ONLY GRANMA

We had Ewan (nearly 3) staying with us for two days (one night) last week. He was very good, and enjoyed exploring Wisley. He examined flowers and statues. He lay down on his tummy to look into a pond, but sensibly ran away quickly when the resident swan came to see him off. He liked the novelty of his pick-your-own-child’s lunch (though I’m not sure his parents would have entirely approved of his choices which however did include an apple). The following day we went, in great excitement, to the Bluebell railway, where we watched a steam train set off, taking a load of children and their gasmasks, to be ‘evacuated’. We climbed the bridge, went to the shop, had tea, explored the engine-shed and jumped in all the puddles.

He’s very good to me, carefully removing any toys in my path. If I’m shaking a bit when reading him a story, he volunteers to turn the pages for us. When I sat in my wheelchair at one point at Wisley (because no seat was available) he got tremendously excited, and rushed to adjust the pedals for my feet, and then I realised to my horror, John being absent for a few minutes, that he proposed to push the wheelchair and despite my explaining that it was not necessary for him to push, I was just having a little rest, he was standing on his tiptoes behnd me struggling to get the brakes off. Fortunately he could not do so! He was quite disappointed when John returned with the drinks.

But it doesn’t do to get too chuffed over a grandson’s affection. I called, ‘Ewan’ up the stairs and he mistook me for his mother. ‘It’s Mummy!’ he said, in tones of great delight. “It’s not Mummy,’ John corrected him. “It’s Granma!’ ‘Only Granma!” Ewan muttered to himself in tones of disgusted disappointment, not intending me to hear.

But who can ever be compared with Mother, except of course, eventually, Wife?

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BAD GEOGRAPHY

When I say, my geography is poor, better educated people in this field (or indeed persons with any slight knowledge of the subject) generally fail to understand just how inadequate it is. I make the mendacious excuse that its teaching at school seemed largely to consist of wheat yields in Canada; the teacher was one of those persons who never get to the point and stuttered, and I had a window seat in the 4th floor classroom where we were higher than the swallows.

We recently went on holiday to the New Forest. I didn’t know where it was. I had some vague idea it was beyond the Cotswolds, or east of Cambridge, or somewhere like that.

When I first go somewhere, I don’t research it. I am fortunate that I travel with my personal tour guide, holiday planner and driver, so I leave it all to him. Occasionally he becomes a little irritated by my extreme ignorance, but we’ve travelled together for 40 years, and so far he’s been able to put up with me. He’s a great person to travel with. He has a nose for where the street of best restaurants will be in any city. He can find a toilet when one is needed (which in my case is fairly often) in the most unpromising of places. He has an instinct for danger, and can bribe, bully or charm his way out of a deteriorating situation faster than I can say, I don’t like the look of this. I once went to a meeting where you had to relate your ideal adventure or holiday and choose your ideal travelling companion. I found I didn’t want to travel with anybody but John..

Anyway, on this trip I am amazed to discover that the New Forest occupies a small triangle between the Southern cities of Portsmouth, Poole and Salisbury. Although it has some low hills, it is largely flat, with very little boundary between land and water. Much of it is decidedly marshy. I also realise there is a difference between what the Scots mean when they say ‘forest’ – mountains and valleys covered in ancient pine – and the English definition – scrubby moorland with open spaces and copses of woods. It is quite attractive, but I have no sense of belonging with it, and in fact it is unlike any other area of England that I’ve seen.

The famous horses are lovely of course and they are quite unfazed by cars or people. They don’t look ferocious and the best policy is to admire from a distance. They are of many colours, including one particularly lovely one with cream body and smoky blue ‘accessories’, and there were more white horses than I would have expected. They were roaming freely and the area was unfenced but it was difficult to tell just how ‘wild’ they were.

The area, by Scots standards, was quite heavily populated throughout and it had some attractive villages and towns, of which I thought the most prominent were Lymington and Christchurch. We had some very nice meals – we had no bad meals – and one in a French style restaurant in Lymington where everything was excellent except that Madame in charge, while perfectly competent and obliging, behaved rather like a duchess who had invited her tenants to a reception at her chateau and expected them to be slightly more grateful for the honour than they appeared to be. The food was good enough to compensate however.

We explored a section of ‘forest’ looking for the Rufus stone, and sadly concluded that we could not find it and returned to the car to see it squarely facing us on the other side of the road. It allegedly marks the spot where William II of England, son of William the Conqueror and known as Rufus on account of his red hair and ruddy complexion, was killed by an arrow fired by one of his own men in what was presumed to be an accident but in circumstances which could be described as ‘suspicious’. I was amused to note that the original stone had required replacement as it was continually desecrated and vandalised (clearly the inhabitants of this island are not all tainted by the blood of the conqueror!)

In all, it’s a pleasant area, untypical of England however. People were relaxed and friendly.

Large sections of it belong to the Beaulieu Estate, whose owner, Montagu of Beaulieu died while we were there. Bealieu’s location was another surprise to me. I had thought it was in Ross and Cromarty in the North of Scotland – but it turned out I had confused it with the Beauly Firth.

I did say my geography was poor.

 

 

A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS

I’ve never had any difficulty in believing in the power of The Word. (Not The Word that was God; just the ordinary word.) If you are quick and clever with words, or have a deadly turn of phrase, can deliver a killer closing line, can make people laugh then it’s as though you have been presented at your birth with your own personal Excalibar. Word skill is like an invisible sword which is always present and will come leaping to your hand before ever you’ve called for it. It’s dangerous and deadly and people who come to know that you possess it tend to approach you with caution.

This week the news has been dominated by the misfortunes of ‘migrants’ and the result has been to demonstrate conclusively that one picture can be worth a thousand words.

We could all mount a reasoned argument for or against the admittance into our country of more, or fewer, refugees. Even though words can be evocative, passionate and powerful, they largely provoke a ‘thinking’ response. So one might read the article and reflect, yes, that’s a well reasoned argument but never the less it is also true that we are a small island, already quite heavily populated. These people are certainly needful but we have our own poor and afflicted to care for with limited resources. Also by what right do these ‘migrants’ bring their troubles – which are not especially of our making – to our doors? These matters should be sorted out where they came from, and we will contribute our share of aid to expedite matters with all possible speed. Meanwhile they should go away and stop causing a disturbance on our door step.

I am not a sentimental or romantic person, nor am I overflowing with tender emotions. Yet as soon as I set eyes on the photograph of the boy washed up on the beach, I began to weep. Someone had dressed him for his perilous journey with such high hopes for his survival and it had all come to naught. How desperate had his parents been to risk their precious child on this ill-fated voyage? There he lay, face down on the sand, gently deposited by the waters and it might have been one’s own beloved son in his youth, or one’s lovely grandson, or the tender infant relative of any one of us.

Not a single word was required.

Open up our barriers, I thought. Stuff the economic arguments – I don’t care how sound they are. Open the gates right now, at once. Send people out to carry them in. We should give these refugees shelter out of compassion, but also out of fear lest the Fates punish us for our hard heartedness, and our own darling children are exposed to such a dreadful fate.

This little boy, this loved and valuable boy, deserved no less than any child of ours.