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?

Cowslips

Cowslips – yes, I remember them. They take me back to the summer of 1966 when I was supposed to be revising for end of year exams at Saffron Walden Teacher Training College. It was sunny and warm, so I went with a group of friends to revise in the sun at the bottom of the sportsfield.

The song around at the time was Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks. That’s what we started singing when we’d had enough of the revision, then some of us got over or through the boundary hedge and made our way along the adjacent disused railway line for a delightful ramble in the countryside.

The railways had undergone severe cuts in the 1960s, thanks to Dr. Beeching, and there had once been a station in Saffron Walden. I don’t recall finding that but do remember the large number of wild flowers growing amongst the disused tracks. One of these was cowslips, and it’s the first time I remember looking at a wild flower that I’d only seen before as a picture in a book and recognising it.

Of course, I picked some – we all did – and we took them back to our rooms in college and put them in water in a glass or coffee mug, feeling slightly guilty because we knew you were not supposed to pick wild flowers.

I also remember the delicious feeling of trespassing on railway property – there were “No Tresspassers” signs up –  but we didn’t care. There was no-one about, it was warm and sunny, we needed that break from revision and we felt we could do pretty much anything!

The name Cowslip may originate from cowsdung, as this flower grows in boggy or wet ground. Cow’s dung and the word “slip” offer quite a graphic descriptive name!

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.

Being kind

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Much is being said right now about being kind. It’s been said before but now that we’re in the grip of a global situation with coronavirus spreading around the world, it seems even more relevant that we human beings all remember that we’re human beings and express kindness and consideration to each other. We’re all in his together.

I wrote a post a short while ago about the book “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesey. It’s full of gentle wisdom and reminders that none of us is perfect, but we can all support and help each other along the way by being kind. To quote from the book:

“Nothing beats kindness,” said the horse, “It sits quietly beyond all things.”

“Being kind to yourself is one of the greatest kindnesses.” said the mole.

Being kind might involve being more tolerant and understanding of others. I gather there is an increase of racial intolerance towards people in the UK who are of Chinese descent or origin –  as if it’s their  personal fault that dubious practises in a food market in Wuhan have caused this virus to break out. To those being unkind to them I ask you just cut them a bit of slack. They’re probably as scared about it as you are. They’re human beings too.

I recently saw the film “It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood” starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, or Mister Rogers, as he was known when he presented his TV show for children. I knew nothing about him; Mister Rogers was not on UK TV in the 1970s. But I enjoyed the film very much because it was almost 100% about being kind to people, accepting them as they are, acknowledging their faults, fears and misgivings and not judging them.

The film is based on a true story, but the facts have been tweaked as film versions of stories so often are. In this case, it didn’t matter too much because the end product was heartwarming, showing us how people could be and how, if they were wounded or hurt inside, this could be overcome, transcended and transformed.

Love, acceptance and being kind – worth striving for, I think.

Another Place

P1080293We took off in our campervan at the weekend, encouraged by the forecast of sunny crisp weather, and headed for the Merseyside and Sefton coast. We’ve been to Crosby beach, near Liverpool, countless times before to walk and enjoy sculptor Antony Gormley’s “Another Place” – his 100 statues of his naked body which stand on the beach, and stretch out into the sea.

They’ve been there for some time now and many are rusting as most are covered at high tide. Those standing higher up the beach are often clad in various garments which people have put on them – Liverpudlians have a great sense of humour so one or two Antony’s could be dressed in anything ranging from hippie gear to part of an NHS worker’s uniform. Some might have a traffic cone as a hat.

We parked by the prom, with clear views of the sea and passing ships en route to the port of Liverpool, ate lunch in the ‘van warming up the home made soup we’d brought with us, then walked along the coastal footpath towards Formby. The frost had gone, but there was a chill, brisk wind. Invigorating, enjoyable stuff, with sea views all the way. When we started to return, the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon. By the time we were back at the ‘van the tide was in and most of Antony’s statues were either covered, or just head and shoulders above the waves.

One nearby was strikingly silhouetted against the rolling, bronzed waves illuminated by the low sun. Something about that image reminded me of what my dad used to say: “Always face the sun and the shadows will fall behind you”.

Then we continued our journey to Southport, where we stayed overnight, cosy and warm in our ‘van in spite of the sub-zero temperature outside.