Saturday, 25 April 2015

Exeter

We've been in Exeter all day with Nathan and his Dad, on a wonderful trek into their family's past. This is where Nathan's father, David, was born. In fact, at one point, we saw the very spot; an upstairs window in a house on an estate with views over beautiful green hills. You're never far from beautiful green hills in Devon...

Our trip started in a suburb of Exeter called Topsham, where Nathan's Uncle Graham lives. We were essentially dropping in on people unannounced, and I was really struck by the fact that each of the three houses we visited were filled to the rafters with people; mostly other family members. Many of David and Nathan's tribe have remained in the place they grew up, so they drop in on each other on a daily basis - unannounced and often without knocking! My family are scattered around the four corners of the UK, so couldn't be like that if we wanted to, but I thought how wonderful it must be to have an extended family network around you, to share the burden of child-rearing and to make sure the elderly don't get lonely.

Uncle Graham was with his sparky sixteen-year old granddaughter, who keeps him topped up with cheeky banter and the odd tot of whiskey. They were a rather charming odd couple!

We had lunch surrounded by gay men (bit odd...) in a pub in the village before heading to the opposite side of Exeter to see Nathan's Auntie Sandra and his heavily-pregnant cousin Sarah, who are actually relatives on his mother's side. We were fed tea and an apricot sponge cake, and entertained by a gorgeous pedigree red border collie called Ted.  Some dogs are profoundly intelligent: you can see it in their eyes. This was one of the brightest dogs I've ever met.

From there, we drove to the St Loyes area of the city, which was very much the stomping ground of the young David. It's obviously a Labour Party stronghold, because there were red and luminous yellow signs in windows as far as the eye could see. I was intrigued to note that the sitting MP in the area is Ben Bradshaw. Ben is an openly gay man who was elected on that astonishing May evening in 1997 when we all thought the world was going to change for the better forever. Ben had expected to become the first openly gay man ever to be elected to parliament, but was pipped to the post by a young man called Stephen Twigg, who, against all the odds had beaten defence secretary Michael Portillo in Enfield Southgate in a moment which would come to define the election, and the end of an eighteen-year Tory reign, which had destroyed the miners, persecuted gay people, and turned several generations into selfish, money-obsessed little fascists. Stephen Twigg happened to be my partner at the time, and, as a result, in those early years, I hung out a fair amount with Ben Bradshaw and his partner, Neil. In fact, when I went to Labour Party events with Stephen, people would often assume I WAS Ben Bradshaw... Often leading to terribly embarrassing exchanges...

We called in on Nathan's Auntie Diane and his cousins Donna and Alison, whose house was full to the rafters. By that point I was buzzing on tea!

The last visit was to Nathan's Auntie Lorna, the charming 80 year-old matriarch of the family, who was surrounded by three generations of her family, one of whom spoke just like Ricky Jervais! We looked at photographs. There was a picture of Nathan's grandparents getting married in the late 1920s, which I found particularly moving. The two people in the photo would be destined to have ten children, eight of whom survived into adulthood, and from those eight children scores of grandchildren and even more great grandchildren. A successful dynasty by any standard. Nathan stops counting his cousins when he gets to fifty... I have four!

We came back to Weston Super Mare and had tea in a local gastro pub before coming home to finish the remainder of the delicious Banoffee Pie which Liz had made us the night before.  A fabulous end to a fabulous day.

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