• October 2011
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A gift from the past.

With my mum’s funeral tomorrow there’s been a bit of arranging to do. I’ve also been clearing out some of her possessions which is interesting and painful in equal measure.

I found lots of letters addressed to her from my late father, decided they were none of my business, and disposed of them. However on discovering another bundle and with some having London and Sussex postmarks, I decided to have a look.

I resolved that if there was the merest hint of anything that a son should not be reading about his mum and dad, I’d dispose of the letters immediately.

As it turned out, they were a treasure trove. My dad died when I’d just turned sixteen and reading the language, the wit and the wonder in his writing as a young man was a revelation to me today. For instance in a letter from June 1956 he writes to his then fiancée from the Bailey’s Hotel in South Kensington:

Bailey's Hotel. It probably looked pretty much like this in 1956!

“After a pleasant flight, I arrived here in London at 7:40  pm. From leaving Glasgow, in no time we were over the Solway Firth. The striking factor was that it was so peaceful away up there with a giant table-cloth of cloud beneath us. It was akin to an Arctic expedition. Travelling south gave me the opportunity to brush up on my geography.

As the weather cleared, I began to look for Morecambe Bay, The Tower, Manchester Ship Canal and, proceeding southwards, Stratford upon Avon. Needless to say my imagination was well served as I spotted the lot with the exception of Blackpool Tower which doesn’t fit largely in geographical interest. I was greeted on arrival at London Airport with a perfect day and my thoughts turned to my return when I would be honoured by my lady in waiting at Renfrew.*

The airport is the last word and what an experience when you hear “The plane now approaching is flight so and so from Tokyo -this plane is returning to N Africa in 2 hours time”. I was met at Waterloo air terminal by my pal Ian, complete with car. He then proceeded to break the news to me that my bed and breakfast was to cost £2 at Bailey’s Hotel. As I climbed the star-studded stairway, I watched poor old Ian look at me rather askance with the expression “Should I have done it? £2!” Upon arrival at room 107 I put his mind at ease complimenting him on a fine job. In fact I said “Ian next time make it a £3 room – this sort of thing just isn’t good enough” We succumbed to uproarious laughter”

There were many letters from 1956, written when my dad was 29. They were an absolute joy to read, with tales of seminars in Sussex and Trade Union conferences in Blackpool. All written in a different age, another world even.

If he’d been around today, he’d have been a blogger and that’s a fact!

*Renfrew was at that time the location of Glasgow Airport

16 Responses

  1. Fascinating stuff, Robert – a really vivid snapshot of a different time.

    All the best for tomorrow

    • Some of the details in the letters are fantastic Al and it is the everyday stuff that I find so interesting.

      In another one he talks about arriving in Blackpool at 5:30 am for a trade union conference:

      (This letter is from 15th May 1956 – He got about!)

      “When I arrived everything was dead. I felt like a town tamer or the man from Laramie walking through the deserted streets. I tried the hotel but to no avail. I then resorted to trying the back door without success. As you know I was wearing my new shoes and they were very slippy. I had to look likewise to save the day as I almost went my full length down the back stairway (ha ha).

      However I was relatively unaffected by my misfortune at taking a dive into the humble depths of the garden. I proceeded onwards and had a cuppa at a beach stall, returning to the hotel at 7:45 in time to take in the milk”

  2. What a treasure! I can see where you got your way with words.
    I love the song you will be playing at the end of the service.
    It will be a sad and healing day.Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Denise. I just saw your comment come in as I posted the one above. My blog timer is an hour slow so it is actually 3:46 am here. I have my customary insomnia. I’ll maybe post the wee tune you heard on facebook tomorrow.

  3. Rab, I would keep and read all of them. They provide a glimpse of the man who was your dad, which is not always the same as the dad that you knew. Many of us don’t get the opportunity to really dig deep into the thoughts of the people who were our parents and find out who they really were. Your story reminds me of many years ago when we were going through the same process that you describe above, we were clearing out the posessions of my aunt, who was the undisputed matriarch of our family. She had lost her husband in WW1, never remarried and always projected an unromantic and kinda stoic personality. We were so surprised to find a collection of romantic postcards that her husband had sent her from France and Belgium. I still have them today. If for no other reason, keep you dad’s letters as a visual record of how beautiful handwriting was in thse days. I only wish that I could write like that.

  4. I forgot to ask, what union was your dad involved with?

  5. As Tam says lovely handwriting. I just never know what to expect when I come here. Fascinating to read your dad’s account of the times in his own words.

  6. PS I hope everything goes ok today.

  7. I found a strange thing after my mother died. I put the old fotos on the pc to adapt them and found my parents were people! Looking through them took me into their life in a way I never could while they lived. You will find strange emotions while sorting things out, and I see no reason why you should not read all and sundry now. However it can be an unsettling experience as well as an enjoyable one.

  8. “Gift” indeed, and proof positive about the fruit not falling far from the tree. You really take after your dad, and I hope you hang onto those letters.

    Blessings to you and your family this day and always.

  9. A great article!

    It’s a good reminder of the almost-lost art of letter writing.

    Soon there will be a generation growing up who have only ever communicated by phone, text or e-mail – short lived messages that disappear almost as soon as they have been sent.

  10. Thanks everyone – very kind.

  11. […] tempting to hunker down and ponder life, the universe and … parents. A bundle of letters teaches Ben Lomond Free Press something new about his dad – that, had he been alive today, he would have been a blogger. Out on […]

  12. What a gift. Your dad’s voice unexpectedly from the past. Treasure them.

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