I have only one relative (apart from my children and their families) living in New Zealand.  This is a cousin of my Mother’s who is only a couple of years older than me.

We talk from time to time on the phone.  Reminiscing about growing up in London during and after the war and generally catching up with each other these phone calls have been known to last an hour or more.  And yesterday was no different.

We talked at length about our families where they were at and how they were doing.  His second wife is Samoan and I always love to hear about their culture and how they do things so differently from us.  Apparently family comes before all else and if you have something and they don’t you either give it to them or share with them.  Isn’t that lovely?  Although as my cousin says, this can go too far.  He is the only one with a car and so he runs a taxi service for the extended family 24/7.  But he is good humoured about it.

We then got back to the subject of London.  His father was killed during the war and he and his mother moved back home and lived with her parents and two aunts.  From the outside, it looked like a perfect set up.  There was always somebody to look after the young child while his mother worked.  But there were drawbacks for a young boy brought up in a predominantly female household.  As he grew up he spent less and less time at home and played in the streets amongst the ruins of houses that had suffered in the bombings.

Other times he spent with his grandfather “Pop” whose business was making spirit levels.  You have all seen these things and no doubt many of you own one.  Well, Pop was a master craftsman and the spirit levels were made of beautifully carved and finished hardwood – sorry I don’t know the type of hardwood.  Each one was lovingly handmade and as soon as he was old enough, my cousin would rush home from school to help Pop.  I never understood his explanation about the little bubble that showed when the surface was flat/level nor the complicated way in which the liquid spirit /alcohol was put into the small glass vial.

On occasion, we girls would visit the factory in the mews where in earlier times horses had been stabled for the wealthy.  We would stand and watch in wonder as the liquid was poured into the tiny phials.  I remember it being hot so I suppose that Pop was also a glass blower.

I should like to say that my cousin carried on the tradition being one of only two males in the family after the grandfather died, but instead, he became a printer and emigrated with his then-wife and two small girls to NZ.   I understand he still has one of the levels given to him by his grandfather as a birthday present.

Now, of course, spirit levels are mass-produced.  No more the lovingly produced articles of all those years ago.  But wouldn’t it be lovely to own one of them.

“A man who works with his hands is a labourer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman’; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.”
Louis Nizer.  British born US lawyer and author.


11 responses to “Spirits?

  1. Judith, that’s lovely. Reminds me of DH Lawrence’s poem:
    “Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into
    are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing
    for long years.
    And for this reason, some old things are lovely
    warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.”


    • Thank you – I didn’t know that poem from D H Lawrence. I am going off to read the rest of it. Unfortunately, my cousin doesn’t have a son to pass this thing of beauty on to and his daughters are not interest. I may just drop a small hint as to where he can leave the spirit level when he leaves this world.


  2. What a wonderful tale Judith.I wonder if we lost power if people could still create the works of art of yesterday.
    I love the quote you chose to add at the end. Simple but true.X


  3. Lovely post Judith!


  4. What a wonderful memory.


  5. I love the quote. A labourer, a craftsman, an artist. It’s so true the way the difference is explained.
    Very interesting family story. It’s wonderful that you can enjoy long phone conversations with your mum’s cousin, who’s so close in age to you. Is there a chance to also visit him and his wife?
    The way he grew up surrounded by women reminds me of Peter, His father, due to the war and later separation of his parents he hardly saw at all. He and his sisters were looked after by the mother’s aunt while his mother went to work.


    • I have visited him and he has stayed with me. His wife is not comfortable in the company of people who are not Samoan. Sad but we accept this it is her choice.


  6. I am sure the levels were beautiful…not like the purely utilitarian ones mass produced today.


    • You are the one who commented that I had a suitcase of memories in response to one of my blogs in 2011. This is another story to put in the suitcase. Thanks for commenting again Patti.


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