Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 30 (1999) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Sixty-two years ago, almost to the day - a freezing 25 November 1936 - I arrived at the London docks from Africa and came, without realizing it at the time, to live in the country of my background. I was to live with Alison and Rupert Winser and their family in the Rectory at Allesley, just outside Coventry, and it became my home for the next five years. By the end of that time, of course, the war had blown away the old life and it would never be the same again. So I was lucky that at least I had a taste of it, and met some of the old people.
Alison Winser, my father's first cousin, was the daughter of Canon Fred Evans, Rector of Bedworth for 50 years. Fred was my grandfather Waiter's brother. And Fred and Waiter were the sons of Isaac, brother of Mary Ann Evans and the model for Tom Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss. So that is where I fit in.
My Uncle Rupert Winser was a dear, gentle man and, like a lot of parsons before and since, fairly absent-minded. In a sermon once about the endless love of God he illustrated it with a description of Niagara. 'There I stood' he declaimed, 'trying to drink it all in'. I don't think he ever understood the titter that ran round the church. On another occasion he drove fifty miles from Peterborough to Daventry, and complained that the car was running very hot. Then he discovered that he had forgotten to change gear.
I have to admit that I hardly knew who George Eliot was when I came to England - my African family were not exactly literary-minded. But my aunt Alison gradually introduced me to the Warwickshire of my father's generation. I was shown Griff and Bedworth, Chilvers Coton, and the place where my grandparents' house, Caldwell Hall, stood before it was burnt down. My cousin Robert Winser took me with him when he went fishing for pike in the lake at Arbury, and I crunched along behind him when he tried to shoot snipe and knew, with Winnie the Pooh, how cold my toes, tiddley-pom, were growing. We went to the railway cutting at Ansley to see the silver train called 'The Silver Jubilee' thunder past.