Saturday, 30 August 2014

Meerkats & auction finds...

First....thanks so very much to everyone who read and commented on my last two posts...it's meant such a lot to me and it's been so moving to hear of others' links to this turbulent and catastrophic time in history...everyone who served in that terrible war deserves to be remembered and honoured in my opinion, and I'm thrilled that so many of you agree.

Now...lighter subjects! Our youngest nephew, Will, is hard to get hold of in the summer holidays. Even though he's only 6, he's completely crazy about (& very good at) golf...so his free days are mostly taken up with practising or playing...but I managed to grab a whole day with him last week and we had so much fun! We went to London Zoo by train (the journey there and back was half the fun for him!) and to make it extra special I treated him to a VIP animal experience. There are quite a few to choose from....but I thought that meeting & feeding the meerkats would be the thing!
 They are such delightful, animated, quirky little creatures. Only 5 of us (plus the keeper, Christina) were allowed into the enclosure. We felt so special as the gates were unlocked for us. Will had the biggest smile on his face...
 Meerkats are, obviously, wild creatures...so actually touching them is not a great idea...and we didn't want to spook them....Christina gave us some live mealworms to feed them. They absolutely love mealworms..as you can tell!
 We also threw down plenty of special damp moss in little piles for them...they really enjoy foraging through this for little bugs and tasty tender bits. Meerkats are only happy living in big family groups...they are absolutely miserable alone, which is why misguided attempts to keep them as pets never work. Why would you want to? Just to see them playing, squabbling, scampering around the enclosure was such a joy. They are extremely inquisitive...
 Whenever a plane went over (which was frequently as the zoo is on the Heathrow flightpath) one of the little creatures would squeak the alarm and they all dived into the various holes they had made...before one brave little face would peek out to see if the danger was passed. I think I enjoyed the experience just as much as Will did! It's not a cheap option, but I would highly recommend it as a special treat if you ever visit.

We've also been taking part in some live country house auctions recently...such fun! We've bought all kinds of things - books, the odd painting, a corner cupboard for the dining room....but I thought you might like to see what was in this beautiful old leather case...

 It's an artist's treasure trove! I just loved the actual case....but the inside is full of delights too....

 oil pastels, palette knives, scrapers, oil colours, brushes of all kinds...some in appalling condition! Part of the charm, though. I can imagine this being toted around the countryside...its owner putting up a folding chair & easel and settling down to paint some rural view....
 The locks still work perfectly, and on the base is a clever little rivet to stop the leather actually resting on the ground...
Designed just so correctly and elegantly to fit its purpose, don't you think? It made me think of my dearest friend Sue Branch even though she's really a watercolourist...because I thought it was a lovely, unfussy real painter's case. I do not paint.....sadly. Neither does Paul. But, for the few pounds we paid, we have a little piece of someone's history...and we'll find a home for it, somewhere!
A last photo of Will, mesmerised by the penguins zooming around the pool at the zoo....summer holidays are almost over now....it's all gone so quickly this year... I can feel Autumn in the air already.

I hope you're having a wonderful weekend x

Friday, 15 August 2014

Yesterday....

I realise that my last post may have not been to everyone's taste (even though I received some lovely comments)...World War 1 is a subject that has always been of great interest to me and very close to my heart. I want this blog to reflect all the facets of my life...home...garden...travel...but also some of the deeper feelings I have and so it feels right to share some darker aspects from time to time...or it wouldn't be me!

So this post will be the last for the time being about First World War subjects, I promise...I have the next one planned and it is much lighter & fun, so do bear with me!

Yesterday, 14th August, was the 95th anniversary of the death of my great-great-uncle, Cyril. I mentioned him in my last post, but there is greater detail about him elsewhere on this blog (if you look for a post titled 'Anzac Day' for instance) In a nutshell, he was the youngest brother of my great-grandfather Walter. We didn't know he ever existed until about 10 years ago, when a chance search of the Commonwealth War Graves website revealed the site of his burial (in England...in the town he was born in in Suffolk on the East Coast...) My Mum was absolutely amazed. She thought that she had known all her great-uncles on that side of the family, and that they had all returned safely from the war (although damaged, as detailed before.) Cyril was never, ever spoken about and we knew that there must be a secret there which would unlock the reason. Families are so full of hidden emotions, lies, shame...if you just delve a little bit, you are sure to find this in your own somewhere!

After (literally) years of searching, I have managed to piece it all together finally. The last bits of the jigsaw were fitted together for me by an amazing company called Fourteen Eighteen which undertakes paid (but very reasonably,in my opinion) research into the soldiers of WW1. I won't reveal it all here...much of it is extremely personal, of course, and I owe him his dignity even after all this time.

But what I can say is that his life ended by his own hand. He threw himself in front of an underground train at Elephant & Castle station, in London one late summer afternoon at the age of 29. Another victim of the terrible war that killed so many. Now that I have all the facts, I really wanted to honour him as he has been forgotten for so very long. So yesterday I travelled to that same station...
 It's right at the end of the line, and after the train had emptied I was quite alone on the platform...

 I looked up the steps, and thought that this may have been where Cyril descended all those years ago. There are two platforms - Northbound & Southbound - and I don't know which side he fell. I had brought a bunch of roses from my garden with me, tied with a note. I left them at a point exactly between the two platforms...
 And I stood and thought of that young man...of all he had been through in those terrible war years...of the pain and suffering that had driven him to this extreme. The death of Robin Williams is fresh in my mind too, this week...another victim of depression and despair who saw no other way out.
 Such a terribly, terribly sad end to a life....and one which affected the family that had known him for the rest of theirs, I have no doubt...because he was loved, I am absolutely sure of that. My great-grandfather named one of his sons Cyril in 1924...and this could only have been in tribute to the brother he had lost 5 years before...
And then I got back on the train and started my journey home. I was so pleased to have done this small thing for him. To show the world that he was in it. And he mattered...& matters still....

Amazingly, last night I received an anonymous message from someone who had stopped to read the note attached to the roses that they had seen at the station on their way home...and who had cared enough to Google Cyril's name which had led them to this blog. They were pleased to know he had been 'found' and honoured, as he should be. I was very touched - and thrilled on his behalf, too.
Cyril Arthur Took - a secret no longer.

Have a wonderful weekend x

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

August 4th...a century on...

 If you don't live in the UK, you may not know that last night there was a very special ceremony to mark the centenary of the day the First World War began in 1914. It was a brilliantly conceived & executed evening, I thought...it included those in Belgium & France and also Germany...moving readings, music and prayers interspersed with contemporary accounts, film and photographs. The culmination came in the hour leading up to 11pm, the actual time at which the British government declared that this country was at war. At 10pm, we were asked to extinguish all lights...save for one candle. And at 11pm, we were to blow that candle out as a symbol of the darkness that fell over Europe at that moment....
 We went for a walk around the neighbourhood at about 10.30....the air was heavy & warm, as it probably was 100 years ago. It was very quiet...although not as quiet as it would have been then with barely any motorised vehicles in general use...
 World War One has been a special interest of mine for as long as I can remember. I feel so privileged to be around for these commemorations which will continue over the next 4 & 1/4 years, until the centenary of the Armistice...
 As we walked, I thought of all the changes that were wrought by that terrible carnage. Some of them good...the elevation and (in most cases) eventual equality of women in society is one....
 But, of course, what really overwhelms & endures in any thoughts of the Great War is the loss. The millions of men & women from all over the world who were drawn in and cut down by the conflict. The music, books, poetry that were never written because their authors died. The children that were never born. The bereaved mothers, fathers, wives and children whose lives were never the same again. My mothers' schoolteachers who were all 'Misses' because their fiances had been killed & they had never met anyone else....
 The flower and hope of youth, the enthusiasm and passion that was decimated....and the ones who fought and lived to return, but remained scarred by the huge and terrible experience forever. My oldest friend's grandfather who fought on the Somme but never, ever talked about it...my own great uncles & great-grandfather ...Edgar, Walter and poor Sidney who was so shellshocked that he spent the rest of his life a hermit & became a figure of fun for those with no idea...absolutely zero understanding or tolerance of the horrors he had faced week in and week out for years...
 And Cyril. Dear Cyril.Who was posted to Gallipoli in 1915. Who was shot and suffered from enteric fever. Who was sent to France when he recovered, where he was wounded again...and returned to the Western Front until the end of hostilities. And who committed suicide just 9 months later as a direct result of his wartime experience....
This couple stood in the churchyard for the entire hour, each holding a candle. How lucky we are, in this country at least, to know that those we love will not have to march away...perhaps never to return. How must that feel? To read printed casualty lists, sometimes days out of date, to find out if someone you care about more than anything else in the world is still in it?

It's horrifying to think that in so many places this violence and grief carries on today. We can only hope for a time when there truly is peace...because humankind has to really want it to make it happen, and there are too many who don't...who believe that a piece of land or the way in which one chooses to worship a god is really, really worth taking life for. While that is true, there can never really be peace. So sad. And so pathetic.

I can't think about it too much. If anything demonstrates the futility and loss of 1914-1918 for me it is this piece of music....
Its composer, George Butterworth, was killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916...and this piece is, to me, a perfect and beautiful reflection of the comparative innocence, tranquility and beauty of an England that was lost forever that day in August 1914. I think it is wonderful and I hope you do too.

xx