Sunday, March 28, 2010

From Glenties to Adelaide

Its raining this morning. Duller and slightly cooler than its been. A day where you don't feel guilty for not being outside in the sunshine. I think that's a feeling that's residual of my past life in the UK - its not something I see torturing the souls of natural born Skips.

Yesterday was a landmark of sorts in a number of ways. Our new puppy had his first proper walk and despite having legs all of two inches long he kept up the pace with the very much larger labradoodle all the way. He did sleep well,though.

And on another front I cleaned out a cupboard that held family, legal and social documentation going back a rather long way. Ancient photographs and postcards a hundred years old of family.

There's a postcard from my Granda to my Granma, written when she was in service in a 'big hoose' in Partick, telling her that he'd had word from his sister that a letter had arrived from Ireland and that he would tell her all about it when he would call for her the following Sunday afternoon. To show that romance wasn't dead, the picture on the postcard was of some serious men in rolled up sleeves who were, according to the caption, firefighters waiting to descend into the pit at Cadder where 23 men lost their lives. Very romantic!

There's a photo of my Grandad's family in Edwardian dress, or possibly Victorian. This was the family - my great Grandad and Granma and their children Mary, Sarah, Bridget and John (Granda thomas was born after they got to Scotland) - who emigrated from the tiny village of Glenties in Donegal to the then booming city of Glasgow. From wild green fields to the dirt and mire of the industrial revolution.

I went to Glenties four years ago. Even today it has only one street. I spoke with the people who live there. They don't remember the McGintys but I saw the old men, how they looked and how they spoke, and realised the gene pool tells far more than memories ever can. I felt like I was looking at Granda.

There aren't any photos of my Granma, Roseann, when she was young, which is a shame. She was brought up on a farm near Belleek in Fermanagh, where the farmhouse itself straddled the border between the British ruled North and the Independent South.

Because of the inheritance laws, meaning there was no living available for her from the farm, she was sent to Glasgow to go into service for a wealthy family. Must have been then when she was courted by Granda Thomas. I hear tell she was actually 12 years older than Thomas - he must have liked the more mature woman.

She bore him six children: Rose, twins Tommy and Ann, Alice, John (my dad) and James. Rose died just a couple of years ago, and my dad went in 08. Tommy died young - I remember his chair sitting where it always used to, but empty, and it was a sad sight in the tiny living room/kitchen. He was a gentle and happy man, and apparently something of a self-taught scholar.

Ann and Alice died in the late 1980s and James died at either two or six, depending on who you listened to, of measles. My dad was only a young boy when it happened but he remembered my Granma asking, pleading with my Granda to get the doctor, but Granda said no. The inference was that they didn't have the money. Eventually he relented and left to fetch him, but while he was gone, James passed away. According to my dad, it was not a peaceful passing and the experience haunted him his whole life.

And all of this life took place in a single end in Maryhhill. 61 Oran Street. It's not there now, that part of the street, but I remember it well, visiting often with my dad until it was demolished in the early 70s.

Photos, documents, telling a story of families who are no longer here, and yet they are important to us because they tell us where we came from and give us a sense of place and belonging - a bit like Sally Morgan's important book My Place. Glenties was my Corunna Downs.

There were legal documents that told the story of the first house I bought, a lifetime ago. The documents I did keep were the ones detailing the correspondence I had with the Australian Consulate over my application to come to Australia.

They detailed the somewhat tricky move of having my dad, who lived with me, as part of my family unit and included in the emigration application; the jumping through hoops of the different medical examinations that were demanded for him, and eventually the granting of the visas.

And then another letter from the office of then-immigration minister Philip Ruddock congratulating us on our decision to become sworn-in Australians, outlining our responsibilities and wishing us well in our new life as naturalised Aussies. I'll keep these, because while he's totally indifferent at 15 years old, maybe sometime down the track David, or one of his kids or grandkids, might want to know how their family came to be in Australia. One day they might fall on the details of our family history as hungrily as I do of my family now gone.

From Glenties to Glasgow to Adelaide in 110 years. I wonder what the next 110 will see?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Home again. Kinda.

I'm back! Or at least I'm nearly back.

My body arrived back in Adelaide about two and a half weeks ago, but my mind, my spirit and probably any other non-physical part of me has been floating god knows where in the ionosphere trying to overcome the displacement. Its been partly jet lag, partly a nasty infection in my inner ear and partly existential angst which I thought I'd left behind after I quit student life and the Catholic church, but now seems to be a compulsory souvenir of Paris.
It was quite a trip - Glasgow, Glencoe, Skye, Inverness, Pitlochry, Edinburgh, Portsmouth, London, Paris.
It was wonderful to see friends and family, closure to scatter my dad's ashes in his home country and brilliant to share a family wedding with friends and family new and old.
What's it left me with? Well here are some impressions in no particular order:

- I don't seem to be able to 'do' large, overcrowded cities as I get older. Whether its the traffic, high density population or just higher energy, I got so stressed in the cities it was unbelievable. Pockets of quiet sanity were Bearsden, Putney and Greenwich.

- Homesickness. I hadn't realised how much I missed the Western Highlands. I didn't want to leave Glencoe, then I didn't want to leave Skye. I could happily live anywhere in the triangle between Fort william, Skye and Inverness. Runrig once said in a song that 'Mountains are holy places'. In that case Scotland's got the best cathedrals in the world.

- Cathedrals. Spotted a few on the travels. St Pauls in London is a total rip off - 12 quid to get past the front door, and I kid you not - they have turnstiles in the church! Wonder how the big JC would have handled that mob - not as easy to overturn a turnstile as it is a table or two. Ironically, a couple of days later we discovered the Royal Naval college at Greenwich which was also built by Christopher Wren and was a beautiful example of his work. Oh and they didn't rob you on the way in, either.
St Giles in Edinburgh started off ok but by the time we got to the altar, there was a sign saying that if you want to take pictures then its a 2 quid charge for a 'permit', to be paid at their shop. Cheeky bastards. If I was still operating in the Catholic/Protestant paradigm I would point out that St Pauls and St Giles are both proddy cathedrals, but I'm above all that now.
Meanwhile, with the Tims in Paris, not only is entry free and welcoming, they carry right on with their mass or other ceremony while tourists are welcome to still tootle about as long as its with respect. Much respect to the Parisians for that.

- Paris. The least stressy city I visited. I think its because its kinda hard to get lost, and when the sun comes out its like this charm offensive that just lulls you into a type of self-congratulatory mood that says 'hey, yeh, cool, I'm in Paris". Yup, 'twas that deep.
I found the Parisian people to be sparky and funny and full of attitude but nice with it. I loved it that the women tended to dress predominantly in black, like I do, so I felt pretty much at home. That was compounded when by chance we found ourselves at an exhibition at the Gallery of Modern art. It was a retrospective on George Soulage, apparently France's greatest living painter, and it told the story of how his love affair with black developed - dual colour canvasses turning over the years to pure black and yet he was still fascinated at how the light still played across them - even with black there was no culling of the light, and in fact black actually gave the light new ways to be. I'm not a big modern art fan but I totally 'got' this guy and it felt so very good to have someone articulate something I never could.

- Bread. I am not a big bread fan or eater. Often I'd rather just have the filling and ditch the dough. However it was different in Paris. I don't know what they do but the bread and pastries are different - very light - so I ended up eating more than I ever have and still kept excess weight off by covering an average of 10km a day on foot.

- Cowboy boots. My walking boots from Oz died by the time I got to Portsmouth, so I bought another pair of walking boots there. Unfortunately they dug into my heels and by the time I got to Paris I couldn't wear them. So, I popped into a shop that had a sale on and for 15 euros got the most comfortable cowboy boots ever and that saw me trek the streets to my heart's content.So, yay for gallic cowboy boots!

I think that's probably enough for now. Lots of deeper stuff still being processed but its all good.There's been a bunch o stuff happening also, since I got back, but I'll save that for 'ron.

Hope you're all well!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Home again home again jiggety jig

There's been a bit of a hiatus on the blog front while we were away on our Grizwald-style European vacation. We're back home now but as feared the jet lag is taking its toll even four days after landing.
Its probably just as well, because there's so much stuff to process - a full month of memory-making days is a lotta junk to juggle so its probably just as well I'm having to take my time before putting my qwerty where my mouth is.
To sum it up it was an awesome trip: Scotland - Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Highlands and islands (well one island), Portsmouth and London, and finally Paris. Much to think and write about. And in the meantime we have a new puppy in da house. Its all go!