As a tribute to my friends who recently put on a moving play about World war One, I am reposting a reflection by a fellow Blogger
Pain is messy
A rebellious teenager, appearing
Pain is invisible
A malevolent spirit haunting
Pain is antisocial
An angry mob descending
Pain is cunning
A bully stalking
Defeating doctors, confounding consultants,
Making fools of pharmacists,
Pain is relentless
A silent enemy
It’s the middle of the night and as i can’t sleep my default mode is to get up and write.
I can’t sleep because of the relentless pain in my shoulder which is the result of an injury to my rotator cuff. I’d never heard of this unseen but essential part of my anatomy until it was injured. According to Wikipedia, the rotator cuff is a group of muscles and their tendons that act to stabilize the shoulder. Like me, you have probably never given them a thought; but, if they are inflamed, torn or damaged like mine, you will certainly know about it! The pain in my shoulder is excruciating, especially if I try to lift or lower my arm or twist it behind my back. It is worse at night because I tend to turn over and lie on the right side and it is my right shoulder that is injured. I guess it will improve over time and with some simple exercise, but at the moment the pain is hard to manage. The hospital doctor gave me Co-codamol but they made me sick and most over the counter analgesics don’t even dull the pain. So I guess I will just have to live with it.
On the bright side, it does not affect me much when my arm is by my side so I can still write ~ YIPPEE! I think if I was unable to write I would go crazy.
The weather was atrocious when I finally managed to visit the Tower of London with a friend. After an unseasonably warm October, November has arrived with a splash. It rained non-stop while we were at the Tower. Not gentle rain, or refreshing rain, but relentless, heavy, pounding rain, that ran in waves down the sloping entrance, soaking my shoes and the bottom of my trousers. My daughter has this theory that if it is raining in Barcelona where she lives, it will be dry in London and vice versa. She happened to ring me just as I was leaving the house clad in wellies and mac. But as there was a thunderstorm and heavy rain in Barcelona, she said I wouldn’t need them so I changed. She was wrong. I got soaked!
Despite the rain, the Tower was packed with visitors and I was impressed by how cheerful and friendly they were. Most of the people I spoke to in the extremely long queues were from London or nearby counties of Kent and Essex. Some said they hadn’t been to the Tower since they were children on a school visit. Others, like me, had made a day trip involving hours on public transport- coaches, trains, buses and the underground. Travelling, walking, and queuing all in torrential rain. All had made the effort because they were keen to see the installation officially called, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”, but generally known by the people as ~ The Poppies!
Poppies of course are an emotive symbol, used since the 1920s by the Royal British Legion to raise funds for their charitable work, ‘to the memory of the fallen and the future of the living’. Although they are controversial, most people in the UK seem to wear them to show respect for those who fought and died in previous conflicts, and solidarity with those serving in the armed forces today. The tradition was inspired by the poem, In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae. The story goes that when his friend, Alexis Helmer was killed at Ypres in 1915, the Canadian doctor, Major John McCrae, conducted the burial. In his grief he was moved by the beauty of the wild red poppies growing amongst the horror of the graves. The sight inspired McCrae to write this famous poem.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The poppies forming the installation at the Tower, all 888,246 of them, were handmade under the direction of the ceramic artist Paul Cummins to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. The artist reportedly said that he took his inspiration from the words of an unknown soldier from Derby who wrote that all his friends, indeed everyone he cared about, had been killed in that dreadful war. He described, “Blood swept lands and seas of red, where angels dare to tread”. The ceramic poppies, each representing a British or Commonwealth fatality in WW1, were ‘planted’ by volunteers in the moat around the Tower of London; not haphazardly, but artistically arranged by the stage designer, Tom Piper. Now complete, they spill over battlements, around walls and out of windows, covering the grassy moat with a red river of biblical proportions. There is a very appropriate poem which reflects not only the poppies but how I feel about the whole experience:
London by William Blake
I wandered through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
A mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:
How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.
The Journalist, Jonathan Jones has been criticised in some quarters of the media for his opinion that the poppies at the Tower of London are “fake, trite and inward-looking – a UKIP-style memorial”, theguardian.com, 28 October). I found his comments shocking, but thought provoking.
My impression was of a river of blood flowing around the tower, but outside of the establishment in every sense of the word. Inside, the building protects and reflects power, treasures, pomp, ceremony, privilege, and a dark side to our history ~ cruelty, torture, imprisonment and murder.
Significantly, many of the people, probably the majority, who came to see the poppies, stayed outside the Tower. It costs quite a lot for an ordinary family to go inside! (Happily almost the whole installation can be seen freely from outside.) I think this is as it should be. The ordinary people came, not to see the grandeur of the Tower, but to be a part of something spectacular yet stunning in its simplicity. They stood good-humoured, all ages and nationalities, helping each other in the pouring rain, humanity at its best, honouring those who died. It was beautiful.
I did go into the Tower but it felt alien, as if it had nothing to do with the poppies – except for the Beefeaters. These men have all served at least 22 years in the forces, and must have attained at least the rank of Sergeant Major. They were larger than life characters who wore their immaculate, gorgeous, yet slightly ridiculous uniforms with evident pride and aplomb. Their uniforms were drenched. The rain dripped off them like the tears shed by countless families of the fallen we were there to remember. Somehow this fitted the mood and made it all real. Did those young men stand firm and wear their rain-sodden, mud-soaked uniforms with pride on those dreadful battlefields?
There is some talk this week of leaving the poppies in situ for longer. While I don’t agree with this I think it could be very moving to see them standing through the biting winds, mist, murk and mud of a British November. They could then represent the poor, the homeless, the jobless and all the disadvantaged in this very unequal world. If they stayed longer, through the cold, frost and snow of a harsh December, they could represent, the lonely, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly so often at the mercy of exhausted relatives or poorly paid and overworked “carers” in homes and hospitals. Too many of them look forward to death as an escape from suffering, as so many of those young men must have done during WW1.
The juxtaposition of the simple poppies outside, and the Crown Jewels inside the Tower was revealing. Considered precious, these ‘priceless’ treasures are displayed in glass cases watched over by security. With soft lighting and controlled temperatures they are guarded in secure rooms sealed by impenetrable metal doors. They reminded me of seeing the embalmed body of Lenin in his mausoleum in Red Square! Would that our young soldiers had been so well cared for on the WW1 battlefields!
Unfortunately we seem to have learned little after a hundred years. The most incongruous thing I saw during my visit was a sign, which said you could avoid the queues by paying for membership of something or other. This is exactly what is wrong with our world. Money can buy advantage in every sphere of life. Those with money, power and influence can get the best seats in theatres, tables in restaurants, food, education, housing, healthcare, medical treatment, etc. etc. You name it and you can have it if you have money.
The world is still run by a strange elite, a brotherhood, for they are mostly men, who make and adjust the rules to protect and promote their own interests and to feather their own nests. The few prosper at the expense of the many who struggle daily to get and keep a home in which to live and raise their family, to feed, clothe and educate them, and try desperately to stay well enough to not need help in their old age. Only when laws, rules and decisions are made, and actions taken to promote the common good, will the war have been worth it. We are a long way from that yet.
There may be no-one living now who actually fought in WW1, but there are countless families who treasure the memory of a relative who did, and this installation has given them an opportunity to remember them and to pass on their history to the next generation. My own grandfather joined up at the start of the war aged just 14 years 8 months and was sent to France as a bugler in 1917, aged 17. Thankfully he survived. But, like many others, he never talked about his wartime experiences. We found out about them when he died many years later and his comrades spoke at his funeral. Since then I have researched his war record and it is astonishing what he went through. To me he was always my lovely granddad who ran a corner shop and let me sit by the fire in the back of the shop eating out of date sweeties and chatting to my much loved granny. I always respected and loved him, but now I admire him for his strength of character and I am proud to be descended from him.
I will finish by posting some photos taken by myself and friends and by quoting a comment sent in to the Guardian, which I agree with wholeheartedly:
“So perhaps the sea of poppies is not about the war of 1914-18, but about a very different conflict, which is still raging in 2014. I mean, of course, the conflict between those who want us to believe that everything is all right (even if some bad things happen) – that everything that was done in the last 100 years turned out okay in the end, and will continue to do so; and those who know in their hearts and minds that things are not okay – that the events of the past decade, whether about banking, climate change, poverty or war, are signals to us that we need to do things differently. Perhaps a dried-up castle moat full of enormously expensive fake flowers is a very potent symbol after all – just not the one the artist intended.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 soulIt reminded me strongly of the beautiful words of one of my favourite hymns:Be still for the presence of the LordBe still for the presence of the Lord The holy one is hereCome bow before him now With reverence and fearIn him no sin is found We stand on holy groundBe still for the presence of the Lord The holy one is hereBe still for the power of the Lord Is moving in this placeHe comes to cleanse and heal To minister his graceNo work too hard for him In faith receive from himBe still for the power of the Lord Is moving in this place