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The age of Saturnine: some recollections of my father and others - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
The age of Saturnine: some recollections of my father and others

The age of Saturnine: some recollections of my father and others


I suppose for most of us, Fathers’ Day this year has been even less regarded than commonly.  It is an artificial and imported concept in any event, and its inherent insignificance and faintly alien inaptness are overshadowed by events in a world rapidly going to hell.


Nevertheless, I thought of my father, as I do regularly without the mercenary promptings of merchants selling familial tat.


Partly, I think, it had to do with my having dined today on the sort of meal he favoured without deference to season or weather, the sort of meal he favoured even in the most appalling heat of what in guid Scots is so aptly named the Simmer: a Sunday joint, blazing mustard, mash, and shortbread for pudding.  It recalled to me his habit of seemingly inconsequential observations at table that had almost always a sting in the tail: it was at precisely such a meal, in his last years, that he had observed – an incident I vividly recalled today – ‘You know, there was a time when you were quite small when I wondered if you were ever going to learn to walk.’


Having never been considered a backwards child in any way, I had merely raised an eyebrow and waited for the twist.  ‘Did you.’


‘Oh, yes,’ had said he.  ‘Your grandfather –’ he was referring to his father, not to his reverend father in law – ‘seemed to believe that your feet ought never to touch the ground except in mounting and dismounting that damned pony.  Or, to be fair, if you fell – and it then fell on you, as it invariably did.’


This was inarguable.  I don’t say that I could ride before I could toddle, but if this was not so, it was not for lack of my grandfather’s trying.  My father’s father did not particularly like people, as such, nor actively dislike them, for that matter: rather, he simply found them but rarely as decent and reliable as hounds and horses.  He was a thoroughly unclubbable man at bottom (and I can hear my grandmother’s eldritch chortle even now, saying that she’d quite happily club him if wanted: that was precisely what she should have said, and doubtless had done if anyone had incautiously left her such an opening for her mordant wit); and my father was much the same.  It was a quiet and domestic miracle that he and my mother were so well suited for all their long married life. 


For my mother, for all her childhood in a succession of vicarages and rectories, many of them at first exceedingly rural ones, was very much an urban and urbane sort of person, whom mere accident had set in a series of parish choirs rather than upon the operatic stage for which she had trained. 


In fact, my mother and her sisters all three burrowed-in – once my grandfather was lured into a Large Metropolitan Parish in the Urban Zone of a Large City in the West Midlands – with palpable relief into urban life, whilst their two brothers bolted for rural fastnesses so soon as they decently might, Uncle Sunny to gentlemanly farming in the Shires and Uncle James to corn and hops and oast on an equally lordly scale in a still-rural corner of the South East.  (My grandfather on my mother’s side was a notably douce, mild, and gentle man wholly without worldly ambition, who should greatly have preferred either yet another rural parish or a return to his beloved university, and my grandmother was if anything more retiring, as she had no interest in sport and thus had not even my grandfather’s consolation of their new parish’s being at least happily near to Edgbaston.  Grandfather the Revd Chas resigned himself peaceably enough to city life so long as it meant that he could regularly watch every over of his beloved Warks from the pavilion – not the City – end.  The fact remains that they would quite happily have remained in a rural parish, preferably in the Clent Hills, had not my great-uncle the Revd Claude pushed so.  Claude was perpetually proxime accessit in the hunt for any mitre that fell open, and invariably managed only to cause preferment to fall rather upon his younger brother in his stead, Claude’s naked ambition being a bit stiff even for these days, let alone his own.)  My mother’s eldest sister, during the Hitler War, took up a post in the MoD that allowed her to remain nearby, and only mandatory retirement finally drove her from her increasingly senior position, long after The Lads Came Home expecting to send the women packing and to take up their old posts.  Aunt Jean was a hat-and-gloves-and-furs sort of gentlewoman – I mean to say, even in the 1980s she was still perfectly turned out in the fashions of Coronation year, effectively unchanged – with a lobsters-and-lorgnettes manner (her two sons were, respectively, an officer of HM Royal Marines and an officer of the Royal Navy, both of whom combined gallantry with an enormous amount of sheer side, to the perennial amusement of my former cavalry officer father, their uncle by marriage, who frustrated them endlessly simply by being, indisputably, a cavalry officer and thus entitled to – and casually refusing to – put on more side than the both of them combined.  My Uncle James, himself previously an ornament of the Green Death, HM Jollies, was perennially amused by his brother in law’s subtle manner of puncturing the pride of his nephews).  Aunt Jean was never able to fathom – full fathom five or otherwise – her sister’s mad decision to abandon, not merely life in the environs and purlieus of the (self-proclaimed) Second City of the Realm, but – what was worse – life in the Great Metropolis, for marriage to my father amidst acres, tenants, dogs, and horses.


I don’t wish to seem disapproving of Aunt Jean.  She regarded my father favourably: it was merely the thought of my mother’s Inexplicably Wasted Potential, Voluntarily Immured in the Wilderness, that caused her sisterly agonies. 


I remember stopping with Aunt Jean in the Summertide antecedent to my going up to University.  She was one of those women who, coming from a Liberal family tradition and having tasted authority and emancipation during the Hitler War, became one of those grandee Labourites of unparalleled vehemence.  And of course, she was a daughter of the rectory who had dug herself in in the MoD’s civil service.  It should therefore surprise absolutely no one that she was the most pro-gay twice-widowed Provincial Gentlewoman on earth.  The first thing she did on my arrival was cast an assessing gaze over me, ring up one of her twenty-something gay protégés, and pack me off to Hurst Street for the evening.


Given that I’d not yet fully determined that my schoolboy homosexuality was not wholly situational, this struck me then and strikes me now as remarkable on far too many levels.


Her sons, my older-by-half-a-generation cousins Jack and Charles – Charlot in the family, because he actually spoke French that wasn’t painfully British – simply descended upon her, when ashore, with cakes and whisky, and maintained a vaguely paternal interest in my angling, shooting, and hunting.


My father’s brother, my Uncle George, father of the Terrors of Lake, was always the most cheerful, least saturnine, and most facile of us: happily provincial, and perhaps best known to my readers for his recent report on a trip to France, in which he confided that he quite liked the landscapes and didn’t mind the people too terribly, but found the food terribly French.


I have previously described my father’s father on several occasions in greater depth than I do here: a dry old stick, reserved with people-as-such, uncompromising, far stronger than he realised yet with a delicate touch for delicate work, and unaffectedly happiest with children, dogs, and horses.  His son inherited his caustically witty misanthropy, and his unmercenary intellectual curiosity, his thirst to know about masonry and farriery and any country craft that piques his interest.  My father also got along brilliantly with the most unclerical of his wife’s uncles, my great-uncle Francis, who, having thoroughly enjoyed France, the French, the wine, the food, and particularly the women, both during and after his war – which was the Kaiser’s War – spent most of his after years in France, doing his very best to incarnate the fictional Paul Delagardie.  (I remember him, from my very youngest years, a spry and sprightly octogenarian, slim as a lath, twinkling like Dumbledore, and still merrily disreputable, with a cultivated palate and every intention of passing the tuition on.)  In fact, if much of my insatiable intellectual curiosity comes from my father’s family and his father’s, my artistic impulses come from his mother’s family in part – and he shared them to that extent – and, with my sensual impulses, from the musical to the decanted and the Michelin-starred to the frankly sexual, from my mother’s family.


My father was brilliant as I am not, witty where I am dull, wise where I am clever.  And on this day as on every day since he died, I find myself yet struggling to comprehend and to learn to live in a world that, unimaginably, no longer has him in it.

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femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 20th, 2010 09:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
My father was brilliant as I am not, witty where I am dull, wise where I am clever.

Dearest. You are brilliant, witty, and wise. Far more than you realise.

And on this day as on every day since he died, I find myself yet struggling to comprehend and to learn to live in a world that, unimaginably, no longer has him in it.

You have no idea--or actually, I suspect you do--how very much I understand this. It is a struggle, is it not? Every day. Sometimes easier. Sometimes not. But no matter how many weeks, months, years have gone by, they still linger. And they're still missed. Badly.

I would have liked your father, I suspect. Or rather, I know I would because his son is marvellous.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you, although you do me too much credit.

The loss never quite goes away. Still, we must Keep Buggering On.
femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 20th, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Not enough credit, I say.

It does leave a bit of a curiously-shaped hole in you that can't quite ever be filled properly. But one foot in front of the other, which is the best that can be done throughout life, really.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, quite.

Slogging on and Mind the Gap.
being_here From: being_here Date: June 20th, 2010 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's beuatiful.

And on this day as on every day since he died, I find myself yet struggling to comprehend and to learn to live in a world that, unimaginably, no longer has him in it.

That reminds me so much of how I think of my mother and how I have felt since her death. The immediate pain may pass, but I regret not having her to talk to, never having had the chance to know her as I am now.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, that is the thing, isn't it, always.

But we Keep Buggering On.

Thank you for your very kind words.
being_here From: being_here Date: June 20th, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes, that is the thing, isn't it, always.

Don't we just. And we damn the passing of time. And we damn the bloody mediocre who survive.

What you wrote reminds me of that passage from Anansi boys, where Spider and Fat Charlie drink the funeral wine in that wine bar. By god, it's bitter, but we drain it to its dregs.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

All one can do.

All one can possibly do.
noeon From: noeon Date: June 20th, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Horses of the Sun

I have the odd urge, given me by my yet quick if otherwordly father, to make a stupid and kindly humorous comment to defuse the gravity of this post, but I cannot.

It's not easy to succeed Titans. And we do not often see our own worth adequately when measured with a father's rod.

These sketches are beautiful, vibrant and eloquent. I daren't pass any sort of judgement on the real, but your talent would be a tribute to anyone.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Shoulders of giants, and All That.

And if I recall, gravity was rather the problem, wasn't it, for Phaeton....
noeon From: noeon Date: June 20th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Gravity's rainbow

Yes, poor boy that he was, but I think you're a bit more Apollonian, bright one.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Careful with that thyrsus!

Oh, I've my Dionysian moments....
noeon From: noeon Date: June 20th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

And mind the Maenads

I can imagine.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: June 20th, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's an odd one, Father's Day. I am inclined to deplore it as an import - and personally I have always felt more in common with my mother's people - and yet I owe so much to my father that I can hardly compass it. You describe your people very vividly...
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 10:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you.

Sodding imports. When it comes to culture, I'm a protectionist - or at least an Empire Free Trader.
absynthedrinker From: absynthedrinker Date: June 20th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
A loving tribute from a loyal son. You've made me see my stormy relationship with my own father in a different light. Thank you.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 10:10 am (UTC) (Link)

I'm greatly obliged.

Fathers and sons.... Well, it's all Turgenev, isn't it.
17 comments or Leave a comment