Archive for December, 2009

Thought for the day

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

In her column on possible New Year resolutions for political leaders, Jackie Ashley made two for David Cameron, our possible next Prime Minister, the first of which reads

“.. start being nicer to “the little people” – the makeup artists, photographers, drivers, bag-carriers and all the other slightly fuzzy attendants in the background. You aren’t nice to them. It’s being noticed.”

I found this troubling. I’ve always held a particular distaste for those who treat people who work for them or who they regard as “little people” badly. What a horrible expression “little people” is. Contemptuous and arrogant, sneering and partronising. And, if Jackie Ashley is right in her observation, what a wretched indictment of Cameron it would be, who has, apparently, been making an effort to show that he is not some moneyed toff with no respect for anyone but other, moneyed toffs, preferably from Eton and Oxford. Not the Bullingdon Club member with the contemptuous pout but a man who has proper values, who has grown and who now regrets that part of his life.

Although I have never found David Cameron convincing and think that his EU policies are deeply worrying, when first I heard of him it was through the good reports of various friends who are also his constituents. They had met and talked to him in the shop or out with his son in the village (this before he became party leader) and had found him approachable and pleasant. And the experience of being father to Ivan must have changed him – unsettled the sense of invincibility that a background such as his inevitably bestows and made him a rounder more understanding person. One who I had presumed, had been exposed to ordinary life and ordinary folk – patients, nurses, parents, doctors, people who arrange transport and who do the ordinary work for average salaries and who represent the majority of us who live and work in Britain but who can so easily be categorised by that horrible phrase.

One of the most courteous and charming people I have ever met was John Grigg, who had been Lord Altrincham before he became the second person after Tony Benn to give up a title. He had been a Conservative (as I was once) but was Chairman of Lewisham SDP when I was Area Secretary. Old fashioned as it sounds I’m going with the cliché ; John was a real gentleman. His courtesy and respect extended to everyone he met. Once, after he and I had gone canvassing in the Tory edge of the constituency where we had met some pretty charmless voters, he said with apparent pleasure how delighted he always was by the good common sense of the British voters. I was never quite as broadly generous toward the electorate. John and his wife would entertain party members in his home in Deptford with great hospitality. He never made people feel uneducated or a “little” person because he had a true respect for everyone he met and, as a result, was hugely respected and liked in return. I regard it as a privilege to have worked with him.

In “An Englishman in New York”, John Hurt’s Quentin Crisp tells a friend that he has always called him Mr Steel rather than Philip “because it wouldn’t be respectful” to call him by his first name. After all says Crisp, “ Manners Maketh Man as someone once said “. That would be William of Wykeham who founded Winchester College as well as New College and New College School in Oxford whose motto it is.

David Cameron was at Eton where the motto is translated as “may Eton flourish” as was John Grigg but he knew about Manners Making Man. Perhaps David Cameron might want to reflect that as several people including Montaigne and Madame Cornuel are reputed to have said, “no man is a hero to his valet” – and that a failure of manners to people who can’t retaliate really isn’t big or clever or as my mother would have said – very attractive.

On the trail of the lonesome Pyke

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Here’s a bit more about a story I wrote last year in March 2008 concerning my great-aunt’s autograph book. One of the entries was contributed by Alfred L Pyke of the 17th Fusiliers when he was her patient in 1917. Thanks to the power of the Internet I found out some more about Alfred Pyke.

I discovered that a man called Roy Albutt wrote about the work of the stained glass designer Alfred L Pyke (1890 – 1976). I wrote to Mr Albutt who lives near Birmingham and he kindly sent me his paper about stained glass in the region. It turned out that Alfred Pyke worked in a studio between Redditch and Birmingham in a place called Tardebigge. He emigrated to Canada and died there in the mid-seventies about the same time as my great-aunt who had nursed him in the war.


Caption: Memorial window, St George the Martyr, Redditch (c) Tudor Barlow

Roy Albutt drew my attention to a memorial window that had been designed and installed by Alfred Pyke which featured a QARANC nurse. It was in the church of St George the Martyr in Redditch, which is very near Birmingham where I often go to visit my son. So one Sunday last year we took a detour and found the church at the end of a rather run-down housing estate. It was a rambling Victorian building with a rather pleasant arts and craft vicarage next to it. The door was locked but on the notice board was a telephone number for the vicar. G called the vicar who told him that the church would be open on Wednesdays and Sunday mornings. When she’d heard the story she kindly agreed to open the church and took us in. And there was the window made by the artist whose drawing is so familiar and whose talent showed in the delicate lines.

The vicar was charming and told us she had recently used the window when she taught the Sunday School about the war. She took us around and we got the impression of a hard working and dedicated congregation but much diminished from the years when the church was built.

The window was lovely but sadly there was a hole in middle of the nurses’ forehead, made by a pellet from an air gun. I found that very poignant. I added a scan from Roy Albutt’s paper to the Oxford University WW1 archive and then, being curious, looked for any other mention on the Internet. And there was a lovely picture on Flikr. It’s taken by Tudor Barlow who’s made a specialty of photographing churches. He describes himself as a “retired person enjoying his camera and his life” Sounds good to me. He also told me that the church is likely to close in 2010. I’m really pleased he got in first. And I’m even more pleased to have been able to follow the author of the lovely little picture in the autograph book which I’ve known for most of my life