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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

WORKING (and play..)



Granny's dad's cricket team. He is sitting on the right, and she is disconcerted to see for the first time a likeness to her brother. (She had already seen one in her twin sister and in her twin sister's son. Oh the family face.)

Nostalgia day, after reading a post put up by Petite Anglaise - http://www.petiteanglaise.com/ - about her overworking partner, Mr Frog. Granny was reminded of her own over-working husbands - lawyer first, followed by doctor - who both like Mr Frog looked exhausted on it, and about which worried Granny too protested. Hard to know how much was/is due to connivance by self-driven husband's/partners - in case of Granny's doctor there was an element of this. (As other doctors' wives will probably concur it can be difficult to protest too much in the medical case - how can the needs of wives - families - the doctor himself - compete with the needs of sick and sometimes dying patients? Granny who is neither meek nor long-suffering did protest sometimes - often - she had a point - but still felt awkward about it.)

It made her remember too her dad, who never understood - few of his generation did - about pressures exerted by the modern workplace. He was particularly lucky - he worked as a civil servant in the House of Commons; ultimately as a very senior one. In his day all clerks like him had holidays throughout parliamentary recesses. In the summer this meant he was at home from the end of July to near the middle of October - the breaks at Christmas and Easter weren't bad either.

Even when parliament was sitting, he never left home much before 8.30 in the morning - would set off for the station - about a mile away, wearing an Anthony Eden homburg hat and a long overcoat with a waist - Soames Forsyte to the life - brief-case in one hand, a rolled umbrella in the other, to catch the 9.05 train on a little branch line.(The train, known as the Westerham Wheezer, used a ton of coal to go 11 miles, and was axed for obvious reason by the infamous Dr Beeching.) From the next station he caught an express to London and arrived at his desk overlooking the Thames at around 10 in the morning.

He'd do his morning's work, then roll off to the member's dining-room for a full 3 course lunch - the menu was the same as in the Stranger's Dining-room to which his family was invited sometimes; very English. Granny remembers such pleasures as oxtail soup, or a weird assortment of cold hors d'oevre from a large trolley - followed by all the usual suspects - steak-and-kidney pie, roast lamb, Dover sole, finishing up with rhubarb crumble , say, or jam roly-poly: tinned pawpaw was always on offer for some reason (as pudding or hors d'oevre? - she can't remember which. Maybe it was a nod to the Colonies.) The dining-room was all pale wood panelling and lugubrious green carpet. Most of the other diners male, and dark-suited, the impression was to Granny's young eyes a convention of undertakers. Famous politicians lurking at other tables looked both smaller and larger than life.

After this the clerkly dad would retired to his desk, put his head down and sleep for half an hour. Three hours or so more work; then off he would go to catch the five forty-five or possibly the 6 something. He was home by 7.30 at the latest - except when trains were delayed by fog. (One bad day in 1952, or thereabouts, he was at the back of a train which crashed in a pea-souper at a place called Hither Green. Many people were killed but he and others got off the train safely and walked along the tracks to safety. It took him a long time to find a phone and ring Granny's
mother, who'd heard about the crash on the news, and was besides herself.)

This was Granny's dad's normal working day. Perfectly normal at the time - he was known to be an exceptionally good administrator, and promoted as such. He told Granny once that only twice in his working-life was he forced to bring work home at the weekend. Though he worked in an interesting place at a very interesting time it never particularly interested him; it was life with Granny's mother and their children that did. And sport. (See below; and above.) Work to him was just 'daily-breading' - his term- something all men were obliged to do to support their wife and family. (Wives didn't work as a matter-of-course -he insisted Granny's mother gave up her job when she married him. This too was normal. Then.) Work as passion, need, was something quite outside his understanding. His father - Granny's grandfather - was the same. He took legal qualifications and became something called a Chancery Registrar because it meant working only during legal terms: in betweenwhiles, climbing his passion, he could attempt to climb the Matterhorn or Eiger - Granny's dad who suffered from something close to vertigo never understood this either - cricket was his thing - see above - along with golf. (He won AParliamentary Golf Championship twice over the years. Granny did not inherit such skills. She made the school lacrosse team for one term, at her most solid. That will do for her. She is not grieving. )

There's more to say about his job another time. In the meantime Granny can say she was/is mostly grateful to have had her dad around so much; even though she took it for granted; even though much of that time she spent fighting with him. ('I could never manage her,' he was to say, plaintively, to lawyer husband in later life.) It wasn't a good preparation for life with men whose working life was much more all-consuming. But it has taught her that that life for family men and their families is better that way (unless Daddy is a total bastard of course. In that case, the more he is absent the better!) The only downside perhaps was for her mother, who had reproduce the at least two course meal at lunchtime every single day. Someone less perfectionist might have said 'sod it' and doled out bread and cheese, but not she, the perfectionist, with her over-worked sense of duty (alongside her other anarchic not to say maverick tendencies: which were/are quite another story.)

2 Old comments:

Blogger petite anglaise said...

Well, I'm very glad to have set you on that train of thought because it was fascinating hearing about the different generations of menfolk in your family...

The pace and lifestyle really does seem to have been more simple and healthy in those days.

Apart from the women staying at home and making two course lunches, of course. Mr Frog often gets bread and cheese in the evenings ... What a bad non-Stepford non-wife I make!

7:17 pm  
Blogger granny p said...

Thanks Petite - both for comment and train of thought. Which is generating lots more thoughts too. This seems to be where I'm going, But oh I felt for your tired Mr Frog - and for your fury and helplessness at it.

2:11 pm  

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