Saturday 27 December 2014


Oldest son and I have some things in common, and some things definitely not in common. One of the commonalities is ownership of a floating life-support pod – in my case Erin Mae and, in his case, a 24ft Achilles class boat called Snow Goose. He keeps her where he lives, at Falmouth, and in that is considerably more fortunate than we, who have a drive of several hours to get to our marina. This Christmas he has given me The Levelling Sea, by Philip Marsden. It's a story of Falmouth, and the way in which its development mirrored the place of the sea in British history. So far I've read just the first chapter. It's been a delight and has wetted my appetite for the rest. And it has contained a lot about Marsden's grandfather, the figure in his life who infected him with a fascination for the sea.

I have just four images of my own grandparents. That of my maternal grandmother is of someone in a bed when I was, I suppose, about 3. The bed was certainly taller than I was. My mother portrayed hers as a wonderful woman, confined to her bed with arthritis in her later years, but I never knew her. Of my paternal grandmother I also have just one image – a small person sitting in a chair when we stopped to visit on our way to a summer holiday in Wales. Because of her dementia she hardly knew my father, and I certainly never knew her.

My paternal grandfather had been a cabinet-maker. The sole image I have of him is one from a visit he made when I must have been 9 or 10. An old man, he sat in my father's chair in front of the fire and talked to me about the characters of the different types of wood that were waiting on the hearth, ready to be added to the flames. He gave me a copy of The Sword of the Volsungs, a child's collection of old Norse tales, which I still have. I don't remember any other interaction with him. My maternal grandfather lived longer – he died when I was about 17. When I was younger we would go down to Felixstowe from time to time for a day's visit. He was a tall figure who had played county-level golf. The only image I have is of meeting him once walking back from his regular visit to the putting green. He smiled in a friendly-enough way, but I don't remember him having anything to do with us. We would be under the care of Mrs Lacey, his housekeeper, or go with my mother to visit an elderly friend of hers a few roads away, or dance among the pebbles on Felixstowe beach and eat sanded sandwiches.

This was, of course, a good many years ago, when travel was harder and less commonplace, and when old age came younger. But I am sad that my grandparents had no input whatsoever into my life. My own parents were splendid in their interactions with our own children and their cousins, and left a significant legacy there. Now it's our turn. One of the motivations for buying Erin Mae was to be able to bring over the Norwegian grandchildren for some summer holiday time, since the daily, weekly or monthly contact some of our friends enjoy is out of the question for us. And it's been great fun to be over with them for this Christmas season. In the end, I'm not worried whether or not they get a taste for boating (like Marsden did for the sea). But I'm so glad that we get the opportunity of building into their lives something that comes out of the relationship with us. If that, for them, can be a positive experience, then perhaps the impact will go on down the generations.


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