Literature

Hope

Today I'm thinking about Hope!

It's something we all need, especially when things aren't going so well for us or when we are lost, or when we are grieving.

As I explained in Sunday's daily blog, this evening in Jersey there will be a service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving to allow us to celebrate the lives of our loved ones who have died. It'll be a moving hour with some reflective and uplifting music, prayers, thoughts, readings and poems.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, many of us may have lost people, loved ones, and we may not have been able to remember them or say 'farewell' in the way we may have wished because of the lockdown restrictions. But this service is also for us to remember anyone who was and is still important to us ...I've been privileged to produce the hour for Funeral Directors Pitcher and Le Quesne, so I've spent many hours looking at different poems and readings to inspire and comfort those who will be with us this evening.

One of the readings to be included in the service at St Thomas' (Roman Catholic) Church in St Helier is this one ... a profound 'thought' from Henri Nouwen, who was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian who has left us a huge legacy of words.

Nouwen was a complex character and this is traced through some of his writings, and much of what he wrote about - faith, loneliness, self-esteem, acceptance and other personal struggles - helps us to identify with his and our humanity. I find his words and writings inspirational!

This is just one of Nouwen's 'thoughts' and if today you're struggling, for whatever reason, I hope this brings you some hope.

If you are sad - I wish you comfort and hope.

If you are grieving - may hope help you to see beyond the pain.

If you feel you are getting nowhere - may hope enable you to see into a future!

And if you're in Jersey and you wish to join us this evening at St Thomas' at 7pm, you'll be very welcome.

 

Hope Henri Nouwen

 

 


Always be ...

Just a quick thought for this Tuesday!

Apart from anything else, this picture features Winnie the Pooh ... one of my favourites. .. a poet and a leader and just full of fun. And his friend Tigger, full of energy and optimism ... What a pair!

May we always be like Pooh and Tigger and have good friends around us.

And may we always be all of these things!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

 

Tuesday Acrostic


Talking Movies

This past weekend the latest James Bond movie hit cinemas across the world.

'No Time to Die' is the 25th in the series of films featuring the British secret agent James Bond -  based on the original spy novels by author Ian Fleming 

For actor Daniel Craig it's his fifth outing as '007',  the fictional British MI6 agent, and it's his final Bond film so next time around there will be a new Bond.

After various delays in production, the latest movie in the Bond franchise was due out in 2019 and then 2020 but release was delayed several times because of the global COVID19 pandemic.

The producers and distributors resisted temptation to release the movie early via one of the streaming sites and decided instead to wait to release it in cinemas. And finally, No Time to Die had its world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 28 September 2021. An exciting, sparkling event by all accounts packed full of royalty and celebrities!

Loads of my friends have already seen the movie - it was released in cinemas on 30 September 2021 in the United Kingdom and here in Jersey (as well as other countries like India where Bond is huge) . It is set to be released in the United States on Friday this week - October 8th -  and is now being rolled out across the world.

But it's already a massive success - in its first weekend Universal Pictures reckon No Time to Die took $121 million at the international box office! 

In fact, No Time to Die is being credited with 'saving' cinema. Across the world, the coronavirus has closed cinemas  and James Bond is bringing people back to movie houses in their millions!

But I'm not talking about this today just because of the latest 007 phenomenon, but also because October 6th marks another important day in movie history.

It was on this day in 1927 that a film called The Jazz Singer posterThe Jazz Singer was released.

Starring Al Jolson - a big stage and musical star of the day and reckoned to be the most well-known American entertainer of the 1920s - although it wasn't the first film to have pre-recorded sound, it was the first feature-length movie to have pre-recorded dialogue as well as music and song. 

And so it's gone down as the first 'talkie'.

The movie premiered on this day at the Warner Theatre in New York and it was a sensation! Although many people in the industry may have thought 'talking movies' were a 'flash in the pan',  actually The Jazz Singer revolutionised the motion-picture industry and marked the end of the silent-film era. It was a huge investment and gamble for Warner Brothers, who were just a small studio in those days ... but it paid off.

Film dates back to the 19th century and by the early part of the 20th century movies were very popular ... but they were 'silent'.

There were HUGE stars of the Silent Movies (just think people like Charlie Chaplin for starters), but no one heard them speak or talk, or sing. There was no sound at all and when the films were shown in cinemas there was usually organ accompaniment which was a whole genre of entertainment in its own right.

And then came The Jazz Singer!

The film is the fictional story of Jakie Rabinowitz, a young man born into a devout Jewish family who defies tradition - he decides not to follow in his father's footsteps to become a 'cantor' in a New York  synagogue but instead decides to aim high to make it in the world as a jazz singer. It's not just a change of name (he becomes Jack Robin) but also a change of direction which puts him into conflict with his faith, his culture, his home and his heritage.

Although it's gone down in cinema history as the first talking film actually most of The Jazz Singer is still silent with subtitles. There are actually only nine scenes with lip-synchronous singing, two of which also include a few spoken words, lasting less than two minutes.

But it was enough to see off the silent film era. In 1928, the year after its release, The Jazz Singer was given an Honorary Academy Award and by mid-1929, Hollywood would be producing almost exclusively sound film. By the mid-1930's movie makers in Western Europe were doing the same. If you're interested in all this, why not go to  A Brief History of Sound Film (1895-1930) to find out more or click here?

The Jazz Singer has been re-made a couple of times as movies - namely in 1952  starring Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee; and - one of MY favourite movies - the 1980 remake starred Neil DiamondLucie Arnaz, and Laurence Olivier - a classic, in my opinion, with some amazing songs!

Cinema has come a long way since 1927! The majority of those who flock to the 'movies' to feast on No Time to Die may never have watched a black and white film and some might even turn their noses up at the 'old stuff', thinking them to be unsophisticated, 'old fashioned' and a bit 'simple' because they don't have all the bells and whistles, effects, tensions and pounding soundtracks of today's films.

But it's worth remembering that without the trailblazers of movie making, those willing to take a risk, try something completely new, step outside the normal conventions of the day and reach, literally, for the stars ... we wouldn't be where we are today, and not just when it comes to movies!

So to mark this landmark day ... let's enjoy a clip or two from the original 'talkie, learn more about his amazing film that broke the mould, and give thanks for those pioneers of cinema1

Have a great day everyone!

 


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!


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.

 


Be Different!

Yesterday in this daily blog I was talking about the amazing children's author, Roald Dahl - it was his birthday yesterday, which is now celebrated as Roald Dah Day.

Hope you enjoyed it!

But I wanted to continue thinking about this amazing writer ... he was a real 'one off', a man with a huge imagination. Someone who was just true to himself. 

He never learned to type, he did all his writing in an old shed  with sharpened pencils. He invented a medical device to help his son when he suffered a head injury and the family could find nothing to help him. He made up his own language - or at least a language for his BFG (Big Friendly Giant) ... Gobblefunk!

And, of course, he wrote all those wonderful stories and much more ... see yesterday's blog if you want to read all about him!

Roald Dahl was unique!

Now, we can't all be world famous authors, or indeed hugely famous for anything.

But we can be different!

We all have things which make us stand out from the crowd, it's just sometimes we desperately try to fit in to other people's moulds and forget just to be ourselves! Instead of standing out and being proud of our differences, we squash them or hide them away. 

For most of my adult life I've been a little 'different' to others, but I did spend years being tempted to 'fit in'  - sometimes I DID do that, wore what people thought I should wear, looked like they thought I should look ... and that was just for starters...

But no longer! Now I am accepting my uniqueness and  I'm looking always for the things that make ME  different. And if people don't like it, they can lump it. I'm not going completely weird, but I am trying to be true to myself a lot more. And I'm finding it rather liberating!

So today ... I just want to encourage us all to embrace ... well ... ourselves!

We never know what we might uncover and how much fun we might have or where life might take us when we truly just become more 'real', more as we should be.

Have a great day everyone!

Be yourself


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!

 


New Dreams

On this final day of August, I guess it's a time to be a bit reflective.

Although I'm hoping that there are still a few weeks of summer weather left, it is a time when the seasons are changing. 

Schools will go back soon here in Jersey, changes are in the air, lots of us are thinking about the months ahead and how we might spend our time.

Some of us might be contemplating a change. Maybe time to start thinking about moving, or changing our jobs.  Although we know that the New Year can often be the catalyst for transformation of some kind, I believe that actually autumn time is when some of the thinking might begin. It feels like change is in the air, and that can affect our psyche and maybe make us a bit restless, and yearn for the 'different'. Maybe it's a time to reassess what we may want in life and to set new goals for ourselves. That could be not just to progress our careers and ADD to our workload but it could mean to think again about HOW we are spending the precious time we are given.

With that in mind, today I just want to share this inspiring thought from one of my favourite authors.

New dreamCS Lewis is best known for the Narnia Chronicles series of stories and books for children... that's how I first got to know him.

But CS Lewis was also a Christian and wrote loads of books about faith... including another of my favourite books, The Screwtape Letters, which is the fictional correspondence between the Devil and an apostle or minor devil. It's a very clever and weirdly sideways look at Christian faith. It's challenging and thought provoking but also quite fun actually. 

By the way, you may not know this, but CS Lewis was good friends with JRR Tolkien, author of  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series of books. The  Screwtape Letters is dedicated to Tolkien, who was also a Christian, a Roman Catholic actually whose faith apparently was a significant factor in Lewis's conversion from atheism to Christianity,

CS Lewis wasn't afraid of change, or to dream  of a better life. You only have to read the Narnia Books to see a glimpse of that... so I'm very happy to take a bit of advice from him when it comes to my own 'dreams'. 

Life for me in the past six months or so has a bit changeful and I'm still waiting really to see what might lie ahead. It's easy to think as you get older that it may not be possible to change one's life, set new goals and go after our dreams... but these wise words from Lewis really encourage me to think out of that box.

As you step into these final few months of 2021, if you have unfulfilled dreams maybe now is an opportunity to really contemplate what the future may look like!

Be inspired!

Keep Dreaming!

 


Lashings of Reading Fun

Today I'm turning back time to my early reading days and I'm celebrating one of my favourite authors when I was a child.
 
The inimitable Enid Blyton!
 
Born on this day - 11 August - in 1897,  she would become a prolific children's author, bringing joy to generations of young readers including myself. Everything from 'The Famous Five' adventure books to the many 'Noddy' stories, and the fairy tales of the likes of  'The Magic Faraway Tree' and many other fantastical stories of fairies, imps and elves to the series which started with 'The Naughtiest Girl in the School', one of my personal favourites.
 
I could go on ... but I'll let you fill in the gaps! If you're a Blyton fan you will have YOUR favourites.
 
Enid blyton portraitAll I can say is that Enid Blyton must have had a head full of stories and an imagination to surpass time and place. According to the Enid Blyton Society and EnidBlyton.net who have done the calculations for us, she wrote voraciously including:
  • 186 novels/novelettes
  • 243 character books
  • 904 short story series books
  • 265 education books
  • 195 recreation books
  • 170 continuation books
  • 284 Enid Blyton contributions

Plus, Enid Blyton is also credited with over 10,900 short stories, poems and plays throughout her career, but some were used many times so the actual number is more like 7500! She also wrote under the pseudonym Mary Pollock (her middle name and first married surname)

What an amazing imagination, and what a talent!

Enid Blyton books on shelfApart from the fairy tales, some of Enid Blyton's stories explored life, it's fun and it's difficulties, including for children.  It was a way for kids to learn maybe a bit about dealing with life as they read how Miss Blyton's characters deal with what is thrown at them.

With that in mind, top of my list is an amazing book which I read probably when I was very young. I was given this book when I was around 7 and it's lived with me my whole life - indeed, that same hardback copy still sits on my bookshelf, proudly displayed among all the many other books I've acquired in the lifetime since.

It's called 'The Family at Red Roofs' and, for me, it's an absolute classic!

From the first lines it captures the imagination and draws pictures for the readers.

The little white-washed house on the green hillside seemed to smile in the warm sunshine of the bright May day. It sat there snugly in its big patch of gay garden, a white cherry tree out in the front garden, and a golden laburnum hanging over the gate. The gate was painted green and white, and there was a name on it - Red Roofs.

Enid Blyton ... Red RoofsIt's the story of a happy family with four children, who move into a new house and then face all sorts of problems. Father has to go abroad for business, Mother falls dangerously ill and then there is news that Father is lost at sea en route to the USA. It's the story of how the children face the future, struggle to survive amid financial and personal disaster and come through with flying colours.

The Family at Red Roofs isn't as well known as many of Enid Blyton's other works, but it was one of the books that opened a world of fantasy to me - a child with a vivid imagination.

There's no doubt that it was Miss Blyton's books that got ME 'scribbling'. I knew nothing about the woman only that I absolutely loved her stories, and wanted to dream up tales, just as she did. So started my lifelong love of daydreaming and writing.

I still maintain that Enid Blyton is to blame every time I find myself sitting on a train wondering just WHY the man sitting opposite me has such an ENORMOUS nose, or find myself listening in to other peoples' peculiar conversations. For me every journey, meeting, experience, is still about soaking up faces, places, names and characters. I did this long before I knew that's what writers do - I did it because I wanted to write ... like Enid Blyton ...  she seemed to me not only able to write, but to write about life, and my life.

But why did The Family at Red Roofs ring such a bell in my head?

Perhaps it was because, aged 7, I was in a family which moved around ... a LOT. By that age, I already had experience of moving home three times, that I could remember. I was also one of four children, although I had three brothers, whereas the the Red Roofs family  consisted of two boys and two girls.

When, aged 8, we moved again - this time to Kenya in Africa - I found myself in boarding school hundreds of miles from home, I initially felt excited. I imagined the place would be just like Whyteleafe School where there would be high jinx, just like in The Naughtiest Girl in the School. 

Of course, seeing my parents' vehicle pull away from the school, disappearing down a long drive and knowing I would not see them for at least three weeks, broke the spell. It unfortunately began a prolonged period of homesickness, but at least I had enjoyed the long drive up to Nyeri Primary School, thanks to Miss Blyton's magic and my innocence.

But it wasn't just Enid Blyton's stories and characters that I loved, but also her writing style. I read from a very young age, and soaked up language like others consumed food. As I explored her books and stories, so I was exploring the English language.

Imagine my horror, years after I first snuck away to curl up on a chair in a corner of a quiet room to feast on Miss Blyton's latest story, when I discovered that she was not beloved by all.

Many 'experts' claimed her use of language and vocabulary was restrictive and limited, even at the time I was reading her as a child. Some didn't like her 'tone' and literary 'devices', criticising her for presenting too 'rosy' a view of the world. Even in the 1950s and 1960s apparently she was banned from some libraries and in the early 21st century it came to light that the BBC had actually had a ban on the dramatization of Blyton works during those two decades.

However, if the 7 or 8-year-old me had known this it would not have made a blind bit of difference - I loved her stories! And, what is more important, so did many millions of other children.

We didn't - and in my case still don't care - that Miss Blyton, whose main work preceded the second half of the 20th century, was or is considered 'old fashioned' or 'not politically correct'.

I don't mind that in Red Roofs the very first paragraph includes the word 'gay' - a 'gay garden'. At the time of writing, the word 'gay' had none of the sexual and even controversial overtones which it has now. It simply meant 'happy' and 'glad', among other lovely adjectives.

Although some of her works have, over the years, been altered to ensure that they are not offensive to the modern reader, it has to be remembered that Enid Blyton not only came from another generation but really another world which has long since passed away. If her language is now considered unacceptable, it is not her fault. If some of her stories are naïve, we must remember that she was writing for children who lived in a world where they were allowed to be children. In Enid Blyton's day there were no 'teenagers', that peculiar place between childhood and adulthood. Children, especially middle and upper class British children, would grow up soon enough but while they were young they were allowed to be children. There was not the modern pressure to fast track into adult behaviour while still in childhood.

Ironically, my favourite Blyton book - The Family at Red Roofs - does tackle exactly this theme, the need for children to grow up quickly in the face of adversity. Although in true Blyton fashion everything 'works out well in the end', perhaps that was why I loved this book so much. It wasn't all 'sunshine and flowers'! Perhaps she wasn't so out of touch with modern reality as some think!

So, I will not let the fact that retrospectively Enid Blyton has been considered rather poor taste in some quarters detract from my childhood enjoyment of her writing and the joy her stories brought me. Neither will I let it interfere with my memories and my gratitude to her for the gift she gave me - a love of books and a love of reading!

So - thanks Miss Blyton! You're one of my heroes!

Enid blyton model house

And  just a final note ... it you want to read more about Miss Blyton and her life and work,  then you might like to know that I have re-worked this blog from an early version which is on anther of my websites .. on HubPages ...

Click on 'Lashings of Enid Blyton Fun' and you'll also learn how Miss Blyton's home in a place called Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire features in a very special model village!

Love it!