domingo, 7 de julio de 2013

Family life: My religious grandfather, the Beatles and Gran's Hungarian pancakes

Snapshot … Chris Birch's grandparents with his father, Uncle Bernard and Aunt Grace in 1896.
This photograph was taken in 1896 in Bristol, and shows my grandfather, Ernest Birch, my Uncle Bernard, my father, Norman, my grandmother Harriette and, on her knee, Aunt Grace.
I have no memories of my grandfather. I only met him once, when I was two, on my first visit to England from the West Indies where I was born and grew up. By my second visit, he had been dead for more than six years. My knowledge of him is derived from his diaries, which give a picture of his life in the last quarter of the 19th century.
It is clear that he was deeply religious. Sundays were a long round of Sunday school, morning service, an orange for lunch, afternoon service, evening service, distribution of temperance tracts and Bible studies. He often preached and played the harmonium. "Had a blessed time" is a frequently recurring phrase. And he travelled, spreading the word of the Lord.
He was equally busy in the family grocery business, rising at 5.30am to start the day. But he was not a happy grocer. After 11 years, he went into insurance.
I knew my Birch grandmother much better, as I stayed with her in 1938 when I was 10 and again in 1946 when I came to England to go to university. She was a formidable lady, cosseted by her daughters. I remember her wearing a dull blue, loose-fitting outfit and scarf and sitting by her living-room coal fire, reading; her dictionary, atlas and radio close at hand.
The radio was kept permanently tuned to the BBC's Home Service and she did not like anyone to fiddle with it. In those days, there was also the Light Programme and the Third Programme, but she was afraid that, if the wavelength was changed, she might never find her way back to the Home Service.
Her spinning-wheel, which she still occasionally used, stood in the corner. She was, at different times, Baptist, Christian Scientist and Buddhist, picking and mixing from the world's religions and philosophies as she went through life. She died, aged 88, in 1952.
My father's family was middle-class, liberal and nonconformist and that, I was told, was a most desirable thing. Chris Birch
"And when I touch you I feel happy inside / It's such a feeling that my love / I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide"
I only have to hear this song and I am transported back to my childhood. Whenever Paul and John sing I can instantly recollect the smell of new leather from the cover of the transistor radio, a much wanted birthday gift from my parents, and being told not to have it on too long as it would waste the batteries.
Like all good children in the 1960s, my sister and I were tucked up in bed by 8pm. We were big fans of the Beatles, as was Mum. Each week, when the Fab Four appeared on Radio Luxembourg, Mum would creep quietly up the stairs, so as not to wake our baby brother.
For 15 minutes, all three of us would curl up close on the bottom bunk and listen to the lads from Liverpool speaking to their fans before their records were played. Mum held the radio close to our ears and we held her hand to keep our idols close. For those few magical minutes we were there, in the studio with our idols. George was talking to me alone, a little girl, aged 10, living in Kent. He was my favourite.
Mum died when we were young and nearly 50 years later, when this song plays, I can see and smell that little radio. I am there, with Mum, wishing I could hold her hand just once more.

Elaine Everest

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