A Place of Great Beauty

cemetery 19

Today is the anniversary of my mum’s death.  I have written before about her last week and my memory of it is still fresh.  It was three years ago on the stroke of midnight that she peacefully stopped living and went to her rest after a brief but very distressing illness.

I went to the local cemetery where she is buried.  I was inspired to write this blog post about my visit because, far from being a sad event, it was a place of such beauty that it brought me great comfort.

The cemetery is very old, actually 150 years old!  And it is huge, about 65 acres I read, and it includes a garden of remembrance for ashes.  There is also a crematorium and a beautiful old building which houses two small chapels and waiting rooms.  The building has Grade 11 Listed status because of its architectural and historical interest.  The garden is so beautifully kept by the dedicated gardeners that at any time of year there is something colourful to see.  It has ponds and a variety of shrubs and flower beds.  There are also magnificent mature trees dotted around the cemetery which are home to squirrels and all sorts of birds including woodpeckers.  The setting for the cemetery is exquisite with a magnificent view of the Cleeve Hills as a backdrop.  A stream flows down from the hills and runs through the grounds, with Cotswold stone footbridges over it.  Today the cemetery is especially beautiful as autumn is in full swing and the trees are a delight to behold.

So it is a great worry to hear on the news and read in the papers that there are financial problems at the cemetery and crematorium caused by ‘unforeseen issues’ with the reasonably new machinery at the crematorium.  These issues have left the council who run the facility about a quarter of a million pounds short of their target.

As I tidied my mum’s grave I was struck by the sheer beauty of the setting and the peace and tranquillity of her final resting place.  I would hope that these financial issues do not mean standards will be lowered or the workforce will be cut.  They do such a magnificent job in what must be a very difficult environment.  For me they manage to provide a little piece of heaven here on earth and I want to thank them and let them to know that it is a great comfort.  Thank you.

I have attached some photos I took to this post but even better I found a video of the site here on YouTube.

 

It’s Automatic!

Skoda Roomster

Skoda Roomster

I’ve just realised that I am a control freak.

This fact, which is probably blindingly obvious to my family, is a total surprise to me.  It was revealed yesterday when I changed my car.

I have been driving for well over 40 years.  While I was at college in Newbold Revel in the 60s we had the chance to learn in the gorgeous country lanes and villages of Warwickshire.  We occasionally drove into Rugby or the outskirts of Coventry, but these roads were not so busy then.  There was no A45 for a start!  We just tootled along the ‘B roads’ through sleepy little villages like Brinklow.  I had no nerves in those days and my instructor said I was a natural.  Lessons cost us 17shilling and 6pence (17s6d) in pre-decimal money, which is about 87p now.  It sounds really cheap but of course a pound was a lot of money then.

When I left college I moved to the Cotswolds with my room-mate and dear friend Pat, whom I have written about before.  Pat already had a car while we were at college.  She used to work at riding stables in Somerset during her holidays so had learned to drive early.  We made quite a stir wherever we turned up in her car because she used to take the back seats out of it to transport her tiny Shetland pony, Rupert.  Did I mention that Pat was a ‘one off’?   In her prime she rode the iconic London to Brighton Cycle Race, but Pat did it on a unicycle.   She certainly lived life to the full and squeezed every ounce of fun she could out of it.  Later on in life she became a really serious cyclist, what is known as a ‘hard rider’.  She did time trials, road racing, cross country mountain biking and hill climbs, which were her favourite.   She won lots of titles including National Ladies’ Veteran and Bog-snorkelling Champion!  What makes this all the more amazing is that she did it all with a metal frame supporting her spine after she fell from a tree and broke her back many years ago while picking fruit.  She was a great friend and I miss her.

Anyway, by the time I got round to needing a car I was married and had a baby.  I actually passed my test with the baby in his carry cot on the back seat!  There was no law about child seats in those days; there weren’t even seat belts in the back seats of most cars!

Since then I have had several cars of different marques.  I loved my little red Fiat but hated the VW Beetle.  I once had a brand new silver Mazda which was my favourite car, but usually I had whatever my dad was replacing, as they were free!  By the time I had 4 children I had a blue escort estate which my dad had used for work.  This would be early 1980s and because he travelled so much for work he had a very early mobile phone.  The phone itself was huge by today’s standards but the battery was ridiculous.  It was the size of a small suitcase and was fitted under the driver’s seat.

Following that I had little metros and lastly a Renault Clio.  This car was ideal until this summer when my husband had a couple of bad falls.  He has peripheral neuropathy among other things and since the fall he has hardly been able to walk let alone drive.  So I have been taking a wheelchair with us whenever we go out.  The boot on the Clio is quite small and quite high so lifting, folding and stowing the wheelchair has been really hard for me.  Hence, the need for a change of car.  Unfortunately due to his age mainly, we don’t qualify for the wonderful ‘Motability Scheme’, but we were told that when people with disabilities return their adapted cars, they are forwarded to dealers and sold ~ the cars that is, not the person with disabilities!  So we started a search of dealers in our area.  I took some advice from an expert, Zog Zeigler, who writes brilliant car reviews for TV, newspapers and various magazines, and eventually found just the car for us.  It is a Skoda Roomster.  The lady who had it from new had returned it after only 6 months, so we really got a bargain.

It has a huge low boot which is easy to get a wheelchair in even unfolded.  It has parking sensors front and back.  It has hand controls for braking and accelerating.  It has a huge glass roof so my grandson can watch the ‘cloudbabies’.  And, it has 4 doors which open wide so the other grandchildren can get in easily loaded up with schoolbags, football kit and musical instruments!  BUT, and it’s a big but, it is AUTOMATIC.

I have never driven an automatic car before so it was probably not the best decision to pick it up while my hubby was in hospital, in the rush hour, and drive it home along one of the narrowest roads in Gloucestershire while the factory workers were racing home on bikes, scooters, motorbikes, cars, lorries and buses.  It was the most hair-raising drive I have ever undertaken ~ and I’ve travelled in cars in Africa and Russia so that’s saying something!

Just getting out of the showroom carpark was a challenge.  Apparently the ‘selector lever’, which replaces the gear stick, will not budge unless you have your foot on the brake.   Who knew?  Everyone apparently, except me!  This threw me to the extent that I blocked the main road causing a huge traffic jam of tired workers on their way home.  Not a good start.  I could see the driver in the lorry at the front of the queue was not happy so I had to resort to going back into the showroom to ask for help.  So my pride and joy at having a shiny newish car was quickly replaced by humiliation as I did a good impression of a pathetic female.

I did get home eventually although every bend, junction, passing vehicle and set of traffic lights was a source of fear.  What do you do with your left hand and foot when they are not needed for gear changing?  I just feel that with a manual car I am in control, but with an automatic some hidden bit of electronic wizardry is in control.  And I DON’T LIKE IT!

Pat and the dangers of Cycling http://wp.me/p2gGsd-t7

My Friend Pat on her bike

My Friend Pat on her bike

 

Oh What a Year! 1963

Shottery Manor

I sing in a lovely choir every Friday morning and I love it.  The songs we sing are varied but there is always one that catches our mood, gets us laughing, crying or dancing, and lights up our voices.  This week it was the old Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons number, Oh What a Night!  It was released in December 1975, but the words recall “late December back in ‘63”.  I bet you didn’t know that the song was originally going to be about December 1933 and Prohibition?  However thank goodness Valli persuaded them to change it to a song about first love in ’63.  You can play the song as you read my blog by clicking on the icon on the sidebar.

Oh, what a night, late December back in ’63
What a very special time for me
As I remember what a night!

I made a passing comment that I was sweet 16 in 1963 to the amusement of some of the older choir members and horror of the younger ones.  But as so often happens with music it then brought up all sorts of memories.

1963/64 was a very special year for me.    I was in my final year at Stratford Grammar school for Girls learning in the most beautiful setting imaginable.  I was studying English literature at ‘A level’.  My main text was King Lear.  I’ve mentioned before that in those days it was possible to pay 4 shillings in pre-decimal money, which is 20 pence now, and stand at the back of the theatre to watch Shakespeare’s plays.  I took full advantage of this and I was there in 1962 when Paul Schofield played King Lear in what is recognised as the greatest performance of the role of all time.  It left an indelible impression on me which stays with me even now.   The main themes of the play have universal and timeless significance,

Our English teacher, Miss Southall, was an inspiration too.  All black hair, flowing gown and long legs, which she bared to the sun during summer term.  This meant English classes were held on the lawn in the beautiful walled garden with its Dovecote, in front of the magnificent Shottery Manor which was the setting for the sixth form.  The school was, and still is, just a stone’s throw from Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Shottery.  It oozed history with its old oak floors, wood panelling and not so secret passages which could have been priest holes.  We were convinced that there was a tunnel leading from the Manor into town but no-one ever ventured in far enough to find out because it was pitch dark.

According to school history, the oldest part of the Manor was 14th century when it was owned by Evesham Abbey.  In 1402 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence to John Harewell of Wootten Wawen for a priest to celebrate Mass in the Oratory of the Manor.  This room became our sixth form study.   The house stayed in the Harewell family for centuries but in 1919 the manor was bought by Mr A D Flower on behalf of the trustees of the late Edgar Flower.  The Flower family were very significant to Stratford on Avon.  Edward Flower started Flower’s Brewery there in 1831 and his sons, Charles and Edgar continued the business making rather a lot of money.  Fortunately the Flowers had that wonderful Victorian ethic of using their money to benefit the community, (I wonder what happened to that in Britain?), and they used it to develop the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.  Charles donated the land by the River Avon and in 1875 launched a campaign to build the theatre.  He also donated the money to build the theatre (about £1 million in today’s money), which opened in 1879 with a performance of Much Ado About Nothing.  Charles also gave the cottages opposite so that the rents could be used to maintain the theatre.

The last members of the Flower family to live in the Manor left in 1951 and it was empty for a few years.  But thank goodness Warwickshire County Council bought it and it was turned into the first Girl’s Grammar School in the area.  It opened in 1958 just in time for me to arrive.  I was very lucky to get in at all as I had moved from the north of England where my education record was patchy to say the least.

I started school in a converted Chemical Works by the shipyards on the River Tyne.  I remember there was a huge room which was partitioned off for different age groups.  My delight, and my downfall, was to peep round the partition to see what was going on in other areas.  The grass is always greener etc….

I was not in infants for very long as I was what they called in those days, ‘a sickly child’.  I was underweight (hard to imagine I know!), undernourished, with Rheumatic Fever and a heart condition.  I eventually got back to school in the juniors but was so far behind that the teachers didn’t even try to educate me.  They gave me all the little jobs to do, which was great by me!

On Monday mornings my job was to fill up all the inkwells.  I went to the office to mix up black ink powder and water in a jug with a long spout.  I then went from desk to desk.  Each wooden desk had a hole with a ceramic pot in it.  I poured the ink into the pot until it reached the rim.  We used ‘dip pens’ in the juniors in those days, just a wooden handle with a metal nib on the end which you dipped in the ink then scraped on the edge to take off the excess.  The youngest infants still used chalk and individual slates.   I had to be very careful with the ink as washable ink was unheard of.  This stuff would stain permanently!

As you can imagine this job could take all morning if necessary; however there was also free milk to give out and wafers to sell.  In those days children didn’t bring fancy cool bags or plastic lunch boxes filled with snacks to school.  If they were very lucky they would have a ha’penny (1/2d) to buy some wafers.  These wafers were the sort you get on an ice cream ‘sandwich’.  They came in big boxes and were sold 2 for 1/2d.

Many children were undernourished in those days as it was just after the war and there was still some rationing.  The recently formed NHS did a wonderful job of providing supplements for children.  We got little bottles of orange juice, cod liver oil by the spoonful not capsules, Virol malt extract and I got a tonic too.

I can honestly say I don’t remember learning a thing at primary school except to sing, ‘Flow Gently sweet Afton’ and to make an advent calendar out of matchboxes for Christmas.  It was my inspirational, well-read and self-taught father who taught me what I needed to know: how to read, write, do maths, to identify constellations, wonder, dream, question, listen, love.  He had an open mind and an open heart.  It was he who convinced Miss Williams, the original head teacher of Stratford grammar School for Girls, that I was a suitable candidate for her school.  I am so glad that he did.  Because, since 1963, thanks to that education, I have been able to plough my own furrow.

St John's School, Felling

St John’s School, Felling

Upper Sixth Shottery Manor

Upper Sixth Shottery Manor

My Stratford Blog  http://wp.me/p2gGsd-5c

So what else was on at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1963 that I watched for 4s (shillings)?

The Tempest, Julius Caesar, Comedy of Errors, Edward 1V, Henry V1, Richard 111, and the newly adapted history plays under the title of the Wars of the Roses.

In 1963 the director was Peter Hall with John Barton, designer John Bury, and music was by Guy Woolfenden

And the actors in these plays had names that have graced theatre, television and film for decades:

Paul Schofield, Vanessa Redgrave, Dorothy Tutin, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Dench, Roy Dotrice, Ian Holm (a fabulous Richard 111), David Warner ( a dreamy Henry V1), Janet Suzman, Clifford Rose, Penelope Keith, etc….

And what else was happening at home and abroad in 1963?

Major William Hicks Beach (Conservative) was MP for Cheltenham and Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister in UK until Sir Alec Douglas Hume succeeded him in October.

The Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me and rapidly rose to fame.

Britain had the worst winter since 1946/47 when I was born.  The snow lasted until April.

The Great Train Robbery took place in Buckinghamshire with millions of pounds stolen.

In June 1963 the first woman to travel into Space was a Soviet Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova.  She orbited Earth 48 times, spending 71 hours in Space.  She parachuted to earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet.

Tens of thousands of protestors came from all over the world to join the CND march from Aldermarston to London to protest about the Hydrogen Bomb which threatened world peace.

Thousands of African Americans were arrested in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting against segregation.

Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech during a march on Washington for jobs and freedom

President John F Kennedy made a historic Civil Rights Address in which he promised a Civil Rights Bill

The first Sindy Doll was marketed by Pedigree.

In October the Rolling Stones played at the Odeon in Cheltenham. The Beatles played there on 1st November.

Pope Paul VI succeeds Pope John XXIII as the 262nd Pope.

The second James Bond Film ‘From Russia with Love’ opened in London.

22nd November 1963 was a terrible day.  Not only did authors CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley die, but President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  Lyndon B Johnson was sworn in as president.

The first episode of Dr Who was aired on television in November 1963.  During the 60s the series was in black and white.

Carpe Diem ~ Corn

LOGO SEPT 14

I went to Taize one summer when it was so hot and dry that the magnificent River Loire had almost dried up in places.  Too hot to stay in the car I decided to walk for a while across the fields and I had an amazing experience.    At the foot of the hill were fields of sunflowers, corn and poppies.  I stood alone in a field full of sunflowers, looking up towards the church, as a gentle breeze blew.  The wind caused the flowers to bend and the sound they made was so strange.   I experienced what I can only describe as the spirit moving.

Today’s Haiku prompt at Carpe Diem reminded me of that moment.

Soft wind whispering

Spirit moving through the corn

Speaking to my soul

It reminded me strongly of the beautiful words of one of my favourite hymns:
 Be still for the presence of the Lord
Be still for the presence of the Lord  The holy one is here
Come bow before him now  With reverence and fear
In him no sin is found  We stand on holy ground
Be still for the presence of the Lord  The holy one is here
Be still for the power of the Lord  Is moving in this place
He comes to cleanse and heal  To minister his grace
No work too hard for him  In faith receive from him
Be still for the power of the Lord  Is moving in this place
Icon at Taize

Icon at Taize

Stained Glass Window in memory of Ivor Gurney, WW1 Composer and Poet of Gloucestershire

Stained Glass Window in memory of Ivor Gurney, WW1 Composer and Poet of Gloucestershire

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 3Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 10

In Gloucester Cathedral there is a new stained glass window created by Tom Denny, which is a memorial to the Gloucestershire poet, Ivor Gurney.  Like Will Harvey, whom I have written about before, he was a pupil and chorister at the Cathedral school before joining the Gloucestershire Regiment to serve in the First World War.  Indeed, they were great friends.  Gurney was a talented musician firstly, but in the thick of war, poetry became his creative outlet.   Like Will Harvey  he survived the war but was drastically changed by it.  So much so that his fragile mental health was totally destroyed, and he spent many years in a mental asylum where he eventually died before he was 50.  Gurney is buried at Twigworth, where his gravestone commemorates him as ‘poet composer of the Severn and Somme’.

Gurney’s poetry is beautiful and reflects his love for the Cotswolds, the countryside and the beauty of nature.  I’d like to share 2 of them with you that touch me deeply for different reasons.

Firstly, To His Love which is a poem thought to be written by Ivor Gurney when he thought his friend Will Harvey had been killed.

To His Love’

He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers-
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

The second is The Bugle, written after Gurney returned from the war, a sadder and wiser man.  I include it as my grandfather was a bugler in WW1, and also because it speaks to me loudly of how ordinary life and commerce still goes on while soldiers suffer and die ‘out of sight, and out of mind.’ 

The Bugle

High over London
Victory floats
And high, high, high,
Harsh bugle notes
Rend and embronze the air.
Triumph is there
With sombre sunbeams mixed of Autumn rare.
Over and over the loud brass makes its cry,
Summons to exultancy
Of past in Victory.
Yet in the grey street women void of grace
Chatter of trifles,
Hurry to barter, wander aimlessly
The heedless town,
Men lose their souls in care of business,
As men had not been mown
Like corn swathes East of Ypres or the Somme
Never again home
Or beauty most beloved to see, for that
London Town might still be busy at
Its sordid cares
Traffic of wares.
O Town, O Town
In soldiers’ faces one might see the fear
That once again they should be called to bear
Arms, and to save England from her own.

There are many learned websites with information about Ivor Gurney, but my wish today is simply to share the beauty and poignancy of the new window and explain a little of its background.

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 2

There are 8 lights or panes overall and each reflects something from the life and writing of Ivor Gurney.  The notes are a precis of those that appear in the Cathedral by the window.

Light 1 ~ Glimmering Dusk ~ a figure walks at dusk in a Vale landscape.  there are dark pools of rain on the white road and May Hill can be seen in the distance.

Windows 1 & 2

Light 2 ~ The Stone Breaker ~ In Flanders a chance encounter with some road menders reminds Gurney of a much earlier meeting (“Oh years ago and near forgot”), in the fresh beauty of a summer’s early morning, in a landscape of Vale orchards.

Light 3 ~ Brimscombe ~ Gurney remembers a night-time walk through the fir trees of the steep-sided Brimscombe valley near Stroud.  The “pure clemency” of the moment enables him to forget the “blackness and pain” of France.

Windows 3 & 4

Light 4 ~ Severn Meadows ~This was written in March 1917 at Caulaincourt.  As the sun sets over Severn meadows, a figure, in the shadow of a willow, looks back at the river and the willows.

Light 5 ~ Pain ~ Gurney recalls the grey-white Somme battlefield.  

“Pain, pain continual; pain unending;….

Grey monotony lending

Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes

An army of grey bedraggled scarecrows in rows

Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.

Seeing pitiful eyes of men foredone,

Or horses shot, too tired to merely stir,

Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.

…………………………………….

The amazed heart cries out to God.

Windows 5 & 6

Light 6 ~ To His Love ~ Probably drafted on the Somme battlefield, Gurney reacts to the news (false as it turns out) that his great friend, the poet Will Harvey, is presumed killed.  A couple walk on the Cotswold hills as their dead friend lies among the violets.

Light 7 ~ To God ~ In the intense suffering from mental illness, surely aggravated by his experiences on the battlefields, Gurney cries out for death, “I am praying for death, death, death”.

Windows 7 & 8

Light 8 ~ Song and Pain ~ A more optimistic end to the window as a figure emerges from an understanding of pain to enter “The House of Joy”.

As I stood and gazed at these incredibly beautiful but harrowing windows, there were people around me moved to tears by what Gurney had seen and suffered.  Tom Denny is a wonderful artist. He has captured and honoured Gurney’s genius, his love of Gloucestershire, and his suffering in that dreadful war and in his mental distress.

http://wp.me/p2gGsd-153

http://www.ivorgurney.org.uk/biography.htm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB0JC-OaZRU

http://movehimintothesun.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/to-his-love-ivor-gurney/

Crucible 2 Sculpture Exhibition at Gloucester cathedral

IMG_4321

Today I went to Gloucester with a dear friend, the artist Anne Bate Williams.

We went to see the newly opened Crucible 2 exhibition of sculptures, which is set in and around this beautiful medieval Cathedral.  It was a warm, sunny day which made the experience even more enjoyable.

There were small groups of people around the Cathedral enjoying their lunchbreak.  Some were eating, some taking photographs and some rebellious types sitting on the sculptures!

The first sculpture we saw was a huge arm with a giant hand stretched upwards in a grassy space behind the Cathedral.  This is “Reach for the Stars” by K Armitage.  At the front there were some of confusing sculptures called Battersea 11 and 111.  But the huge “Sitting Couple on bench” by Chadwick was beautiful.

Cleverly placed in the beautiful grounds around the cathedral where children and passers-by can see them, are wonderful lifelike sculptures of animals including a giant bull, a beautiful hippo and its baby,  “Siberian Tiger” by Bugatti, as well as “Tortoise” and “Snail” by Cooper.  It was wonderful to see little children climbing onto the sculptures and I wondered if they expected them to move.

We were already impressed and excited before we even entered the Cathedral.  But once in the entrance, we were greeted by an arresting sculpture called “Pilgrim”, by D Backhouse.  The body is shrouded in white but the face is stunning in its beauty.

I won’t bore you by describing every one of the 100 sculptures, but I will add a link so that you can see some of them yourself. 

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=675264149235398&set=vb.102814153147070&type=2&theater

If you do live close enough to get to the exhibition, which is free, I would encourage you to come along.  It is on until 31st October and it will be worth the journey.  There are over 60 artists represented here.  Some are world famous like the local Damien Hirst, Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, Antony Gormley and Kenneth Armitage.  But there are lots of less well known artists too.

Enjoy my gallery of photos from the exhibition…