Biography

A Song for Friday

It's a Friday.

It's almost the end of February - my second month writing this blog.

I have to say sometimes - just sometimes - I've struggled to be inspired as to what to bring you.

Shall it be another diatribe based on something that happened 'On This Day in History'? Just something that popped into my head, a picture I've seen, a quote I adore?

Or in this case, a piece of music?

Little known fact ... unless you're me or a few people I know who've heard me go on about this endlessly ... one of my favourite stage shows is 'Les Misérables'.

When it first came to London's West End I heard the soundtrack, saw some reviews and was absolutely determined to see it live. I didn't live in London so every time I was visiting the UK capital, for whatever reason, I would try to get tickets. To no avail! 

One time I even queued for hours in the hope of getting some 'return' seats. Nothing!

In 1993 when I moved from Jersey to the UK, I was in a better position, and eventually, sometime down the line, I got my opportunity. Ticket in hand I found myself in the theatre.

Absolute Bliss!

It did not disappoint. Loved the songs, loved the staging, the characters. Everything.

And since then I've seen the show about seven times, including once at the Jersey Opera House, a most excellent amateur production a few years back by the Jersey Amateur Dramatic Club. They were amazing, and the best thing was a few of my friends were in the cast. Perfect.

Now, don't worry, I'm not going to go on endlessly about the show, or the film, or the (very long - five 'volumes') book that it's based on. I've read it by the way, and it's a classic!

But just to say, Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist, and dramatist had started writing the tome in the 1840s but the book Les Misérables  wasn't published until 1862. It's based on events which had taken place around thirty years previously.

Hugo had apparently walked the streets of Paris during the June 1832 rebellion which is the culmination of the novel. He saw those barricades. But the novel - considered one of the greatest of the 19th century - is not just about the conflict and unrest in France over the decades preceding 1832. It's a narrative on poverty, and injustice, and social and class division. Its themes are philosophical as well as historical. 

Hugo was not just a writer but also a politician and he had very strong views on issues like social injustice, he was opposed to the death penalty and in favour of freedom of the press, among other things. And this, ultimately, got him into trouble.

When Louis Napoleon, Napoleon III, seized power in France in 1851, he established an anti-parliamentary constitution and when Hugo openly declared him a traitor the writer had to flee the country. He moved first to Brussels and then to Jersey.

Unfortunately he was expelled from this /my lovely island for supporting a local newspaper that had criticised the Queen of England, Queen Victoria. So Hugo moved just across the water to another Channel Island, to Guernsey, where he and his family settled at Hauteville House in St Peter Port. The writer lived in exile from October 1855 until 1870 - and by the way, you can visit the house even today to see how he lived.

It was while he was in Guernsey that Hugo created some of his best work, including completing Les Misérables. It delights me that this classic was written quite close to my home!

Anyway, back to the stage production. And all I'm going to do is share one of the fabulous songs from the show. Hard to choose, so many great tunes but this is one I've selected for you today, sung by the amazing Josh Groban.

Oh, and if you're wondering - I'm posting this today because Victor Hugo was born on this day - 26 February - in 1802.

 

 

 


Don't waste Time

I don't know how you're reading this.

Maybe you've logged on to your desktop computer, or perhaps you're reading this daily blog on your handheld technical device, or even your phone.

If you're as old as me - which is not ancient, but old enough - you might remember a time when we had no computers, and phones were plugged into the wall in your house, office or a 'phone box' on the side of the road.

I think I first saw and used a computer, a very basic one, at work in the 1980s. It was stand alone, and not connected to any other computers. To share information I had to load the data onto a 'floppy disc' which could be inserted into another machine. There was no 'internet' and no fancy graphics. Just black and white, or green on the screen.  

It wasn't long though, just a few years, when we had greater 'connectivity'.  The World Wide Web was 'invented' in 1989 and by about 1993 it was something we used every day. Initially I could connect (rather slowly and with that distinctive 'dial in' sound) via my telephone line but eventually came what we now know as 'wifi'. What freedom! When it works.

As for a 'mobile' phone, my first was a rather large analogue device which had a cover I flipped open to get to the dialling numbers. It had an aerial I had to extend to get a connection.  I think I could text on it and make calls, but nothing else. I'm talking about the early 1990s, so not that long ago in the greater scheme of things.

We've come a long way very quickly. No longer do we need to be 'plugged in' to connect to the world. Today I have a laptop and an I-pad, and an I-phone and I can do pretty much anything I want to on it, on the go, through wifi. 

The idea of mobile phones goes right back to the early 20th century and many many people have been involved in the development of the technology down the years. 

But I'm going to mention one man today who is synonymous with the development of the personal computer era.

His name was Steve Jobs, and he was born on this day - February 24th - in 1955.

Business magnate and guru, industrial designer, pioneer and innovator.  He and Steve Wozniak, a former high school friend, set up Apple Inc in 1976. Under Jobs' leadership as chairman and chief executive, the company has become one of the leading firms, if not THE leading technology company in the world.  Think that I-phone and the other tech I mentioned just a few moments ago.

I could say so much about Steve Jobs, but I won't. You can look him up on your I-phone or similar tech device to find out more.

There's no doubt that Steve Jobs inspired not just computer geeks and tech people during his time, but also those who wished to emulate his business acumen and determination to get things done. He was an unconventional character but he created an astonishing legacy which continues to inspire, even though the man himself is no longer with us.

And there's one quote which I found from Steve Jobs, which inspires me. It's part of a longer thought which I offer below, but it starts with this...

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” 

This is so profound. 

Many of us spend our lives trying to please others, and trying to be what others want us to be.

We do jobs that we have no passion for, because our family or our teachers, or our community want us to follow those paths. We believe things because we think if we stop believing we will upset the people around us, or those who taught us, or raised us. Even when it comes to relationships we maybe settle for less than we might, because the world tells us we need to be married, paired up, have children before we're a certain age. Even if we're with the wrong person. We tie ourselves into careers because they bring us money to buy the house, buy the clothes, have the holidays, live the life that 'everyone' lives. 

And think about the celebrity culture.

So many people think if they look like, sound like, wear the same things as those they perceive to be 'successful' then they will successful too. But one of the reasons that the celebrity who we might try to emulate were successful in the first place is because they WERE at the start, different and distinct. Original.  By copying them you are a poor facsimile, just a copy. Not original at all.

Take the example of music ... today's popular music. Listen to the charts and many of the successful downloads of tracks, and you may notice that many of them sound the same.  That 'breathy' rather 'whiney' sound where the singers slur their words. Many of them, when they occasionally sing 'properly' without that affectation, have great voices. But they adopt this sound because others have made a success with it. But what the copycat musicians forget is that the original artist made it BECAUSE they sounded 'different. They were original. 

Maybe if people had the courage to follow their OWN style, rather than just copying what they think will make them successful, they might actually get what they so long for. And if not, well at least they've been true to themselves.

I know I've been part of the system. I've been guilty of doing things, and making even important decisions in my life,  because I thought it was 'expected of me'.  I've stayed in jobs I dislike or am bored with because I don't want to let people down and to be seen to be walking away from 'a good situation'.  I've missed opportunities because I haven't been brave enough to step outside the expectations I think others have of me. It's so complicated.

But the older I get, and the shorter the amount of time I know is left to me, the braver I become. 

I'm not sure yet where this might lead me... but today, on this anniversary of Steve Jobs' birth, I take his thoughts on board and determine not to waste any more time living a life that is not mine.

Steve jobs feb 24

 

 


If this be loving ... then I love

On this Valentine's Day I share with you something very special.

A few years back I wrote a book based on the lives and letters of the couple who founded The Salvation Army, the global church and charity movement.

William Booth met Catherine Mumford in 1851 and they married four years later, in July 1855. Their relationship was developed through letter writing, and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage.

Those letters are held in the British Library in London, and it was sheer pleasure to spend hours pouring over those epistles, deciphering the handwriting. Through the correspondence I got to know these individuals on quite a personal level and I discovered that, although they were obviously very religious and spiritual, they were also complex characters, flawed individuals, and ... I found to my surprise ... very much in love.

That personal even romantic love kept Catherine and William close, and that and their love for God and humanity and their mutual passion for sharing the Christian gospel,  helped them to stay strong often during very difficult times.

I love that in 1872, 17 years into their marriage, William - who was also quite an accomplished poet - was inspired to write this to his wife, the mother of his eight children, and his partner in life, faith and Christian mission.


2016-02-14 15.03.48

By the way, if you fancy reading my book based on the Booth Letters, I will be honoured.

It's called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Lion Hudson 2013)

You can also find it and some of my other books on Amazon and other sites.

You can also check out my Author Central page on Amazon 

If you go to the top of this page and click on 'Cathy Home Page' you will also find my main website and occasional blog. And there's more info on 'Cathy's books'.

Thanks and Happy Valentine's Day

 

 


A Long Walk

Memory is a strange thing. 

It is rather choosy in what it chooses to remember.

I know that, as a person who was born at the very end of the 1950s, SO many things have happened in my lifetime but most of my memories aren't of the BIG events, but lots of little, personal things. Making a snowman with my brothers when I was probably about 5, hanging upside down on the 'monkey bars' at school at about the same age. My first memories of moving to Africa with my family ... more on that another time.

As a person who has worked most of my life in the news business, I strangely find that I don't remember even many of the big life-changing events. Although I DO know where I was on September 11th 2001, when the planes hit the World Trade Centre in New York.

And I remember the events of February 11th 1990 because I clearly recall watching them on the television.

It was the day the world watched Nelson Mandela walk free from prison on Robben Island, in Table Bay off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa, after 27 years in captivity.

The crowds were incredible and then we saw him, holding hands with his then wife Winnie, walking through the crowds. Walking into Freedom.

It was incredible. It really felt like I was watching history in the making.

For my whole life I was aware of South Africa - I had relatives living there and had visited my brother and seen apartheid in action, even the reaction of some black people against members of their own community during these very turbulent times as they worked their way towards independence. I had witnessed terrible scenes on a television screen, an horrific 'necklace killing' which was shown on TV. If you don't know what this is, please click on the link... I can't bear to repeat it here. I still have the images in my mind.

One of the iconic songs of the era, 'Free Nelson Mandela', was a cry for freedom not just for the man, but also for the black population, the nation of South Africa. With the real threat of a racial civil war and pressure at home and internationally, including economic and sporting boycotts, eventually the government of President F. W. de Klerk saw what needed to be done.

And here Mandela was ... walking free. The man who had been imprisoned for sedition and conspiring to overthrow the state of South Africa was a free man. At last!

It was incredible.

But what came next was even more astounding.

It would have been easy for Mr Mandela to insist on power for the black population, immediately, and to rouse them to action.

But instead, he worked with President de Klerk to negotiate an end to apartheid, that system of institutionalised racial segregation that had been formalised in 1948. Eventually there was a multiracial general election in 1994 which resulted in victory for Mandela and his party, the ANC - the African National Congress. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of his nation.

After assuming power, and especially after suffering 27 years in incarceration, one might have assumed that Mandela might then have wanted his revenge on the white politicians and civilians who had made life so unbearable for the black and 'coloured' population for so long. But no.

Instead he emphasised reconciliation between the country's racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. 

It was barely a year after that 1994 multi-racial election, which my own family members were pleased to be part of, that I visited South Africa again. Life in the country seemed familiar and it didn't feel like much had changed really, but there was hope in the air.

And although it is still a troubled country, with much poverty and even inequality of all kinds, today I remember the man who guided his country through such a momentous era, which could have turned out so differently. Long walk to freedom

In his autobiography 'Long Walk to Freedom' (Little Brown & Co 1994) Nelson Mandela shared not just his life's story but also his wisdom.

He wrote ...

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

And he left us with thoughts which can inspire us all ...

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

 

 


An Original Power Couple

I'm thinking about weddings today and specifically a marriage that took place on this day in 1840.

It's an unusual day for a wedding ... February 10th ... or at least it is these days. Most people don't chose the dark days of February or a Monday for their special day - yes February 10 1840 was a Monday!

But the couple who got married on this were different.

Because it was the day chosen by Queen Victoria to marry her Prince -  Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

And for all sorts of reasons it was a significant day not just for the couple, but also for the future of Great Britain, and some might say, the world.

Victoria was a young bride of 20 and she had been the monarch of the British Isles and Ireland since 20 June 1837. She ascended the throne at just 18 after a troubled childhood surrounded by intrigue and control.

Even though she was queen, the conventions of the day meant she had to live with her mother, who had been at the centre of that controlling childhood. One might say Victoria was determined to escape, and quickly.

As Queen of Britain, others knew that she was a good catch and plans for her future were already being cooked up. As early as 1836, even before she ascended to the throne, her maternal uncle Leopold, who was King of the Belgians, hoped she might marry Prince Albert, the son of his brother Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Victoria's cousin.

Apparently the reigning King William IV, Victoria's uncle who she would succeed, wanted her to marry someone else. But in 1836 when she travelled to Coburg to visit her German relatives, including Albert, Victoria was rather taken with him. And like any young girl, it was his looks that grabbed her first. "Extremely handsome... beautiful nose, very sweet mouth, charm of his ... expression which is most delightful" were just some of the things she wrote about her cousin in her diary.

But she was so young, too young to marry and although there was a sort of 'understanding' between the couple, it wasn't until she was queen that the pair's relationship would move to the next level. In the meantime, as was common in the day, their relationship was kept alive through letter writing. 

Move forward to October 1839 and Albert visited England and just five days after he had arrived at Windsor, Victoria had proposed.

Yes, she proposed. She was, after all, Queen! It would not have been up to Albert to ask.

Four months later - on 10 February 1840 - they were married in the Chapel Royal of St James's Palace, in London.  Like his bride, Albert was just 20 years of age.

Looking back at the relationship you could say that it was a marriage of convenience. Victoria had the independence of a married woman and her mother was out of the picture - she was soon moved out of Buckingham Palace. Uncle Leopold had his person at the centre of power across the water from Belgium. He had managed to keep it in the family, and indeed the family that Victoria and Albert went on to have would dominate the ruling houses of Europe for decades.

The couple barely knew each other really, if you think about it. But they had family connections, history and tradition to draw on, as well as one other thing.

Miraculously, the couple had fallen madly and deeply in love. Victoria was said to be 'love struck' on her wedding day.

And I said at the start, this marriage wasn't just significant for them as individuals, but also important for the future of Great Britain, and even the world.

Although Victoria was Queen and, if you believe all you read, rather good at ensuring her husband was aware of that status, they also became a phenomenal 'Power Couple'. 

Initially, we're told Albert felt rather frustrated by his role as Queen's companion - Prince Consort. He had no responsibilities, no power. But he gradually blossomed. He would become an important political adviser to his wife, and took on more roles especially when his wife was pregnant, which she often was. The couple had nine children!

The period of Victoria's reign, which lasted for 63 years (longer than any of her predecessors) has become known as 'The Victorian Age', a time in history renowned for industrial, scientific, political and military change in the United Kingdom and the world. It was also a period of great expansion of the British Empire. In 1876, the British Parliament granted Victoria the additional title of Empress of India.

Prince Albert was at the centre of much of the innovation of ideas. Despite the rather frustrating start, he developed a reputation for supporting public causes like educational reform, the abolition of slavery and scientific and industrial development. The very successful Great Exhibition of 1851 , which showcased many of the new developments and innovations of the time, was organised under Albert's patronage.

As Victoria turned more and more to her husband for guidance and support, he also helped her to understand that she needed to be more impartial when dealing with her governments, which helped to develop the concept of the British constitutional monarchy 

And perhaps more importantly for family dynamics, Albert even managed to help to slowly improve the relationships between his wife and his mother-in-law.

Sadly Albert would die early in 1861, at the age of just 42, which thrust Victoria into deep depression, leading to years of mourning and self-imposed isolation ... she wore black for the rest of her life and mourned him until the day she died in January 1901.

But, as with all couples on their wedding day, the future was unknown to Victoria and Albert on February 10th 1840. They didn't know what lay ahead. They were just full of promise, and love.

So on that I'll note, I'll leave you with a little thought.

Thank goodness we don't know the future.

If we did, it might stop us doing the unusual, dreaming the impossible, braving the unthinkable, daring to think you can change the world, daring to love. 

 

 

 

 

 


Every Day is the Best Day

I've done a lot of researching and writing for my blog this week. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed it, but it's meant you've had to read it ... or not, as the case may be.

So today I just have a happy thought for this Saturday from a great American writer, philosopher,  essayist, lecturer and poet called Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Enjoy every day, but especially today.

Happy Saturday Everyone!

Ralph Waldo Emerson Saturday quote


Take the first step

I'm starting today's thought with a picture and quote from an awesome woman

Quotation-Rosa-Parks-To-bring-about-change-you-must-not-be-afraid-to-84-42-21

The fantastic woman who is featured above is Rosa Parks and if you haven't heard of her before ... where have you been?

Rosa was an American activist and she was born on this day - February 4th - in 1913.

But it was around 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, 1955, that she did something that changed the course of history and human and civil rights in the USA.

She refused to move from her seat in a bus!

Rosa lived in the south of the USA in the state of Alabama where racial segregation was part of the system and the culture.

Since the turn of the 20th century, the former southern Confederate states, including Alabama, had adopted new electoral laws and constitutions that disenfranchised black voters, and even many poor white voters. The were called the 'Jim Crow laws', and they imposed racial segregation in shops, public facilities and public transportation. Under the law, bus and train companies introduced and enforced strict seating policies with separate sections for black people and whites. In fact, there was no school bus transportation available in any form for black schoolchildren in the South, and Rosa Parks herself remembered going to elementary school where school buses took white students to school, but black kids had to walk.

In December 1955 those rules were still in place in the city of Montgomery, where Rosa lived and worked. On the buses, individual conductors were allowed to assign seats to ensure the races stayed apart. The first four rows of seats on buses in Montgomery were reserved for whites. There were 'coloured' sections for black passengers, even though around three quarters of passengers on any bus were black people. The sections could be changed if the bus conductor saw fit, they had movable signs which meant that if a white person needed a seat, a row was re-assigned and black passengers had to move. People of different colours were not even allowed to sit in the same row of seats on the bus!

If the vehicle filled up with white people, basically black passengers were forced to move further and further to the back so that the whites could have their seats. If the bus got overcrowded, it was the black passengers who had to leave  - by a rear door. Black people could only enter and leave by the back door.

On that evening of December 1 1955 Rosa Parks was on her way home from work. She paid her bus fare, and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "coloured" section. She was sitting near the middle of the bus, and her row was directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers.

As the journey progressed, more and more white people got on the bus and soon all the 'whites only' rows were taken. The bus driver ordered Rosa and three other passengers to leave the row they were sitting in, to make way for white passengers.

The three other passengers in her row moved to seats behind. Rosa refused.

She argued with the bus driver but stayed in her seat. The police were called and Rosa was arrested.

Now just to explain, Rosa was already involved in the civil rights movement. She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was a secretary in the local NAACP branch and had been involved in civil rights and other political activity for a couple of decades.  But her main job was as a seamstress at a local department store.

And, as she explained in an interview with National Public Radio  in 1992, Rosa remembered that she hadn't set out that day to cause a ruckus. Here's what she told NPR's Lynn Neary  

'I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time ... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.

The actions and orders of the bus driver James F. Blake that day was the straw that broke the camel's back for Rosa. Although hers was not the first arrest on a bus of a black passenger who refused to give up their seat for a white person, Rosa Parks' defiance was to be a turning point in the civil rights movement.

After her arrest for civil disobedience, with the backing of the NAACP, Rosa began a prolonged court battle. Other court cases were also underway and nearly a year after her arrest, the federal Montgomery bus lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which was a court case separate to Rosa's, led to a ruling in the US Supreme Court that bus segregation is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

But what followed Rosa's arrest was the clincher in the whole saga, because it was the catalyst that sparked a boycott of the Montgomery public bus system for almost a year.

Remember, although they were treated badly, black passengers made up around 75% of the bus company's business. Black residents just refused to take the bus and eventually the bus company's finances were rock bottom, but it was only the repeal of the law following that Supreme Court ruling that forced the transit company to change its rule. On December 21, 1956, Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated and black people could ride the bus again, without segregation.

So Rosa has gone down in history as an icon of the American civil rights movement. She would became internationally famous and work alongside, among others, Martin Luther King Jr. In later life, the US Congress would call Rosa Parks "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".

But life wasn't always kind to her. She was fired from her job and struggled to find work and she received death threat for years afterwards.

From 1965 to 1988 she also continued to be involved in civil rights and in politics, including the Black Power movement. This former seamstress who took a stand for right would go on to receive national and international honours including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

When she died on October 24, 2005 aged 92 she became the first woman to lie in state in the Rotunda at the Capitol building in Washington DC and a statue was posthumously erected in her honour in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall.

Today the States of  California and Missouri commemorate Rosa Parks Day on her birthday, February 4, while other states - Ohio and Oregon  - commemorate the anniversary of her arrest, December 1.

The quote from Rosa Parks which I've used at the top of this thought says it all I think.

'To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try'

I'm inspired by that idea.

So often when we know there are things that need changing, in our life, in our communities, in our world, we are scared by the prospect of getting involved. It'll be too hard, it'll take up too much time, it'll be beyond my ability.

Maybe I just need to take Rosa Parks' advice and take the first step. 

Who knows where that might take me?


The Day the Music Died

I'm always fascinated by how creative people come up with their ideas.

Plots for stories and novels, film scripts, song lyrics.

Although I know that sometimes inspiration appears to come from nowhere, and characters and music just appear in ones head or even dreams, at other times the idea might come from nature, real life characters, and even news stories.

And today I'm thinking about one of the best known rock and roll songs ever recorded ...  American Pie written and recorded by Don McLean. It was inspired by an event which shocked the world on this day in 1959.


I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

So bye, bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey 'n rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die

On February 3rd 1959 some of the biggest stars of the time, performers we now recognise as pioneers of American rock and roll, were killed in a plane crash.

Buddy HollyThe Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens were on a national tour with a host of other musicians - what was dubbed the  Winter Dance Party tour. They had been on the road since January 23rd, travelling from city to city and venue to venue in draughty and unreliable buses. It was all turning a bit disastrous, everyone was exhausted, morale was low and drummer Carl Bunch was hospitalised with frostbite in his toes - caused by the freezing conditions on the bus!

The next stop on the tour was Clear Lake in Iowa and Buddy Holly, who had organised the Dance Party, decided to charter a four seater aeroplane so that after the Clear Lake concert, they could fly to the next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota.

For Holly and two of his friends this would mean they could rest before the next show. But who to take?

Holly had gathered around him a band of fantastic musicians including Carl Bunch on drums, Waylon Jennings on electric bass and Tommy Allsup on guitar.

Jennings was to have a seat in the plane, but he gave up his place to J. P. Richardson (aka the Big Bopper), who had the flu. Allsup flipped a coin for the third seat and he lost to Ritchie Valens.

So it was that Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper were the trio who took their seats on that plane. Shortly after take off, just before 1am on February 3rd, the aircraft crashed into a cornfield.

When the news broke, the nation and certainly the world of entertainment and music went into mourning. Three of the biggest stars and the brightest talent had been lost. Buddy Holly was 22. Valens even younger ... just 17. And although Richardson was one of the older members of the band, he was only aged 28 on that fateful day.

Don McLean has revealed that he first heard about Buddy Holly's death on the morning of February 4th, from the newspaper headlines. The songwriter was then a 13-year-old and he was folding the papers ready for his newspaper route. Hence the line "February made me shiver/with every paper I'd deliver..."

Years ago, to mark a big birthday, I was treated to a night out at the theatre in Pretoria in South Africa with my brother and sister-in-law and enjoyed the musical 'Buddy', based on Holly's life and untimely death. The musical is around 30 years old, but it was a couple of decades before its creation, in autumn 1971, and 12 years after the fateful crash, that Don McLean released his iconic album 'American Pie' from which comes the single of the same name. 

On January 15th 1972 it reached number one in the US Billboard charts and it stayed there for four weeks. The song also topped the charts in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In the UK, the single reached number 2, where it stayed for 3 weeks on its original 1971 release. The song gained more popularity and a new audience when it was re-issued two decades later, in 1991. It was also listed as Number 5 in the Recording Industry Association of America Songs of the Century project and in 2017, the original recording of McLean's 'American Pie' was chosen by the American Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Recording Registry, being cited as "culturally, historically, or artistically significant"

As I said at the start, it's interesting where people get their ideas for genius, but I've always been more than intrigued by this song, not just because it mentions the events of February 3rd 1959, but also because it appears to have hidden references to other events and characters which influenced American culture.

Over the years, experts have endlessly unpicked and prevaricated over 'American Pie' and it's lyrics, trying to unravel it, especially the references which don't appear to relate specifically to that plane crash.

Don McLean consistently kept silent, but eventually, when the original manuscript of the song went up for auction in New York in 2015, he finally revealed the meaning of his lyrics,

He told us that it's a 'morality song' really ... it's not just about the loss suffered on that day, but its key theme is the loss of innocence of the early rock and roll generation which the Feb 3 1959 events epitomise. Apparently, we now know, there are mentions of Elvis Presley ("the king") and Bob Dylan ("the jester"), and McLean also confirmed that the song culminates with a description of the death of Meredith Hunter,  an 18-year-old African American who was killed at the 1969 Altamont Free Concert. That controversial death and subsequent murder trial happened ten years after the plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and Richardson.  

Today, I remember 'The Day the Music Died', which is how, thanks to McLean's song, Feb 3rd 1959 will forever be remembered. And I think about and give thanks for the many talented people who have entertained us down the years and have left creative legacies in music, prose and poetry.  Some have made a tremendous impact on our lives and on the world. Others not so much, admittedly, but we can't have it all.

Oh and by the way, that 'American Pie' original manuscript sold for $1.2 million! Well-deserved I would say, for a song that pays tribute to those who have gone before and given us so much.

 

 


Telling Tales

When I was a child living in Kenya, I attended boarding school. My family lived on a remote farm, so for years until a school was built nearby, I was away from home during term time, living at school, sleeping in a dormitory with a dozen other girls.

There wasn't much in the way of entertainment, and quite early on I discovered I had a bit of a talent for story telling. Not reading from a book, but just making up stories as I went along. Most evenings after Lights Out and the matron had completed her rounds, the question would come from another girl in the dorm and I would start imagining and talking. Lying there in the dark making up tales. I'm sure most of the girls fell asleep to my stories, and sometimes I remember being so sleepy myself that my stories would mix with my dreams.

There's something magical about just making stuff up ... and going with the flow. Some of the children in my life (now grown up) also remember Aunty Cathy's stories. In fact, they remember them better than I do.

I have been a lot of things in my life, but if I'm honest I consider myself, first and foremost, a storyteller. Even as a broadcaster, a journalist and reporter, I think my best work has also been the telling of other people's stories.

And I'm intrigued by other storytellers.

It was on this day - February 1st in 1851 - that one supreme storyteller died.

Her name was Mary Shelley, and many of you will be aware that she is best known for her really spooky story -  Frankenstein.

It's a tale we think we all know. If not from reading the book, then maybe by television and film adaptations of the story of the monster, Frankenstein, made from bits of other humans.

Ah ---- NO!

Stop there.

Actually, the monster doesn't have a name. He is just 'the Creature'. It is his creator, a young scientist, who is called Victor Frankenstein. In an unorthodox scientific experiment, he manages to make a living breathing creature. The story is considered to be an early example of science fiction.

Mary Shelley had grown up in a literary and political family and was rather unorthodox herself. Her mother was the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, who died barely a month after giving birth to her daughter. Mary Godwin, as she was known, was just around 17 when she fell in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was already married but they took up together and travelled through Europe. Mary eventually fell pregnant and over the next few years the couple were ostracised by society and fell into debt. After the death of their daughter, who was born premature, Mary suffered her first bout of depression. Eventually she gave birth to a son and was pregnant with another child when she finally married Shelley in late December 1816, not more than a couple of weeks after Percy's wife Harriet had committed suicide.

As I said - unorthodox!

But back to earlier in 1816. In May of that year Mary Godwin and Percy Shelley and their infant son travelled to Geneva in Switzerland, with Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont. There they planned to spend the summer with the poet Lord Byron, who had recently had an affair with Claire, who was  pregnant. It was a wet summer and the group spent their time writing, boating on the lake and talking and storytelling late into the night. 

One evening, as they sat around a log fire at Byron's summer villa, they told German ghost stories and Lord Byron suggested that they all try to write a ghost story.

Mary later wrote that she had no ideas, and was getting a bit anxious because this became a bit of an obsession with the rest of the group, who were constantly asking her if she'd come up with a story.

It was in mid-June that the germ of an idea began to grow. The group had been talking about life, and the principle of human existence. The idea that, somehow, a corpse could be brought back to life, began to take shape in Mary's mind that evening. Her ghost story, of the monster created by Victor Frankenstein, grew overnight in her imagination.

She put pen to paper, assuming it would be a short story. But it became more and with Percy's encouragement,  Mary produced her first novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Mary was just 18 when she wrote the story, and it was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818. Initially some believed Percy to be the author, because he wrote the foreword. But Mary's name appeared for the first time on the second edition which was published in Paris in 1821.

Over the years there has been much debate over the origins of Frankenstein, and the part Percy Shelley may have played in its development, if not its creation. But Mary went on to prove her talent. She penned other novels and biographies, worked as an editor and writer, while living an exceptional unconventional life.

Hers was a life of genius and strong belief. She had inherited her mother's feminist views and she defied many of the social conventions of her day to the point of scandal. And her life was marred by  tragedy - the loss of two more children including that baby boy who was with his parents in Geneva in 1816 and the death by drowning of her husband in 1822. Later in life she was the victim of blackmailers, she survived bouts of severe depression and ill-health and often suffered precarious finances.

Her own story is one worthy or re-telling, and today we still remember her, and particularly her most famous story.

Now that's a legacy. And THAT's a Storyteller par excellence!


Memories of a Great Man

What childhood memories do you have?

Perhaps visits to the seaside? Maybe your first day at school? The loss of a pet?

Some of us have memories which are tied to big national events.

In recent decades some children may remember visiting London after Diana, Princess of Wales passed away. They will remember the aroma of the millions of flowers around the palaces.  Some children may remember the death of a grandparent, or sadly, a parent. Others may remember television programmes which made an impact on their lives – cartoons and shows for kids.

I have a memory from my past which was not personal to me but did involve television. In those days the message was delivered from a small black and white screen in the corner of the sitting room. I remember seeing a coffin being loaded onto what I think was a train. It was all very solemn and I do recall feeling sad, although not really knowing why.

On this day in 1965 St Paul’s Cathedral witnessed the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister who had taken Britain through the Second World War.

State funerals are usually only bestowed on members of the Royal Family but years before Churchill died on the 24th of January planning had been in place for his funeral with full state honours. In addition, by decree of the reigning monarch,  Queen Elizabeth II, Churchill's body lay in state in Parliament, in the ancient  Westminster Hall for three days from 26 January, until the funeral in St Paul's.

It was an historic moment, the end of an era, especially for the generation, like my parents, who had fought in and lived through the Second World War.

The esteem in which Churchill was held was reflected in the fact that his funeral was attended by leaders from across the globe. Representatives from 112 countries and many organisations attended, including 5 kings and 2 queens, other members of royalty,  15 presidents, 14 prime ministers and 10 former leaders. 

In researching today's 'One Day @ a Time' thought, I also discovered that the funeral took place on the anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's birth - that great American president who had seen his country through not just the Second World War but also many turbulent years prior to that conflict. He and Churchill worked closely as allies but also as friends in the cause against global tyranny, and I read that people in the United States marked the day by paying tribute to Churchill's friendship with Roosevelt.

The events of January 30th 1965 were covered extensively by the world's media, including British television  - the BBC and other broadcasters who followed the funeral step by step, including after the service, the procession of his coffin on a Royal Navy vessel on the River Thames before the ceremonies moved to Waterloo Station on the south bank of the river.

It is those images, of his coffin being slowly marched to the train which would take him to his final resting place in Oxfordshire and a private burial, which are my memories of the day.

For me, it’s just a vague memory - I wasn't sure really what I watching, but I knew it was a serious time -  along with others delivered from the television.

What other childhood memories do I have?  I remember holidays, days on the beach and my dad teaching me to swim. Squabbles with my brothers, getting stung by a bee, and playing out in the snow – rolling a chunk  of the white stuff down an incline to make a snowball big enough for a snowman’s head. I have other TV memories - at the other end of the telly serious scale, thinking about my favourite TV characters like ‘Andy Pandy’ and ‘The Wooden Tops’ still makes me smile.

Most of all I know I am one of the fortunate ones, to have memories of loving parents, and a caring close family. Not everyone has that privilege. And although I have had sadness, including bereavement, the good for me is balanced by the not-so-fine.

So today, let’s remember those who are not as fortunate as we may be. Those who struggle with their memories and are still living with the consequences of damaged lives.  Those who are bereaved and sad and struggling to adapt to new circumstances.

Let’s pray that, if the opportunity arises, we help to build happy memories for those whose lives we touch today.