Friday, 22 April 2011

Thank you Mr Simpson : Help for Heroes

When I was about seven there was an old man and his wife who lived next door but two from my Grandmother's house. My Grandmother knew them both by their first names being the same age but to me they were Mr and Mrs. I used to wave to him sometimes across the garden fences and he always waved back and he always had something to say to me.  The conversation wasn't deep, it might be about the weather, or the state of my Grandmother's roses ( an amazing display always) or the smell of the honeysuckle in the evening. He'd have a question about school. I never once felt he was talking down to me or that he was too busy. If we met passing on the road where they lived he would invariably lift his hat as he walked past and smile as would his wife. It was a road I was often walking up, not least to see my Grandmother but in the summer without fail to head to the outdoor pool in the park as soon as school was out, then back to Gran's for tea and a chat.

I remember the first time I saw him. I was with my Mother walking back from town with the shopping. We had recently moved back to the town of her childhood and whilst everyone was a stranger to me, for her everyone was familiar, and people were pleased to see her and talk to her. On this occasion we were walking up the hill as they were coming down. We were dressed casually ( in comparison) and they both were properly cloaked and they both wore hats. Shoes were shined and she was wearing gloves. If I had wanted to check there would have been a clean handkerchief in her polished handbag and in his  trouser pocket.  A generational thing.

Across his jacket  he wore a line of medals. He had fought in the First World War and was proud to wear them. This in part is what made that meeting memorable to me. Like other men I knew he had been a soldier, only this was a war that I didn't at that time properly know about. I knew the dates and that it was a long time ago. I knew the phrase  a war to end all wars,  and that the Second World War had denied this. I knew both these wars had been fought against the Germans, a country I had recently been living in.  I knew that people died in wars. Or rather I knew the words. What I didn't know was what death meant to the living. I had no comprehension of the impact on people: war films, my tv film diet for years, some how showed, but did not tell, what war meant. What it means to be at war.

Mr Simpson always neatly pinned his sleeve to his jacket as he walked in his hat and suit with his medals in the street. I knew not to stare the first time I saw him but I did have to ask - later after they were safely out of earshot. My Mother explained matter of factly and plainly. Mr Simpson when he was a very young man lost his arm fighting in the First World War. Though it was a shocking injury and would have been hard for him, things were so terrible during the First World War getting injured like that probably saved his life and he came home to a wife who loved him and went on to have children and grandchildren. From hell to hope in a couple of sentences.  He wore his medals with pride and people as far as I could see accepted this. She went on to explain more about how when she was a little girl she was used to seeing lots of men with missing arms and legs, some begging. 

 (The First World War left the UK with 41,000 lower leg amputees (and this British only) and 9900 from the Second World War statistics from this source)

I had no sense that he felt he was a hero, for that generation I suspect it would not be a word to bandy about. I would guess that he wore them out of pride, that he stood up and did what he thought was his duty. Perhaps he had no choice, perhaps it was peer pressure. Standing up for peace in such a time would have been another sort of heroism too without the support of the masses, of the crowd. Perhaps the medals provided an explanation for the missing arm, saving questions. A statement silently told.

He didn't speak of the glory of war, none of my grandparent's generation did. They knew better. It is not a glorious thing. Perhaps Baldrick's poem whilst funny in situ in the episode, says it as it really is.

"Hear the words I sing,
War's a horrid thing."

The Guardian provides the statistics here for dark contemplation.  These are British figures not including US, or other allied forces nor those of the Afghan people. Everybody belongs to somebody.

Another century on from Mr Simpson, and for nearly a decade  we have been at war. We watch the funerals, the coffins saluted in the streets but what of the planes that return night after night bringing the horribly scarred and wounded. What has changed? The Poppy appeal instituted after WWI still effective and active. 

HelpforHeroes is an AMAZING  organisation of people, that has grown from a ground swell of feelings, their phrase Passion not pay, started it off and maintains them now.  It's stance is strictly non political. Bugger the rights and wrongs of war, think about all the individuals affected. A charitable body, a company ltd by guarantee with a trading company subsidiary which funds 100% of the administration costs, leaving EVERY SINGLE PENNY donated to be used where required. And quickly too. By partnering with expert organisations they provide significant funding and practical support for those that need it.

Since 2007 when the Charity was formed, the volunteers  have raised 97 Million pounds, built state of the art centres, funded individuals, families and pioneered progressive programmes, making a tangible difference. They have guaranteed 100% online donation to their cause and for other charities too by the astute purchase of bmycharity Supporting  the 21st Century Mr and Mrs Simpsons and their families. The acts of war sadly haven't gone away, but fortunately neither has the desire to support. Millions of people are not looking away in embarrasment but doing something, with a varied mixture of cash, time and courage.

Actually this is worthy of the word AWESOME.

When I think back to Mr Simpson I find myself having an inner argument about which arm was missing. I must be able to remember surely, but I can't. I've deleted that unnecessary detail.

Mr Simpson wasn't defined by his injury, he was defined by the man I knew. A kind man, who had gone away in his youth, come back, raised a family, wore his medals and raised his hat in greeting.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Well .. mm verses?

On the trees I see
small bursts of cherry blossom
rebirth and new life

And in other news:....

His strawberry nose
sharply raked by the felines
Camera shy for now

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Dark thoughts

This evening we completed our usual exploration of the valley at night. Primo hops about and I walk trusting that I don't put my foot down a rabbit hole.

Night walking is a pleasure - the darkness is cool and the skyscape more easily gets to play centre stage. Tonight there were plenty of stars out quite early, the moon was not making herself known and around the edges of my sky was a tinge of blood redness near where the sun had set. It was in this environment that we paced the fields.

The first minute or so of walking is based on trust and memory. My body seems to know where some things are to be avoided. After about a minute sometimes sooner depending how relaxed I am on starting out, I can see quite a bit.

Primo glows in the dark. No really he does. He doesn't glow outrageously as if he has quaffed Delboy's radioactive juice, but about every 6th hair seems to have an iridescent quality.  He twinkles sometimes against the snow when it has reached  the 3rd  frozen day - the glistening point.

When there is very little light I am not sure how I can see him but sometimes I just can, across the other side of the fields or running along a hedgerow. We share an awareness despite distance.

In the dark all the other senses awaken, the eyes are not bad without sunlight and still perform a function but the ears tune up. And the feel of the air across your face and any other bareskin all communicate different things. Breathing  is quite a different experience and provides lots of information. Breathing in cool air somehow goes beyond the lungs and straight to the soul.  Refreshment. It is a great time for thinking, there is a space and peacefulness to the darkness that allows a deep contemplation, of the big things and the little, the trivial and the serious. The darkness somehow gives a  long term perspective, long term as in aeons. Perhaps that is the presence of the sky and the immediacy of the message that everything is transient and the moment, NOW is to be explored and lived.

One evening a dark moonless winter night we were out walking. Primo was doing his thing, trotting back and forth, sniffing the ground, whiffling at the air, raising an ear here and there. Simultaneously paying attention and carefree - an enviable state. He was quite a way off and I was not near a path. I had paused to watch an odd movement in the air. I could sense, rather than see, darkness coming towards me   It was a very odd sensation and then about 4 metres away from me I realised there was a man approaching climbing upwards and further behind his black dog.  He seemed  very surprised to see me there, perhaps at the last minute for him. He had been concentrating on his dog. I had known something was coming towards me but didn't understand what. Air and the darkness was moving, but I couldn't hear footsteps in the grass. He looked up startled, there was a person right in front of him - me. I remarked that it was good to know there were others as mad as myself that paced the fields in the night time. He managed to laugh and admit that it was a kind of madness, relaxed finally and then moved on. The dog, a bossy black labrador, spent a cursory few seconds checking me out then sought out Primo for a serious and thorough sniffing session.

This evening there was light somehow, in the darkness without a moon.  Spring is evident even in the night time.  I could see from field to field, as the breeze hit my face like cool water on hot thoughts.

My trust to not find rabbit holes with my feet was rewarded again, but on returning home later I have noticed that Primo appears to be walking with a limp. He is favouring a leg. I buttered his paw to encourage him to explore for thorns and perhaps a nights rest will help.

Tomorrow we may be visiting the vets.