates the faithful, that tuts over the modern prayer book and watches "Songs of Praise" shouting "Wrong tune! Wrong tune!".

I'm from London, via Edinburgh, South Shields, Kent, Cornwall and Suffolk; from my mother's Queen of Puddings, and my father's beloved pease pudding (once he made it in a pressure-cooker and took off the lid before the pressure).

From the stories of my father's time working as a prisoner of war in German railway yards and a Polish coalmine (which records suggest may have been a much darker experience than he ever told); from a father who barely remembered his father or brother who died in the First World War, and grew up in a household of forceful women, and a mother who, as the only child of the oldest daughter, kept up with cousins and aunts in every continent.

I am from five red ring-binders, full of photocopied certificates and register entries that help identify photographs from the 1860s onwards - and a box full of the unidentified, mysteries to be pursued.


  1. I have been a lurker for quite a while, but never left a comment, because of the fact that one has to be using blogger to do so.
    But I can't let you kindly mention my blogs without at least reciprocating ;)
    What I really like about "Where I am from", is how from the same form or template, we get such incredibly personal productions.

    I'd be really grateful if you opened your comments to "other" and not only to blogger users.

  2. Duly done - no wonder so few people have commented!