"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Friday 6 June 2014

From D-Day to Peace/ the stories of the two Harrys

We should all honour all those of all nations who fought and died on D- Day. But we should also remember all the combatants AND civilians from all nations who have fought, died and been affected by any conflicts before and since. And the best way to honour them is by ensuring that no-one suffers in this way ever again. We should all work for world peace.

No, it is not easy. But if we all start in a small way, join together and teach our children that peace is the way and aggression is wrong - we will get there one day. To those who scoff at my avowed Pacifism I can only say if everyone did the same as I and all my fellow pacifists - who would have fired the cannons, who would now shoot the guns or drop the bombs? The many thousands amongst whom I marched on the Stop the War marches in the 2000s, numbers that were repeated world wide showed the willingness to try to solve problems without warfare.

A comment that has stuck in my mind for so many years was made by a soldier who fought in the First World War in a TV programe which I watched about thirty years ago. Before that war, he had been a trade unionist and he said that he and his fellow trade unionists had never believed that such a war would happen because working men from one country would never take arms agains working men from another country. Sadly that proved not to be true and the speaker found himself fighting against men exactly like himself, just born in a different country and speaking a different language who were carrying out the consequences of their leaders failure to agree. There are so many books and TV programmes about the causes of the First World War available in this one hundredth anniversary year, yet how many fighting under any flag duing 1914 - 1918 really understood the breakdown of the causes: the house of cards that fell due to the intricate alliances between countries that meant that more and more were 'sucked' into the conflagration that gradually was named 'The Great War' and after 1945 'The First World War'?

Two Harrys who served in World War One should be consulted on their feelings about the effect of wars and their aftermath to both soldiers and civilians : 

The first Harry is Harry Patch who died in 2011- often referred to as the 'last fighting Tommy' because he lived until he was 111 and was the last man alive to have fought in the trenches. Here is a quote from him:

"When the war ended, I don't know if I was more relieved that we'd won or that I didn't have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle – thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany's only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We've had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it's a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn't speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?"  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Patch 
There is a book available written by Harry Patch, The Last Fighting Tommy

The next Harry is: Harry Leslie Smith - who is aged ninety one. He is a veteran of the second world war, when he was a fighter pilot. His latest book: 

Harry's Last Stand: How the world my generation built is falling down, and what we can do to save it  looks at the world he and others believed they fought the war to achieve and how it is being eroded by present day politicians like Nigel Farage and the coalition government. A quote from this Harry:

‘As one of the last remaining survivors of the Great Depression and the Second World War, I will not go gently into that good night. I want to tell you what the world looks like through my eyes, so that you can help change it…’

 [I will not go gently into that good night is a reference to the Dylan Thomas poem Do not go gentle into that Good Night*. Very apt as it is Thomas' centenary this year too]

Lastly two quotes from the Old and New Testaments. It doesn't matter what religion or none one holds, the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes are pretty good guides for life, I always think!

Thou shalt not kill                      6th Commandment, Exodus 20:13

Blessed are the Peacemakers      Matthew 5:9

and one from Albert Einstein

Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding

A few ideas for us all!


Monday 2 June 2014

The place where I live/the joy of communities

For Edna

A friend posed the question on social media, to make all of us 'correspondents' less anonymous to one and other, to describe the place where we live. I sent my little contribution, but being known for 'inane rambling' [I loved the insult that was levelled at me some time ago so much that I can't help using it as a good descriptive tag] found that I wanted to expand upon where I live and where I have lived. So read on...

I live on the Essex side of the Thames Estuary, just about where Compeyson was drowned by Magwitch if anyone is a 'Great Expectations' fan and not far from the spot where the boat is moored in the opening scene in 'The Heart of Darkness' [can you tell I used to teach English Lit?] I was born further upriver and have nearly always lived within sight of water although ironically I am scared about actually being *in* water! Probably because I am a Leo birth sign [Fire!] 

The town on the Thames Estuary where I spent my first ten years was in a part of Essex which is now included within the London Boroughs 'system'. The community then meant the children could play in the street with so few cars and someone always watching, we and our Mums all walked to school together. There were not too many 'fridges and no freezers in our homes so when we went on holiday our Mums would leave a shopping list with the next door neighbour who would get in the shopping which would greet us on the kitchen table on the day when we arrived home. When anyone fell ill all the usual 'help' was employed if there were no family back up: shopping, taking little ones to school etc etc. Those lucky enough to have a telephone would take messages for those without 'phones.

The Hippy communities of the 1960s/1970s thought the world could be changed with peace and love. Some of us still feel that way, although some of us also feel that we have to be more politically pro active at the same time and demonstrate [peacefully but vocally!] against what we perceive to be the injustices and prejudices of many government policies. Sadly this Coalition Government has given us too many reasons to become vocal, many of which I have 'celebrated' in these pages.

'Here' is a nice enough place to live, good neighbours and a strong feeling of community. We came here for a while and have stayed 36 years so far. We have grown old[er] alongside many of our neighbours, having walked our children to school together and now swapping pictures of our grandchildren and going to each others' retirement parties. We no longer need our neighbours to get our shopping in when we return from our holidays but any other 'help' is always on hand. I have picked up from the floor the lovely nonagerian opposite several times and waited until either the ambulance or her family arrived; her ninety six year old next door neighbour offered to get her shopping after one of her falls; another neighbour often welds up bits of yet another construction Other Half has made; someone knocked on our door last night to see if we could print something as his printer wouldn't!; online shopping now means that we all take in parcels for one and other rather than actually go to the shops for one and other! Last week, knowing our next door neighbours were on holiday, Other Half nearly choked on his dinner [not due to my cooking this time] because he saw someone entering their house. He hadn't realised they had arrived home and was thus relieved he didn't have to confront anyone....

I also spend quite a lot of the year in West Somerset, again within sight of water, this time the Bristol Channel, amongst another community of friends and family. This community has grown from mutual interests and again, without realising it. We all help one and other out, swapping clothes for growing children, knitting for one and other and bringing items spotted for others' strange hobbies! We look across to the 'land of my fathers' both figuratively and literally. My father was born in S.Wales and if one takes a hike out of his birth village and stands high up on the Bwlch [mountain] above the village one can look across the Bristol Channel from there toward the West Somerset coast. So sometimes at night when I look over to Wales and see the lights twinkling I imagine that some of those lights are on cars going down the road to 'our' village. Obviously that is a stretch of the imagination... But from the stories my father would tell about his life in that village before coming to England, there was always a strong sense of family and community to which I loved to listen.

Other Half and I and our older children briefly lived in what was then the 'Temporary Capital of W.Germany': Bonn, and again very near water - the River Rhine. A beautiful part of the world and the only time and place in the 1970s when we did not have any money worries! But despite that and the wonderful friends we had in the wider area, it was never 'home' for lots of reasons - we knew we would be moving on and there was no sense of community in the immediate vicinity. We would wish our next door neighbours 'Guten tag' and that was it.

Reading back through this post, I realise that the strongest part of the memories of places where I have lived is mixed with the sense of community. All these communities were formed long before David Cameron 'floated' the idea of the 'Big Society'. And these communities have existed for hundreds of years wherever peoples have lived in close proximity to one and other: in Welsh mining villages, on estates of houses whether privately owned or rented.

So what has made me write so passionately about all these various communities? Well this weekend would have been the birthdays of various of my immediate ancestors. And it has been on mind how much they relied upon one and other and their friends to get themselves through the bad days of two world wars and the depression, by sharing everything - good and bad. And how, if the 'Bedroom Tax' had existed then communities would have been shattered when the elderly would have had to move away. Those elderly who looked after their grandchildren whilst their mother's worked to supplement family income, and cooked the meals that sustained that family. And how Austerity was the way that so many lived all the time - and how so many joined Trade Unions and left wing Political parties to allieviate the suffering and ensure their children and grandchildren would lead better lives. And how communities in S.Wales and the North of England 'sponsored' with food, boots, the little money they could spare and communities en route to Westminster 'donated' bed space to the Hunger Marchers like my father who felt they had to march to show the uncaring MPs in Parliament what it was like to be unemployed.

And I wonder about the world that my grandchildren will inherit. Will it be the one that my parents and grandparents fought for? Will it be the world that we thought possible in the 1960s? Or will it be the world that this Government and the thoughts of UKIP seem likely to impose? I sincerely hope it is the former and not the latter.

The photograph above shows the mining village in South Wales where my father was born and good eyesight and a magnifying glass shows the house where he was born and the houses where many of our family lived and still live.