Sunday, 28th September 2004. As from today, I have copied all of my Weblog content over to a Tripod Blog and these pages will no longer be updated. It's just like moving next door really but, from now on, you will be able to add a comment to an entry, if you wish. The new address is:
Wednesday, 24th November 2004
Just over four weeks to go until Christmas and I got my first Christmas Card yesterday! It is probably sensible to start writing cards as early as possible, especially if you write more than just 'Best Wishes' and have a lot to send but, please, please, don't post them so early!
Commemorating the birth of Christ on the 25th December dates back to 354 AD when Pope Gregory chose that day to celebrate the Nativity as the date coincided with existing pagan rituals which the Church wished to absorb. The 19th December was the start of the Roman 'Saturnalia, a festival honouring Saturn, the god of the harvest, and was marked by seven days of continuous feasting and merrymaking. Elsewhere in Europe, there was a similar festival known as 'Yule', when huge logs were burnt in honour of the gods. In 1652, Christmas was banned in Britain by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. It returned when Charles II took the throne in 1660 but all the rituals had virtually died out. It was the Victorians who revived them. Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, introduced the Christmas tree. Carol singing was revived. Christmas cards, the first one produced in London in 1846, became commonplace by the 1870's. Christmas crackers were invented at the turn of the century. Father Christmas himself is a mixture of St Nicholas and the medieval 'spirit of Christmas' but the modern Santa Claus, with sledge, reindeers and a sack of toys, was invented by America in 1868.
So, Christmas as we know it today is mainly a 19th century invention wrapped around a Christian Religious Festival which commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in England, it seems that Christmas has become so commercialised and so stressful, as people exchange cards and gifts with everybody they know, that it has completely lost its true meaning. To keep up their 'status' frantic shoppers use their credit cards to buy ever more expensive presents for all their work mates and friends and then spend the rest of the year paying interest on what they spent. And how many people receive expensive presents they just do not want and never use and then feel obliged to fork out to buy another unwanted gift in return?
In Spain, and probably in other Spanish speaking countries, Christmas is more peaceful. The commercialisation revolves around the 6th January, Epiphany Day or Reyes. That is the day when the Three Kings arrive with all the presents for the children.
Well, Christmas should be for the children but too much emphasis on Father Christmas can also be bad. When my husband was a child he was told that Father Christmas might bring him what he asked for IF he was VERY good. He tried his hardest and was very, very good but Father Christmas hardly brought anything. When he went back to school after the holidays, boys he knew had been quite naughty had superb presents. He was convinced that he must have been so bad somehow and it spoilt his childhood. If only someone had explained that Mum and Dad couldn't afford big presents, he would have understood.
Well, I suppose I had better start sorting out those cards..........
Monday, 22nd November 2004
Can you remember what you were doing and where you were forty-one years ago on this date? I can.
I was on Brighton Station waiting for a train.
If you are old enough, you will probably remember where you were too. The 22nd November 1963 was a Friday and the special news bulletin that evening was patched through the station's loud speaker system... Have you remembered yet? The words I heard struck me with horror and disbelief. If I had been near a telephone, I would have rung home to tell them to listen to the news... You have remembered! The announcement I heard was grim: "The President of the United States of America, John F Kennedy, has been shot and seriously wounded as he was riding in an open limousine through the streets of Dallas, Texas." Everyone on the station stopped in their tracks, we looked at each other, not quite comprehending what we were hearing. I had a lump in my throat. He had seemed such a good man. The journey home seemed to take for ever and when I arrived at last, I rushed to hear the Evening News Bulletin. The President was dead. Our hearts went out to his wife, who had cradled her husband's blood-smeared head in her arms, and to his young children. Why had something so awful and so tragic happened?
I was on Brighton Station waiting for a train....
Thursday, 18th November 2004
The brain is an amazingly complex organ which controls everything our body does from breathing and walking to seeing and hearing. We like to think that our conciousness is always in control but sometimes the brain foils us. Take this silly exercise which arrived in my Inbox last night:
How smart is your right foot?
This will boggle your mind. And you will keep trying at least 50 more times to see if you can outsmart your foot, but you can't.
While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.
Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.
Your foot will change direction.
Well, I couldn't do it. I thought my husband might be able to because he can do that other trick of patting your head with one hand whilst the other hand rubs your stomach in circles - but he couldn't either. Can you do it? Perhaps a Jazz Drummer could do it? Or an Organist? I wonder...
Remembrance Sunday, 14th November 2004
"The Glorious Dead"
I feel sad today. There is something so nostalgic and poignant about watching old soldiers and members of the armed forces marching past our Cenotaph, in London's Whitehall, in remembrance of their fallen comrades. The Cenotaph (an 'empty tomb') was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and erected in 1920. It bears the words, "The Glorious Dead", and commemorates the many whose lives were lost in two World Wars and other conficts. In the case of the First World War, the decimation of a whole generation of young men.
The first time I began to realise just how many young men never came home from the Great War was when I was twelve or thirteen. Two spinster sisters lived together just down the road, the Misses C------. They seemed old to me but they were very kind. They invited my sister, Pauline, and myself to tea and plied us with scones and home made quince jam. I saw a photograph of a handsome young man and, being curious, I asked, "Who is that in the photograph?" One sister, immediately looked very sad and said softly, "That is my Fiancé. He never came home after the Great War." Her eyes glistened. My sister frowned at me. That was when I realised how cruel war is. Not only were so many soldiers killed in the Great War, so many mothers and wives bereaved, but a whole generation of young girls never had the chance to marry. Miss C, not a spinster by choice, had remained true to her lost love but so many other young girls, like her sister, never had the chance to meet anyone - there just weren't enough young men left to go round.
The Thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air Death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings. .... last verse of "Into Battle" by Julian Grenfell - killen in action 1915.
"Selections from Modern Poets" made by J.C. Squire. Published 1934 - London: Martin Secker
I feel sad today....
Thursday, 11th November 2004
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
........ Fourth stanza of 'For the Fallen' by Laurence Binyon (1869 - 1943)
Did you know that today, the anniversary of Armistice Day on 11th November 1918, is a public holiday in Belgium? They always hold a Service of Remembrance in Ypres and a special Last Post ceremony at The Menin Gate Memorial. Belgium has never forgotten the sacrifices made by so many young soldiers - some of them just boys who pretended they were older. Now on Remembrance Sunday, the nearest Sunday to the 11th November, we honour and remember the dead of all wars and conflicts.
Did you know that an American Lady called Moina Bell Michael, from Georgia, was the person responsible for the poppy emblem? She was inspired by John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields" - especially the last verse, "To you from failing hands we throw the Torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields." She made a personal pledge to 'keep the faith' and always wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance.
In the United Kingdom, we hold a two minute silence at 11 am - the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Sadly, not everyone remembers or cares. I can recall a time shortly after the end of World War II when everybody did care. I was in the car with my Dad, I think we were in the Finchley Road going towards Golders Green. ALL the cars came to a standstill - ALL the drivers and passengers got out and stood to attention, stiff and silent, for two minutes. Not a sound could be heard anywhere in London. It made a huge impression on me.
Do you wear a poppy?
Tuesday, 9th November 2004
I read somewhere very recently (and I can't remember where!) that most people's earliest memories don't go back further than age three or four. The trouble with most early memories is that you don't always know exactly how old you were when something happened. Also, you may think you 'remember' something because you were told about it so many times or because you saw a photograph. Anyway, it got me thinking about my earliest memories and I thought I'd share some with you.
Sunday, 7th November 2004
Did America vote the right way last Tuesday? I don't know. But I am not alone in wondering what is happening in the world. Are we heading to World War Three? I sincerely hope not. But what is happening in Iraq is absolutely terrible for the Iraqi people. How many of them have died or been murdered as a result of this war? Acts of terrorism have been increasing, innocent hostages are taken and beheaded, ordinary Iraqis trying to do a responsible job to earn money and to help their country are murdered because they are linked to the 'Infidel'. Why is it that religion causes so much hatred? Sunni against Shiite, because of a war long long ago over the rightful successor to the prophet Muhammad. Christian against Jew. Protestant against Catholic. Whatever our skin colour or ethnic origin, we are all Human Beings of the species Homo Sapiens - 'Wise Man'. What a misnomer! 'Homo Hostilis' would be a better name.
Monday, 1st November> 2004
Been watching more news coverage on the American Elections tonight. It seems to be a very close thing and I wonder who will win. However, I was amazed yesterday to hear that some Americans are urging people to vote "the way God would"! The implication was that one choice was good and the other evil, which I find appalling. All human beings have free will to make their own decisions and no one should ever presume to imagine that they know whom God would choose! From this side of the Atlantic, I just hope that the best man wins. And you, my American cousins, should all get out tomorrow and exercise your right to vote as every vote DOES count. God bless America and all the rest of the world too.