By Hand

David Jolley

Our original neighbour Mrs C had been a late and unplanned addition to her family. As such she was deemed more than her mother could cope with and so grew up in the home of her grandmother, visiting mum only on high days and holidays. I think she was well cared for but was as if an only child of elderly parents, perhaps a quieter and more austere life than might have been for her sister and brothers who stayed in the family home.

Certainly she felt herself distanced and low in the pecking order. She referred to this as ‘I was brought up by hand’.

I have always taken her to have meant that she received ‘good-enough’ practical care but it lacked the warmth of exhibited love you hope to find in family. That is my take – and I find that this does not quite fit with the original accepted usage which applied to babies fed by spoon or bottle when mother’s milk failed or they had to be given to someone else to care for them. There is the extension of this in the character and behaviour of Mrs Joe Gargery in Great Expectations. She is Pip’s much older sister and had brought up series of babies for others – gaining a good reputation for her successes in rearing them ‘by hand’. She was also a fearsome woman – easily disposed to clout her husband or Pip should the mood take her or should they disappoint her expectations of them. So ‘by hand’ has gained the additional suggestion of rule by force. I do not think Mrs C suffered violence but she did feel she had missed out on some aspects of loving care.

Just reflecting on communication with older people, some with memory problems, who can come again to health walks organised via our park group, and others who support the park. Many people can be contacted at the touch of a button via the computer – but this special crew require a phone call or written letter. This means exercise of my fountain pen – a return to the days of school and university – and delivery around local streets – by hand.

The process brings us closer together – checking and crafting the address and name – walking the garden path, negotiating the letterbox and appreciating the plants, lawn and garden furniture which they have chosen.

A quieter, more soulful connection than Google or Yahoo might have delivered.

Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘Lost Soul’ is in praise of slow. ‘By hand’ is a way into this – for any of us, perhaps most surely for people who have problems of cerebrating fast. Pictures help too.

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