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.