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Well – we’ve done it. By the skin of our teeth (as usual) we’ve posted off our Christmas cards just in time for the Christmas delivery deadline. The process was much speeded by the application of address labels in preference to hand-writing the address on each envelope. This is an eminently practical thing to do and therefore – understandably – it is a widespread practice.

In fact, most of the Christmas card envelopes we get bear our address blandly typed within neat white rectangles. I confess, this saddens me a little as, given the opportunity, I take great delight in recognising the writing of the sender, before opening a card. I love the individuality of hand-writing and, sadly, it’s ‘public’ use seems to be on the way out. Not surprising really, as most of the means of communication we use on a regular basis require use of a keyboard, so there is little need to write anything beyond lists and ‘post-it’s.

I guess handwriting must be taught in schools as part of teaching children to read, so it’s unlikely to die out completely, but I wonder how much a person’s writing will reflect their personality if they don’t write very often? Will writing styles all become so similar they end up indistinguishable?

I recall my writing being ‘corrected’ at each of the many schools I attended (I was Forces child, not a reprobate… not really, anyway) and I tried all sorts of different approaches including rounded or skinny letters, slanting or straight, closed loops or open, added flourish or puritan plain. I even dallied with strange descenders which flicked forwards then backwards, ending tiny loops on the ends – mercifully, that phase didn’t last long. Rough hand-writing seems to run in my family – my dad’s was well-nigh illegible, and his dad’s was – well, challenging!

Without intending to, I’ve ended up with two quite distinct ‘styles’:  a hideous barely formed scrawl when I’m making hurried notes for myself, or a strange barbed-wire flurry of strokes for ‘public consumption’ comprising odd spiky characters and – unaccountably – a looped descender on a lower-case ‘b’ (where that came from, I have no idea!).

Hate to think what either says about me – thank goodness for address labels!

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As I read CCF’s later essays, I’m getting a sense of strain and pressure. I’ve just read scanned and logged two more, dated 1931. The first is shorter than usual, ‘King Cups and Brown Water’- written very quickly and up against submission deadline, and ‘Remembrance’, which he actually wrote and submitted to the SES in 1923.
In 1931 CCF was 60 and struggling with the daily grind – including all the joys and difficulties of having a four-year-old son. He probably didn’t know it at the time (although I wonder if he was already wrestling with the notion) but he was to resign from the SES in 1933, as he felt he just could not continue to commit the time or energy to his writing. I think there are only three more essays left for me to read. However – I’m hoping the next session of sorting through the remaining miscellaneous papers might yield more…
‘Anticipations’ which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, was written in the spring of 1931, and delightfully captures its theme:

essays

He is, of course, anticipating a weekend’s fishing – what else! This city-dwelling countryman is joyfully looking forward to revelling in the restorative powers of his natural habitat.

essays

And who can blame him – he reveals that he is currently presiding as temporary Chairman of the Court of Referees in Hull “which is the only tribunal to allow or disallow claims, under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, to the out-of-work benefit, commonly called by the recipients (but not by the Court) ‘the Dole’.” On the day of writing the essay, he had heard – and taken all the notes for – 50 claims, and says his is an “an honourable as well as difficult position” in which he feels like “…a cat walking along a wall newly guarded with broken glass!” He is a solicitor, and is working alongside two barristers.
According to one of the many articles about the inter-war years on the internet, unemployment peaked at around 3 million in 1933 – while England was in the grip of the Great Depression – which was about approximately 20% of the working population. Many of those who had fought for their country were unable to find work.
CCF seems to have been a very altruistic and sensitive person, and being in such a position where “…it must always be borne in mind that every claimant is out of work, and that every decision of the Court is of very grave importance to him or her.” must have been a huge strain – indeed, he mentions his “tired brain and soul”.
No wonder he was looking forward to “getting away into the open air for some days, [and] to feel and hear the water rippling past my waders once more!”

River Dove, Ryedale Yorkshire

Not fishing but eating – a pause in our walk along the River Dove

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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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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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