OKAY, so we know you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. For verification, just ask any woman who has tried to persuade a man to stop wearing the same old grey and switch to something brighter, cheerier. Anything to make a change.
Further supporting evidence comes by way of that other cliche that a leopard never changes its spots. But why would it? It is a look that has served it well for hunting and safety down the centuries.
Both sayings indicate an inbuilt stubbornness in the animal world. An innate resistance to change that is part of the genetic code of dogs and leopards.
Not so with humans. Not only are we assured a change is as good as a rest (from what, is not specified) but we increasingly live in a world where u-turns and about-faces have become the accepted norm.
Especially in the worlds of politics and business; there, so much that is firmly stated with hand on heart as the avowed truth is too often replaced by the complete opposite. Believe it is set in stone and disappointment is sure to follow.
It was not always thus. Trawling through the lives of ancestors near and distant I frequently encounter a dogged determination to plough on regardless despite dangers being pointed out by Fate’s fickle finger.
While living in Govan, on the banks of the Clyde, in the 1870s, great-grandmother Annie gave birth to seven children. Four them died in infancy.
She and husband Alfred named the first one Edwin. Eighteen days later, on March 29, 1874, Edwin died as a result of stomatitis, a painful derangement of the stomach.
When a second boy was born in 1879, they also named him Edwin – perhaps in memory of his deceased sibling. He fared no better, living for less than four months and dying of meningitis.
A lesson to be learned? Not by Alfred and Annie. After they had return to the Welsh port of Pembroke Dock another son came along – and they name his Edwin! What a risk to take; what a burden to bear.
For a while things looked good. Great-uncle Edwin went through school, dockyard apprenticeship, marriage and fathered two sons – neither named Edwin – before going off to war and being ‘killed in action’ on Flanders Fields in July 1917. The naming curse had struck again.
Three others died in infancy – one girl and twin boys – but none of those who came after were baptised in their names. Maybe a lesson had at last been learned.
Meanwhile, down on Cornwall’s Atlantic-washed Lizard Peninsular – England’s southernmost point – the wife of a lighthouse keeping cousin was also giving birth at and seeing her offspring die at a similar rapid rate.
She and her husband also opted for the renaming the living in memory of the dead. But after burying Charles One and then Charles Two they decided Fate was against them. Names other than those of the eventual four deceased were given to later arrivals – and all survived.
This week I received information about ancestors in the late 17th century who tried three times to name a child Mary. And each time the infant died.
Why tempt fate in this way? Little wonder babes scream and fight as they are dangled over the font while being named; they fear a short and painful life is to be their lot. They wonder, Who carried this name before me?
What’s in a name, goes the question. Far too much, comes the reply.