Friday, November 16, 2012
I've started a petition to save Hostess. Short link http://wh.gov/X8zB
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
625,000 total signatures so far, and all 50 states are participating in the secession movement.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Thank goodness Obama helped put these idiots in power
Those peaceful Muslims
And it begins...
There are actually petitions now to deport anyone who supports secession. Deport half the country? That would result in a HUGE loss of revenue. But they'll loose the revenue anyway when the country is literally split in half.
Investigation begins- Obama leaked classified Benghazi info to Daily Beast writer http://bit.ly/WNHLir
More questions raised by new timeline
Military Timeline From Night Of Benghazi Attacks Just Raises More Questions http://is.gd/kx9zaZ
Texas Secession Petition Receives 60,000 Signatures Forcing White House To Respond http://is.gd/
Where's your mandate now, Barack Obama?
Shades of dictatorship?
UNUSUAL RESULTS? Turnout, Totals for Obama In Philly Raise Questions, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/11/12/pa-officials-plan-no-probe-despite-extraordinary-turnout-totals-for-obama-in/
Apparently Obama getting almost 100% of the vote in some areas of the country isn't raising any red flags. Considering the Napoleon and Caesar covers of Obama featured on magazines and newspapers, this really shouldn't surprise me. After all, someone else with "Hussein" in their name regularly garnered 100% of the vote as well.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Secession petitions link
Petitions for #secession We the People: Your Voice in Our Government - http://po.st/3oJ2j7
Hey Obama, with over 20 states filing petitions for secession, where's your mandate now?
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Government knew it was a terrorist attack
According to FoxNews, the US government knew, while it was happening, that the attack on our embassy in Libya was a terrorist attack. Dozens of emails, sent in real time, alerted the government that Al Qaeda was claiming responsibility. So, with that embassy being refused additional security forces THIRTEEN TIMES, the question becomes not only "what did they know and when?" but also "what part did Obama actually play in the murder of our people?"
Friday, November 09, 2012
A New America
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Past the Bounds of Time POST 6
For children to remain sheltered from war is of course a very good thing, but by the time of the wartime Newbold stays, by the time of the room filled with “war regalia,” Sandy, Hugh and Evelyn were no longer small children. Hugh was fifteen, and no doubt Lilian and Willie were already at least concerned that he would one day go to war, which he would eventually do. The feel of this does not come through in any surviving Irvine stories, however, and one is left with the idyllic picture of wealthy children on constant holiday in the north of England, rambling carelessly among the hills. It cannot, of course, have been like this; the war must have been very much on everyone’s minds. However, in utterly typical Irvine fashion, it would appear that any fears were looked upon as emotions that needed to be hidden rather than aired and spoken about.
Julie Summers wrote: “There were no newspapers at the house [Newbold] and all of them apart from Hugh were completely oblivious of the war until Uncle Tom took them to Beeston Castle….On the way they saw cars with flags on them and heard talk of fierce battles being fought in France.” This smacks of disingenuousness and special pleading. The children were extremely aware of the war, newspapers or not. It was in the conservatory at Newbold that Evelyn knitted her khaki comforters, something she’d hardly have done if she’d been “oblivious” of the war. Hugh and Sandy, far from being ignorant of the war, seem constantly to have been playing at it, mimicking their inner thoughts and fears in play. Sandy’s fascination with battleships expanded to include all things martial while he was at Newbold. Evidence that the war was in fact foremost in their minds can be seen in the fact that Sandy would submit two patent applications, both of them for improvements to weaponry, by the time he was fifteen. Oblivious, the Irvine children were decidedly not.
In 1914, though, those patent applications were still three years in the future, and the twelve year old was having far too much fun coming into adolescence while his parents’ attention, or at least their actual persons, were miles away for much of the time. He was too busy playing war, and he had at his disposal an entire country estate full of deadly weapons.
Sandy and Hugh hurled spears from the towers of Newbold. These spears, called assegais, were slim hardwood weapons, tipped with iron, that came from southern Africa. Julie Summers insisted the spears were homemade , but if they were indeed assegais as Alec—who was at Newbold at the time and saw the spears firsthand—claimed , then the likelihood of their being made by a fifteen and a twelve year old is certainly remote. There’s no record of Sandy or Hugh ever actually hitting anyone, but one can’t help wondering whether the younger children or the servants were occasional targets.
How Hugh endured being up on the rooftops of Newbold is a mystery, as he was absolutely notorious for his deathly fear of heights. At some stage in their lives, Sandy and Evelyn were repainting a ceiling, and Hugh was the victim of their merciless teasing regarding this fear. They each stood on top of a stepladder and rubbed their heads in the wet paint, proudly displaying their white heads to their eldest brother, then dared him to repeat their exploit. Hugh was so afraid of heights that he refused to even step on the first rung of the ladder.
Alec recounted yet another incident involving the misuse of weaponry, saying that Sandy would fill their uncle’s cannon at Newbold with a deadly mixture of gravel and gunpowder, shooting this off at sundry wildlife in the gardens.
Youngest brother Tur would eventually pay for Sandy’s capricious experimentations with explosives by partially but permanently losing some of his ability to hear. The incident occurred when Sandy was fourteen, so Tur would have been around three at the time. Members of the family have called Tur Sandy’s “stooge,” and on this particular occasion Sandy had decided to perform an experiment using his youngest brother as a human guinea pig. He wanted to see if he could fire off a projectile using his homemade gunpowder, and as an aid to this experiment he placed a cast-iron coal-hole grate on top of four large bricks in the gardens (whether at Park Road South or Newbold isn’t recorded). He poured his gunpowder in the circle of bricks, stood his little brother on top of the grate and lit the powder, himself retreating to a safe distance. Tur was blown into the air, and his wife would one day claim that his hearing never completely recovered from this, that his eardrums had been permanently damaged. Alec remembered also being blown up that day, and recalled that Tur hadn’t been very happy with the whole idea in the first place. Sandy told them that “they were taking part in a scientific experiment in which he would establish whether gunpowder exploded upwards or sideways.” He obviously didn’t inform them beforehand that he also wanted to launch them as projectiles.
During the Edwardian era it was entirely common for children to be brought up by the servants. It was not only the norm, it was expected of wealthy households such as Willie Irvine’s. Mother and Father normally left the rearing of their children to a full domestic staff. Regardless of this, servants knew their place, but even so the Irvine children at Newbold had an astonishing degree of freedom. Beyond doubt, the dangers the children placed themselves in should have caused some concern. Why the absentee uncle was either not informed that his nephews were hurling iron-tipped spears from his roof and playing with gunpowder and cannons, or did not care, raises at least a few questions. The Irvine offspring were very lucky children indeed, insofar as they all escaped serious injury or death. That Alec, in later years, remembered all of this as great fun is perhaps merely a reflection of the hero-worship with which he regarded Sandy, defending his elder brother’s actions throughout his life. Boys will be boys, yes, but these boys could so easily have been killed or killed one another while at Newbold, and not one adult lifted an eyebrow, let alone tried to stop any of this activity.
Sandy garnered a reputation as a wild boy who would dare anything, and his cousins loved him for it. Flora despaired of this more than once in her diary. It was something he began actively to try to live up to, and it was ultimately detrimental to his self-esteem. Julie Summers tellingly admitted that Sandy “came to believe that if he were special then others would take notice of him, and the way this manifested itself was by doing unusual or daring things.” He craved attention, in other words, and didn’t mind if the attention came at the expense of his own well-being. Nobody had ever told him to stop doing whatever he was doing; the bachelor uncle certainly didn’t lock up the gunpowder, the cannons or the African spears. Only Flora Deacon and Geoff Milling (and, later, George Mallory) would ever have a calming influence on him. Sandy’s bright and rapid intelligence could so easily have become almost manic, given his repressive upbringing and his need for attention. At eight, he had felt he wasn’t “good enough;” by the time he was twelve in 1914 he felt people would only notice and like him if he was playing the clown.
After the idylls of Newbold came the far stricter world of Shrewsbury School. Sandy entered the school in 1916, at the age of fourteen, following Hugh there. The school at the time had a reputation for harshness, something that must have appealed to Willie and Lilian, although Julie Summers wrote that of Willie’s reasons to send his sons to Shrewsbury the primary incentive was that “it was on the excellent train line from Birkenhead and Chester.” She also wrote that Sandy “flourished in the congenial public school atmosphere” once “released from the formal and rigorous upbringing to which Lilian had subjected all her children.” I think “subjected” is a telling word here, and find it hard to believe that the atmosphere at the school was as completely pleasant as she said. Audrey Salkeld and Tom Holzel wrote that conditions at Shrewsbury were so bad while Sandy was there “that a story circulated of one unfortunate boy cleft in two when the icicle fell from the standpipe under which they were obliged to wash.” Hardly a “congenial” environment.
The English public school, specifically the masculine version, is something quite foreign to Americans. England has long been a country that thinks highly of its young men, and for centuries they have been closeted away in the rarefied air of the public school. (In the United States, a private or parochial school is the closest equivalent of the English public school.) Douglas Sutherland, in a very tongue-in-cheek book called The English Gentleman, parodied upper class English life brilliantly. Of the public school, he wrote: “The greatest fear that gentlemen suffer when they send their sons to gentlemanly schools is that they will not live up to the traditions with which they themselves were indoctrinated. To play for the first eleven, to win the cross-country run or to have whacked more boys than any of their contemporaries are all laudable achievements.” Sandy himself would participate in cross-country running at Shrewsbury; whether he “whacked” any boys at all is unknown.
For anyone who has read the novels of P.G. Wodehouse or seen the brilliant Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry television adaptation of those novels will have a fairly good picture of the sort of man these schools produce. Bertie Wooster tossing buns into ceiling lamps at his club the Drones is a perfect specimen.
Schools such as Shrewsbury were not known for gentleness, and a well-rounded education always included denying oneself many comforts. A fine, upstanding young gentleman was the goal, and strict measures were regularly taken to assure production of this scion of society. Making schoolboys wash outside under a standpipe fits right in with this ethic.
Sandy Irvine would not, ultimately, turn out to be much of a Bertie Wooster-ish fellow, being far more interested in motorcars and rowing and tinkering than in anything else. It’s impossible to picture him as a 1920s dandy, cigarette in hand in a smoke-filled club with a gin fizz at his elbow (though he did actually drink gin fizzes). It must be said that in one respect he was very much a public school product, in that he was ever gallant and charming to the fairer sex. The moment one pictures him thus, however, he veers off, taking only one girl as his own and ignoring the rest, though remaining gallant and charming to them. A 1920s womanizer he was not, but Flora often called him a “devil,” a “charmer,” a “gad-about,” and certainly Marjory Summers fell heavily under his spell even while helping him and Flora find secret hideaways for their trysts. Sandy was a wild boy who craved adventure, and would not be molded as the upper class society to which he belonged demanded.
Shrewsbury, set amid lush, green hills, was founded by royal charter in 1552, during the very brief reign of King Edward VI, only son of Henry VIII. The school was always wildly successful, with 266 boys enrolled by the end of 1562, with an additional 663 enrolling within the following eight years. One of its most illustrious alumni was Sir Philip Sidney, a young man who achieved incredible fame as a poet during the reign of Elizabeth I. The author of the “Arcadia,” he would become doubly famous for his heroic battlefield death. Legend has it that, gravely wounded, he refused the water offered him and ordered that it be given instead to another wounded soldier. He himself then heroically died. Sidney was idolized by generations of Britons, and his funeral even inspired a series of paintings depicting the procession. Other notable Old Salopians include Charles Darwin and Monty Python’s intrepid world traveler Michael Palin.
Sandy would meet Richard (Dick, or Dickie as Sandy often called him) Summers here, and form a lifelong bond often mistaken by the Irvine family as deep friendship. This is of course understandable, as Dick Summers would marry into their ranks and was Julie Steele’s grandfather. Dick was wealthy, but his family money came from trade, and Dick himself was forever on the lookout for a way to better his station. At Shrewsbury, he found one in the Irvine family. By marrying Sandy’s sister, he would eventually (but only after Sandy’s death cleared the decks for him) achieve the societal standing for which he’d longed. James Irvine had made his fortune in trade as well, but by the 1920s his descendants were rubbing elbows with the very cream of English society.
Sandy wrote angrily to Evelyn when he heard Dick had proposed to her that he thought Dick had made a very good bargain for himself. “I suppose I should congratulate you—but I think it is Dick that needs the congratulations more than you…” Significantly, in quoting from this letter Julie Summers replaces part of one quite telling sentence with ellipses. The unedited sentence actually reads: “Dick certainly has done awfully well for himself but I must admit I don’t feel atall happy.” Sandy went on to say that Evelyn would “have to make a real man of him before I’ll feel really happy about it,” and Julie Summers admitted that this “was one of the fundamental problems for Sandy: Dick was not in his opinion a real man….Sandy feared that it would be Evelyn’s role in the marriage to wear the pants.” Sandy wrote to Dick Summers that he “was quite naturally very bowled over when I heard—My first thoughts were naturally I think a. You were too young to think of marrying b. E [Evelyn] had not met enough men as she has always been tied to Mother’s apron strings,” and advised Dick to have “a good night’s sleep, a cold bath, read your morning paper and think twice, then again…” These are not the words of a man eager to welcome Dick Summers into the family fold. Given the fact of his nearly four year relationship with Flora, a relationship that ended only with his death, I find it highly unlikely that Sandy’s problem with Dick was jealousy, as Julie Summers suggested: “Perhaps he saw now…that Evelyn had found real love, something which had eluded him in his life,” though leeway must be given to Julie as these were, after all, her grandparents.
It would be cars that brought Sandy and Dick together, not a mutual admiration for one another. Dick later wrote (the year is not given in Julie Summers’ book, and I wonder whether this was written after Sandy’s death): “We had very much in common, both being mechanically minded and interested in cars, and both having the same ideas and ideals.” Dick’s family manse, Cornist Hall, “boasted garages with gleaming cars,” and Dick gave Sandy an introduction to a mechanic at one of the Summers garages in 1918. Sandy quickly became a fixture at this garage, pestering the mechanic, Harry Ham, with “endless questions and tinkering with anything Harry would let him get his hands on.”
Sandy did refer to Dick frequently as his “best friend,” but it was always exclusively in the context of apologizing to Dick or Evelyn for some perceived slight, most notably his own back-pedaling over the angry letters he’d fired off when he heard of their engagement. “I like him more than any man I’ve ever met,” he wrote to Evelyn when apologizing for his outburst; “I’m always your best & truest friend though there may have been times when I haven’t shown it outwardly,” he wrote to Dick to apologize for the same outburst. The apology letters followed swift on the heels of the angry ones, a mere week separating them, and Sandy had realized in the intervening time that he had best make nice if he wanted to keep Evelyn’s affection. It would not do, after all, to make a mortal enemy out of one’s future brother-in-law, especially considering Sandy’s lifelong closeness to Evelyn.
Past the Bounds of Time POST 5
In 1912, the magnificent luxury liner Titanic was scheduled to be launched out of Liverpool on her ultimately fatal maiden voyage, and the Irvine family, living as they did across the Mersey from Liverpool, must have been swept up in the excitement, even though the ship would eventually actually sail from Southampton. Willie Irvine may very well have taken his children to Southampton to see the ship launched. By the age of twelve, Sandy had developed a passionate interest in the sea, in boats and all things nautical, and his interest would later expand to building model boats out of spare materials he found lying around the family’s garage. It would continue into adolescence and adulthood when he pursued a rowing career. Titanic sank just days after Sandy’s tenth birthday, and cannot fail to have impacted his life in some fashion.
Sandy was eleven when, in February 1913, the world learned the fate of Robert Falcon Scott and his doomed Antarctic polar party. The frozen bodies of Scott, Birdie Bowers and Edward Wilson were found in their tent on November 12, 1912 (they had been dead for at least seven months), but because the Terra Nova had already sailed for New Zealand it was too late to alert anyone outside Antarctica of the tragedy. The ship was the only means of contact. By the time the story finally broke, it “was rendered even more piquant because Scott’s widow, Kathleen, was then sailing to New Zealand to be reunited, or so she thought, with her husband, unaware, as the newspapers were quick to point out, that she had been a widow for nearly a year. Neither was she aware of the great memorial service held in St Paul’s Cathedral on 14 February…” Two bodies were never recovered, those of Edgar Evans and Captain Oates. England descended into a paroxysm of grief, and the dead men became instant heroes. Ironically, a similar memorial service would be held for Sandy and George Mallory on October 17, 1924, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sandy, eleven in 1913, would have heard the tales, and would have believed, like most boys of the time, in Scott’s unquestioned heroism. He could never have guessed that his own death would prove to cause one last gasp of maudlin British romanticism.
Sandy went from Birkenhead Preparatory to the “Big School,” Birkenhead School in 1914. Willie had attended this school, and presumably all of his sons did as well. Before he started there, Sandy went for a vacation to Glasgow to visit his aunt Helen McNair, and while there ran straight into the now-burgeoning preparations for war.
The twelve year old treated his experience as something almost run of the mill, almost ordinary. (All punctuation, spelling and grammar have been left intact wherever I quote from his actual writings.) “I am having a splendid time one day we went fore an eight hour voyage down the Clyde and round Bute we saw on the Clyde…Cruisers and 15 Torpedo Destroyers being built,” he wrote, “and a Light Cruisers seemed to be garding the mouth; Bute was awfuly nice…We are going to have a game of golf after dinner. Everybody is telling you second or third hand about the Russians. Archy said his scoutmaster had told him he had seen them, it is a very good thing it was all true.” Archy was apparently a cousin. At the time, reliable people all over England were seeing Russian soldiers passing through on their way to war who were reported to have snow still clinging to their boots. It’s generally accepted today that the sightings were hoaxes, but Sandy was especially impressed with the stories. He wrote to Lilian, “Tell Sarah that everybody up here knows about the Russians.” His letter is decorated with drawings of battleships.
Incidentally, it was while on this vacation that his cousins dubbed him “Sandy,” a nickname resulting from his fair coloring and which he adored. He announced to his family that he wished to be known by this nickname alone. Julie Summers thought it “typical of him, even at that age, to seize upon something that appealed to him, to take it seriously…” She uses the phrase “at that age” a great deal, and always in connection with Sandy’s extreme seriousness. A twelve year old is hardly a child any longer, and for a twelve year old to attach to a nickname and demand to be known thereby is not surprising, and is in fact pretty typical of most pre-teens. What is typical of Sandy that is not so of most pre-teens is the seriousness. Apologies and excuses are made today by his family for Sandy’s repressed outlook, and blame is never laid upon his parents. The same uber-serious five year old who supposedly struck a pose for Lilian’s benefit is reflected quite sadly in the uber-serious twelve year old’s first timid bid at individuality.
Sandy attended Birkenhead School for a little over a year. Of his academic experience before his entry to this school, Julie Summers wrote: “He was not particularly academic and did not shine…” This assessment is for his performance between the ages of eight and twelve, and is a judgment of Sandy’s character (that he was not very bright) that is unfortunately still pervasive to this day. I believe that one reason for this, though certainly not the only one, is the desire to place blame on his shoulders for his own and George Mallory’s deaths in 1924. Criticism of George Mallory, then and now, is met with violent opposition, and has spawned more than one verbal war on internet forums. Ever the shining Galahad, Mallory can do no wrong. He himself, incidentally, would not have welcomed this fawning appraisal of his character.
While researching this book, I was left with the impression of three very different Sandy Irvines: the reserved and painfully quiet family son and Everest mountaineer, the devilish charmer who fell in love with a quite dangerous girl, and the athlete for whom the passion for sport was all-consuming. None of these include Sandy the Obtuse (if not outright stupid). He was diffident and inhibited among most company because that’s the way he was raised, forced to swallow every emotion stillborn (which likely resulted in his odd, silent laugh). He was, at times, far more comfortable inside his own skull than anywhere else.
Julie Summers wrote, of Sandy’s application to Magdalene College Oxford: “His academic record was found wanting….Even in the days when academic brilliance was not the only requirement for securing a place at the university, the Master, Sir Herbert Warren, felt unable to offer him a place.” Regarding that academic record, I was left with the feeling that Sandy was bored at school, unchallenged. I can only reiterate that the notes in his physics notebook are in ink, with no cross-outs, and are intensely neat and legible. Not the notebook of a dim or brainless youth. And Julie herself did admit, rather tellingly, that Sandy “had succeeded in passing his Higher Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics” for the Magdalene application. Hardly subjects that would be excelled at by the dim-witted, especially assuming “higher” means more difficult than a lower class on the subjects in question.
Of Birkenhead Prep which Sandy entered at eight, of his awareness that his parents wanted him to get high marks, Julie Summers wrote: “This led to him being insecure and sometimes worried that he was not good enough and he made a point of writing to his mother, when his place in the form order was announced, hoping that she was pleased with his performance.” The drive to please was already large, and one can only imagine the inner turmoil he experienced. Perhaps his stomach troubles began here. All children wish to please their parents, but Sandy worried, at just eight years of age, “that he wasn’t good enough.” Good enough for what, at eight years old? It’s not surprising that Sandy’s intellectual pursuits were carried out introspectively, within the privacy of his own mind where nobody could tease or laugh or punish.
I wondered whether he ever succeeded in gaining true self-confidence until I read Flora Deacon’s diary. With Flora, he was able to fully explore his thoughts and ideas with no fear whatever of ridicule. She appears to be one of a handful of people who accepted Sandy for himself, who did not demand that he perform to some unattainable standard, and as a result it’s not surprising that she knew Sandy’s “reams” very well indeed. The only other people who came across this way were Geoffrey Milling and Antony Viscount Knebworth. Significantly, all three of these people were in one way or another deliberately excised from Sandy’s life after his death. Geoffrey was literally deleted entirely from a photograph of he and Sandy at Spitsbergen (thus making Sandy’s arm, around which Geoffrey’s was casually draped, appear malformed in the currently circulated version of the photograph), and Tony Knebworth is credited by the family as “other” in photographs. Of Flora there remains only an unidentified sketch and the single letter “F.”
World War I, the Great War, began in 1914 when Sandy was twelve years old. The only mention Alec Irvine made of the outbreak of one of the most horrendous wars humanity has ever seen was that his father interrupted the children’s schoolroom dinner one evening with the words, “We shan’t be going to the Isle of Man, children. England is at war with Germany.” This isn’t surprising, really, when the Irvine hatred of emotions is taken into account. An announcement of war, a war which would leave Kenneth with a festering open wound that would never heal , could have been nothing but dry and detached, at least not in this particular family. This casual announcement, made to sound as if the family vacation had been deliberately spoiled by the British government, must have sounded strange even to the ears of the youngest of the siblings, who were eight, three and one at the time.
The Irvines had been to the Isle of Man before, in the summer of 1913. They’d gone yachting that summer, a typically upper-class Edwardian thing to do, and Sandy, at eleven, had made a passable wooden model of the yacht they’d used, the Genista. A friend of one of the maids helped him, and the little model yacht is still in existence today.
With the war at last officially begun, Lilian and Willie sent their three eldest children—Hugh, Evelyn and Sandy—to the Davies-Colley estate outside Chester. Newbold was then in the possession of Thomas Davies-Colley, Lilian’s bachelor brother, and the children were consigned to his care. All holidays for the Irvine children would be spent now with their Uncle Tom at Newbold where, Alec remembered, they were “ridden with a very light rein, being looked after mainly by the housekeeper and the groom.” Newbold “is a large brick mansion with a turreted tower at the front and a further, slightly lower octagonal tower at the back overlooking the gardens.” It was apparently part of a much larger estate, as Alec Irvine noted that it was “a large and imposing property on the family estate at Bruera…” Again, this was not a family living in anything other than wealthy, extremely comfortable conditions.
Tom Davies-Colley spent the week in Manchester and came home to Newbold on weekends. The children were left in the care of the servants, servants who, as employees of a bachelor, were unaccustomed to looking after children, never mind teenagers. Hugh was fifteen in 1914, Evelyn fourteen and Sandy twelve, and various cousins of all ages joined them at times. A houseful of emotionally repressed teenagers at last let free of the rigorous constraints of home could only have been an almost impossible situation for those servants.
For Sandy, the freedom was utter bliss. He had escaped the ever-watchful eyes of his strict parents, and was allowed by Newbold’s domestic staff and his bachelor uncle to roam freely and at will over the surrounding countryside. He took to the outdoors eagerly, and showed an affinity for climbing, although the climbing was mainly limited to “a scramble on the rocks…” Nonetheless, he was allowed to do pretty much as he pleased, and for the developing athlete the terrain provided endless challenges and possibilities. Climbing was a very big deal indeed in Britain then, and “scrambling” an accepted and highly-touted activity. The Alpine Club and, eventually, the Ladies Alpine Club, welcomed more and more members every year, and the scrambles over rocks that marked the beginning of every climber’s—or alpinist’s—career were duly noted in the Clubs’ annals. Members graduated rapidly to real Alpine climbing, with trips to Europe in search of fresh ascents to officially bag also duly noted. George Mallory was an exceptional scrambler and shared his adventures with close friends such as Geoffrey Winthrop Young, Cottie Sanders, and Geoffrey Keynes (brother of Maynard) who, as one of George’s early climbing partners, accompanied him frequently to Wales and the Lake District.
Edwardian children of all classes spent as much time as possible outdoors, even during wintertime, and their inventiveness was endless. Besides the classic game of kick-the-can, Sandy and his brothers would have smoothed some dirt to make a marbles pitch, fished, cycled and in general been very free little boys, at least while on holiday at Newbold. Newbold must have been absolutely intoxicating for the repressed Irvine children. Evelyn must have joined Sandy in his games, and when they were older it was Evelyn who tramped with him over hill and dale.
Jane Pettigrew wrote (quoting another author): “After they reached school-going age, the boys no longer played with the girls, but found themselves a separate pitch on which to play….Or they would hunt in couples along the hedgerows, shooting at birds with their catapults, climbing trees, or looking for birds’ nests, mushrooms, or chestnuts, according to the season.” Hugh, at fifteen, possessed a shotgun , so if the Irvine children and cousins went on bird-hunts there must have been an extra dimension of thrills for the boys and terror for the girls.
All of this activity wasn’t easy on clothing, and no doubt the nursemaids were very busy indeed with laundering and mending. Sandy, however, wasn’t actually terribly hard on clothing, something which shocked his mother. Lilian wrote to Hugh in 1914 that she was “busy turning up the cuffs of a new suit for Sandy. At last he has finished out your old garden suit. He has not done badly at all in clothes though he is such a smut.” This care for his possessions would be a trait of Sandy’s all his life, and although he was known for being disorderly and generally messy, he was never disorganized or careless. Flora Deacon wrote in despair in her diary that he was “always so meticulous with his intelligence, so careful to guard his thoughts, and such an impossible mess with his things.” Following his death on Everest, there was some discussion as to whether or not he and Mallory had been slipshod or neglectful with their supplies, thus leading to their deaths. Mallory was known for misplacing and losing crucial expedition equipment. Given Sandy’s repressed upbringing it makes sense that he would come to “guard his thoughts” so carefully, and perhaps even to hide his intelligence in a world that demanded a certain what-ho idiocy of its young men (Bertie Wooster springs to mind).
At Newbold, Sandy developed the beginnings of a lifelong love of tinkering. On Everest, his teammates remembered him constantly tinkering with one thing or another, be it trying to improve faulty oxygen canisters or creating new spikes for crampons (metal spikes that attach to boots to better grip rock and ice when climbing). This enthusiasm eventually led him to take up engineering as his subject at Merton College, and he was actively pursuing an engineering degree at the time of his death. At Newbold was a particular room that held Sandy’s interest, filled with “war regalia…telescopes and microscopes, gyroscopes and all sorts of other unidentifiable things with wires, wheels and whirring parts.” Sandy could usually be found somewhere among the shelves full of books in this room, reading away happily. When not reading the books, he was messing about with the gadgets and machinery.
This room had a counterpart in the house at Park Road South that opened off of the laundry. Sandy filled the room in Birkenhead with various inventions and drawings, and was fiercely protective of its sanctity. Only one other person, the laundress Mrs. Killan, was entrusted with the key. Sandy wrote anxiously to Lilian in 1914, probably from Newbold: “Tell Mrs. Killen…not to let anyone into my room…” One wonders what Lilian thought of these instructions, but for whatever reason Sandy’s treasured room was left alone. Willie would find bits of an oxygen apparatus in this room after Sandy’s death, so the room remained Sandy’s hideaway for much of his life. I would be willing to wager that it contained at least some of the notebooks in which he so feverishly scribbled his thoughts and ideas, if not the entire trunk.
Past the Bounds of Time POST 4
To raise one child or perhaps two in the strict and puritanically religious atmosphere at Birkenhead, and have them conform as desired, is of course possible. However, it’s obvious that no household containing six children (with the occasional addition of cousins and friends and at least one child who stayed for an extremely lengthy visit) can ever be entirely contained. Willie and Lilian, even though they employed several maids, must have been severely tried at times in attempting to maintain a balance between pious discipline and normal childhood antics. That all six children would appear to have achieved adulthood with level heads and a keen sense of fair play is remarkable.
Lilian’s correspondence leaves us with the impression of a woman who would have had a fainting couch had she lived a half-century earlier, even with a full domestic staff. She would appear to have always been on her knees praying, and would write to her eldest son Hugh that she “never had any regrets or questionings about the right or wrong of letting Sandy go up Everest—it must be the answer to our prayers when we prayed earnestly about our decision to give him permission.” The permission was not technically needed as Sandy was an adult at the time, over twenty-one, but the letter gives us a glimpse into Lilian’s mind. “We prayed” seems to indicate that there was some sort of familial prayer over the decision, and shows clearly that this was a woman (and a family) who prayed about nearly everything. Most parents would sit down with their adult child and reason the expedition out, weighing pros and cons and determining whether that child was in fact serious and capable enough for the climb. The Irvines added “earnest” prayer to the mix. The date of this letter is not indicated, but from the wording it seems to have been written after Sandy’s death, and thus would further hold an element of self-justification, of Lilian reassuring herself that she had done the right thing. This would be the Lilian who lit candles in windows after her son’s death, in a show of vain hope and not a little regret that she hadn’t been emotionally closer to him. Turning to God and claiming that prayer led to a decision is certainly one way to soothe guilt.
Sandy and Evelyn were the most enterprising and inventive of the siblings, and the rest of the children were more their victims than anything else. There is precious little evidence of a “mature and composed” Evelyn here. Even elder brother Hugh did not escape, as they teased him mercilessly over his fear of heights. The teasing they themselves loathed was passed along. Anger, when spread, breeds nothing but more anger, and teasing—bullying—spreads from child to child even today when we are more conscious of the effects of this behavior upon others. Behavior learned from parents is insidious, passing from one generation to the next for good or for ill.
Practical jokes were a large feature of Sandy and Evelyn’s repertoire, and one can’t help wondering how they managed to get away with any of it. Punishment must have figured large in their lives, though no record remains of its nature. It’s quite likely, given Lilian’s personality, that verbal lashings and enforced repentance would have played large parts. Willie and Lilian were anything but physically demonstrative in any way, so corporal punishment would likely have been extremely rare. When Willie wanted to show displeasure at the state of Evelyn’s bedroom, for instance, he simply walked past it making retching sounds. Evelyn must have been humiliated. That sort of punishment is calculated to wither a child’s self-esteem, and would have gone hand in hand with the parental teasing to which Lilian complained that Sandy was “oversensitive” and may have been a cause of his “mood swings,” of which she also despaired.
Evelyn, as the only daughter, was expected to play maid to her five brothers—even though the family employed servants—up to and including folding their clothing and cleaning up their messes. It’s interesting that Willie did not retch his way past his sons’ bedrooms, and it’s hard to imagine that Evelyn’s bedroom was in worse state than any of theirs. It’s also not surprising that she had no time to tidy her own things. She didn’t always accept her fate with a smile, and no doubt gritted her teeth often. According to Alec, during World War I at the age of fourteen she “knitted endless yards of khaki comforters in the conservatory, and cursed Fate that made her a girl.” Cursed Fate not because she couldn’t join the fighting, though that may have crossed her mind, but because she was the unpaid maid and no doubt ached to be allowed out of the house. Sandy would one day write that he “always looked on her more as a boy than a girl” and it was always in Sandy’s company that her wilder side came out to the full. Evelyn once remarked aloud that she hated every one of her brothers. She was punished (it’s not known how) and the entire family, unsurprisingly, then said prayers for her forgiveness. The strict Evelyn who would force her own children to remain inside until a Psalm was perfectly recited was not the Evelyn Sandy had known. It was only after her brother’s death, after she married the stodgy Dick Summers (whom Sandy openly regarded as an incomplete man ) that the Lilian-like Evelyn emerged.
The boys’ education was of primary concern within the family, with very little mention ever being made regarding Evelyn’s scholastic life before the age of fourteen. The boys, most of whom would eventually excel in one sport or another, were quite obviously the lights of the family, and great hopes rested upon them. The early 1900s saw heightening global tensions as World War I approached with ever increasing speed, and the nations of Europe looked to their sons to uphold the values and safety of their countries. Girls were necessary to any war effort, but only in the sense that they were the home-based cheerleaders and supporters of the men in uniform, or else were nurses. Evelyn’s knitting of comforters was completely in character for the role she, as a wealthy young woman, was expected to play, even though she was only fourteen when the war began. It’s hard to picture a girl of fourteen knitting “endless” comforters, but for Evelyn to do anything else would have been unthinkable and seen as letting the side down.
In the early years of the twentieth century emphasis was always placed on a boy’s education rather than a girl’s, and most books and magazines reflected that strongly held bias. Adventure tales for boys were huge sellers, in particular “the adventure stories of George Alfred Henty, set during colonial campaigns and full of the deeds of young heroes.” Young British heroes, of course, and Sandy’s head must have been full of these tales as a young boy.
Also popular were such authors as Arthur Conan Doyle, James Barrie and H. Rider Haggard. Boys’ magazines did a flourishing business, and “Blood and Thunders,” the former Penny Dreadful pulp magazines of the Victorian age, sold rapidly. Attempts were made at wholesome entertainment as well, with magazines such as “Boys Own Paper” and “The Boys’ Friend.” These were loaded with morality tales, adventure stories and craft-making instructions. “Chums” “was another good, wholesome and well-illustrated journal that was thought by many to be the best available. It stressed the merits of outdoor activities and incorporated good, solid middle-class values into its stories. Heroes were upright and manly and always triumphant over rotters and cads.” “Punch” and “The Strand” were also hugely popular, and most homes that could afford to do so subscribed to both.
Sandy must have relished these magazines, and no doubt devoured the craft pages. Most boys’ journals carried detailed plans and instructions for creating a wide range of masculine toys, and with Sandy’s love of tinkering he must have had quite a collection.
Evelyn, and Flora Deacon, until a journal called “Girls’ Own Paper” came along, would have had very little apart from novels to read, as for girls “all that was available were trashy novelettes, full of silly love stories about aristocrats in their mansion.” And even then, “Girls’ Own Paper” “was meant for older girls and young wives and contained love stories.” Evelyn, although a tomboy, must have longed for more feminine things to read, things comparable to the journals and dreadfuls her brothers were reading. For novels, of course, girls like Evelyn and Flora had Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tales of young girls succeeding against all odds, and the fairy-tales of George Macdonald and E. Nesbit. And they would have had their scrapbooks.
The making of scrapbooks was all the rage among girls in Edwardian England, and publishers put out bound journals made especially for this hobby. Girls would drag out boxes filled with greeting cards and “sheets of special pages of colourful scraps that could be bought in newspaper and toy shops…” Pictures were carefully cut out and pasted artfully and skillfully into the scrapbook’s pages.
Collecting was also a big children’s hobby. All sorts of things were collected, and publishers and businesses deliberately catered to this obsession. Sandy would have had his pick among stamps, postcards, scrap sheets, and cigarette cards. These last were wildly popular, and collecting old cigarette cards is a huge hobby today.
Tobacco companies in America were the first to put collectible cards inside packets of cigarettes, and the craze soon swept to England. Jane Pettigrew noted that, by the turn of the century, “collecting [cigarette cards] was a very popular hobby, and the range [of things depicted on the cards] was extended further to include cars, motor bicycles, military uniforms and equipment, sports and sporting personalities,…beautiful women, famous explorers,…Scottish clans, ships, wireless telegraphy,…and characters from literature….Children stuck the cards into albums or special books that were printed by the card companies and which gave information on each page about the pictures…” It’s easy to picture Sandy carefully pasting the cards into albums. Players cigarettes were the most famous distributor of the cards, and Sandy couldn’t have known that, in 1925, his own image would appear in a Players cigarette card set. This set of 25 cards, devoted entirely to the 1924 Everest expedition, is highly sought after by today’s collectors, fetching today upwards of $400 US for a near-fine set.
Sandy and his siblings were taught their basic numbers and letters in the nursery. Children of their station were handed into Nanny’s care as soon as they were weaned, and remained under the watchful eyes of nursemaids until they were sent away to school at seven or eight. By five years old, “infants left the nursery and Nanny’s lessons to join the older children and the governess or tutor in the schoolroom.” It was while they were in this schoolroom that Willie Irvine came to tell the children about the outbreak of World War I. “After the first few years of lessons…in the schoolroom at home, wealthy little boys were sent away to ‘prep’ school at the age of seven, while their sisters continued their education with the governess at home, or were sent to private schools ‘for the daughters of gentlemen.’” I see no reason this wouldn’t have held true for the Irvine family as well as for Flora Deacon.
In between lessons in the nursery and schoolroom, wealthy families took holidays, and the Irvine family seems to have been perpetually on holiday while the children were little. Most of these vacations were spent in Snowdonia and surrounding areas in Wales. Willie rented places to stay during these trips, and they must have been fairly large places as the family traveled with their maids. During these holidays, Lilian forced her children, and any children staying with the family, to pay close attention to the scenery around them, flying off the handle at them if they were so careless as to speak amongst themselves instead. It’s difficult to believe that enforced enjoyment of the scenery could have resulted in any appreciation of that scenery whatsoever. One wonders what the maids thought of this, and there may very well have been a high turnaround among the Irvines’ domestics.
When he was ten, Sandy and his siblings stayed with relatives for Easter, and during that vacation he discovered what would become a lifelong love of writing. Flora Deacon, the only girlfriend Sandy would ever have, noted in her diary that he had written “reams” of things during his lifetime, apparently filling notebooks and journals, even trying his hand at fiction. He kept a journal during this holiday, and at first was completely unenthusiastic, but this didn’t last. Sandy wrote quickly all his life, ignoring the rules of grammar and almost all punctuation, and seems to have been always in a hurry to fill pages with his thoughts and experiences. Writing came easily to him, and his love of words spilled out passionately onto the page. When writing for publication—all expedition diaries and journals at the time were written for publication—he became more cautious, choosing his words and expressions carefully, hiding a letter back home to Flora (whom he always called “Effie” ) with the simple notation that he’d written to “F.” His voluminous letters, however, show a Sandy brimming over with the desire to get life down on paper, and caution was tossed to the winds. It’s a huge loss that no one today knows where those “reams” of his are, an even greater loss if their location is known but the writings themselves hidden from public sight.
Sandy’s education really began when he entered Birkenhead Preparatory School in 1910 at the age of eight. No mention is made of where his sister was educated as a small child, but all five Irvine sons would attend this school. A certain Miss Cox was the headmistress there. Sandy must have proven quite a handful, as he had to be “licked into tolerable shape” by Miss Cox’s “formidable band of colleagues.” Judging by Sandy’s escapades later in life, one can only imagine the behavior displayed at eight years of age that would have required licking into shape. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that Sandy didn’t really know how to act among other children than his siblings, and ended by behaving badly. His upbringing to that point would hardly have prepared him for a world where other children had been allowed to be simply that, children. Emotionally repressed at home, punished with disgust and prayer, the eight year old probably acted out those emotions at school.