Can you remember what any of these pictures from previous blogs are? No, nor can I…
What was your worst Christmas, your strangest? Some Christmas memories blend in, others are never forgotten. For those of us who had a happy childhood Christmas remains in our memories as a time of heady excitement; dark winter days brightened with nativity plays, school parties and candlelit churches. There was one traumatic experience that dulled the excitement when I was seven. At school we were told to write a letter to Father Christmas, the girl sitting in front of me turned round and said ‘What’s the point of writing to Father Christmas when he doesn’t really exist?’ I tried to appear nonchalant, I was not going to admit my ignorance, but I was devastated. As soon as I got home from school I asked my mother if it was true; my last hopes were dashed and she swore me to secrecy, not to spoil it for my younger siblings. I soon recovered, the Christmas atmosphere remained and there was still the thrill of presents to unwrap.
When I was eleven we emigrated to Western Australia; our arrival was in October, we moved to our new house in December and my childhood Christmases disappeared forever. This was not the fault of Australia or my parents; I was growing up, the dark mystery of winter days was replaced by bright sunshine, we knew nobody, there were no gift bearing relatives visiting and my parents’ budget was tight. But by the following year Christmases were settling into a new pattern and we acquired family friends to celebrate with.
My first Christmas away from home, when I was nineteen, came about when my best friend and I planned a six week summer holiday trip across Australia, inveigling a mutual friend to share the driving and his car across the Nullabor Plain. She assured me her relatives in South Australia would be delighted to have the three of us for Christmas and indeed they were very welcoming. A collection of aunts and uncles had orchards and shops. On the first morning of our stay my two friends were commandeered to take one of the aunts to hospital with a miscarriage, I was left behind to look after her young children who I had never met before. More relatives arrived and unbeknown to us they had spotted a freezer that didn’t work properly in uncle’s shop, they warned each other not to eat the chicken. A very pleasant Christmas Day was followed by food poisoning on Boxing Day.
Next week – what was I doing at Heathrow Airport 6am one Christmas morning?
Last century, in a previous incarnation, I went to mother and toddler groups; no doubt they have to be called something else now, Kids and Karers? We did have one granny, a few child minders and a couple of fathers. It was one of these fathers who brought his video camera along, no one else possessed such equipment. We thought he was showing off and hovering over his poor child. The ethos of the club was to ignore the little ones while indulging in a good gossip. These days he would probably have to have a background check before even being allowed into the church hall, let alone with a video camera. I wonder where that little boy is now, perhaps hot housed into a world leader, his whole life recorded for posterity.
How would we all have fared, how different would our lives have been if we had grown up in the digital world, our pathetic appearance in the school nativity recorded and watched by grandchildren. I never got to be Mary or even an angel; in top infants I was merely the innkeeper’s wife with the line ‘Come this way.’ Would anyone want to see themselves coming last on sports day or dancing round the maypole in junior school? We did not get the ribbons tangled during our school’s centenary celebrations, but whether we looked elegant is another matter.
Our lives did not go completely unrecorded, Dad got a reel to reel tape recorder and secretly recorded Mum and the aunties, nobody could believe how awful their own voice sounded. When we had our school holiday in top juniors, several mothers went along as helpers, not mine thank goodness. One of these ladies had a cine camera, we were all going to be film stars. When it came time for the showing of the film, I did not appear at all.
There are families who have wonderful silent records of every Christmas, cine cameras were around for a long time before being superseded by videos, but most people took only photographs. Now every moment of a life can be recorded instantly, film or photo and broadcast to the world. Granddad on the other side of the world can see the new grandson having his umbilical cord cut. Great grandparents can see pretty in pink little miss precocious doing her first ballet exam at the age of two.
But I feel more than a twinge of regret when I think of all the missed Instagrams I could have taken, pictures shared on Facebook and blogs written of my pre digital life. We have many photo albums, but camera film could not be wasted taking pictures of weird things; night scenes through rain splattered bus windows or the ubiquitous snaps of meals out or in.
Perhaps the more obsessed bloggers would have started much earlier if they had had the opportunity.
Day One; with a bit of help from Mummy and Daddy I am starting this blog to record my whole life. Today was a bit of a milestone as I said my first words… blog, post and WordPress. Of course I know lots more words than that, but my lips and tongue aren’t working properly yet, just one of the challenges of being a baby.
Day Two; I have my first two followers, Mummy and Daddy… Sam the cat isn’t on WordPress so he can’t Like me, but here is a picture of him.
Day Three; We went to Wriggle and Rhyme Story Time at the library, I gave it four out of five stars…
My novel Quarter Acre Block is inspired by my early years.
Brother Bernard’s Blog
Translated from the original Latin.
Greetings from the north. How hast thy week been? I send news to brother bloggers of unholy happenings. Until last week the name of Johannes Gutenberg had never been uttered inside these walls and I hope it never will be again.
I had just returned from my daily constitutional, gazing upon the wondrous waters of the North Sea, contemplating completing Leviticus today, when Brother Franz hove into sight, calling out in a most undignified manner as he dismounted. We had not seen him for many months so were we not eager to hear what news from the continent?
‘Gutenberg is coming’ were his words.
After being enclosed with the Abbot for a fair while he broke bread with us in the refectory and spoke strange words… of printing presses and moveable metal type. I now understand this to mean there are those who would replace men of God writing The Word of God with a contraption to produce many Holy Bibles.
How can a machine write elegant text and illuminate with cinnabar, saffron, verdigris, lapis lazuli, silver and gold? No my friends, it cannot, so therefore I tell you we have nothing to fear, the name of Johannes Gutenberg will soon be forgotten , Gutenberg has not arrived, nor ever will. We shall carry on with our Holy written work as before.
We stopped in Chichester for lunch on the way back from our little break in Kent; as the clocks had just gone back this meant the afternoon was short. The roof is being restored and much of the cathedral was covered so just one outside shot. You do not need to pay entry, but it will help pay for the roof if you make a donation; if you don’t carry cash you can pay a fiver by contactless card.
Chichester was the first cathedral I visited when I was eight. We were staying for a fortnight’s seaside holiday, not far away in a converted railway carriage at Wittering. We went to the beach when it was low tide and had sand. When it was high tide and only shingle with a greater risk of drowning ( Mum and Dad never went in the sea themselves) we visited historical sights.
It was a very long time before I visited again and nothing evoked any memories except the general cathedralness, but I do know my lifelong collecting of picture post cards started that year and I acquired black and white cards of the cathedral which featured quite a few stone tombs. I recall I was most fascinated with the stone effigies, what a strange child I must have been!
As well as preserving ancient beauty such as stained glass windows and the stonework that holds them in place, cathedrals also acquire new art and music. The first thing you may spot if you are following the leaflet will be a gleaming font made of Cornish polyphant stone (easy to carve and burnish ) with a copper bowl, designed by John Skelton in 1983.
At the high altar is the wonderfully bright Piper Tapestry designed by John Piper and woven in France in 1966. It depicts the Holy Trinity. In contrast is the simple altar in the Mary Magdalene chapel with the 1961 Graham Sutherland painting depicting Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene on the first Easter morning.
Another colourful creation is the1978 Marc Chagall window based on Psalm 150 ...let everything that hath breath praise the Lord..
I completely missed a statue …mounted high over the entrance to the Lady chapel, there is a model at floor level… I only saw the model, no wonder I wasn’t that impressed. One should always look up in cathedrals.
The cathedral is also celebrating the centenary of the birth of composer Leonard Bernstein. He isn’t one of my favourite composers, but there is one work of his I love which is the Chichester Psalms. While reading the exhibition I saw you could buy in the cathedral shop a CD recorded by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with their previous conductor the American Marin Alsop. But when we got to the shop it had already closed at four o’clock, so I came away with no souvenirs.
At my beginning unnoticed,
Disturbing a few blades of grass.
At my departure miles wide,
Or so it seems to those who pass.
Older than any empire,
I’ve watched over cities and towns.
Crossed by legions, traversed by millions,
So often I’ve changed my bounds.
I am the setting for history,
For politics and power.
Painted and prosed by the famous,
Unfortunates dreaded my tower.
I’ve sucked down many to their deaths,
That was never my intention.
Gentle meadows are what I love,
Not man’s intervention.
The city turned me dark,
Hemmed me in with squalor and hate.
I’ve been loched, bombed and tunnelled,
Till my very bed vibrates.
My fortunes like tides fall and rise,
Stories captured for many to tell.
Painted by Turner, Canaletto,
Written by Dickens, Jerome and Wells.
I dream of a spring in the meadow,
And wonder am I still me,
As my banks sink and salt currents swirl
And I’m swallowed by The North Sea.
This time I was determined to get to the end of the book. Last time I was out by chapter three, without my name even being mentioned. Then there was the time I was the lead character in the sub plot, all was going well until the editing stage…
The clothes were uncomfortable, it was my first historical drama, but I was determined not to let my author Hermione down, together we would prove there was more to the plot than Guy, or Guido as he liked to call himself.
Chapter One, December 1604: sluggish, all that tunnelling while Thomas Percy swanned around upstairs scheming.
Chapter Two, March 1605: I thought things would get more exciting with the lease of the cellar, but who ended up lugging all the barrels of gunpowder?
Chapters Three to Six: Hermione digressed, a whole summer and autumn of waiting, hanging out with the two Roberts and John Wright, but at least I was still on the scene, strolling around Seventeenth Century London, helping to give the novel a bit of context.
Chapter Seven, November 1st 1605: it turns out I’m going to be the one to give the plot away, straight to my priest for confession. Turmoil for my character, not going to let my friends down, but I do have a conscience. Then Hermione goes and makes the priest an agnostic spy who has no compunction in breaking his vows.
Chapter Eight, November 5th 1605: I was tempted to tell Guido to go home, why should he get all the blame?
Guido and I were the only two to make it to the last chapter, me the forgotten chap alongside Guy Fawkes. I gave in after only half an hour in the torture chamber, my fate was not made public. The longest chapter ever written, I thought I’d never get off that rack, now I’m wondering what is going to happen in the Epilogue.
As I sat reading a book I felt and heard the reassuring rumble of the underground. But I was not on a London tube train, Mum and Dad were in the kitchen next door washing the dishes. We were in our little suburban house in Perth, Western Australia.
It was 10.59am, a bank holiday on the 14th October 1968, we had just experienced the Meckering Earthquake, my mother said she had to cling to the kitchen sink. The small town of Meckering was 130 km away in the wheat belt, the 45 second earthquake was magnitude 6.9 on the Richter Scale making it one of the largest recorded in the seismic history of Australia. A few buildings in Perth were damaged. A baby had a miraculous escape in Meckering, their town fell down, but no one was killed. Had the epicentre been in a big city it could have been a major disaster. For us it was exciting, proof that Man cannot control nature.
At school the next day the earthquake was the only topic of conversation. In the classroom we were all startled to feel an aftershock, this time we knew what it was and we were scared. The teacher told us to calm down. There was no evacuation or talk of emergency procedures. It was unlikely the one storey asbestos building would collapse dramatically.
Fast forward to December 1974, Knightsbridge, London; I had a Christmas job as a floorwalker in Harrods toy department. It was the Saturday before Christmas and that afternoon I had the last tea break. The staff restaurant was on the top floor. As I stood in the Ladies combing my hair I heard a muffled thud and assumed it was an IRA bomb going off somewhere else. Of importance later was the fact that I had my handbag with me.
I walked out to see the busy shop deserted, the escalators switched off and a couple of security guards annoyed to see me still in the building, everyone else had been evacuated. Somehow I caught up with colleagues as we poured out of the building; it was only as we looked up and saw thick black smoke pouring from the corner of the iconic department store that the shock hit us. No one was hurt that day, the heroes were the staff who had noticed something suspicious in their department and evacuated customers safely. Heavy fire doors had contained the explosion. Once again I had had a wide escape. We sat in a nearby pub waiting to go back in and fetch our coats, but nobody would return to work that evening. Lucky for me I had my handbag with my season ticket for the train, even if the journey home was a bit chilly without my coat.
News is with us in all the media twenty four hours a day and this year fire, flood, hurricanes and earthquakes have been regular events and of a magnitude hard to comprehend. We wonder what it is like to be at the heart of a major disaster. Reporters find their way to the most unreachable scenes of devastation only to ask victims how they feel.
Back to Perth, Western Australia, when my fourteen year old self was riding her bike. The suburbs were laid out in a grid design with long straight roads, there was a ‘Give Way To The Right’ rule, logical as long as everybody obeyed; there were always accidents at intersections. I was pedalling towards a corner when suddenly two cars collided in front of me, one of them rolled over. The two young drivers clambered out with some difficulty, but both were laughing, unhurt. When I tried to get back on my bike my legs were shaking so much I couldn’t lift my foot onto the pedal. I have always wondered if everyone benefits from adrenalin when faced with real peril, or if some people turn to jelly. How many writers secretly long to be in the midst of a disaster and emerge unscathed, or just a bit hurt so they can tell their dramatic story from a comfortable hospital bed?
Last week we went on what could be the ultimate autumnal outing, certainly for those of us who haven’t been to New England in the fall. Thanks to modern weather forecasting the predicted blue skies and sunshine made the gardens of Stourhead picture perfect. It was a little early for nature and photography experts, the trees had not reached their full colour potential, but when a gentle breeze sends golden beech leaves floating to the ground it is like pennies from heaven and perhaps this is the closest to heaven on earth most of us will get.
Like most National Trust properties and other great houses and castles that you pay to enter, you are sealed off from real life. There is no traffic except the gardeners’ tractor and trailer, no traffic noise, no building work going on, no homeless people to remind you of the darker side of life and little likelihood of being mugged or caught up in a street riot. Your children can safely run around, as long as they don’t fall into the lake… Everybody is there to enjoy nature or a healthy walk. I guess there is always the chance a fight will erupt between photographers spoiling each other’s view, perhaps the loser rolling down the manicured lawns into the lake; that would make a good story, but it didn’t happen on our visit.
Fortunately patience prevailed at the archway to the house. Two Japanese ladies left behind by their party were admiring the masses of red leaves of the Virginia Creeper that smothered the stone arch. They kept rearranging themselves to photograph each other and also seemed to examine each leaf in detail. Meanwhile on one side was Cyberspouse with his camera and on the bank opposite a couple of photographers waiting for the ladies to move out of the way. I like taking pictures with people in, but I guess the others had to wait until next autumn.
Inside the house, phones were to be switched off, bags left in lockers and no flash photography. My point and shoot compact has a habit of switching its flash back on so I only managed one quick picture of the library before one of the volunteers started telling me how they cleaned the books with pony hair brushes, then suck the dust away with a mini vacuum cleaner. But I did ask the important questions readers and writers would want to know. Did the family of old read all these books? Yes, this was their learning and entertainment centre and only a few books have been found with the pages still uncut at the edges. Does anyone still read them? Yes you can apply. What is the oldest book? ‘Oh dear, I never remember’ said the lady, then called up to an elderly gentleman perched precariously on top of a ladder – one of the hazards of having book shelves that go up to the ceiling. He wobbled down to tell me the answer, a German manuscript of 1591.
The Hoare family who created the house and beautiful gardens were bankers. Henry ‘the good’ bought Stourton Manor and medieval buildings were replaced by a Palladian villa, but he died in 1724, a year before the house was completed. Henry the Magnificent’s nickname was earned by the landscape vision he created in his garden. With hills, water and classical architecture overlaid by a fabulous collection of trees and shrubs, Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’ when it first opened in the 1740s. Henry died in 1785, but like all altruistic planters of trees he could not know how his gardens would look over two centuries later.
You can walk all round the lake, created by damming the River Stour which flows sixty miles to Christchurch harbour. Stop to admire follies, temples and the grotto as well as the views, then return to the Spread Eagle Inn to enjoy refreshments.