On This Day

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

 

 


Symbols of Hope

Have you had your vaccination yet?

If you're a person of my age, that's a question you might be hearing or reading quite a lot recently.

And right now, in my case, the answer is - NO!

My age group hasn't yet been invited to have the Covid19 jab and I'm not vulnerable and I don't have underlying health conditions, so I've not been called early to our local vaccination centre at Fort Regent overlooking St Helier in Jersey.

Here we're getting on famously with the rollout of the vaccination against this awful virus, and I expect to have my jab probably sometime in the next six weeks. Although we all know that it won't cure COVID, it will protect us against becoming ill and hopefully, prevent more deaths.

The world is pinning its hopes on the various forms of the coronavirus vaccines which have been developed over the past year, to ensure we can go back to a sense of 'normal' sometime in the future. It won't kill off the virus because most experts predict it is here to stay, and it won't mean those of us who are vaccinated can just pick up our old lives without thought of risk in the future.

We will still need to wear masks, sanitise our hands, and I reckon social distancing is probably here to stay for a long time. And it's not just about us, it's about the rest of the world. Until the vaccine is shared with poorer nations and we all have an equal chance to benefit from it, the world will still be constantly on the brink of outbreaks, lockdown, restrictions.

These are extraordinary times but are they 'unprecedented'? I haven't the time to go into it in detail here, but in the course of human history there have been many 'unprecedented' times. Many epidemics and pandemics, many diseases which were the scourge of humanity not just for one year, or even decades, but for centuries.

On February 23rd 1954 a group of schoolchildren in Pennsylvania, USA, were the first group of people to receive injections of a new vaccine against a disease which has been around since pre-history.  However, it was in the 20th century that major outbreaks and epidemics began to emerge.

That disease is poliomyelitis - polio. Click on the word if you want to find out more about what it is ... but in short, it's an infectious disease which can in very rare situations cause death, in many has no effect and in others results in long term ill-health, paralysis and disability. It spreads from person to person through infected human faeces or saliva and it's been around for thousands of years. We know this because there are historic depictions of the disease and it's debilitating effects in ancient art.

However, it wasn't until the late 18th century that polio was recognised as a distinct condition. And the virus that causes it ...  the poliovirus ... wasn't identified until 1900.  Since the late 19th century there had been major outbreaks in Europe and the United States  and the race was on to try to identify this disease which in the 20th century became of the most worrying childhood diseases. You only have to look at old films and read history to see the way polio devastated lives. One of the images ingrained in my mind is that of the 'iron lung' - one of the symptoms and effects of polio is paralysis of the lungs, so these massive contraptions helped people to breathe.

Polio outbreaks blighted the first part of the 20th century. The most famous victim of a 1921 outbreak in America was future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who at the time was a young politician. The disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed.

The rapidity with which the coronavirus vaccines have been developed has been astonishing. In the past, this took many years of research and tests and trials and in the case of polio it wasn't until the 1950s that the first vaccines were developed by various virologists and medical researchers.

In the late 1940s, President Roosevelt helped to create an organisation by the name of the March of Dimes, to find a way to defend against polio. They enlisted Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk's research resulted in the discovery that polio had as many as 125 strains of three basic types, and that any effective vaccine needed to combat all three. Little by little, by growing samples of the polio virus and then deactivating  or “killing” them by adding a chemical called formalin, Salk gradually developed a vaccine which was able to immunize patients against polio without danger of infecting them.

And it was that vaccine developed by Jonas Salk that was used during that first mass anti-polio vaccination of the children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on this day back in 1954.

As with the current situation, there wasn't just one vaccine being developed. Soon after that first trial, another medical researcher, Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine against polio ... and this is the treatment which is credited with having made the difference to the spread of polio in the second half of the 21st century.

This vaccine, which is a drop on a tongue, is the one most commonly used. I remember as a little girl queuing up in front of a school nurse and having a little drop of something bitter on my tongue. I didn't know then that this was protecting me from paralysis and disability. 

Not everyone was so fortunate. I have a couple of friends who were infected as children and have ended up with physical disability - it usually affects the legs. I feel fortunate that I was born post 1954 when vaccines were available.

Yet the availability of a polio vaccine did not eradicate the disease immediately, or even within a half a century. Polio is still around today and it's mostly in parts of the world that are poor and disadvantaged, and where there is still conflict.

In recent decades there's been a real effort to try to eradicate the disease, led by the World Health Organisation. If polio is completely eliminated, it would be the second disease after smallpox to disappear from the face of the earth.

In 1988 when the WHO initiated the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, around 350,000 children a year across the world were being paralyzed by the polio virus. Back at the beginning of the 21st century the WHO was reporting that the number of cases diagnosed each year had been reduced by 99.9%.  In 2016 polio numbers had been driven down to 42 cases across the globe.  

The multi-billion dollar global effort to eradicate polio is concentrated on children and among those who embraced this campaign more than 35 years ago are the members of Rotary International. 

Their 'Purple for Polio' campaign involves giving the polio vaccine to children across the world.

Why 'purple'? It's because every time a child receives their life-saving polio drops on mass polio immunisation days, their little finger is painted with a purple dye ... this shows they've received their polio vaccine.

Crocus polio 1I've sort of got involved in the campaign over the past years. I've interviewed local Jersey Rotary members about it on the radio and I've been to celebrations, and I've bought and planted purple crocus corms which about this time of year are beginning to pop up across the island, and in my garden!

As the campaign has developed, it has come down to just a few countries where polio is still 'wild' ... including Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, poverty and conflict mean that clinicians often can't get into isolated rural communities, and sometimes prevailing cultural and even religious beliefs prevent the population embracing the treatments or even allowing the medical professions in to host those mass immunization days. It's slow progress in places like this.

Unfortunately during the coronavirus pandemic, where travel has been so restricted, cases of polio have started to rise again. Last year more than 200 cases of wild polio and around 600 cases of the vaccine-derived form of the disease were registered. According to news reports, most of the vaccine-derived strains of polio are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but rogue strains of polio also emerged across sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen, Malaysia and the Philippines.

So there is still much to do! It might still take a while, but across the world there are those absolutely committed to seeing an end to this terrible disease which affects not just individuals and their futures, but families and whole communities.

We're not quite there yet, but the signs of the purple crocuses springing up in my garden, and across Jersey, are symbols of hope.

 


Bouônjour!

Today is International Mother Language Day.

So let me tell you about a language you may never have heard of.

It's called Jèrriais and it's the mother language of the island which I call home - Jersey in the Channel Islands.

So if you don't know where that is or what it is ... Jersey is an island within the British Isles (not the United Kingdom) and it's a self governing Crown Dependency.

Most importantly from the perspective of today's thought, Jersey is closer to France than England. Actually it lies just 12miles (19km) off the Normandy coast and around 100miles (160km) from the south coast of England. Most days, but especially on a good day, you can see the coast of France clearly from Jersey's East Coast!

Jerriais 2So, with France so close, it may be no surprise to hear that Jersey's mother tongue is a version of French. Jèrriais is an ancient form of the Norman Language. It's often called "Jersey French" or "Jersey Norman French" but this gives an impression that it's a dialect of French, a 'patois' - but it's not. It's a language in its own right. As is it's closest 'sister' - the native language of nearby island Guernsey - Guernésiais - and the other Norman languages including those across the water in France. And the language of SarkSercquiais, is descended from  the Jèrriais brought by the Jersey colonists who settled Sark in the 16th century. There's a commonality between Jèrriais and those Norman languages and there's a growing relationship between the speakers of these languages, all of which are in danger of dying out, but they are all different languages.

Over the last few years working at BBC Radio Jersey, the local station for the island, I've connected with the Jèrriais-speaking community. Every week, at the moment, I work with native speakers who record a weekly 'letter' - La Lettre Jèrriaise - which is broadcast just before 7am on a Saturday morning and is also posted online on a special languages podcast called 'Voices'. You can also get it via the Learn Jèrriais website,

In 2019 I made a radio series to coincide with the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, when I worked with the Jèrriais teachers at the L'Office du Jèrriais. I learnt 20 phrases in Jersey's mother tongue.

It was a challenge, but it was fun, and more importantly it helped me to reconnect with my own family history, and my own Dad who was native Jèrriais speaker. Although he didn't teach us the language - my mum was not a Jèrriais speaker - I remember hearing him speak the language with his family - my aunts and uncles.

That was common in the mid 20th century, when the language had fallen into decline.

What I've learned is until the 19th century, Jèrriais was used as an everyday language by the majority of people living in Jersey and even up to the beginning of the Second World War more than half of the population could speak the language. In fact, it was often used during the Occupation of Jersey 1940-1945 when the German enemy occupied Jersey and the other Channel Islands - it was not understood by French or German speakers!

But Jèrriais was consistently falling out of favour, with English becoming the dominant language. It was no longer used in schools, or business. French and English was used in the law, but not Jèrriais. Eventually it's decline was such that it is now officially listed as one of the world's endangered languages!

However, in recent years Jèrriais has had a resurgence. There's been investment in education, and it's now taught in local schools, and adult classes and conversation groups are also held. The teachers and the L'Office du Jèrriais are central to that, and there's also now a Jèrriais promotion officer for Jersey Heritage.

In 2019 the States of Jersey (the Government of Jersey) voted to put Jèrriais on signs when they next need to be replaced, with English translations underneath. It's also now an official language in the States Assembly alongside English and French.

This is all really down to the persistence of native language speakers. Down the years, stalwarts of the language made great efforts to keep it alive. in 1912, thJersey Eisteddfod introduced a Jèrriais section - that still exists today. The L'Assembliée d'Jèrriais was founded in 1951 and they launched a quarterly magazine a year later. The Le Don Balleine Trust  was established in accordance with the will of Arthur E. Balleine (1864–1943), in which he left funds for the promotion of the language.

Jèrriais dictionaries go back to the 19th century but in 1966 the Dictionnaire Jersiais–Français was published to mark the 900th anniversary of the Norman Conquest of England, based on meticulous research by Frank Le Maistre, who's family are still champions of the Jèrriais speaking community. This was followed by a Jèrriais–English dictionary, Dictionnaithe Jèrriais-Angliais.

Another individual who did a huge amount to promote the language was a certain George d'la Forge. 

Jerrias book coverGeorge was born in Jersey but after the First World War moved to the USA and became a successful businessman. But he had been raised speaking Jèrriais, and never forgot it. After he took early retirement in 1946 he returned to Jersey for a holiday, and later spent months every year in the island. He was a prolific writer in the Jèrriais language, and took the pen name 'George d'la Forge' based on the home he lived in as a youngster. He wrote around 900 articles for the Jersey Evening Post and also contributed to many other native language publications.

George's surname was Le Feuvre - and he was a distant cousin of my father. As a young child, I remember visiting 'La Forge' when 'Uncle George' was spending a summer in Jersey, and living as he always did in his very basic small family cottage. Later, when we were living in Kenya in East Africa Uncle George visited us. I remember then my Dad and him chatting away in this strange language, which I sort of recognised as French, but not. Jerriais 1

Uncle George d'la Forge was a great man and in recent years, at a book sale, I managed to get hold of a bound copy of some of his articles.

One day, when I've learned a bit more of the language,  I'll read it in Jersey's language, the mother tongue of my father and my family down the centuries.

Meanwhile, I'll make do with the few phrases I know and which I learned during the 20 in 2019 challenge. If you fancy learning a bit start by going to Learn Jèrriais (learnjerriais.org.je)

The title of this piece is 'Bouônjour'  which, if you know any French at all, you'll recognise as being similar to 'bonjour'... hello!

But I'll end with this sign-off ...

À bétôt  - Goodbye

À la préchaine - Till the next time!

 


Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday.

It's the beginning of Lent, the period running up to Easter.

And it's a peculiar name for a day isn't it?

So what's it all about?

Ash Wednesday is marked every year exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday. Now I know what lots of you might be thinking - Lent is a 40-day season isn't it? Well it IS, but Sundays don't count during the 6-weeks (ish) preparation for the Christian festival.

The 40-days of Lent represent  the time that Jesus Christ spent in the wilderness, before he began his three year ministry. Before starting that awesome task, he took time out to think and prepare himself. In that desert, he fasted and when he was at his weakest he was tempted by (and he resisted) Satan. For Christians down the centuries the same period of time has been set aside for fasting, reflection, repentance and, finally, celebration on Easter Day.  Lent is a time for believers to contemplate the life of Jesus, his ministry, his death and resurrection. Central themes of Christianity. And to consider their own relationship with Jesus, the Son of God, and how that impacts on their lives.

Lent has also become a time when many people, including those who wouldn't say they are religious at all,  also give stuff up ... but more of that another day.

What about today - 'Ash' Wednesday? Why is it called that?

Well the title comes from the fact that on this day certain Christian denominations follow the tradition of placing ashes on the foreheads of worshippers - usually in the sign of a cross.

Today is all about repentance at the start of the sacred season which will culminate in the weekend when first we commemorate the death on a cross of Jesus Christ, and three days later we celebrate his coming back to life - his resurrection!

The ashes for today's special church services are made by burning the palm leaves or crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations. There's something significant about that, isn't there? The palm fronds were waved by a crowd as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem at the start of the final week of his earthly life, but within a few short days that same fickle crowd was yelling at the authorities, calling for Jesus to be put to death, to be crucified! The fact that these symbolic palm leaves become the focus of repentance on Ash Wednesday is something powerful.

Ash Wednesday services are traditional mostly in the Roman Catholic and some Anglican churches. They are usually solemn masses or church services which include long periods of silence for private prayer and reflection, and Scripture responses in which the congregation is invited to participate. Much of the focus is on confession, communion is taken and then worshippers are invited to come forward for the imposition of the ashes. 

Ash wedensdayThe priest will dip a finger into a bowl of the palm cross ashes and then the ash is rubbed, in a cross pattern, on the forehead of the person receiving them, accompanied by these words ...  "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" or  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I don't come from a Christian tradition where Ash Wednesday is marked in this way, but I'm told it's a very moving service, a time when one can really look into oneself, really reflecting on the purposes of life, and the things that need putting right in yourself. The congregation, I'm told, leave the church in almost complete silence, taking that confession and reflection into their lives outside of the building. 

And the most amazing thing is that people don't immediately rub off the ashes which have been placed on their foreheads. They bear the mark for the rest of the day. That's a witness to the world of the start of this holy period of Lent, and a reminder to us all that sometimes we need to stop, and consider what God has done for us and what we are doing for him.

So, if today you spot someone with a dark mark on their forehead ... you'll know what it's all about.

And I, for one, will take the opportunity today to start my Lent journey with reflection, confession and prayer. And even if I'm not bearing the mark of ash on my forehead, I hope I will walk through today, and indeed through the Lenten period, with that spirit in my heart, in my behaviour and in my relationships.

 


It's Pancake Day!

It's Pancake Day! Pancake 2

Well at least it is here in the British Isles!

It’s Pancake Day – a day to ... well ... eat pancakes!

Whether you’ve tucked into a pancake for breakfast, or will have them for your evening meal – there are loads of ways to eat them ...

Sweet ... with lemon and sugar or even some fruit or chocolate spread!

960x1200-pancake-Sprouts2278-768x960Or savoury – cheese, ham, spicy minced meat, avocado... I’ve even seen a recipe for pancakes with Brussel Sprouts and smoked salmon!

It seems pancakes go with anything and everything.

All you need is some flour, egg, salt and little milk, a little pan and – voila!

 

But the question is -  why do we eat them particularly on this day?

Why is it ‘Pancake Day’?

Well, actually the real name for this day is ‘Shrove Tuesday’. It’s the day before the start of the season of Lent – that begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday.

The 40 Days of Lent were and still are traditionally a time when people fasted to prepare themselves for the holy festival of Easter which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and on the Tuesday before it all began, Christians went to confession and were ‘shriven’ or absolved from their sins, ready for the serious time ahead.

It was also a day when kitchen cupboards were cleared of all the  stuff which couldn’t be eaten  during the Lenten Season, including eggs and fats which they mixed with flour to make – pancakes!

In other parts of the world Pancake Day is called Mardi Gras ... or ‘Fat Tuesday’ ! That phrase also relates to a season of festivals running from the feast of the Epiphany. which we celebrated on January 6th, through to Shrove Tuesday.

Polish_paczkiSome cultures, including Poland, make donuts instead for Fat Thursday – that was last week! It happens five days days before the start of Lent.

So – however many pancakes you eat today, and however you eat them – you’re in good company.

Pancake

 

And you’re part of history ... the pancake has featured in cookery books as far back as 1439. And no sooner were they cooking them than people were flipping  them! In the town of Olney in Buckinghamshire they’ve apparently been tossing  pancakes since 1445 – it’s the most famous Pancake Race  in the world! Of course, it's not happening this year because of the coronavirus pandemic ... but it will live on!

 

*Footnote - by the way if you happen to be listening to BBC Radio Jersey this morning  - Shrove Tuesday 2021  - you might hear these words I've written above. I have recorded them ... or most of them ... for a little 'Pancake Day Explainer' ... just part of my contribution to the understanding and fun of the day!


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

 

 


Keep Looking Up

Wisdom comes in all shapes and sizes, but not always from holy scriptures or experts who have studied to PHD level or who have all the experience in the world.

So how about this for a thought for today?

 

Snoopy keep looking upProfound eh?

And that's from a dog!

The dog is Snoopy, and if you're not already aware of it, he's the companion of a certain Charlie Brown,  a little boy who is 'loveable loser'  - he's meek, not that self-confident and is of a nervous disposition. He's pessimistic quite a lot, but also sometimes optimistic. He worries about the day and all the things around him, and other times hopes for the best and tries desperately to make good things happen.

Charlie Brown is puzzled by Snoopy and some of the slightly weird things he gets up to, but he looks after him, and does his best to provide his dog with a happy life. And in response, Snoopy is always there for Charlie when he gets let down or needs support.

I've always felt a bit of an affinity with Charlie Brown, even though he isn't a real person, but a cartoon.

He's the central character of the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M Schulz, who died on this day - February 12th - in the year 2000.

'Peanuts' had first appeared in print in USA newspapers on October 2, 1950. It shows the world of a group of young children. Adults are barely heard, but woven into the comic strips are some very adult themes like philosophy, psychology and sociology. There's some deep stuff in Peanuts and it's characters, even things that could be interpreted as 'spiritual' if not 'religious'.

Take this Snoopy quote for example - 'Keep Looking Up... that's the Secret of Life'.

Now, as a person of faith, what I get from those words is that I need to keep looking up to the Creator, for inspiration and motivation.

In the Old Testament in the Bible, in Psalm 121, we are encouraged to look up to God for all our needs. I particularly love the translation of this psalm from The Message translation:

I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains

He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep

God’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke

God guards you from every evil, he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always

Don't you love that? We're not on our own. We just need to look up, not to physical mountains, but even higher, to put our trust in God.

But the Snoopy quote an also be interpreted in a different way. If we are constantly looking DOWN, physically, we will never see the potential of what isn't yet here, what might be open to us. We will always be just concentrating on where we are, now, and not looking forward.

See what I mean? There are so many different ways of looking at life through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang. Maybe you may interpret this Snoopy Saying in a way that rings true with you and your life?

The final Peanuts comic strip was published on the day after Charles M Schulz died. On February 13th 2000 the 17,897th-and-last instalment appeared in newspapers around the world.

But that wasn't the end of Charlie Brown and his world. The comic strips live on, there are TV cartoons and movies, and images of him and his quotes and those of Snoopy and the other Peanuts kids all over the internet. They are icons of our time!

Hope charlie brown

We all need friends and we all need hope if we are to live life well. 

Charlie Brown had Snoopy ... who do you have?

And are you, like Charlie, always seeking the hopeful path? 

Are you looking UP or always looking down?

Maybe worth thinking about?


 


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.