Biography

Land of Hope ... and Glory

There are some pieces of music which are iconic, and for me that includes not just rock and pop but also the occasional piece of 'classical' music.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a classical buff ... I don't listen to a lot of what might be described as 'classical'  music, but I do enjoy the occasional iconic tune.

So I was interested when I discovered that On this Day - October 19th - in the year 1901, a piece of music which would become one of the most well-known in Great Britain at least, was performed in public for the first time.

The Pomp & Circumstance March No 1 is perhaps best known because it includes the tune which is the song Land of Hope and Glory. which is especially well known in the UK because it's a highlight of 'The Proms'. otherwise known as the 'BBC Proms' because the series of mostly classical concerts are shared with the world by that broadcaster. The march and the tune is traditionally also an integral part of the Last Night  of the Proms concert.

Edward elgarThis iconic piece of music is the creation of Sir Edward Elgar and many of his works are part of the British and international classical concert repertoire. Apart from the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, another of his best-known orchestral compositions and works is another favourite of mine -  the Enigma Variations - but he's also well known for concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. Elgar also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs.

Elgar is often regarded as a typically 'English' composer but the most interesting thing I've learned about him is that his musical influences came not from Britain but from continental Europe. He also felt like an outsider including musically - this was a time when music was dominated pretty much by academics and Elgar was a self-taught composer. Now THAT'S astonishing!

Socially Elgar also felt out of place.  He was a Roman Catholic in a largely Protestant Britain, and as a result some people were suspicious of him. He was from humble origins but lived in a very class conscious society in Victorian and then Edwardian Britain. He apparently was sensitive about his beginnings even after he gained recognition.

And another interesting point about Elgar - his major success didn't come until he was in his 40's ... 

That's encouraging I think ... it's never too late!

Just a note about the Pomp And Circumstance Marches - full title Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches. Although No. 1 In D and March No. 2 premiered today in 1901, actually they are a series of five (or six) marches for orchestra. The first four were published between 1901 and 1907, when Elgar was in his forties, but the fifth was published in 1930, a few years before his death and a sixth march was compiled after his death, from unpublished sketches. This was published in 1956 and in 2005–2006.

But back to Marches No 1 and 2. Both compositions were played two days after the premiere in Liverpool, at a Promenade Concert - a 'Prom'  - in the Queen's Hall in London. It was  conducted by Sir Henry Wood, who is synonymous with the annual promenade concerts. Wood actually conducted The Proms for nearly half a century and introduced  hundreds of new works to British audiences, and after his death in 1944 the concerts were officially renamed in his honour as the "Henry Wood Promenade Concerts".  In 1901 he conducted Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1  second, after March No 2, and Wood later recalled that the audience  "...rose and yelled... the one and only time in the history of the Promenade concerts that an orchestral item was accorded a double encore." (Henry Wood, My Life of Music p. 154)

And a final point before I leave you and you can enjoy this presentation of the iconic piece ...  The piece now known as Land of Hope and Glory in its original form was just a tune.

It was a big hit, including with the new British monarch - King Edward VII - who happened to mention to Elgar that he thought his March No 1 tune would make a great song. So when the composer was asked  to write a work for the King's coronation, he worked the suggestion into his Coronation Ode, with words written  by the poet and essayist A. C. Benson. Unfortunately the coronation was postponed because the king was unwell, so Elgar created a separate song, which was first performed by Madame Clara Butt in June 1902. And part of that original work - the first of the seven stanzas of the Ode's original final section - is now a feature of the Last Night of the Proms, and has become an English sporting anthem and a  general patriotic song.

Final thoughts on all this - apart from the fact that some people are just brilliant Elgar teaches me that sometimes we have to wait for things to happen for us. And sometimes what we create turns into something more wonderful than we might ever have imagined or dreamed.

How wonderful!

 

 


A Chapter in History

Today I'm doing something a little bit different. I'm sharing with you a chapter of the first book I ever wrote.

It was published in September 2013 and it was the first of two books commissioned by Lion Hudson/Monarch publishers to mark the 150th anniversary of the worldwide Christian movement, The Salvation Army, in 2015 and it's the story of the founders of that church and charity organisation, William Booth and Catherine Booth.

When I was asked to write their story I immediately wanted to make it a bit 'different' to other 'biographies'. I knew that through their lives together - from their first meeting in 1852 until Catherine's death on October 4th 1890 - they had written letters to each other. These letters are held by the British Library in London and they and the Booth family kindly gave me permission to reproduce some of the letters in my book.

WIlliam and Catherine front cover Sept 2013 Monarch booksThrough reading their letters and notes I really got to know these two people who, through their mutual love for God and each other, and their joint aim to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to see people 'saved' for God and 'saved' from lives of poverty and disadvantage, founded a Christian movement that now operates in more than 130 countries and every day, through their churches and social centres and individuals, help millions of people across the globe.

My reading of their love letters, and my understanding of their characters, motives, moods and history led to another element of the book. Instead of just historic narrative around the letters, I also created little stories, imagining their lives and the lives of those around them based in part on their own words in their letters. 

The book was - not unsurprisingly - called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters'

Catherine BoothToday I'm thinking about Catherine, because as you may have noticed from the dates above ... it was on this day in 1890 that she passed away - in The Salvation Army they believe Christian people are 'Promoted to Glory' - believers go to Heaven when they die.

Catherine died from breast cancer - when we launched my book on September 25th 2013 at The Salvation Army in London, we combined it with a coffee morning for Macmillan Cancer Support - and Chapter 19 of the book ... the penultimate chapter actually ... is the narrative of her final days. 

When news of her death became known, there were newspaper tributes across the world and The Methodist Recorder of 9 October 1890 paid tribute to her as “the greatest Methodist woman of this generation”. 

Today I share this with you, to celebrate this incredible woman whose death was  mourned not just by her beloved husband and her large family, and the wider Salvation Army across the world who called her 'The Army Mother' ... but by many more who admired and loved her.

“Mrs Booth is here, sir; shall I bring her in?”
Sir
James Paget looked up from his desk and nodded. No matter how many years he was in practice, this remained the worst part of the job.
The s
mall woman entered the room.
“Good day,
Mrs Booth. Please, take a a chair.”
Catherine Booth
slipped onto the chair on the other side of the large heavy oak desk on which the consultant had her paperwork spread out in front of him. She sat carefully, smoothed her dark skirts with her delicate hands, and slid off her r gloves.
“Has no one
accompanied you today, Mrs Booth? One of your daughters? Your husband?”
“No, sir.
I have come alone. I thought it best. The General ... Mr Booth, that is ... is preparing for a trip and leaves shortly. He wanted to come but ... there is so much to do.”
Catherine Booth spoke softly, and precisely. There was no hint of emotion in her voice, although her face was as white as snow, framed by her greying hair under her dark poke bonnet.
“Well
, Mrs Booth. I have my conclusions.”
Sir James
looked at the woman across the desk. She smiled a wry little smile.
“And,
Sir James? Is it what we thought it was?”

“I’m afraid so.”
“And ... ?”
“Well, as we feared, the disease is quite advanced already.”
“My mother died of it. Did I tell you that?”
“Yes, Mrs Booth.”
“And ... ” she swallowed deeply... “Is there anything...? I mean, what... time...”
Sir James Paget looked at Catherine Booth. His heart ached for her.
“Well, as I said before. In this stage it could be eighteen months, maybe two years. But there is really... nothing much... we can do.”
Catherine Booth cleared her throat and then smiled, sadly but sweetly.
“God is good, Mr Paget. He knows what He is about. But there is one thing perhaps you can do for me.” “Anything, Mrs Booth.”
“Might you be so kind as to ask your secretary to perhaps call me a cab? I do need to get home. William... Mr Booth ... will be anxious.”

It was February 1888. Catherine had been ill for a while. Sometime during the previous year she had found a lump in her breast and her family doctor had warned that it was, more than likely, cancerous. Eventually she was persuaded to make an appointment with the eminent Harley Street consultant, surgeon, and pathologist Sir James Paget, who confirmed that Catherine had incurable cancer. She had been in agony for some while, but the news that she was dying left William, in particular, inconsolable.
On her return home after that appointment with the doctor, William was waiting and ran out into the street to meet her and help her into the house, where she broke the news just received from Sir James. 
William later recalled the emotional meeting.

She tried to smile upon me, through her tears; but drawing me into the room, she unfolded to me gradually the result of her interview. I sat down speechless. She rose from her seat and came and knelt beside me, saying, “Do you know what was my first thought? That I should not be there to nurse you, at your last hour.”
I was stunned. I felt as if the whole world was coming to a standstill. She talked like a heroine, like an angel, to me. She talked as she had never talked before. I could say nothing. I could only kneel with her and try to pray.

William was due to leave for a series of meetings in Holland that night and Catherine insisted he went, although he left early to return to London where, he recalled, “life became a burden, almost too heavy to be borne, until God in a very definite manner comforted my heart.” The 3 March 1888 edition of the Salvation Army newspaper, the War Cry, delivered the news that The Army Mother, as Catherine was beginning to be known, was seriously ill.
Daughter Emma’s wedding to Frederick Tucker was brought forward to April in order that Mama could be present. Catherine’s last public engagement was on 21 June 1888, when she delivered an address at the City Temple, a free church in Holborn in London.
She managed to attend William’s sixtieth birthday celebrations in The Salvation Army’s Clapton Congress Hall in East London on 10 April 1889 and, although she missed the dinner, where a reported 2,000 people sat down to eat, Catherine did address the gathering and reflected, with humour, on their early days together

As my dear husband was speaking, I thought of his beloved mother, whom I loved as much as my own, and admired more than almost any woman I ever knew. When he was speaking of her, and making you laugh over his likening himself to her in his meekness and self-depreciation, I said to my friend there: “It is quite true, though you would not think it,” for no one knows the bolstering-up, and almost dragging-up, I was going to say, that sometimes I had to do for him in those early days. You would think now that he had always been the bold and self-sufficient – as some people think – man he is, but I can assure you he went forth ofttimes with so great trembling and fear for himself that he would ever have gone if I had not been behind him.

Catherine was still the only person who could be completely honest with and about William Booth, who even his most loyal supporters, friends, and colleagues recognized to be an autocratic leader and, particularly as he grew older, less patient and kind with those around him. For William, his wife’s rapid decline after her diagnosis was unbearable, as he anticipated the loss of the one with whom he had shared his life for nigh on forty years.
The family, who had moved from their home in Rookwood Road in Stamford Hill in the borough of Hackney, where they had lived for a few years, to Hadley Wood, a more leafy suburb further north, which was thought to be more conducive to Catherine’s good health, were now on the move again.
Soon after his birthday party in 1889, the family relocated to Clacton-on-Sea on the Essex coast, in order that she could have her dying wish – to be “Promoted to Glory” near the ocean. Family and Salvation Army life continued. William spent as much time as he could in Clacton, virtually moving his office to Essex.
During her long final illness, when Catherine Booth could do little more than occasionally attend private meetings and functions and then not even that, her main focus became her family, her friends, The Salvation Army, and her writing. She penned letters and notes to individuals and articles for Salvation Army publications. Even if she could not physically work, she was determined that her spiritual warfare would continue. Among the letters and articles were those to comrades at home and overseas, which were designed to reassure and encourage:

Regard no opposition, persecution or misrepresentation. Millions upon millions wait for us to bring to them the light of life. Although not able to be at the front of the battle in person, my heart is there, and the greatest pain I suffer arises from my realisation of the vast opportunities of the hour, and of the desperate pressure to which many of my comrades are subject, while I am deprived of the ability to help them, as in days gone by.

A number of times the family were called to Catherine’s bedside, but she persistently clung to life. 1889 turned into 1890 and in September of that year she was still with them, insisting, despite her son’s protestations, that Herbert marry his Miss Schoch, as planned. Although she could not attend the wedding, a chair and her portrait were set in the place where the groom’s mother should have sat.
Although heartbroken, William continued with his work. Even while his wife was dying, he was writing a book that would become central to The Salvation Army, its ministry and its witness in the future. Catherine encouraged him, and indeed continued to give constant advice as her husband wrote In Darkest England and The Way Out, described as a “social manifesto”.

This 140,000-word tome explored ideas that had been gradually gestating in his and Catherine’s hearts, minds and ministry (if in fact they had not been there from the outset), including providing shelter, food, and training for the poor. Early on, even in the days of the Christian Mission, soup kitchens and food distribution had been included in the Booths’ outreach to the disadvantaged. Work among prisoners and with homeless and vulnerable men and women had already commenced and Salvation Army refuges were emerging. William’s book developed these ideas further and also explored the concept of helping those without hope to learn new trades, primarily in agriculture, and then assisting them to emigrate to better lives in the New World.
Aided in its writing by William’s old friend, the newspaperman W.T. Stead, In Darkest England and The Way Out compared what was considered to be “civilized” England with “Darkest Africa”, a continent then viewed as backward and poverty-stricken. William Booth suggested that many of the inhabitants of London and England, despite the “Industrial Revolution”, were not much better off when it came to quality of life than those in the underdeveloped world. The book drew on recent research by another Booth, the philanthropist and social researcher Charles Booth, who was documenting working-class life near the end of the nineteenth century. William’s book also expounded the concept of “The Submerged Tenth” – the proportion of the population that he claimed were living on the border of or in poverty, and which the Darkest England schemes would be there to save: three million and more men, women, and children who needed ““rescuing”.
William Booth’s vision to help the poor out of the distress they found themselves in was by no means unique – Christians had been practising “good deeds” throughout history and attempts to rehabilitate the poor were common in Victorian England. But the book, which was published just two weeks after Catherine’s death, was destined to become a best-seller and formed the foundation of The Salvation Army’s modern social welfare approach to faith and salvation. It would capture the imagination of the masses, much to the discontent of those in society who wished the poor to remain, largely, in their place. As in the early days of The Salvation Army, when William and Catherine battled with those who believed their new Christian movement to be outrageous, the language of the book and its programme were viewed as radical. It advocated the abolition of poverty and vice by, among other things, a link between the Christian gospel and a strong work ethic, and promoted the
establishment of communities for homeless people, where they could be trained for appropriate employment. Out of this vision came the Farm Colony at Hadleigh in Essex, which did just that, preparing people for a future often as emigrants to a new life abroad. The book also proposed homes for fallen women and released prisoners, schemes for legal assistance for the poor, banks and clinics, industrial schools, and so much more. William Booth proposed that if the state failed to meet its social obligations it should be the task of each Christian to step into the breach – a snipe at the government if ever there was one.
For some, this might have sounded radical. For William and Catherine Booth there was no confusion. They were not turning their backs on their spiritual convictions. Far from it! All the projects and programmes and outreach outlined in In Darkest England and The Way Out had just one aim – to ensure that people became Christians. What good was it to have “saved” people if they continued to be in desperate circumstances and unable to fulfil their new potential as children of God? What hope had they of responding to the gospel if they were drunk, hungry, homeless, abused, and without hope?
William’s book was being finished as Catherine was dying, and in the introduction he paid tribute to the wife so recently departed:

To one who has been for nearly forty years indissolubly associated with me in every undertaking I owe much of the inspiration which has found expression in this book. It is probably difficult for me to fully estimate the extent to which the splendid benevolence and unbounded sympathy of her character has pressed me forward in the life-long service of man, to which we have devoted both ourselves and our children. It will be an ever green and precious memory to me that amid the ceaseless suffering of a dreadful malady my dying wife found relief in considering and developing the suggestions for the moral and social and spiritual blessing of the people which are here set forth, and I do thank God she was taken from me only when the book was practically complete and the last chapters had been sent to the press.

For Catherine there was now not much more time. One of her final messages for her beloved Salvation Army came in a letter to Salvationists from her bed for the 1890 annual Self Denial campaign and appeal.

My Dear Children and Friends,

I have loved you so much, and in God’s strength have helped you a little. Now, at His call, I am going away from you.
The War must go on.
Self-Denial will prove your love to Christ. All must do something.
I send you my blessing. Fight on, and God will be with you. 
Victory comes at last. I will meet you in Heaven.

Catherine Booth. 

This was published on 4 October 1890. Three days before, Catherine had suffered a massive haemorrhage. The family gathered for the final time around her bed in Crossley House in Clacton-on-Sea for a four-day vigil, during which they all prayed and sang. On the day of the publication of her final letter, at 3.30 in the afternoon, Catherine Booth, aged sixty-one, was finally Promoted to Glory.

My darling One,
I never thought of you wanting a line or you should have had a better one, but you will accept this, just to assure you of my fullest and most satisfying assurance of your unalterable and eternal love to me. I have never doubted the possession of your heart from the day you first declared it mine. We were wed for ever, and though I go first you will soon follow and we shall find our all again in that eternal day, Amen, Amen.
Goodbye, darling, till then. I shall be the first to greet you on that eternal shore with all our children
and thousands of spiritual children from all lands.
Yours as ever, Catherine

Chapter 19 (pages 293 to 302 of the book) ends with a note which Catherine wrote to her beloved William in her final days and it is in equal measure, heart breaking, stoic and full of hope in the future, albeit not here on earth.

That was Catherine ... and if you want to read more about her and William, their early lives before they created The Salvation Army, the first years of that movement and their love and family life,  my book is still available including online through Amazon and all the usual websites and the publisher Lion Hudson.

Please feel free to search online or click here ... 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters'

Thanks!


Be The Change

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”.

It's a famous quote which lots of us have heard ... but do you know who said it?

Well it was a man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - the man who we know now as 'Mahātmā,' Gandhi... and he was born on this day - October 2nd - in the year 1869 .


Mahatma-gandhi-be the changeGandhi was an Indian lawyer, an anti-colonial nationalist and political ethicist and activist who is renowned for using  'nonviolent resistance' to lead the successful campaign which led to India's independence from British rule in 1947.

He was a hugely charismatic and inspiring character who, although he was wanting rid of the British Raj who had ruled over India since 1858, epitomised a 'way of peace'. 

At a time when others advocated militant guerrilla warfare against the British, he proposed an opposite way. He fasted to persuade others not to riot. In response to the British monopoly and taxes on salt - among other things, an essential for cooking and preserving food - Gandhi defied the salt laws not with violence or even by shouting, but by leading a Salt March, which ended with him making salt from seawater by evaporation. He had started his march in early 1930 with just 78 trusted followers but the long walk was 240miles and took 24 days, and along the way he was joined by thousands. It's reckoned by the time of the salt making at a place now called Dandi, more than 50,000 people were gathered to watch the act of defiance.

In fact, it inspired people to act similarly. When Gandhi broke the British Raj salt laws on 6 April 1930,  it started a movement of large scale acts of civil disobedience against the salt laws by millions of Indians. They felt empowered and inspired by their quiet leader's example. They saw 'another way'.

Gandhi's life and way of living and being meant that, even before this time in his life he was revered as a 'wise man'. His first political activism started in South Africa where he lived and worked as a young man and it was there back in 1914 that he was first given the honorary title 'Mahātmā  - which can be translated from the Sanskrit as "great-souled"and "venerable".

Mahatma Gandhi's way of nonviolent resistance has down the years inspired civil rights and freedom movements across the world. The idea of achieving goals like social change not through bombs and killings and violence but through quiet protests, civil disobedience and political and/or economic non-cooperation can be seen as 'weak' by some, but actually it's the opposite. It's the way of strength and resolve. It's the way of courage and understanding. It's the way of compassion and empathy.

I'm sure most of us have things we would like to change ... maybe we would like to change the world ... but often we look for outside factors to change before we look at ourselves. We think if we change the circumstances around us then THAT will result in the transformations we desire. 

But this quote from this wise man reminds us that if we want the world to change, we need to make that change happen first within ourselves. 

If we want a world where love is all around, maybe we need to start by being more loving ourselves. If we don't want a world where argument reigns, then we need to hold our tongues and use our own words wisely.

If we wish to live in a kind world, we may need to ensure WE are kind first.

If we want a society which is more understanding, then we need - I think - to practice being more understanding. If we're not tolerant how can we expect our world to be a tolerant place?

So today, let's think about the change that WE might have to be, if we are to see a changed world. It's profound, and challenging, and it may mean we need to completely turn OUR lives around.

What a challenging philosophy! But imagine what the world could look like if we are that change!

Have a great day everyone!

 

 

 


Not Lost in Translation

Do you speak more than one language?

Maybe you're multi-lingual or, like me, English is my 'mother tongue' and I only speak a smattering of other languages.

A little French - that's about it. I have a few words of Kiswahili, learned when I was a child in Africa. I can say 'good morning' and 'thanks' in a few other languages but not much more than that! I can't converse in any other that the English language. 

Although many people do speak English across the world, for which I'm very grateful, there are times when we go places and we find ourselves in need of help ... we may need a 'translator'. These days there are apps on our 'phones and tech devices that can help us to translate what is being said, but also there are those clever people who make their living translating from one language to another - helping others to communicate.

Today, believe it or not, is International Translation Day  - a day for recognising translation professionals.

But  why today - September 30th?

Well, today is a celebration of St. Jerome,  who is considered the patron saint of translators.

ThursdayJerome lived in the early part of the first century - born it's thought around AD342 or AD 347. He died on this day - September 30th - in the year AD420.

Jerome was a Christian priest, theologian and historian. He is best  known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin (the translation that became known as the Vulgate) but he also wrote other commentaries on the whole Bible. He was also known for his teachings on the Christian moral life, especially to those living in cosmopolitan centres such as Rome in his time.  Interesting point -  he often focused his attention on the lives of women and identified how a woman devoted to Jesus should live her life. This came about because he was close to several female 'ascetics' from affluent families. 

His contribution to Christianity is so appreciated that Jerome is recognised as a saint and Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Anglican Communion.

Today is Jerome's 'feast day' and also ... since 2017 ... a date set aside by the United Nations as the day when we recognise the role of professional translation and translators in connecting nations.  Apart from encouraging us all to celebrate their contribution, the United Nations today also stages an annual St. Jerome Translation Contest for translations in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish, and German.

I first saw translators in action when I lived in Africa - people translating sermons in church services without notes, just responding to what was being said from the pulpit! I've also seen translators work at conferences and that's amazing. They have to be so quick-thinking and alert, and the ability to listen to one language and simultaneously translate into another is a wonderful skill.

Helping others to communicate, to break down the barriers between nations and peoples, is an important contribution not just to relationships between individuals but also to peace and understanding in the world. 

Sometimes we think, arrogantly, that those who don't understand or speak OUR language must be somehow lacking. And I'm not just talking about French, Spanish, English ... or Swahili or any other 'lingo'! We expect them to be like us, act like us, fit in to our agenda - to 'speak our language' in lots of respects. And that means we may miss out on the diversity of difference. When we don't try to understand where people are coming from, let alone their actual words,  that's a shame.

So today, as we celebrate those brilliant people who help to actually translate conferences, and meetings and correspondence so that everyone is aware of what others are saying and thinking and imagining,  let's also ask ourselves whether we are making the most of our personal communications and interactions with others. Are we deliberately not attempting to understand others? Or is it just we're not paying enough attention or can't be bothered to put in the effort to see another person's viewpoint? 

If we are in danger of our relationships getting 'lost in translation',  let's determine to be better communicators, to work harder to understand other people's viewpoints.

Language is very important. Let's use our words wisely and understand the impact negative sentiments may have on another person. Positive words and actions can make us and others feel great and that sort of positivity is contagious. 

And if you do fancy learning another language ... well, why not give that a go as well?

What language might you learn?

Now that's a question.

 

 

 

 


A Miracle and Mystery

If I was to list the following books ... could you tell me what the link is? 

Yes, the well read and clever among you will know they were all written by the same man - Herbert George Wells.

Born on this day - September 21st - in 1886, HG Wells was an English writer and novelist. He actually wrote in many 'genres' - short stories, dozens of novels, and even social commentaries, history, satire, biography and autobiography - but is best known for his science fiction novels and works. In fact, I read that he is sometimes called the "father of science fiction", along with another brilliant author, Jules Verne.

Often, especially these days, as a writer one is expected to just write in one genre - crime fiction, 'chick lit' or women's literature, horror, science fiction, children's books, history, biography, academic etc et

But what I love about people like Wells is that he did it all. Like many of the great authors of the later 19th and early 20th century and some of my favourites - JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis - who weren't just writers but also educators, Wells started out as a teacher. And such was his imagination that he didn't stick to one type of writing, but diversified.

In fact, another of his books - The History of Mr Polly - is one of my favourite reads. It's a 'comic novel' about a man who feels very unfulfilled in life. It's also a bit of a social commentary on the times, English society at the turn of the 20th century, and in particular his descriptions of lower-middle-class life really tells us so much about life in those days. 

But of course, it's his science fiction which has grabbed all the attention. Those books listed above have all been made into (several) successful films so lots of us know about the themes. 

'The Time Machine' in particular has grabbed the imagination of readers down the years and it's also been credited with  the popularization of the concept of time travel by using a vehicle or device to travel  forward or backward through time - think 'Back to the Future' - love those films! 

Actually, it was HG Wells who coined the term "time machine"! What a legend!

I'm absolutely intrigued by the idea of travelling in time, although I always say that I wouldn't want to travel to far into the future ... just a few years here and there to see how life might work out for us might be good for starters. In Wells' novels, and other time travelling works, the reality of  life far into the future is not always what's expected, it's not utopian and it's often overwhelmingly so different that the plot or story invariably doesn't work out well.

HGWellsTo celebrate HG Wells, today I am sticking with the idea of time ... which he obviously spent a lot of time not just writing, but also thinking about.

'The Time Machine'', which was published in 1895, is not just about a vision of the future, but also a commentary on the increasing inequality and class divisions of late Victorian England. It's also about dreams and aspirations for the future,  but also human ambition and what people will do to see their visions a reality ... and so much more!

But for those of us who fancy a bit of 'time travel', for those of us who maybe live with the future always just out of reach, it's easy to forget to live in the moment.

As Wells reminds us in this thought, we can get obsessed by time, by always looking ahead and thinking about what might be over the next hill. We might be one of those who always thinks the grass will be greener in the field just down the way. Or one of those people who constantly fixates on what life might be like in the future, when everything is bigger, better and more successful, rather than enjoying THIS day, this moment!

It's a good lesson.

So, to celebrate this day and the life and works of HG Wells, I'm going to try to remember this not just today ... but down the line as well ... (There I go, thinking about the future!)

I love this idea that 'each moment of life is a miracle and mystery'.

May we never take 'today' for granted or risk missing out on the joyful moments of today by always thinking about tomorrow.

 


A Scrumdiddlyumptious Day!

Now here's something you may not know ...

Today is Roald Dahl Day!

Or to give it it's official name ... Roald Dahl Story Day !

It's a global annual celebration of the most brilliant British novelist, short-story writer, poet, screenwriter ... and wartime fighter pilot - Roald Dahl, and today we're encouraged to enjoy and celebrate our favourite Roald Dahl stories, characters, and moments.

We do all this today because it was on this day, September 13, in the year 1916, that the author was born!

Roald Dahl is best known as a children's author, of course ... think The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  and Matilda - and that's just for starters, I think you could probably name more.

But Roald Dahl wrote not only for children, but also had a successful parallel career as the writer of macabre adult short stories (I was scared witless back in the 1980s by television dramas based on his spooky and and bizarre Tales of the Unexpected.) Briefly in the 1960s he also wrote screenplays including two adaptations of works by Ian Fleming - the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ and 'Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang'

Roald Dah quote - change the worldIf you look online you'll see loads of quotes from Roald Dahl - and this one here is one of my favourites I think.

He could be funny and profound at the same time. He could write about cruelty and kindness in equal measure. And, as we've learnt from some of the films which have been created from some of his stories, his words encourage children, and all of us really, to be the people we should be, to dream big and to believe in ourselves.

He was and still is a true superstar!

In fact, as it says writ large on the building which houses a Museum named after the author, he and his creations are 'Truly Swizzfigglingly Flushbunkingly Gloriumptious!'

When I lived in the UK, I actually lived quite near to a leafy village called Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, which is home to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.

Dahl - Willy Wonka gatesStep through the doors of the museum and the Willy Wonka Gates and prepare to leave reality behind as you enter the weird and wonderful world of Dahl.

The gang’s all there including the aforementioned Big Friendly Giant, Charlie, James, Matilda ... Danny, the Champion of the WorldThe WitchesEsio Trot, Fantastic Mr Fox and so much more!

If you fancy it, you can dress up as your favourite Roald Dahl character, and get crafty making a mask of, as the museum literature says, ‘a crodswoggling creature’.

Dahl - museum exteriorJust like Roald Dahl, who invented hundreds of new and whacky words and phrases – over 200 just for the BFG ‘gobblefunk’ dictionary apparently – you can even let your imagination run riot and create your own crazy words. It’s fantastagorically hands-on and fabulously intriguing, even if you’re not 6 to 12 years old! 

His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide but his talents actually extended much beyond the written word and the Museum and Story Centre is also a window on that world.

In the ‘Boy’ Gallery we can find the famous ‘mouse in a gobstopper jar’ and learn more about Roald Dahl’s schoolboy days and pranks! There’s loads more about his life as a Welsh-born lad with a Norwegian heritage and as a husband, father and grandfather as you read original letters and delve into the Dahl family photo album.

Step through into the ‘Solo’ Gallery and discover more about Dahl’s life as an RAF (Royal Air Force) fighter pilot in the Second World War and his unique literary archive. You might have to fight a 4-year-old for a place by the touch-screen monitors, but if you are forced to wait your turn, you can always sit back and enjoy extracts from some of the films which have been created from Roald Dahl’s books.

Then, if the kids haven't already beaten you to it, it's into the Story Centre and Crafts Room. There you'll find the aforementioned dressing up box, and that word creation area, tables where you can be all messy and crafty, and there's even a space where you can make your own stop-frame animation film.

Roald Dahl originally wrote his stories for his own 5 children and encouraged creativity in all the kids he met, so it's not surprising that his Museum is a place where the words ‘Don’t Touch’ are banned! Here there are items to play with, spin and manipulate, holes to peer into and wonder what lurks beyond, things to prod and poke. Anything that is not for touching is out of harm’s way or under glass. In fact, touching and feeling and getting into a little bit of mischief is positively encouraged!

However, my favourite spot at the Museum is the replica of Roald Dahl’s Writing Hut - it's in the Story Centre and it's fascidoodly - here I go, making up words already! 

It was in the 1950s that Roald settled down with his family in 'Gipsy House' in the little village of Great Missenden in the county of Buckinghamshire (sort of north east from London). He was then married to his first wife, the American actress Patricia Neal, and it was here in the quiet and idyllic countryside that they raised their family.

At the bottom of the garden at Gipsy House, Roald had a little hut to which he retreated to write most of his unforgettable stories. Research tells us he couldn’t type - he always used a pencil to write for several hours a day locked away in his hut, sitting in a big old shabby chair, leaning on a ‘writing board’ which he fashioned to fit perfectly around his body.

Apparently the hut wasn't warm or particularly clean and tidy, but it was here, in his special writing place, that Roald wrote for two hours each morning and two hours every afternoon, using exactly six freshly sharpened, yellow, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils which he popped into a small Toby jug on the desk next to his chair. He'd worked out that he needed six pencils for a two hour writing session and always started each session sharpening the pencils!

Dahl - The writing hutIt’s just one of the rituals which Roald had when it came to writing and, as you sit in the replica chair in the replica Writing Hut, surrounded by the fascimiles of the author's special objects, you feel something of the man and the genius. Well, at least, I did!

This is me some years ago trying to channel a tiny fraction of Dahl Inspiration in that replica of his very own chair!!

Small Kid or Big Kid - whatever age you might be, there will something for you!

The Museum and Story Centre regularly hosts Revolting Rhymes sessions from roving storytellers in the Courtyard around which the museum nestles. In Miss Honey’s Classroom there are ‘fantabulous’ weekend and holiday workshops with storytellers, authors, crafts experts, scientists and chocolatiers (Roald Dahl ADORED chocolate which makes me admire him even more!)

For an extra special treat for adults and slightly older children you can enjoy a special tour of the Dahl Archive, a behind-the-scenes experience where you get to meet an archivist who will show you some of the locked-away archive material, providing an even deeper insight into the mind, life and work of the author. When I went, we discovered that Miss Honey (the perfectly lovely teacher in Matilda) was originally intended to be an alcoholic and Miss Trunchbull (the hideous headmistress in the same story) started out as a much nicer person!

For those wanting to do more research on Dahl, the Archive and Museum Reading Rooms are also open to researchers by appointment and they also welcome researchers who can't actually get to Great Missenden - via the website.

Dahl - Cafe Twit signFinish the visit with a stroll through the Shop where you can buy everything from books and pictures to Dahl themed games and weird stuff like a ball made entirely of elastic/rubber bands.

Finally, grab a drink and ‘delumptious’ cake in Cafe Twit. 

Dahl - cakesIf it's a fine day sit in the Courtyard and just watch how much fun everyone - young and old - is having.

And forget any diet - because the cakes are perfectly delicious.

In fact, you could say they are ... Scrumdiddlyumptious!

*This blog is based on a article I first wrote for my Hub Pages website pages ... and it's still there if you fancy looking it up ... and also please feel free to check out my other hub stories!

Thanks!

 


One Candle

Have you ever read 'War and Peace' ? 

It's a mammoth literary piece so not everyone gets to it ... my research tells me that it's 3,958 pages in four volumes and it took the author 10 years to complete. WOW!

That inspired writer was Leo Tolstoy. born on this day - September 9th - in the year 1828. Although there is a bit of a complication on the date ... go to the end of this blog to read more about that!

Tolstoy was an exceptional Russian writer, known not only for the aforementioned major tome published in 1869, but also Anna Karenina  (1878) and many more exceptional works including novels, short stories and novellas, plays and even philosophical essays. He actually received nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906 and for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902, and 1909 but he never won either award!

What many people don't know is that in his forties, during the 1870s, Tolstoy went through a crisis which resulted in a spiritual awakening which led him to explore Christianity and the life of Jesus Christ, which is in turn caused him to become a  fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. In fact, I read that Tolstoy's ideas on nonviolent resistance influenced 20th century figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

But back to 'War and Peace' - I admit I have a copy but haven't managed to get through it. Yet. It's one of those things I plan to do when I have a year or two to spare. 

I should have read it really because part of my university degree was about modern Russian economic and social history and 'War and Peace' is set in the period before the Russian Revolution and the Soviet era. The novel includes the stories of five Russian aristocratic families - the kind of family that Tolstoy himself was born into - and covers their experiences from the French invasion of Russia in 1812, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society. It also includes chapters on philosophy and history, so it's a pretty good narrative on the culture and systems which preceded modern Russia.

As I said before, the book was first published serially and then in its entirety in 1869. It is still regarded as one of Tolstoy's finest literary achievements and to this day remains an internationally praised classic of world literature.

Leo TolstoyThere are so many quotes attributed to Leo Tolstoy - not least from 'War and Peace'. But it's some of his more philosophical thoughts on love, life and faith as well as 'war and peace' that I am impressed by and which challenge my thinking and behaviour.

As I said, he did become a person of great faith and even though he was a controversial character I love this quote from him which looks at the impact we have on others. It's an insight into how our actions may affect the lives of those around us, and a reflection on how we treat others which may lift their spirts as well as our own.

It's also a reminder that one small act can ultimately impact not just one other person, but hosts of others, if the 'light' of kindness, compassion and love is passed on.

It's such a wise thought and it encourages me, today, to be a light in the world rather than adding to the darkness.

Now back to that 'complication' about the date of Leo Tolstoy's birth which I mentioned at the start.

Leo was actually born on August 28th 1828 ... but THAT was in what is known as the 'Old Style' dating system ... under what is known as the Julian calendar, In various European countries this dating system was replaced by the Gregorian calendar between 1582 and the twentieth century. And those using the Julian system 'lost' around 10 days of the calendar when they switched to the Gregorian way of calculating time.

That switch to what was known in Russia as the "Western European calendar" was implemented in Soviet Russia in February 1918 - which effectively meant that the Julian dates of 1–13 February 1918 were dropped. One day it was the 30th January and then everyone woke up to the 14th of February! That must have been really confusing.

And so, even though the change came almost a century after Tolstoy was born ... August 28th becomes September 9th! 

Happy birthday Leo!

 


Remembering Roy

Today I'm remembering a great man!

I was privileged to meet him just once ... as a young reporter in Jersey I interviewed him because he was the star of the annual summer parade - The Jersey Battle of Flowers.

Roy Castle was a HUGE personality, a star of stage, screen and TV -  musician, singer, comedian, actor, dancer and television presenter - he was a true legend.

Many will remember him because for years he became well known to British TV viewers as the presenter of the children's series Record Breakers

But before that he was well known for his roles on stage, television and film and because of his amazing musical talent - he was an accomplished jazz trumpet player but he could play many other musical instruments. He was also a person of great Christian faith and a family man - years after that meeting with Roy I actually got to know his wife Fiona ... what a lovely family!

I'm thinking about Roy today because it was on this day - September 2nd - in 1994, that he passed away aged just 62. I remember the shock of hearing about his death ... he had lung cancer but he had never smoked. He blamed his illness, which was diagnosed a couple of years earlier, on passive smoking during his years of playing the trumpet in smoky jazz clubs.

Roy was brave. Even in his final months and with his health declining he continued to work hard, including on the high-profile Tour of Hope to raise funds for the erection of the building that would become the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, the only British charity dedicated solely to defeating lung cancer.  Fiona continued to work with the charity after her husband's death, and campaigned for the British smoking ban which came into effect in Northern Ireland in 2004, Scotland in 2006 and England and Wales in 2007, banning smoking in virtually all enclosed public places.

What a legacy!

Sometimes when you meet your heroes, it's a disappointment because they turn out not to be the person you think they are.

But when Roy Castle came to Jersey in 1988 to be 'Mr Battle' at our island's annual floral parade, the highlight of the summer season, the Jersey Battle of Flowers - there was no disappointment.

He was JUST as lovely as I thought he would be. He was jolly and kind, and smiling. A consummate professional and actually a really nice chap. I  interviewed him for the local TV station - Channel TV (ITV) - and filmed him during the Afternoon and the evening Moonlight parades. I saw first hand how hard he worked and how brilliant he was with the public, and us media! There was no 'stardom' about him really - he was full of fun and laughed and chatted to anyone and everyone. People loved him!

That same year - 1988 - Roy presented a TV series for the ITV network which was also close to my heart.

Marching as to warIt was called 'Marching as to War' and it told the story of The Salvation Army, it's founders William and Catherine Booth, and explored all sorts of aspects of the work and music of the global church and charity Christian movement.

For me, as a young Salvationist and someone who was working in television at the time, it was exciting to see my church and it's history being shared with the world, and I was thrilled that Roy Castle - so empathetic and compassionate - presented that series of programmes and was able to bring something of his own personal Christian faith to the project. And I know, from talking to people who were in that series with him (some of whom I can still recognise on the films) that Roy was a pleasure and joy to work with!

A few years after the programmes went out I found myself living in Norwich where the series was made by Anglia TV. By the late 90's I was actually working in the network religious department at Anglia ITV. It felt like a circle was complete.

The whole 'Marching as to War' series is available on YouTube, thanks to my friend Rob Westwood-Payne, who also hails from Norwich and who is  now a Salvation Army officer, or minister.

Some of the footage is now rather dated. Times have changed ... among other things, the uniforms are different and some of us don't wear uniforms at all these days ... and of course the world has altered around us. 

But the message of Booth and his life-altering mission movement remains as strong today as back in 1988 when the series was made, and in 1865 when William Booth first set up his East London Christian Mission, which in 1878 would be renamed The Salvation Army.

So - if you have half an hour to spare - why not  sit back and enjoy this episode?

It's the one where Roy tells us all about 'Soup, Soap and Salvation' - one of the key message of the early Salvation Army ...

 




Do Small Things with Great Love

There are some people who are just iconic. Legendary! 

I'm sure you can think of a few ... for me they may include Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, William Shakespeare, Queen Victoria, Neil Armstrong  ... that's an eclectic mix but you know what I'm talking about.

People who are not just famous for what they did, what they wrote or who they were but also because they are ... or were ... just outstanding members of the human race. Yes, they are part of the history books or will be in the future, but it's more than that.

Not all iconic people have lived 'good' lives ...sometimes they are notorious for leaving behind a dark legacy ... let's think of Jack the Ripper for instance or similar serial killers ... these are people who become legends for all the wrong reasons.

But MY list of people who I consider to be 'icons' don't include those guys ... I'm more interested in those who made a real difference to their times and cultures, and those who  left or who will leave a real legacy of positivity.

One of those at the top of my LEGENDS list is a woman who in her time lived a very humble life but who made an incredible impact on the world ... not just on the people around her but also those who looked to her as an example of love and faith.

Today I celebrate the birth and life of Mother Teresa - Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

Born on this day - August 26th - in the year 1910, in Albania, Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu would grow up to be a world icon ... but actually she lived a very quiet and compassionate existence which was all about OTHERS. An indication of her religious life and the importance of it to her is the fact that ... so I read ... Mother Teresa actually considered August 27th to be her 'true birthday' because that was the day she was baptised into the Roman Catholic faith, aged just one day.

Please click on the link to her name above to find out more about this amazing woman, but I just want to say that very early in life she became fascinated by the stories of the lives of missionaries, especially in India, and by the age of 12 she became determined to commit herself to a religious life.

In 1928 at the age of 18 she left home to join the Sisters of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham in Ireland, with the intention of learning English to help her with her aim of becoming a missionary ... English was the language of instruction of the Sisters of Loreto in India.

Just a year later she arrived in India where she trained as a nun ( actually in Darjeeling, in the lower Himalayas). Here she learned Bengali and taught at a school. When she took her religious vows in May 1931, she chose to be named after Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries.

Her life and mission and Christian ministry would be India. By 1950, Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation that by 2012 had over 4,500 nuns and was active in 133 countries.  The congregation and order runs homes for people who are dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. In addition, they also run orphanages and schools, soup kitchens, mobile clinics and dispensaries and children's and family counselling programmes.

Vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience define the lives of the nuns, but to this is added a fourth profession of faith - to  give "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor."

Even though I'm not a Roman Catholic, growing up I was aware of Mother Teresa and the work she did, especially in the city of Calcutta (now renamed Kolkata) in West Bengal in India.  For me she was always the epitome of love. She worked with the 'poorest of the poor', advocated on their behalf and loved them unconditionally.

Mother Teresa

There are many quotes attributed to Mother Teresa.

She apparently once said '

"By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus."

She gave her entire life really to service in the name of Jesus Christ.  Her own needs and desires and wishes cast aside to enable her to think of others before herself and  just love.

And I think one of my favourite Mother Teresa quotes is this one ... .

"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."

When you look at the words, the depth of meaning grows over time.

We might all want to 'change the world' ... some of those on my list of Icons at the start of this blog did just that!

But that wasn't what Mother Teresa was about. She was just walking one day at a time, looking for the need around her, helping where she could. Just making small differences which, in the end, would change lives.

The discarded babies she saved from dying on the streets, the people she and her nuns fed every day, the families counselled and cared for, the hands of people dying from AIDS or leprosy held in love, the many many thousands who still, today, receive free medical treatment courtesy of the Missionaries of Charity, the children saved from conflict and natural disasters - yes she did leave India from time to time to help in other situations.

Each person's life altered, made more comfortable. Hope given. Friendship and love shared. 

That's beyond measure!

And then there's her legacy of devotion and Christian faith. THAT is also something that can't be measured.

So today, as we celebrate the life of Mother Teresa, perhaps we can remember this one thing.

No action done in love is wasted. We might not change laws or move mountains, or even receive rewards,  but today ... if we do just one act of love for another ... we might just change their circumstances, make it easier, give them hope and surround them with the knowledge of love! 

 


I Look to You

Do you have a favourite song, or maybe a whole host of tunes and music and songs which you love?

In the UK there's a national radio programme called 'Desert Island Discs' (BBC Radio 4) in which 'famous' people are asked to imagine that they are to be 'abandoned' on a desert island and they are allowed to select eight songs or tunes which they would like to take with them.  It's a great way to share their life story!

I love that show and it's so interesting to hear the music the guests select, and why it is part of their imaginary 'castaway' experience.

I've often wondered what eight songs I would pick, and I've come to the conclusion that it would be hard to narrow it down to just eight! I have songs that remind me of my childhood, my teen years, my young adult and later life, my family, experiences across the years ... etc etc etc ... and they are all important to me.

But if I had to choose and make that very difficult decision, then this song would definitely be on my list.

I'm sharing it with you today because the version of this song that I love the best is by the fabulous Whitney Houston, who was born on this day - August 9th - in 1963. 

Whitney was an amazing talent, a beautiful singer and she was hugely famous in her lifetime.

Unfortunately life wasn't always happy for her, despite the fame and fortune, and she died far too young, in February 2012. That was a shocking day for all her fans, as well as her family and friends. But although she is no longer with us, we are privileged that she left behind so many great songs. 

Some of Whitney's legacy hits are just pure 'pop', just fun, and remind me of my younger years. Driving in the car singing out loud at the top of my voice, dancing at parties with friends, chilling out on the beach!

But some of the pieces that Whitney recorded in her lifetime are much deeper. They reflect her faith, her hopes and fears and her struggles in life.

I look to you lyrics''I Look to You'  was released on July 23, 2009, so it was one of her last hits., and I've listened to it many many times down the years because the words just inspire me... 

I look to you
I look to you
After all my strength is gone
In you, I can be strong

I look to you
I look to you
And when melodies are gone
In you, I hear a song
I look to you

When I'm feeling down, alone and 'without a cause', this song reminds me that there's something bigger than me and this moment in time.

For me, it's a truly spiritual song. It encourages and uplifts me, takes me out of myself and my worries and cares.

But whenever I hear Whitney singing this song, there's also a touch of sadness ... with the thought that that despite singing these inspirational words ultimately it appears she struggled to prevent the walls falling down on her, and  to find that open door to health and wellbeing. I'm not judging, because ultimately none of us know another person's inner thoughts and being, but there is a touch of pathos in the song.

I trust that she she did, eventually, find peace. But in the meantime, I'm thankful that Whitney Houston DID walk this earth and left us such a legacy.

Including this unbelievably beautiful song!

Thanks Whitney!