Monday, May 30, 2005

A Trojan horse, or virus?

I found her swaying like a reed in the wind, asking why I could not speak, challenging me to believe that all was as it should be. My response of “It’s time you owned up to being an alcoholic,” was greeted with silence, resentment, a twisted expression which betrayed both hatred of what had been said as much of herself.

What caused this? How to control or cure it? Time has proved there is no answer to these questions except for the alcoholic. What had happened to this beautiful and talented friend, this Trojan woman with looks and personality who radiated her attractiveness in her small but trusted coterie of friends? Maybe the secret was there, hidden in her past. Was it insecurity, this need to be liked? Was it self-deprecation, low self-image, or lack of confidence? Was it inherited …. are the sins of the ancestors dumped on our children?

Questions, more questions, always questions! Answers, never!

And so, I look back over years of abuse, firstly enjoyed, then tolerated, never challenged, abuse which addles the mind, the judgement, the emotions and dumps upon a homeland beach this human wreck with no mast, no rudder, and no compass. And of the crew, where are they? Just one or two left, those who cannot, through love, indecision, confusion or blame, drag themselves away, and suffer but do not share the guilt. Who are these people? A mother maybe, a husband, a brother or sister, a friend? Fewer than the fingers on a hand, they dither, not knowing what to do, to challenge, to resist, to support without a word, and all tortured in their hearts and minds, distracted by the turmoil, unable to sleep or even to slump in a chair.

What is human spirit? From where do we gain the strength to challenge and to fail, to try and try again against this evil ghost that haunts our every thought and action? The seeds of our destruction are within, and once planted, like some virus within the register, remain to regenerate at any time. Yet, when we see that pregnant look of potential unfulfilled, dare we hope for a future with a smile. Take a chance, risk it, our minds demand. Nervously, cautiously, desperate for self-belief, our friend and goddess offers us her hand. She is secure, not cured! She is responsible for this hope … is it misplaced?

We have no choice but to obey; we cannot and dare not fail her. If she has strength, then so must we. If she has faith, we must believe. As for hope, it is not changed … there to be greeted like the dawn of a new day, the day that Trojan horse was locked up but not away.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Anna's advent!

What do I write? Sympathy? “My thoughts are with you and Pete?” Some trivial comment to sooth the guilt? Or do I challenge the confusion of emotions and stare, white-eyed into the scars of their and our future?

Disappointment and despair, trauma and an empty void; they push in on every side; utter helplessness, and the slow monotonous tick of time, an unwanted and changeless company. There is no short cut, no other gear, no quick fix, no spin to resolve this hurt. A life, conceived in love is at stake, and human intervention does not give hope, just graphic detail of prospect and potential. This foetus, this child soon to be, is loved, secure in its sack of warm, protective fluid. Oh why? Oh no! Oh yes! Why her? Why them? Why not? Nature has a will and logic of its own.

Their hopes and expectations are destroyed, not in the technology of scans, but in facing truth and reality. And how do we come to understand, to make sense of this cataclysmic event, so small, and yet a tragedy for all, and for all time? There is no refuge in motherhood shattered in an image on a screen, in abnormality, in this child who lives on for how knows long. A child, her child, their child, our child, everybody’s.

Tears which refuse to flow, a heart which will not break, a body shaken to its core, yet unable to bend. Pain is the baptism of maturity, pain is the birth of wisdom; pleasure … a fatuous smile on a mindless face.

What now, what next, how to face the future with or without a child? Time is set in the dial of dawn and dusk. Delay is in the nature of prognosis. Our child is damaged, does it matter? After all, all creation has the potential to be loved. This child is their creation and we must care, if not for ourselves, then for this work of art, this foetus, this nameless babe who waits, who rests, who sleeps within those peaceful waters. When will they break, prematurely or at full term? And will our hopes and aspirations be that treasured memory of what might have been, or grow and thrive and shine in a world where touch and sight and sound have that unique and infant magic?

Who knows?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

An empty world!

I woke as the sun came up. I sit at the window looking out on beauty. Not a sound, not a thought, no motivation, no energy. Time to be still and to listen

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Woman as God’s Potter

Amongst the women were several who thought they had known each other since childhood. Others had joined the group in recent years, the wives and partners of colleagues who had moved to Didsbury, Withington and south Manchester for work. Nearly all were professionals, teachers, a nurse, a doctor, two administrators and one who described herself as a simple housewife. What brought these women together was their faith in God, the goodness of the world, and themselves. Never loud or arrogant, each of them was in their different ways secure in their belief in a loving, merciful and forgiving God.

This evening as every Thursday was their retreat, a personal reflection on their inner selves, a chance to review and confirm their place in the world. Maggie was large and confident, with a personality to match, Carol slight, thoughtful, and cautious; they were sisters apparently with little in common. Peg, a teacher with enormous energy and insight, and Patsy, quiet but businesslike, were working on their lump of clay. Their hands, not used to this activity, were red with the firm but damp material. Their knuckles ached as they kneaded the lump into a representation of themselves.

The offertory of the Mass which was to follow would be their opportunity to share a picture of themselves with the group, to unveil their contribution to family, friends and those with whom they worked. Irene’s sculpture was clearly a house or home, Peg’s an intertwined rope. Maggie was working on a pregnant figure, Carol on an intricate design. Only Patsy was struggling, not with the clay, but with her vision of herself. Committed and selfless, she found it hard to see her qualities represented in a piece of clay. She tried shapes, animals and plants, but not one was her.

The lesson from St Paul began and ended. The gospel of Matthew, the calling of the apostles, fishermen, farmers and tax collectors was no help. Still Patsy worked on her clay, more and more conscious of the others, mostly content with their sculptures. The prayers began. Bernie offered her brown leaf, asking the Lord’s help wherever the winds of life blew her. Carol prayed that her attention to detail would enable her to pick out those too proud to ask for help. Irene offered her house with the open door as a symbol of refuge for those in need. Peg’s rope had become a mosaic for the harmony of peoples and races. Maggie’s pregnancy had gone full-term and her clay figure was labouring with the inequalities of our society, issues of poverty and empowerment. All put their work and hopes and fears before their Lord.

As for Patsy, increasingly confused by the clarity and openness of her friends, the tears ran gently down her cheeks wetting and softening the lump of clay. She offered it up and said her prayer, asking that whatever the Lord wanted of her, she would find the strength. Sister Muriel accepted the object, recognising in it and in the woman before her, a chameleon, someone with the skill of responding to every change of circumstance, of adapting to each and every challenge.

Lord, whoever, whatever and wherever you are, forgive us our arrogance and selfishness; help us open our eyes, ears and hearts to the needs of our world. Amen

Sunday, May 08, 2005

On VE day, a war-time memory

A story of the Second World War from 1983!

My family and I had our first holiday in France in August 1983, Patsy and I and our five children, Catherine, Helen, Mark, Anna and Ben [then aged four]. We’d never been abroad, never towed a caravan, never camped … quite an adventure, and we allowed two days to get from Didsbury to Dover, calling in to Birmingham to say goodbye to my parents. It was as though we would never return!

As we left them, my mum gave me two missals that she had since 1944. Her brother in law, Jack Snell, a sergeant in the South Wales Borderers, had liberated these missals from a French farmyard, brought them home when all but fatally wounded in France, and given them to Muth as she was Catholic, and he thought they might be of use to her. Muth always did feel guilty about having them; she knew they should be with their real owners, that Jack had recognised their attractiveness, but that they should not be with her. [For those who don’t know, missals are the books of readings and prayers that Catholics use at Mass. In this case the missals were printed in both Latin and French, were leather bound with gilt page edgings, and were mementos of the First Communions of Roger Luet of Torteval and of Denise Lebarbet.]

As a child, I remember being intrigued by these missals, regularly taking them down from the bookshelves and wondering what had become of Roger and Denise. And now the missals were on the back shelf of our Peugeot 504 on route to their French homeland!

What a month! Parthenay with the girls’ pen friends, fishing in the Loire near the Chateau of L, La Rochelle and the Atlantic coast, a great holiday which came to an end with the missals still on the back shelf of the car! It was time to set off for Calais, our last day in France, and we were due at the ferry at midnight.

The Office de Tourism in La Rochelle was very helpful. Torteval did not appear on their maps either, they had no hotels registered there, so the assistant looked up the telephone directories and was able to tell us that the village of Torteval Quesnay was in Normandy and had eight telephones, hardly a thriving Norman centre. We still had no map reference and Normandy is big!

We drove for several hours and knew we were just a few kilometres from Bayeux. Ben was getting fractious so we stopped for lunch in a remote lay-bye. Ben and I walked the fifty meters to a field gate where we were to kick a football around while Patsy prepared lunch in the caravan. At the gate was a telegraph pole with a notice nailed to it ….. Torteval! Quelle chance!

After lunch we left the caravan in the lay-bye and drove up the narrow road to the church that could be seen on the brow of the hill. Torteval had Mass only once a year on 15th August. It was like the village deserted. We knocked o the door of the house next to the church. It was answered by an old and frail woman who seemed reluctant to answer questions when I began our conversation with the words “pendant la guerre.” Maybe she was often interrupted by old soldiers and those revisiting their wartime haunts.

Armed with instructions to the farm of Roger Luet, we drove about four miles, and up a long and straight farm track with the farmhouse in the distance. In the farmyard were teenage children playing. They stopped at the sight of a British registered car approaching. A large blue overalled woman came out into the sunshine. Our children got out of the car, all very excited, and immediately got back in and locked the doors as dogs standing four feet high emerged as well. This left me standing on my own holding the missals behind my back. The farmer emerged and looked quizzically at me. “Etes-vous Roger Luet, monsieur? “ I asked. He replied “Oui monsieur, mais pourquoi ? “ I produced the missal from behind my back. He cried, I cried, and then instead of taking it he ran into the stables at the side saying “un moment, un moment”, and returned within seconds with a white leather presentation case. He took the missal from me, put it in the case, snapped the clasps shut and said “C’est complet.”

We went into the farmhouse and sat around the large kitchen table to exchange details of the story ….. how after the D-day landings the Germans fell back from the coast and established a defensive line that passed through the Luet family farm ….. how the family, together with hundreds of locals had deserted their homes for life in the woods for about six weeks before returning home to find it in ruins …… how Roger had kept the presentation case for 39 years despite the comments of his wife who wanted to throw it away when they moved farms ….. how he had always said, “One day! You never know!” …… how his father had died some six months earlier, and how he would visit his mother with his first communion present later that day.

We returned home, delighted to have put right a little wrong, but now I feel that a little of our family history has been lost, those missals that were part of my home for 39 years. We never heard from the Luet family again; we just drink to their health each time we open up the bottle of Calvados that they gave us way back in 83!

This story is dedicated to Jack Snell and his comrades, some of whom gave their lives for freedom and democracy some sixty years ago. May they rest in peace!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Hangover or clear head?

The rain fell steadily all last evening, not heavy but persistent and penetrating; relentless rain washing down the pavements, cars, homes and gardens of our town. I woke to clear and clean air this morning and to a fresh feel, a new beginning? It was as though an older and disappointing world had been wiped away, a cleansing, a baptism that washed away the sin and imperfections of our past.

The sun has broken through the clouds, great shafts of early light picking out the features of our garden, the clematis turning in the breeze to warm their open flowers. We have our new start, a chance to look forward to a brighter and better world. They say that they have listened to the people and learned the lessons of Iraq. We have given them a bloody nose and slashed the majority to require an more inclusive and consulative approach.

Soon we'll see whether there has been a change, whether politicians and people have restored some mutual trust. But what of the press, the media? Will they reflect on their cynicism, their determination to destroy. Did that rain wash them clean as well?

Meawhile, the peoples of towns and townships around the world will continue with their view of Britain and the British. Will this election change them, improve the life chances of those who live in Basra, Beijing or Sao Paolo? Democracy is fragile, especially in the rich and thoughtless West. What would they make of my concerns in Vila Prudente? Did it rain there last night?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Election Day: a second chance

The day dawned a couple of hours ago, a cool quite crisp day with birds singing their dawn chorus. My mind is confused, not empty. What should I do? Vote? Certainly! For Labour? Yes!

Then what is the confusion? Just a mellow emptiness? Concern about the outcome? Maybe elections are communal and gregarious events when we need the company of friend and foe? Maybe I have seen so many colleagues leak theor postal votes to Kennedy that I worry for the outcome. This is not 1992 when every other house had labour posters but Kinnock lost. Nor 1997 when all but the comotose judged that the Thatcher/Major era had run its course. Nor is it 2201 when Labour didn't contest the election, just waited for their overwhelming majoity.

In 97, I saw the seeds of Blair's decline in that majority. Politics must be, to some degree, inclusive and accommodating. Blair has no need to be, within and outside of Labour. So what will be, will be. It's the people's mandate and we will return it one way or another. It's time for a change, and let's hope that there is an opportunity for Blair and for Labour to do just that.

A second chance is what we need. So like a child, I beg for that. The die is cast and by tomorrow's dawn, the outcome will be clear.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A heavy heart for Budapest

Budapest, my spiritual and emotional home during so many months of 1956 when I was absolutely passionate and committed in my opposition to Russian oppression, against the Hungarian stooges who had sold their heritage, culture and souls for the trappings of power. Yes, power they had; of credibility, they had none; of authority, they had none! But on the other hand, my heroes, my colleagues, we had not only the authority of the people, of true democracy, but the will to change our world forever, to claim our country back.

Morning and evening, from my bedroom, I would listen to the radio from independent stations covering the growing conflict. I would clamber on captured tanks, travel at speed down those wide and cobbled avenues, cross bridges over the Danube, climb lampposts to hear my heroes proclaim, wave our flag, free of hammer and sickle for the first time in twenty years, and all this from my bedroom fifteen hundred miles away.

How I love the news with its film of men and women, old and young, flushed with their victory as the Russians retreated out of the city. We were free! And the after that awful foreboding, came that Sunday morning when they returned, spewing death and disaster at any movement along the street. Radio Free Danube, Radio Free Budapest, they all appealed for help. “We need guns, help us,” they cried, while the West watched and waited for reality to return. A sad, sad day as the radios fell silent, and Western reporters crossed back into Austria. The Iron Curtain was back in place.

Unable to speak the language, knowing nothing of the country, untouched by or at least unaware of the history of this country, its literature, philosophy and architecture, I had become Hungarian through and through.

What of me now? How could those youthful hopes change to absolute commitment to the socialist cause? How could I ignore what I had seen of evil regimes in Budapest, to see in socialism a hope for my world? Easy, very easy!

My world was class-ridden and controlled by a clever and arrogant elite. They did not need tanks, guns or secret police to impose their will. They did not need to invade in order to oppress across the world. They knew the score, that patronage and sharing a little of their wealth would win them power. Their promises of peace and justice, of wealth distribution and the dangers of socialism, kept them in power and with the shield of democracy. After all we usually voted the capitalists (Tories we called them) back, afraid that we might lose what comforts we had.

Forty-nine years later, what has changed? Still a socialist, still committed to the cause, still with Marx on my office wall, I wait for tomorrow, the 5th May, when exercising my democratic right, I shall help return New Labour, a pale pink reflection of its past, to power once again. My only choice? Well yes; I hate those bloody capitalists.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Things really didn't go that well, did they? Ladders!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A Pointless and Damaging Election

We are trapped into a self-fulfilling prophecy ... so many of my friends and colleagues believe that all politicians are untrustworthy, that politicians lie as a matter of course, and that whoever is in power, nothing will change. How wrong can they be!

Can't they see that with Charles Kennedy, there would be a radical at the helm and that it's difficult to predict what will be the outcomes of economic and environmental policies which are as yet untried. He's honest if untried.

Can't they see that Michael Howard's small government will fundamentally change the relationships between different interest groups (classes?) within our country. There will be winners and losers and nothing in health, education, business, economics and welfare will remain the same. He too is personally honest; it's his party's principles which are divisive.

As for Labour and Blair, why didn't he own up to the mistakes of Iraq and challenge the public's trust in him rather than the reverse. He could have gone down in history as the man who restored faith in politics. Instead, he will for ever be remembered as the reluctant liar, when he probably, as all politicians, decided on the balance of truth, evidence and right as he saw it. Blair has confirmed the public's view of politicians; he needs to be held to account for that.

We are towards the end of a campaign in this pointless and damaging election. The government will not change; the prime minister will not change; nor will the economy, public services, and the people's trust in them. One thing will change, increased cynicism from the punters on the street. I shall continue to vote Labour.

An afterthought: The one event that would stop Labour winning this election is a terrorist strike like the one in Spain days before their general election; let's hope it doesn't happen.