Dolly go to heaven


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8 thoughts on “Dolly go to heaven

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  1. This may be the coolest-looking post of yours yet, and that’s saying a lot!!! πŸ™‚ But then, I’m a pushover for anything to do with foreign languages, and especially foreign scripts.

    I imagine this must be a Russian eye-chart. Pretty cool. What’s interesting is that the columns on both sides are in Roman, not Cyrillic.

    Are you on something of a Русский kick lately since reading Nabokov? πŸ™‚

  2. Justin – thank you! Yes, it is interesting. Shame it’s not my own creation but I do like it. Not sure if I am going through a Russian phase. Possibly. Have talked about going to St Petersburg on holiday for quite a while but not happened yet.

  3. Oh I have wanted to see St. Petersburg forever. I have never been to any part of Europe outside the UK, Switzerland, France, and Austria. I still need to see Spain, Italy, Greece, and I very much want to do the Baltic — Scandinavia, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania. I also really want to see Central Europe — Prague, Budapest, Vienna. I want to see Krakow, Warsaw, Vilnius, Talinn. I want to see St. Petersburg, Novgorod, Moscow, Kiev, Lviv, Kamienec Podilsky, and Istanbul.

    And in the UK I’ve never been to Glasgow, never been to Cornwall, never been to Devon.

    And I’ve never been to Ireland. Plus Iceland would be nice, too.

    Apart from Japan, that just about does it for my travel wishlist πŸ™‚

    My own ethnic roots are in Scotland (my mother’s side, 100%), Lithuania (my paternal grandfather), England and Wales (my paternal grandmother). My grandfather came from a small village near Vilnius, though he was from an ethnically German, protestant community — many such communities used to exist east of what became the Iron Curtain before WWII. I have a keen fascination with central and eastern European history as well as with Classical (Greco-Roman) history and the history of the Ottoman Empire. I studied Russian and French in high school, and despite the dangers I’d still love to spend time in Russia.

  4. Justin – sounds like there is a lot on your itinerary over here! Time for you to move! πŸ˜› And like most Americans you have a very varied ancestry I see, with a strong British connection!

  5. Very strong. I was born in Oxford, at the Radcliffe Infirmary at Oxford University where my father was a professor. My father was born in Coventry and was 14 and stubborn and refused to go with the rest of his family to the cottage they had outside of town so he was in the city the night of the blitz and watched his school (King Henry VIII school) burn that night. My mother was born in London — her family was Scots (Douglas on her father’s side, Burns on her mother’s side), but they had relocated to London before she was born so she was the lone English member of the family (though she considered herself Scots despite her lack of a Scottish accent).

    My paternal grandfather emigrated from Lithuania (actually the Russian empire) before WWI to Coventry with his brother. His sister emigrated to Glasgow — there is still a sizeable Lithuanian community there. My paternal great-great grandfather was hanged by the Russian Army during WWI because he was denounced as a German collaborator — according to my grandfather, this wasn’t true but was simply because as a Protestant he was suspect. My grandfather was a Freemason in Coventry and gave one of those lectures at some Lady’s Club like one sees in Wodehouse stories and the like — I have the transcript of his lecture and he talks about having to speak German in Church, Russian to talk to government officials, Lithuanian to talk to farmers at the market, and Polish to talk to the landlords.

    My grandfather founded a company called Awson, which supplied all the wood parts (dashboards, door inserts) for almost all British makes of cars, including Rolls Royce. My father’s family was very affluent and my grandfather was one of the most successful businessmen in Coventry.

    After the war, he donated the wood for the new Cathedral in Coventry, including the altar and the two giant crosses that surmount the entrance. My parents tell me that before the crosses were hoisted up to their current locations, he put me down on the centre of one of the crosses — I’m not sure if it was a joke or what. My father’s family was not remotely religious and both of my parents are/were atheists. There is a plaque in the cathedral that lists his name amongst several other benefactors.

    Sadly, my grandfather was rather abusive to his kids and treated his oldest son, my uncle, particularly harshly. When he died, he left the company only 50% to my uncle — the other 50% he left to the foreman of the assembly line, which traumatized my uncle a great deal. My uncle ran the company as CEO but made a number of poor investment decisions and the company went bankrupt in the 70s. My father and his three siblings each got a token amount from the liquidation — certainly my own family has never been remotely close to affluent. My uncle went slowly crazy and moved to California and joined one of those cults that believed that flying saucers were going to whisk them away to some paradise at the end of the world. Plus he was well over 300lb and had diabetes — I remember he would eat bowls of strawberries covered with so much sugar that you couldn’t see any red.

    My mother left school at 14 and joined a band called Geraldo and his Orchestra. She eventually went on to have her own BBC radio programme at age 16, and then toured with ENSA during the war — coming within five miles of the battle of the bulge at one point. Many of her songs (as Sally Douglas) are available on CD on recordings of Geraldo’s band. Though sadly she never got any royalties for them. She used to record at the EMI Studios on Abbey Road.

    She was married before my father to a man whose name I’m sure you know — “Sir” Jimmy Young. He was also a singer, and she was in the production booth when he recorded his version of “Unchained Melody” in the 50s — she convinced the producer to pick a particular take which went on to become the #1 hit on the charts that year. Jimmy Young wrote (or had written) an autobiography that devotes a chapter to my mother — he describes her as “Tall and Junoesque”, which is very apt for how she looked back then.

    Jimmy Young — if you can believe it — actually had “groupies” at one point and my mother was quite naive about it. She came back from a trip one weekend to discover he had been in bed with four women and that this sort of thing had been going on for years. She sued for divorce and was too proud to take any money from him — no alimony, no property, not the flat in London, not the Bentley, nothing. She met my father during the divorce — he was getting his PhD at Cambridge in Molecular Biology at the time, and fell in love. When he went to Urbana, Illinois for his post-doc, she followed him there. They drove to California in his Triumph TR-2 which he had had shipped over on a boat, and they got married the day her divorce was final, in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Their honeymoon was spent driving back across the country — at one point the fan-belt broke halfway across Death Valley and it was lucky someone else drove by or they could have perished.

    I was actually conceived in Urbana, but my father got his appointment at Oxford and they moved back before I was born. They bought a 300-year-old cottage in Bladon, a small village outside Oxford near Blenheim — in fact Churchill is buried in the Churchyard in Bladon. It had no running water, no electricity, and needed to be completely gutted and renovated (or “converted” as they say in the UK).

    I spent the first 3.75 years of my life in that cottage, of which I have a few fragmentary memories, including memories of watching a children’s show on TV called “Bill & Ben”.

    We moved back to Urbana when I was nearly 4, lived there for 4 years, then moved to Columbia, Missouri for 7 years, then back to Urbana when I was 14. My father still lives there. He retired some years ago.

    When my mother died in 2000 my father went to England to visit his sister in Welwyn Garden City and visited both the BBC and the Imperial War Museum and they kindly burned him CDs of all the music they had of my mother’s. I love to listen to it sometimes. The 10th anniversary of her passing is coming up on the 13th and I’m thinking of commemorating it somehow.

    By the way — my mother never naturalized as an American. She was a die-hard socialist and always wanted to move back to England and was horrified by Nixon and Reagan. Part of me is glad she never lived to see Bush or Cheney or Palin, though she would have been thrilled to see Obama.

    My father didn’t bother to naturalize until 2001.

    If they had naturalized when I was still a minor, I wouldn’t have had to do it myself. I kept putting it off — not because I had anything against the idea; I lost my British accent *many* years ago and 100% of my schooling was in this country and although I still consider myself an Englishman I know that I’m really just an American with Anglophile Affectations. But I am a great procrastinator so I didn’t get around to finally naturalizing until 2007 or 2008 (?). I still have my EU passport as well, though. I get to enter England in the short line, and I get to re-enter the US on the short line too πŸ™‚

  6. Justin – wow, that is the longest comment I have ever been left – over any blog! And thank you, an interesting read. Good that you know so much about where you came from. In my case I know only a mere fraction compared with that. And glad to see that technically you are still a card carrying Euro!

  7. Milo — *thanks* for calling it an “interesting read” instead of “a horribly boring endless stream of narcissism” πŸ˜‰ Plus, sorry for the (formerly) famous-person name-dropping. But it does happen to be true, weird though it be. πŸ™‚

    I actually don’t know really any more than I told you, as far as my family history goes. My mother’s parents are a mystery — my maternal grandmother died when I was 5 and my mother had some sort of rupture with her father and one of her brothers and never saw them or spoke to them again after my grandmother’s funeral. Her other brother died shortly after the war of complications from Dengue Fever contracted as a POW of the Japanese. She did keep in touch with her elder sister until the end, but it never occurred to me to ask my maternal aunt anything about my maternal grandparents. I have no idea what part(s) of Scotland they were from WHATsoever. I just know my mother’s family had a summer house in Dunoon, but I don’t think that’s where her parents came from.

    My paternal grandfather’s entire village no longer exists. My father’s sister went to Lithuania to do some investigation into their roots, and struck out completely until her last day there when she happened to stumble across a very old man who remembered that before WWII there had been a German-speaking enclave in that area that was expelled by the Soviets. Even the protestant cemetaries were paved over and turned into apartment blocks or parking garages or something, apparently.

    As for my father’s mother, all I know about her is that she was English on her mother’s side and Welsh on her father’s side. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find out more.

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