Of the two daughters, Ellen died first. Her wits did indeed turn, and I am told that she was carried to the asylum crying "Hurrah! Hurrah! Three cheers for the Holy Trinity!”, much as might have been expected. Jane, however, lived to a good age. My mother remembers visiting her in the mid-1950s, and finding her a quaintly old-fashioned woman. What struck her most forcibly was that, in conversation, Jane referred to someone in the village as “a lady”, and then corrected herself – “or I should say, a person”. It wasn’t a slight, my mother decided: she was simply following what she had learned as correct usage, which reserved “lady” for a certain social rank. (I always think of this exchange when I read about Coleridge and his “person from Porlock”.) To my mother, university educated, London based and then in her early thirties, this niceness seemed faintly ridiculous. The sixties hadn’t happened yet, but they were on their way.
Searching for something else entirely at my mother's house yesterday evening I came across a tiny set of photographs from Boots, recording this later visit. The cover of the photo pouch in itself gives an insight into an earlier age. On the recto a small child dismantles a camera on a sandy beach, while his verso brother feeds a seagull by hand. What could be more idyllic?
In those days my father was a keen cyclist (sometimes to the point of foolhardiness) and my mother went along for the ride. This being pre-Lycra they cycled down to Dorset in tennis gear, something that accentuates the half-century gap between Jane's generation and my mother's. I must admit, this juxtaposition appeals to me greatly:
By way of contrast (or perhaps continuity), here is my mother this very morning, a mere 58 years later, at a fruit stall in Romsey market (a town she first saw when she and my father passed through while cycling to Dorset in 1956):
As somebody once remarked, ripeness is all.