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Monday 13 May 2024

The Village

Village Dance Class, 1930s.
My mother (top, 3rd from right) is one of four cousins in the picture.
She would have been 100 years old today.

“It was a lovely place to grow up”, said Aunty Olga the last time we spoke. “The best anyone could want”. She talked of a High Street with no motor vehicles to stop you playing in the road, all the relations living nearby, and how everyone knew each other and were friends. There were shops with all you could want, and clubs and groups and things to do. The buses ran late so you could get back from the pictures in town. “Not like now”. 

“Aunty” Olga. We called them all “Aunty” or “Uncle", or if they were the same age as us “cousins”, no matter whether they were really great aunts, great uncles, second cousins, half-cousins, cousins once removed, or some other combination. It was simpler. There were loads of them. “Your mother was more of a sister than a cousin to me”, Aunty Olga said. 

I caught it right at the end, and don’t doubt her. I fetched milk from the farm dairy and talked to the pig in the butcher’s sty. I bought pop from the sweet shop, chips from the fish shop, rolls of gun caps for my cowboy pistol and foreign stamps for my collection near The Green. I marvelled at the old village water pump near the church and walked on my own the three-quarters of a mile along the river bank to my aunt’s smallholding at the ferry houses. I knew the local names that appeared on few maps: Gander’ill; Cock’orner; Cuckoo Park. 

A walk down the High Street with my grandma meant talking to everyone we passed. 

“Who was that?”  
“My cousin.”  
“And who was that?” 
“He’s my cousin too.” 

“How many cousins have you got?” 

I’d wish I’d not asked. 

“Well, there was Aunty Bina who had Blanche, Tom, Gladys, Lena, Olga, Fred, Ena, Dolly, Albert and Jack. She brought up our Jean as well, although her mother was really Ena. They had fish and chip shops all over.”

“Then there was Aunty Annie who married Uncle George, and had Mary, Fred, and Bessie.” She pointed to ‘M, F, and B’, scratched long ago into the bricks of number 88 (still visible today). 

“Do you mean Aunty Mary?” I asked. Aunty Mary had the prettiest face I’d ever seen. 

If Grandma was in the mood, she would go on to list the millions of children of uncles Fred, Bill and Horner, who had moved away to run a paper mill in Lancashire.  

All were prefixed “our”: our Fred, our Bessie, and our Mary. Aunty Olga’s children were our Linda, our Sandra, and our Gillian. It distinguished them from Aunts and Uncles who were not relatives at all, such as Aunty Annie ’agyard (3 syllables). What funny names some had. 

And that was only one of Grandma’s sides. The other was worse. 

Even more confusing, my mother’s Great Aunty Bina was married to my dad’s grandpa’s cousin, which meant I was doubly related to Blanche, Tom, Gladys, and the rest. 

I heard it so often I could recite it to my wife decades later: “Blanche, Gladys, Ena, Lena, Gina, Dolly, Molly, Mary, Bessie, Ella, Olga, Linda...”

“They sound like a herd of Uncle Bill’s cows,” she said. 

Uncle Bill (don’t ask), was from across the river and had married into the family. He said that if the Blue Line bus had not started running through the village, they would have all been imbeciles because of inbreeding. 

I went less and less as I grew into my teens, not realising it was coming to an end. It would never be the same again.  

36 comments:

  1. It reads like your Yorkshire version of Cider With Rosie. I visited Slad last year. The home village of Laurie Lee. You have got a very good memoir there Tasker.

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    1. Praise indeed to be compared with LL, but he could sustain it for whole books. I think stories from family memory and family history can be fascinating. I might delve more into my genealogy notes.

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  2. I love your accounts. In the North riding, we also talked about our -- our Mam, our Dad, our any name! My snobbish high school principal, an Irish nun from money and position, used to ridicule us for it until we kept the expression, and a lot of other local ones, out of school.

    She never got over the wave of working class girls who were admitted once the 1944 education act required only merit admission. Into her exclusive school, omg!

    But the teaching was first class in every subject, so we stuck it out, never mentioning at home the insults and abuse we suffered at the hands of certain resentful teachers, religious and lay women. I still value the learning I got, in subject matter and navigating class distinction. It all served me well!

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    1. My GS was well established as a 1944 school by the time I got there, but there were those older teachers who you felt regretted the admission of the riff-raff. 25 years earlier, my mother could have got in on a scholarship, but deliberately failed the exam so that she could stay at the village school with her friends. Later she found the village claustrophobic and could not leave too soon.

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  3. Lovely account. My husband's Yorkshire (Leeds) sister-in-law always referred to 'me Auntie Rose', for example, or 'me Grandma' . To listen to her and her sister was an education, for they talked to each other about 'me Auntie Rose' as though they were separate people. She and I share a niece, because my brother married her sister. My husband is her (late) husband's elder brother, so we're quite mixed, too.

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    1. More 'blue line bus' stuff. I still say "me wife" and "me cousin" etc., but resisted trying to render the accents in this post. Uncle Bill, for example, actually said something more like "If t'blue line bus 'adn't ..."

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  4. For whatever reason your penultimate paragraph had me rolling on the floor. All I could think was 'gads! Too many places the buses did not go over here!' What a hilarious accounting of a bygone day.

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    1. Uncle Bill was one of the wittiest people I have ever known, but much of what be said is unrepeatable in polite company. PC he was not. A man of his era.

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  5. rhymeswithplague13 May 2024, 18:29:00

    You have shared some lovely personal memories that made for a very satisfying post today, Tasker. Long may you wave.

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    1. Thank you. I'll feed from the encouragement. I wish I could recall all my father's stories. He could entertain for hours with his reminiscences.

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  6. When I went out locally with Peter in the evenings everybody we met was introduced to me as his cousin. I suspect that inbreeding has something to do with his mental illness. His mother's family were related to almost everybody and many businesses bear her family name. Families of 10 and 12 children were not unusual and few, if any, every moved away. Inter-marriage just happened. This is not unusual in rural Norfolk.

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    1. That explains my oddness. Five-eighths of my ancestry are from that village. It must have been much the same in all rural parts of the country.

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  7. I loved this post. Another time ... another World. Gone for ever, sadly.

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    1. Most people had little idea of what went on elsewhere, and few wants or aspirations.

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  8. Whilst I could not say that my experiences were the same your post certainly reminded me that in "our road" the families all had a commonality with a lot of the children being the same age as I was. A lot of the 'older folk' were known as Uncle or Auntie even though they were no relation whatsoever.

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    1. Even in towns one would find family groups living in the same vicinity. And, yes, friends of parents were all "aunties" or "uncles".

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  9. That's a nice account of youthful times, and I expect fairly typical of the times. I only have three cousins and they are a good bit younger than me and I don't really know the. But otherwise, there were always plenty of family around in my childhood.
    That's very interesting about the bus route.

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    1. Uncle Bill tended to exaggerate with original trains of thought like that, but there were elements of truth in it. But actually I remember reading somewhere that it was the invention of the bicycle that first made it easier to mix with people from other towns and villages.

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  10. This sort of nomenclature was common when I was a child. Most adults were Mrs. or Mr., but adults with whom the older generation were very familiar were Aunt and Uncle to we children. Then there were big families, such as all my father's relatives. His mother's many siblings were as cousins, though they actually were his aunts and uncles.

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    1. It would have been too complicated to be more precise. My grandma was brought up with an aunt of the same age, i.e. the aunt was brought up by her sister.

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  11. Globalization has spread us around the world. My older relatives lived nearby and spoke to each other often.

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    1. Yes, I rarely saw my late brother's family after they moved away many years ago. It's common enough, but rather sad.

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  12. Village life was (and to an extend still is) similar no matter what country. If you visit the cemetery in any German village, you'll find the same names repeated on many stones. When O.K. and I are out and about in "his" village, we greet everyone we see, and more often than not, stop for a chat. Many are related to him, but many more he knows through the village band and having grown up and gone to school there until he was old enough for "big school" in town.
    It is cosy and nice, but that sort of closeness can also feel oppressive, especially if you are "different" in any way. Friends of us grew up in a village; two boys out of the five children were gay, and moved to cities as soon as possible, one ending up in Berlin and the other one in Stuttgart (which is how we know them).

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    1. You summarise it accurately - cosy but oppressive. My mother was glad to escape to a larger town. Then my generation later wanted to escape from there. Good in some ways, but lonely in others. I have never felt that modern communications properly compensate.

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  13. And so they spread to the far corners of the earth. This is the 'before time'. Before television, universal ownership of cars and then we flew the nest. It was a different time, I am amazed you can remember all the names.
    Now through 'My Heritage' I seem to have third and fourth cousins all over the world.

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    1. I heard all the name often enough, but did recheck with my family history research. However, I have a lot of third and fourth cousins I would never have known about but for Ancestry.com, and on meeting some of them have been surprised that some of the sane stories have been passed down.

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  14. Loved the recitation of cousins... my paternal grandfather was one of 14! (Their mum died in her early 40s - breast cancer incidentally - and the eldest raised the youngest...) My Mum was the youngest of 57 cousins most of whom I never met. I was a bit envious of one of my own cousins who grew up in the old family home and had a whole community of relations around. I never knew any of them.

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    1. I've not counted how many cousins my mum had, but it was in the region of 57 (Heinz 57?), which is what Olga was referring to.
      As I commented on another blog, my mum died at 62, also of breast cancer. Breast and bowel cancer is rampant throughout her cousins' families, but that's not the variety I have.

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  15. Ah, what an alluring picture you paint of 'the village'. It sounds just like the sort of place I'd love to visit for a holiday - or maybe even live there.

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    1. In the past, perhaps, but now it is basically a commuter village with few services and a lot of through traffic.

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  16. I had loads of aunties too and cousins, when I was an adult I learnt that one of my cousins was the daughter of my grandmother's brother, born 'the other side of the blanket!'

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    1. There was a lot of that, much of it covered up so successfully that only the myth and not the truth remains, except to those of us that know our genealogy tools. It's sad that we are all more isolated these days. Such a large birth rate would compromise our standard of living, and people would not want that.

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  17. What a charming look back on a simpler time.

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    1. Thelma sums it up in her comment above: "It was a different time".

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