Shy passers-by

At one time, there seemed few people in the village to whom we were not related. Members of the Crossman family seemed not to have moved far from the parishes that surrounded the town of Langport.

If I wanted to identify myself, I would name my mother and my maternal grandfather. The name was enough to establish my credentials with most people, even with the workmen among whom I sat in a van one day who whistled out at teenage girl who was cycling past.

“That’s a cousin of mine,” I said.

“You’m not a Crossman?”

“I am.”

In the village, my mother could travel road by road in her mind, naming the family who lived at each of the houses. One of the roads was named after Mary Cox, one of the forebears in the tangle of limbs that is our family tree.

Going to university in London at the age of eighteen was something to which I never adjusted. I was a registered student at the LSE, but spent little time there. It was a place full of strangers in a city full of strangers.

In rural Ireland, I found communities like the one in which I had grown up. In the Lecale peninsula in Co Down, and in the borderlands of Co Laois and Co Offaly there were families whose interconnection would have rivalled that of the Crossmans, families who had worked the same land for generations, families to whom no-one is a stranger.

The past year has been a strange time for anyone used to a sense of connectedness. My mother now relies upon telephone calls to her three sisters and two brothers. She still speaks of how she misses a fourth sister, who died from motor neurone disease in 1998. For many of us, the online world has replaced the actual, the only disadvantage being that the interactions are not comparable.

A shy passing stranger visited For the Fainthearted, my other blog, this afternoon. In 2014, a friend had sent me a zip file of photographs from days at the strange Dartmoor school I attended. I had often meant to upload the photographs, so spent time today posting all 670 of them on my blog.

The shy passing stranger arrived late this afternoon and could have looked at the photographs as a single gallery, but clicked to enlarge and then went through the images one by one, spending almost an hour looking at 350 of them.

Only someone who had gone to the school would have spent so much time, so I thought there would be a comment, a word, by which they might have given a clue as to who they were and when they had been there, but there was nothing.

Whatever the benefits of the online community, there is nothing like seeing real physical people. No-one would have lingered outside our house without leaving with a nod or a “how be on” word of greeting.

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