Florence

 

 

This is the moment she lets down her hair, newly washed at the Belfast sink, and offers it to a beneficent sun. The coiled braids, set free, ripple in a fanciful breeze and glisten with silver.

She is standing on a grassy incline, next to the hawthorn hedge, where no one will see her in this state of disarray. No one except the small girl who is bemused by the transfiguration. An elfin shadow falls aslant behind her.

For Florence, it echoes of another little presence, far away and gone. She knows about grief. After going into service, she gave birth to a son fathered by her master. The child was torn from her life, as though he had never lived, and the long conspiracy of silence only stresses her the more. He would be a young man by now, perhaps with a wife and family of his own. Sometimes, she is sure of it: her psyche is populated with shadows that live and move and have their being within the wings of everyday reality.

Young men did not come courting after that, but how could they when they lay lifeless in some corner of a foreign field? She bears her shame with meek fortitude, holding her head high among those who do not see her.

 

 

“Least said, soonest mended,” is what she tells her sister, Bella, who bicycles over the hills in her hat and coat on visits. Bella is inclined to pretend Daisy isn’t there. The sisters whisper overhead, while Bella glances down her nose and chides Florence for being put upon.

Daisy catches a phrase or two, though she is more interested in the magpie browsing the apple tree. “Lonely child, lonely woman,” says Bella.

“She mixes well enough. I don’t mind,” Florence tells her. And adds, somewhat cryptically, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”

Florence keeps house for her engineer brother, a saturnine fellow who likes a lot of mustard on his food and finds children tiresome.

'Your wife, your dog, and your walnut tree, the more you beat them, the better they be,' he jokes.

"Give over," Florence scolds.

It is whispered that he has taken up with a woman two villages away and plans to marry. Daisy is fascinated when Florence gets on her knees with Lol’s boiler suit spread over a wavy brick floor, lathering the tough denim with Sunlight soap and scraping the slurry off with a blunt knife before it goes into the copper to be boiled in suds created with soap and a cheese-grater. Men have fought for their country in trench, jungle and desert. They are the breadwinners, the prime holders of mortgage agreements, the payers of rent. Way must be made for them and their interests served.



 

She is a country woman to the core and delights in her garden, the digging and planting and picking, the rogation days and harvest home. The child capers back and forth with a toy watering-can imprinted with mermaids, dipping it into the rainwater butt and dragging it to the thirsty plants. Daisy loves her floral ‘choir’ that stands tall at the edge of the potato crop. The ink-blue of delphinium spires, the chuckling sunflowers, the hollyhocks and ox-eye daisies, the canterbury bells, and snapdragons whose jaws are gently prized by furry bees prospecting for gold. Her favourites of all are the marigolds. Her wheaten locks, parted and tied in bunches, bob up and down behind her ear lobes as she darts to and fro.

Startled, her little forefinger guards her mouth and she is motionless, sure that she can hear singing from some far distance place.

Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green...

Florence is seized by a moment of undiluted joy.

“See the piggies?” suggests Daisy, off on another tack.

“I’m all behind like the cow’s tail today,” says Florence. “There’s Lol’s shirts to iron and...”

Daisy is crestfallen, because Lol’s shirts are definitely not top of her agenda.

“Well, you’d best go and put your bonnet on, then, while I take my pinny off and make myself fit.”

Daisy squeals with delight and does her happy dance.

In the afternoon, they call at Farmer Knight’s where Daisy clambers on to the pigpen gate for a lofty view of a litter of inquisitive snouts. Fortified by flapjacks and squash, the pair stroll home through field, wood and churchyard, sucking barley sugars, the luminous air filled with the hum of summer, while silken butterflies alight on flowers and dragonflies hint rainbows.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a beloved ritual through the seasons, the naming of flowers. Snowdrops, aconites, anemones, Star of Bethlehem and wood sorrel. Violets, bluebells, lady’s smocks and dog roses. Speedwell, ragged robins and Queen Anne’s lace. Cornflowers, campion and tansy. Autumn crocus, Jack-in-the-Pulpit… Daisy can reel off this litany to her heart’s content.

A mosaic of tiny yellow petals, tinted with crimson, half-hidden in the grass, catches her eye. Delightedly, she pounces on it, losing hold of Florence’s hand. “Egg and bacon!”

“That’s right,” says Florence. “But you couldn’t eat that for your tea, now could you?”

She thinks of the apple cake resting on the pantry shelf and a gratifying brew of pekoe tips to round off the adventure with her small charge.

“What’s that?” asks Daisy, pointing. “Baby pansy?”

“Why, that’s heartsease,” says Florence.

But Daisy has no time for sighs. She is telling the time with a dandelion clock. The flossy seeds float upwards and away, to take root in some other pasture.

Florence will hug this day of mystical balm to herself for ever. And she will never know the treasure she has bequeathed.

The lady is aptly named.

 

 

These images reveal the glorious exuberance of nature in a churchyard during lockdown.

 

 

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A Way Forward: Voting in the time of Advent

 

Selection 999013

 

 

The first time I heard the phrase 'a way forward' was in the early years of the millennium and it rang with the darkest irony. My husband was doubly disabled with terminal cancer and a palliative care regime was the only option.

How to proceed is, in some measure or other, the challenge, the trial, the privilege, we face with the dawning of each new day. In what frame of mind and heart we approach it will determine outcomes in the near and far future. Daunting responsibilities may be presented we aren't wise enough, nor foreseeing enough, nor strong enough, to tackle. There are times when we cannot 'go it alone' without breaking down. We need help. We need each other. We need a loving Heavenly Father who will not fail us nor forsake us and who will undertake for us in our direst moments.

In a democracy, the ordinary people are the movers and shakers. We look to governments to enable a framework in which we can flourish as human beings and play our part. The rest is up to us. Shades of politics, and whether Leave or Remain, are very much states of mind, theories, and not the reality of how things work out when rival agendas run riot. If we look for divisions, we will surely find them. If we focus on them, we will become obsessed by them so that perspective becomes entirely warped and destructive.

What we must deal with on the ground is bigger than any ideology.

 

The Sensation of Crossing the Street Stanley Cursitor



Sometimes, it is good to take stock of where we have come from as a people, as a family of nations. If we aren't devastated by the faith, the charity, the community, the respect for healthy boundaries and sincerely held opinion of others, that have become a casualty of recent decades, how shall we begin to Hope? How shall we build a new era?

The other day, I came across this statement: Time is not given to us to keep a faith we once had, but to acquire a faith we need now.

Once, we assented to the idea that there was a better path than everyday expediency. We relied heavily on guidelines, a route map, exemplars. Even when it hurt, we felt happier when we had done our best to obey cheerfully. Those times we went our own sweet way, we felt dissatisfied, frustrated, depressed, remorseful. Though we still respected the blueprint that might appear flawed, we sensed, deep down, that something further was needed. Some agency beyond us. A Deus ex machina.

We were weary of strife. For those who persevered, the crack in the door of Advent shed an illumination we were drawn to and blessed by. The door was nudged further and further ajar, banishing the shadows, until at last we beheld the unspeakably humbling Truth, that the God of Creation was the little child born within our very injured and suffering selves and that when we honoured him with generous and thankful hearts, day in, day out, never mind the circumstances, His Kingdom was manifest within and about us. The miracle of shared and sharing Bread was beginning to renew the face of the earth.

We fail. We fall short. It is a journey. If we want a better world, let us acknowledge that we cannot construct it alone, neither for ourselves nor as a race.

Let us pray for, and long for, the hastening of that time when ‘the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.’

I wish you a Blessed Advent and Hope in the coming year.

 

Adoration of the Christ Child Gerard van Honthorst

 

 

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A Pilgrim's Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To wish all American friends and colleagues a Happy Thanksgiving Day

 

A Pilgrim's Prayer

 
T hat hearth and home may
H int of heaven and
A utumn's consummation
N ourish the latent seed of Spring,
K indling a vision of that
S weeter country where
G ermination sinks deeper root and
I ndicates a perennial harvest our
V agrant span is blind to, dead to,
I mparting
N otions of perpetual
G rowth and God.
 
 
 
 
Happy_Thanksgiving_Plimoth_org.jpg - 238.57 kB           
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Twain, Poems of Earth and Ether   
Images courtesy of www.plimoth.org
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Endless Palaver

"What do you mean, it's wrong? In ethics we learned that the truth is always subjective!"


There can be no doubt that the teaching of correct written English has never been for the faint-hearted. So much so that the forensic parsing of paragraphs, once key to a grasp of the nuts and bolts of structure, has been abandoned in favour of an approach that appeals to mystified students. ('Syntax', if mentioned, means confiscation of your iphone for Instagramming during lessons, or swearing the dog wolfed your homework three nights in a row, else being despatched to 'iso' for testing the resilience of technology hardware.)

Overheard:

Beleaguered teacher, reaching for a one-size-fits-all solution: Remember, if it sounds right, it likely will be right!

Surely somebody, in the course of the lady's schooling, should of pointed out this is horse feather's and as such, obvs, its defo not on? Nor is the absence of full stops exceptable, irregardless of the need for fluency and spontaneity. Your asking the class to believe that King Charles I walked to the Whitehall scaffold twenty minutes after his head was severed. It puts Goves meddling in the shade, while the bloopers of split infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions have long been out of court. Of course, theres little way of knowing where to put commas if you haven't tangled with adjectival and adverbial clauses.

It's no good blaming the teacher, though. Her's is an unenviable task and she probably didn't receive adequate tuition either. Plus, the possessive pronoun can sometimes seem a tad illogical.

Just because spurious expressions, misspellings, muddled concepts and random punctuation, or none, have passed into common usage, it doesn't make the situation okay. Too wrong's don't make a right. You know it! Daily, we're bombarded with words. Habits spread like an epidemic, even infecting those who know better.

Many argue that language is a living thing. It is evolutionary. But do we really want to deconstruct the enlightenment conferred by education and inspired achievement which are the foundations of a civilised society and have forged the better part of it? It's not about Me and My view of the world, it's about objective, consensual values and disciplines in the interests of everyone's wellbeing. How we regard language has a direct effect on behaviour. The hierarchy within it helps us form appropriate responses to any given set of circumstances. The choice to ignore it is, ultimately, a vote for anarchy.

We are at a pass where the world turns on hearsay.

People, this is no mere plea for shunning 'smoke and mirrors' jargon and the adoption of 'techspeak' where it doesn't apply. Such august authorities as Fowler, Strunk and White, Joseph Priestley, William Cobbett, not forgetting Dr Johnson, toiled tirelessly to prevent literary corruption, all with a view to clear communication at home and abroad and the democratic right to an education. Their design was to enhance culture, identity, and grant a voice in global affairs. Language is a means of breaking down complex and nuanced ideas, sensations, beliefs, into comprehensible chunks and stringing them together in a new pioneering way for the benefit of mankind. It's what creates cohesion between peoples. Even dialects are part and parcel of this, with their picturesque idioms that tell of historic experience.

The rules of grammar are analogous to those of building. You can't go wrecking the superstructure, else the house will fall down, the street will fall down, the city will crumble and the nation will be consigned to the annals of doom.

We shall be back to cave-dwelling and monosyllables. Ug! 

No joking!

 

 

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