Category Archives: Alternative Story telling

Basil

 

Oh God, not again, who is it this time?”

Sarah looked at the envelope, the only typewritten letters she ever received were from the army. She walked outside the general store, put her basket down and sat down on the top step, staring at the envelope as if willing it to disappear. The townspeople kept an eye on her, but no one interfered, almost every family in the district had had their fair share those letters.

She took a deep breath, turned the envelope over, slowly opened the flap and removed the contents. She was an expert at this now, she could look slightly to the side of the envelope with unfocussed eyes, carefully unfold its contents, and take one more deep breath before focussing on the words.

“REPORTED SERGEANT BASIL HENDERSON WOUNDED WILL ADVISE ANYTHING FURTHER RECEIVED.”

“Basil” she said to the air, shaking her head. The nearest onlooker, nodded politely and quietly passed the name on. Everyone understood.

“Thank God John did not live to see this.  Four sons fighting in someone else’s war, Edward dead, George, Basil and Leonard, I’ve lost count of the letters.”

The shopkeeper, her best friend had come out to comfort her. “He’s a tough li’l bugger, you’ll see.” She sat beside her.

“Remember that day he disappeared?”

Suddenly they were both back in time.

 

 

She groaned as she rolled out of bed. She had barely slept. Lack of cloud cover made the night colder than usual, but for once, farmers were praying for it to not rain. Some of the men had continued to search throughout the night with a slither of a new moon reflecting only just enough light. Sent to bed at midnight, she had woken up every time one of them came in or out.

It was barely first light and already people were streaming in from the town. It was the second day. For the children, it was like a carnival, as whole families turned out to help. The women manned the kitchen and watched the children while the men and every boy over twelve, were out searching in rotation, on foot and on horseback. Thomas and Isaac had already left with their father.

 The atmosphere was surreal; her mind and body had disconnected to stop her from thinking about who they were searching for or whether he would be found. Her calm exterior belied the fact that she was on the verge of hysteria. She took charge of the kitchen, making sure that everyone had enough to eat and drink, and sending refreshments on horseback out to the search parties.  The hours passed.

She looked up to see the face of her best friend in the doorway.

“Sarah Henderson, if you don’t sit with me and take tea, you will feint with exhaustion, and then what use will you be to Basil when they bring him home? The dark rings around your eyes have dark rings around them.”

She had six other boys, four born on this very farm, and she had never lost one. For the first time since they had moved to the farm, she wished they had stayed keeping shop, in the township where no one could ever get lost.

 Suddenly she was back there, having tea with her friend.

She could feel the sawdust under her feet; smell the soaps, spices, fruits, wafting in and out with the breeze; hear her friend’s raucous laughter; and feel her face redden as meaning dawned on her innocent mind.

Sarah, Sarah,” the sound of her name bringing her back to life.

Outside was ominously silent. They went to the door and saw a man on horseback riding like the devil towards them. Sarah’s legs gave way as she swooned, it took several of the women to coax her back into the sitting room.

He burst through the door, red faced from the wild ride and with tears streaming down his dust encrusted face, he could hardly speak. Someone thrust a glass of water into his hand and he took a great gulp and then a great gulp of air.

“They found him Mrs Henderson, they found him. And the wee tyke is fine! Can you believe it?”

He was too choked with emotion to say any more. Outside, there were wild shouts of hooray and long piercing whistles, men, women and children whooping with relief. Even the dogs, sensing something, were barking.

 

 

“Oi, is anyone looking after this shop?”

The two women, jolted from their daydream, breathed sharply in. They looked at each other

“Yeah, he’s a tough li’l bugger, he’ll be fine”.

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Layers

Thirty-eight and fifteen Robert St, Glasgow. My great-grandparents Archie and Jane Rowley lived here, and raised twelve children from 1911[1] until their deaths in 1932[2] and 1942[3]. Today it is a car park in a light industrial area, a candle workshop and retail outlet.[4]

I do not see the carpark. I see nineteenth century tenements, taking their shape from the road. Covered in black grime, dirty dusty windows, filthy grimy footpath, few cars and much horse dung. Children everywhere, playing, laughing, running, fighting, talking, shouting, screaming. All in the melodious tones of my mother tongue, music to my ears, indecipherable to outsiders.

Two streets away, the shipyards overshadow all of Glasgow. It fills the air; with still more noise, hammering, welding, scraping metal; smells, acrid, dusty, foul. Its smoke, clouds everything with underworld, ghostly dimness.

This is my inherited memory, layering the landscape, in ways that only family can. The shipyard disappears taking the pollution, noise, and jobs. Next, the tenements, children and adults. Progress is what it is, the sun is bright here now, in the carpark of the candle factory.

[1] Scottish Birth Register, 1911, GROS Data 646/02 1851,Georgina Marion Rowley (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 18 October, 2012)

[2] Scottish Death Register, 1932, GROS Data 644/24 0628, Rowley, Jane  (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 17 August, 2012)

[3] Scottish Death Register, 1942, GROS Data 644/24 0628, Rowley, Archibald (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 22 March, 2005)

[4] “Robert Street, Glasgow, Scotland.” Map. Google Maps. Google (https://www.google.com.au/maps/ : accessed 12 December, 2017 .

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Basil

Sarah looked up from the pot she was stirring, to see the face of her best friend in the doorway.

“Sarah Henderson, if you don’t sit with me and take tea, you will feint with exhaustion, and then what use will you be when they bring Basil home. You have black rings around your eyes.”

Sarah’s mind raced,

‘Oh, God, now she’s said it. The very thing I’ve had been trying to avoid for the last twenty-four hours. Basil. Two years old, and wandered off into the bush, in short pants and a shirt, the whole town out looking for him.’

She had six other boys, four born on this very farm, and she had never lost one. For the first time since they had moved to the farm, she wished they had stayed keeping shop. Suddenly she would have given anything to be back there.

Outside was suddenly silent. From the door, they saw someone riding like the devil towards them. Sarah’s legs gave way, as she swooned. It took several women to coax her back into the sitting room.

He burst through the door. Red faced from the wild ride, and with tears streaming down his dust encrusted face, he could hardly speak. Someone thrust a glass of water into his hand and he took a great gulp and then a great gulp of air.

” They found him Mrs Henderson, they found him. And the little tyke is fine! Can you believe it?”

Sarah feinted.

References:

1893 ‘ARDROSSAN.’, Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser (SA : 1878 – 1922), 21 July, p. 3. , viewed 19 Dec 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216732788

1885 ‘ARDROSSAN.’, Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser (SA : 1878 – 1922), 17 February, p. 3. , viewed 19 Dec 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216321047

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Crisis of Faith

A fanciful account

She genuflected, crossed herself, then followed the line to the priest. In a trance, her body seemed a second or two behind her, unattached and out of reach. Her mind, on the other hand was razor sharp.

Hell, hell,” she thought, “what would a bloody priest ken aboot hell? The hardest thing a priest ever had to dae was remember tae speak in English, that monotone, bastardised tongue of the Sassenach. It may as well be Latin, for the way he speaks it, you’d be sure he was sucking on a stane, and if he stuck that nose of his any higher in the air, his heed would fa’ right aff.”

Hell is being married to a man who spends half his life working, and the other half drinking near’ every penny he’s paid. In between one and the other he comes hame only just lang enough to faither another bairn. Twelve bairns, twelve.”

She was at the alter now, kneeling with her mouth open. “Blood of Christ” said the priest.

Blood of Christ, what would a man know about blood, or bleeding.” Her son Allan flashed in her mind, seven years old and coughing up blood, tears running down his face, his eyes bloodshot full of fear. Seven years ago the previous month, and still that face haunted her. “Well maybe some know a little of bleeding.

She stood up, having consumed the small biscuit “Body of Christ”. Her head was swimming, there was a pain in her chest like a knife being twisted between her ribs. She swayed visibly until the woman behind her placed her hand on her shoulder, just enough to steady her.

She shuffled back to her pew. How she had gotten through Christmas she did not know, but three more days and a long drunken night and it would be nineteen fifteen.  “Nineteen fifteen, Glasgow Scotland, that’s where hell is.” She grunted audibly, to the withering glare of her husband Archie.

Annie’s no here again,” she thought, “I wouldnae be either, if I had a choice. Twelve bairns I’ve had. I’ve no’ even finished havin’ my ain bairns, before my bairns are havin’ bairns. My wee Lizzy and Annie’s wee Johnny. The pair of them gasping for air, one would fa’ asleep and the other wake, the whole hoose awake and praying. My bairns, they are. Mine. I’ve nursed and fed, and loved them day and night. What dae I get? I get to watch them thrown out into the street. My first born, cast out into the street like a pail o’ shite, by her ain faither!” Another grunt and another withering glare.

Only a few weeks old and Johnny was gone. Annie putting her first born in the ground, that was hell. Three weeks later, and Lizzy’s gone too. Pulmonary something-or-other the doctor said. Died o’ breathing is what he meant, the pair of them, died o’ breathing.”

Outside the church, Jane surveyed her brood. Why they were so happy she could not understand. Watching them playing on the icy street, she could clearly see that they were happy. She began the short walk home, the children and the husband following after, she couldn’t have cared less, she was numb.

She was making some tea when the two Archies came in. She looked up at them, young Thomas darted out from behind them and let the cat out of the bag.

“Archie’s going to be a soldier. He’s gonnae get those German’s” he crowed pretending to fire a rifle, “He’s gonnae win the war.”

Jane nearly feinted. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph Archie, what are you thinking of.” She blasphemed.

“Leave him, Jeanie, leave him, he’s a man noo” Archie senior said accusingly.

“Me an’ the lads went yesterdae, we enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders, we had our medicals and we’ve a’ passed. All I have t’ dae is wait for ma uniform and orders.” Archie junior was beaming with pride.

“Och, Archie, Archie, what have you done?” It was rhetorical, she didn’t wait for an answer. She put her coat and hat back on and reached for the door. “I’m off tae visit Annie.”

She shook her head unconsciously, “I cannae lose another bairn, I cannae, my heart is already broken.” She muttered under her breath as she trudged the short distance through the icy street to Annie’s house. “Nineteen fifteen, a’ the world’s gone mad.”

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Granny Rowley’s Wedding Ring

An Object Biography

Sarah Morgan, my paternal grandmother, married Archibald Rowley in Glasgow, Scotland in 1922,[1] she died in 1945.  In 1981, after the death of her only surviving daughter, Sarah, I was given her wedding ring by my father.

Wedding rings have been worn by women for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. In the UK it is believed to have been adopted during and after the Roman Occupation. In some cultures it is worn on the left hand and in others on the right. Some cultures wear it before the wedding on one hand or finger, and after the wedding, on the other hand or finger. It is most often, but not always worn on the fourth “ring” finger.[2] It is not uncommon nowadays for a man to also wear a wedding ring.

This plain gold wedding band weights approximately 4g (0.1oz), it is 7mm (½”) wide, approximately 18mm (8/10”) in diameter, and 63mm (2 ½ “) in circumference. Its’ scrap value is currently $86.00.[3] On the inside of the band, in letters large enough for plain sight, is stamped “8LP”, much smaller and requiring a magnifying glass, is stamped the four components of a British Hallmark.

The “8LP” remains a mystery and much research has found no explanation of its origin or meaning.

Hallmarking of precious metals in Britain is a very old consumer protection, it was first legislated in 1300 by King Edward I of England.[4]  It has four components: a sponsor’s mark being the company or person for whom it has been hallmarked; the standard mark being the fineness of the metal; the Assay Office mark; and finally, the (now optional) date letter.[5]   For this ring the marks are E.J.LD.; 9.375; S; [Illegible].

E.J.LD.  was the maker’s mark of Excalibur Jewellery Ltd of Birmingham and London, now defunct.[6] 9.375 represents the fineness of the gold at 9 carats[7]. The date letter, before 1975, was unique to each assay office and as the assay office mark is illegible, it was difficult to ascertain the date, however the letter “S” is sloping forwards and has a distinctive concave tick at the top. It could only be an item Hallmarked in 1973 in the London Assay Office. This ring was assayed in London in 1973 as 9 carat gold by Excalibur Jewellery Ltd. This was not the expected result.

My grandparents were a working-class couple of modest means. In 1922, a wedding ring would have been a significant purchase. Although it is common now for wedding rings to be made of 24 carat gold, that would most likely have been outside my grandfather’s means. A nine carat gold ring would also have been more robust, an attribute that could have been relevant at the time, due to the hard labour a working-class woman would do in the course of an ordinary day.

The Clyde Shipyards, the largest industry in Glasgow, was in recession. By 1920 It was operating at only eighty percent of pre-war levels, falling steadily throughout the decade.[8] 1922 also was a year which saw a “Hunger March” from Glasgow to London, people protesting to the government about the high unemployment and hence inability of workers to afford food.[9]

Assuming that it was, indeed, my grandmother’s wedding ring, which I have no reason to doubt, it is possible that it was purchased second-hand, that it was not manufactured in the UK, and it was assayed in 1973 in order to obtain a valuation. This, of course, is pure conjecture.

My grandparents honeymooned in Ireland and had a studio photo taken to commemorate their wedding. My parents emigrated to Australia when I was five years old, and so I did not know any of my extended family. Although I did not know it at the time, I had never met anyone who in any way resembled anyone in my family. As a young teenager I embraced that Australian tradition of visiting the UK on a “working holiday”; now known as a “gap-year” and reciprocated by the British. Whilst at my grandfather’s house, I was shown the studio photo taken in Ireland. It was a sepia-toned very traditional studio photo. My grandmother was sitting in an elaborate chair, with a book in her lap and her hands crossed over the book showing her wedding ring. My grandfather was standing to her left, a little behind the chair and his hand was resting on her shoulder.

It is a moment that, for me, is frozen in time. The woman in sitting in the chair, was identical to myself, I was the image of my paternal grandmother. Some years later, I was able to borrow that photograph and have it enlarged and copied.

The ring is the only material object I possess that is tied to my family of origin. This is the result of two major events in my life. Firstly, I was a child migrant in the 1960’s, when migration still meant the disconnection of virtually every relationship, and the loss of virtually all possessions. Secondly, as the result of violence, I made a choice to move within Australia, at a time when I was unable to afford to take more than a suitcase. The material objects left behind in storage, were variously stolen, sold without my permission then the proceeds stolen, or destroyed.

I no longer have that photograph. That being said, however, I have the photograph in my mind and it is linked, inextricably to my grandmother’s ring. One object elicits the other. At times my grandmother’s wedding ring evokes the memory of loss. Loss of relationships, of the culture and heritage attached to being a Scot, of the life I had before the violence. At other times my grandmother’s wedding ring evokes a deep sense of attachment, to someone who is exactly like me, someone I never met, my grandfather in his youth in the photograph, in old age holding that photograph out to me, to my Aunt who cared for it before me.

Just as a wedding ring is a symbol of never ending love, this ring is a symbol of the continuity of my family across the great chasm of time, place and meaning.

 

[1] Scottish Marriage Register, 1922, ROWLEY Archibald to Jane Morgan, District of Govan, County of Lanark p96/191 (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 22 March, 2005)

[2] http://weddingdetails.com/lore-tradition/ accessed 19/8/2016

[3] http://www.cash4goldaustralia.com.au/ accessed 19/8/2016

[4] http://assayofficebirmingham.com/safeguard/hallmarking_history.html accessed 10/8/2016

[5] https://theassayoffice.co.uk/help-with-hallmarks/anatomy-of-a-hallmark accessed 10/8/2016

[6] http://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Makers/Birmingham-EJ-EO.html accessed 10/08/2016

[7] http://www.gold-traders.co.uk/hallmarks/results.asp accessed 12/08/2016

[8] http://www.inverclydeshipbuilding.co.uk/home/general-history/clydeside-revisited accessed 19/8/2016

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunger_marches accessed 19/8/2016

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Finished Map

Completed Annotated Map

I chose my paternal great-grandparents, Archie and Jane Rowley, as the subjects for this map. Glasgow is the place of my childhood, and so I chose to draw with children’s crayons.

Archie worked in the shipyards, and the shipyards dominated Glasgow. Family lore painted him as a drinker and they moved twelve times in seventeen years. I represented these things with whisky spilling into and further polluting the Clyde, and an oversized passenger liner ensnaring the city and polluting the air.

Jane had twelve children, I marked each birth and joined them chronologically. A pattern emerged correlating with the Glasgow Underground which was open in their life time. I represented the nearby stations as mouths swallowing and spitting out lives.

Two births did not fit the pattern, fifth child Allan, born in Perthshire and ninth child Alice, born outside the underground network and away from the Clyde Shipyards. Allan died of Tuberculosis in the nearby Royal Infirmary at this time. Contemporary maps (1914) show a “Poorhouse” at this address. I had a strong emotional reaction to these discoveries and it changed the mood of the map. I broke the line at each of these places and drew tears and broken hearts spilling onto the ground and increased the darkness of the sky. I left the gardens brightly coloured and incongruous with the rest, but signifying that all was not doom and gloom.

I would enjoy expanding this piece to a three dimensional work, giving each of the elements a deeper more significant treatment.

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Annotated Map

I am constructing an annotated map for part of my Family History studies. The unit, Place, Image, Object requires that I create a representation of a place of significance to myself or my family.
All my ancestors are either Scots or Irish and the little I know about them all centres around Glasgow. That made the choice of place easy, next was who and how. The who was answered by choosing the family I am currently investigating, on my paternal side, my great-grandmother Jane Ross and her husband Archie.
Jane lived around the beginning of the twentieth century, and had twelve children. I had noticed whilst collecting the birth records of each child, that they moved almost every year until their last child was born and then remained there until their deaths.
The most difficult part was working out how to print out a map of Glasgow large enough to map their moves as many times they moved only a few doors away. I enlarged a Google map on my tablet until it was about the right size and then I took screen shots. It was tricky trying to move the selection sideways and create an overlap for joining, but even trickier was moving vertically and then back again. My first attempt was quite reasonable but I learned enough to make it a second time.

Annotated map 3
I carefully marked each address where Jane and Archie lived and drew a line to show the chronological order of each address. Not many people know that Glasgow has an underground railway, and I knew it was very old, so I looked up when it was opened and found that it was newly opened at the time of this family. I added this to the map as could clearly see the correlation between where they lived and the underground stations.
At first, I had intended to interpret the map with embroidery but I decided instead to interpret it in a drawing. This was mainly due to the time constraint; I may yet do an embroidery for my own satisfaction.

Annotated map 3
I was a child when my family emigrated from Scotland, so I chose to use crayons and child-like drawing. The Clyde River is central to the Glasgow story and so it bisects my page. The Underground Railway is in the centre, and only those stations next to their houses are marked, but they are marked like a dragon’s mouth spewing them out and swallowing them up.

Annotated map 2
The Scots are known, not unfairly, for their capacity to drink whisky, and the only story I know about Archie is one in which he is drunk. I drew a bottle pouring whisky into the Clyde and further polluting its’ waters. An oversized passenger liner in the centre represents the influence of the shipbuilding industry that created Glasgow as it is today, as well as the fact that the liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth II were built here.
I have paused for the time being whilst making that most difficult of creative decisions. Is it finished? I hope you enjoy it.

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