My visitors today

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Networking in August, 1950

A picture postcard sent on 12th August 1950,
from one Great-Aunt in Gt. Yarmouth to another in Northern Ireland

I met my niece recently. She is no longer the little girl who followed me around at four years of age, who visited me in Hungary at ten years of age and later wished to be a tour guide on her Grandparents’ visit. She is not the teenager who gave me her cast-off clothes and took me on shopping sprees in an attempt to get her Auntie to wear trendy gear. She is now a businesswoman, with a home of her own, but still we share interests.

A chance find

When we met a few days ago we looked at some photographs of those visits to Budapest in 1993. She had no photographs of her own of these visits so I gave her the album full of memories that we had been looking through with the Hungarian, red and white embroidered cover that we had been looking through. When having one last flip through the pages before putting it in her bag, she suddenly asked: 

“What’s this?”

Poked in the back was a postcard. It was a picture of a hotel on the seafront at Great Yarmouth that used to be a school. I knew this place well as I had done a project on it during my first year at art school. This was the school that my Grandmother, my niece’s Great-Grandmother, had attended with her sisters in the early nineteen-hundreds. I have a school photograph of my Grandma taken in 1906 when she was ten years old. It was this photograph that I used for one of my very first painting and printing projects.

I think the school had already been turned into an hotel in the picture on the postcard, that was sent on 12th August 1950.  The message on the back was written by my Great-Auntie Mabel who lived over the river at the Waveney mill in Gt. Yarmouth, to my Great-Auntie Winnie, who lived in Northern Ireland. In the message Mabel mentions another sister, my Great Auntie Dodi and also their father, my Great-Grandfather who my Dad met, but who I never knew.

More rellies from those days

Reading the back of this card my niece learnt a little bit of family history. I remembered and told her about Great-Auntie Mabel who married a miller and lived in the Waveney Mill, where both my Mum and later I made be-on-your-best-behaviour visits with my Grandmother. My sister and I made great escapes out of the dining room window to visit Great-Uncle Bert who was always pottering about in the huge, dark kitchen at the back and would chase us off with a smile. He had done exactly the same with my mum although, being a lot younger when my Mum was a child, he had chased her up and down the back stairs!

My sister and I received many a postcard from this great-aunt. They usually said: “My dear  girlies, haven’t you grown!” or “How lovely that your Mummy brought you all to visit me”. And yes, of course I still have then tucked away somewhere safe.

More memories returned as I read the postcard and I went on to tell my niece about Great-Auntie Winnie, the maiden aunt who stayed at home to look after Dada, until the war took her away from Norfolk to work in a munitions factory in the north of England. She later went to live near friends in Northern Ireland returning in the late seventies to live just up the road from us. I recalled how when she worked for Boots the Chemist she supplied my niece’s Mum and me as teenagers with oddments of make-up.

I think that Great-Auntie Winnie was one of the black sheep of the family. The other was the older brother who was sent away from home and became a member of the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. Great-Auntie Winnie had been the spoilt, youngest child in a family with seven children. We know from her diaries that she had been able to indulge in her love of the theatre and dancing, with notes about how she had slept in until very late after wonderful dances in the nineteen-twenties. When she died we found dozens of pairs of gorgeous shoes that were too small for any of our huge feet, and just as many matching leather gloves, that fit me perfectly!

This lady was described by my mother and my grandmother as a bit of an oddity, and even to my young eyes this great-auntie always seemed to be just a teeny-weeny bit loopy. She wore bright clothes used strange old-fashioned words and I loved visiting her huge, one-roomed flat that I always called her assorted-room.  I imagine now that in a few years that this is just how my Great-niece Aimee will see me! I think my niece sees me like this already!

Great-Auntie Dodi

There was one more great-aunt mentioned on the postcard that we had found and I just had to describe her to my niece too. That was Dodi, or Doris as she is called in the letter. I never met this lady, she died when I was only a few weeks old. I know that I would have loved her as much as my Mum did and it is from Mum’s many stories that I know all about her interesting life. It is because my Mum often called me by this aunt’s name that I know that I must take after her just a little bit.

As I write this story, here in Germany, thrown over the back of my sofa are the cushions-covers that Great-Auntie Dodi sent home to her family from Egypt during the Second World War. On the dresser opposite there is a cross and a bible that were hers too, probably from the same era. She was an officer in the Woman’s Royal Navy and afterwards a secretary at a local girls’ school, but before the war she had worked for a photographer and we have wonderful examples of her hand-coloured pictures and many albums filled with her own photographic memories. Perhaps she was the other artist in the family!

Great-Auntie Dodi lived in a bungalow by the river, where she had a boat and a bike. These were her only means of transport. There are many photographs recording family gatherings at her home, right up until her early death in 1957, when she was the same age as I am now.

Not just reminiscing

I had been reminded of all the family, of the Victorian-born grandmother and her sisters, when I discovered that treasured postcard with my niece. I was also reminded of something else, And what is more I found a reference that I had been reminded of, along with my notes from September 2009.
I had found an item quite by chance on the Internet about the writing of postcards in days gone by. The days were from even before this postcard in my hand was written, but when it was still everyday practise to send a postcard in the morning, write a reply in the afternoon and receive the answer to that one in the evening!

Edwardian tweeting” Dr Julia Gillen calls it in her article, and that is almost exactly what my niece said as she read at the bottom of our postcard “LOLAK” .

“What does that mean?” she asked me, “It looks like a text message”.

“Lots of love and kisses, of course”, I replied, and told her about the article that I had read long ago and had kept for just this moment when I would need it!

I had read a press release about this research article and had written to the publisher to ask for a URL for the full article by Dr Gillen, which I received:

It was not such a surprise to find the postcard from Great-Auntie Mabel amongst my treasured photographs from Budapest. My mum has masses of postcards stored away and so have I! Mum and I wrote postcards to each other for all of my adult life until she dies three years ago. Sometimes, after I first left home when I was eighteen years of age, she would send three or four a week. I loved reading her short messages about what was happening in the garden, what my family were doing and making arrangements to meet each other off trains. We had no telephone so everything was communicated between us by post. That post was usually a picture postcard. Mine to my parents were usually hand-made, those to me always with very carefully chosen subject matter on the front. We did not manage to receive any same-day replies as the Edwardians did but we often managed just a couple of days between questions and answers.

I have boxes of postcards and as I told my niece all the letters that she and her brother sent to me as children.

Postcards live on

I still buy postcards by the score, and paint them too. I do not send quite as many as I used to as communication by email has taken over in my life too, but I try my best to send something on paper now and again, especially when on holiday, for birthdays and at Christmas. If we all only text, twitter or email each other, who in the future is going to sit with a niece and describe the lives of the great-aunties who were mentioned on a picture postcard? What happens to those tweets, do they get put away in a shoe box to be looked at in sixty years’ time by a new generation. A lot of social history will be lost in Cyberspace, I fear, and a lot of precious moments sitting having a cosy chat to a niece will be lost too.

Sometimes I write down special text messages that I receive in my notebook, but that is not the same as having a picture-postcard to look at in fifty years’ time. I have made a resolve to send my niece more snail-mail and to start writing some silly messages like “Oh haven’t you grown!”  on postcards to my great-niece too. After all that is what Graunties are there for, isn’t it?


Edwardian postcards

PS to networking in August 2011

I wrote the posting above as I was travelling back to Germany by plane last weekend. This week I discovered also quite by chance another story about a not-so-modern means of communication:

This is the tale of a man who prefers writing letters to using the telephone, tweeting or texting. He also prefers to use natural forces to send his mail rather than using an envelope, a stamp and a postman. Instead of the envelope he uses a plastic bottle and he replaces the postman with the currents of the ocean. He checks the winds and waits for posting until it is blowing in, what he believes to be, the right direction.

I have used this method of communication a couple of times in my childhood, but it was always a question of luck as to who it was who received my news. I found a bottle once and replied, but no one replied to my messages in bottles. I do not believe that this method would be much good for sending a postcard to my niece to wish her a happy birthday or to my sister to ask her to meet me off the train.
I loved listening to the man in this video describe the friends he has made though “messaging in a bottle”. I think I was attracted to the story most of all because of his lovely accent. So very similar to my own!


Letters in bottles -

Message in a bottle-
 Police, pre-release–

Sting, 2009-

No comments: