Family, friends, and Lord Byron

My nonagenarian aunt who lives in Australia recently had a fall; she is thus languishing in hospital while physiotherapists attempt to work wonders on her temporarily malfunctioning shoulder. My brother had learned of this from our cousin, my aunt’s daughter, and suggested that I might like to drop her a line. This I did. My letter was well-received since I believe it helped to ameliorate the tedium of enforced idleness that inevitably results from an extended period of hospital quietude.

My aunt left England for Australia at the end of WW2 and I have seen her only a handful of times since then. Yet writing to her now, some 60 years later, seemed an entirely natural thing for me to do. I have puzzled over why that might be the case and I have come to the conclusion that it is because my mother spoke with such fondness, warmth and love for her while I was growing up. I was fortunate to have an excellent mother and I certainly paid close attention to what she told me.

Friendships, if not properly maintained, tend to atrophy over time and may be examined, almost from an empirical standpoint, to see whether or not they may still qualify as such. Do the parties meet or correspond frequently? Do they seem to enjoy themselves on these occasions? Do, indeed, they regard themselves as friends? Were Sherlock Holmes to examine the facts and find the evidence lacking in this regard, he might be scathing in his dismissal of any hypothesis of friendship put forward by the very wonderful Dr Watson.

Blood relations are an altogether different kettle of fish. I am biologically related to my aunt because she is the biological sister of my mother and we therefore have genetic material in common coming to us from her mother who is, of course, my grandmother and that is true even though my grandmother and my mother are both now dead. So this woman in Australia is my aunt whether she likes it or not; she cannot stop being my aunt merely because we have seldom been in the same room together.

One sometimes hears of horrible family feuds between brothers, for example, that go on for years and years. I think the reason for this is the fact that neither party can escape the relationship since they are brothers by definition and not by the facts of their behaviour or affective inclination. Of course, an angry father might say to his errant offspring “You are no son of mine. Be gone” (or, more colloquially, “Fuck off”), but that is mere wish-fulfilment. Where a serious family relationship has been defined culturally there is usually a way out, even though the exodus may involve lots of talk, money, and heartache; divorce is the classic example.

So it is that, two cups of coffee later, I have accounted for why I wrote to my Australian aunt with such pleasure. Some of you, my dear blogophiles, may feel that I have been rambling a tad too much but, then, you would not be reading this if you were not partial to the occasional guided tour around the sunken canyons of my ageing and fragmented mental space.

When my cousin emailed to thank me for the letter I sent to her mother, my aunt, she mentioned that her son was about to be married at Byron Bay. I have never met her son and I feel that it is at this point that the blood link does become a bit thin. For it to have any meaning, it is perhaps necessary for the sorts of frequent meetings that support active friendships in order for it to be felt  to be ongoing. Although I know nothing of my cousin’s son, the location of his wedding did catch my eye.

 

The lighthouse at Byron Bay, Australia

 

Only a 10 minute drive from where I am typing this blog there is a lane, now surfaced with tarmac, called Lord Byron’s Walk. I turn to Wikepedia and find that Byron Bay was a place where Captain Cook found a safe anchorage. He named the bay after John Byron who had previously circumnavigated the world, and who was grandfather of the English poet Lord Byron. Lord Byron’s Walk winds through some picturesque woods atop the cliff by Seaham harbour, and from there he would have been able to gaze out onto the cold North sea. I do wonder if it was this that inspired the verse in Canto IV:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

I think that is enough for the time being, my dear blogophiles. Talk to you later.

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