Remembrance

Just in time for Remembrance Sunday. I took some lines from the following writers to compose this flash fiction.

Remembrance & Redemption

Apologies to St John of the Cross, George Herbert, George Barker, George Macbeth, Edward Lucie-Smith, David Holbrook and Jack Clemo.

In the darkness I crept out, my house being wrapped in sleep.

I am the man who has seen affliction. My enemy has driven me away and made me walk in darkness. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones.

I leaned into the driving sleet. I found them between far hills by a frozen lake on a patch of deep snow. How could I have been the only witness? Whoever lived in that house must have seen what I saw and heard. So severe the black frost that it bent the white burden of the bracken. Only one red shoe and a discarded glove showed through the snow. I had a vision of the world’s dark deeds. I could smell incinerator smoke; I saw bodies shovelled into dark pits. Children buried in a frozen lake. How long must I bear the unbearable; how long in this shadow of death? I retraced my steps but only succeeded in going round in circles.

It goes, the fever leaves me – my clumsy tongue no longer bursts my lips. I wore a black band on my arm. I thought they’d crucify me; I heard howling throughout the dark night.

Two of them came like bears out of the white forest; one held me in his arms. Dead wood with its load of stones brought to life again. He touched me lightly on the cheek. I lay quite still. I threw away my care and left my fear and trembling behind. Bright sun flooded the forest floor.

I rose up from my ancient grave. Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright!

Design for Life

bruno-munari

My book (not yet published) is very much along the lines of Alain de Botton’s and John Armstrong’s Art as Therapy. In their book they unashamedly posit the idea that art should be didactic. What they mean is that contemplating visual art can help us to live more meaningful lives. They believe art appreciation should not just be an aesthetic experience but an existential one where questions such as, who am I? or, what really matters in this life? can be asked.

The two authors itemise some psychological frailties they think art can help ameliorate. Among these frailties are

  1. We forget what really matters

  2. We tend to lose hope and all too easily get mired in the negative

  3. We feel isolated. (“Living lives of quiet desparation”?)

  4. We lose sight of the fact that we are each a community of selves and respond by default to situations as if our likes and dislikes were fixed

  5. We are hard to get to know and are mysterious to ourselves

  6. We reject many experiences because they don’t fit into our self-images

  7. We are taken in by the glamour of the contemporary scene.

They offer the counterparts for these frailties and educate us in how to look at art with new eyes and minds.

I deliberately left off reading their book until I’d finished writing mine; I didn’t want to plagiarise their ideas! Now that I’ve finished my book I can see how mine overlaps with theirs but has a completely different orientation. Mine is a more in-depth meditation on self-inquiry and the other big difference is mine is in the context of Renaissance art.

Reading Art as Therapy reminded me of another wonderful book by Bruno Munari, Design as Art.

It is a modest paperback of some 200pages. Like de Botton and Armstrong he delights in the well-made functional object of everyday life. Like all artists Munari has an original take on things. Here he talks about an orange as if it were a man-made object:

Each section or container consists of a plastic-like material large enough to contain the juice but easy to handle during the dismemberment of the global form. The sections are attached to one another by a very weak, though adequate, adhesive. The outer or packing container, following the growing tendency of today, is not returnable and may be thrown away.

His point is that designers can learn from the natural world, which is not an original thought but he champions the simple and the functional as opposed to the over-elaborate and expensive status symbol in so many examples. This Penguin Classic is full of his own quirky and amusing drawings; for example he has 7 pages taken up with drawings on ‘Variations on the Theme of the Human Face’! (See image at the head of this post)

What these books have in common is a belief that we can live in an environment where we don’t waste resources or exploit others, and where we can enjoy the appearance of things. Both books insist that we are not educated enough in how to distinguish the ugly from the beautiful; that even architects, for example, too often go along with fashion and expediency.

Next time you see a new housing development see if the materials and design are harmonious or is it a matter of cheap, mass produced ‘little boxes’ for our little consumer lives? Why aren’t all new domestic and public buildings fitted with solar panels? Expense? Use some of the money from cancelling Trident!

Referendum

stock-photo-95725121-brexit-flags

 

Dear Agony Aunt

I believe I’m losing my mind

I’ve started to believe in nightmares

Boris as PM and Gove Deputy

These nightmares are becoming daily prayers

The first one landed on my bed and pinned me to the sheets

at precisely 6am on 24 June

Please can you prescribe an anti-inflammatory

Please can you section me

Please can you confine me

to this green and pleasant land

Saving Face

ww2-fighter

The topic for my writing group is to do some research and base a poem or piece of writing on it. Here is a short story of mine and a summary of the research at the end.
Mabel explained to the new waitress, Lucy – “Whatever you do you mustn’t stare. Just treat them as normal okay?”
Lucy nodded and resumed setting tables. She was seventeen and this was her first day at Mabel’s Restaurant.
Half an hour later a group of five servicemen entered quietly – the first customers. Mabel greeted them cheerily and showed them to a corner table where there was subdued lighting.
“I’ll come and take your orders in five minutes, but first how about drinks?” John, Albert and Tom ordered beers and Geoffrey and Harold red wine by the glass. As Mabel returned to the kitchen the men became more animated and soon were cracking jokes.
Mabel gave the drinks order to Lucy and said, “Remember no staring, just normal service!”
Lucy took the tray of drinks to the men and tried to avert her eyes by looking at the table cloth but it became difficult to keep this up when she was addressed by the men. She’d started by asking, “Now whose is the wine?”
“ That’s me.” Harold said with a lop-sided wink.
“The other one’s mine” Geoffrey added with a slight smile.
As Lucy put the glasses down she noticed Harold’s right hand was a lump of flesh with a stump for a thumb and another for his index finger. However he had no problem lifting the wine to his lips, “Cheers”, he said, “um that’s better, come on chaps lets drink to the future!” After the toast Geoffrey signalled to Lucy who had been about to return to the kitchen.
“What’s your name? You’re new here aren’t you? Lucy gave her name and tried not to look too directly at Geoffrey’s face which seemed to have a piece of loose flesh dangling where his nose should have been. Geoffrey was smiling and said, ”Oh, I’m new here as well so it’s nice to have you on board.”
Back in the hospital Geoffrey was lying on his bed; he was the new boy – it had only been seven weeks since he’d been shot down – over English land fortunately. Instead of re-living the horror of burning inside his cockpit he decided to re-run his hospital experience. While his face had been badly burned in the first few seconds of his Spitfire being hit, further damage was done with the tannic acid treatment he’d received. Dr McIndoe had explained it was the best they could do and Geoffrey was grateful that the surgeon had saved his eyesight. The tannic acid had eaten away his eyebrows but left his eyes intact which was a great relief. He had a special reason for wanting his eyesight saved. McIndoe was exceptional – all the men loved him – he was more than a surgeon; he was friend, counsellor and technician. He’d reconstructed Geoffrey’s face during two separate ops. Geoffrey now proudly sported a plastic nostril. He’d even had his fellow patients in fits of laughter one day when it fell out and rolled out of sight under the bar. He’d also had a pedicle of skin grafted onto his nose bone – this admittedly looked a little unsightly – some of the others called it a sausage as it was pink and soft like the skin of a sausage. Geoffrey didn’t mind – he was just grateful that everything was in good working order and that he could see. He felt a surge of impatience now as he thought about the future. If his eyesight had gone he would have been invalided out of the RAF – never again to fly a Spitfire or even a Whitley –those dodgy machines they called the Flying Coffins because sometimes one of the engines would suddenly cut out.
That was what kept his morale up, that’s what kept him going – he wanted a second chance to get in a cockpit and fly with his gunners.
Flying was very much on his mind as last week they had listened in silence to the PM’s Battle of Britain speech on the radio. Geoffrey wanted to be counted amongst ‘ the few’ – those determined men and women who would attempt the seemingly impossible: the defeat of the German war machine. He rolled over on his bed and reached for the photo of his sister Julie; the last he had heard she was somewhere in Normandy working for the Ambulance Service. As he put the photo down he suddenly had a vision of the hundreds of thousands of casualties of this war. His dream was that the Battle of Britain would save the lives of millions. He only had weeks in which to recover from his injuries and then be discharged fit for action.

 

Research:

My first port of call was a very moving account of the airmen who had been disfigured by fire and had their faces reconstructed by the surgeon Archibald McIndoe. The book is called McIndoe’s Army by Peter Williams and Ted Harrison. The details of the disfigurements came from this book; the characters based on those described in the book with names changed. Surgeon McIndoe seems to have been one of those remarkable people who do an enormous amount of good and leave the world a better place as a result of their lives. Here is one patient’s quote:

He was a god. Really. A remarkable man. Nothing was too much trouble for him when he was caring for the needs of the aircrew he was looking after.

The Guinea Pig Club was a formal club set up with Mr A. H. McIndoe as its first President. The guinea pigs were of course those airmen who had been operated on by McIndoe. They met regularly for social events after the war.

I had to check online to find the date of Churchill’s speech and so set the story in June 1940. Whether Geoffrey would get his wish and fly in the Battle of Britain is up to you the reader! No doubt further research would reveal whether this was possible with some airmen who had been ‘under the knife’.

 

PARIS SUMMIT – Is it too late?

london flooded

I thought I’d combine the seasonal trappings with the Paris Summit.

To be sung to the usual tune!

 

Fa la la la

We all know the sea is rising –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Polar ice is surely melting –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Keep on burning fossil fuels –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Turn our backs on clean renewals –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

No more polar bears on telly –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
It is raining so bring your brolly –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Bangladesh is sinking slowly –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
We forgot that life was holy –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

We are heading for extinction –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
All because of air pollution –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

The sky above is growing darker –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
The next to go will be Gibraltar –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Tis the season to be jolly –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
But let’s reflect upon our folly –
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

 

Toppling Gods

burn flag

 

Men and women topple
the statue and stamp on
its concrete head. Whoever it represents
has fallen from a great height.
Men piss on the politician’s
photogenic face and snarl; imprisoned
within their dark symbolic worlds.
Men set fire to a flag; their passions
inflamed by a rag. They think they champion
freedom, but where is the freedom
in their feverish frenzy? The only freedom
lies beyond the statue and the flag.

Northumberland church with a war-time story

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is a Saxon church I painted in acrylic. It is St Andrew’s church in Bolam, Northumberland. It has an interesting war-time history. During the Second World War a German bomber was flying over Bolam being attacked by RAF Beaufighters. Willi Schludecker, the German pilot, decided to drop his remaining bombs to lighten his Dornier 217E2. One dropped outside the church and bounced through a window landing on the floor. It, however, didn’t explode. Many years after the war the pilot somehow got in touch with the church as he wanted to apologise to everyone. He travelled to England to apologise in person and there were various newspaper articles about him. The spot where the bomb dropped is marked inside the church with copies of news reports. A memorial window was put in place after the war.

 

Joy Scott was just 22years old and living at Bolam Low House Farm when she was awakened by all the noise. She recalled that as she watched, a huge bomber thundered overhead, braking branches off the treetops of her parents’ farm and pursued by Beaufighters. She heard several explosions and in the morning she went up the hill to the church to see what had happened. The second bomb had broken through the churchyard wall, bounced off a gravestone and through the wall of the church.