Tuesday, 25 July 2017
Thursday, 13 July 2017
"Ouch, that hurts!"I protest, silently, as I process up the aisle with the Paschal Candle, which is considerably taller than me, and features a heavy brass base. Note the absence of profanity. A cause for pride.
The upshot of this minor injury is, yesterday, I stayed in the Mission Hall instead of doing my usual, which is roaming the streets of Gloucester with a trolley full of drinks and sandwiches for the 'Not Actually Managing At All' segment of the population. The drinkers, addicts, mentally ill and others with complex problems, that beg and borrow to keep their heads above water, and don't get much to eat or drink without the charitable efforts of the rest of us.
An eventful morning ensued. I have been away since early April, swanning across the USA, then catching up at home, doing this and that. Dave, Our Leader, greets me warmly. He used to be a Catholic, so he would understand my happening with the brass base of a very large candlestick. He now belongs to one of those independent churches that do so much good around the place. I like him. He hugs. Pope Benedict didn't approve of hugging, so we tend to shake hands now. Rather a pity, I think.
There are a few changes. Michael the community artist is absent. Cancer, I hear, not doing so well. Not coming back. He used to take a group for pottery, he will be missed. Some discussion about what to do with his materials. I am sad. I liked Michael's quiet unassuming presence, I admired his gentle refusal to get saved.
Cafe Guru are still providing a nourishing stew. Lots of organisations express interest in what we do. This small business actually does something. Week after week, year in, year out, the cafe sends in a hot meal for our sixty or so takers. They don't advertise the fact, they just do it. I tell everyone I know to go there.
It's a fraught morning. One young man thinks another young man is trying to take his stuff. Shouting and a punch-up, quickly resolved. Sam, with his underpants on the outside of his trousers, gives an impromptu sermon on the fact that all Christians are hypocrites and are going to hell: some good-hearted applause, including from the Christians. Then I chat to Maggie.
She speaks softly, I have to move closer to listen. We are friends. As her story draws to a close I'm in tears. It has taken her four years to open up and it's no wonder.
"I kept my daughter away from men, no father, no grandfather. No uncles, for fifteen years." Oh my God! Fifteen years??? "She's married now, and has children." Maggie beams with pride. Can you guess why I'm weeping?
"Don't cry, don't cry for me!" Maggie has not asked for sympathy, she has just asked for the right to tell her story.
No name, Maggie is not her name, no location, this did not happen here. Just her story:
"I wasn't put in the laundry, because of my chest. You know what that was like, you've seen the film. All that steam! I was in the orphanage until I was sixteen. We worked all day every day, from the time I was thirteen, and were given £13 a month." ...
"When our abusers became grandparents to girls - we went to the police. We couldn't let what happened to us happen to another child ... "
A ghastly story, Maggie didn't go into a lot of detail. She, her and her sister, won their case and received compensation. A lot of it. But:
"I couldn't let go of it, the compensation didn't help, not for years and years, not until I got cancer. Funny. I thought I was going to die, and I let go. Now, I'm free."
"For years and years."
The next time I hear another abuser gather his family around him and swear his innocence, I'll remember Maggie, and how HER innocence was stolen, her body used for the gratification of perverts employed to take care of her, her peace of mind destroyed, her mental health never fully recovered.
"I'm not crying for you, Maggie, but for the children still suffering from bastards like those." I said, which was partly true.
So a piece that started with a light-hearted run-in with a large candle, ends sombrely. I think that's the point. In the middle of the ordinariness of my lovely quiet life, a brutal reality intrudes, and I weep.
Monday, 10 July 2017
Today was her mother's memorial service. Carol casually invited me, as I was one of the few people around who remembered the Wood family back in the sixties, and I was pleased to go.
The chapel and crematorium are in my old stomping ground, Coney Hill, Gloucester. My brother Adrian and both my parents are buried there, so I combined the memorial with a visit to their grave to tidy it up and put some fresh flowers on it. I also tidied up Baby Annabelle's grave next door, as my mother always used to - it is tiny, and overgrown: the little Cherub and the Father Christmas much in need of a wash. There must come a time when parents of a baby no longer feel the need to come where she isn't, but my mother was sentimental, and so, I guess, am I.
I was an observer. There for Carol, certainly, as in weeks to come when we talk about it, I'll know how Penny has aged, and how good the children were, and what a good job the humanist celebrant made of the service..
An observer soon knows the groups. The distant relatives not seen since Leslie Wood's service back in 2003, relieved that no-one mentions the promises to meet up that were never kept.
Kathleen's friends, ripe with reminiscences, some of them, judging by the shushing and giggles, not entirely respectable.
The immediate family, pulling together. Their politeness to me: "Well, Dominic, the last time I saw you, you were a gangly teenager with very blonde hair!" It's been a while.
The most interesting character, to me, was Steph, a women in her fifties, I'd say, a first cousin, who had never been allowed to mix with Carol and her sisters. Aunty Betty had married above herself, and all contact with her family was forbidden.
Steph's parents are dead, and she is delighting in her discovery of the only family she has now, she being an only child of a father who was an only child.
How strange it must be to have been forbidden a family! What kind of snobbishness, what degree of awful compliance, could possibly lead to such a nonsensical state of affairs? People are peculiar, families particularly so.
I was in conversation with a Canadian on Saturday who marvelled at how we Brits cling like Velcro to the ridiculous class system. I seconded her amazement. She would have been very entertained by this family and it's story of wealth, estrangement and inestimable loss.
Thursday, 6 July 2017
Wednesday, 5 July 2017
I recently returned from a visit to California, where my focus was, you'll not be surprised to read, it's flora.
Decades of flower spotting have given me an connoisseur's eye, and anything unusual elicits a cry of, "Stop!" Which must sometimes, regretfully, in the interests of safety, be ignored.
I am good. A white bee-orchid picked out ( but not picked!) in a mass of foliage besides lake Bled in Slovenia elicited admiration from fellow walkers, but my golden moment was spotting a man orchid ( which is green) from a grassy bank in Cyprus AT DUSK! Even my husband, whose hobbies run more towards chess and trains, was impressed on that occasion.
All well and good, but who, you may be wondering, was Marianne North? A nineteenth century botanical Illustrator, who got to California before most people, and painted. Her work inspired me to get off the trails, recklessly ignoring the "Beware Mountain Liions" signs, and look. Her works are displayed in a purpose-built gallery at Kew Gardens. Do go and see.
Here is my California Selection:
A Trapper's Home
Rainbow Falls Yosemite
Thursday, 29 June 2017
What a kuffufle: Hear the tirade!
The chef's ran off with the scullery-maid!
Her Ladyship's fainted, and when she comes to
No-one'll escape the hullabaloo!
"How could these ingrates do this to me?
They KNEW Lady Westmorland's coming to tea!"
The chauffeur, who loved her, won't leave his bed
And Pardoner, the gardener's, locked in his shed
(He had a crush on Monsieur, though nobody guessed
He stayed in the closet, at his lover's behest.)
His lordship has wisely left for his club
Constitutionally unable to withstand the hubbub.
He was wounded in the whatsits during The War,
And leads a much quieter life than before ...
Bounty, the mastiff, rolls over, plays dead -
And King Henry's armour now stands on its head.
The Tweeny, when quizzed, swore not to know
That Nancy (the hussy) was planning to go.
And what, you might wonder was the fate of this pair?
Decamped, with no character, they might have despaired!
But no! Holed up in Brighton, renowned for it's crooks,
They're living off the proceeds from cooking the books!
Tuesday, 27 June 2017
I taught for nearly forty years, and every year you can bet that by September 10th my nine-year olds (give or take) would have had to write a piece on 'What I did In My Holidays'. Yes, I was a spectacularly predictable pedagogue, and this was one of my mainstays. In my defence, every one of my colleagues presented their long- suffering charges with the same challenge, so I'm not going to feel too badly.
However, to atone, here's my piece for 2017.
My 'SmarterThanMe' 'phone does this really clever thing. It takes it upon itself to make a mini-movie of surprisingly random photographs, fades them in and out, and supplies a musical theme to embrace a second sense. I am absolutely impressed, and very grateful. There are some surprising additions, the Labour Manifesto pops up between an arial shot of Crater Lake and advice on how to fend off a mountain lion, but that's OK, I like it.
Anyway, the mini-movies are proving a marvellous aide-memoir to scenes that might otherwise have slipped away for good, and I am grateful. So what DID I do during my holidays?
Train Rides Two. One long, the other very long. Colorado, Utah, California
Pennsylvania Avenue. Long. Hot. Washington Memorial closed, African-American Museum amazing.
Camper van 6 days Yosemite. Waterfalls, rumours of bears, handsome rock formations, with people suspended from them, spectacular views. Just go.
Friends: Stephen in Florida, John and Linda in Omaha, Darlene and Steve in Redmond. The Hanner Clan in Bellevue. Thank you!
Saw Bison, wolves, pelicans (captive) flowers (wild), a Lego exhibition, terracotta warriors, butterflies in a hot-house, an alligator, a few bald eagles, several hummingbirds, prairie dogs, Jack the dachshund, lakes, mountains, deserts, oceans, and forests.
Not really sure how to wind this up after all that. Maybe a few photos?
Wednesday, 24 May 2017
What IS it with flowers??
I know all about their seductive wiles: flashing their skirts at the complicit bees
Yes! I know this ...
But HERE's what I see:
Stars in the skies of paradise.
Offering something so bright, so lovely,
That I am compelled
Wide eyed, to feel the joy of them -
I have been known clap my hands! (True!)
Wednesday, 3 May 2017
Monday, 24 April 2017
This is my first visit to the American South. I have been visiting the US for forty years, and the farthest south I've been (in the east, that is) is Washington DC way back in 1977.
It's a pleasure to be here, guests of a friend of my husband from the Forest of Dean Chess Club in Mitcheldean, Gloucestershire. Stephen has a holiday home here in Davenport, Florida, which is a LONG way from Mitcheldean!
Today we visited Mount Dora, which reaches a lofty elevation of 184ft. This is lofty for Florida.
Lovely little lakeside town. Here are the photos, you can judge for yourself:
Tuesday, 18 April 2017
I am referring to Jeremy Corbyn, and as those who read my blog will know, I joined the party during his acceptance speech, having voted as a Fabian.
Jezza, as I hardly ever call him, has had a rough ride since August 2015. Establishment figures of every hue have mounted a pretty relentless campaign of vilification against him: HIM, personally, not his policies: I remember a few of the squalls of outrage: he doesn't bow, he doesn't wear a tie. He rides on trains, he rides a bicycle, he is weak, he is a bully, he has no charisma, he is a cult figure ... And on and on and on.
What I first noticed about him was, that he always answer the questions put to him. I was, frankly, amazed! Politicians have 'Media Gurus' that train them in avoiding doing so, by any means possible. If appreciating that he treats me with that kind of respect makes me a dupe of a Cult Figure, so be it.
Moving on. Having joined the Labour Party I am now faced with a choice. Will paying the fees and turning up for the vote suffice, or should I get involved. I got involved. I started going to meetings. There are six of us who meet regularly, eight sometimes, though hundreds have joined the Party in our region recently, few others come to meetings.
I am now the Chair of our Branch, because I caved when it looked like no-one would stand, and here I am leading meetings giving away jobs, smiling a lot.
I like talking about myself, I expect most bloggers do, but this isn't about me. I breezed in, and as I once made abundantly clear if the bastards finally get their own back, and Jeremy Corbyn is ousted, I'm off! I do a great flounce. I know how to cancel a standing order!
Cherry looks at me and says, quietly ( she is a quiet person) " You can't. There's too much inequality"
I looked at Cherry, and Chris and Roger, the old-timers, so recently enthused by the arrival of a true left- winger as Party Leader. They know the score, they sit it out year after year, doing the donkey work, knocking on doors, distributing leaflets: a thankless task in a Tory town.
These are the true democrats. They do what they do because they want people to know things can be different. They give people a choice.
And Corbyn? Well, if the attack-dogs hound him out of office, he'll carry on doing what he's always done: Steadfastly standing up for the vulnerable, defending public services, calling out the profiteers and the war-mongers. And me? How could I possibly let Cherry down.
Friday, 14 April 2017
I have one of my signature chest infections, and it's jolly inconvenient. At least it frees me up to blog.
Most of the Triduum will pass me by this year, I am not even sure that I will make the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, which is going to be a problem, because I am Flower Monitor and the flowers are placed in the church immediately before the Gloria and if I'm not there, WHO'S GOING TO ORGANISE IT?
I fetched the flowers from the wholesaler yesterday, and dropped them off at Gail's house. She is an artist, and what she does will be uplifting and amazing. I just put them in pots.
Gail is, like me, a convert to Catholicism, and the shine hasn't worn off. I often feel I need to apologise for being a Catholic, because everybody knows that since the Church become a corporate arm of the state in three-hundred- and-something, very bad things have happened. Still are, I expect, I make no excuses.
"Bad Day?" Gail was looking frazzled.
"My boss (An Evangelist) won't come tomorrow because we're idolaters." Eye roll. So this Man of God had spent the day bending Gail's ear, with, basically, "Why You Shouldn't Be A Catholic For Dummies." No wonder non-Christians laugh at us. What a plonker.
Not going to fall into the trap of passing any (other) judgement on him. I give Gail a hug, and leave to go to bed with paracetamol and a gallon of water.
It was my turn to preach at Outdoor Church on Tuesday. I say, "Preach" but it's a lot less grand than that really. Outdoor Church meets in Gloucester Park on Tuesday's, and is pretty much just that.
I'm nervous. The last time I preached it all ended in tears (mine). Our people are not pretty people, and sometimes the sheer hopelessness of their lives spills out as anger. I get it. Or, I got it, both barrels, and, 'fessing up, I deserved it.
So I'm sitting on the steps of the bandstand stilling my mind, quieting my heart ready for the service to start.
Kurt and Graham are letting off steam. Some Christian had told them they couldn't be friends with them because they're 'clients.' And they are angry. "They're fake." Says Kurt. "Never met a true Christian!"
I don't intervene. If I had, I'd have said,
"We're ALL plonkers."
Friday, 7 April 2017
There came a day when I was SO
That I felt in incumbent on me
To Be Word Perfect.
This led to .. Problems.
Honest but ordinary joys like
Smelling the flowers
Listening out for church bells
Holding the babies -
Those kind of things, were,
Well, just too mundane.
For A Poet Like Me!
I felt sure, given a moment
I could outdo Tennyson and give
Betjeman a run for his money
Wax lyrical on grand occasions
Make a mark in literary circles and even - You know -
I LIKE what I
Used to write before I was
It wasn't capital letter great, but it was me.
Flighty, Flirty a Little Bit Dirty ...
Full of Spring and things that
Sprung to mind. Like say
God and stuff.
So, now my fingers are flying across the keyboard again
The church bells are ringing in my head, The babies are asleep in my memory and the flowers are once more stimulating my olfactory nerve. We're off!
Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Sunday, 19 March 2017
I was 25 for most of 1976, a young teacher, trying to have babies, wondering what to do to take my mind off the failing. It was, I know, the Bi-Centennial year in the USA, and I, a former 'American Studies' student, took an interest. "Why American Studies?" My father asks, in 1970, aghast. He doesn't think a career could be carved out of American Studies. " Because, dad, I don't understand why you don't like Americans and I need to learn!" I was SO naive .. My poor father, during the war, had to vie with monied GI's for my mother's attentions... He needs to be forgiven.
So I applied for the Fulbright Exchange Teacher Programme, and succeeded, but the doing of it came later in 1977, and is another story.
Harold Wilson was PM, at least until April, and I remember him: jovial, pipe-smoking, the first PM I voted for. His wife was a poet, I felt a connection. He reckoned that the, 'white heat of technology' would bring wealth to all, and shorter working hours. And it could have. Instead we have zero hours contracts and food banks, but hey! There's the Internet, so I guess it's not all bad. Steve Jobs founded Apple in a garage, and here I am tapping this out on an iPad.
John Curry danced himself to gold on ice, and I can still picture him. Dazzling, spectacular, amazing ... There aren't enough words. But it was the 70's and there was no way to stave off AIDS: he died too young, and, right now, I feel tears welling-up, and not just for him.
"Save All Your Kisses For Me" won the Eurovision Song Contest. I loathe the Eurovision Song Contest with perfect loathing. If I'd have thought we would never have to enter it again I would have voted Brexit. But I know such dreams never come true, so I didn't. Brit James Hunt, once known as 'Hunt the Shunt' wins the F1 Championship, and Concorde begins is inaptly named 'commercial' service. As a teenager, at school in Gloucester, I watched open-mouthed in awe, as this sleek air-liner on a test flight veered round Robinswood Hill moments before it's "BOOM!!"
Yes, it could break the sound barrier then, but never over-land after coming into service.
I scour the lists of births and deaths. There are many of both in 1976. I am quite taken by the fact that I only recognise ONE of the celebrity births (Ross Noble) but go misty-eyed over the departures: L S Lowry,Sybil Thorndike, Agatha Christie, Benjamin Britten ... They are still about in one way or another.
We were a country at war in 1976. Oh My God! Over fish. The Great Cod War, with Iceland. Then one day, someone woke up to how ludicrous it was, and we brought the gun boats home. For the record: Iceland won.
I guess we kind of were at war with the Irish, too. I have Irish ancestry, and kept my fingers crossed for peace, which came, in time.
It's comforting to know that wars end.
1976 was a hot year. Although as a Brit, the weather always plays a huge role in my life, there are two events that stand out. The Great Freeze of 1962/3 and The Heat Wave of 1976. We expect moderation in all things, and 97F in Cheltenham is just not on.
I congratulate myself on still being here, no small feat given the wars, plagues, extreme weather events and the stupidity of politicians. When I was 25 I didn't know what was to come, but now that it HAS come, and pretty well gone, I can sit back, contented. It's good. All good.
"Save All Your Kisses For Me"
Concorde Breaking The Sound Barrier