Curiosity and Ageing

“In old age, we should wish still to have passions, strong enough to prevent us turning in on ourselves: to keep life from becoming a parody of itself.”

— Simone de Beauvoir

As my curiosity and ageing antenna have been twitching a lot lately, I thought I’d tackle them together. Obviously, without curiosity, there would be no life. For some, strange reason in my late eighties, I became more curious than ever – probably because I was aware of the clock ticking?!

corn-gdd8be472a_640Oh, how far humanity has come over the years! The ingeniousness of human beings is mind-blowing. Take one of the most basic human needs. Before paper had been invented, leaves or moss was used for personal hygiene purposes. For the Romans a sponge on a stick did the trick, but elsewhere broken pottery and corncobs(!) were made use of. The mind boggles…

The Chinese had been using toilet paper for centuries, but it was not until 1857 that the western world enjoyed the luxury of the first mass-produced toilet tissue, thanks to New Yorker Joseph Gayetty.

poppies-unsplashEarly in the 1800s, two important discoveries were made: in 1804 morphine was extracted from the poppy plant by German pharmacist Friedrich Serturner, and the first modern general anaesthetic was created by the Japanese physician Hanaora Seishu, which he named Tsūsensan.

Time passed, as it does and, over the years, many minds designed and patented wondrous things.

Basic as it sounds, and looks, what a fabulous idea is the zipper. Faster than buttons and so convenient, Trousers, skirts, jackets and cushions, etc., all benefited from the mind of Whitcomb Judson in the year 1891, and just earlier, in 1888 the quill writers must have been delighted with the design of the ballpoint pen by a John L.Loud. And then – surely magic was in the air? – in 1892 exhausted housewives must been ecstatic when Thomas Ahearn invented the first electric oven!

In the 1800s, invention after invention was patented, enough to make folk wonder at the proliferation of it all, and they grew in stature in the 1900s with the first instantaneous transmission of images on the television – with a broadcast carried out in Paris in 1909, by Georges Rignoux and A. Fournier.

1915 saw the very first military tank – nicknamed Little Willie, invented in Great Britain by Walter Wilson & William Tritton. It would be the precursor to the tanks used in the First World War.

10250669-vacuum-advertIn the early 1900s, the first vacuum cleaners were huge steam or horse-drawn machines that worked from the street, with long hoses that went into your home through the windows.

Then, in 1907, department store janitor James Murray Spangler, of Canton, Ohio invented the first portable electric vacuum cleaner. Unable to produce the design himself due to lack of funding, he sold the patent in 1908 to local leather goods manufacturer, William Henry Hoover, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fleming1928 saw a truly momentous medical breakthrough, when Penicillin was discovered by the Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming. For this ground-breaking work, he shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain. 

Penicillin was extremely difficult to isolate, so it wasn’t until the 1940s that it was manufactured on a large scale (in the US), and became more widely available, saving countless lives.

Fast forwarding to 1957, the first personal computer that could be used by one person and controlled by a keyboard was designed by John Lentz at Columbia University. Sold by IBM, the IBM 610 weighed around 800 lbs and cost $55,000. Quite a difference from the lightweight desktop and laptop PCs of today!

For more history of inventions and discoveries, check out Wikipedia – it’s a mine of Information! (and if you can spare a dime or two, do support this great resource).

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022

Editing and additional research – Jason Lennick

Pictures: Unsplash.com, Pixabay.com, The Science Museum (UK) and Wikipedia.

Serendipity and Coincidence

There are, of course, simple serendipities and coincidences – they happen all over the place and at any time. And then there are those extraordinary ones which defy belief. Like the time Mr and Mrs Smythe went, on a whim, to Brazil, and the couple from No. 34 were staying in the same hotel!! And they hadn’t seen them for months…

Naturally, occurrences can either bode well or not for the people involved. Stray from the path, and you could find your ‘blind date’ is actually your wife or husband, as the case may be. Whoops!

“What people call serendipity sometimes is just having your eyes open.”

— Jose Manuel Barroso

jordhan-madec-tube-unsplashI came across the most serious ‘coincidence’ I had ever encountered, while collating facts for my only novel The Catalyst. The book is based on the actual terrorist bombings of several London trains and a bus in 2005, the aftermath and a few fictitious survivors’ stories and fate. Because of the actual dead and injured, the subject was too delicate to write about at the time, and it was several years before I actually wrote the story and had it published.

The Foreword to my tale reads as follows:

“It’s hard to believe in coincidence, but it’s even harder to believe in anything else.”

— John Green (Will Grayson, Will Grayson)

THAT FAR-REACHING ARM Coincidence, which seems to weave its disembodied way through all manner of innocent and drama-filled occurrences and ‘incidents,’ again came to the fore on the 7th day of July in 2005.

Press reports at the time claimed an anti-terror drill was organized and carried out that same day on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, by Peter Power, a former high-ranking policeman and Managing Director of Visor Consultants. Known to only a handful of people, a fictional ‘scenario’ of multiple bomb attacks on London’s underground was, incredibly, being played out just after the time the actual bomb attacks took place, stretching the meaning of coincidence to its utmost limit.

The coincidence of the innocent and the truly dreadful events carried out on that day, was said to be ‘Disconcerting’… but apart from information given to accredited journalists and academics, no further comments were forthcoming from Peter Power because of ‘The Extraordinary number of messages from ill-informed people.’ (Reported on 13th July.)

The news reports fanned the flames of conspiracy theories and high-level cover-ups, so familiar to us today in the aftermath of any major incident or attack.

craig-whitehead-man in hat-unsplashThe press also reported that the former Mayor of New York: Rudolph Giuliani was visiting London at the time of the attacks. He was staying at The Great Eastern Hotel (close to Liverpool Street station ) where TASE: The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, was hosting its Economic Conference. Israel’s Finance Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the keynote speaker. Presumably this was intended as further fuel for the fire of mysterious and sinister goings-on. Newspaper editors and their owners are, for the most part, not usually shy of publishing rumours, gossip or outright falsehoods when it suits their needs.

Eerie connotations lingered, however ‘coincidental.’

But an investigation by journalists at UK’s Channel 4 news found the ‘anti-terror drill’, while certainly a coincidence, was in fact a purely theoretical exercise, and the terror attack scenario was one of 3 possible incidents being examined by a group of business executives. As Channel 4 and BreakForNews.com pointed out:

‘These types of private-sector “risk management” drills never use field staff. Neither do [such] low-level corporate drills have active involvement of police or other security forces.’

alex-motoc-news-unsplashSo, it seems the Press over-hyped the story, perhaps misled by initial statements. Or maybe they just decided to go with a more colourful interpretation of events. Peter Power himself dismissed it as ‘spooky coincidence’. And the chosen date? It was indeed coincidence — but an unbelievable one? ‘Every week across the UK there are probably about a hundred exercises, tests and simulations going on to get crisis teams familiar with their roles,’ Power insisted. ‘We certainly do this regularly for many clients, the vast majority of them paper-based.’

People love stories, and the idea of dark machinations and sinister plots involving spy agencies, government cover-ups and terrorists is the stuff of countless books, films and TV shows.

A good journalist will always try to dig a little deeper to uncover the facts. But not everyone wants to hear the truth, and many people will choose to believe whatever interpretation of events most closely fits with their existing world-view.

Shakespeare described man as: ‘noble in reason and infinite in faculties,’ but, sadly, we are often rather lacking when it comes to reasoning, and rarely in full possession of all those faculties.

The Catalyst is available from Amazon: Paperback $13.99 or Kindle 99 cents.


© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022

Photos: unsplash.com / pixabay.com

“You are an alchemist; make gold of that” William Shakespeare

Every now and again, a word, phrase or quotation hovers, disappears only to return again and again, until it becomes almost a mantra on many writer’s minds. A while ago, I became fascinated by the word Labyrinth and it cropped up in reading matter on several occasions, until I found myself compelled to write about it. This time it was the word alchemist and its magical connotations. An alchemist, supposedly, can turn dirt into jewels, cure illnesses…make one actually believe in magic…And then the penny dropped as I recalled the book I’d read about, but not read, called ‘The Alchemist’ written by Paulo Coelho and my curiosity was further aroused. His story is an amazing one!

Paulo picBorn in 1947 to devout Roman Catholic parents in Brazil, Paulo, it seemed, was an unusual, slightly disturbed child, who happened to enjoy writing. For some reason, his parents did not agree that their son should be a writer, but should choose a more ‘worthy’ vocation in life. His rather questionable behaviour thereafter, lead his parents to have him committed to an Asylum for three years. Upon release, he travelled and became a hippie, and then a songwriter and political activist, which lead to imprisonment and torture. His thinking gradually then changed, and he walked the gruelling 500 km pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and felt a spiritual awakening, which lead him to write The Pilgrimage, which eventually sold well, after a slow start. His second book, The Alchemist, was a simple, while inspirational story, about an Andalusian shepherd boy. Sales were also weak, and it was said that he literally begged people to buy a copy….Incredibly, over time, it grew in popularity, until astronomical sales figures were reached and it was translated into 70 languages!.

book - smlPaulo met and married an artist named Christina Oiticica and they bought two homes: one in Brazil and another in France. He became so successful, sales of his books reached 65 million and he started a Charity for deprived children and needy elderly people, much to his credit. One wonders whether his parents lived to see their son’s amazing achievements? He has now written 26 books – one every two years, and continues to prosper.

The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words (Anon)

Oddly enough, though fairly happy with what I had read about alchemy, the word cropped up again in two places and so, I dug deeper, as I sometimes do…(curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat.) Wow!

the-alchemist-discovering-phosporus‘Alchemy’ (from Arabic and ancient Greek) is complicated and obscure and goes way back to an ancient branch of natural philosophy, historically practised in India, China and the Muslim world and in Europe in Western form. It was first attested in a number of texts written in Greco-Roman Egypt during the first few centuries. New interpretations of alchemy merge with New Age or radical environmental movements. Freemasons have a continued interest in alchemy and its symbolism, and in Victorian times, occultists interpreted alchemy as a spiritual practice and the merging of magic and alchemy is a popular theme.

Alchemy also has a long-standing relationship with art in texts and mainstream entertainment. William Shakespeare certainly mentioned it, and Chaucer, in the 14th century, began a trend for alchemy in satire, and alchemists appeared in fantastic, magical roles in films and on television, in comics and video games.

When it comes to medicine, how often has an accidental splash of liquid – or even a tear – combined in a Petrie dish with other mysterious substances, to produce some near miraculous cure? Now that is something to ponder on.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022

Reflections…What did I do? Where did I go?

boathouseWhile appreciating that being on this beautiful, while beleaguered planet, growing older comes with minor aggravations, I of course realize they could be major ones, so the gratefulness multiplies. Many others of my age, have huge hurdles to navigate. One thing, though, which seems in little supply, is energy. Despite eating fairly sensibly, exercising a little, and resting, long walks and energetic house-cleaning dwell in the past. But, as I have said before, at least, I’m doing better than a banana!

Laugharne_Castle smlSo, what is the purpose of this post, you may ask? Today I am tooting on behalf of day-dreaming and recalling the many joys of the past. Travel really does broaden the mind and garners intriguing memories for future use. Take visiting the delightful small town of Laugharne, set on the Taf Estuary in Carmarthen Bay, Wales. Home of a Norman Castle, an annual Arts Festival and twice home to Welsh poet/writer Dylan Thomas – famous for the radio play Under Milk Wood. We – husband and I – ‘came upon it’ while exploring parts of South Wales, in bright Spring sunshine, golden daffodils nodding their heads in greeting on the shore-line of the estuary, while a green tunnel of multifarious trees and bushes rose up to one side: a cool labyrinth leading to a pleasing café, set in a once grand house. En route, we passed the shed where Thomas spent many days and nights labouring over his many poems, and walked the same boards as he did in the Boat House – his former home overlooking the calm waters of the bay.

Thomas called his base, ‘A timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town,’ inspiration for fiction town Llareggub (spell it backwards) in his play.

Dylan_thomas_houseAlthough I was familiar with Dylan’s fame as a writer, I hadn’t read much of his work. A lot of it is for a required taste, but once I dug deeper, the alluring musicality and humour of it, intrigued me. Strangers to Anglo-Welsh (Thomas didn’t speak Welsh) may find it a tad puzzling, but as I am half-Welsh and lived in Wales for a few years as an evacuee in World War 2, it didn’t take long to understand his appeal, more especially his play. It must be said, though, that it does not invite an academic approach with all its many ‘voices’ and the sort of singing and ballads, suggesting a night of maudlin drunkenness and ribaldry. But the intended fun and echoes of laughter are so ’Welsh’ and alluring. .

writing_shed_in_Laugharne smlBorn in Swansea, Wales in 1914, Dylan Marlais Thomas became a Junior Reporter for the South Wales Evening Post, before embarking on a literary career in London. He established himself with a series of poetry collections, short stories, film scripts, and talks, and also lectured in the U.S, as well as writing Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. The forming and writing of his ’voice play’ Under Milk Wood, constantly reworked over a period of ten years, was finally finished just before he left this mortal coil in New York, in 1953 just days after his thirty-ninth birthday. It is a sad fact that his special work wasn’t broadcast by the BBC until 1954, a year after his death, with a cast led by no less a man than the memorable, sexy. Richard Burton. Who better?! It portrayed lust, simple love, and a dream-world of gossip, including the ever open Sailor’s Arms.

Here are some snippets from Under Milk Wood to give you an idea of its gentle, down to earth, humour.

“To begin at the beginning. It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat- bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.”

“The husbands of Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard are already at their tasks: ‘Dust the china. Feed the canary, sweep the drawing-room floor, and before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.”

“Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
Come closer now. Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night.”

IMG_8006-1-768x576There was something magical about Laugharne I couldn’t put out my finger on, and we visited on two more occasions when the sun performed on cue, and before returning home, I had written the first page of a proposed story starting: “Long-legged herons, picked their delicate way across the silvered waters of the bay like corned-feet ballerinas…” (I never did finish it…). More relevant, we visited the graves of Dylan and his wife Caitlin Macnamara, on a hill in the graveyard in Laugharne. They had three children and, apparently, spent a very ‘colourful,’ while brief, life, together.

I am sure most writers enjoy ‘dipping’ into other lives from time to time. What better way to learn about the many quirks of human nature? And, apart from authors of ’other worlds’ and purely imaginative genres, would you be a writer if you didn’t?!

A few Welsh expressions:

Ach y fi – an expression of disgust (muttered by Grandma and Mum when some folk didn’t whiten their front steps…)

“Your dinner’s rose.” When dinner was served.

And, in praise: “There’s lovely!”

 

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

The Book of Hours

Rummaging around in old files, I came across a letter I received from The Mayor of Havering, Councillor Harry Webb (Borough office 1999, Essex, UK) regarding the designing of A BOOK OF HOURS to commemorate the imminent arrival of a new century. (Interested and chosen writers had already been instructed to keep a diary of a week in their life to feature – 52 in all). Illustrators and Calligraphers, plus a professional book binder had already been selected too.

The following is the first entry – which I was honoured to write – the premise of which had to include mention of members of your family/friends, a brief history of something relevant and present//future plans, or anything noteworthy. As a later contributor dropped out, I also wrote for another week in April, which was a gift as it included St. George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday. The photograph is of an enlarged copy of the final entry, beautifully illustrated by an artist.

Book of hours - sml1st January, 1999

Being a keen diarist, I felt a strange sense of awe as the realisation dawned that it was the first day of the LAST YEAR OF THE CENTURY!

Memories linger of our first Christmas abroad with close family near Lake Garda, and of fascinating Verona, and a foggy, mysterious Venice.

Cherished recollections of less indulged childhood Christmases surface: of Dad’s Air Force blue socks bulging at the foot of our beds with fewer goodies, and a pillow case containing modest toys. But oh the excitement! There’s our beloved mother hiding sixpenny pieces in the pudding and icing the cake… Love was never in short supply.

The sun shone and several Happy New Year phone calls punctuated the housework. Husband Eric cooked a delicious meal of chicken in a piquant sauce before a televised football match claimed him.

Midnight witnessed the birth of the Euro (worth approximately 70p) introduced and accepted by eleven European countries, excluding Great Britain.

Sorting out bills etc., while listening to Classic FM , came across some scribblings about evacuation to Wales during the last war. It is hard to imagine that flour only cost 3 pence per lb. and cheese 11 pence in 1940, whereas today flour is 20-40 pence and cheese around £3 per lb!

Eldest son, Jason, an artist, rang re the Aubrey Beardsley Exhibition at The Victoria & Albert (coming over Saturday to look at my computer – it may have caught a virus!)

Worked on the third Odes for Joy Poetry Club Newsletter. Must type a piece on Louise Finer – who has M.E and writes poetry fit for a philosopher’s eyes!

Son Robert’s desired ’holiday in space” could become a reality in his life-time (an unmanned space-ship yesterday left for MARS.) An amazing concept!

Wednesday: shopping. Pondered on how much Romford’s 752 year-old market has changed… Can still conjure up the sights and smells… of pigs and cattle in pens as I shopped there as a child in the 1930s.

Will 1999 see son Damon again the proud owner of the Snooker or Pool Post Office trophy?

And will Eric and I ever hear the patter of miniature Dr, Martens?!

Thursday- Yoga – my salvation!

***

You can imagine the amount of work involved as illustrators and calligraphers got cracking and produced some brilliant work. And, as the pages were large, the result was most impressive. When complete, the book was put on display for the public to see and enjoy. Sadly, because of some complicated reason, I never did get to see the finished product as husband and I moved to Spain in the year 2000.

THE BOOK OF HOURS was a religious book, originally written and illustrated by Monks in Monasteries in the Middle Ages, but over the years was sometimes diluted as more of a general diary of people’s daily lives, where religion was pertinent, or not, so the emphasis on religion was optional. Ours was a mix of the two.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

OUT OF THE ARCHIVES…(2)

How well do you know the history of where you live?

Laguna-Salada-de-Torrevieja sml

A willing victim of the writing bug – there really is no cure – and having retired to Spain, I viewed the alphabet with positive eyes I’ll have you working your butts off shortly, I threatened, as any self-respecting writer would.

Recently roped in with other members of The Torrevieja Writing Group, I soon felt at home and enjoyed the company of like-minded people. Open to what was happening locally, I was aware of a writing competition announced by Torrevieja’s Ayuntamiento – great word – Town Hall. It was to be the First International Short Story Competition ever held, so I read the history of the town and wrote a story about its past and the precious commodity for which it is widely known: namely that white substance we can’t do without, Salt.


Excerpts from my entry Worth its Salt:

“…As for me, being older than the infamous Methuselah, and a time traveller to boot (invisible though we may be, there are – surprisingly – still a few of us around.), I daily count my lucky stars. The drawbacks are unimportant here and don’t affect my present quest, which is to take you on a journey backwards and forwards in time…So, gird your loins, or fasten your seat-belts, and come back with me to the year 218 B.C.

Roman soldier“…A column of foot-weary and dusty soldiers and their pack horses approach. At their head is Centurion Marcus (I’d clean forgotten how handsome he is…) See how his body armour reflects the fiery sun-rays as he rides his Barbary horse towards the Salinas: scarlet and gold cloak a vivid gash against the cobalt blue of the sky, billowing behind him. He is off to claim his salary of salt: Sal, a common if precious payment for work well done, and conquerors… Before they leave, one of the Romans will fall in love with a Spanish girl and, until now, only she knew that the child she bore had Roman blood in his veins.”

I noted: ”… Men seemed to have a penchant for war. And, although the colour red dominates time, I choose to look at the sky. More centuries than I care to remember, pass. I even hibernated through one! And then Spain attains her most triumphant success – that of expelling the Moors at the end of the 15th century.” Though… “the Moors left behind them an admirable legacy of some wonderful architecture, intricate wood carvings, colourful textile designs, outstanding tiles and other objet d’art.” Time moves ever on.

“At the end of the 18th century, King Carlos IV decrees that the Salinas salt works offices move from La Mata to Torrevieja, and plans are later drawn up for the building of a new town next to the existing one.” The town’s population swells to 1,500, industry is buzzing and the first commercial wharf is constructed. Pungent aromas of exotic spices drift up from the holds of numerous vessels, and many of the town’s citizens find work building over 250 ships. You may find it interesting to know that two of the ships are to be used in forthcoming films: ‘The Onedin Line’ and ‘Treasure Island.’ There is much optimism in the air.” Sadly, Mother Nature has something else in mind.

“…now it is March 21, 1829 – the beginning of the Spring Equinox. Earlier, the sky was calm, the atmosphere clear. However, around lunch-time there is a slight tremor and I again feel a great sense of foreboding, for there have beenFerdinand sml 70 worrying days and nights of seismic activity in the area of late. Suddenly, the wind drops, the sky becomes overcast and there is an uneasy calm over all. My palms are damp, my throat dry. I do not want to re-experience the inevitable…I am fearful as the earth begins to tremble and inside Carlos`’villa, plates fall and smash on the tiled floor. Then, a huge tremor wreaks havoc where it strikes in Torrevieja and all the towns and villages in the Vega Baja. In a little over five seconds, 32 people perish. Along with 36 animals, and 67 people are injured. As in many other households. tragedy descends on the Rodriguez family, for Carlos’ wife Maria,is making paella in her kitchen when the roof collapses on her. Fortunately, Carlos in out in the open with his two sons. All three survive. Uncle Jose – by now a bent old gentleman – is still asleep when the earthquake strikes, a sleep from which he will never awake. I am again overcome with sadness, especially for Maria, who was so full of life. As most of the survivors are now homeless, the reconstruction of the decimated town is ordered by King Ferdinand VII.

King JuanHold tight…forward we go, to the year 1975. So many flags and bunting? And the sound of trumpets? Is my memory failing me? Oh, of course… General Franco has died and Juan Carlos is proclaimed King. I again feel cautious optimism- with countless others. I am sure a Democratic State will succeed.”

“And now, back in 2004. after hovering over ’pineapple palms,’ admiring the colourful Lantana and Oleander: the ubiquitous Bougainvillea… we are in La Plaza de la Constitucion, a delightful, verdant oasis of calm (well, at present). Think I’ll linger awhile. There’s a Welsh choir due to sing at The Palacio de la Musica (excellent acoustics) not to mention an ‘Habaneras’ – a melodious song competition to look forward to. I must haves some ancient Welsh blood mingling with the Spanish and Portuguese in my veins, for I adore Welsh choirs!”

“Unfortunately, I am unable to enlighten you as to the mysteries of being a time traveller, for they are strictly secret. Sufficient to say that, one moment, oh so long ago, I was bathing my feet in the warm Mediterranean sea, while my husband Fernando Rodriguez and young son were picnicking nearby, and the next I was spirited away. They mourned me as drowned. They shed many tears, as did I. However, I was blessed to see my husband and son prosper”plaza

“And now? I am putting in a fervent request – in triplicate – for retirement, for I feel the strong heart-beat of Torrevieja here in the Plaza. It augurs well for the future. A future filled with imaginative plans, hope and optimism. Yes, I think Torrevieja is well worth its Sal.”

The complete story Worth its Salt was published in Torrevieja Another Look, on the festive day of Saint Valentin, 14th February, 2005. My story won First Prize!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

Lest we forget: “Your uncle Bernard is missing…”

Bernard 1 smlOne morning, a few weeks ago, I decided to sort out some of my ‘paper piles’ – ALL writers must, surely, have them – and every now and again, they grow out of proportion Anyway, several old letters had strayed into the mini mountain and one was from my Uncle Bernard, written to one of his four brothers, way back in 1941. He was in The Royal Air Force, and wrote how peaceful things were and said they had just been on “Plane diving practice – I wondered what it would be like to go right down to the sea bed.” Prophetic words as it came to pass, as the Blenheim plane he was later in, accompanied by three other airmen, was – not much later – lost at sea.

Coincidentally, later that same, recent day, my brother Bryan, in the UK, telephoned me about a letter he had received from a gentleman in Holland, politely enquiring about “Bernard Mansfield, whose body was washed onto Dutch soil in 1941.” With tears running down my cheeks, I was gobsmacked. That was eight decades ago!

It is not difficult to mentally travel back to meaningful moments in our lives, and – on talking to my brother – I was immediately transported back to the living-room of the house built into the side of Mountain Hare in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, to which I was evacuated in WW11. The fire was crackling in the black-leaded hearth and my mother was weeping. I asked her what was wrong and she said “Your Uncle Bernard is missing…” and wept more tears. I soon joined her, and wet my pillow too that night.At 22, Bernard was the youngest son of my Grandma Rose and Grandad Charles, and much quieter than his four, more gregarious brothers, of whom my Dad, was eldest. A tall, shy, blonde, Nordic-looking man, Bernard spent many leisure hours making model aeroplanes and hooking rugs, and it was said that he had his eyes on a neighbour’s pretty daughter named Biddy.

Despite him being reported missing, Grandma had a cake made for Bernard’s birthday due in the August, and kept it in a tin, but its candles were never lit, or the cake eaten, as he was later reported “Missing, presumed killed.” Gran never wore black in mourning for her son, as she firmly believed he had somehow survived.

Mum & Bernard smlFast forwarding to the year after the war ended, 1946, saw me, accompanied by my Godmother, Aunt Doris, Dad’s youngest sister, on my first trip abroad, namely Merville in France. We were on a visit to Clemence, a friend Dad made, having been billeted near her café/farm-house during the war. She kindly sent us food parcels when the war ended. We received the warmest welcome and I had my first glass of wine, hic – nothing unusual for a 14 year old in France apparently…

The next day saw us painfully pedalling over heavily cobbled roads on borrowed bikes to the local cemetery, where my aunt made enquiries as to the resting places of unknown servicemen. All, it seemed had been identified, and I recall shedding tears at the thought of my poor uncle’s body floating in the channel.

Whoever could have imagined receiving notification, all these years later, that my dear uncle’s body had been washed onto a Dutch shore, and his memory was being honoured. It was almost unbelievable after so long, and very emotional.

My brother, Bryan and I, along with our cousin, Tony Mansfield, naturally wrote to Mr Alexander Tuinhout, who had written on behalf of the Stichting Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, and thanked him profusely for all the investigative work involved in tracing Bernard’s family members.

May all the poor souls who gave their lives so that we can live in peace, be ever remembered.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

 

An interview with Seumas Gallacher

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

portraitI pondered long and hard on the best way to introduce renowned author Seumas Gallacher, and the first word which came to mind was Charismatic (full of charisma and charm) and – as he calls me ‘m’Lady’ – thought it entirely apt and fitting.

Like most inhabitants of the planet, we can only fervently hope that 2021 is hugely improved on last year. Surely, from many viewpoints, there has never been a more tumultuous twelve months since World War II!

So, we can do no better than respect the obvious and kick-start the year with someone as interesting, capable, talented and entertaining as Seumas, who is known to many users of the internet and a myriad other souls scattered all over the planet, more especially those who read! Naturally, some folk know more about our author than others, so I’ll now switch to first person and ask Seumas some direct questions.

Me. Hi m’Lord. First off, the warmest welcome to my home in sunny Spain. Please make yourself comfortable. May I offer you a tipple, or would you prefer tea or coffee?

S. Diet Coke is my poison of choice, thanks, with ice – lemon not necessary…

Me. What is the most enduring memory you have of childhood, and where was it spent?

S. So many, good, and some not so terrific… my infant school days, as a totality, I think, where I was completely comfortable…

Me. Is there anyone or anything special that lingers in your mind from those days?

S. The teaching staff, all of whom were ladies, Miss Knox who taught us all how to knit and do crochet, even the boys … Miss MacLeod, who gave every child as much time as she felt necessary to help them, and Mrs Burnside, who ruled her class with a siren voice, but a gentle giantess in her own way, and an absolute hero of a headmaster, Carl Caplan (you will read about him in my memoir).

Me. Were you born brainy, or did you have to work hard to reach your goal/s?

S. It seems I was supposedly a bright child, and have always had a fascination for learning things… I have SO MUCH trivia in my head from through the years… I have a capacity for remembering detail from years ago…

Me. Does writing fulfil you? And have you hankered after any other role in life?

S. Writing certainly has fulfilled much of my desire of being able to express myself… to unload a lot of things from my inner being, especially in my poetry… I believe that real poetry is a highly selfish, personal thing, a matter of taking emotions and wrapping words around them… and I have no qualms about that… as for other career ambitions, I would dearly love to have been allowed to sing on stage for a living.

Me. If you could grant just one wish for the betterment of the world, what would it be?

S. Let all Mankind take note of the second part of their description…’kind’… and ease all manner of anxieties and sufferings anywhere it exists around the planet.

Me. If you were invisible, what mischief would you get up to?

S. If somehow it were possible to get invisibly into political lawmakers’ offices and rewrite all the laws to equalise pay and conditions for all of the front line and support services people who sustain our hospitals and other areas of public service.

Me. Describe your favourite way of relaxing.

S. Watching professional English Premier League football on television… in Bahrain, we get every match televised live… I also get therapeutic pleasure from being active on the few social network channels that I indulge.

Me. Do you have a bucket list, and if so, what’s on it?

S. Not a bucket list as such, as that almost accepts an ‘end’ to everything… I would like to be financially well off enough to spend a lot of my life travelling the world meeting fellow writers.

Me. What do you feel the most passionate about?

S. Depends what day you ask me that question, as there are so many things… but I am big on ‘giving back’ in many small ways on a daily basis if I can, and not letting people know about it…

Me. Pet hate?

S. Bullies in any form or station in life, in business or in private life… I generally meet them head on, for better or worse.

Me. Which two people would you like to have dinner with? (Dead or alive.)

S. Peter Ustinov and Billy Connolly… but again, ask me on other days and there will be plenty of different pairings…

Me. Name two favourite pieces of music.

S. Anything haunting from the Celtic genre, and the past concerts of The Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and the magnificent Kris Kristofferson).

Me. Name two favourite authors.

S. So many again to choose, but Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck are always high on my list of favourite literary giants.

Me. Name a Favourite holiday destination.

S. The small township of Tobermory on the beautiful Isle of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides, where I lived and worked as a young man in my late teens.

Me. What is your favourite genre, Seumas?

S. Anything by the old authors from a century and more ago, as they had a command of the English language which I adore and rejoice in reading.

Me. Why do you enjoy writing so much? And which one of your books means the most to you?

S. Exercising my mind has always been something I have been conscious of… use it or lose it! My favourite among all my writing is the autobiography… I like reading about the guy I became.

Me. How would you like to be remembered?

S. As someone who would rather do right by people than otherwise…

Me. That wasn’t too painful, was it, Seumas! It’s been great having you here and learning so much more about you. Live long and be happy. Cheers!

S. Thanks for allowing me space on your pages, m’Lady!

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2021

Seumas’ website is here and you can purchase his books here on Amazon.

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Words, Wonderful Words…

Trinity-College-Library-in-Dublin-1Every now and then I pontificate on the power and magic of words. Those twenty-six little letters have faithfully served us ever since “Adam” said Ugg to “Eve.” And, in what variety! True and Fairy tales… Sci-Fi and Paranormal, Murder and Mystery, Love and Romance, Historical, et al – all cater to different literary tastes.

Milne 3What led to writing today’s post was reading about Alan Alexander Milne and his Pooh stories. The House on Pooh Corner (1928), and Winnie the Pooh in particular. Without Milne, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and the rest of the gang, would have been lost to so many fans. Christopher Robin, Pooh’s human companion, was named after Milne’s own son. Sadly, Christopher was not happy about his inescapable connection to the popular books as he grew older. Winnie the Pooh was based on his teddy bear. Also on his infant bed, were a stuffed piglet, a tiger, a pair of kangaroos and a downtrodden donkey. (Owl and Rabbit were added for good measure.) Hundred Acre Wood closely resembles Ashdown Forest near to Milne’s home.

Milne went to Cambridge University to study maths but focused on writing. He pursued a career as a writer and contributed many humorous pieces to Punch magazine, later becoming Assistant Editor at Punch in 1906. Having served in WW11, despite being a Pacifist, he suffered illness and was declared unfit for service at the front, going on to join a secret British Propaganda unit: M17b. He also turned to playwriting. Deemed successful, he changed Wind in the Willows into the acclaimed Toad at Toad Hall.

winnie 2It seems especially sad that Milne was estranged from his son, Christopher, who rarely saw his father, despite him having a stroke and spending his last few years in a wheelchair. He was ever conscious of his disliked association with the Pooh books. I feel it was his great loss.

When I read the Pooh books, way back, I knew nothing of their creator, but re-quoting some of the content, I can’t help thinking he was a man with his heart in the right place.

I had the warmest glow, when I read:

“My spelling is wobbly. It’s good spelling. But it wobbles and the letters get in the wrong places.”

And “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey inside.” And

“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I have been.” And

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.

“Even longer.” Pooh answered.

pooh and piglet 2And, this one made me cry…

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.”

Thank you Mr. Milne. Very much!

 
Other books by AA Milne: When we Were very Young, Now we are Six, The World of Pooh Collection, The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh.

© Copyright Joy Lennick 2020

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