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Random post is random... - dorsetgirl
July 25th, 2014
10:32 pm
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Random post is random...
I realised I hadn't posted for a while so I was trying to think of something to post about. While I was driving to bank-town this afternoon I had loads of ideas, complete with witticisms and fully-formed sentences. But now I can't think of anything to post about, so I'm just going to dredge up a couple of snippets.

[1] Wimbledon With the absence of the fuzzy bear (Delpo) I didn't watch quite as avidly as last year, but I watched a couple of Djokovic's matches, including of course the final. One of the biggest things that struck me was how relaxing it is to watch Wimbledon compared to other tournaments. No disgusting/surreal/mad combinations of colours on the shirts and shorts; no irritating music playing loudly at change of ends; no courtside interviews except after the final; no badly-timed announcements in loud fake-excited American voices drifting over from the next court; no bone-itching constant screeching of the players' shoes on hard surfaces. Just plain white clothes on plain green grass, all very peaceful, calm and well-behaved.

Of course the fact that until about last August I had never in my whole life watched tennis being played anywhere other than England could have something to do with it. It's very deeply engrained that this is the way tennis is rightly and properly done. But I definitely found it calming and relaxing to come back to a quiet and homely way of doing things.

[2] Kay Scarpetta novels of Patricia Cornwell (I said it was random...) I was sorting through a pile of books on the landing the other day and I came across a Scarpetta novel I hadn't even read (Red Mist). Not sure how that happened, but it was a very pleasant surprise, especially as it was quite a thick book that took me three days to read. I've obviously missed a couple somewhere because the intrepid Doc's life has moved on in a couple of ways since the last one I read, but Cornwell tends to spell out the history to such a degree that it's quite possible these things are only being noted in expo rather than having actually happened "on stage" in previous books.

I like Kay Scarpetta - as a character she's intelligent, thoughtful, insightful; she's good at her job in a way I can understand and empathise with (I do get fed up with lead characters who are magically good at weird things like painting or writing for magazines and they just automatically get noticed and promoted and they've got gorgeous eyes and wonderful hair); she reflects on other people's lives and expertise in a way that makes sense to me. We don't get constantly told what her hair is looking like or the colour of her eyes, and even descriptions of her clothes are if not actually necessary to the plot, at least helpful towards explaining what's going on.

I like Marino quite a lot, too. He's well described; he's not my type - romantically or sexually - any more than he is Scarpetta's, but I believe in their working relationship and how it blurs into a friendship of sorts that has lasted for years. Benton I don't feel I know; perhaps I haven't read enough of the books where he appears, but he often seems to me to be too lightly drawn, too beige - little more than a handy plot device.

But Lucy - now there's a character I really, really, don't like. I'm actually not sure why, and I don't even know whether Cornwell wants me to like her. As a supreme computer expert she should be very interesting, but perhaps Cornwell isn't enough of a computer expert herself to do Lucy justice, so for me she, like Benton, often seems little more than a plot device. But the big problem is, Lucy's love life is to the novels what for me the Daleks are to Doctor Who - desperately over-used and ultimately rather boring(*). I don't care in the slightest that Lucy is lesbian, although we do see quite a lot of other characters apparently having big problems with that, but it's the way so many plots revolve around her (mainly ex-) lovers that I get bored with. Perhaps Cornwell is in love with the character and uses this device to bring Lucy into the books all the time, but it's like Charlie Hungerford used to be in Bergerac - "we've got this big interesting character so we've got to crowbar him into the plot every week". The big problem being that Lucy isn't interesting in the slightest.

Nor do I quite buy how Scarpetta is supposed to feel about her. She apparently "loves her like a daughter" - admittedly not something I have any experience of - but this is something that Scarpetta has to tell us. I certainly don't feel I've ever been shown it. We only see the supposed results of this great love, when Scarpetta ties herself in knots over trying not to upset Lucy when she deals with whatever shit Lucy's most recent ex-lover is dealing out. It's just a rather over-used device to my mind.

*I categorically exclude from this assessment Russell T. Davies' use of the Daleks in "Dalek" and "Bad Wolf / Parting of the Ways"!

[3] World War 1 Centenary I remain in two minds about how much it's a good idea to have all these events and commemorations going on - nobody's ever commemorated the Crimean or Boer Wars, after all - but I am taking part in a major project set up by the Imperial War Museum, Lives of the First World War. What the IWM have done (so far) is create a "Life" for every individual soldier who has a Medal Roll Index Card, and for every soldier who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force. They will be creating "Lives" from other primary sources too, with the intent of covering every person who served the British war effort (military personnel to start with, then hopefully civilians later), without too much duplication. The idea is that the general public can then search for any soldiers they know anything about and add information to create their stories. You start by "Remembering" a soldier (feels ridiculously like "friending" tbh...), then you find official records for his service, or his birth or marriage etc, and you link those records to his Life. Then you extract information from those records to manually add them to the details of his Life.

The project involves promising rather than intimidating levels of academic rigour - every time you link a record you have to explain exactly why you're confident you've got the right person, but unlike a different project that I eventually gave up on because the levels of proof demanded were simply impossible, they don't insist on trying to make you prove the unproveable. They just ask you to think about it carefully before you start adding data.

I do think it's an excellent idea to insist that people justify themselves, because the levels of thought and logic displayed on some sites - Ancestry.co.uk comes to mind - are quite terrifying. Only last night I came across a family where someone had added parents to an ancestor while presumably under the influence of something quite strong. Not only was the "child" born forty years before the "parents" married, but the parents were aged 107 and 105 at the birth of the supposed child... Even on the IWM site itself, despite all the encouragement to careful reasoning, I noticed the other day that in the field for "war cemetery" someone had typed "He was amazing".

Oh, please. I have no doubt that he was "amazing". But are you really honouring him by failing to give a shit about putting his information in the right places? There is a separate box for adding "stories", and a special type of information called "personal knowledge" as distinct from "official records", so there's really no excuse.

Anyway, I'm currently "remembering" seven soldiers, and in some ways what's most interesting to me is that without my family history research I wouldn't know that I had any relatives at all who had served in the First World War. Only last night my mum said to me on the phone "But we didn't have anyone who was involved in that, did we?"

OH's two grandfathers both served in the trenches, but again we wouldn't know that if we hadn't actually found their medals lying around his mother's house when we cleared it.

One of the soldiers I'm "remembering" was my maternal grandfather's oldest brother, born in the 1880s. By the time my grandfather was 18 years old, his big brother had grown up, gone to University, served in the French Foreign Legion, married, been widowed, married again, joined the Army, earned the Croix de Guerre and the Military Medal, been seconded to the newly-formed RAF and finally gone back home to become a newspaper editor. I knew about the Army, the Military Medal and the newspaper from previous family history research, but the first wife, the Croix de Guerre and the RAF were news to me, while the Foreign Legion had been just a vague rumour and the University part (in about 1905!) was a huge shock as the family were fairly poor. He even got the MBE in later years - quite the achiever.

Another soldier I'm "remembering" was a first cousin of my maternal grandmother. Grandson of a blacksmith and son of an engine fitter, he was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps where he made his way up to acting Captain, then after the war he travelled the world as a mining engineer. Perhaps one day I'll be able to find out more about which mines he was involved with.

I haven't yet found a "Life" for my great-grandfather's older brother, because he had emigrated at some point before the War and joined the war effort as a member of the South African Infantry. Sadly he didn't make it home, and neither did the only son of the older sister of these two brothers.

It's fascinating looking more deeply into the lives of these people, but I am finding it also quite depressing reading about how these (mainly young) men had their lives changed or taken away in the pursuit of "the war to end all wars", and then reading the latest news about Syria, Gaza, Ukraine and the like.

The other thing I'm finding quite discouraging is the way The Times' tennis writer Neil Harman's serious misjudgement over use of the copy-and-paste function (bad enough in itself) is being used by some people as a way of crowing about how much more ethical (all) Americans are than (all) British people. It's not a discussion I want to even begin, but the level of jingoistic smugness in certain areas of the internet is quite sick-making and definitely unnecessary.

Random post was indeed random, and rather longer than I'd intended.


(4 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:July 26th, 2014 12:29 pm (UTC)

Thank you for the WW1 link - I'll have a good poke around as I've always wanted to know more about two brothers in my family who lost their lives in the Somme. It's brilliant the information is being pulled together, though frustrating if people are being stupid about getting facts right.

[User Picture]
Date:July 26th, 2014 07:25 pm (UTC)
I'm really hoping someone is moderating! I think it might be a slight problem that IWM's partner in this is FindMyPast, who to my knowledge don't have an online family tree function. If they were working with Ancestry, they would presumably have had it made very clear to them what sort of nonsense passes for logic in such places, while FindMyPast might not be so aware of the issue.
[User Picture]
Date:July 26th, 2014 12:35 pm (UTC)
Re. Charlie Hungerford, ISTR reading that it was due to Terence Alexander. He liked the character and wanted to play the part, but didn't want to be kept hanging around waiting to be called on for an odd episode here and there. So he said if he was going to be in it, he wanted to be in it properly, and had it written into his contract that he would have a minimum number of episodes per series.

I agree with you abut poor standards of accuracy in research generally. On the IGI there are many entries that are pure guesswork, which other people will take as fact. On the 1911 census transcripts it is possible to challenge errors, but I was finding so many I gave up.

Someone needs to write your maternal great uncle's biography. Have you any idea what made him join the Foreign Legion?

With the First World War commemorations, I think it's that (in the UK at least) the scale of the losses was much greater than anything seen before. And in the UK it was the first time we'd fought a war with a conscript army (from 1916). So every family is likely to have been touched by it in some way, unlike previous wars. Plus it had, and continues to have, a massive impact on Europe and the Middle East.

Both my gfs were on the Western Front in WWI. I never knew either of them so don't have any first hand memories, only what I've been told by older relatives.

I've signed up to Lives of the First World War but unfortunately paternal gf had what was then a very common combination of first names and I haven't been able to pick him out of the half dozen or so men with the same name or initials.

I know he was badly wounded and was never fully fit again, which obviously had an impact on the family, and presumably contributed to his relatively early death.

A younger cousin has been doing some research, but AFAIK hasn't yet discovered anything.

Maternal gf was French. I do know his regiment - it's written on the back of a photograph we have - and have found regimental histories online, but O Level French was a long time ago.
[User Picture]
Date:July 26th, 2014 07:21 pm (UTC)
Re. Charlie Hungerford, ISTR reading that it was due to Terence Alexander.

Of course, I suppose he was the big name at the time, wasn’t he? I don’t remember having been aware of John Nettles before that, so I suppose what TA wanted, TA got. I just think they could have been a little less clunky about bringing him in. I think Jim also had a French girlfriend at one point who they did the same thing with.

Someone needs to write your maternal great uncle's biography. Have you any idea what made him join the Foreign Legion?

No, not a clue, unfortunately. The only thing I do know is the slightly bitter comment from one of his nieces that “they all left as soon as they could”. (My mum keeps in touch with this niece, who was daughter to the only one that stayed at home). Most of them seem to have emigrated, and two boys simply disappeared, one never heard of again and one (my grandfather) not heard of by his parents or siblings for thirty years. The story goes that for years the family checked phone books wherever they went and finally found grandad in my home town just after I was born.

...it was the first time we'd fought a war with a conscript army... So every family is likely to have been touched by it in some way, unlike previous wars.

That makes a lot of sense - thanks! Presumably by then less people were needing to join up simply in order to eat every day, and so you had (as we do now, I suspect) Army families and non-Army families with no obvious meeting point or common view.

unfortunately paternal gf had what was then a very common combination of first names and I haven't been able to pick him out of the half dozen or so men with the same name or initials

I imagine you’re way ahead of me on this one, but I do currently have subscriptions to both Ancestry and FindMyPast, so if you wanted to PM me his name and approximate year of birth I’d be very happy to have a look at whatever Attestations or Pensions records might be available, to see if we can identify him - from age, next of kin or place of birth - in a document that has a service number.

Thinking about it, I suppose it’s because these people were mainly conscripted that we don’t know their regiments. I suppose career soldiers had a reason for joining a particular regiment and it was part of the family tradition - you would just know which regiment people had served in.

O Level French was a long time ago

Oh dear, wasn’t it just! I find google translate fairly handy for vocab and a kind of brute-force first pass, and then I check back to the original where I don’t quite trust the translation or it doesn't make sense.
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