Make your own museum


It was one of those never-never nights,
Becalmed between Christmas and New Year,
When you’re not quite sure of the day or the date –
We’d walked the Laurie Lee Trail,
And after falling into two different pubs,
Playing cards and spoof, drinking wine as well as beer,
Then toasting the table with Josh’s sloe gin
(Courtesy of the canal towpath at Ponder’s End),
Conversation wandered to our own pondering end.
Josh, who is a carpenter,
Was chatting about planes,
And how in former times,
Fathers passed their tools onto sons,
Names stamped into the wood –
This was too much of a coincidence
And opportunity to miss:
I ran upstairs to bring down
My great grandfather’s plane,
And Josh used pencil and grease-proofed paper,
To take rubbings and reveal: ‘C.W.Butler’
(Passed to his son, my gramp): ‘C.H.Butler’;
Josh examined the plane carefully,
Took it apart,
And was completely certain that the plane was hand made,
Presumably by my great grandfather;
The sloe gin was kicking in, and the memory kicked off:
I knew that Charles William had moved down to Swindon,
After the carriage and wagon works opened in the 1880s
(He was a carriage builder in London),
And my mum had told me donkey’s years ago,
That his wife, Caroline (nee Ridler), loathed Swindon
And eventually left him to return to London,
The marriage broken;
My grand-dad, Charles Horace, was born in 1891,
And served his apprenticeship as a carpenter in the GWR,
Before leaving Swindon for London before the First World War –
The plane ending up in my dad’s shed
And then passed on to me,
As an artefact and historical exhibit only –
For I am utterly useless with my hands,
Not what you’d call practical at all.
We then brought down a framed collage
I had made for my mum twenty odd years ago,
Now in daughter Alice’s possession:
‘My Little Museum” –
This contains pictures of my and Trish’s family,
A funeral card for a great-great uncle, a young boy killed
In a Wiltshire threshing machine accident,
Newspaper cuttings, old railway stamps,
Artefacts such as old coins,
And gramp’s brass GWR clocking-in token
But we were interested in the centre stage 1887 marriage certificate,
For Charles’ address, 19 St. John’s Place, Clerkenwell,
Is just around the corner from where Josh works today,
And where I was the other month,
Researching the local Chartist Allen Davenport and the Spa Fields Riots –
I must have walked past it, oblivious.
And what’s the moral of this tale?
That the truth is not as plain as the nose on your face –
Just as you sometimes rub your nose:
‘Ask no questions, tell no lies’,
Sometimes you have to take rubbings of what you think you know,
Examine the mundane, the half remembered and the ignored,
Enjoy the Inspector Bucket quest,
As you make your own museum,
For the truth might just be below the surface,
As plain as the name on a plane,
Or as plain as the knows inside your face.
(Stop Press! Josh also found the name Bartrop and Co. on the plane.
Questions to be resolved – did this firm in fact make the plane,
or did Charles William, unknown to memory, work for this firm of agricultural engineers in Highworth, near Swindon, for a while?
Bartrop and Co. sounds so Dickensian, or like something out of Thomas Hardy.)