Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I never knew my mother’s mother. She died of cancer during World War II. I’ve heard a lot about her though.

She was a primary school teacher in the Cardiff dockyard before she married. It was the tail end of the nineteenth century - the women in our family had their children late and the generations are long - and South Wales was a hotbed of industrial production. Vast quanitites of coal and iron were sent out from the docks and ships disgorged their incoming cargoes from all over the world. Riches and extreme poverty rubbed shoulders with each other and my grandmother taught at the poorest end of the Victorian spectrum. Children would arrive at school without shoes.

She was a true internationalist apparently, fascinated by what she read and heard of the United States, this promised land of brotherhood and equality. Her favourite hymn - she was deeply religious - was The Battle Hymn of the Republic. She idolised Abraham Lincoln. They were, after all, almost contemporaries. She was born in 1874, just seven years after his assassination.

Her idealism was passed to my mother. Another American, Eleanor Roosevelt, was one of her heroines and she often spoke about her. My mother abhored prejudice of any kind, racial or sexual or religious, and to the end was open-minded towards other people’s beliefs. In her bedroom she had a statue of the Buddha on the window ledge and a picture of Jesus on the wall.

Both of them would be so pleased at the outcome of the US election. They would have been as moved as I was by the TV pictures of the people of all ages and races waiting to vote. For hours. To see such a candidate elected.

I think of myself as more jaded, more self-absorbed probably, than either of them. I don’t underestimate what lies ahead and I know that the gloss may wear a little thin after a while. That’s just the way of things.

This morning though I’m happy too. It has been an astonishing night. I wish they were both here.