Well folks this is getting SPOOKY

creative-commons-creditOur dear friend and fellow blogger Keith has just let me know that there was another incident in SE London in the last few days.

‘Hi Angela,

You should have been at Bell Green (SE London) on Friday afternoon. The Gas Board where carrying out an emergency repair at the corner of Perry Hill and Perry Rise, Perry Rise was completely closed and Perry Hill was closed to northbound traffic. Traffic was diverted through Sainsbury’s car park and it was absolute chaos, shoppers were trying to leave at the same time and traffic was virtually at a standstill. Perry Rise is still closed here but Perry Hill is now open with traffic light control so it will remain congested for some time.

Anyway a good and timely blog. Congratulations in breaking into the Japanese market.’

Well that is amazing Keith thanks for letting me know because Bell Green is where the second incident occurs, in my novel , Reflections of the old past eBook: Angela Moor: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle …which runs parallel to the burst water main which leads to the denouement of the story.

Now I’m laughing, nervously, out loud this definitely is ‘Life Imitating Art’. In the novel there are three incidents running parallel, so there is only one other thing I’m waiting for to make a ‘hat-trick’ and confirm the adage trouble always comes in threes.

Japan how did it get to Japan??? equally amazed.

PS will get back to a normal blog (what ever that is) soon. I am desperately trying to upload my latest  novel ‘Red Sky at Dawning’ before Christmas.

 

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‘Life imitating Art’ or’ Art imitating Life’

My fantasy has just become realityimages

I’m not sure if the saying is ‘Life imitating Art’ or’ Art imitating Life’ ** but my fantasy has just become reality with the hugely disruptive bust water main and sink hole in SE London over the last few days which has at times brought this part of south east London to a grinding halt and brought great difficulty to the lives of families and businesses.

In my novel  ‘Reflections of the old past’  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reflections-old…AngelaMoor-ebook/dp/B00AOUWEAA      Just such an unexpected incident is one of the dramatic, tragic and sometimes comic events which shape the climax of the book.

If you are looking for a good holiday read please consider my book; it has received some good reviews.

Often when I write I wonder if I am stretching the bounds of reality but in this case I had to smile, please forgive me all of you who have been affected by the difficult reality in Lewisham.

 PS: Kindle have just informed me that my book has just sold in Japan please bear with me if I am slightly ‘chuffed’ with myself.

** Oscar Wilde and Aristotle disagree about ‘Life imitating Art’- anti-mimesis or ‘Art imitating Life’-  mimesis

Our past can influence our future.

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We are off to China in a day or two and before we leave I wanted to write something moving, memorable and possibly motivational but regretfully nothing springs to mind. So prompted by an old photograph in our collection I decided to share memories again, one of mine and one of someone else’s.

A couple of years ago my grandson and his cousin Charley where moonlight fishing, not fishing for moonlight which sounds wonderful but fishing by moonlight but, I digress.  Hearing a cry in the bushes the boys investigated and found a bag containing a couple of abandoned kittens. One of their fellow fishermen took one of the kittens and Jack and Charley brought the other one home. They called her Poppet, shades of Pirates of the Caribbean, she was tiny she could have fit in an egg cup.  Charley took charge of her and clearly adored her and the feeling was mutual and if he was at home she spent most of her time snuggled on his knee or on his pillow. Her rough start in life clearly had some effect because she was the feistiest, most independent little handful you have ever met and would have us brimming with laughter as she leapt and dashed up and down the stairs or down the hall sliding on the wooden floor just for the fun of it. She’d also bother the elder statesman cat Bagheera and tirelessly lay in wait and leap out to bait our two bemused dogs.

We had a cat flap and both Poppet and Bagheera had complete freedom to roam day or night. One morning in the early hours we heard a shriek of horror coming from Charlie’s room followed by his hurried footsteps as he headed for the bath room with subsequent moans, retching and vomiting. We were worried; gastroenteritis, food poisoning we speculated? Eventually he emerged his face an ashen shade of green. He could barely speak just a strangled comment, “that cat, that cat!!!” We were no wiser.

Charlie asked for a black bin liner I suggested a bucket would probably be more useful if he was going to be sick again he gave me a pained, haunted expression. ‘It’s for the pigeon’ he said with a grimace and staggered off up to his room.

On one of her prowls in the early hours Poppet had come across a dead pigeon already well decomposed and, relishing her prize, decided to bring it home for her hero and deposit it stinking, and crawling with maggots, on the pillow next to Charlie’s sleeping head.

The love affair was over, Poppet was never allowed in Charlie’s room again, though her love never abated. We also decided that the cat flap should allow the cats to exit but that they would have to come to the door to be let back in we didn’t relish the receipt of any more tokens of her love.

Most of my early childhood was spent in Yorkshire, ‘God’s own county’, when I was ten we moved to Cumbria a jewel in God’s crown that is for sure. In the heart of the country, the village of Welton at the foot of the Caldbeck Fells, there were no daily milk deliveries or supermarket where you could go and get a carton of the white stuff, it was glass bottles in those days.  Being the youngest it fell to my lot to go and get milk from the neighbouring farm which had a magnificent heard of Jersey cows and the first milk started at 5.30am.

Winter or summer it would have always been a joy to walk the few hundred yards to the farm, there was always something to see a tiny Wren, a cheeky Robin or speckled Thrush, and at that time of day the dawn chorus was still in progress. In the winter the sunlight would come up and you could see it move up the tree trunks casting its shadows or highlighting the textures of the bark or the colour of moss or leaves.

Despite my hungry family at home waiting for the warm, creamy milk to pour on their porridge or put in their tea I always dawdled along my steps would get slower and slower the nearer I got to the farm but not because of the country idyll.

I should point out that before I was exiled from our kitchen carrying the stainless steel milk can. I was protesting loudly that it wasn’t fair that it was always me who had to go for the milk. My siblings would be setting the table or stirring the said porridge and my mother would tell me not to be silly and to hurry along everyone was waiting for breakfast and Dad would be in from the stables for his second breakfast. He was up at 4.30am to feed and water the horses.

The cow byre was right next to the road so that the Milk Marketing Board lorry that collected the huge steel churns didn’t have to come into the farm yard. As I approached I could hear through the open top half of the stable door into the cool room, the stamp of the beasts; Poppy, Heartsease, Blossom and so many other sweet names, the random contented lowing, the rattle of the cans and sometimes Barry or John telling Buttercup to ‘come away now. By this point I was almost walking on my tip toes and would peep over the bottom half of the door hoping that one of the dairy men or the farmer’s wife would be in there but I was always disappointed. Gingerly, trying desperately not to make a scrape or chink when I lifted the latch I would open the door and equally quietly close it behind me. I could see the cobble stones through the open door into the farm yard and I tip toed slowly to the opening pressing against the white washed wall so I couldn’t be seen.

The door into the dairy was to the left out of the door and about twenty yards along. I had stealth off to a fine art, and the sounds from the dairy would surely have covered any sound that I made but it did me no good, no sooner was my shadow cast over the door step than the objects of my terror, my tormenters, would rush across the yard towards me. My knees would turn to jelly and my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth and I would stumble madly on my spindly legs across the slippery uneven cobbles towards the dairy the pestilent geese honking and hissing and flapping towards me, barrel chested, their eyes fixated upon me, and their long necks thrust forward their vicious beaks filling me with horror and I’d arrive breathless and shaking in to the milking parlour. The farmer’s wife would greet me smiling “you’re always in a rush Angela no need to my dear plenty of milk” and she would fill up my can with the foamy, creamy milk.  The cowmen would shout a cheery hello and I would stroke Peach who was the smallest cow in the herd until I stopped trembling and my heart beat would slow and I would steel myself to make the return trip. I had to time it just right so that the geese would hopefully wander back to the other side of the yard before I ventured out and this time I had to walk back because I didn’t want to spill the milk, which made the mobbing even more hair raising.

Sometimes I would have bad dreams that their powerful wings would beat me to the ground and I would feel their beaks pecking at my skin.

Like a condemned prisoner, every morning for two years, I ran the gauntlet of those pernicious fowl, they never caught me, not a peck or a flap and I never explained to my Mother either.

Both my Mum, absorbed with making ends meet and getting her family clothed and fed and ready for school or work didn’t analyse my reluctance to go to the farm and Poppet certainly thought only of pleasing her rescuer often those we love or care for make these sort of unthinking errors which cause us sorrow or pain and we respond and have to live with the consequences. Our past can influence our future.

Charley never trusted Poppet again as for me once we left Welton I rarely gave it a thought, but it might explain why as a teenager I ditched a boyfriend who took me to see Hitchcock’s “The Birds” but I certainly didn’t blame anyone, except the geese.

A pterodactyl on the roof

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

We experienced an almost monsoon like storm in London a few days ago, the noise of the deluge was extreme and kept me awake; I was worrying about the gutters? Talking to a friend about the storm, he shared a childhood memory. He would sit for hours, wrapped in a duvet, his forehead pressed against the cool glass of his bedroom window and listen to the patter of the rain, watching the drops splash and race on the window pane. He found it comforting.  It was a memory he hadn’t thought about for years but it was as vivid in his mind as if it were yesterday.

It made me remember a visit to the botanical gardens in Singapore, and it really was the monsoon season. As the rain came on Ian and I made a dash for shelter under a Bilbao tree. To no avail, we were soaked to the skin in seconds, and in the end (mad dogs and English men), as the rain was warm and the thunder and lightning were awesome, we continued to walk around the garden, bedraggled, our feet squelching at every step. This was in the 1990’s but I still remember the smell of the Indian Balsam, which in an instant took me back to my childhood in Yorkshire. I closed my eyes and I was running along the bank of the river Ure with my sisters, I can still feel the warmth of the sun and hear the bees; from Singapore to Yorkshire in a millisecond.

It is always surprising what triggers memory. I smell fresh coffee and unbidden comes the remembrance of walking hand in hand with my mother in Bank Street, Carlisle where the warm aroma of freshly ground coffee beans was always wafting from the old style grocers and provisions.

Karen and Us

Memory lane

We were in Birmingham last week and were delighted to meet Karen an American colleague who we hadn’t seen for twenty seven years. Then, we had been at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre in Austin Texas for five months. ‘It was the best of times and the worst of times’ to quote Charles Dickens. During that time both my young niece and my mother died. But when Ian and I reminisced with Karen it wasn’t the pain of loss I remembered but the banana muffins, the fajitas, the hospitality, the 90% humidity, the Alamo, the yard sales and the life size pterodactyl on the roof of the car. Ian was on one side and me on the other our arms through the window each holding a wing tip so that it wouldn’t fall off as Karen drove slowly home.

Memories are like time travel one moment we are in the present, pursuing the everyday, then instantly we are transported into the past. It’s what we remember that is very telling, things that at the time lack any real significance. Why do we remember some thing’s and not others? Two people can share the same event but can remember it in a totally different way or not at all.

Clearly there are two levels of memory, the foundation stones of our lives: births, marriages, schools, family, friends, names, places, rites of passage which do not need a trigger but can be extracted from our memory at will and there are the forgotten memories that can blossom like a desert flower when the rain comes. The latest research seems to think we should be gathering these intangible memories and keeping them for future generations.

Recently the Library of Congress has acquired the entire archive of Twitter, whilst I’m assuming that some of the Twitter messages maybe diamonds of the first water, and worth preserving for posterity, I hazard a guess that the vast majority of this inane and ephemeral outpouring wouldn’t be missed if it was buried in the New Mexico Landfill along with the ET video games.

In this day and age society seems obsessed with gathering images, selfies, photobombs, cats being cute and the rest, which are seen fleetingly and then are overwhelmed by newer images.  Clearly we want to preserve memories. Looking through some old family photographs recently (on paper not digital) I became aware that some of the younger members of my family would not recognize the faces of the dear friends and family members nor know their story, character or culture so recently I’ve been taking every opportunity to ask my older siblings about half remembered stories and reminiscences. Who knew my Grandfather Wise played his squeeze box to entertain his comrades on Flanders Field; my sister has a newspaper cutting, how my brother transformed his turbulent relationship with his head mistress by reciting Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, that my infant middle sister Christine hid Hepsiba the duck in the sideboard when the stables where (accidentally) set on fire by the Italian prisoners of war? I’m capturing these remembrances and writing them down so that these two dimensional images may take on a rounder more colourful dimension.

Memory is an intangible thing in itself, it clearly makes up one part of the workings of our brain, and as we age there often is a reversal in what we can extract at will long ago detail takes on a new dominance we remember the words of a song we sang 25 years ago but we can’t remember where we put our keys ten minutes ago, or the name of a colleague we met last week though it sits tantalisingly on the tip of our tongue.

As my older family members and friends pass away I regret that I didn’t take the time to get to know them better. They lived through history, the Iron curtain, Bikini Atoll, the first Assent of Everest, discovery of DNA, the Moon Landing, Sergeant Pepper, the Cultural Revolution, Nelson Mandela, not just pages of dry text, but vibrant, scary, often funny, always emotional connections to the past. My father wept at Churchill’s funeral.

FAMILY (133)

My lovely bossy big sister

My eldest sister, there is fifteen years between us, is not blessed with good health, but in my mind I see her as alert and active as when we were children, being the eldest, I was the youngest, she was a bit bossy. When I call her on the phone her present frailty is evident but once we are past her latest medical prognosis and I recall my mother’s scones or the smell of my father’s St Bruno (pipe tobacco) the comical, surprising and sometimes tragic events of my parent’s lives, cheek by jowl with national and international events, and their effect on my sibling and ultimately my childhood leap to life in her recollections.  She forgets her loneliness and her present condition and once again she skips and romps down memory lane and I leave her laughing and we have never been closer.

Someone smiled at me today

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DadSomeone smiled at me today and nearly broke my heart. As we walked through the park I saw her perched, almost primly, on a bench sitting in solitary state. Her body language said it all. “I’m sorry I’m in your space. I’ll do my best not to intrude in your happy life.” She was eating a sandwich and had a carton of orange juice and an apple. As she feasted she did not gaze about her at the trees and flowers, but concentrated her thoughts and attention on her food as if it were the most important thing in the world. Right then it was because at least it gave her a purpose, an activity that she shared with every other human being on the planet. No she wasn’t destitute or a rough sleeper she was just alone. She was of indeterminate age, she was smartly dressed, she had a book beside her, she was totally aware of her surroundings, aware that for the majority of individuals in that busy park she was invisible.

Ian and I were having a few precious days away visiting one of the seaside towns on the south coast. Many of which give the impression that they are God’s waiting room. Since we arrived I have been people watching; one of my favourite pastimes. People are so fearfully and wonderfully made, unique, not only visually but in character and actions on a one to one basis, get them in a herd however, and all this can change.

Our hotel is filled with couples who have stayed together through the tests of time getting past the season when the children have left home or they have retired and found themselves married to a stranger.

It’s common to mock these older couples who can often finish each other’s sentences, sit in companionable silence for hour’s might even have the same stride pattern or wear similar sweaters. What hideous crimes indeed. Other accusations are that they use up the Nation’s resources ‘fat pensions’, clogging NHS services, living in houses that should be released for families. But their body language speaks a wealth of communication; love, friendship, loyalty, trust, encouragement, sympathy, empathy, amusement, fun; there is nothing quite so nice as an unspoken shared joke, all those qualities we want in a relationship but often fail to find.

Their detractors forget that these “Golden-oldies” have paid their dues, and that one day they themselves will come to this very place that they now decry.

I appreciate that some of them can come the old soldier or the prima donna but the majority, like my father-in-law, one of Monty’s Desert rats, just keep on going doing the best they can. He is a living story book, don’t ask about his health ask about El Alamein, his Polish, Free French, Greek, Australian and New Zealand comrades in arms, or the Coronation, Sputnik, the first landing on the moon, the day JFK was shot and with great perception and humour he’ll tell you about being 20 years old and in Iraq in 1940, using his tea to wet his shaving brush because water was scarce in the Eastern desert, meeting his future wife in Italy and walking along a beach chaperoned by her sister and mother. In his wardrobe is a shoe box filled with dozens of photographs taken as he and his fellow soldiers travelled across Palestine and Egypt, there’s a little diary too filled with all the minutia and inconsequential details of what it was really like to be a soldier, not ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or John Wayne coming over the hill, but hard rations, hard tack biscuits and a tin of corned beef between two, and two pints of water for drinking and his ablutions, driving all night in the cool of the desert and sleeping under his lorry in the heat of the day oh, and despite the chaperone, he still managed to get close enough to catch flu from Noemi. You could ask him too how he managed to bring up six children on a fraction of what we are paid now.

As we enter the dining room the tables are set for pairs or groups but there are also the tables that are set for a single person, male as well as female. They sit silently eating their meal the only conversation being with the waiter or waitress. Some enter the room their heads held high assuming a confident, couldn’t care less pose but, it is a hard act to maintain and when they leave they move like a gentle wind whispering through the grass, barely noticeable.

Maybe their spouse has passed on, maybe they are divorced, maybe they had been a carer, maybe they had been traded in for a younger model there are many possible reasons for their isolation.

Once my lady in the park had held down a job contributing to the running of some business or organization and paid her way, in tax and national insurance plus the VAT on every purchase, contributing to the wellbeing of the nation. She may have been a dinner lady, nurse, teacher or hotel manager. Her existence once was noted if she didn’t turn up it left a space and caused comment. Her life is a story book too! Did she stay up all night to listen to the World Heavyweight Championship when Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston or meet her friends in the coffee bar to worry about the end of the world with the Bay of Pigs face off?

If she had been a rough sleeper it is probable that someone compelled by compassion or conscience, during their long day would have stopped to bring a word of encouragement or possibly to buy them a hot drink or sandwich acknowledging that they are alive and despite their situation warranted notice. The lonely however, and there are many, fly under the compassion radar, and in this day and age when it’s off with the old relationship on with the new, there will be many, many more as the years pass.

It is unlikely that my lady would spend the rest of her day on that bench. She would probably wander down to the sea shore she might even sit on the sand reading her book, surrounded by families and couples enjoying the same space but completely excluded, surrounded by the shouts and laughter of others but never joining in. Whilst for most the sunshine and the locality would lift their spirits, creating happy memories for them to look back on one day, for the solitary man or woman the warmth of the sun cannot overcome the chill of loneliness.

I saw her even before we came abreast of her bench and as we passed I caught her eye and smiled  –  her response was tentative, unsure, but finally  bursting forth  a lovely smile, but I had seen that aching loneliness in her eyes and my heart broke.

Squirrel Nutkin* was conspicuous by his absence

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Brownsea, a scrap of an island, one and a half miles long, off the Dorset coast, is now in the tender care of The National Trust. My friend and mentor Alice, said we should go there her persuasions laced with the promise of red squirrels.

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Brownsea Island Spring 2016 photograph Ian Moor

Over the millennia the island has had its fair share of eccentrics and villains, sometimes one and the same. In the Study Centre you will see remnants of past inhabitants, Romano-British, the Vikings, pirates, Henry VIII and Baden Powell to mention just a few.

Surprisingly the winds of war have blown through the gnarled oaks and lofty pines and beeches, and on more than one occasion, this patch of sod has played its part in the defence of the realm. The island is in the mouth of Pool Harbour and Henry VIII built a Blockhouse to defend the port from the French and Dutch and Elizabeth I maintained it still against the Iberian Armada. Bomb craters also pock Brownsea when it played the scapegoat in WWII as a decoy for Enemy bombers. Seventy years later the craters are still visible but now are inhabited by self-planted native trees their branches reaching heavenwards as if to say beaten but not bowed.

Of course at the end of April it’s not surprising, despite the blue sky and sunshine (we had snow two days before), the squirrels are keeping their heads down preparing their drays for their ‘squirrelets’! No of course not, kits or kittens. They mate in late February early March.Nutkin1

My most recent sighting of a red squirrel was last August glimpsed through the window of the Carlisle to Leeds train.

During my childhood in Yorkshire the red squirrel was common. The grey interlopers hadn’t made it so far in great numbers and of course, dare I say it, the game keepers and gillies treated the grey like the stoat and the weasel: no quarter.

Being a native of God’s own county (Yorkshire for anyone who doesn’t know) and having spent my teens in the Lake District it takes a lot to impress when it comes to natural beauty.

Brownsea Island despite its uninspiring name is a ‘gem of the first water’ 1. not because of the several ecosystems which have it designated a “Sight of Special Scientific Interest”    or the significant number of native birds, which find there a home or respite throughout the year, there are  no manicured fields or hedges creating chocolate box images or dramatic vistas, and there are some of those, but because of the peace and tranquillity the silence only broken by bird song or occasionally the chink of a pheasant, a cock-crow or the screech of a peacock, the relics of a previous owner who set them free wanting Brownsea to return to the wild.

There are no natural predators like the fox or weasel on Brownsea they all swam away when the island was devastated by fire in the 1930’s. It burned for seven days fortunately many of the ancient trees survived and it took out the smothering rhododendrons allowing again the year round pageantry of indigenous species of flora and fauna.

Unless you take the electric buggy, which is an adventure in itself, it takes a couple of hours to walk around the various trails to see the natural treasures. Apart from the trees at this early season in the year we saw bluebells, primroses, forget-me-not, wood violets, a Skunk Lily, rabbits, deer, water voles, Jackdaws, Robin, Wren, Moor Hens the ubiquitous Sparrow and on the lagoon Avocet and other sea birds and wild fowl.

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Skunk Lily Brownsea Island Spring 2016 photograph Ian Moor

Wandering through the trees, some already in full leaf others, frill like, just peeping from the bud in a 100 shades of green, their boughs and trunks moss and lichen decked, the beech-mast and oak leaves from autumns past scrunch beneath my feet and I’m in Swallows and Amazons 2, or Famous Five 3 country.  I half expected to find in the curve of a winding path John, Susan, Titty and Roger and their tomboy friends Nancy and Peggy frying bacon over a camp fire with bottles of Ginger-beer or Dandelion and Burdock to wash it down or to see and hear Julian, Dick, Anne and George preceded by their dog Timmy coming through the trees looking for adventures and wrongs to right. I’m ten years old again.

The language of plants and flowers: blue eyed forget-me-not, innocent daisy, grace for the cowslip, the devotion of the honeysuckle, is different on Brownsea the triumphant passionate beeches, the boastful chestnuts, the life and immortality of the oaks it speaks volumes about this “green and pleasant land”4, “this sceptred isle”5, “this precious stone set in a silver sea”6, “this England”7 that is my home and though we didn’t see the red squirrels to know they are there is enough.

 

PS.The first time I heard about Ginger-beer was in Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven books the first time I tasted it was on the Leeds to Carlisle train when I was ten years old. We drank Fentiman’s Dandelion and Burdock at the cafe on Brownsea Island.

Ref: 1. This simile comes from the diamond trade. The clarity of diamonds is assessed by their purity and translucence; the more like clear water, the higher the quality. In the 17th century Shakespeare uses it in two of his plays Tymon of Athens and Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

Ref: 2. Arthur Ransom arthur-ransom-trust.org.uk  Ransom wrote a series of children’s books set in the Lake District which, certainly generated a deeper appreciation of the countryside combined with exciting and amusing stories, wide vocabulary and perspective.

Ref: 3. Enid Blyton 1897-1968 was the most successful children’s writer of her generation. Today her books reflect her time in world history some might think they smack of imperialism but they also teach values such as honesty, truth, kindness, fair-play and respect for people, property and environment. They are exciting and interesting stories that parents can read with their children giving an opportunity to address any issues openly.

Ref: 4 Jerusalem by William Blake 1804 (published in 1806)

Ref: 5 Richard II Act 2: Scene 1. Shakespeare 1595

Ref: 6 Richard II Act 2: Scene 1. Shakespeare 1595

Ref: 7 Richard II Act 2: Scene 1. Shakespeare 1595

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  • The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter Published  by Frederick Warne and Co 1903

 

 

 

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Red Squirrel Trust http://rsst.org.uk

 

 

 

Is this the first Flash Mob? – Possibly

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China donkey

Recently on Facebook someone shared a video of a Flash Mob at Dublin Airport. A team of young Irish dancers, tippy-tapping and bouncing to a fast Irish jig, it was delightful and couldn’t fail to set your toes tapping and watching the faces of the onlookers it was clear that it was a welcome interlude and lifted spirits in the sterile no man’s land that is an airport. Of course it wasn’t a true Flash Mob, an unplanned social event, because there was no immediate security alert unless the authorities in Ireland are so laid-back to the point of irresponsibility and in these troubled times we know that can’t be true. It was encouraging to see the young people following in the Terpsichorean steps of their ancestors, forgive the pun, the young often get such a bad press.

Ian and I have been going to China since 1994, twenty-two years if you don’t count a flying visit in 1979. Watching the exuberant event at Dublin Airport reminded me of our two week visit to China in 1996. We, a team of about twenty Christians accepted an invitation to be “Donkeys for Jesus” Ref:1 our task to deliver bibles across the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, in the Special Economic Zone. Bibles were in short supply in mainland China in 1996; Just call me Jane, Jane Bond 0051/2. On our last day in Hong Kong we packed our traps, said our fond farewells and set off for our Cathay Pacific late evening flight at Kai Tak Airport. We arrived early wanting to check in as a group, we were first in the queue but the young woman on the check-in clearly didn’t want to cope with twenty boisterous Brits and she asked us to wait so a colleague could check us in together.

When we had arrived departures was relatively quiet but soon it was teaming and we hung around chatting and people watching. Kai Tak was built in 1925 there was little comfort. We watched the hands of the clock inexorably crawl around the dial and we were getting no nearer to being checked in. Being good little Christians we waited patiently, uncomplaining, but the minutes turned to hours and each time we asked about check-in we got knocked back. With the queues disappearing and the crowds dwindling, lights going out and our flight time imminent we made a last modest remonstration and were informed that we would have to wait until the following morning now, the flight was full! To add insult to injury they offered to allow us to sleep on the floor of the departure lounge. The airport was closing for the night. Our happiness knew no bounds. We had arrived early, we had been patient and uncomplaining. We got in a holy huddle and prayed and decided to stage a protest.

We started singing to praise God with some of the great worship songs: ‘As I survey the wondrous cross’ Ref:2, ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound’ Ref:3, ‘We want to see Jesus lifted high’ Ref:4. It’s so long ago now I just can not remember them all but within seconds we drew a crowd.   We had been working with Chinese Christians who were prepared to take a risk to be able to have a Bible. To quote Hudson Taylor ‘Unless there is no element of risk in your exploits for God there is no need of faith’ Ref:5. We weren’t timid or whispering Christians, happy clappy would describe us nicely, we sang with all our hearts. A few more seconds saw us surrounded, like hostiles circling the wagons, by thirty to fourty armed security guards their guns in their hands. We ignored them, we kept singing, their faces expressed puzzled hesitance then they stopped to listen too. A few more verses and the most senior official on site was begging us to explain our behaviour and ultimately full of apologies.

I’d like to say that we were upgraded to first class but we weren’t, but we did fly out that night with British Airways, the last flight of the night, divine intervention we were sure. Were we the original Flash Mob? Possibly.

Ref: 1. www.christian-faith.com/revival-dennis-balcombe

Ref: 2. Isaac Watts 1674– 1748, 1707

Ref: 3. John Newton (1725–1807), 1779

Ref: 4. Doug Horley,  1992

Ref: 5. Hudson Taylor 1832-1905 China Inland Mission now OMF

Shock and Awe

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Spread Eagle

 

 

My friend Delores   https://delores2016.wordpress.com/about/ sent me a link to a news story about a WWII unexploded bomb discovered this week in Catford, SE London. She reminded us that Catford was in Bomb Alley and in the direct route for the Bombers heading to Blitz London. This discovery is close to the site of Sandhurst Road School that was bombed January 1943 where 38 children and 6 adults were killed and over sixty others injured.

The bomb was discovered in a house undergoing renovation and the ‘boys in blue’ and specialist officers from the bomb squad closed off the road and adjoining roads for a few hours although they didn’t evacuate the properties.   http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/suspected-world-war-two-bomb-found-at-home-in-catford-a3192511.html

This discovery elicited a number of jokes on social media about how the explosion would have improved the landscape or it would only have caused £15 worth of damage, Ha Ha! But Catford’s back is broad enough to take such aspersions.

Happily for Catford, the 10 inch shell, corroded and rusted, posed no danger for anyone but it made me think of a similar incident that Ian and I were involved in a couple of years back in Greenwich also in SE London.

We were having an impromptu day off, quite a rare occurrence, we’d had an English breakfast at the Stage Door Café in Catford Broadway before catching the 199 bus to Greenwich, and we were rooting around in our favourite junk shop, The Spread Eagle in Greenwich South Street, a plethora of items dating back at least two centuries.

The ground floor has a narrow sinuous pathway with objects closely huddled on either side, from the front door into the body of the shop then up two steep steps to the rear room between glass fronted showcases and counter on one side and book shelves on the other with frames and folders leaning against them making the floor space barely wide enough to place your feet. Buyers beware, what isn’t there to like.  At the very back is the café, cakes and coffee, very nice.

We’ve been going to The Spread Eagle ever since we came to London a long time ago, and Toby the proprietor remembers us and we pass the time of day before commencing to search the boxes, draws and corners on the ground floor for anything that might appeal to our taste but it is relatively half-hearted because we know by now what we are interested in will probably be found elsewhere. There are other potential buyers in the shop and we have to manoeuvre round each other in the confined space to get past to go through the hatch and down the crooked, steep and slightly rickety stair to the basement where multiple cubicles, packed from floor to ceiling, await our pleasure.

We are soon engrossed books, photographs anything about social history, put Ian with books and it’s a world well lost. The basement is quiet and has a cosy feel not many venture there it means we can peruse the items undisturbed at our leisure but eventually, however, two pressing needs disturbed our fixation and clutching our finds we head for the stairs in search of the ‘Loo’ and a cup of coffee.

Its difficult, whilst clutching our prizes, with hands full, to negotiate the stair and as we ascended we became aware of a pulsing blue light filtering into the stairwell. It’s almost like coming up out of water. We paused momentarily trying to work out if this was some new ploy of Toby’s to entice more sales, disco lights perhaps? We emerged and came almost nose to nose with two members of the Bomb Squad resplendent in body armour, they were almost as round as they were tall. In the pulsing light it was surreal. I don’t know who was more surprised them or us.

Toby, after we had disappeared into the nether regions, had, whilst rooting around in one of his storage sheds at the rear of the building come across a WWII parachute bomb approximately 18inches long 12inch diameter it certainly would have packed a punch at some time. How it had got into Toby’s store was anyone’s guess it was caked in dirt so as its name implies it may have floated and landed in a garden all those years ago or may have been lodged in a roof or wall crevice before somehow coming to earth. Whoever had unearthed it, unaware of the danger, it had somehow migrated to a Victorian outhouse where Toby rummaging for some elusive item pulled it out recognized it for what it was and called for help. The shop was evacuated but he forgot we were down in the basement.

We came into view just as our armour clad heroes were cautiously carrying the rusty, degraded ordinance out of the building.  Through their visors it was obvious they weren’t pleased to see us and they had a quick staccato conversation with whoever was monitoring their wirelesses, before they continued to the exit.

Immediately two police officers and Toby came in to the shop towards us. Toby’s face expressing mock horror. Over their shoulders we could glimpse police cars with their lights flashing and a small crowd rubbernecking on the other side of the yellow tape cordon.

The shell was taken away and detonated but we hadn’t been in any real danger and we hadn’t been aware so there was no shock and awe and we got a free cup of coffee and a cake.

Though it’s seventy years since the end of the war we are, almost daily, reminded about those dark days. Despite the cessation of combat and the disappearance on our landscape of the bomb scars it’s never ever over for those who were involved or their children and their children’s children, generation after generation.

My own father was one of the crew of an Anti Aircraft placement in Kingston upon Hull, the most bombed city in the Britain in WWII. During a raid where 500kg bombs, incendiaries and fragmentation grenades rained down out of a malevolent sky his friend was killed beside him. Though the physical scars healed the mental and emotional scars never healed and the legacy would continue to influence his life and his family up to this day.

Britain may have been the last man standing in 1945 but no one won.

Britain ‘Mortgaged to the Yanks’ didn’t finish paying for Lend Lease 31$ Billion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LendLease or the Post War Loan £1,075 million until this year 2016! Not to mention the ‘shared’ technology that Churchill had to give to persuade our ‘special friends’ to help us out in the first place. The repayment of which would drain the exchequer to the detriment of health, education, housing, transportation and other infrastructure affecting every man, women and child in Britain.

The legacy for the huddled masses that throng the squalid, tented refugee camps in Europe will also be for generations and still no one will win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking a peek at Peake

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titusThere are many parallels between the hero of my last blog, George Orwell, and Mervyn Peake the least of them being that I had the privilege of working on their original papers and manuscripts Ref1. Both were born during the death-throes of the British Empire – both, whilst ancestrally British, were born in far-flung corners of foreign fields  – India for Orwell, China for Peake.

Peake left China aged 11 years old, just weeks before the overthrow of the Qing-Manchu dynasty and the establishment of the short lived Republic of China led by the very charismatic Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

Like Orwell, Peake also lived through the almost daily world, social change, turmoil and conflict through out the 1920’s-30’s and 40’s. He was also a prolific poet and artist, lived for a time on Sark, a remote island, was lionized by some of his peers, knew loneliness and despair and died at a relatively early age.

Working on Peake’s manuscripts for Titus Groan, Titus Alone and Gormanghast: on poor quality paper, (symptomatic of the times), and frighteningly fugitive ink, was challenging. His handwriting also left much to be desired (this was long before electric typewriters or word processing) the observation that a spider taking a dip in an inkwell could have done better has some resonance here.

Nonetheless I was immediately drawn into the sepulchral world that is The Gormanghast Trilogy and I read them like a starving man eating dry bread, they have an almost hypnotic quality.

Peake’s novels are described as Gothic fantasy but not the blood curdling horror of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” or Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, which bloodily grab you by the throat virtually from the off. Peake’s type of horror is an insidious creeping mist and before you know it you are submerged by grotesque, often unlikable, characters who whilst at times may give you a glimpse of the odd redeeming features to evoke your sympathy or admiration, this is rarely sustained. His characters emerge crab like from the page and it’s not obvious who you should trust or cheer on, even violet eyed Titus.

What drew me deeper in was Gormanghast Castle itself, which seemed to have a life of it’s own, not like calling a ship ‘She’, the castle is very much a character in its own right, possibly the main one in the book. When all other characters are gone Gormanghast would continue invisibly manipulating and moulding all who lived within it. There were times when one felt that at any moment, in those endless, spider haunted, arches, purposeless passages and poke-holes, some hidden cleft might open and swallow you whole your screams of terror muffled by its gargantuan walls and buttresses. Think of any adjective to describe doom and gloom: foreboding, sinister, dismal, tormented, haunted, morbid, frightful, with rooms called Spider Hall, Lifeless Halls and the Tower of Flints, all these can be applied to Gormanghast and much, much, more. One almost expected dragons to swoop around its towers and spires but don’t say dragons say owls.

Some have likened Gormanghast to the Forbidden City and probably conjure up images of Beijing but in China there are several other labyrinthine royal palaces also deemed “forbidden cities” because the Capital changed from dynasty to dynasty. It is possible to think that his time in China influenced Peak’s work and that may be true of the rituals and ceremonies which are the daily currency of Gormanghast; after all in turn of the century China every petty official, even the tax collector, had their entourage and painstaking methodology, “It was not certain what significance the ceremony held… but the formality was no less sacred for it being unintelligible”,  but Kuling-Jiangxi province, where Peake was born, is many miles from Beijing and it isn’t called the forbidden city for nothing only the high and mighty were given entry there, very like Gormanghast.

For me the fascination of Peake’s original hand-written manuscripts, apart from the breadth of language, vocabulary and imagination, are the drawings, like glosses in a medieval manuscript, that Peak penned in the margins or that crawled out from every blot and smudge; I told you his hand-writing was not great calligraphy. Some of his sketches are the disparate characters who inhabit his works: The malignant ambitious kitchen boy Sterrspike with no grasp of the sanctity of human life, If ever he had harboured a conscience in his tough narrow breast he had by now dug out and flung away the awkward thing – flung it so far away that were he ever to need it again he could never find it. or Fuchsia, Titus’ sister, the object of Sterrspike’s lascivious fancy, almost ethereal but with little to trace her noble linage, “She tossed her long hair and it flapped down her back like a pirate’s flag. She stood in about as awkward a manner as could be conceived. Utterly un-feminine – no man could have invented it.”. Peake even drew features of the castle itself with beetles, dead flies and book rot in every corner. His drawings inhabit the page the words huddled close about them like the Bright Carvers hovels that clung to the walls of Gormanghast Castle, every squiggle or scrawl fascinates.

It is no coincidence that the works of quite a number of Peake’s contemporaries, disguised as surreal tales, also reflect the darkness, turmoil and decline of the values and morality of the times they were living in. Peake as an official war artist was amongst the first to enter the Bergen-Belsen German POW Camp in 1945 what he saw and recorded in drawings and poems could not fail to colour his world view.

In his poem “Leave Train” Peake declares;

“To live is miracle enough

To live at all is miracle enough

The doom of nations is another thing

Here in my hammering blood-pulse is my proof.”

Orwell’s flawed hero Winston in 1984 and Titus both give up fighting or flee the system it’s just too overwhelming, just to big and they are just too small.

We live in equally turbulent times, of course but we don’t have war on our door step on the same scale. With the 21st century means of sending and sharing information to or from the ends of the earth we are made abundantly aware of the horrors and cruelty in the world around us and if we are honest we are almost desensitized to the horrors and amorality that happen on almost a daily basis.  So often today films, books, computer games invariably also reflect the darkness and grim horrors of our own time.

 

Promoting my work

I am now putting the final touches to my latest novel, I have also changed the title from Children of the Time Oak to ‘Red sky at Dawning’. I had hoped to have it available on Kindle last October. I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not motivated enough to promote my work. I just really enjoy the experience of writing. I’m sorry to disappoint.

 

Ref 1. University College Library London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am not a number

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_DSC0061Personal observations on George Orwell  1903 – 1950

One only has to watch the television news to see images, which cannot help but remind you of the George Orwell book 1984. In his book, written in 1949, refugees fleeing conflict endure the most desperate of conditions and situations and a powerless population struggle to find significance in their lives. This book has had an amazing impact upon our world it is woven in to our vocabulary and culture now. Where do you think “I am not a number” The Prisoner Ref 1., or the title for Channel 5’s ‘Big Brother’ came from?

If you ask people about Orwell it is probable that they will come back with the author of Animal Farm or 1984. We are reminded virtually everyday of this book: conspiracy theory, manipulative media, political correctness, plutonium tea, poisoned umbrella, enemy within, huddled masses, boat people. The media are fond of describing Orwellian situations. ‘Orwellianism’ is very pertinent at this time in UK history with the recent election still looming large; 1984 permeates our culture and not just in the UK. It is considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

If you read a biography of Orwell, who died age 47 in 1950, you immediately beg the question how did he manage to pack so much into his short life: policeman, anarchist revolutionary, soldier, journalist, critic, author, editor, broadcaster, socialist, gardener, chicken farmer (his own description), husband, father, adulterer, friend.

Born in India under the British Raj but educated in England he lived at a time when Britain and indeed the world was overshadowed by so much conflict and want: two world wars, Russian Revolution 1917, Spanish flu pandemic 1918, Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression 1929, Jarrow marches 1936, the Spanish civil war 1936, the abdication of Edward the VIII 1936, the Holocaust and the Atomic bomb 1945. I could make the list longer there are many others, one tumultuous world changing event after another which culminated in massive social change. Most of us living through those turbulent times might be forgiven for looking at our own troubles but Orwell was an observer he saw the condition of others and was able to articulate his observations. As we read his work it is inhabited with these peoples and events.

I read, Animal Farm, and 1984 as a teenager and his diaries and letters and documents in my 20s, my day job is in heritage. As I worked through his archive Ref 2., my impression of Orwell is that he felt the need to speak into the human condition, not to entertain but to challenge and change what he saw as the unfairness and inequality that was so prevalent. He showed great compassion, and empathy, being able to see both sides of every argument, without a shred of sentimentality. He had no compunction in quitting his safe upper middle class milieu and stepping into the under classes.

Educated at Eton he could not possibly pass himself off as working class and his diaries contain many instances where the minute he opened his mouth people immediately changed their response to him. Whether it was trying to get himself arrested in Bow Street, walking through the Kent countryside or joining the rough sleepers in Trafalgar Square.

His upper class characteristics did not antagonise the people he rubbed shoulders with in fact it appears that his, supposed, ‘degenerated condition’ evoked sympathy. The rough sleepers in Trafalgar Square invited him to join them to go to the hop fields in Kent and when he got there his fellow illiterate hop pickers felt no hesitation of asking him to read or write letters for them or to add up the number of hop skips they had picked so that they were not cheated out of their earnings.

Orwell didn’t really start to write until he was 25, although he had wanted to write since he was a boy. He had to struggle to get his work accepted, couldn’t earn a living for a long time working as a dish washer in Paris and a private tutor and teacher in England to support himself.

By the mid 1940’s his contemporaries and friends were people like T.S. Elliot, Dylan Thomas, E.M. Forster and H.G. Wells and he was in great demand, which is when he departed London. Orwell wanted his voice to be heard but didn’t want a celebrity status, which is ironic because when he started to write it was his lack of status that made it difficult to get his work accepted. He was an idealist but his experience, particularly as a policeman in the Indian Imperial Police, and his time in Spain clouded his viewpoint for the rest of his life. Living through such a period of upheaval and social change may account for his self deprecating manner of acknowledging his success and gifting, he is often described as being pessimistic always expecting failure. When half the world is struggling just to cope with life possibly he felt guilty that he was gaining success.

I could not but be aware that so much has been written about this paradoxical man. I asked myself what possibly could I add that would be fresh or new? I had worked on his original manuscripts and documents and so I do have a very personal view of him but my worthwhile observation on his literary gift would possibly only make a sentence.  We tend to put our heroes on a pedestal but all heroes are as flawed as the next man. Reading Sheldon’s biography of Orwell Ref 3., we find a well-rounded human being, warts and all.

I could observe that while he struggled to write his last book 1984 on the Scottish island of Jura in 1946, in Spartan conditions and already dying of tuberculosis, he kept a vegetable garden and made detailed notes about what he planted, it’s development and the harvest. He had determined when he first arrived on Jura that he would not write for several months to have a break but it seems from his diary it was just impossible for him not to write even if it was about vegetables.

His dystopian books where written in parallel to similar works inhabiting imaginary worlds C. S. Lewis – Narnia, H. G. Wells – The Time Machine, J. R. R. Tolkien – Lord of the Rings, Mervyn Peake – Gormenghast and the earlier Brave New World by Aldus Huxley all reflecting world insecurity and addressing real moral and social issues.

There are words in 1984 that seem very pertinent today ‘Doublethink – to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously; my favourite, which brings me back to loves language, ‘Prolofeed’ very 21st Century, homogenized, manufactured superficial literature, film and music, used to control and indoctrinate the populace into docility of which Big Brother, the internet and the mobile epidemic are supreme examples.

Finally a reminder of why I write this blog – I have another novel ready to be published, ‘Children of the Time Oak” hopefully by the end of July. I hope to give you a synopsis next time.

Ref 1. The Prisoner ITV series 1968
Ref 2. University College Library
Ref 3. Orwell the Authorised Biography Michael Sheldon ISBN 0-434-69517-3

I wrote my blog  ‘I am not a number’ in June last year, my personal observations on George Orwell. Yesterday a friend reminded me of it because, on the 12th December, Rowan Williams wrote an article in The Guardian that echoed some of my observations so I read it with interest. Of course Rowan Williams ‘ observations are much more profound than my own but I’m encourage that my thinking is not out of step with others I respect.