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Stretch across the centuries

Great age gives a huge stretch across history - sometimes generating second hand reports that seem extraordinary. My mother-in-law, who died three year ago at ninety-two gave an example of this. 


She remembered, as a child in the 193os, talking to her great aunt who was nearly a hundred at the time. The conversation was about the French Revolution and somehow the subject of Robespierre’s execution had come up. Someone said that ‘sea green incorruptible’ had met his end wearing a blue cravat but was told by the elderly lady that it was, in fact, red. How did she know this? Her nanny had seen it and told her. This was in 1793.


As one slides out of middle age the same stretch starts to happen. As a child in rural Leicestershire I was surrounded by veterans of the Great War and, poignantly, by spinsters  whose potential husbands has died on the Western Front. My own grandfather, who died young, fought with the Australian Light Horse in Palestine and took part in the last cavalry charge by British Empire forces. In our village was a very old man called Patsy Garton who had fought in the Boer  War. 


He was something of a rogue and liked his drink. The nearest pub was in the next village which was approached by a gated road and often we would drive up to the gate to find Patsy fast asleep in his pony and trap with the pony waiting patiently by the gate which we would open. The pony would trot on with the comatose Patsy slumped across the seat and stop outside his door to stand calmly until his owner bestirred himself. 


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