Thursday, 5 November 2015

If ye break faith with us who die...

In Flanders Field the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

There is always debate at this time about the poppy and whether it should or shouldn't be worn, whether it glorifies war or is purely an act of remembrance. As with everything that endures over a long time, its meaning can become muddled and incongruous-usually because we have lost the meaning or because we anachronistically place our own flawed interpretation onto it. It has become a political instrument though it was never meant to be and I am a little irked by its detractors.

I am not one of those who dogmatically insists that everyone should wear a poppy, not would I insult or criticize you whether you did or did not! Neither would I post one of those passive/aggressive Facebook declarations which threatens and vilifies for either wearing or not wearing a poppy. To me the essence of the poppy is about choice- when it first began a huge majority of the population was proud to wear one-mainly because they all knew or had lost someone in the terrible war. As time moves on the remembrance is more distant and perhaps more collective, but certainly in my own case I remember the young men in the family (great uncles) who had no chance to live their lives as I have done. I like the poppy for its simplicity, for its symbolism. I don't see it as jingoistic or political and I certainly can't associate it with racism.If it is perceived as such-then the fault lies with those who have tried to use the poppy to promote a right wing nationalistic interpretation-not the poppy itself.

I refuse to abandon it or wear a "white" poppy on the strength of this. The whole point of the poppy is that it is red-to symbolise the blood spent for our freedom. The white apologist poppy is almost an insult-what's the point? Nothing is more poignant than the silent fluttering of the thousands of poppies falling from the ceiling of the Albert Hall at the end of the Remembrance ceremony. Each one representing the fallen-yours and mine... and even the apologists. It has nothing to do with glorification and sentimentality, it has to do with humanity and loss... and remembrance. So, although I would never wish to inflict my choice upon you... please don't try and denigrate mine and many others who are still proud to wear the poppy, in thanks for those long past and in the hope that by remembering we might one day stop the bloodshed and aggression in the world. We have not yet learnt from our mistakes, but if we extinguish remembrance, because it is not always presented in the way we would like then we have lost an important lesson. 

So I will wear my poppy and will not be made to feel guilty because it might represent something it isn't meant to! Flanders Fields by Canadian McCrae is poignant, because he was there. He died of meningitis and pneumonia at the Canadian Hospital in Boulogne-a less obvious casualty of war and buried at Wimereaux Cemetery. He experienced the worst of the war but he believed he was making a difference and believed in what he was doing-as most men at the front did. Who are we a hundred years later to criticise and denigrate the beliefs of a man who was proud to sacrifice his life-not just for his country but for the "Empire"? To do so is not only anachronistic but also a little insulting. We might not hold those views now-but we have no right to manipulate them into a time when things were very different.

"If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields."

In the same cemetery lies my great uncle John Wilkinson-one of three uncles who died. He was rejected at the start of the war due to poor eye-sight, but was recalled in 1917 when men were needed to replenish the human cannon fodder. I am sure he went with the same beliefs as McCrae-I am also sure they must have questioned why they were there, but that is part of the tragedy of war-which is probably as true today as it was then. The poppy still stands for those men and as simple as it is I think it does its job admirably.

In Flander's Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

This is a party political broadcast on behalf of ... the confused!

I say I am not political. However, I am political. Political with a small p -in a more holistic way-not in a red/blue or yellow way...political in a human way. As long as I remember politics has been discussed in my environment-as a child at the tea table, at my Nannies, at my Grandma and Granddad's, through the news on TV and in any gathering of more than two or three. So you might think I would have a distinctive political leaning. Well you would be wrong.

My politics has veered left to right, right to left through the years, cherry picking certain elements, admiring certain political strengths but never coming down wholly on one side or another-mainly because I have a distinct aptitude for seeing value in many opinions and being persuadable. In fact I have reached a point where I don't think there is a party to represent me totally.

Today, has brought this into sharp relief. I have to declare I have found what Jeremy Corbyn has had to say quite refreshing. He appears to be honest, steadfast and genuine-time will tell I suppose and some of what he says convinces me. Obviously, there are bits that I have problems with-mainly due to personal circumstances-son and husband working in the nuclear industry, my town reliant on the success of Trident... but his stance on the NHS, housing and refugees resonate well! 

Then I think back. My brief flirtation with Thatcher (ok ok  I know-I grew out of it) but again-circumstance defined some of that too- a GLC mortgage-when we were struggling to get a house in London, the feeling in the early days that if you work hard you are rewarded. Then Maggie lost it totally and became a raging dictator...

I remember the feeling of euphoria when Blair and new Labour emerged from the ashes of old Labour! The sort of politics that seemed all encompassing-a genuine guy and all that! Then Blair lost it totally and became a raging dictator and got us into an illegal war-well we know what that led to...

So middle of the road it was. Lib Dem -a bit loosey goosey and less extreme than the other two.Well that turned out well! An alliance from hell with the Tories-and this lot more about elitism than ever-no room for social mobility and removal of much of the public service built up in the halcyon days of Labour.

So look to family, friends and acquaintances. I have a schism in my family-one half rabid red -t'other bright blue! So no help there! Friends-a spectrum of colour! On the red team- I have to say-united in hatred of Thatcher and all things Tory-but shades of red from cerise to pink! This highlighted even more with the Corbyn issue-I have friends I would previously have marked as just socialists... now? Well hard to say what to call them-disagreeing as vehemently with each other as if they were on different sides. Blue team-Tories more united and gloating over the Corbyn emergence and believing everything the Murdoch press tells them. 

I don't think I am a stupid person-but I am confused! I believe British politics is in a mess and the electorate are fed up with disingenuous politicians who only seem to be concerned with image and self-promotion. I know this is not all politicians-but the public do tend to tar all with the same brush! I think this is why Corbyn is appealing to so many-he has, on record stuck to his guns for 40 odd years. We might not like what he says and we might fear the effect he will have-but what you see is what you get! Its that and his traditional views on housing, education and the NHS which are impressive-he actually does believe in fairness and equality. I don't know if he's good or bad for the country. He is in opposition now and I don't know whether he will lead Labour to victory. But at the very least he has promoted a massive debate and I believe he could be exactly the catalyst we need to kick start politics again and throw off the shackles of this elitist, unsympathetic, feudal Tory government. Surely anyone who can promote this level of debate and rock the foundations of a political system which has become unreliable and untrustworthy must be for the public good.

So, come voting day-what type of party do I want to vote for? One that values people, all kinds, all creeds, colours and persuasions. One that cares for the old, the young, the sick, the disabled, the homeless, the weak, the vulnerable... one that watches the pennies and spends on the right things and values public service. One that invests in children and education-but allows professionals space and doesn't quantify success with league tables, one that pays nurses and doctors properly and doesn't stop people's drugs because they are too short a party that cares. It remains to be seen if JC is the new messiah! One can hope-or dream...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Unexpected adventures

Don't you just love spontaneity? I do! Today after a good walk to Bosun's Locker for lunch a friend and I noticed the ferry boat for Piel Island was in-we suddenly decided to go for it! Boat rides are always exciting and we were giddy as a couple of school girls (well quite mature school girls it has to be said). We alighted on the jetty at the island and proceeded to explore the medieval castle! It was just as I remembered it-it must be 20 years since I last went! Obviously, those familiar with Out of Time Secret of the Swan know that George and Sid visit the island too. So it was great fun locating where the action occurred!
Ferry to the Pile of Fouldray

                                                                                                             We found where I had located the oubliette! Even though I knew there was no such item-I couldn't help but look for it! We wandered for some time and reflected what a great place to take children to! The ferry was a fiver return and you had from 11am till 5pm to return! The beaches and the castle make it a rich adventure for any child-add a picnic or bar meal from the pub and you have a fine day out! Entry to the castle is free courtesy of English Heritage                                                                                   
Gate house
The outer ward

 Anyway... back to our explorations... suddenly we came upon the stone below! I had never seen this before and a shudder of deja vu or something prickled my neck! It said Aug 193? The final figure looked to be either a 4 or a 9! For my purposes it has to be 1934... the exact year George and Sid explored! How weird -reality mimicking fiction-or is it the other way around? 

I think George and Sid might have more adventures after today-after all its too good not to follow up isn't it?
The Keep

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

We're all going to the zoo...

Another trip out was to the South Lakes Animal Park at Dalton. I am not a lover of zoos but this one has its conservation message and breeding programmes so as the young man we were trying to entertain wanted to go we gave it a whirl. Ignoring the annoyance of parking at the now defunct entrance and then having to find the new one, parking was quite extensive. It was quite a trek for anyone with mobility issues however... or pushing a buggy as we were.
We had a long wait in very hot sunshine but when we arrived at the cash desk we could buy a variety of options. We chose the cheapest-which allowed free entry for the boys. It cost £31 for two adults-we declined the offer of paying to feed the animals. One of the things we chose the zoo for was because Baby Jonah likes trains. We located this and found we had another payment of £1 each to pay. It was irritating again as I queued in a long line-by which time we also wanted ice cream-only to be told this kiosk didn't take cards and I would need to queue again! So we didn't bother and just got the tickets.

We saw lots of animals and the most popular part was the open safari trail. It was exciting for the children and terrifying for the granny and auntie to see emus and lemurs in close proximity. 
Some of the animals were easier to see than others and I don't think the heat helped with the smell. My personal impression was that there were lots of good ideas but it has an unfinished and slightly grubby feel to it. I know there is major reconstruction going on but some attention needs to be given to the general tidiness and appearance. However, as a family-if you purchase the best option and hold out against the gift shop, ice creams and extras it could be a cost effective day out. There is plenty to do-places to eat a picnic, a new adventure playground and the different animal experiences -all in all a good day.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Further adventures

Well nobody can say we don't get out and about! We had another couple of trips in lovely sunny weather this week.
We decided to take Great Grandma with us and this meant we had to look for somewhere with easier access whilst balancing with the needs of a young child! We had a delightful lunch at The Swan Hotel at Newby Bridge, al fresco as it turned out-very hot and sunny. We had sandwiches, drinks and a child's meal, spending around £40 for four of us-average I would say for a Lake district hotel. 

We sat beside the lake under the trees, with space for the six year old to wander and play. There was also a small adventure trail for children which is a good distraction whilst waiting for food to arrive (it was very busy). The wasps were a nuisance around the tables and it might be an idea to put out some citronella candles to ward them off. Otherwise a very pleasant repast in beautiful surroundings.


We then moved on to the more child centred activity of Fell Foot which is a National Trust property. Access was fairly easy although parking was tight due to the vast numbers of visitors. 

Parking for non NT members is free but the cost is reasonable anyway. The grounds are beautiful and give open access to Lake Windermere which is a magnet for all children in hot weather. It is perfect for a picnic and you can easily spend the whole day there. The shop has the usual array of goods-high on the agenda drinks and ice-creams and the Boathouse cafe has delicious refreshments to sample indoors or out. A day here could be as cheap as you can make it-if you take a picnic you don't need to venture to the cafe and shop. Other activities include rowing and the ferry to Lakeside. A grand day out for any family.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Holiday adventures

As a Grandma it's quite hard trying to make the school holidays fun. So I have been trying to get out and about with Noah- but couldn't help noticing how expensive things can be. This made me think that collecting a few really good activities together in my blog might useful to other Grans and hard pressed parents too. So I am going to post some visits and let you know what they are like and whether they are value for money over the next few weeks:

Obviously, I will begin with Furness Abbey-an often forgotten little place-but one familiar to anyone who reads this blog. 
It is a fantastic place which can take up a few hours for any family.
The Infirmary
It costs £4.20 for adults with concessions for seniors,children (U5s free) and local residents. Once inside there are extensive open grounds and ruins. It provides an adventure for curious children and is great for hide and seek (no climbing on the ruins though). There are picnic tables, toilets and hot and cold drinks available in the shop, which is well stocked with all kinds of things for both adults and children alike.
Of course as well as the shop there is a splendid little museum housing      a range of interesting artefacts including the amazing Abbot's crosier and ring found in 2010. Take a picnic and you can spend the day there and tire your little ones out too!
The abbot's crosier (courtesy of English Heritage)

Today we went to another English Heritage property-Stott Park Bobbin Mill. This little gem is accessible from the Newby Bridge turning to Lakeside. It was fascinating and held the attention of our six year old. Again a fab day! We went on Bob's trail and won a small prize for collecting the letters and then we were fascinated by the tour of the mill! Lots to see! Again a shop and refreshments available and lots of picnic tables in a beautiful setting. After out picnic we went a walk to the top of the hill to discover the lovely High Dam! It was gorgeous trekking through the woods and looking at the flowers, trees and wildlife and the view at the top was breathtaking! Noah especially loved the echo he produced at the top! All this for a mere £6.80 per adult and £4 for children-again concessions and family tickets apply.

More later....

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Dissolution and disillusion

I have actually been doing some research this last couple of weeks-in between my new job at Furness Abbey, winding up the TA training business and grandma duties! The only trouble is-it does distract me from the actual task of writing. Procrastination is the thief of time as they say-but when is dressed up in dusty tomes and interesting historical research it almost feels justified. I have been itching to write for weeks but just can't get on with it. I wrote 30 lines the other night and thought I had done well.

However, back to the research... I have been looking into monastic issues-partly because I was putting together a mini project for a school. I was uncovering the usual stuff and confirming; my image of the "monk" is mixed-I want to think that "our" Furness Abbey monks were a devout, caring and sincere lot... well they would be wouldn't they? Yes, I know about the abuses of the church, sale of indulgences and pardons-after all I did do Chaucer at uni... But not our lot! Not in Furness?
This Guest house has sheep in it!

So, it has been illuminating reading about what they actually DID get up to! When I take folk on a tour of the abbey, we start in the Outer Court, near to the Guest house and post monastic stables. "Here," I always say, "Is a safe haven for travellers. Travel was hard and dangerous in the middle ages and in monastic and religious houses people could be assured a safe bed, food and prayer-sort of a medieval Travelodge." So I was stunned to discover the record (first seen on Rievalux abbey Facebook page) of a fight which broke out at Furness between the monks and travellers. This resulted in three travellers being stabbed! So not quite a Travelodge then?

Of course I knew all about the "murder" at the abbey-I even included it in my last book, "The Cistercian Conspiracy". Three discontented monks decided to oust poor Abbot "L" or "T" depending on which interpretation you read. They bumped him off with deadly nightshade in the communion wine-and then disappeared! In the church, with the nightshade... sort of a Monastic Cluedo.
Courtesy of English Heritage

Then there was Abbot Alexander Banke! A truly nasty piece of work. He evicted the villagers of Sellergarth, destroyed their homes so that he could extend the Parkland-for more sheep and hunting! His monks voted him out at one point but he managed to force his way back in again. I sincerely hope he does not turn out to be the abbot who was found avec crosier in the presbytery. He would be arrogant enough to want to be buried so close to the altar-but I'm hoping it isn't him! 

Then, reading about the dissolution in terms of the abbey, I discover that Roger Pele the final abbot-turns out to have given in pretty quickly and handed over the keys after a little persuasion from Thomas Holcroft -the King's officer. He also managed to gain a pension and the living at Dalton church!

So maybe old Henry was right to turf them all out? Maybe life in the cloister was as corrupt as outside? 
Looking towards the presbytery