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Archive for February, 2013

Imagine a little boy having pepper rubbed into his eyes. As bullying goes, it’s probably on a par with the famous fictional roasting inflicted on Tom Brown by Flashman – but it wasn’t fictional. The incident is briefly touched on by the sixty-year-old adult who was that little boy – my grandfather, author of the unsurprisingly titled essay ‘School Days’ written in 1931.
CCF prefaces the essay with some verse extracted from a longer poem:
Quote from School Days 1
and says he has “more vivid recollections of the masters who taught me than of the boys who were my companions at my various schools”. Interestingly, he names the masters, but the only boy’s name he mentions is his twin brother George. The older boy who bullied him and his two study mates is tantalisingly not named, even though he apparently “became a celebrated runner“!
Grandfather describes his first two schools with lovely whimsical anecdotes. The first was a small village school in Sinnington near his home, where he and his twin were sent when they were 11. They were taught by Reverend John Swalwell, MA, Vicar of Sinnington, who mixed the classics with farming and named his pigs Penelope and Agamemnon. CCF recalls he was “as happy in those eighteen months as I have been in all my life”, and he returned to fish in the River Seven at Sinnington regularly as an adult. (We visited Sinnington village last September before I’d read any of these accounts, and I believe I may have stood in the spot on the bridge where he would have cast for trout.)

Bridge over the River Seven at Sinnington

Bridge over the River Seven at Sinnington

Charles and his twin were then sent to boarding school at Bilton Grange in Harrogate, under the lacklustre headship of Mr Joseph Brown Griffiths BA. CCF’s main studies there seemed to be in bee-keeping which he describes in warm, fond recollections, but his “hum drum career” at the school was dramatically curtailed by an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. Grandfather was untouched by the disease even though he had:
“…spent most of two nights before we were all sent home in giving water to the fellows in our room who were ill. My twin brother George was the only boy who died, though two other boys in our room nearly did so; yet I, who slept with him at home until he became really bad, escaped the disease!”

At the age of fourteen he was sent to boarding school on west coast – Rossall, where the headmaster was Henry Anselm James DD – and declares that the two years he spent there “completely altered my whole life”. He also seemed delighted to have become “a public schoolboy”!

It was a really tough environment, both inside and outside the school, and, as well as bullying, the boys endured harsh conditions generally. Grandfather’s time there was ended when the school doctor made him play football and hockey in winter conditions even though he was clearly ill. He contracted pneumonia which then became “slight tuberculosis”. In spite of all this, and being somewhat lonely, he greatly regretted having to leave:

Quote from School Days 2

TMP gives rich characterisations of the ‘famous men of little showing’ at Oliver’s Mount School, where he was also very happy:

Quote from School Days 3

Quote from School Days 4

Rossall and Bilton Grange still flourish as boarding schools and Oliver’s Mount School apparently became a girls’ school and was renamed.
These far-reaching reminiscences seem to me to show grandfather’s humanity and spirit. He remembers with gratitude all of the people who contributed so greatly to his education, and alongside, he recalls with savage clarity the “dreadful and most wretched memory” of being bullied “devilishly and mercilessly” (while grieving his twin). He states: “if I had not been a very strong boy indeed my sufferings would have broken me.” – and later regrets having to leave the very place where he suffered so greatly. Extrordinary.

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Well now. I’ve read, scanned and logged six more essays (‘Cats’, ‘The SES’, ‘Laughter’ and ‘A Dramatic Situation’ all written in 1929 and ‘Anticipations’ and ‘School Days’, both 1931), but I haven’t posted on the blog for a few days. I confess, I had become distracted by the temptations of daily blogging to the detriment of the main job in hand – namely reading, scanning, logging and researching the essays. But balance has now been restored.
So this is where I’m at now: ‘Cats’ and ‘Laughter’ are self-explanatory and a pleasure to read, but ‘A Dramatic Situation’ is somewhat darker. It is the story of CCF’s capture on the battlefield of the Somme in July 1916, told in the third person (he assumes the name of ‘Jim Strickland’), 13 years after the event. It almost has the air of a confession, particularly as he has written a slightly defensive note on the front of the essay:

Qoute from A Dramatic Situation 1

After all, it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ in those days to admit to feelings or talk through emotions – and the nation is suffering as a consequence, even now. CCF reports ‘Jim’s’ thoughts in a bluff, almost hearty style – almost like the ‘speech bubbles’ of a comic book character. The account is workmanlike, bare and factual. He describes ‘Jim’ waking up disorientated in a shell hole and blundering into an enemy trench, shooting, killing and being wounded and captured.
When the word ‘sobbing’ suddenly appears, we get an abrupt and shocking insight into the lonely terror countless thousands of soldiers must have experienced in the hell of the trenches:

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

On a lighter note, I had high hopes of finding out about the background of the Scarborough Essay Society when I started reading ‘The SES’ – but, although the essay is entertaining and interesting, it didn’t help much with my research! It does, however, show the great comradeship which existed between the members:

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

Extract from essay by Charles Clark Frank, 1931

I have found another avenue of enquiry, though. Apparently ‘Paul Pry’ called the Society ‘out of abeyance’ after the War by sending a ‘judicious letter’ to the Spectator (it seems the response was so great that at least one other similar group had to be formed!). Frustratingly, that’s all I have though, and I suspect many man-hours of searching through Spectator archives would be required to yield any more information.
As is the strange way of serendipity, TMP mentions his ‘defective education’, and the next essay I read was ‘School Days’. Actually, I lie. It was ‘Anticipations’, – but more on both of these stories later… 😉
So – at last, here’s a post. I have actually missed making my little daily forays into the blogosphere (in a masochistic sort of way). However, I like to take time over what I write, although whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen. The benefit of entering the Family History Writing Challenge was derived from trying to write to a deadline, which is good practice. However, in order to post every day as required by the challenge – I simply wittered. So, while my grey matter’s been galvanised by entering FHWC, I am releasing myself from the challenge’s benign repression, with a positive and hearty metaphorical pat on the back!

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Poem - St Valentine's Day (3 verses)

This is all that I have

 

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Off masks; and let me applaud a brother, [and] a fellow countryman…’ enthuses  ‘Paul Pry’, and ‘Sigma’ concurs, although with more restraint ‘… it is longer than T.M.P.’s average, but not long enough’ while ‘Agricola’ keeps it simple, stating ‘A beautiful corner of England beautifully described.’ All twelve critics were delighted by TMP’s 15-page submission of July 1928, ‘A Corner of England – Douthwaite Dale’.
CCF’s fellow SES members are right to praise him so wholeheartedly (although ineveitably, one or two can’t resist a niggle – this is an essay society, after all!). This essay is serene and evocative and is from the heart of a countryman who truly understands the land and the seasons. A countryman ‘in exile’ living in Leeds – and perhaps that is what lends the writing such gentle power. He welcomes us to share his delight in his beloved Yorkshire landscape, but it’s a wistful reminiscence, written in a city terrace.
‘” Let us stroll over to Yoadwath bridge and watch the fish rise” This has been the standing summer evening invitation and custom of our house for two generations past…’ So grandfather accomapnies us on a walk along the River Dove – evoking rich pictures of the scenery, and remembering companions over the years.  The narrative detours to take in Douthwaite Hall, and he tells us that the estate belonged to the Shepherd family for centuries, until sadly the last Squire of Douthwaite, William Shepherd, became a reclusive eccentric and let the Hall – and it’s unusual ornaments – fall into ‘ruin and decay’ (‘them’ in the first line refers to rabbits, hundreds of them!):

Quote from A Corner of England 1

Tired and ready to return we head home, grandfather lingering a little behind us:

Quote from A Corner of England 2

His little son, my father, did ‘grow up to be a … fisherman’. However, he didn’t fish as much as he would have liked, I think. In the early days of my engagement, dad taught my fiancé (now my husband) about fly-fishing and how to cast. Oddly, lessons took place in the garden – not a drop of water, never mind any fish, in sight. 😉

I couldn’t resist inserting a bonus pic:

Surprise View at Gillamoor, North Yorkshire

Surprise View at Gillamoor, North Yorkshire

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It’s weird up here in the blogosphere. It’s strange to think there are millions of us tapping away at keyboards worldwide (over 61 million WordPress blogs alone, apparently!) Some blogs have been going since 2003 – unimaginable verbiage! I wonder what happens to the ones that fade. Maybe they’re invisibly gathering dust in some celestial garage. Or perhaps they’re lost forever. But what gems may be among them?

Who cares! Does it really matter?

When I started the blog, it was just a sort of repository of ‘stuff’ that occurred to me as I read the essays – things to research, points to ponder, that kind of thing. I had no idea about the actual workings of it. I was quite happy just doin’ my own thing.

Then I joined the Family History Writing Challenge and felt a little gentle pressure to ‘perform’. It was good – it made me sit and write every day. Then I read some blogs and Pandora’s Box was well and truly opened. I’ve been swept along in a delicious current of cyber soup – there’s so much out there! It’s VERY time-consuming!

I’ve had a mad day today – I found myself adding tags to old blog posts – like it mattered! I then realised I’m getting sucked into the ‘pick me, pick me’ (I want a donkey like Donkey in Shrek!) shenanigans of blogging. I gotta get a grip!

So – it’s back to basics. Focus. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest! These essays have mouldered away in any number of real (as opposed to celestial) garages for the best part of a hundred years. Instead of being buried in the dust, they’ve surfaced, and I find that I do care, and it does matter, and I believe there are gems among them.

Still gonna tag stuff, though 🙂

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George was 14 when he died. He was my grandfather’s twin brother. His picture is on the left. The other portrait is:
My youngest brother Stanley, a very prince of fisherman when still in his ‘teens’, the gay hearted and wise young surgeon in the Navy, who died at Chatham when he was only twenty-two.”
And there’s the curious thing – nowhere in any of the essays I’ve read so far, is George mentioned.

George Frank 10.12.1871 - 31.05.1885 and Arthur Stanley Frank, M.B.R.N. 02.09.1877-18.12.1900

George Frank 10.12.1871 – 31.05.1885 and Arthur Stanley Frank, M.B.R.N. 02.09.1877-18.12.1900

In a few of grandfather’s essays, chiefly those concerning fishing or his beloved Yorkshire moors, there are wistful references to holidays or fishing trips with the brothers who had died (a third brother died young, Edwin, at 17 years of age, but I have no portrait of him), but there’s never any mention of George.
There are hints in the essays of grandfather’s childhood as lively and boisterous, and probably quite free-roaming. I imagine it must have been brilliant if the twins were close – which I understand is generally the case – they probably got up to all sorts of mischief. Then, just as they hit their teens George – who was also the oldest boy of the family, died.
When George was just a name and dates on the family tree, the facts were sad enough. But then I started reading the essays, and we found this little picture of George with his direct, even slightly truculent stare, and he began to bother me. The man I am learning to know as my grandfather shows a sensitive, loving, even quite romantic nature, and I wonder about the loss of his twin, especially at such an age – but I wonder more that he never mentions him.

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At the beginning of the previous century the ‘hitherto secret forces of the Universe’ were tamed, sufficiently to give rise to radio broadcasting, and about a hundred years ago the masses began to listen reverentially to the words of the few. As grandfather observed in an essay:extract from essay

He wrote these lines in 1928 – oblivious to just how ‘common-place a thing in our lives’ broadcasting would become, and radio’s now only a tiny part of it.
The essay is ‘On Public Speaking’ and (in addition to helpful suggestions for success, such as ‘Stand up, speak up, shut up’!) is full of observations about speakers such as Mr Gladstone, Lord Rosebery, Lord Balfour, Lord Charles Beresford, Lord Birkenhead, Lord Curzon; Lloyd George; Stanley Baldwin; Fridjiof Nansen (Norwegian explorer and Nobel Prize winner), and actors including Sir Charles Wyndham, Edward Compton, Sir Henry Irving, and a sweet reference to a speech by Anna Pavlova. He was there. He saw all these people. They were real? But surely they’re just history book characters! I remember getting a similar shock once years ago, when I saw footage on TV of George Bernard Shaw – someone who seemed buried in the mists of time, and there he was on the screen – moving!
The thing I’m finding so enriching about reading grandfather’s essays (three more scanned today – getting there!) is the context – what was happening in the world during the time he was writing.
I’m also amazed at how emotional it can be – I got a bit teary over a rusty paper clip on the essay, which clearly hadn’t been removed since it clipped the papers together 85 years ago. Then a full-blown weep ensued when I read another essay in which his love of his birthplace just shines though – even his fellow SES critics felt it:

Qoute from A Corner of England crit

I never knew any of my grandparents, so it’s very special to have these documents – although it’s an odd feeling, getting to know a relative in this way. Typically, at the end of the essay – he takes a wry pleasure in a typo…

Quote from On Public Speaking - typo

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