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Miss Villiers used to trill tunelessly when she wasn’t talking, and seemed to walk on her toes swinging her hands around as she went along. She was my form teacher when I was 13. One of the many random questions she frequently asked out of the blue and apropos of nothing at all spooked me slightly at the time, enough for it to be the only thing I remember her saying (so much for the expensive education!)

Miss Villiers asked us how we knew we were real. Hands flapping, she excitedly warmed to her theme, asking us each to imagine going alone into an empty sound-proofed room and closing the door. How did we know that anyone left outside really existed? Could it be that we didn’t really exist and they did? Maybe we didn’t really exist unless we were in someone else’s presence? What if we sang a song in the empty room – was the activity somehow invalidated because no-one had witnessed it?

I wonder what Miss Villiers would have made of mobile phones. They’ve melted the metaphorical walls of her horrible hollow room, and we can all be ‘validated’ 24/7 these days (even in company 😉 ).

Such musing arose from re-reading the essay ‘Back Again’ after half an hour’s stumbling guitar practice – I fell to wondering about ‘valid’ activities. For no good reason I can think of (except perhaps, that my Dad bought it for me – which is a very good reason now I think of it!), I have kept my guitar since my vain attempts to master the scale of C major when I had a few guitar lessons at school. I’m not particularly musical, and not in the least bit talented, but I’ve always loved the sound of classical guitar. A number of decades and strange quirks of fate later, I found myself at lessons again a few months ago, and have now almost mastered – I use the term very loosely – the lovely ‘Spanish Ballad’ (Anon, 17th Century). I find I relish the absorption in practice – the ‘walk’ up and down the strings to strengthen my fingers, and the sound of the tune emerging in spite of my clumsy beginner’s mistakes. But in the shadows lurks a sense that I should be doing something else, something useful, something productive – something valid.

I doubt whether my countryman grandfather had such nonsense in his head when he set off for a day’s fishing at the Shallow of the Chestnut Stream in Sinnington on a fine September day in 1922. In ‘Back Again’ he paints beautiful vignettes of nature (and even of the activity of fishing itself!) and is rewarded by his critics with heartily appreciative remarks – rightly so, I feel. Take his recollection of a close encounter with kingfishers some years before on a similar trip, for example:

Extract from 'Back Again' 1922 p3 Extract from 'Back Again' 1922 p4

…I never fish the Shallow now without remembering that moment of intense life and beauty – It was such a breathless affair! – as thrilling in its way as the stoop of a Falcon –

(Punctuationistas, please note – I probably agree with you, but that’s what he wrote a hundred years ago!  😉   )

TMP marvels at the fact that, apart from three years during the War, he fished at Sinnington  “…every season for thirty eight years past, and it is rather singular that the Chestnut Tree Stream has altered so little in that time.”

When we visited Sinnington in September last year a hundred years after ‘Back Again’ was written, it still seemed barely changed – a time-capsule village around a green, along a stream, nestling against a slope of heather-dark moorland. I don’t know how many more seasons grandfather was able to go to fish in this idyllic spot. Change was coming. He travelled to Sinnington by train on the Thirsk & Malton Railway. This line had opened three years after his birth, but by the 1930s, passenger numbers had dwindled to about 35 a week, and the line slowly died – finally closing in 1953, three years after grandfather’s death. Five years’ after he wrote ‘Back Again’, he would become a father for the first time, at the age of fifty-six.

But let us return to ‘Back Again’ and revel in an enchanting description of the autumn foliage over the stream:

To-day the roof was golden in decay and flecked with spaces of blue. …Once I knocked one of the hanging boughs with my rod and a shower of leaves rustled down around and upon me – floating down the water like little fire-ships.

The day’s activity resulted in a catch “…nearly two spans in length; a most noble fish for those waters.” In fact, TMP was so proud of his trophy, he was tempted to leave a record of his triumph, as he and his school fellows had done in years gone by:

extract from Back Again, 1922, trout

I wonder if two marks were cut into a rail near a stream in Yorkshire a hundred years ago – by a tall, slim man with a ruddy face, in his middle years, burdened with canvas bags bulging with fishing gear, and carrying a prize trout. If so, perhaps those marks remained for decades, slowly succumbing to lichen and moss, and the smoothing of hands, while the stream nearby flowed unchanging.

English: Sinnington Footbridge Footbridge cros...

English: Sinnington Footbridge Footbridge crossing the River Seven at the lower end of Sinnington Main Street. The busy A170 runs close by. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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After weeks in the leafy dark, I crawl blinking, scratched and tattered from a clump of briars – a metaphorical tangle of thorns pulling me this way and that, snagging on half-formed ideas, hazy thoughts and slow-won research. So what prompted this off-blog excursion? A fox hunt and a book, that’s what. The hunt quietly trampled over my powers of reason and the books exploded my little knowledge of war into a dangerous thing.
Hmm. No wonder it’s been quiet on the relativleyfrank front…

So – the books first: two really fascinating books about the First World War I’ve been immersed in over the past couple of months are ‘Forgotten Voices of the Somme’ by Joshua Levine and ‘To End All Wars’ by Adam Hochschild. The first is a collection of verbatim reports about various aspects of the Battle of the Somme given by men who were there, of various ranks. Yes, it is tough reading in places, but it’s also wry, surprising, touching, fatalistic, uncompromising and sometimes amusing. The second puts forward a fascinating variety of viewpoints about WW1, including those of dissenters, generals, politicians, propagandists and suffragettes.

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine

Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine

I’d just started reading Adam Hochschild’s observations about how officers at the turn of the last century tended to come from the Cavalry, which in turn came from the moneyed classes because only they could afford the horses and kit, and were used to riding and – of course – hunting, when also I re-read TMP’s ‘A Tale – The Cleveland Fox’.

On the face of it, in the essay (written November 1922) TMP simply reports the description of an extraordinary chase by the Sinnington Hunt in the early 1880s as related by ‘The Colonel’ who had participated. The fox they flushed was reputed to have travelled to the locality around Kirkbymoorside and Sinnington from Cleveland, and to have run about twenty miles pretty much in a straight line due north in a bid to get home to safety. The essay is well written, but not really one of his best, but the essence of it is the admiration for the extraordinary feats of endurance and instinct on the part of the quarry, expressed not only by the Colonel but also by other members of the Hunt.

At the end of the essay, TMP’s fellow SES members enter into arguments for and against fox-hunting, which are all very familiar, even a hundred years on. I confess I don’t understand how civilised people could chase a creature to exhaustion and then allow a pack of baying hounds to tear it apart. But then I’m a soft southern suburbanite – what do I know? So I had to go and research it, didn’t I – and the first briars started catching at my sleeve.

The Sinnington Hunt, which Charles Clark Frank used to run with on foot as a boy, is a renowned Hunt of long-standing in North Yorkshire. It has a very good website at: http://www.sinningtonhunt.co.uk (sadly, though, the history doesn’t mention ‘The Old Gentleman’ Tom Parrington as Master of Foxhounds, although he was apparently quite noteworthy in the area in his time – see August 2012 archive), and seems to be thriving, in spite of the ban on hunting with dogs (or “Hounds if you please, gentlemen!” as TMP insists – followed by an explanation, of course!).

On this very good website is a thorny document called ‘Hunting, Wildlife Management and the Moral Issue’ which is a revised version of a report first published in 2009 by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management and the All Party Parliamentary Middle Way Group. This paper is well worth reading. It states the case for hunting with dogs, and it does so very reasonably and convincingly, particularly considering is was written by vets. Check it out (at the bottom of the webpage) at: http://www.sinningtonhunt.co.uk/17.html

By the time I’d read that document, I’d also absorbed more information about the utterly inhuman attitudes of the officers and politicians waging the war against Germany, and running cunning and sophisticated propaganda campaigns at home because they needed more troops for the Front. So I became well and truly snagged, stuck and tangled in a morass of moral brambles.

The extraordinary self-belief and pompous certitude of the chateau-dwelling generals safe behind the front line are well documented, but the sheer callousness of massively promoting patriotism and viciously stamping on pacifism at home simply in order to increase the quantity bodies to be peremptorily pulped in the bloody war machine, is shocking.

Accostomed to simply massacring peoples they perceived as inferior – for example, in the Boer War – these leaders of men were apparently unable to make the intellectual leap to even entertain the possibility that perhaps their tactics were, at best, ineffective. They simply stuck to their guns and expected the enemy to ‘play the game’. Like the instance when the Germans began to gas against the Allied army – a week prior to the gas attack a German message had been intercepted requisitioning 20,000 gas masks for German troops, but no-one had thought to act on the information. Men were just numbers.

According to his son, General Douglas Haig:

“felt it his duty to refrain from visiting the casualty clearing stations, because these visits made him physically ill.”1

A hint of humanity? Or perhaps too much harsh reality for the man who wrote:

“The nation must be taught to bear losses, … Three years of war and the loss of one-tenth of the manhood of the nation is not too great a price to pay in so great a cause.”

Hochschild records that Haig could: ‘fly into a rage when he thought British losses – and so, by association, German ones – were too low.’ And ‘Hungry Haig’ taught his subordinates well: ‘On September 30 … General Rawlinson wrote in his diary “Lawford dined. In very good form. His Division lost 11,000 casualties since July 1.”2 News of these appalling losses was filtering through to those at home. But still they came, believing that there was a ’great cause’ to fight for.

(So the briars and brambles snake and tangle – what on earth drove men to enlist in their millions? Propaganda and patriotism? But can such a double-edged sword really be enough of a prod? Could a greater spur be the fear of being thought unpatriotic? Or was the propaganda so convincing that a sense of adventure could be sufficiently stirred to make a man sign up? Are any of these really sufficient incentives?)

Remoteness was what the exalted commanders excelled in, dealing only with facts and figures. Nearer the action, but still safely behind the lines, some cavalry officers, redundant in the face of a no-man’s land filled with craters and barbed wire, held competitions, a horse show, or went fox-hunting with dogs they had brought with them to France.
Some officers, and even some troops, are recorded as revelling in what Julian Grenfell called the:

“fighting-excitement [which] vitalizes everything, every sign and word and action.”3

As a keen huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ Lord’s son, Grenfell was a good shot, and took his ‘game book’ with him when he went to fight in France. In it were entries for October 1914 of ‘105 partridges’ bagged at home, followed by ‘One Pomeranian’ on November 16 and ‘Two Pomeranians’ the next day, after a raid on a German trench.4 Julian Grenfell is celebrated as a Poet of the Great War in Westminster Abbey, for, among other work, ‘Into Battle’: http://net.lib.byu.edu/english/wwi/poets/IntoBattle.html. He was killed in action in 1915.

Will it ever be possible to truly understand why men were willing to endure the appalling conditions and sacrifices they experienced in the trenches of the First World War? The sheer complexity of this animal we call human makes it possible for the decision-makers to plot their wide objectives with intellectual detachment, then stir the blood and raise the emotions to persuade men to fight to attain them, no matter what the cost, no matter whether their efforts were effective.

Enmerging from my thorny thicket, I realise I had always believed the main characteristics of both hunting and war to be oppression and callousness, and that a sort of ‘Tally Ho!’ mentality prevailed among the generals due to their privileged backgrounds. Now, although a few snags remain, I am certain that the oppression and callousness are solely attributable to those who plan and wage war. Politicians and commanders who commit men to kill each other for one ‘great cause’ or another, seem to deny their humanity to the point of blindness, rigidly sticking to their decisions, and damn the consequences, so long as their objectives (which are not always obvious or great) are achieved. Apparently, few peace negotiations were undertaken during the First World War, and both sides assumed that it would be over within months of starting, even as it continued and the human cost grew. Besides, God was on the side of the righteous.

As far as hunting goes, everything’s a lot clearer. During a chase, the fox, a ‘quarry species’ brings all its instincts to bear to evade the hounds, and does not experience fear in the manner attributed to it by humans, who do. Hounds are a ‘scenting and tracking’ species, and if a hound finds its quarry, the kill is instant, so no fox escapes to die slowly of injuries. Both animals do what comes naturally, and before hunting with dogs was banned in 2005, humans on horseback usually followed them, appreciating the thrill of the chase and admiring the tactics of the fox – and only one in six foxes were killed during any season.

Exrtacts from ‘A Tale – The Cleveland Fox’ written in 1922:
Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p2

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p3

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p4

Extract from 'A Tale - The Cleveland Fox' 1922 - p5

References
1 P210, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild
2 p209, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild
3, 4 p126, To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild

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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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I’ve finally got back to reading and scanning the essays (80 down, 13 or so to go!) and I was well rewarded today – what a cracker! Called ‘An Ancre Trout’ (written in 1928) it’s the cheery tale of a sunny Sunday on the Somme in June 1916.
Grandfather is roused from a snooze by his captain, Norman, as a fellow soldier – ‘Cossack’ – has sought him out for his fishing expertise. Cossack proposed a fishing trip as “… it seems a pity to miss a good chance of trying for a decent trout” – much to the interest of grandfather’s fellow subalterns (or ‘the Children’ as he calls them!). So off they jolly well trot, with a makeshift rod and line, for an afternoon’s sport.

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

After heroic struggles by both hunter and quarry, they landed a whopper.

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

Extract from An Ancre Trout, 1928 written by Charles Clark Frank (alias T'Moor Poult)

How I wish I’d known my grandfather. How about that – going fishing while you’re under enemy fire. The hunter hunted.

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There was a hint of Autumn this morning.
I imagined grandfather standing in the doorway, sniffing the air and scanning the skies for his beloved swifts or snipe, then leaving Atora suet out in his city garden (which I believe was a small shared area at the front of the house) for his favourite robin.
Got a bit sidetracked today, by Tom Parrington, grandfather’s uncle by marriage. Quite a character, it seems – born and brought up on a farm which later became Middlesborough, was MFH of the renowned Sinnington Hunt, and celebrated a golden wedding anniversary with his first wife followed by a silver wedding anniversary with his second wife (Miss Hugill, my grandmother’s aunt)! Old Tom is much written about, and fondly remembered by my grandfather in his essay ‘A Halcyon Day’ (1911). The essay is a touching and amusing account of a visit to TP’s for lunch, and to see (and be roundly teased by!) Dorothy, my grandmother, but there is also a beautiful description of ‘The Old Gentleman’. And I’ve finally found out how to insert extracts from the essays, so here it is:

     

…and here is the Old Gentleman himself:

Tom Parrington

The Old Gentleman – Tom Parrington, and the crop he’s holding in the portrait

 

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So the Olympic Games has now finished. It’s been fantastic – very joyous, and a brilliant acheivement by Team GB et al. I’m amazed to find myself saying that, as I’m not the least bit sporty, or even interested in sport! Unlike CCF. A couple of posts ago, I mentioned some sports he took part in, but I left a few out. According to an extract from something called the ‘Cuckoo Shop’ (which I believe is a scrapbook kept by either a sibling or a cousin of CCF’s) he was popular in Kirkbymoorside sports clubs as a footballer as well as a cricketer. The extract mentions great rejoicings in the town at his ‘coming of age festivities’. And, he sailed, of course, too – several of the essays are about boats, sea-fishing, and even one about the wind (not one of his best!).

A little post script about the fantastic medal tally for Britian in the 1908 Games. Apparently, it was the first time they’d featured such a wide range of different sports – and in many of them, only Brits took part!

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I know I only posted yesterday so there’s not much to say really, except… I’m a teensy bit excited as I’ve just written to the current owners of the Low Hall in Kirkbymoorside – where Grandfather was born and brought up – to see if we could visit the garden! Cheeky, but, hey. With luck – they’ll be interested in the history of the place, so I sent these photos of it.

I’d love to see it – in ‘My Garden’ CCF gives a lovely account (written in 1901 when he was in his mid-thirties) of his return home to Low Hall to surprise his family while they’re at tea in the garden. It also includes a conversation he had with his father about the giant tree beside the house – expressing concerns that it might fall, and hoping it would miss the conservatory. It did – as you can see from the photos! I think the gentleman standing by the tree roots in the second pic is my Great-Grandfather, George Frank.

Also – as PS to yesterday’s post – I heard on the radio this morning that most of the Team GB medals winners so far come from Yorkshire!

Low Hall – probably in the 1880s or 90s – tree intact

Near miss! 1903

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