On family, chance and vaccines

I’m sitting in a room full of photos and records of four generations or so. The long now is pretty long in my family of story-tellers. I have sight and sound of them all. I absorbed them like sponge as a kid and I trust the fuzziness about my father’s turns of phrase will crystallise again when grief fog passes.

What strikes me today, and why I burden the world with my inherited memories:

I am two generations from people who all had a trade or were agricultural labourers. (Most of us are). The men were fishermen (v topical) a hard and precarious life. On my mother’s mother’s side, they came south to Hull from crofts in Scotland and kept to their village and on my mother’s father’s they came around from Swansea. The families that had intermarried in Scotland continued to do so.

Children died in poorhouses. The women often died very young. My maternal grandmother nearly died of diphtheria aged 3 and later died aged 68. Men went to war. Some returned with medals for gallantry. Some died. The women did war work in munitions factories. The didn’t receive medals. Most of the places they lived in were cleared as slums in the 1950s.

On my father’s side, they all had a trade too but chance and a childless couple advanced the Joneses to business ownership for a short while.

Striking to me today, my paternal grandmother (also moved to London from Swansea but not connected to the fishing lot) who is understood to have been only functionally literate was taken out of school at 15 to run the house. (She told me she hid behind curtains to read because they took books off her – given her famous talent for exaggeration, this may or may not be true). I realised my great-grandmother probably suffered from Spanish flu although survived as the photo I found recently and her passionate opposition to marrying into a Jones family (who can blame her) attests.

And my father’s cousin famously slept from his 30s til his 80s in an iron lung (during the hurricane in 1987 this was hand-pumped by his partner and his nurse by turns until the power came back on). Christopher Jones had contracted Polio that he believed had been eradicated by the vaccine Programme some years before. He had never bothered to get immunised. (As Navy kids, we had all our jabs regularly and I’ve just yesterday binned all the certificates, and last week got my flu jab as an over 50! Christopher went on to found a charity that helped Polio and other disabled people get access to voice machines and other communication assistance – he himself paralysed from the neck down used a breathing machine to speak and typed using one finger).

Vaccines, trusting the media, opportunity, wealth & health. The importance of a welfare state. And the importance of knowing your story. There will be pictures

3 thoughts on “On family, chance and vaccines

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