Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dorset ancestral anecdotes

On Thursday afternoon, 2 August 2007, I took the train from London Waterloo to Poole [Dorset]. I'm surely not the first traveler to point out that British trains are old-fashioned and uncomfortable, but the emotional thrill of moving towards my ancestral Dorset negated both the physical discomfort and the constantly-repeated idiotic train messages: "Passengers are informed that, to travel on this train, they must have a ticket. If not, they may be penalized by our inspectors."

To be truthful, I spent a good part of the journey admiring the intense beauty of a veiled Moslem girl on the other side of the aisle, who was constantly consulting a portable computer, taking phone calls and listening to an Apple iPod. I was intrigued by the way she would brush aside delicately her Moslem veil in order to insert or remove an earplug. Indeed, her whole vestimentary interdiction, in counterpoint with her exquisite physical features and modernity, made this girl terribly beautiful and desirable. [Those spontaneous sentiments should be enough to earn me a fatwah from the Finsbury Park fools in London.]

After a night in a charming bed-and-breakfast on the remote north-eastern side of Poole Park Lake, far from the city [an error due to my haste in Internet booking, without the necessary examination of maps], I took a bus to the northern Dorset village of Blandford.

In a British double-decker bus on such a country road, you are hurtled through a sort of rectangular tunnel cut through the trees. You have an ideal chance of realizing that today's roads are simply an extension of yesterday's tracks. There's no such thing as a municipal no-man's-land between the road and the adjoining properties. Here in France, a motorist on a country road can usually pull over for a piss, or any reason whatsoever. This would be unthinkable in the English environment I'm describing. Sometimes I conclude that this is why many English drivers have superb new vehicles [not necessarily made in the UK]. It would be suicidal to set forth on an English road with an old vehicle that might have hiccups along the way. In certain places, it would take a helicopter to drag a stalled automobile out of the way. To put it bluntly, southern England is a travelers' nightmare. I knew that already, a quarter of a century ago, when I wrote my guidebook on Great Britain. If you're thinking of visiting this part of England, the only common-sense way of doing things consists of renting a small automobile and establishing a tightly-planned hotel schedule.

In Blandford, I stumbled upon a museum:

Inside, an old pump-organ caught my attention:

Its label had a familiar name, of the Blandford music store that sold this instrument:

The museum curator showed me publicity concerning the Skivington music shop in Blandford:

Then he invited me to play the old organ. This demanded a lot of effort, because the "lungs" of the antiquated organ were no doubt leaking, and I had to pedal like hell to produce the least sound. Still, it was an emotional performance, which seemed to move the Blandford curator, who immediately started to inundate me with copies of old documents about local Skivingtons. If I can say so, without appearing to be pretentious, I already knew more about this subject than the curator did, and he was thrilled to receive my gift of the pile of printed pages on Dorset Skivingtons that I had brought with me.

Finally, I hardly surprised the Blandford curator by pointing out to him that we Dorset Skyvingtons were issued from ancestors named Rose:

Thereupon, it was the curator who surprised me by indicating an amazing fact. He informed me that my ancestral Blandford relatives Thomas Rose [1749-1833] and his wife Jane Topp [1757-1827] were in fact the first free settlers to arrive in Port Jackson, New South Wales, aboard the Bellona, on 15 January 1793. In the heart of Dorset, on a warm day of August 2007, that fragment of information made me feel rightly more Aussie than ever.

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