The Secret Diary of Stephen Mossman, aged 12
Got home from school. Got ready for Alison's fancy dress party. I fancy Alison and I think she fancies me unless anybody is reading this diary in which case go away. I decided a few weeks ago to go to the party as a yorkshire pudding because I heard Alison say to her best mate Dawn (yuk yuk) that she liked yps. I'd got my mam to make me a yp costume out of some old curtains and I must say when I looked in the mirror I thought I was in fact looking at a yorkshire pudding. Daft big brother Jason tried to put me off by saying I looked like a fat kid in a pair of old curtains so when I'm the king of the world he'll die slowly. Got to the fancy Dress party. Alison looked fantastic as Kylie. Good job my yorkshire pudding costume was long and loose. I walked towards her and she looked at me. "what are you meant to be?" she asked. "Can't you tell? I'm a yorkshire pudding!" I said slightly too loudly and then Dawn (yuk yuk) came over with a big jug of orange juice and said "well here's your gravy!" and poured it over my head. Alison laughed and I started crying and ran home. I think she laughed in a sympathetic way, though I'll get Dawn(yuk yuk) back though. Don't you worry.
(from '101 Uses for a Yorkshire Pudding, Dalesman 2011.
Posted Saturday 11th March 2017.
An encouraging article found in a residential complex in-house magazine.
It began in May 2015 and my website has now grown to such extent that it is viewed in 14 countries across the world. We have around 2,500 views each month which equates to around 30,000 readers since I started writing the articles and posting photographs. I focused predominantly on football in the North Lancashire area but I have developed through feedback from visitors and now it looks at football through a wider and more diverse perspective, including players and clubs throughout the Football League. We will continue to add more 'tabs' as my research continues and any sporting story of interest could find its way onto the site. You are never too old to pursue what you enjoy.
I hope that many residents will visit the website and enjoy reading the stories as I constantly update it every month. I currently have over 2,000 football photographs that will eventually be on the website and I also plan to leave them to the local library. Many people of my age are now finding that computers, iPads and the internet are not intimidating and should be explored and enjoyed.
I have a real passion for the history of football and decided, at the young age of 74, to create [this] website called www.soccernostalgia.co.uk with the help of my son, David.
Terry Ainsworth (Football Historian), St. Leonards Court, Lancaster (from 'Life & Style', First Port)
Posted Sunday 21st January 2017.
A is for Agenda
(noun: a temporally organized plan for matters to be attended to).
During a family get-together last Christmas, my granddaughter asked what projects I was busy with, and wasn't satisfied when my answer was all about coping with the problems of failing health which occupy the elderly.
"No, Grandad, I meant your writing; have you got another collection in the pipeline?"
"Afraid not, I've written only a couple of short poems since your Grandma died. There never seems much point in it, without Olive...".
"That's a pity. You need to keep the old brainbox working. Why not write your memoirs, while you can still remember things? Something for the family to read...". The words 'when you die' went unspoken, but rang loud.
Memoirs! A big project, for someone with 94 years-worth in the bank. And my zest for writing died four years ago, when Olive died. But I keep mulling the idea over. Poets prefer small projects, true, but big projects can be divided into small ones. I don't have to write only about the past, either. There's plenty to say about my daily life.
I wake before first light to learn I didn't pass peacefully away last night - 'away' making all the difference here because no night now passes peacefully in my bed. Seconds tick. My eyes see my right hand holding the duvet's top. Bedside light's still on. Must've dozed off, around five? I try the fingers,watch them slowly uncurl while my mind catches on. The clock says it's morning. What day? Friday - I think. Anything planned? Nope. Shall I shower? Does the effort of wiping clean and drying the cubicle afterwards exceed the pleasure of the refreshing douche? I'll think about it. And then what? Dunno. How was the forecast? Grey, blustery, mostly dry, wasn't it? Think so. What shall I do for brekka - fruit, porridge? Both. Anything defrosting for dinner? Shift that arm from under the pillow, straighten it a bit - that's better - yes, salmon. Could take the wheeliewalker, get the repeat prescriptions? Yeah, well, let's see what the weather does. Thought of anything to write yet?
Nah, nix, words come only when they need to be written; I'm merely the, what, conduit, is it? Or a messenger, and messengers sometimes get shot, don't they!
You're thinking rubbish, you wimp; no excuses, try harder, concentrate.
Yeah, well, okay, whatever...
My left foot reaches out of bed, tests the temperature. The rest of me doesn't. I lag, thinking of those notices some joker chalked on the drydock wall years ago: DUE TO LACK OF INTEREST, TODAY HAS BEEN CANCELLED and, around the corner: TOMORROW WE MUST GET ORGANIZED.
No, you must get organised today!
And so I did. I decided to write twenty-six short pieces, one for each letter of the alphabet. When I got to M I had an idea for the title: 'Marshalled Musings'.
The early intention had been to self-publish for family and friends only. However, as this was a new departure into prose writing, I felt a need for an unbiased appraisal. I sent half a dozen items to my poetry publisher and asked his professional opinion. Within a few days, I received a letter suggesting I send the full typescript. I made fair copies and put the whole work in the post. A week or so later I was opening the letter of acceptance. There were a couple of suggested minor changes, one corrected misspelling, a trio, I think, of typos, and a plea - successful - for his preferred 'while' to my 'whilst'.
Only a slim, pocket-size volume, yes, but Marshalled Musings carried me out of an unhealthy lethargy into my present whetted appetite for life in which bereavement is still ever-present, but is no longer disabling. I enjoy both reading and writing once more, I've now got my own website, and have regained my curiosity for the life ahead.
(Version, from Marshalled Musings, Shoestring Press 2016)
Posted Sunday 8th January 2017.
Ethelbert, like the much earlier Vortigern (mentioned in 'Marshalled Musings') was a king of Kent. He reigned from c589 to 616 AD. His religion was Anglo-Saxon Paganism, from which he later converted to Christianity. Bickering about religious beliefs, as old as time itself, is touched on by an article in a book titled 'The Year 1,000' citing a manuscript recording this extract:
"Bede and other monkish chroniclers were not inclined to celebrate England's heathen heritage. You have to comb their writings carefully for clues to paganism. But even in their Christian loyalties they conveyed a live-and-let-live impression of the relations between England's old and new religions:
I cannot abandon the age-old beliefs I held...[declared Ethelbert, the last pagan king of Kent, according to Bede's history, as he addressed Augustine and his fellow Christian missionaries in 597].
But since you have travelled far, and I can see that you are sincere in your desire to impart to us what you believe to be true and excellent, we will not harm you... Nor will we forbid you to preach and win any people you can to your religion.
Bede went on to describe how King Ethelbert had provided the Christian missionaries with a base inside Canterbury, and how Pope Gregory, sending instructions from Rome, exhibited parallel tolerance."
Fast forward to Westgate-on-Sea, Kent where the street names, including 'Rowena' [daughter of Hengist, who married Vortigern] themselves record the history of that age, and along Station Road where I do my daily shopping, you'll find Ethelbert Square. A few yards around the corner to the right there is a business named 'Brocante' which, when translated from the French will mean, depending on the eye of the beholder, whatever you wish, from 'Antique Works Of Art', through 'Retro' to 'Yesterday's Junk'. Here you may find anything and everything (except religious wrangling) all amicably rubbing shoulders, huggermugger.
Occasionally I stop by to have a brief chat with Robert, the proprietor, (Who cares about surnames?); there is never any argie-bargie about either religion or price. More often I pass by on my way between the greengrocer's and butcher's shops, and if Monsieur Brocante happens to be standing outside his premises, loading or unloading, he'll give me a high wave, aware that I don't see too well, "Hi, Maurice!". "G' morning, Robert". And thus uplifted I walk on into my day and home, encouraged in the belief that despite all the human self-destruction that daily fills the world's screens, there are many, many more such oases of friendly tolerance and goodwill, stretching far beyond this little corner of Kent called Westgate, never to make the Dailies or reach the history books.
(Extract from 'The Year 1,000', Little, Brown and Company, 1999)
Posted Saturday 31st December 2016.
Happy Ever After
(an extract from 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens)
"[Scrooge] was early at the office next morning. Oh, he was early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.
And he did it; yes, he did! The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into the Tank.
His hat was off, before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy, driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o'clock.
"Hallo!", growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. "What do you mean by coming in at this time of day?"
"I am very sorry, sir," said Bob. "I am behind my time."
"You are?" repeated Scrooge. "Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please."
"It's only once a year, sir," pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. "It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir."
"Now, I'll tell you what, my friend," said Scrooge, "I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore," he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; "and therefore I am about to raise your salary!"
Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling out to all the people in the court for their help and a strait-waistcoat.
"A merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!"
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all,and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.
Charles Dickens (from 'A Christmas Carol')
'Tank' - a slang term for a prison cell, use here with a touch of sarcasm.
'Ruler' - not the later flat graduated kind, but a round vulcanite or hardwood truncheon-like implement.
'Smoking Bishop' - a port wine based punch, with a lemon or orange spiked with cloves and roasted at an open fire.
Best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Healthy, Productive New Year to all our readers - Katy & Maurice
Posted Sunday 25th December 2016.
A Festive Treat
A cheering seasonal article in a Kentish newspaper tells of a priest who, together with two volunteer helpers, will be working on Christmas Day to give homeless people a good Christmas lunch which they will provide and serve in a local Cliftonville restaurant. But this isn't the full story: the day will be financed with the proceeds from the priest's decision to sell his car, a Mazda RX8, and buy an elderly down-market Ford Fiesta run-about!
This splendid story in the 'Thanet Extra', Wednesday 16th November 2016, tells that almost ninety people, in two sittings, will be served with a choice of spring roll or soup, followed by a main course of sweet-and-sour chicken with rice, or Malaysian chicken curry with rice, after which the dessert will be cheesecake with fresh cream. All guests will receive a Christmas present of chocolate, a thermal het and gloves to help them keep warm when they leave.
These uplifting acts of self-denial by a trio of like-minded benefactors is tinged by sadness only when we learn that the priest's appeal to supermarkets in the surrounding area, inviting contributions, brought nothing more than two food vouchers, one for ten pounds, the other for a fiver, leading to his generous decision.
Good news is far too seldom given the publicity it surely deserves, so I applaud the editorial decision to run this Christmas tale of wishing others "A Happy Christmas!" in a practical way, even though we read it not until page 6, as against its being bannered across the front page.
Posted Saturday 17th December 2016.
I remember well the occasion although I cannot exactly place the year, perhaps in the late 1940s, when my world, that of the cheap-suited pen-pusher, steel nib and Stephens blue/black ink, was changed for ever by the arrival of a pen called Biro, audacious enough even to oust the Parker and the less expensive Conway Stewart fountain pen with its perishable rubber ink tube which sometimes signed its indelible mark on the breast pocket of the clerical jacket with still a good eighteen months wear left in it. Nowadays, the Biro, along with the millions of ten-a-penny ballpoints it spawned, all belong to the past, replaced by the portable electronic keyboard. Copperplate handwriting and the art of calligraphy with its beautiful thick downstrokes and slender upward returns; these, too, have become Collectors' Items, giving way to the gizmo by which two elongated athletic thumbs enable their owner to evade the dilemma faced in the slow train to Sittingbourne, of whether to waste time watching through the carriage window the countryside's changing seasons rolling rearwards to London Victoria, or to face the unthinkable and risk eye contact with a total stranger, the invitation
of a smile, or the dreaded life-changing "Hello" from across the coach.
Pen and ink having been indispensable in bringing bread to my table throughout a working life, their demise made me an interested reader of a book detailing how far we have progressed or, you may think, regressed since the year 1000.
The Julius Work Calendar
The wonder of survival
It was an oak tree that provided the ink, from a boil-like pimple growing out of its bark. A wasp had gnawed into the wood to lay its eggs there, and, in self-defence, the tree formed a gall round the intrusion, circular and hard-skinned like a crab apple, full of clear acid. "Encaustrum" was what they called ink in the year 1000, from the Latin caustere, "to bite," because the fluid from the galls on an oak tree literally bit into the parchment, which was flayed from the skin of lamb or calf or kid. Ink was a treacly liquid in those days. You crushed the oak galls in rainwater or vinegar, thickened it with gum arabic, then added iron salts to colour the acid.
The colouring selected by this particular scribe has lent a brownish tinge to his black ink, and the book itself is quite small, no thicker or taller than any modern hardback on the shelf. Touch its springy, still-velvety surface, and you are touching history. You can almost smell it. You are in physical contact with something that was created nearly a thousand years ago, sometime around the year 1020, probably by a cleric working in the manuscript studio at Canterbury Cathedral.
Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger (from 'The Year 1000', Little,Brown & Company, 1999)
Posted Saturday 3rd December 2016.
The Drama of a Cry
When the time comes to be born, the time also comes to suffer. For nine months our mother carried the burden and suffered for us. The nausea, the tiredness, the indisposition, the melancholy, were hers alone. But now our hour has appeared on the meridian of time, the hour to be born and suffer.
Whenever we hear people discussing labour pains, they refer of course to the mother's pain. Yet the suffering of the child is much greater. His suffering is the agony of the torture chamber, and he has done nothing to deserve it. Yet no one pays any heed, everyone's attention is focused completely on the mother, on her agitation and invocations. The child remains closed in his visceral world, and is even mistakenly considered part of the woman's body.
On the contrary, he is already a baby, the protagonist of the drama. All the others play lesser roles: the panting mother, the busy midwife, the distant and perhaps even forgotten father.
It is however a cruel and calculated performance. The leading actor remains invisible and when he finally appears on stage, the curtain has fallen and it is all over.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The cord has been cut and yet we have not cried out. Our mother stares at us, troubled, and turns even paler. She stares at the midwife who is roughly massaging our chest, but the first whimper has not yet emerged from our mute and lifeless mouth. Our mother makes an effort to sit up, and asks in her anxious, faint voice, "He's not breathing? Isn't he breathing?". The midwife takes us by the foot, dangles us head down, and spanks our bottom. We do not know how to breathe, we have never breathed, we didn't need to, there in the peace of the womb.
"Harder," shouts the mother, "Hit him harder. If he doesn't cry he'll die." "There," says the midwife, "he's done it."
Finally we take a breath. We breathe with a first cry, which is not weeping, but a shout of pain. Yet when they hear it, women smile.
The midwife cleans us, covers us and places us in our mother's arms, and in that warmth we fall asleep, after such tribulation.
Now life has changed face once again - no longer requiring strength, but love.
Piero Scanziani (from 'The Adventure of Man',Eureka Publishers of Windsor)
Posted Saturday 26th November 2016.
So, we learn to accept the spoken word 'so' as the opening word of an interviewee's answer to a first question asked him or her by a radio or television presenter, although it comes in the first instance strange to the ear accustomed to this word providing the link to an earlier utterance. Such is the lifeblood of an ever changing language which, in this case, is English and which we all must accept, if not wholeheartedly embrace. Our language is alive, vibrant. Fickle, it challenges us to keep abreast of its fashions. I, for one, welcome this mobility, yet like many of my age not well versed in computer-speak, sometimes struggle with it: which of us, on first hearing the word 'apps', can be blamed for mistaking it for 'apse'? Who but the young and active can safely negotiate the minefield of I.T. terminology: 'Bluetooth', 'Blackberry', 'hashtag', 'tablet' etc? Who is not flummoxed when first encountering the changing meanings of 'wicked', 'cool', 'mint' or the many more mutations still entering our vocabulary?
So, why do I value so highly these signs of a language being kept alive and kicking? Well, after giving some thought to this question, it seems to me that the alternative would be at best a fading, stagnating language and, whatever that language, every effort should be made to preserve it. One of my favourite poets is R.S.Thomas, a Welshman who as a child was sent by his mother to an English boarding school in order that he be educated away from Welsh to the more desirable English, leading eventually to his writing of beautiful poems in English despite his ability still to speak his native tongue. I am on the one hand so grateful that her action was to make his poems accessible for me to enjoy, but on the other hand I can't help wondering how much more beauty would have been brought to his work had it enjoyed the musicality of his own Welsh language. And how the English gain comes at the price of a Welsh loss.
Failing memory in age sometimes lets me down and at this moment of writing I regret my inability to recall where and how I first heard of the moribund Inuit language with only two speakers remaining: two brothers living miles apart in the Arctic, who only spoke their native tongue on their annual visits to each other. I find it very sad to contemplate the fate of their language on the death of either brother.
Maurice Rutherford (from 'Marshalled Musings', Shoestring Press)
Posted Saturday 19th November.
No One Is Born Alone (Extracts)
During the 280 days that we lay asleep in our mother's womb, we were not alone. While we lay in a state of lethargy, not unlike hibernation, all our ancestors, even the most distant, were hovering near by.
If we place three hundred men in a straight line one behind the other, they will take up only one half kilometre of space. But if we line our three hundred ancestors (father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and so on) up in time, they will take us all the way back to the Ice Age. Three generations take us back to the last century, [Note: this book was first published , in Italian, in 1957] six will take us back to the eve of the French Revolution, the twelfth to the times of Michelangelo, and the twenty-fourth to those of Richard the Lion Heart. The sixtieth was alive at the time of Jesus Christ, the two hundredth belonged to the Stone Age, and the three hundredth perhaps walked shivering through the antediluvian world of the Ice Age, seeking shelter in caves, hunting reindeer, fleeing from mammoths, and lighting fires. Three hundred men queued up in time behind us will take us - generation to generation - all the way back to the beginnings of mankind.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
During those 280 days, not only were our ancestors constantly present with their dominant and recessive traits, but behind them other voices could be heard which were not even human.
Not only are we related to all the human beings of the past and present, but also to all living creatures. No one is born alone. We share with apes our hands and our weeping, we share with all mammals our lips and our first memory of the maternal breast; with all vertebrates we have in common the beating of our heart, and we share with all other living creatures the feelings of fear, love, tiredness and pain.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Man is the universal heir. Every creature conceived in woman's womb must begin the adventure of the world from its very beginning.
Piero Scanziani (from 'The Adventure of Man', Eureka Publishers of Windsor)
Posted Saturday 12th November.
It must have been forty years ago that I read Edward Storey's book 'The Solitary Landscape', about his love for that area of north Cambridgeshire/south Lincolnshire which is flat and open to all the elements from horizon to far horizon, the land of his childhood. I was so impressed by a passage in which Storey records a return to his native homeland, that I typed and kept it. Here is what I recently recovered from an old file:
"...My mind went back to a day when I had been away from this landscape for a long time, and the first thing I wanted to do was to go for a long walk on the roads and paths I'd known as a child...
I walked past the church and the little bridge, past the pubs and the railway lines, out once more into the wild fens. No one else was about. The world looked more desolate than I had remembered, and the weight of rain on the trees made them heavy and motionless. When I had walked about half a mile down the road I stood and held my head back, so that the rain could fall full on my face. I stayed like that for several seconds with my eyes closed, looking up at the sky I could not see, letting the rain fall steadily over me until the water ran in little streams off my cheeks, down my neck and under my collar. My hair was soaked and I could feel the water seeping through my clothes. When I opened my mouth the rain trickled in, and I tasted the earth and the clouds, the sun and the sky, the winds and the grass that had gone into that sip of a thousand years. Slowly I forgot the smells of a city's factories and traffic, and smelt instead that lovely fresh smell of the land under rain. I heard the soft hissing sound of the leaves drinking-in the water and the earth breathing in the wet. It smelt the purest wet ever known, since ice and fire met. When I opened my eyes the low clouds and the empty fields spoke of such freedom that I began running and singing, skipping and shouting like a child on a seashore. Slugs and snails peered out from the drenched spears of grass. Rooks laughed from nearby elm trees. A moorhen took fright and panicked away down the narrow dyke. In the distance, the brickyard chimneys were lost in the low clouds. But I was so happy to be back on that patch of earth that I ran and skipped all the way back to the railway-crossing and into my home street. When I reached the house I was completely wet through, my shoes were like sponges, my jacket like a potato sack. But at least I felt clean again."
Edward Storey (from 'The Solitary Landscape')
I doubt that I could ever be so enthusiastic about getting a good drenching, but re-reading today this fine passage by a man who was also a poet, I still thrill to the sheer liberation and the joy of homecoming Storey must have experienced on that rainy day.
Posted Saturday 5th November.
A Beginning (contd.)
Life has no need for the undying love of Tristan and Isolde; it could not care less if the mother is a faithful Penelope or an incestuous Francesca. Life is unconcerned if the father is a Romeo faithful to one woman until death, or a Don Juan, lover of all women until his dying day. Life requires one encounter intense or distracted, it makes no difference.
Yet seven days later the woman, bearer of miracles, often receives a sign: a touch of nausea, a headache, or a feeling of dizziness, or an inexplicable desire to weep. Thus the struggle between mother and child begins.
After navigating for seven days in liquid waves, the embryo reaches the womb, island of eternal youth, island of time, of round and star-shaped cells, weightless, and smooth as velvet. These cells are always youthful because they are renewed every twenty-eight days, following the phases of the moon. Here on this innocent island, the pirate embryo disembarks. He installs himself there, kills thousands of cells and feeds on them. He burrows deep into a niche until he finds blood and there in his cave he remains, growing larger day by day, just like a cuckoo hatched in a stranger's nest, growing fat at the expense of the true offspring. The embryo soon becomes the tyrant of the island, where all must bow down to his desires. The mucous membrane retreats before the invader, glands are pushed back, capillaries become congested, and since the vampire requires more and more blood, the arteries and the veins become enormous and twisted in an effort to nourish the guest who has become the oppressor.
There is always a struggle between mother and child. From the moment we reached our mother's womb we began to swell with an unbridled egotism. We stirred strange new appetites in the woman who carried us. We marred her face with blotches and deformed her abdomen. We poisoned her to the point of giving her nausea and fainting spells. We imposed on her an irresistible drowsiness and an inconsolable melancholy. We frightened her with the thought of the pain we would inflict on her at the end, and we were quite ready to kill her if necessary so that we could be born and live.
When we were in our mother's womb she felt that we were not an extension of herself, rather we were someone separate from her. She felt that we had set an implacable mechanism in motion inside her which was ready to overpower and destroy her. Yet she loved us all the same.
Life which is both strength and love imperiously ordered our mother to bring forth a new human adventure. In loving us, our mother gave her consent.
Piero Scanziani (from 'The Adventure of Man', Eureka Publishers of Windsor)
Posted Saturday 29th October.
We will pick up again next week with Piero Scanziani, but for the moment I'd like to pause a while with Helen Thomas, wife and widow of today's featured poet Edward Thomas.
World Without End
My love for him never lost its passionate intensity. My letters to him were love-letters, and his home coming meant for me to be lifted into Heaven.
We cannot say why we love people. There is no reason for passionate love. But the quality in him that I most admired was his sincerity. There was never any pretence between us. All was open and true. Often he was bitter and cruel, but I could bear it because I knew all. There was nothing left for me to guess at, no lies, no falsity. All was known, all was suffered and endured; and afterwards there was no reserve in our joy. If we love deeply we must also suffer deeply: for the price for the capacity for ecstatic joy is anguish. And so it was with us to the end.
Helen Thomas (from 'World Without End', Carcanet Press)
Helen's husband Edward Thomas, having enlisted in the Artists Rifles in 1915, was killed in the Battle of
Arras in 1917. Her memoir records his leaving home for the last time, to serve in the war, the precious moments of his departure, which itself was to be final, his walking away up the road to disappear from sight over the hill, her love-call to him, "cooee"...", and his answer "cooee...cooee..." thinning as he went, to inaudibility ... to memory.
Posted on Saturday 22nd October.
Sitting, at my age, in what my elder brother Ken - may his God have validated his visa - used to call "God's Departure Lounge", it might be considered prudent to be "making arrangements" for the journey, checking my passport and so on, but the reality is that as I grow older, more and more of my time is spent looking back to where it all began for me.
In an English translation of 'The Adventure of Man', by Italian naturalist publisher Piero Scanziani, the opening chapter 'The Encounter' begins with this irrefutable and, for me, inspiriting passage, and leaves, in its closing sentence, an exemplary reminder of how I should view the whole of humanity:
'We do not know when our life began, we know only that we are alive. They once told us the date of our birth and since then we have continued to repeat it, but we remember nothing about that day, as if it never existed. Even if we push our mind back through the soot of the past, we will never reach the point where our existence began. At the most, we will find our way back to childhood, with its few, faded, misty impressions, rather like a dream. Our earliest memory (we were about two or three years old) is like an isolated splash of colour in the blackness of oblivion. This memory - so utterly remote from what we are today - would seem incredible to us, if it weren't for the testimony of childhood photographs. As we look at them, we are convinced that we once enjoyed a marvellous past, and we feel a deep nostalgia for that child whom we once were and are no longer.
Yet our existence did not begin with either that memory or that old photograph. Our existence did not even begin with the date of birth which we are always repeating. We were already alive in our mother's womb; we have existed since the moment our parents embraced. All human lives begin with an embrace and with a sudden outburst of joy.'
Piero Scanziani (from 'The Adventure of Man', Eureka Publishers of Windsor)