Monday, January 28, 2013

At 58

These are some of the women whose genes I share. Women from both of my parents' families, although only one survives of my mother's mother, Ida White. She's the one I most resemble.

Today I'm 58. When I put the recycling out this morning, the moon was a bright yellow circle in the west, over Roundhill Crescent in a clear sky.

The sun was coming up over the old workhouse, now Brighton General, that before long will be rebuilt as flats.

It's a day of mourning in Brazil for a nightclub that became a charnel house and in Mali the kora and griots' notes that hold centuries together for us are threatened with silence.

On my table are cards with an owl and an girl, a harbour, grey cottages, a man and dog, a woman under a vine with a dress made of feathers. On the news this morning are plans for a railway that will be opened in 2033 when I'll be a year younger than my mother is now.

I was born in Salisbury general hospital and although I have no conscious memories of Wiltshire the landscape feels familiar. It was the first I knew from walks with my mother over the plain to Stonehenge.

My family divides between Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales and Lyndhurst in the New Forest - although the only trace of the Lyndhurst family is in census records. My mother was brought up in the midlands and my father's family left south Wales for Wembley.

On both sides are emigrants from Ireland - Hannah Wills from Merthyr and Thomas Harte, my mother's father.
So at 58, counting my blessings, I am grateful to Hannah the politician and Ida the brave mother of seven who was a domestic servant so young. To her father, a house painter, my great grandfather the chemist, to the inevitable laundress one of my great grandmothers, my unknown great grandfather a shoe-maker, to anonymous gardeners and small-holders who kept their children alive.