Sunday, 30 December 2018

I Sit Near Helena Bonham Carter

Taking inspiration from the recent observation that I am neat (I Welcome A Review),  I have been unpacking the rest of what I moved from my old house, and organising it. The stuff has sat in bags, plastic boxes and bin liners for over two years, awaiting these last few rare days in which a space of unallocated time has coincided with a bout of energy.

Amongst the possessions which have followed me around since childhood are two black and white school photographs from 1974 and 1979. Once every 5 years, the entire school population - junior and  senior schools - assembled on the netball court. Benches were dragged out from the gym, chairs lined up for the teachers to sit on and some sort of photographic scaffolding erected so that all of us (around 700, I think) could stand or sit whilst the cameraman took 2 shots on a rolling camera.

The photograph my parents chose to buy came unframed, rolled up and secured with elastic bands. My father recommended that I write a list of the names of everyone I knew on the back, in case I forgot, but instead I drew a biro ring around my friend Rachel.

Forty-four years later, I can remember the names of all the girls in my class. I'm sitting next to Hope, who is sitting next to Deborah, who is sitting next to Sian, who is sitting next to Clare who is sitting next to Vicky who is sitting next to Rachel.

I wasn't sitting next to Rachel in 1974 because I was taller than her, and we were arranged in height order. I can confirm that I was the tallest in the class because I can't quite be sure of the name of the girl on the other side of me, as she was in the year above. In this section of the photo, all you can see is a strand of her hair. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure she was called Amanda.

There's no problem identifying the girl in the year below, sat in the middle of the front row, cross-legged and sitting up straight. She, like me, had a fringe and she also appears in the photo from 1979.

We've been sitting close to each other, Helena Bonham Carter and I, in this photo for years, though by the looks of it, those of us in the second row might have been kneeling for most of that time, as we look rather uncomfortable.

Whenever I've moved home and come across it, I've unrolled the photo and studied it, before putting it away again. It's time, I think, that I got it framed.  

Thursday, 27 December 2018

I Welcome A Review

A good review is validation - it says, all your hard work was worth it, it demonstrates that you've been understood - heard.

 In this world where so much competes for the attention of our audiences, a positive review is evidence of the fact that someone has taken a moment out of the hurly burly, and the rough and tumble to give attention to my labours - it's a recognition, person-to-person.  It the communication of appreciation of the essence of one's being. 

So when I turned on my computer this morning, and read a positive review, my spirits lifted. Usually, for the sake of modesty, I prefer the good news to filter through, and maybe to reach social media via someone else, but hey, what the heck, it's Christmas! - so here goes:

"Amazing guest! Very punctual neat and friendly It would be my pleasure to host them again  :)"

Steven. airbnb host, Antwerp

 All those years reaching into my soul and working at my housework techniques have at last paid off. I’m off to hire a carpet cleaner to celebrate.

Friday, 21 December 2018

I Am Grateful

Yesterday, I visited Ypres in Belgium. I was travelling back from Antwerp with my sons, and Ypres was only a little out of our way to Calais, the Eurotunnel and home. Each time I make this journey - and I have made it four times in the past eighteen months - I cross over what was the Western Front, the main theatre of battle in the First World War.

It's a flat landscape - unremarkable in many ways - and on a wet December day it was easy to imagine the mud and the cold of winters spent dug in to trenches a hundred years ago.

There was something about duty in this visit - something about my sense that showing my sons this part of history is part of my parental role. When I was a child, this was history I could almost touch, hear and see: in the hand of my Grandfather, who served in the Canadian Air Force; in the Remembrance Day clank of the medals of 'Pop' Gayford - the verger at my father's church; and in the rolled up trouser leg of the man I saw on my walk to school each morning who (my mother explained to me) had had his leg blown off by a shell.

After Ypres (which you must go to if you haven't yet) we stopped off at the Hooge Crater Cemetery. I parked the car at the side of the road and we walked back towards the cemetery gates. The wind had picked up, blowing the rain into our faces. We walked through the iron gates. There was no one else there.

The first of the white graves read: 'Four Soldiers of the Great War'. The one next to it, Five. Those numbers struck a deep note of sorrow. Earlier we'd read names on the Menin Gate, discovered namesakes, wondered at the sheer scale of the monument. But these nameless graves - Four and Five - what those numbers represent, what they must mean ...  this and something about the beauty of the white stone and the careful placing of the graves, the diligence with which they are kept - these things brought tears to my eyes.

I went back to the car to get my camera and coming back, saw my sons silhouetted at the bottom of the cemetery, so alive, so full of hope and energy, and coming home for Christmas.