Wednesday, 11 January 2012

How my Granny inspired Beyoncé... and other true life stories




















My Granny and Beyoncé... but what is the link? Read on... read on...


One of the nicest things about my Mum was that she was genuinely more interested in other people than she was in herself. I think maybe that's not a very fashionable feeling just now, is it? It may even have got to the point where if people do feel that way these days they don't like to own up to it very much... like it's not very 21st Century or something to not be obsessed with yourself (the push, the shove and all that...). But back to Mum... after a tricky start in life she pretty much always spent her time doing things for other people – whether working with children in an official capacity (she was a social worker just after WW2) or working with people of all ages in more unofficial ways. One of my friends said to me after she'd died that my Mum was the first person who ever really showed her that all children deserve to be loved. It made me choke when she said that (partly realising how often I'd not appreciated her...). She was a good soul, my Mum, strong, patient and caring.

Partly because of this interest of hers in other people our house is full of biographies (many of her possessions are still here – it was her home for her last six years of life). For Xmas and birthdays “any good biography” was always on her short list, somewhere near the top. Chocolate was usually on the list too – partly because after a life positively peppered with sadness and bereavement she had learned the lessons that Michael Rosen refers to (see last post) and she knew well to have that one happy thing a day (if not more if possible). For her that thing was often chocolate-related (though cake would do too).

Now she's gone it does sometimes seem that the cliché is true and that I am turning into my mother (at some speed...). I'm hoping to get the good bits and bypass some of the snobberies she picked up along the way (“well, did you go to university, did you, did you?”) but it does mean that I have got a few biographies on the brain too just now. Mum liked literary biographies most of all but for me it's often music that wins the day. I have, for example, recently read Nile Rodgers' autobiography “Le Freak”. It looks like this:




I hugely enjoyed “Le Freak” as it is a monster of a life story (and it's not over yet – though Rodgers is seriously ill). I've loved Chic's music since I was about 11 (see here) and knew about their work with Sister Sledge of course (see my first poetry postcard – back here) but I didn't know he'd worked with so many other artists too (in the book there are details of working with Diana Ross, Bowie, Madonna - all on key albums). Even before all that though the tales of his childhood and adolescence are really worth reading. Rodgers is a person who isn't well known (partly his choice) but I'm glad I got to know him a bit through the book. He was quite the hedonist too (as well as a hard worker) and I've never minded a bit of hedonism myself. You can hear Rodgers talking about his 1970s on Johnnie Walker's radio show this Sunday just gone (here) but it's only available till Sunday and his bit starts well into the second hour of the show.

For my second biography... this Sunday on Cerys Matthews' radio show she read Philip Larkin's poem “For Sidney Bechet”. This made me look up more about jazz musician Bechet... and then order his autobiography “Treat it Gentle”. I have told you many times how much I love Larkin – I wrote about him on the old blog regularly and even got him into a nightclub in a poem here and wrote him a toad poem here. Larkin's Bechet poem goes like this (text here) – and this clip is worth it for the intro by Larkin alone (Matthews used it too):




And then, as if that wasn't enough, recently writer Lemn Sissay reviewed Gil Scott Heron's memoir “The Last Holiday” (here). So now that book has gone straight to the top of my birthday wish list! I will not be able to leave the house at all soon – too many lives in here waiting to be read about.

Finally one more life... my maternal Grandmother (though I mainly called her Granny – her photo at top of the post). Born in 1900 she was originally named Ivy but she changed her name to Frances once she was in a position to do so. My Mum said this was because she considered Ivy a “servant's name” and wanted to sound more sophisticated (she came from a Wiltshire country family, nothing flash, and she wanted to get the mud out of her hair... or something). She was very beautiful, by all accounts, a dazzling redhead, a flapper and once away from the fields she went on to be married four times (I've told you before that widowhood is a big thing in my family). Ivy/Frances died in 1979 when I was 12 but our girl (the younger redhead) is fascinated by names and so is always asking about this name change of her great Granny's (fancying, no doubt, what names she'd choose for herself, given the chance). We were talking about it just this week and I happened to say “the way fashions work the name Ivy will be back in fashion at some point”. And then Beyoncé (and Jay Z) had their baby... and lo, an Ivy was born (Blue Ivy, but Ivy all the same). So you see, this Mum was right... you wait long enough and everything comes back in fashion eventually! Even Ivy...

x

21 comments:

The Bug said...

I like the name Ivy. It's funny that she changed it to Frances because I think of that as a not very posh name at all. Of course, I have relatives in her generation named Firch & Gory, so what do I know?

I've never been big on reading biographies, although I love to race through a People magazine once in a blue moon (or a Blue Ivy). I think it's because my favorite genre is mystery & there really isn't any with a biography (I guess I could read about people I know nothing about, couldn't I?).

Rachel Fox said...

I don't know exactly when she made the name change... must try and find that out. And she was lucky really with her name - she had sisters called Gladys, Elsie, Evelyn and Doris (and a couple of brothers).
x

Rachel Fox said...

Looking at some family stuff - I think it might have been in the 1950s that she made the change.

Eryl said...

I don't think I've ever read a biography which strikes me, now, as rather peculiar. I've read snippets of autobiographies, and lots of books of letters, and the odd journal, but not a whole biography auto or otherwise. Must redress that imbalance. Gil Scott Heron's memoir has got to be good!

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, the GSH one has been ordered for me already I think. Looking forward to it!
x

The Weaver of Grass said...

Quite right Rachel - your grandmother is a very beautiful woman - far more so that Beyonce in my opinion.

Rachel Fox said...

Now, now, Weaver - it's not a competition!
x

hope said...

I love biographies! Started with one about Charles Lindberg of all people (me, the one who doesn't care to fly!) and I got hooked on why people become the person we see.

Ah, Ivy is a lovely name...because it is part of my childhood. The Children's Librarian at the local library was "Miss Ivy"..although we were never sure if that was a first or last name. I'm sure your Granny's name choice was better than the explanation I read yesterday about Beyonce's choice. Supposedly Ms. Singer Mum loves the number 4, which she converted to roman numerals....IV. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. ;)

Rachel Fox said...

Picking names is such a big decision... I don't mind the roman explanation at all... shows they put some thought into it.

It's easy to laugh at celebrity kids' names... I think the Paltrow/Martin "Apple" gets the most stick over here (name your kid after a computer why don't you?). Like many people we try to come up with more ridiculous suggestions... our favourite at the moment is "have you met my daughter - Potato Fox?
x

Niamh B said...

interesting one Rachel - the old fashioned names are very popular around here this weather too.
Molly, Sally, Daisy etc... Ivy reminds me of coronation st - there's something brilliant about 3 letter names I think - the simplicity is attractive to me...

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I think Ivy was one of the last ones to make it back into the realms of possibility. Though saying that I'm not sure Elsie or Gladys are back yet either!
x

Marion McCready said...

Ahh, hence all the Plath books! I love biographies too, mainly writers or (this'll make me sound like a right bore) politicians, well they are a funny bunch of folk!

Rachel Fox said...

Not a bore at all! There is a world outside the arts... it's easy to forget that but important not to, I think.
x

Rachel Fox said...

And yes, my Mum pretty much collected books about Plath. She was attracted by the tragedy, I'm sure (and certainly not the poetry... she wasn't really a big poetry fan/reader) but maybe also by her whole haunting-beauty-type-thing. My Mum was a sucker for a pretty face... especially if it went with 'a good university education' and a literary prize or two.
x

Titus said...

I'm a sucker, mainly, for film star biographies (of the 30s to 60s really)(stars, not biographies), though a polar explorer/ballerina/rock star who died young doesn't go amiss. Actually, I read quite a few biographies now I'm thinking about it.
I love all the name change stuff. Craig's father is actually Thomas Nigel, but he's been Neil since school. Craig is, of course, Malcolm.
And I hated Ruby when I was a child (so old-fashioned, and one grandmother's name) but look! Back in fashion big-time now. How is Beyonce a name? Has there ever been a Beyonce before?
And thank you for the Bechet.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, online it says the name comes from the surname Beyince which was her mother's maiden name. The surname is Creole and her mother is of "Louisiana Creole heritage"... more details about her elsewhere if you want them. Here

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tina_Knowles

x

Selma said...

Your Mum sounded like such an amazing person. It was great to hear about all those biographies. I enjoy reading them too. Some people have really lived incredible lives. Yes. Everything old becomes new again. I'm not surprised your Granny inspired Beyonce. I'm just waiting for my Great Grandmother Dulcie to inspire a celebrity. Hahaha.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I am missing my Mum a lot this week. It's coming up to my birthday... I think that's why. One card less... but an important one.
x

Rachel Fenton said...

Some Eddie Izzard genius going on in that linkage there. I'm reading a fair few biographies lately.

I hope you find lots of happy things to remember your mum by come your birthdayx

Rachel Fox said...

I'm not an Izzard fan... but I know lots of people are...

Birthdays - man takes day off work and keeps me company (hurray!). We'll do something fun. Then on to the next one!

x

Rachel Fenton said...

The "something fun" is the key bit. The year does just go round and round, though this Jan has lasted a long time....surely the rest will zip by.