The Beach Hut

The Beach Hut

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Remembering Uncle George

My mother was born 13 years to the day after the death of her mother’s only brother in WWI.  George Victor Smith was 20 in 1918 when he was killed in Normandy and his parents and four younger sisters must have remembered him every time Mum celebrated her birthday.  Mum never knew though that it fell on the same day; her mother and aunts always told her that he died ‘sometime in the autumn’.  I have an enduring memory of Uncle George’s photo hanging on the wall at my grandparents’ home as I grew up.  The large sepia coloured photo showed him sitting with legs crossed looking solemnly at the camera.  What I didn’t notice, until I saw the photo again recently, was the dirty boots.  That photo must have been taken while on active service, straight out of the trenches of northern France.  

Over the years I learned from my grandmother and great aunts little bits of the story. Apparently his bible was sent to his mother; and she threw it straight onto the fire, “it was covered in his blood, you see”, Great Auntie Ida told me one day.  There was nothing else returned.  We know the date of his death, we know from the war diary that there were 14 other soldiers killed on the same day in the same regiment; we know about the bible.  However we don’t know where his body lies.  George Victor Smith is one of the thousands of WWI casualties with no known grave.  His name is on a wall in the small Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Pozieres in Normandy near where he died.

Last week I was honoured to be able to take Mum to visit that little cemetery in Pozieres and we found her Uncle’s name among other Lance Corporals of the Royal Engineers who lost their lives nearby. I say it’s small because it is smaller than I expected.  There are, nevertheless, several thousand names of men with no known graves carefully and uniformly carved into the panels lining the walls, and row upon neat row of white headstones with well tended grass and flowerbeds lie inside those high walls at the corner of a field right beside the busy country road to Albert, the entrance a vast balustraded gateway behind which peace and tranquility reign.  

For the first time in 93 years Great Uncle George had a visit from the family he never knew representing those he left behind.  We may never go back but I think my grandmother, his youngest sister, would be pleased to know we were there, left a poppy and signed the book of remembrance. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Forever Elvis

I know, you wondered how long it would be before I wrote about Elvis Presley.  Well this is my 4th entry and here we are.  I’m prompted to write about Elvis following a recent theatre visit to see Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven.  What a show!  Buddy Holly, Del Shannon, Roy Orbison, Eddie Cochran, Rick Nelson and Elvis Presley all on stage together.  Believe it or not I’m actually a little young to be an Elvis fan.  Most of the audience were a good 10 years older than me, but that didn’t stop them dancing in the aisles as if they were still 17.  

My introduction to Elvis came at the tender age of three when my parents took me to see GI Blues, Elvis’ first film after coming out of the army and his transformation into the All American Boy from the hip-swivelling young rocker so hated by American parents in the 1950’s.  My abiding memory of that film is the scene where Elvis sings Wooden Heart at the puppet show, indeed that was the first record I owned – I think it was a Christmas present a few years later.   

Over the years I saw all the movies, bought all the records, joined the fan club and read everything I could get my hands on with even the briefest mention of Elvis.  All through the 70's I would go into record shops and make sure the Elvis records were at the front of each section.

In the late 60’s The Monkees appeared on the scene and Elvis took a bit of a back seat for a few years.  I rather liked Mickey Dolenz, the drummer; I’m completely cured of that crush, however, since Mickey failed to appear in Hairspray earlier this year.  I’d booked specifically to see Mickey in the role of Wilbur Turnblad – but that night he was on The One Show and his understudy took his place on stage.   

Elvis, however, has never disappointed.  He’s forever tall, dark and handsome, his voice always perfect.  And if I go to see Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven he’ll always be there.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Crumbles

I grew up in a house that was built on the shingle of Eastbourne’s crumbles.  This wasn’t my first home, that was another house in another part of Eastbourne, but since the age of three this was home.  In those days the crumbles covered an enormous expanse of land from the sea shore of Eastbourne to Pevensey Bay and beyond and, in some parts such as where I lived, to a mile or so inland.  My road was one of the first to be built on the shingle and throughout my early childhood we could look out of our house right across the crumbles with nothing but shingle beach between us and the sea, which was visible from the upstairs bedrooms. 

Sadly, there is little left to see of the crumbles.  It is now largely buried under various housing developments, a school, the long awaited (and fabulous!) Sovereign Harbour, and the swimming pool, all with their obligatory car parks.    

Adjacent to Sovereign Harbour is a retail park currently called; The Crumbles Retail Park.  OK, so it’s just another shopping centre but with so much of the real crumbles gone it’s comforting to know that the history of the area is at least acknowledged in the name.  But for how long? 

Developers are moving in again.  They intend to give the shopping centre a facelift and with the facelift they want to give it a new name.  Their suggestion is, wait for it, SOVEREIGN CENTRAL.  Yikes!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Youngest

My youngest son started university this week.  18 years ago he was a bottom shuffler idolizing his two big brothers.  14 years ago he was a shy little boy who wouldn’t play in the playground if there were other children already there.  He’d prefer to go away and come back when he could have the swings and climbing frame to himself.  13 years ago he’d lie on the floor of my parents’ house on a Tuesday afternoon after school and read the sports section of the Daily Telegraph (proud mum face).  12 years ago he wanted to play the guitar, like his wonderful year 2 teacher – if only all teachers had the same understanding of children.  11 years ago he joined a local Sunday Football League team – finally leaving last year at the age of 18. 

He hasn’t ‘flown the nest’ however; his university is nearby and he’s still living at home – I can hear him downstairs now as I type.  He has a group of friends in the living room and they’re playing Playstation and drinking beer.  Yes, he outgrew his shyness and reluctance to play with other children.  Now our house if full of young people at every opportunity, birthdays, end of exams, passing exams, passing the driving theory test, passing the driving test, buying a car, end of term, start of the new term, you name it he’ll celebrate it.  However I wouldn’t have it any other way.  He’s the last of the brood and I hope he stays at home for a while yet. 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Making a choice

It's quiet and peaceful in the Beach Hut tonight and I could get a lot of writing done.  However, it's not as easy at that, I have a choice to make.  I can do some study and/or writing here, or go to the cinema with my son (his treat!) or I could go to a dinner meeting for the day job (after dinner for me since I’ve eaten already).  I know what I should do, but how could I turn down a date with my lovely son?  And then the much needed meeting is with a home-working colleague from the other end of the country who is visiting for a couple of days.  What fun, I’ll have to make a choice in the next few minutes!