The Onlooker is the family memoir by Alice Ascoli (1884-1965), Angus Willson’s great aunt, who wrote in pencil on the back of used Christmas greeting cards.
The world has changed considerably in the last century possibly more than in any other similar length of time.
I am writing in the year 1962 and hope that by telling the story of my family as they grew up and lived out their lives that it may help those of the present day to know something of their heritage.
I should like them to understand some of the difficulties we had to face – the poverty and drudgery that existed among the working classes – yet with what a brave face before the world – to keep respectable was one of the chief aims in life. In the rows and rows of drab looking houses lived many heroes and heroines rearing large families of children who went forth each morning clothed tidily and warmly to their schools where, herded in large classes, they worked to be well educated in order to rise in the world, as their parents told them they should. For their children to get on in life was the ambition of myriads of these parents, and the achievements of some of them was tremendous.
Yet in each home, which was a self-contained unit, were many enjoyments – no extravagant toys – no radio or television. They made their own amusements and games with parents in the evening or musical evenings with friends.
Happy faces round the fire in winter listening to stories – or having guessing games, the older ones doing their home work often in the same room as romping little ones. In the summer, no holidays by the sea. If a family was fortunate enough to have relatives – in the country – the children might be invited but often in the summer big sister would take the smaller ones to parks or forests – always on foot for transport was a luxury, but these visits were the highlights in the lives of children.
It is my fervent hope that this generation determine that many things in the world their ancestors knew shall never return and the legacies we have left them of struggles unconquered, and problems unsolved, they may realise are “the birth pangs of a new age” (Mark 13 New Testament) and in enthusiastic resolve and imagination seek their solution.
So if these memoirs are finished in time – for age and fading faculties are beginning to tell – I leave my executors to deal with them as they think best.
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