Thursday saw The Whittlesey Wordsmith’s first virtual meeting via Zoom. Stephen Oliver kindly hosted the meeting Cathy Cade did much of the organising thank you very much Cathy and Stephen.
Considering it was our writing group’s first attempt, as slightly older members of society, it went remarkably well. A few members were too unsure of their technical skills to try it. Gwen had problems seeing us and being seen, Sandra had synchronisation problems with her device or signal. Six of us started the meeting, five managed it right through.
The meeting followed its usual form in cyber space as it does in real life, plenty of wondering off topic and anecdotes but as usual an interesting conversation. Jane found it easier as she was able to see everyone’s faces and could lip read more easily.
It is was not as good as a real life meeting but it was nice to chat to friends and see their faces. Hopefully we can address the technical issues before next month, if we need to have another virtual meeting.
As an excercise our U3A writing group members each wrote a short piece about their favourite poems and included the poem or poems in the piece. Over the following months we will be publishing the contributions on this blog.
The first piece in this series is by Val Fish, it seems a strange time of the year to use this example but we are approaching spring, a time of renewal, new growth and the hope for better things. We can only have spring after winter the sun can only rise after it has gone down.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
Inspiration for ‘For The Fallen’
Laurence Binyon composed his best known poem while sitting on the cliff-top looking out to sea from the dramatic scenery of the north Cornish coastline. A plaque marks the location at Pentire Point, north of Polzeath. However, there is also a small plaque on the East Cliff north of Portreath, further south on the same north Cornwall coast, which also claims to be the place where the poem was written.
The poem was written in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. During these weeks the British Expeditionary Force had suffered casualties following its first encounter with the Imperial German Army at the Battle of Mons on 23 August, its rearguard action during the retreat from Mons in late August and the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August, and its participation with the French Army in holding up the Imperial German Army at the First Battle of the Marne between 5 and 9 September 1914.
Laurence said in 1939 that the four lines of the fourth stanza came to him first. These words of the fourth stanza have become especially familiar and famous, having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an Exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen Servicemen and women.
Laurence Binyon was too old to enlist in the military forces, but he went to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly in 1916. He lost several close friends and his brother-in-law in the war.
For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Laurence Binyon 1869 – 1943
I was privileged to perform on the stage at The Broadway Peterborough in 2014, in the ‘Sing for Life’ ladies’ choir, to raise funds for a new wing at Sue Ryder’s Thorpe Hall Hospice.
On the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, we sang an adaptation of ‘For The Fallen’ by Rowland Lee.
In the final few bars, we were as stunned as the audience as poppies came falling from above onto the stage. It was a moment I’ll always treasure.
This is a slightly less than enthusiastic review by Jan following a weekend away in Norfolk.
My husband Bill and I escaped to Norfolk for a short break in autumn last year. As the weather forecast was good we thought we’d take advantage of it.
On the Sunday evening we booked a table at the 16th century Royal Hotel Mundesly, for a carvery. Yum Yum, a favorite of mine. As we drew into the car park my mouth started watering.
We were greeted and taken to our table by a young lady dressed in the old style for waitresses: Black dress, white apron and a white coronet in her hair. The dining room was spacious and could easily have served a hundred covers. On the way to our table I noticed various other eating areas and a spacious comfortable looking lounge. It was a large Hotel.
When asked what we like to drink Bill enquired as to what draught beers they had.
“None Sir” replied the waitress.
“OK what other beers do you have?”
“Are telling me that you have NO beer at all?
It was a classic Victor Meldrew moment. I wished I’d had my camera handy. The shock and outraged look on his face would have won first place in any photographic competition.
“I quietly asked about white wine.
She listed three” We have Pinot Grigiot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.”
“Pinot Grigiot will do nicely, thank you.”
She went off to get it. After a good while I watched her walk back empty handed.
“Sorry Sir, we have run out of the Pinot”
Bill just sat ,gave her a special look but never said a word.
“Chardonnay will be fine” I said.
Whilst waiting for our drinks Bill starting singing softly “There’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear than to stand in the bar of a Pub with no beer”
Paying the bill at reception the young man asked if everything had been alright.
“No, it wasn’t” declared my husband.
“Oh, why Sir?”he asked.
“Because you haven’t any beer.”
“Oh. But we do Sir. We have I.P.A. and Pale Ale” he replied.
Bill is partial to a pint of I.P.A.
We will not be returning or reviewing this establishment. Bill’s remarks would be unprintable.
This post is by Val Chapman a reminiscance of her childhood Christmas.
It was never going to be the same again. My father had died suddenly just 3 months ago and although the festive season was upon us, I was feeling somewhat less than cheery.
It made matters worse that it was his birthday on Christmas Eve, and so it seemed that I had been dealt a double blow. The shops seemed to be full of things that dad would have loved to have received. Usually it was a struggle to find suitable gifts for my dad, after all, what do you get the man who has everything? Knowing my dad would appreciate the joke, one year I found the answer to that question and gave him a bottle of antibiotics!
Of course it wasn’t just me.
My mum was understandably devastated and although she put on a brave face, she had little to no interest in anything.
My children, her grandchildren, were a godsend to us both on those dark days, and made us both realise that life does indeed go on.
I am now at the same age my mother was when she was widowed, and I took some ‘me time’ for a little reminiscing.
“It’s ok, I’ve got my gloves. Let’s get going.”
I looked up at my dad and took his hand.
“See you later mam”
We both gave her a kiss and she shushed us out of the house before turning back to busy herself with the Christmas dinner preparation.
This was our usual routine on Christmas morning. My mum sending us off to my Nana’s house, while she peeled potatoes, chopped carrots, made Yorkshire puddings and did everything that made for a perfect Christmas dinner.
I found out years later that mum had always regretted that decision, declaring that “children should not be taken away from their toys at Christmas”. One reason why she never let me bring my children to visit at Christmas. Oh it would have been very different if we had lived close to one another, and could have just popped round for a couple of hours, but as it was it was a 6-7 hour round trip, it meant at least one night’s stay.
A trip we did every 2-3 months, except at Christmas. The very time when families are supposed to be together. So why didn’t they come to us?
Well, mum once again declared that ” you would all have a much better time without us getting in the way”.
I can’t deny it hurt a little at the time, but she was a bit of a ‘home-bird’ and hated travelling. Nor can I deny that actually, she did have a point!
So, there we were, dad and I walking the two miles or so to my grandparents house. Dad didn’t drive, probably couldn’t have afforded a car even if he did, and of course, there were no busses on Christmas day.
I never minded, it always seemed to be snowing, but that is probably just my wishful thinking, and I was spending time with my dad.
I was definitely a ‘daddy’s girl’, and he in turn adored me.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mum too. She was amazing, wonderful and a credit to her firm but fair miners daughter upbringing.
We walked down the path which runs alongside the semi-detached houses, and borders the playing field. Looking across this field we could see the sea, grey and threatening as it usually was at this time of year..
Before long we were at the main road. There were a few people about, often children who had just had a new bike from Santa, determined to ride despite the snow.
We walked beside the road for about a mile until we reached the railway crossing.
It was a place my father knew well. For all of his working life he had been at the docks and spent part of that time riding on the wagons which transported coal from one of the local pits to the docks where it was loaded onto ships to end up who knew where.
Crossing over the line, it was a fairly easy walk to my Nana’s house, past the Londonderry Arms where they were probably getting ready for another busy Christmas, and then turning right, with our destination straight ahead, just before the local working men’s club. A place where later my grandad, at the age of 97, and the oldest member, would be the guest of honour at its re-opening.
There were already some cousins there and we children delighted each other with stories of what Santa had left for us, and handing out presents for my Nana and grandad.
We didn’t seem to have been there for very long before we had to leave for home, with a promise that I would be good for my mum. We always took home a box of liquorice all-sorts, a gift to my dad from his in-laws.
Dad was the only son-in-law who was handed a present at Christmas. It was given by way of a “thank you” for the little jobs he did for them, fixing the toaster, putting up shelves, plumbing in a washing machine when the old twin tub gave up the ghost, that sort of thing.
As the ‘favoured’ son-in-law, my dad was also given the job of ‘first foot’ on New year’s Eve, being ushered out of the house before midnight and with a lump of coal for luck in his hand ready to re-enter once the church bells had struck. So whilst the rest of us were laughing and celebrating in the warmth, poor dad was outside, freezing cold and on his own.
Dad checked that I had fastened my coat up properly and we said our goodbyes and set off for home.
The terraced houses lining our route, normally blackened thanks to the coal dust which settled on the walls, took on a beautiful festive look with glittery snow settling on the tops of garden gates and privet hedges.
Getting back to the warmth of home and the welcoming smell of Christmas, the celebrations could start properly for our little family. Playing, eating, watching television. More or less just as I do today.
I often wonder what my Nana would think if she could see the piles of presents my grandchildren woke up to on Christmas morning. Would she be proud that her family were doing so well that they could afford all of these gifts, or horrified at the expense and ‘show’? I have no way of knowing obviously, but I suspect it would be the latter.
So yes, in a way, Christmas isn’t the same. But in many ways, thanks to children and grandchildren, it hasn’t changed very much, and I still love it, almost as much
This piece is by Tessa Thomson and tells of her love for a favourite book.
After my mother died, when I was about 3 years old, I was discharged from the hospital where I had been since contracting septicemia at 9 months. I was taken to live with my grandparents. When I was about 8, I was introduced for the first time to my two half-sisters, Margaret and Anne, who were twins and had been living up to that time in a children’s home. They had reached 16 and their time at the home had come to an end, and they were now to fend for themselves. They stayed with my grandparents for a very short time but both were quite wild and wanted to be up and away to the bright lights of London. From photographs that I have found over the years, it seems that the twins did visit my grandparents during their time at the children’s home and the group photos show me to be about 4 or 5.
I had no more contact with my sisters until I was about 12 when Margaret came to see my grandparents. Margaret, by now 20 was living and working in London although I have no idea at what. But amazingly she bought me a book. It was called Trilby and was written by George Du Maurier. My grandparents home was devoid of books unless you count my grandfather’s Zane Gray western paperbacks.
It was a substantial book for a 12-year-old and it took some years before I appreciated its dark overtones. The cover of the book was a luscious green and the pages were edged in gold. It had a few illustrations. One I remember to this day was of Svengali, the one character in the book that stirred my young imagination the most.
Trilby was one of the most popular novels of its time. It was originally published serially in Harper’s Monthly from January to August 1894, then in book form from 1895. It sold 200,000 copies in the United States alone.
The book is set in the 1850s in an idyllic bohemian Paris. Though the book features the stories of two English artists and a Scottish artist, one of the most memorable characters is Svengali, a rogue, masterful musician and hypnotist.
Trilby O’Ferrall, the novel’s heroine, is a half-Irish girl working in Paris as an artists’ model and laundress; all the men in the novel are in love with her. The relationship between Trilby and Svengali forms only a small, though a crucial, portion of the novel.
The novel has been adapted to the stage several times; one of these featured the lead actress wearing a distinctive short-brimmed hat with a sharp snap to the back of the brim. The hat became known as the trilby and went on to become a popular men’s clothing item in the United Kingdom throughout various parts of the 20th century.
The book became my constant companion. Every few months I would dip into its pages. When I was older Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier became another treasured book and my favourite film. Asked by my family what I wanted for my 70th birthday, I remembered seeing an advertisement for a watch called Rebecca made and styled by Ben Du Maurier, George’s great-grandson.
This piece is written by another of our Wordsmiths Sandra Hughes. I suppose the subtitle might be something like unintended consequences.
First public embarrassment (that I know of)
Mum’s love of fancy dress
The first humiliating fancy dress for me, was as a baby when my mother dressed me as
For those unfamiliar with the Nursery Rhyme-
‘Bye Baby Bunting
Daddy’s gone a-hunting
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap the Baby Bunting in.’
Fortunately, it was not a rabbit skin I was dressed in. My mother, an intelligent, imaginative, resourceful woman, played with the word ‘Bunting.’ She made me a costume out of what looks like a flag (heaven help her if she mutilated a Union Jack) red, white and blue, which of course was decorating everywhere for the occasion. A hat, with ears, completed the ensemble.
We then joined with many other local children and mothers, celebrating the Coronation, of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, I hasten to add. This year, we found a photo taken at the event.
Last year, whilst helping my Mother sort through boxes, we unearthed said Baby Bunting costume.
For reasons known only to herself, my 24-year-old daughter decided she wanted to keep it. I just hope any future grandchild is not going to suffer the same ignominy as I did. You can work out how old the costume is.
I now confess, I followed in my Mother’s footsteps and often dressed my children in fancy dress on holidays and for school. These days, it is much easier with costumes in shops or online. However, my eldest daughter has continued the family tradition, but gone too far greater lengths than I ever did, kitting her children out in some amazing outfits she has made herself. (she is quite competitive!).
Looking at the group photo of the Coronation Party was quite emotional, contemplating how long our Queen has reigned and wondered what happened to all the people, seeing my grandmother and mother, no longer with us. A wonderful occasion, where everyone came together to celebrate.