Before Jack found his love for writing he always found comfort in the natural world. Jack’s father passed these values down to him through his upbringing as they would grow vegetables together. Even during traumatic periods of Jack’s life he finds peace in putting pen to paper. During WWII, Jack was put on temporary leave due to having to get an operation on his knee. This time away from the terror of war allowed him to reflect on his joy for farming.
‘For the first time in months I was able to put pen to paper and write again as I came in of an evening after giving a hand with the ploughing: (221)
Jack includes many poems in his memoir but it seems he only includes poems about his true passions in life. ‘I feel contentment Turning this brown earth.’ Living a rural life brings back to a simpler time and eases his mind on the stresses of society. Writing allows him to hone in on what truly makes him happy.
Reflecting on this natural way of living Jack writes about his father’s role as a teacher to him. ‘Not only at this time did I learn how to drive a pony and trap, but my father also taught me how to row a boat.'(65) Family life and labour came hand in hand with each other. The majority of people during the 1920s made a living from these labours of the land, i.e. fishing, farming, etc. Most forms of labour were a family tradition passed down from generation to generation.
Jack’s father prepared him for life. Transportation was not easily accessible to Islandmagee. ‘This was considered very important in Larne, because one had to know how to row – or how to sail – if one wanted to cross the lough to Islandmagee in the evening after the ferry had stopped.'(65) Jack’s identity is formed around these experiences of rural life.
Fishing is a way that Jack and his father bonded when he was a child. Social identity is strengthened through this rural activity as Jack develops his family relationships and friendships through it. ‘In the summer evenings my father used to get the loan of a boat from a friend and take George and me out “sheafing”.'(65) Jack’s creativity is allowed to develop as he ponders the enormity of the sea. ‘The sea was a huge mystery and we were only probing its fingers.'(65) Rural living coincides with recreating, learning and family living.
The following painting reminds me of Jack’s progression of living a rural life as a child and also as an adult. He tends to reflect on his childhood experiences with his critical views as an adult. Combining both of these narrative voices gives an insight into how his identity has developed through this rural mode of living. ‘We would crack jokes about the man on the moon and we would point out his eyes and his nose and mouth. Little did we know that some years later a man from earth would be actually walking on the moon.'(65) Jack shows his naivety as a child with little awareness of the technological advances that were occurring around him.
Even as a child Jack was encouraged to enjoy labour recreationally as he was given a wheelbarrow for Christmas. ‘Let us return again to the County Fermanagh farm cottage some sixty five years ago where Christmas was being celebrated…on the earth floor of the kitchen, a model wheel barrow big enough for me to push around.'(67) Regenia Gagnier addresses how Jack like many other autobiographers, ‘…assume the authority to write their own working-class history in order to ensure the subjecthood of working-class autobiography in the future.'(Gagnier, 1991, 351) Jack conveys to his reader that he was of a working-class background. He worked hard in order to secure comfort in his life. This comfort enabled him to find a love for the land.
Jack’s father started off slowly in terms of rural living as he only grew vegetables. After progressing to poultry he took an interesting in beekeeping. ‘The success of his poultry keeping inspired my father to take an interest in another form of domestic livestock – bees.'(82) This interest to continuously progress was evidently passed down on Jack as he combines his own interested of farming with talking on the radio about it.
Jack gets back into beekeeping in his later years in life and reminisces about his memories of beekeeping with his father. ‘It has taken me twenty years to get back to the bees. I am sorry my father is no longer here. He would have enjoyed this sight.'(229) This sense of pride of going back to live a rural life allows Jack to reflect on his father’s dream. ‘My father for a long time had the dream of “going back to the land”.'(165)
Jack’s father was investing in his future through these life lessons it ‘was much the most important contribution a father could make to his son’s future prosperity’(Vincent, 1981, 67)
‘But I have climbed this tree today. I have enjoyed this moment. I have survived the war. I suppose if my father could have had a parting wish, he might have wished this moment for me, and the days that surround this moment – days milking cows, keeping bees, sowing the barley on the harrowed land, rearing and tending farm animals. There are few more productive things that a man can do these days.'(229)
Jack writes in a contemplative tone as he thinks of all that he has endured in life. He has achieved what his father always dreamed of; owning a farm and being one with the land. Jack shares the same pride his father had when he was one with nature. This labour was a secret bond that they shared which strengthened their father-son relationship.
Jack brought together his two passions of entertainment and nature. ‘I also gave talks on the radio on bees, on horses, on cattle, on farm craft, and on wild life that could be observed in the pastures and in the plantings.'(232) Jack was a man of many trades. His perseverance and courage enabled him to dive into the deep end and try new things. If Jack had not gotten the courage to first get into theatre it would be unlikely that he would be talking on the radio about all things rural.
Gagnier, Regenia. Subjectivities: A History of Self-Representation in Britain, 1832-1920. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
McQuoid, Jack, ‘One Man in his Time’ pp.328, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 4.
Vincent, David. Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working-Class Autobiography. London: Methuen, 1981.
NB: all pictures and images have links of their source.
Previous Post: War and Memory
Next Post: Fun and Festivities [Part 1]