World War II, Pandemics and Tears

Obviously, in times of wars, epidemics and catastrophes – after the first shock waves subside – it is human nature to do one of many things… Tighten your belts and do whatever needs to be done in the given circumstances; hole up in any available safe place; have a nervous breakdown; or take a very deep breath and pick up a book/check the local cinema…I’m not being facetious here!

factory smlAs a child in WWII, in between evacuation, separation: Dad in the Royal Air Force, Mum working in an ammunition factory, whenever there was the slightest opportunity… Mum and I would sidle off to the cinema to escape the realities of the dangerous world we found ourselves locked in. Who knew that an evil lunatic – seen in newsreels ranting and raving his dangerous rhetoric- would prove to be the death of countless millions of souls around the globe. And what a life lesson it was to me to learn just how adaptable, ingenious, courageous and usually kind, people really were, although I couldn’t fully evaluate or appreciate it then.

What a balm books and films were then. The siren could wail and cause disquiet and concern , but – at first – us children could never imagine what the adults could foresee. Whether one stayed in or went out, it was like playing Russian Roulette, so a trip to that dark cavern where the silver screen would totally change our world for a few, delicious hours, was a huge treat.

1930s-usa-snow-white edit smlI was hooked by ‘the Pictures’ from the mind-boggling time I saw my first film: Walt Disney’s “Snow White.” Like countless other children, I fell in love with the seven dwarves and Snow White, and had nightmares courtesy the witch. The film was released just before the war started. And who could resist the childish charms of the charismatic Shirley Temple pictures, or the quirky, endearing Charlie Chaplin and clever, dead-pan antics of Buster Keaton?

janeeyre1944Once in Wales, dear Aunt Sal held my hand as singer Nelsen Eddy sang “I’ll See You –again…” to Jeanette McDonald from the clouds, having been tragically killed, and I thought my heart would break in two…But, if I could pick two films which had my emotions more firmly in their grip, they would be Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” and “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The latter – being an anti-war film – was so moving; the end so devastating…it deeply affected me. The book “Jane Eyre” on the other hand, affected me even more than the film. I read it aged 13 just after I met my best friend Sheila (Slim) Devo, an enigmatic, elfin-like girl with a huge personality. In the book, Jane’s friend died in the dreadful school they attended and – with my hormones all over the place – I imagined losing my new friend, and it floored me.

As for books, there are far too many to mention, but one which seems to link in with the present pandemic had a profound affect on me. It was Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities.” It started:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the Spring of hope; it was the winter of despair.”

twocitiesSuch an insightful piece of writing. Set in London and Paris in1859 during the French Revolution, a French doctor Alexandre Manette, having served an 18 year imprisonment, is released and goes to live in London with the daughter, Lucie, he has never met. The story is dark and complicated. They find themselves back in Paris. There are two men in love with Lucie and she marries Charles Damay, a French émigré, who is tried for treason against the British Crown; eventually found guilty and sentenced to be guillotined. Lucie’s other suitor, Sydney Carton, bears a striking resemblance to Damay, while an evil, blood-lust character called Madam Defarge is shot while up to skulduggery. In the mean-time, the selfless hero of the day, Sydney Carton, drugs Damay in the prison and changes places with him. Before he ‘goes bravely to the chop’ he states: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. It is a far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Forgive me for revealing the denouement. It left me a helpless, sodden mess… I do seem to enjoy a good cry!!

What about YOU? What films/books left you emotionally drained?

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

Isaac Newton and Samuel Pepys, or what did YOU do in isolation?

heroes

It is fortunately not often that millions of people on our planet find themselves in such a similar, dire situation, except in wars and epidemics, and so many, brave individuals have, in this present, horrific coronavirus situation, paid the ultimate price for their unselfishness in caring for the sick and dying. We should feel eternally grateful and humbled. I am.

NASA_newton4048_regHarking back to the truly dreadful plague of 1665: it was said that a five-year-old boy named John Morley was found dead at his home in Cambridge with black spots on his chest in July 1665 and became the town’s first bubonic plague victim. Townspeople started to isolate, and a young scholar at Trinity College named Isaac Newton fled to his home farm in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire to study. In the two years he was there, he studied calculus, created the science of motion and unravelled gravity, or so it was said. (Husband reckons he went scrumping, filled his pockets with apples and they were so heavy, his trousers fell down, but wouldn’t dream of putting forward such a theory… ).

pepysAs for the Diarist Samuel Pepys, in 1665, aged 32 years, he dined out wearing a camel-hair or goat suit, noting ‘The very best I wore in my life,’ during the plague. He commented that most doctors, lawyers and merchants fled the city and that ‘Parliament is postponed until October.’ Later, while in Drury Lane, he saw ‘two or three houses marked with red crosses’ and the words “Lord have mercy upon us.” Writ there, which was a sad sight to see.’ Claire Tomalin, Pepys biographer, spoke of his pain and suffering since a child which made him a stoic person. It was said that he welcomed whatever there was to enjoy.

Theatres, sports and other meeting places were closed and the poor – as ever then – had to steal or beg for food. History rarely shows us a pretty place.

Pepys was a clerk and worked for the Navy Board, had a wife called Elizabeth, but as he admitted, was up for many shenanigans with fancied chamber maids and the like. The times provided rich pickings for his diary, like the Restoration of the Merry Monarch, Charles II (from whom Pepys received favours), the Great Plague (An estimated 100,000 died – 20% of London’s population), the Great Fire of London and the terror waged by the Dutch when the Royal Navy suffered one of their worst defeats after they destroyed several British ships and captured Sheerness. Luckily peace swiftly followed. It is not known whether Pepys, who lived to the age of seventy, actually expected his diary to be published after his death, but it now famously infamous.

nature smlBack to the present, apart from a birth explosion in around nine months, I wonder what some of us will have accomplished/learned during this trying and protracted period of isolation. Of course, some will be almost speechless from boredom, while others will have gained more than they lost… Marriages and relationships will have floundered or, hopefully been made stronger. Life itself will, surely, be writ in larger letters, for it is the most precious thing we have, and Mother Nature, in her more likeable guises, will never have looked more attractive; or freedom sweeter. The fact that so many people have lost loved ones of all ages and creeds is heart-breaking and all the blaming won’t bring them back. We can, perhaps (must!) try harder to work together for the well being of each other. Surely, we can do that, in memory of all those lost and the brave heroes and heroines of this epidemic.

As such phenomena as splitting the atom, black holes, penicillin, and heaps of other, tremendous strides in technological fields have been discovered or accomplished, I questioned my feeble grey matter and did a lot of thinking. Sadly, I had to accept that – in the grand scheme of things – I had diddly-squat to offer, as I push when a sign says ‘pull’ and maths is not my best subject. So, what to do? Well – and I’m sure you are dying of curiosity!! – it’s mainly too prosaic to itemize – I lived, within the boundaries dictated, read, prized the telephone and my computer, exercised a little… toured the ‘estate’ (small urbanization and communal pool) daily, and thought some more. Oh, and read and wrote a lot. I missed our sons and their partners, but a loud hurray for my online friends. laptop_computer_hand_pen smlThey are a wonderful, friendly and helpful bunch. Not to mention good writers. So, what’s with all the thinking you may wonder? Well, I intend finishing the ULTIMATE, FABULOUS book I’ve been working on – forever – and new ideas have been percolating. You can drop my name at dinner parties if you like; autographs given on request. Who am I kidding… Joking aside, hubby and I have had more than a few laughs – quite silly things can spark us and we are most grateful for humour. It’s a great antidote to what’s really happening outside and saves sanity.

Meanwhile, I bet many people have actually published their books, cooked up a storm, written songs and music and painted near masterpieces. Do tell what you have been doing.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

Thanks to Gavin Mortimer of The Spectator for the piece on Samuel Pepys.