Thursday, 19 January 2012

Mother's letters

A series of draft letters taken from my mother’s notebook between the time of my father’s death in 1994 and her death in 1998 (aged 91).  I have reproduced the letters faithfully, down to the punctuation and capitalisation.

In the words of my eldest brother “I knew she was mentally active to the end (and remember her getting pretty annoyed about some of the topics covered here) but I hadn't realised she was still firing off bombshells to the press.”

We have no reason to believe that these letters were not sent.

Letter to the vicar of Bovey Tracey Parish Church
Dear Mr S.
I have waited a few weeks since my husband’s death to write to you in order to clarify my thoughts.

I am writing about your refusal to hold the funeral service for my husband in the Parish Church on the grounds that he apparently lived outside the Parish boundary. This ruling does not appear to be known by anyone in Bovey Tracey whom I know and in particular not by the local Undertakers.

My husband and I thought the Parish Church a beautiful Church and I wanted the service there, also as many of our family would be coming a long way and many of our friends are old, we did not want the additional journey to the Crematorium and when Mr H. told us that the Committal Service could be held in the Church instead of the Crematorium my children and I thought this an ideal arrangement.

When Mr H. telephoned to say that you would not take the Service we were all dismayed.  My husband after many years of illness had had a very peaceful ending, falling asleep without pain in his own bed with his family around him. The only discordant note sadly came from the Church.

Mr H. said we must have the Service at St Johns, a Church we had never been into and which we knew to be very High Church.  My husband & I have always been Low Church; in fact my husband came of Quaker stock.  Probably fortunately it was the new Priest’s day off & he could not take the service & for various important family reasons the funeral had to be on the Monday.

In the end we had the Service at the Crematorium & it was a very simple & moving service.  My daughter wrote a tribute to her father on which Canon Hosking based his address.  The Chapel was packed; people were having to stand, which may give some indication of the kind of man my husband was, & how much he was loved & respected.

To go back to the reason for your refusal, I have been told of many examples of people from outside the Parish having the Service in the Church.

I can therefore only conclude that when you gave the boundary reason you were being “economical with the truth” & the real reason was because you had not seen us in Church.  You did not attempt to find out anything about us – our age, our state of health, how long we had lived here or what our previous relations with the C of E had been.  2 of my near neighbours are regular Church goers, one being a Sidesman.  If one of them died would you send them to St Johns?  Of course you would not.

At the time all the family were naturally very sad and I think we were justified in expecting to be treated with compassion.

One reads of declining congregations in the C. of E. & I cannot but think that this kind of experience is rather bad P.R.  I know my family is completely disillusioned.  Being very old myself I hope that I have learnt enough not to judge the whole Church on one insensitive representative.

I am going to mention another matter which saddened me. I was so pleased when Mr H. told me that you were Welsh.  I am not Welsh, but I was born in Wales.  I went to School in Wales & I have always had Welsh friends, whose friendship was shared by my husband after our marriage 62 years ago.  We loved Wales & spent many holidays there, & I told Mr H. it would give me pleasure to have a Welshman taking the Service. As with my attitude to the Church I am not stupid enough to condemn a whole race because I was disappointed in one member.

I am sending this letter in the hope that consideration of it might prevent some other family experiencing our distress.


Letter to a newspaper (probably the Independent).

I have always appreciated J.N’s news reviews.  I am sorry that his column this week made me angry.  I am getting tired of journalists sneering at people who care for animals, implying that therefore they don’t care for people.  In my experience people who have compassion usually show it to all living things.

However, what really made my blood boil was his statement that in the 40’s people didn’t “give a damn” about the treatment of the Jews.  I know he slipped in the words “in authority” but it was obvious from the juxta position to his previous comments that he meant that generation.  Well, at 88 I am of that generation and I wonder what more he thinks could have been done beyond fighting & winning a war.  If Hitler had won I doubt if the Jewish race would not exist in Europe

Even in the mid thirties, my late husband and I, young & newly married met young Jews from Germany being sheltered by friends while waiting for permanent homes.  What on earth does J.N. think could have been done at the time.  There are many injustices in the world today which are almost impossible to rectify.

As to his sneers about comfortable middle class oh so English people caring about cruelty to animals I would make a guess they are mainly the same people who subscribe to Amnesty International.


Letter to Miles Kington, the Independent.

Dear Mr Kington

In best journalese I am an “88 year old housebound with arthritis widowed grandmother”, so I can probably call you Miles.  In any case I feel I know you.  Don’t worry about my description, I am not hungry or cold & have a lovely family & dear friends near.

I am writing because I have a problem.  Mornings are rather bad & I creep into the kitchen to make my breakfast – tea, toast, fruit juice & to collect my pills & the Independent.

I creep back to bed with these on my wonderful S.S. * trolley.  While eating my breakfast & taking my pills I start to read the Independent – the duty bits first, then you (unless, of course, Andrew Marr is in).              * Social Services

By this stage I feel fine, ready to get up & face my small world.  Now, this is my problem – is this “feel good” effect brought on by my breakfast, my two steroids & one Ibuprofen, or by my laughing out loud at your column?  I think I know.  Keep up the good work & thank you!


Letter to a newspaper (probably the Independent).

I feel so ashamed of the United Nations, i.e. the Nations which comprise it.  I have worked (Flag Days, Jumble Sales, you name it) for years in support of the U.N.A. & before that the L N U (League of Nations?).  We tried to disseminate information & encourage support for collective security.  When, in my young days, my friends & I campaigned for Sanctions against Italy when Mussolini invaded Abasynia (sic) I never thought that in my very old age nothing would have improved.

I hate war but this is an imperfect world & if there must be military force I have always hoped that eventually it would only be employed in support of collective security & against aggression.

In the 30’s we knew we had little clout as the USA was not in the League.  However their membership of the UN has not made much difference as they still will not risk their skins, unless, of course, there is oil involved.

Of course I do not want our soldiers or soldiers of any other nation to suffer but they must know that one of the hazards of military service is having to fight. 

I have been impressed by the quality of all the professional soldiers of every nationality interviewed by the media.  I think they have been ready to fight to save the long suffering Bosnians, but they have been let down by Politicians.

It is probably too late now to do anything to save the situation.  What a tragedy caused by political considerations.


Letter to a newspaper (probably the Independent).

Dear P.T.

In one of your articles you appeared to support old people having to give up all they had to pay outrageous sums for Nursing Home fees.

I would like to put another point of view.  If the old person has enough money to leave to set their family up in luxury it is probable that their income would be enough for their fees without the need to use capital.  The really poor including the (unreadable) will have their fees paid by Social Security.

Those of us who have little but our modest homes to leave to our children and grandchildren, which my husband & I always hoped to do.

I am 88.  My husband died last year after years of illness and dementia.  I cared for him myself & he died at home.  We had never been unemployed & had paid our taxes & other dues.  We were lucky enough to have good health until our eighties so we made little call on the NHS. 

Our children were born in private Nursing Homes & a large part of their education was private & they also have been lucky with their health so far.  I am telling you this to show that we have not taken much from the State.  It seems unfair that I am terrified that I may end my days in a Home.

At present with the help of a lovely family I can cope, but I come from a long living family (I should really touch wood!).


Letter to a newspaper (probably the Independent).

Dear Sir
I was pleased to see that someone had pointed out that it is correct to lay bottles down.  So many people (including the Prime Minister) are uncertain on this point that I would like to quote my Mother who, in order to impress on me the need for an object to the verb, used to say “a hen lays eggs & you lay the table!”

The grammatical error which irritates me most, however, is the use of the wrong personal pronoun when used with another person.  This is done so often by people (including Journalists) who should know better that I will again quote my Mother who told me to leave out the other person in my mind & decide what sounded right.

I have always been grateful that when I was educated Latin & Grammar formed part of the Curriculum.  However at the age of 88 I sometimes think blissful ignorance might be less stressful than pedantic irritation.


Letter written probably to the Independent.

I am horrified at the behaviour of the two parties’ politicians about Harriet Harman’s young son.  Should Harriet Harman have said to her bright young son “Sorry son you were born at the wrong time & you are entering (unreadable) education after 17 years of Tory rule so that the comprehensive system has been allowed to run down but we can’t allow you to take advantage of what is available because it wouldn’t be like that if Labour had been in power”.  What rubbish!

It isn’t H.H. who will stop Labour winning the Election but these ideological dinosaurs.

As an 89 year old lifelong Liberal now a Lib. Dem I was beginning to lean towards New Labour as I am sure are many “floating voters” who feel the same but the blinkered attitude of the old Left will warn them off.  I would guess that if members are leaving the Labour party it is not because of Harriet Harman’s little boy but because of the abuse directed towards her.  I have thought for a long time that the Labour Party has a death wish.

There are then about 9 pages of letters written in shorthand, which I have tried to decipher but I think are just family letters.

Letter to the BBC re a Radio 4 programme.

Dear Mr Rees
First, I enjoy your Programme “Quote – Unquote” very much & this has prompted me to write to you.

I enclose a copy of a nonsense quote which I have known all my life (I am nearly 90).  I was taught it orally as a child by my father who must have learnt it in his childhood, as one of his sisters confirmed to me.  She could also recite it when in her 70s.

For some reason, probably the advent of Radio, I have not passed it on to my children.  However, occasionally I quote it in some context & I did this in the hearing of one of my daughter’s-in-law, who looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.  This was the first time I had seen it written down.

From somewhere in the past I had the impression it was by Swift but I see it is by Samuel Foote.  I don’t know how far in the past it was quoted in my father’s family as my grandfather died before I was born.  My father was born in 1877.  I should be interested to know if you have ever heard it before, as I know no-one who has.

Unfortunately she didn’t write down the quote so I have no idea what it was!!
Some Samuel Foote quotes below but no way of knowing if her quote was one of these:-

a)  Born in a cellar... and living in a garret.

b)  Death and the dice level all distinctions.

c)  He is not only dull in himself, but the cause of dullness in others.

d)  So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf, to make an apple-pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop. ‘What! No soap?’ So he died, and she very imprudently married the barber.

e)  When house and land are gone and spent, then learning is most excellent.

NB  I have been told by my brother that the quote is d) but with additions, so reads as follows:

SAMUEL FOOTE (1720 - 1777)

So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage leaf, to make an apple pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop.  ‘What! No soap?’  So he died, and she very imprudently married the barber; and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyalies, and the grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at top, and they all fell to playing the game of catch as catch can, till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.

A farrago composed by Foote to test the vaunted memory of the actor Charles Macklin.
A letter to a newspaper, possibly the Observer

Andrew Rawnsley's "unthinkable thoughts" have stimulated me to make the following responses.

1.  Of course Britain should get rid of her nuclear weapons. They are an anachronism.
2.  What a delightful thought to give away Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, no-one would have it.
3.  A serious thought, this. We should hang on to our seat on the Security Council. If the Nations lived up to the Charter, our troubles would be over.
4.  It would probably be more expensive to move Parliament round the country.
5.  We must hang on to our Monarchy. The alternative is too appalling, just look at America. It's a case of holding on to Nurse .....
6.  I do not know much about drugs but remembering the disaster of Prohibition in the U.S.A. it might be worth looking at the decriminalisation of so called soft drugs.
7.  The money for the Police should certainly not be cut, but Prison money could be more usefully employed e.g. in rehabilitation.
8.  Road building could be stopped but not replacing (?). Living in rural Devon I am less committed to reduction on car ownership. (Oh dear the cult of self interest must be getting to me!).
9.  Health Service money needs increasing but not without limits as that would encourage unnecessary extravagance.
10. All public utilities should definitely be run by the State. Why is Government money always a subsidy while private money is an investment?
11. The Trade Unions should not have more political power. Strikes should not be supported or opposed purely for political reasons.
12. I agree most strongly that Income Tax should be raised combined with less opportunity for avoidance to finance the running of the country, but fairly & rationally. However, as an 89 year old widowed Pensioner paying no Income Tax, I would say that, wouldn't I?

Letter to a catalogue from which she used to buy clothes.

I am writing to thank you for sending me the £3 which I over paid on my recent order. As it was a voucher which I omitted to deduct I thought I would have to accept the mistake to teach me to be more careful. I offer as an explanation but not an excuse the fact that I am 90 years of age. However your efficiency has restored my faith in human nature.
I am very pleased with the articles but then I always am, though I sometimes wish you made a shorter trouser leg.

Letter to her Member of Parliament

Dear Mr N.

I am writing about the free vote which will take place in the Commons on 28 Nov, regarding hunting with dogs. I feel strongly about this & I would hope that in spite of representing a mainly rural constituency, you might consider giving it your vote.

I am not a member of any Animal Rights Project, nor do I indulge in anthropomorphism (nor do I object to humane culling), but I find beyond belief the cruelty involved in hunting down & tearing to pieces wild animals. I cannot understand the mentality of the people who enjoy this & call it a sport & some of whom having lost their case in the High Court against the National Trust on Exmoor, can talk of taking it to the European Court, without any shame.

I may add that Alan Clark is not one of my favourite people but I admire his stand against hunting.

Letter to the Independent

Dear Sir
I have read the Independent since it started & tho' I do not always agree with its point of view, I am still reading it.

However, today has nearly finished me. I am not a very enthusiastic Monarchist but I prefer the Queen to the ballyhoo of a Presidential Election ending up perhaps with a "Clinton".  It is the insult to the Queen on your front page which I think was quite unnecessary. Not a word in the paper about the Golden Wedding & an obviously deliberate insult in the heading & picture on page 1.  Bad manners will do you no favours.

This was her last letter before her death aged 91, in April 1998.



  1. She'd have been blogging up a storm today!

  2. I really enjoyed these - what a feisty lady!


Better than a four-leaf clover!

Not one to promote myself, I do seem to be bringing my friends who sail a certain amount of luck these days.   Looking back over photos ...