Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Remembrance

Gone but not forgotten. Loved always.

Cyril Edward Parker (4th January 1923 – 31st August 2016)

Grief is an odd emotion. Most of the time you carry on, you do the day-to-day, and you think, ‘It’s Ok, I’m getting along fine’ and then someone will say something, you’ll see something or even smell something, and all of a sudden you are gasping for air as the weight of grief crushes you. Happiness is weightless, but grief has the stature of giants. We are here today to celebrate the fact that the enormity of that grief is a measure of the privilege we feel for having had Cyril Edward Parker in our lives. 

‘Sometimes it’s the smallest things that take up the most room in your heart’ because it’s the small things that we remember. The knots at the four corners of the handkerchief that grandad wore on his head on the beach; the fact that I have never seen him paddle in a pair of shorts, when simply rolling up his trousers would do; tuc biscuits and shandy at the caravan; and of course the most expensive pair of wellies in the world – at 50 pence a week to my nan’s catalogue for about 30 years.

I didn’t want to speak to you today about death. I am not going to tell you that my grandad is in the wind that brushes past my face, or in the raindrops that fall. He is no more there, than he is in the coffin beside me. He is somewhere else now; he is young and free of pain and happy. What is left here are our memories of him, what he left here for us. I can see him every time I look at my daughter’s hands – I can see my grandad’s long tapering fingers and I am reminded of him. I am reminded of his dry humour, of the legacy he left all of us as a brave soldier who fought for our freedom. I am reminded of his selective hearing when my nan calls ‘Eddie, Eddie!’

So today I am going to speak to you about love. As the nation’s favourite bear once said ‘If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever’. It’s only love that matters, it’s only love that lasts, and Grandad was loved. To have the love of a beautiful woman for almost 70 years is a testament to the man that my grandad was, and my nan’s love lives on. As does ours for him. So, I want to celebrate that love today by reading a poem not about death or loss but about the enigma that is love. This is one of the most mystifying and beautiful poems, and perhaps it goes some way to describing almost 70 years of love.  

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Irene Maud Parker (26th December 1926 - 17th May 2017)

How do you tell a life? Like a Rashamon effect, each of us has a different story to tell of Irene Parker, a different viewpoint from which to tell it: mother, aunt, friend, sister, neighbour. I can only tell you mine: grandmother. A woman married for 70 years to the same man, a woman who shares her birth year with the Queen, who made the best cakes I’ve ever eaten, the thickest gravy I’ve ever seen – who could knit you just about anything. Kindness, cuddles, love – oh and tuc biscuits and shandy at the caravan. So, let’s not mourn her passing, but celebrate her life, and allow her to live through our, very different, memories of her.

In a letter to her friend, Lady Ottoline Morrell, in October 1918 Katherine Mansfield wrote:
Oh, my dearest woman friend – how vivid you are to me – how I love the thought of you; you cannot know. And it is such a “comfort” to feel that we are in the same world – not in this one. What has one to do with this one?

There is always the reassurance that this world is merely a stopover, a transitory series of moments lived and remembered; ‘I am the resurrection and the Life’ sayeth Jesus Christ. And so, we still occupy the same world as Nanny, just with a slightly different viewpoint.

In his Parable on Immortality, Henry Van Dyke describes this viewpoint:

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty and strength.  I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other.  Then someone at my side says, “There she goes.”
Gone where?  Gone from my sight…that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her.  And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There she goes”, there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
So, as we see Irene drift away from us and say ‘there she goes’, grandad sees her drifting towards him and says ‘here she comes’. We just see her from a slightly different viewpoint. Gone from our sight, but living on in us: loved and remembered.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Working Mum

“…and at the top of the fishnet stockings, I’m wearing a lacy black garter with a red bow.”
“And what else…?”
“Only a tiny, black, negligee. It’s so hot in here; I may have to take it off. My breasts are hot and sweaty…”
“Describe your breasts to me…”
Audrey leant forward over the ironing board, reached for another pair of school shorts from the pile of creased clothes. Cradling the phone on her shoulder, she continued the conversation. Sarah was right, this chatline business was easy and lucrative. Her husband didn’t need to know. It wasn’t wrong. Just talking, right?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Pain Barriers

‘Pain is your friend, darling. Breathe’.

The contractions were every two minutes. Claire was exhausted.

‘I want an epidural!’

‘Remember we discussed this. Breathe through the pain darling’.

‘Ahhhhh!’ Another contraction bit her.

‘You’re doing really well, Claire’, the midwife reassured her. ‘We’re almost there. On the next one, I want you to push.’

‘That’s it darling. No pain, no gain.’

Claire turned to her husband, raised her fist and hit him square on the nose. He yelled out in pain, blood gushing from his face.

‘Just breathe through it darling!’ Claire turned to the midwife, gripped the bedrail and pushed. 

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Contemplation of Keys to the Past

We are having decorators in this week, so this has involved a fair amount of packing away of things and a bit of sorting out. On the inside of one of the kitchen cupboards there are a lot of keys. House keys, car keys, suitcase keys, many of which we look at in dismay, desperately trying to remember what they unlock.

Keys tell a history, don't they? When you look at those keys, and try to remember which particular door or cupboard they are married to, what memories do they evoke? Keys can keep secrets like the bridge in France, littered with padlocks to lock away secrets for generations of people who traverse the walkway. I often wonder what people do with the key afterwards? Do they throw it into the river, or, frightened of the consequences of that, that final desperate letting go, perhaps they put it in a box or safe somewhere, locked, paradoxically, with another key. Does the effort of placing the lock on the bridge expunge the memory locked in the compartments of the mind? Does the keeping of the key (or indeed the disposal of it) help cathartically? We can't forcibly forget something, despite Freud's best work on the unconscious - repression is, well, unconscious. You can't choose to repress something. Because the conscious attempt at repression simply recalls the memory.

Keys remind us of our past. They place us, not just temporally, but also spatially in the past. Keys remind us not just of times we have been, but places we have inhabited. To own the key is to own a small piece of that past: to place something in a location in the corridors of the mind. Looking through the keys in the cupboard I recall the first time I placed the key in the lock, to open a new part of my life. Keys, then, signal the past but when we first take ownership of them, they signal the future. Each one of those keys in the cupboard was a move forward: and in their very existence now they hold that memory for me. Where was I going, what excitement did I feel?

The keys are tarnished and scratched; evidence of life lived. We carry keys with us where we go. They experience life with us, recording and remembering, so each one of those scratches, the veneer that is tarnished, means that I experienced life. The key records, in each of those impairments, a step forward in my life.

Would that I could hold, now, the keys of the future. In the future, I will hold the keys I carry with me now and I will wonder what they were for: what areas of my life did they unlock - for good or bad. But as long as I keep moving forward, taking the new keys and allowing them to open new realities, struggles or enlightenment, I am living.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

On a school night?

Dear Member,

Thank you for becoming a member of the 'no wine in the week' society. This contract outlines your obligations as regards no alcohol on a school night, notwithstanding subsections 4 through 9: exemptions for bank holidays, or other religious holidays, noting that members do not have to be active participants of a religious society, doctrine or organisation in order to participate in religious exemptions. This amounts to approximately 143 days per year.

I would like to draw your attention to the following further exemptions which, notwithstanding current stocks of alcoholic beverages, allow for some indulgence on the below mentioned occasions:

1. Homework: in the instruction, assistance with or carrying out of homework with or on behalf of children, one may partake of alcohol;
2. Teenage angst: anyone with children between the ages of 13 and 43 may partake of alcohol on a school night (week night for those with children over 18) for reasons of having to deal with teenage angst. One should remember on all occasions that anything that is going wrong in your teenager's life, IS your fault;
3. Teenage Monstrousness: regardless of exemption number 2, exemptions are also incurred for teenagers with challenging behaviour. This includes mood swings, contrariness, shouting, slamming of doors, de-friending you on Facebook and so on. The amount of alcohol allowed can be increased exponentially with the number of times you say 'black' and the child responds with 'white' or, indeed, 'whatever'.
4. Medicinal Uses: Any alcohol required for medicinal purposes is also permitted. This clause can be invoked for pretty much any reason you like.
5. Husbands: It is recognised that pressures on wives are exerted by husbands being, well let's face it, completely useless, and women may take advantage of this exemption clause, rather than stabbing said husband with something sharp.
6. Morons: It is equally recognised that, for the most part, we are surrounded by morons and alcohol may be partaken of if members have had to deal with moronic behaviour at least twice in a single day.
7. Parents: Despite some members having moved 3000 miles away from parents (elderly or otherwise) it is acknowledged that family issues, gossip, problems, and general annoying behaviour can cross time and space, and this clause allows for that.
8. Finally, and without prejudice to any other exemption clause contained herein, members may engage in alcoholic beverages on a school night if they can think of a reason to, or indeed, even if they can't.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you once again for becoming a member of our society. Cheers!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

First Scrapes of Summer: 1984

First Scrapes of Summer: 1984

Louise leaned over the topmost bale of straw and spat on Joe’s head. He was seated below on the dusty floor, writing in the dirt with a stick.
‘Oi’, he shouted back, jumping up from the floor and turning to stare angrily at her.
Louise rolled onto her back in the straw. The barn was stuffy and claustrophobic in the heat of the summer. ‘Oh, I’m bored!’ she exclaimed. ‘Nothing ever happens here. We might as well be at home’.
‘Well, why don’t you go back home, then’, Joe shouted back sulkily. He twiddled with the string on his cagoule, a precautionary item of clothing his mother made him carry, ‘just in case it rained’. In the dirt he was playing noughts and crosses with himself, an indication that he was as bored as Louise, but he would never have admitted it.
They were playing, as they often did, in the barn. The estate where Joe lived was still a working farm, despite its rundown appearance and the straw bales provided a place to play indoors when the unpredictability of the British summer weather caught them unawares. The bales were stacked high enough so that climbing to the top gave a view out of the windows and across the fields. The sun was making an attempt to peer through the clouds and the ensuing streaks of light caught every dust mote as it danced down to the floor: almost as if they were sat inside a snow globe. Any movement, no matter how small, sent up sparks of dust, dancing and twirling in the spotlights.
 Joe’s family had moved into a cottage in the grounds of Shelham Hall five years earlier, when Joe was just a baby. They had wanted to escape the nothingness of living on yet another housing estate. Joe was small for his age, petite even. Dark eyes and hair framed an elf like face which was given to mischievousness. He was scrawny but strong, both physically and in will power. Fiercely intelligent and constantly battling to have his say against Louise, who was five years older, he was always on the lookout for ways of getting one over on her.
Louise and her sister, Sarah, were ‘townies’ as Joe called them, hailing from a large industrial town in the Midlands. During the summer holidays they always came to stay on ‘the estate’, as they referred to it, and spent most of their stay moaning about the lack of opportunities to get into trouble. Secretly, they loved every minute of it. Not a backwards glance was made to friends left behind for the summer, as the urge to don a pair of dungarees and wellies, and run about the woods pretending to be pirates or detectives, took hold.
Louise was thirteen going on 23 and definitely the head of the gang. Tall, skinny and freckly, she lacked the smoothed skinned beauty of her sister, Sarah, but made up for it in shrewd cunning and ingenious creativity when it came to getting into trouble. Ever searching for an outlet for her energies, Louise liked to be kept busy. She now looked around her at the straw and sighed. Yellow: she didn’t like yellow. Neither the colour nor anything that smelled yellow: Vanilla ice-cream, the washing up liquid that her mum used, the soap in the dispenser at school. The thought of it added to the tediousness of the afternoon and she yawned. ‘We could go and spy on Mrs Eakin’, she suggested to the others.
Mrs Eakin lived in one of the coach houses. Once used to house the family carriages, the coach houses, now converted into flats, provided a meagre income for the crumbling hall. A widow of some years, Mrs Eakin was somewhat of a busybody. If there was ever anything going on she was the first to know, and the first to tell. It was rumoured that during the Second World War she had been part of a covert team that undertook top secret activities, or so the children liked to believe.  One of their favourite games was to pretend that they were part of her operation: a mission of some sort to sneak about the woods and grounds of the estate in search of some vital clue that led to a full scale police investigation, in which they could play a major role. Louise had been reading far too much Enid Blyton, an activity she could never admit to her friends back home. The innocence of the narratives and the ordinariness that the protagonists enjoyed in their relationships with friends and family was enviable. Louise’s family life was far from ordinary: more along the lines of Adrian Mole than the Famous Five. Despite her unfailing grumpiness and her sharp manner with the children, Mrs Eakin loved having them around and, more often than not, just happened to have a cake in the pantry whenever the children dropped by. She had never had children of her own and so had no grandchildren to spoil and fuss over in the summer holidays. During term time, she volunteered in the library at the local primary school and inevitably, summer days were long and tedious. There was a nephew who visited occasionally, who found the children as irritating and meddlesome as they found him suspicious. Louise and Joe were convinced that he was after Mrs Eakin’s money, and they kept careful watch on his movements, mentally noting his every utterance in the hope that in that fateful police investigation, that they knew would come one day, they would be ready with the kind of insightful and crucial contribution they were convinced they had already noted or heard.
Sarah sat a few feet away from Joe, cross-legged on a bale of straw. She was only a little taller than Joe, being two years older, with poker straight hair that Louise had envied since the day she was born. Louise’s untameable mane of eccentric curls always made her look like a street urchin standing next to Sarah’s catwalk coiffure. Louise would spend hours with hair dryer and diffuser, mousse and hairspray, trying to get some semblance of order to her curls whilst Sarah woke up, shook her head and was ready to face the day. Sarah listened to the tittle tattle between her sister and Joe, as usual contributing nothing and instead preferring to continue doodling and sketching in her notebook. She was a silent creature: listening and absorbing but saying little. Occasionally, when she did speak, it would always be to add something so vital or so extraordinary that the other two would be stunned into silence. It would be the end to a disagreement or a suggestion that meant, at last, they had a purpose and would go about their day as if boredom had never occurred to them, and all the while they had simply been awaiting the right moment to undertake whatever activity had been suggested. ‘Mrs Eakin’s nephew’s here, apparently. And Scott and Susan at the hall,’ Sarah said softly. Scott and Susan were nephew and niece to the owners of Shelham Hall, the Cartsons, and like Louise and Sarah, only visited in the summer. Scott was a year older than Louise and so it was inevitable that Louise’s admiration for him was in direct proportion to his indifference to her. He was tall and athletic and always arrived at the hall with a set of golf clubs so that he could walk out to the farthest of the fields and spend the day practicing his swing. Louise had tried to become interested in golf and had even taken a book out of the library, much to her mother’s puzzlement, in an effort to engage Scott in a mature and meaningful conversation about this ancient and very adult pastime. It was of course, to no avail. Spotty school girls were not his type, apparently. As another opportunity to get close to Scott, Louise had cultivated a friendship with Susan, finding that in actual fact they had a lot in common and enjoyed each other’s company.
‘How do you know that they are here?’ Louise asked, indignant that she had not been the bearer of such important news. Sarah, without looking up from her sketching simply replied, ‘Saw the car on the driveway as we walked down to the barn earlier’.
Now she mentions it’, barked Louise crossly. The thought that they had spent the morning lounging in the barn when they could have been splashing around in the Hall’s outdoor swimming pool was beyond irritating. They were only allowed to go in the swimming pool when Scott and Sarah visited. Christine, Joe’s mum, had asked them not to go pestering the Cartsons about using the pool at any other time. The pool was a remnant of times more prosperous and was tired and dilapidated to say the least, and the water was usually freezing, but nevertheless, it made for an entertaining couple of hours.
‘Shall we go up to the hall then? asked Louise, trying not to sound too eager.
‘HE won’t be at the pool. He’ll be playing golf with his Uncle’, Joe contributed, smirking.
‘I was going to spend some time with Susan, actually’, she retorted.
‘Course you were’. Spat back Joe, laughing. ‘Louise fancies Scott, Louise fancies Scott’, he sang, laughing.
Louise took off one of her trainers and threw it down at Joe, catching him on his back as he tried to jump out of the way. ‘Oi!’ he shouted. Joe retaliated by taking off one of his wellies and threw it upwards towards Louise. It flew straight past her, over the top of the bales, fell down the other side, and landed on the floor wedged between the wall and the bottom bales of straw.
‘Ha, well that’s your next job then. You can spend the afternoon trying to get that back’. She jumped down the bales and was out of the door before Joe had chance to think of a defensive repost.
Louise knew that Joe would go straight to his mum and she would be in for it when she got home later, but she didn’t care. She dusted down her clothes, ran her fingers through her hair and stormed off in the direction of the hall.