Saturday, 9 January 2010

Sepia Saturday: Waiting for the French

This well turned out young man is my paternal grandfather, Robert Frank Hodges, about 15 or 16 years of age at the time this photograph was taken. He was working in a hotel in Brighton and by the look of his outfit, he started out as a bell-boy or porter.

I never really got to know him and he didn’t loom large in my life. Quite the opposite to my maternal grandfather, Robert Frank was distant and undemonstrative.

After my parents divorced, when I was eight years old, my contact with him was even more reduced, and before my eleventh birthday our awkward Sunday meetings had ceased completely, at my father’s request. Then, in the early 1990s, shortly before his death, he wrote to me.

For a short while, we enjoyed an exchange of correspondence, during which I discovered little more about him than I already knew. He was a dyed in the wool socialist who had applied himself to qualify as an electrician by what we would now call ‘distance learning’. He worked hard and became chief electrician, working for a large shipbuilder on the south coast.

One of my clearest childhood memories of him is centred around a family daytrip to Brighton, his old stamping ground and the birthplace of my father. I remember it was an overcast, rather depressing day and we all bundled into a small café for tea and cakes. As we sat down and got settled, we became aware of a commotion at the table next to us. An impatient waiter was raising his voice to an elderly man who was throwing his arms about in response. I think this was the first time I had witnessed the Gallic shrug.

As the situation was in danger of reaching boiling point, Robert Frank casually leant in the direction of the debate and delivered a string of words I had never heard before. The eyes of the old gentlemen lit up. “Parlez vous francais monsieur?” he asked. “Oui, un peu,” my grandfather replied.

It turned out, the French visitor couldn’t get to grips with the foreign currency and Robert Frank’s memorised French phrases from his waiting days helped to resolve the matter.

Having said all this, maybe I have a slightly clearer picture of the man than I had previously thought.

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© 2010, copyright Martin T. Hodges  


  1. What a wonderful memory - and a lovely picture of an interesting man. It is amazing how once we start thinking about someone just how much we find we can remember.

  2. its great to have the photos and stories like that that link us to our ancestors... thanks for sharing

  3. I notice you're currently readign Wolf Hall - how are you finding it?

  4. The shiny shoes in the photo show how neat and tidy your Grandfather was, whatever his job!

  5. Great photograph and an excellent commentary on it. There is something about his look that is so evocative of the period. It is a joy to see such photos recorded and explained.

  6. It's Great that You Got Closer To Him.It's An Interesting Question, What Another's Strongest Memory Of Us Might Be?
    I,m Sure If I Asked That Question Of Another I Would Get A Few Surprises!

  7. great pic! such polished shoes your grandfather had!!

    I loved wolf hall...first book I read by mantel, but for sure won't be the last!

  8. Your grandfather was so handsome. He looks like he could have stepped right out of "The Remains of the Day"! Wonderful pic and post, Martin.

  9. Isn't it interesting how these photographs lead to our speculation on something we believe possible?
    I very much enjoyed this piece, Martin. As a Canadian, who has only been to the U.K. a few times, I have film and television from which to draw my images of what you lay before us. I went from visuals in my head of the shipbuilders in Newcastle on "Secret Millionaire" to "Withnail & I" and the tearoom scene to "Fawlty Towers" and the muddled Manuel. I was ultimately left with a rather favourable impression of your paternal grandfather and yourself.

    Thank you so much for your visit and thoughtful comment. I shall be following you from now on.


  10. Such a nice story, Martin. I too have relatives who I really wish I'd gotten to know better. All those questions I never thought to ask will now never be answered.

  11. A great post--he looks like a very strong person. It is so interesting that you began the correspondence with him and got to know him a little--it's an unusual story of parting ways and then meeting up again.

  12. Well, I can relate to this as I have relatives...even a set of grandparents that I never really knew. Sad, though. I'm glad he wrote you in later years. The picture is wonderful..the clothes,...everything. I do think Sepia Saturday is becoming my favorite!

  13. It's great that you have this photo of your grandfather, Martin, though you didn't know him so well. Sometimes life has a way of separating family, and for whatever reasons, that is just meant to be. I do think you were quite lucky to at least correspond with him later in life, and those may be moments that are all the more precious because they were so few. Thank you for sharing this. For some reason, it got my mind thinking in many directions, but all family-related.

    BTW, I am so enjoying those new additions to the Speckly Woo! Gallery. She's really quite a talent! :-)


  14. Teresa

    You're right. It only takes the memory of a small event or incident to begin the process of building a fuller picture.

    Crafty Green Poet

    I'm getting into Wolf Hall more now, but with Christmas and all that it brought, I neglected it. Hilary Mantel writes so well, and it's the quality of her writing that keeps me hanging in there. It is a substantial piece of work.


    How did the old slogan read? 'The shine on your shoe says a lot about you.'


    Thank you. When I look at this young fellow, it's still quite difficult to believe he's my grandfather. Not so sure that I ever looked that smart.


    Like you, I often wonder how future generations might view an account of my life. There should be plenty for them talk about.


    So glad you dropped by Square Sunshine. You're very welcome.

    I'll be looking out for more titles by Hilary Mantel too. Superb writer.


    Yes, he does have a certain something about him, doesn't he? It's not just the outfit though; there's a confidence in his stance somehow, that stops short of arrogance.


    Thank you for your kind comments, and I am genuinely thrilled that you have chosen to follow this blog.


    Yes, I do feel a bit short-changed in the case of my paternal grandfather. But I am grateful for what I do know, and through my family history research, I have traced his line back to 1819. Some tales to tell in future posts, no doubt.


    He was, I gather, a very strong person. Even in his later letters, he came across as a man of principle and no nonsense.


    Thank you. Yes, I think we should give a big a round of applause to Alan Burnett for coming up with the idea for a Sepia Saturday. It's a definite hit.


    You know, just writing about him for this post, has sparked little flashes of memories that are new to me. So, Sepia Saturday has been a good exercise.

    I know how reading about someone else's family can trigger thoughts of one's own. I hope this has been positive in your case.

    I'd like to say thank you on behalf of Speckly Woo! She and her identical twin sisters are an absolute joy. I guess I'll need to extend the gallery when the twins start to create their own works of art!

  15. Nice story Martin - as well as nice photo!

  16. Stephanie

    Thank you for dropping by and leaving such kind comments. You're very welcome.

  17. Maybe your memories and connections to him are like those tiny bits of French saved through the years -- in small supply but of great use when needed. A wonderful tale.

  18. Ladrón de Basura

    Welcome to Square Sunshine and thank you for your kind comment. I like your suggestion that "..memories and connections to him are like those tiny bits of French saved through the years"


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