Black History Month

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This terrifying sculpture is in Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Its power lies in the fact that the path passes between these raging dogs, and by walking along it you have to pass between these ferocious but inanimate canines.

Now just imagine they are real.

I’m reblogging the post I wrote about my visit to Birmingham at the start of Black History Month, which starts today – 1st October – and continues to the end of the month. No doubt there will be many references to Black Lives Matter and to the significant figures in the struggle for Black rights in the USA. But this issue goes further afield than the US; it’s everywhere.

My visit to the Deep South and some of the places where Civil Rights demostrations took place has had a lasting effect on me. To walk the historic walk that Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders took was a sobering and powerful experience. Visiting the Civil Rights Museum there and seeing footage of what took place hit home. One of the most moving street exhibits on the walk was the one about singing and how music and singing together was a source of strength. As a choir member I know just how powerful that can be.P1050175Here’s what I wrote in my original post in 2018:

On May 2nd, 1963, more than 1,000 African American teenagers assembled at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church across the road, and prepared to march to Birmingham’s City Hall in support of the civil rights movement. The following day, “Bull” Connor, Commissioner for Public Safety, ordered police, dog handlers and firemen to the park.

When the protestors entered the park and refused to leave, water cannons were turned on them, knocking them to the ground. German shepherd dogs were directed towards the crowd, their handlers commanding them to attack. This, and the police brutality towards these teenage protesters, shocked America and the world.

This is only one part of the struggle for civil rights which went on in Alabama, led by Dr. Martin Luther King. My recent visit to this, and other sites associated with the civil rights (and let’s face it, human rights) movement, was an eye opening window on to history which was made in my lifetime.

But I’ve no illusions. The struggle against inequality goes on. Some things may have improved, but there’s a whole lot more room still available for improvement.

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What would you like to see more of in the world?

Compassion

I’ve been inspired or nudged (take your pick!) to share this story by blogger Jane Fritz, who I recently nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award. If you read to the end of the post, you’ll see where and how Jane fits in.

Back in 2009, and thanks to a touch of skulduggery on the part of my daughter, I was entered into the draw to spend an hour on the empty Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London, as part of the living art project by artist Antony Gormley. To my initial horror, I was awarded a place.

From 6th July to 14th October 2009, 2,400 randomly selected “Plinthers” from across Britain had the opportunity to contribute to this living portrait of the people of the UK. In Gormley’s words “The 6.3 metres on top of the Plinth will be a testing ground for our freedoms and our identities, singular and collective. . . we might learn something about who we are and how we are through the 2,400 person-hours making up this monument in time”.

What on earth was I going to do while I was up there? And did I really want to do this at all? I certainly didn’t want to do it on my own; I was very nervous.

I intuitively felt it important that I should “virtually” take as many other people up on the Plinth with me as I could. I contacted as many of my family and friends as I could and asked them all a simple question:

Please send me one word which expresses the quality you would like to see more of in the world.

I said I would read out each word, together with the name of the person who sent it, and where they came from. But I also said that I would spend the first few minutes of my hour on the Plinth in silent reflection of all the words that people had sent me to read out. I invited everyone who sent me a word to link with me for this period of inner reflection at 3 p.m. on Monday 3rd August and think of their own word. Thanks to all  who sent a word I didn’t feel alone, or even nervous, once I’d got up there as I knew many people were up there with me on the Plinth in thought and spiriLovet.

The words people chose – there were 94 of them in total – were selfless and an expression of transpersonal – i.e.  beyond the “me”/personal – qualities such as love, peace, harmony, compassion, acceptance, empathy, gratitude and understanding.

There were a few amusing exceptions though – a local shopkeeper initially wanted more money in the world to pay his bills, but quickly changed his word to “respect” when he saw the disapproving looks on the faces of his staff! And one lady I asked for a word after the event said she wanted more wine in the world. By that time I could kind of go along with her in that in my post-Plinth more relaxed state of mind! Of the 94 words, I read out all but the last 8, simply because the hour flew by and I ran out of time.

Nothing went wrong. The support I received from the family and friends who came along, from many people in the crowd and from those on the open-top tourist buses passing by was fantastic. I loved it up there and in spite of all my fears and nerves in advance of the event, I enjoyed every minute.

I was already on a high about being up on the Plinth on a sunny afternoon, but when I heard the news via my family on the ground that my first grandchild had just been born – a whole month early –  while I was up there, I was completely over the Moon. I jumped for joy and was able to announce her unexpected arrival to the world in a unique way, making 3rd August 2009 a very special day for me indeed.

Back to the Sunshine Blogger Award. One of the questions I asked Jane and the other bloggers I nominated was the title of this post:

What one thing would you like to see more of in the world?

Jane’s reply? Compassion, compassion, compassion. Where has it gone??? The world needs you back. Yes, individuals and communities show compassion, and leaders in some countries, but other world leaders are bringing the world down with their vitriol and lack of compassion. It’s 75 years since VE Day and it seems all the lessons the world learned have been forgotten.

Compassion, along with Love, Peace, Truth, Inclusiveness plus many other transpersonal qualities, was what a lot of  people responded with. We need all of these qualities right here and now. What would you have asked me read out for you on the Plinth, I wonder, and what quality would you like to see more of in the world?

VE Day 75 years on

The pictures above show VE celebrations in the street in 1945, probably in London, alongside the official programme for the London Victory Celebrations in 1946. The latter is from my family archives – both parents lived and worked in London in reserved occupations during  WW2. They worked in a butcher’s shop by day, and as Civil Defence wardens by night. They went through the blitz, lucky if they managed to get 4 hours sleep, and they slept in a Morrison shelter in the front room.

WMorrison shelterhen I was a child they had a big clear out, and the Morrison shelter was set up in the front room so I could see it. Here’s what it looked like (not the actual one they used). I crawled inside and hated it. It was like a claustrophobic cage and I wonder how they managed to get any sleep at all; I’d have been constantly worrying that a bomb would hit the house and I’d be trapped inside. Notice how the roof of the shelter doubled up as a table.

Susie air raid shelter 2Prior to the Morrison shelter they’d lived in another house which had an Anderson shelter in the garden. My mum doesn’t look too bad standing outside it, with her pinny and sensible shoes. I don’t know when this was taken, but it’s during the war.

There are no photos of either parent in their air raid warden’s uniforms, but someone made a sketch of my dad in his. Note the short back and sides and the moustache – fashionable at the time, but it makes him look a bit serious (he wasn’t). The  drawing is dated 12th December 1941. He was in the Civil Defence for the long haul, until the end of the war.

Fred sketch

 

Now the 75th anniversary of VE Day upon us, I’ve been wondering what my parents would think of the Britain they worked for and supported the war effort for, 75 years on? They would certainly recognise and embrace the upsurge of community connection and kindness, friendliness and helpfulness that has become more evident since we’ve all been in the lockdown. Coronavirus and pandemics might ring bells for them; they were children in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic but I never heard them speak of any memories of it. The biggest thing that ever happened for them was WW2. They would certainly be able to empathise with the fear and concern about this, as-yet, unpredictable disease afflicting the global population. Fear would have been ever-present in their lives during the war, and maybe it’s something we are gradually getting used to as a “background” as we seek to get on with our lives in as normal a way as possible in these exceptional times. Does the fear and worry ever go away, or do we learn how to deal with it better and in more manageable ways? I guess it’s the latter.

With all this in mind, I’m not sure I want to sing “We’ll Meet Again” with the nation on Friday, or watch too much of the nostalgic stuff on TV, or hear the stirring Churchill speech we’re being promised, or take a part in the suggested socially distanced afternoon tea shared with neighbours outside our houses. I may choose to be a grumpy introvert and stay away – the waving of the Union Jack leaves me unmoved and I’ve managed to avoid it for a long time. That’s not to suggest it’s wrong to remember and acknowledge what people experienced during WW2 and 75 years ago, when it came to an end and new way of living evolved. It’s rather similar to where we’re at right now in 2020 – life is unlikely to be quite the same again. Something new and positive must evolve from this situation, we must adapt and go forward, consider the environent a lot more  – so many people have realised they appreciate it –  and a lot of things must change.

Looking to the future, that will be no bad thing.

Life without Pluto

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Astrolabe in the house – now a museum – of Leonardo da Vinci,  Amboise, France

On 24th August 2006 a group of scientists and astronomers got together in Prague and decided to demote the status of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. Their decision came after a lengthy period of search for the definition of what a planet is.

Several years later I visited the Jodrell Bank Observatory with two children aged 8 and 10. The Observatory has a brand new visitor centre and I was looking forward to seeing how they had reconfigured the site and displayed the old brass observational sextants and other instruments, including the famous mechanical orrery with its planets orbiting the Sun. I was very disappointed. All of these had gone, along with the Planetarium which had offered interactive quizzes and visual high speed trips across the galaxy.

In their place were two very modern buildings with slick display boards, often accompanied by a video but not much else. Equipment and fun experiments in the hands-on area for children had been reduced and the two children I was with soon lost interest as there was little to engage them. In one area, empty apart from displays on the wall and a large modern orrery suspended from the ceiling, we searched out and named the planets. Pluto, long demoted, wasn’t there and I explained to the children why it wasn’t there, also telling them it had been discovered in 1930. The new visitor centre may be state of the art, presenting bang up to the minute modern science, but all sense of the history of discovery behind it had been erased.

This got me thinking about how life, for those heretical beings amongst us who dare to claim we are astrologers, would be without Pluto. OK, so Pluto has been around a relatively short time and its discovery and subsequent inclusion in astrological charts and interpretations is also relatively new. But its discovery, after lengthy research by Clyde Tombaugh, coincided with the start of an era of world war and disruption, brought to a halt by the dropping of the atomic bomb. Astrologically Pluto is often feared, or at least treated with due caution and respect as it can herald big changes and upheavals often leading to transformation. The Hubers, in their book The Planets, describe Pluto as one of the three transpersonal planets saying, “The stimulation of Pluto’s energy makes us experience an expansion of consciousness affecting all of our lives”. Would we want to be without this?

When using astrological psychology, especially with a client, it would become quite difficult to interpret a chart and give a consultation without including Pluto. Symbolically, Pluto offers opportunities in life for us to transform ourselves and our ways of thinking and move on. It can encourage us to go boldly go where we’ve not been before, sometimes plumbing our inner depths and spaces and demanding that we make ourselves anew.

As an astrological psychology consultant I know that real, deep, life-changing experiences or issues can be triggered by Pluto in the natal chart. I’ve been able to support people going through Plutonic changes as they travel through challenging times. But one thing is for sure, and that is that we’ll come to grief if we try to use Pluto’s energy to gain personal power and control over someone or something. But we can learn to use the energies of Pluto, a transpersonal planet, not for ourselves, but for those things which affect the collective, embracing change, transformation and the good clear out and spring clean that goes with it.

IMG_1621Reflecting on my disappointment that Jodrell Bank had changed and become more slick and glitzy, I can raise a smile at the thought of Pluto at work in this complete makeover. Gone is the old, the history and the links with the astronomical past. However, the best part of the visit was a guided walk around the enormous, and famous, Lovell Radio Telescope. Like following the stations of the cross in a church, we were taken to a series to display boards around the perimeter of the telescope. I learned more in the short talks at each than I ever have about  – yes – the history of this impressive piece of engineering, once the largest radio telescope in the world but now demoted to the third largest.

In the makeover, the baby wasn’t quite thrown out with the bathwater after all. I wonder – did Pluto get the last laugh here?

The Smallest House in Great Britain

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This tiny, quirky, bright red house is wedged into the walls of Conwy in North Wales. It’s been a tourist attraction for as long as I can remember and I went into it many years ago when my children were small. On this occasion, I was there with grandchildren who decided they didn’t want to go in (there was a queue) but went up to inspect it so they could see just how small it is.

I have vague recollections of how poky and gloomy it was inside the two small rooms – one up, one down. It was built in the 16th century. In 1900 it was occupied by a tenant, a 6ft. 3in, tall fisherman, who eventually had to move out ( perhaps he kept banging his head on the ceiling?!). It’s still owned by the same family and is open in the summer season as a tourist attraction.

There is always a lady in traditional Welsh costume on duty to take the entry fee and sell a small selection of souvenirs.