April has given – and taken away . . .
April is such an ambiguous month for me, a month that has both given and taken away in the profoundest of ways.
The calendar on the kitchen wall records the birth of one of my children and the death of my grandfather in mid-April - but neither are events which I’m likely to forget as I brought one life into the world and a few years later, helped my grandfather take his leave of his.
There’s been much loss this year already yet the leaves have barely unfurled on the trees. David Bowie was a particularly brutal one. Like a lot of folks I’ve adopted a psychological brace position, nervously awaiting the next twitter #RIP hashtag, hoping that it won’t be anyone dear to the world, hoping that if it has to be anyone, there’s a particular GOP candidate worth bearing in mind. Before anyone accuses me of bad taste, consider that he might become president and set off an atomic bomb or six in a narcissistic tantrum because Kim Jong-Un dissed his model-wife, or some other foolish reason. That’s in addition to policing our uteruses in a stark contradiction to minimal-government. But I digress.
My grandfather wasn’t famous although he was a local legend in the village he lived in, having moved here from Burton-on-Trent in the early years of his marriage. He loved this town, visiting it most weekends and when I moved back to the UK, I often accompanied him and our visits would have a comforting repetition, starting with Getting The Car Out, which was a big deal in the seventies. The Morris Marina would sit on the drive as it was buffed and prepared for its run out, ticking like an old clock after a ‘pre-run’ up and down Pot Kiln Road. On the way to Bury, I’d sit in the back, listening to my grandmother fuss about parking spaces for the entire 17 miles- she wanted us all out of the house by 8 am lest there be no parking spaces left in the whole of Bury St Edmunds.
Grandfather Roy wasn’t provincial though, having spent the war in the Royal Navy on a submarine. He didn’t talk much about combat and most of his stories were of the local people he met in Italy, Greece, the old Yugoslavia and Turkey. Local Greeks taught him how to fish for octopus and squid with a torch affixed to his head, and he served as the submarine butcher too, despite being a lifelong vegetarian- cue much hilarity at his expense.
After the war, he often returned to Italy. I have photos of the pair of them in Santa Margherita, my grandmother glamorous with her hair in a Victory Roll, wearing a wide-skirted sundress in the style of Dior’s New Look and Roy in a smart shirt and pegged trousers, hair raffishly side-combed. He begged me to not to forget my Spanish when I returned from Mexico and ensured I knew the name of every capital city as well as the story of St Edmund and the history of this town. He’d have been a keen user of the internet although having encouraged me to read a newspaper every day from when I was a small child, he’d still have had his print copies delivered.
April was a cruel month for this town too, back in 1915 when a Zeppelin raid on the town wrought much destruction although another raid a year later, but in March this time, caused loss of life. On April 8th, this paper reported that the bombs hit ‘a certain ancient and well known town’ but security concerns preclude naming the victims. A poignant photo shows the family, the Dureall’s from Mill Road, with labels attached to show their injuries and their fate. Two young children and their mother died whilst one was ‘nearly suffocated’. Two more were injured, including one whose eyes were damaged.
As I write this, Bury is commemorating the Zeppelin raids. It is one hundred years ago that the skies rained destruction and later this month it will be fifteen years since my own grandfather died. Like most of our loved ones, he was relatively anonymous - his death wasn’t accompanied by six-page pull-outs and a social media storm but his loss was a banner headline in our lives and not a day goes by when I don’t miss him.
-- Nicola Miller is author of The Millers Tale blog.