There was an interesting Tweet put up by Michael Rosen a few days ago in which he asked if there were any of us out there who had relations we were close to and fond of, who were born in the 19th Century. It gave me pause for thought because I was pretty certain that both my grandmothers, one of whom I was very close to and my suffragette aunt and a vague but very close relation whom I called Dardy, were all in that category.
So I checked as well as I could and discovered that my grandmother Parodi was born in 1872 and Vera Dawson who was my suffragette aunt was born in 1891. I couldn’t find Dardy but she was another one born around that time in a village called Westward Ho, which is in Devon and was sent into service when she was 12. Such very different times they lived in.
The faces of these two that I remember were smiling and loving but of course both these are posed, one at a wedding and the other in the family garden and don’t tell you the full story of what they were like.
All of which of course has led to this blog and the difference between our lives and theirs. When Grandma Parodi was born, William Gladstone was the Prime Minister and a member of the Liberal party which was quite a force in the land in those days. When Auntie Vera was born, the Prime Minister was Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, a high and important Tory. The Labour party wasn’t even a pipe dream in those days. That wasn’t founded until 1900 and was the dream of a man called Keir Hardie who was Scottish and a trade unionist and a strong and ardent supporter of the suffrage movement, a man who stood up for the poor and the oppressed and those who struggled for the vote, as few did in those times. He was one of my early heroes. And all that had happened before we’d even reached the start of the twentieth century.
Left to right – William Gladstone, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil and Keir Hardie
It all seems a very long time ago and rather rubs my face in the difficult fact that I am now 90. But I can still read a face or at least I kid myself that I can. You may not agree with my readings because we all see things in a different way with different eyes, but these three men pictured above speak to me with quite clear voices. What I pick up from Gladstone’s face is arrogance and power and responsibility, Robert Cecil looks rich and superior and responsible, but both these are posed portraits so we might not be seeing the men behind the pose. But my lovely Keir’s slightly anxious look conveys to me that he is a man who has actually has sympathy for other people.
And what sort of man is leading us now folks? God help us all. Go on, give him a label, I dare you!