All gone

Where have all the leaves gone! I tell you where, in our front lawn.

The last few stormy days have rapidly accelerated the autumnal transition. Soon the colour will feel like it’s been sucked out of the landscape. Just dark greens and greys. The hope is that blue skies will frequently lift the mood. A close friend likes to remind me that as grey as the sky may appear, a blue sky is still close by, just behind those clouds. Yes there is always hope.

That’s so like bereavement and loss. When it first strikes it will seem so claustrophobic. You feel imprisoned in a world of pain and sadness. No way out. No hope. No dreams. No way new happy memories can form. Everything has gone. That’s it.

Every grief journey is different, unique. But so many travelling those roads will eventually in their own time find a way out of the darkness. Clouds will start to part and blue skies will slowly appear again. Hope and dreams will start to form again. You can start to build again. Start to live again.

Swiss Sunday

We haven’t been able to visit Switzerland since 2015 but it still remains very special to our little Yorkshire family. One day we will return but in the mean time let’s take a virtual trip to this beautiful land.

In these troubled times there are certain thoughts that I cling onto. Thoughts that are so dear to me that they always part the clouds and make the sun shine. One such thought is that Switzerland is there. It’s still there and is most definitely still that beautiful.

Polar express

A beautiful train line in the distance. Even beautiful at night…

Last night we had a chat about Christmas. This year will be a slightly different one. No family visits and wider family meals. No friend visits. No 50000 spectator football match. No concert. No special trips out. No nice country walks. No carol singers. No Father Christmas riding through the village on a tractor collecting for charity and then handing out sweets to the kids. Basically just us, the pets, the house, the garden and one visit from the jolly big fella dressed in red.

It’s still Christmas. Still a time to make memories. Still a time to live. So we make the best of it. Never forgetting those we love the most.

Last year we thought that we had started a new tradition. A trip out on a Christmas Train. A wonderful night trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. A beautiful illuminated stream train with even some magical creatures in the passing fields.

So we had planned to do the same this year……

Well it’s not happening. So it’s time for plan b. We have decided that on the same day as last year we will head out on our own polar express. I have some really cheap solar powered Christmas lights. The car will adorned with these. A Christmas music cd will be loaded up on the car stereo. Christmas snacks will find their way into the car. Silly hats and reindeer jumpers will be donned. And off we go on our own polar express. A slow drive around a little used country lane route.

That’s a start. What else can we come up with. What new memories can be born. Always remembering to carry those we love in our hearts as memories are made.

Half term

Well we made it through another 7 weeks of school at home. Thankfully a week free from school now beckons. Oh what bliss. No more trying to explain how to factorise a quadratic equation with a lead coefficient greater than one…… I couldn’t do that when I was a teenager and now, 752 years later I still can’t do it. At least I’m consistent.

I’ve just been reading an old school report from all those years back. Here’s an edited summary.

  • Attendance 100% – which is odd as I can remember at least one day when I attended the morning register and then went back home at break time as my parents were both at work…….
  • Behaviour ‘exemplary’ – pretty easy to get that when you bear in mind that in our class we would eventually compromise one murderer, one attempted murderer, 2 convicted armed robbers, a burglar, someone who blew up the teachers desk (and got expelled) and a kid who set fire to the church hall.
  • School Honours – ‘Elected school prefect’ – which was news to me, I never knew that. Maybe it happened on one of the afternoons I was nicking off.
  • Maths – ‘very capable but seems to lose interest very quickly’. But it’s maths what do you expect (so speaks the accountant).
  • English – ‘can’t spell’ – I did struggle with that. Still do.
  • PE – ‘Really good at team sports. Captain of the Rugby Team’. We didn’t play a Rugby match that year as Tommy R burnt down the rugby posts before the season started and school couldn’t afford a new set. For some reason we never got invited to play at other schools – were we that bad a school….
  • French – ‘Not very good’ – which is worrying as I was the best in the class at French.
  • Drama – ‘struggles to deliver lines’ – what do you expect I had a stammer…..
  • Biology – ‘Needs to work harder’ – I suspected that referred to my refusal to dissect any living creature.
  • Chemistry – ‘Needs to concentrate during practicals’ – that might have been when I forgot to switch on the fume cupboard and the school had to be evacuated when the alarms went off.
  • Art – ‘He does try hard but’ – the words after ‘but’ are difficult to decipher but I guess they could be ‘but he’s crap….’
  • Geography – ‘he has had a decent year’ – that probably referred to me being able to locate the classroom in the school most weeks. A task clearly beyond some of my class colleagues.
  • History – ‘OK’ – that was it, just a one word report for that subject. Wow must have created a real impression on that teacher.
  • Woodwork – ‘Has some issues’ – another kinder way of saying that I had as much practical skills as a drunk pigeon. Much to the consternation of my dad who was a joiner by trade.

So that was me as a kid. The report was actually a pretty fair representation of the adult I would end up being. In the words of one teacher HAS SOME ISSUES…..

Forgotten Memory

It’s another one of those cold damp bleak Yorkshire days. Hawklad is sat in his bedroom trying to get his school work done. Or maybe he is asleep…. I’m sat by a radiator watching the incessant rain rattle against the window. Trying to warm up after my really cold morning garden workout. It feels like this will be long old winter. A long winter on many fronts.

I’m listing to an old Opeth cd. Back in the time when they were still a proper dark metal band. A memory floods black. I went to buy this very cd just before the millennium. A time way before parenting reality found its way to me. From a music shop which would eventually sadly succumb to economic reality. With the gatefold cd in hand I went to pay for it at the till. The clearly just out of school assistant looked at the cd and then gave me a questioning look. He said something like

This is one of my favourite bands but it’s very heavy dude. Might not be your thing. I can show you the section with the more mainstream rock cds”

I stopped him before he got they chance to mention The Moody Blues. I pointed out to him that I had in fact all of Opeth’s records. And while he was probably still in nappies watching the Care Bears I was at gigs watching the likes of Motörhead and Black Sabbath. After that we had a laugh and he admitted that when he saw me walk into the shop he had switched the music he was playing from Iron Maiden to Deacon Blue. I admitted that I had seen Maiden but strangely forget to add that I had also seen Deacon Blue as well…..

A happy, long forgotten memory…. A memory which took my mind off winter for a few precious minutes.

Irony

It was another one of those Yorkshire days. Cold, wet, windy, brooding.

That weather combined with a pandemic, homeschooling and our enforced lockdown is a heady mix. A mix which gets me pondering life. Probably too much pondering some days.

I was sat looking out through the window at that dark sky. Sat alone while Hawklad did his school work in the bedroom. I was suddenly taken back to before 2016. The old small conservatory had finally fallen to bits. We had found the money for a replacement one. I think we planned for years of sitting in there, spending time together. But here’s the thing. We never really did. Life always got in the way. We always seemed to be too busy. If only we had found a way of slowing life down. Creating time at home. Seemingly having too much time on our hands. No excuses to not sit together in that new conservatory. At the time it kind of never really mattered. We had so many years ahead of us to do that.

Well that plan didn’t go well.

Here’s the irony that 2020 presents. Suddenly time has slowed down. Often a feeling of too much time on our hands. A lockdown enforcing time together. No outside distractions this time. A perfect time to sit with my partner and look at that dark sky. Thinking how lucky we are to have that time together. The irony is not lost on me.

Philosophy

In England we like winding country roads. But occasionally we get a straight one. Like here, almost a French feel to this.

A week ago I was driving along this road and suddenly had a thought. Always dangerous with me. So I parked up and stood by the side of the road. I wonder what the passing drivers thought I was up to. Given the brakes going on the cars, maybe they thought I was a speed camera operative. About 20 years ago I was a civilian manager in a Police Force. It was decided that the handheld speed cameras needed replacing. To cut a long story short the traffic police were asked to test 6 different cameras under similar conditions. Six police cars went to a known speeding zone. Can you imagine the panic on the unsuspecting drivers who screamed over the brow of the hill to be confronted immediately by 6 police officer stood next to each other, pointing 6 cameras at the speeding car. Ones bad enough BUT SIX.

Anyway enough of speeding cars having the worst 5 seconds of their week.

I’d stopped to look at the lane because I had suddenly realised that I had been up and down this road thousands of times over the years and I had never really stopped to look at the beautiful trees. So that’s what I did. But then another random thought struck me. All about which direction to head in. Not easy to choose here as there are so obvious signposts. So left or right – no idea. Bit like life somedays. No obvious direction. Then a smile. My first bit of philosophical thought in years. Why not just head off in the opposite direction to which way your bottom is currently pointing. Yes that works for me.

Can wait

Yes much darkness but if you look hard enough – definitely blue sky can be found.

I’m sat looking at the window overlooking the garden. We are on the edge of a small hill. The last hill before the ground falls away and the ground is largely flat for miles. So I was looking into the distance. Looking at the brooding sky and thinking.

Sometimes I look at life and relationships and realise things don’t work out as well as I had hoped for. Maybe some things won’t pan out as I would have loved them to do. Often it’s just down to circumstances. Out of my control. I am just just forced down a different path. In that moment I was pondering which dreams I could still cling on to and which ones I should really put to one side.

Then my eyes caught sight of a small patch of blue sky. Yes small and definitely well into the distance. But still blue sky. I could so easily have missed that. Too caught up thinking about the past and an imaginary future. Standing by closed doors from the past can be both reassuring and emotional. Gazing at so many memories. Yes future dreams are important as well. They provide so much hope and direction. But they do not represent the here and now. You still have to remember to live.

So the little patch of blue sky worked its magic. Time to do some living. The future and the past will still be there in a few hours time, they can wait.

Jarrow March

This photo was taken 4 years ago to the day. A day in October. A day early in my grief journey. A moment in our family history.

Time to turn back the hands of the clock back to before the Second World War. To another moment in our family history.

October 19th, 1936. Chesterfield to Mansfield.

From the 5th to 31st, the Jarrow March took place. 200 men walked 300 miles from the north eastern town of Jarrow to London. Jarrow was like many northern towns in that period. Bleak, stagnant and forgotten. The impact of a world wide depression was hitting this area hard. There was no employment. Unemployment was endemic. In Jarrow the unemployment rate was near 70%. The Government seemingly did not care, blind to the suffering. The Government even blocked loans that would have saved the town’s industries. Rising anger at gross inequality and injustice. The growth of racism and extreme right wing politics.

That was the context as 200 men set off on their crusade. A peaceful and dignified protest, carrying a 12000 signature petition asking for their industry to be reopened. A simple message. We want to work. We want hope.

The marchers were treated as heroes on the route. Galvanised a growing mood in the country. The petition was handed into the government with so much dignity and respect. In the short term the March failed. The Baldwin Conservative Government brushed the march and the petition aside. Clearly in their eyes some people were more equal than others. But in the long run the Jarrow March delivered. It set a new agenda. After the war the new Labour Government set about writing the wrongs. A comprehensive welfare state was introduced. Government with a conscious was established. One that cared for the less fortunate. Sadly a conscious which has started to be unpicked and now unravelled.

We live in a time of rising unemployment. Inequality and injustice are ripe. The growth of extreme politics. Sound familiar. We could learn so much from the Jarrow March. A Crusade marked down in English history. A family history as well. My family was on that march.

Swiss Sunday

It’s Sunday so it must be time for our weekly virtual trip to beautiful Switzerland. A country which we have not been able to visit in person since 2015 but still means so much to us.

This week I was talking to our son about Switzerland. I asked why he loved it so much. He thought for a while and simply said.

“It’s so big. Everything is bigger than I’ve ever seen before. You feel so small there”

He’s so right. In terms of area it’s not that big. The United Kingdom is six times bigger than Switzerland. But once you get there, it hits you. In Switzerland everything is on such a grand scale. It’s completely breathtaking.