Drums in Afghanistan

RUDYARD KIPLING PUBLISHED his story “Drums of the Fore and Aft” in 1889 (www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/rg_foreandaft1.htm). Based on an incident that occurred in the Second Afghan War (1878-1890), most likely during a battle at Ahmed Khel in 1880, his tale includes the story of two drummer boys, who, fortified with rum and courage, march up and down the battlefield playing the tune of the song, “The British Grenadiers”, which, incidentally, we used to sing at school in the early 1960s. Although the British defeat their enemy, the boys are killed.  Well, I doubt that I would have ever known about this story had we not recently visited Woodbridge on the backwaters of the coast of Suffolk.

Much of Woodbridge is located on the slope of a hill. Its picturesque Market Hill is high up on this incline. It contains many buildings that have been in existence for several centuries. In the centre of the square, stands the Shire Hall, a rectangular brick building with stone trimmings and gables at both ends of its roof. The gables give the building a somewhat Dutch appearance. The edifice is believed to have been built in about 1575 by a local worthy, a politician and member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I, Thomas Seckford (1515-1587). Since then, it has been modified a little, but not to its detriment.

Just outside the eastern end of the Shire Hall, we found a sculpture depicting two young soldiers. One is standing, beating a drum, and the other is sitting on the floor looking upward, a discarded bugle at his feet. A plaque next to the sculpture reads as follows:

“’Drums to the Fore and Aft’. Gifted to the Town by the Duchess of Albermarle following her husband’s wishes in January 1980. Sculpted by Arnold, 8th Earl of Albermarle. Re-sited to this position in March 2018.”

When I saw this, I wondered about the aristocratic creator of this lifelike sculptor.

Arnold was Arnold Allan Cecil Keppel, 8th Earl of Albemarle (1858-1942), soldier, courtier, and Conservative politician (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Keppel,_8th_Earl_of_Albemarle). Educated at Eton College, he fought in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) after having been an MP for Birkenhead between 1892 and 1894. On becoming the 8th Earl, he took his late father’s place in the House of Lords. His wife was born Lady Gertrude Lucia (1861-1943). As she died in 1943 and the town only received the sculpture in 1980, it seems to have taken a long time for her late husband’s wishes to be fulfilled. At least that is what I thought until I looked into the story behind this work of art.

As for the sculpture in Woodbridge, Wikipedia includes the following about Arnold Keppel’s relationship with it:

“He is credited with sculpting the statue of the two drummer boys from Rudyard Kipling’s story ‘The Drums of the Fore and Aft’ that now stands in Woodbridge, Suffolk.”

The Recording Archive for Public Sculpture in Norfolk & Suffolk, a database of sculptural works within the two counties, has the following information about the sculpture (http://racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=373):

“8th Earl of Albemarle Sculptor(s). Private commission by 8th Earl of Albemarle. 1901, the cast may be later since the foundry only adopted the name A.B.Burton in 1902, after the death of the other partner, A.J. Hollinshead.”

An illustration in the Archive’s website shows a plaque, which I did not see. This provides the information that the sculpture was given to the town in January 1980 in memory of Walter Keppel, the 9th Earl of Albermarle (1882-1979). Another photograph shows that the sculpture is signed “Albermarle 01”. ‘Albermarle’ was Walter’s father, and ‘01’ refers to 1901. Having learned all of this, I now realise that the sentence I read on the plaque, “Gifted to the Town by the Duchess of Albermarle following her husband’s wishes in January 1980.”, refers not to the 8th Earl’s widow, but to the widow of his son, Walter.

The sculpture is well executed, showing that its maker was a competent artist. A search of the Internet revealed that in addition to the sculpture in Woodbridge, he also drew portraits (e.g. https://auctions.roseberys.co.uk/m/lot-details/index/catalog/299/lot/116339?uact=5&aid=299&lid=116340&current_page=0). Otherwise, I can find hardly anything else about his artistic output. That said, if the sculpture in Woodbridge is the only example of his modelling, it is something that the late 8th Earl must been pleased with.

Afghan cab drivers

Dolmus driver_240

 

A few years ago, we hired a mini-cab (a type of taxi) to take us from Kensington to Golders Green. When we entered the cab, we heard music being played on the car’s cassette player. It sounded Russian to me. I asked the driver about it and he confirmed that it was Russian. He told us that he was from Afghanistan and had lived in Russia for a couple of years before settling in London. We began chatting as we drove northwards towards Golders Green. He told us that during the day he sold shoes in his own shop and drove his cab in the evening. We engaged in an amicable conversation.

When we arrived at our destination, I asked how much we owed him. He said:

“Nothing at all.”

“But, we must pay you something,” I said.

“No, nothing. You are my friend. I cannot ask you to pay me,” he explained.

For a few moments, I was flummoxed, at a loss as how to proceed. On the one hand, he said he did not want to be paid. On the other, he had done a good job for us, which needed rewarding. Then, I said to him, handing over a £10 note:

“If we can’t pay you, take this as a present for your children.”

He accepted the money without objection. £10 was the normal fare for that journey in those days.

We booked another mini-cab for our return journey. By coincidence, it was driven by someone from Afghanistan. Although he was not as friendly as the outward bound driver, there was nothing to complain about him. When we arrived at our home, we asked him how much we owed. He answered:

“Anything you like.”

I paid him the £10, which we usually pid for that journey, and the driver was happy with that.

Shortly before that day of Afghan mini-cab drivers, I had finished reading a book about travelling in Afghanistan., An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan by Jason Elliott. In it, he describes shopping in rural Afghanistan. The customer is not quoted a price, but has to make an offer. If the offer is too low, the seller will look insulted and hurt. If it is too high, everyone else in the shop will laugh at the customer. I suspect that it was on this basis that the two mini-cab drivers operated with us. They must have detected our familiarity with eastern ways and customs. Had we been typical Anglo Saxon customers, they might have simply quoted a price.