On This Day

It's a Wonderful Life

What's your favourite film?

Maybe your have lots of movies you enjoy but if you were to choose just one... just one... what would it be?

Mine is a brilliant film called 'It's a Wonderful Life' and although it's often associated with Christmastime, and that's when it's usually broadcast on TV, I can enjoy it any time of the year, anytime of the day!

Why am I talking about this today? Well the film is one of the famous movies produced and directed by Frank Capra who was born on this day - May 18th - in 1897. 

Although born in Italy, like so many people who emigrated with their families to the USA when they were children, he lived the 'American Dream'. His was a real rags to riches story

During the 1930's, Frank Capra became one of America's most influential film directors. He won three Academy Awards for Best Director - he was nominated six times. And he won three other Oscars in other categories.  

If you know you're movie history you might recognise some of his iconic films - It Happened One Night (1934), You Can't Take It with You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After serving in the Second World War his career went into decline and his later films didn't perform so well.

And that includes It's a Wonderful Life which was released in 1946. However, over the years this film and others made by Frank Capra have come to define not just American movie history but the American dream itself.  And now It's a Wonderful Life is considered one of the greatest films of all time. In 1990, the film was designated as "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and added to the USA's National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

In fact, Frank Capra himself said it was his favourite movie of all he had directed. James Stewart also claimed it as his favourite! I feel vindicated that I love it so much!

If you've never watched the movie, then you might want to give it a go. But if you don't want to know more, you best stop reading now because there are spoilers ahead!

Its a wonderful life May 18It's a Wonderful Life is a fantasy and it features an angel, so you have to suspend reality, but the moral of the film hits my heart every time.

The film is based on the short story and booklet entitled 'The Greatest Gift' which a chap called Philip Van Doren Stern self-published in 1943. There are also echoes of the 1843 Charles Dickens novella 'A Christmas Carol' which of course is also a bit of a fantasy, featuring as it does ghosts. Spirits who teach Ebenezer Scrooge some important life lessons.

And that's also the central theme of Capra's movie. The star of the film, James Stewart. plays George Bailey, a man who has spent his life in service to his family and his community, giving up his own personal dreams in the process. He reaches a crisis point and on Christmas Eve contemplates taking his own life because he comes to the conclusion that life for everyone around him would be much better if he had never been born.

Step in George's Guardian Angel - a character called Clarence Odbody - who attempts to show him that his life has NOT been worthless, and that he has touched the lives of so many others. He does this by showing George what life for his family and his community of Bedford Falls would have been life IF George had not been born. Clever.

If you fancy it, click on the link below to watch the uplifting end of the movie, when George's vision of life without him comes to an end and he is surrounded by the love he never appreciated or even thought he deserved.

And at the end of it all, he receives a gift from Clarence which is inscribed with this note ...

'Remember ... no man is a failure who has friends!'

It's a great lesson.

Truth be told, there have been times in my life when I've wondered why I'm here and whether my life has had any purpose. There have been moments when I think my life has been pretty worthless and I've questioned whether I've made a difference to the world. There have been episodes when I've queried my life choices and whether I could have done more.

But when I watch It's a Wonderful Life, I'm reminded that every action, every friendship, every episode in my life may have impacted others, and I hope it's for the positive rather than for the negative.

So today, although it's not Christmas ... here's the ending of that movie.

Enjoy! And be inspired not just by the film, but by the knowledge that every life has purpose. We can all make a difference even in small ways. 

And if we have love of family and friends... we are rich!

 


All Shall be Well

There's a great quote which has over the years given me great comfort, especially during difficult times and periods of 'trial' in my life.

Julian of norwich quote May 13

The quote, as you may see. is attributed to a Christian mystic and theologian called Julian of Norwich and it wasn't until I actually moved to the 'Fair City' of Norwich in the county of Norfolk in England that I took the time to find out more about her.

Julian lived in the 14th century and resided for most of her life in the city, which has a history as a commercial centre as well as a place with a vibrant religious life. 

So the story goes, it was when Julian - possibly not her real name although we don't really know much about her - was aged around 32 when she became seriously ill. It was the year 1373 and on her deathbed when she received a series of visions of Jesus, or what was described as "shewings" of the Passion of Christ - visions relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

And actually it's on May 13th in 1373 that it's reckoned she received those visions which is why I'm thinking about this especially today.

Miraculously Julian recovered and wrote two versions of her experiences, one which we think was completed very soon after her illness and another written years later. The book was entitled Revelations of Divine Love. It contains a series of Christian devotions and thoughts.

Although she was probably religious before all this, it's thought the experiences eventually led Julian to become what is called an 'anchorite', or 'anchoress' living in permanent seclusion in a cell which was attached to a chapel known as St Julian's Church, Norwich.

Julian was not unique in her Christian calling and not the only person who chose this lifestyle. The anchorite was and is someone who withdraws from secular society to devote their life to intense prayer and the ascetic lifestyle where they choose a frugal life without possessions and 'sensual pleasures' in favour of spiritual pursuit and enlightenment. 

This choice to separate from ordinary life is not just a Christian concept, we find it in many religions but in the case of Julian and other Christians, becoming an anchorite ... a kind of hermit who stays one place ... was about a focus on the Christian Eucharist as well as prayer and devotion. Often these people became considered a kind of living saint. The earliest anchorites are recorded in the 11th century but by the 13th century when Julian was living, it's reckoned there could have been as many as 200 anchorites in England alone. The anchoritic life is considered to be one of the earliest forms of Christian monasticism and in fact some still exist today ... in the Roman Catholic Church it's described as one of the "Other Forms of Consecrated Life".

Regardless of the fact that she was separate from society, Julian did make an impact. Although she apparently preferred to write anonymously even in her own lifetime she was influential. There are surviving records of four wills in which she was named and there's an account by another celebrated mystic called Margery Kempe who writes about the advice and counsel she received from Julian.

While Julian remained separate, her 'anchorage' was attached to the side of the chapel so she was still able to play a part in the life of the church - she could receive communion and hear Mass. By the time she died, sometime after 1416, she had been in her cell for about 25 years!  

Although little known outside of Norwich and East Anglia in her lifetime and for many centuries,  Julian of Norwich's Revelations, including her second 'Long Text' in which she revealed a few personal details as well, have fortunately been handed down to this generation.  In the 17th century she became popular and loads of people translated her work. She did disappear from view for a while in the mid to late 19th century but was 're-discovered' in 1901 when a manuscript in the British Museum was transcribed and published with notes by an editor and translator called Grace Warrack.

Since then many more translations of Revelations of Divine Love  (which is also known under other titles) have been produced and Julian is now very popular. Her spirituality and thoughts and reflections appear to ring true with 21st century seekers after truth.   

Since 1980, Julian has been remembered in the Calendar of Saints in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on May 8th, and she is also commemorated on that day in the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA. While she has not been formally beatified or canonised in the Roman Catholic Church,  she is venerated by Catholics as a holy woman of God, and is sometimes referred to as "Saint", "Blessed", or "Mother" Julian.. In the Roman Catholic tradition her feast day is today - May 13th. And if you visit the magnificent Anglican cathedral in Norwich, at the West Porch you'll find a statue of Julian created by the local sculptor David Holgate and commissioned to commemorate the new millennium. 

There are many quotes from Julian of Norwich from her Revelations that have made it online but I still love this one more than others. 

Julian chose a hard, prayerful and thoughtful life but she was still a human being, a woman, and it must have been tough at times. Detached from the world, sitting in a cold cell in the perishing Norfolk winter and sweltering in the summer. Not following her own will, but that of God. 

Although I'm sure her resolve and faith were strong, she maybe at times did feel isolated and perhaps even, occasionally, wondered if she was spending her life usefully.

Most of us can recognise and perhaps empathise with those emotions.

So today I imagine Julian receiving this message and finding the comfort and peace and courage to move forward in life.

"In my folly, afore this time often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not letted: for then, methought, all should have been well. This stirring was much to be forsaken, but nevertheless mourning and sorrow I made therefor, without reason and discretion. But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." (The Thirteenth Revelation, Chapter 27)

 


Count Your Blessings

Are you a sucker for old movies?

I am!

And I especially love the old Hollywood musicals! There was a time when you couldn't avoid them on the weekends on British TV. There were and still are my guilty pleasure.

The films were usually 'feel good' tales of love over adversity - boy meets girl, falls in love, something happens to come between them, then it all gets worked out and the love is back on - and usually packed full of great songs.

It was through the old movies on TV that I first heard the name Irving Berlin, the American composer, lyricist and songwriter who was born on this day in 1888. He's actually considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history and it's reckoned he penned around 1,500 songs, including many that have passed into musical folklore.

If you fancy being impressed, just check out the list of some of his songs here and you'll see they include classics like White Christmas , There's No Business Like Show Business, and even the song that has become an American anthem - God Bless America.

Born in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States of America at the age of five. He was by all accounts a bit of a youthful musical prodigy. He was paid for his first song, Marie from Sunny Italy, in 1907 - he received 33 cents for the publishing rights. By 1911 he has his first major international hit, Alexander's Ragtime Band'.

Berlin's career spanned 60 years during which he wrote not just the songs, but the scores for 20 original Broadway shows and 15 original Hollywood films - hence my cosy weekend TV viewing. Berlin songs were nominated eight times for Academy Awards. 

Songs written by Irving Berlin have reached the top of the charts 25 times and proved popular not just to the musicians of his own time and those for whom he wrote some of the songs but loads and loads of other musicians and singers down the years who have recognised the beauty of his lyrics and tunes.

So, yes, numerous singers from Berlin's own era re-recorded his songs,  including Doris Day, Perry ComoAl JolsonFred Astaire, Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Frank SinatraDean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole.

But Berlin's songs have stood the test of time and have also proved popular in more recent times, being recorded by greats like Elvis Presley. Diana RossBarbra Streisand, Cher, Willie NelsonBob DylanLeonard Cohen, and contemporary 21st century stars like Michael BubleLady Gaga, and Christina Aguilera.

Count your blessings irving sheetBut to celebrate Irving Berlin's birthday today I'm going to turn to a little song of his that has always touched my heart.

It was included in the 1954 movie 'White Christmas', perhaps the most iconic Christmas movie of all time in my opinion. 

It's sung by two of the main characters in the film played by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, both of whom also recorded and had hits with other Berlin songs.

Blink and you may this one ... it appears to be just a simple tune with simple lyrics, but it's lovely...

It reminds us to remember how much we are blessed rather than fretting about any short-term problems that we might be facing.

It's a great message for us all - Count Your Blessings ...

As I was researching this thought today I discovered (from Wikipedia!) that this song actually arose from Irving Berlin's personal experience. He apparently was suffering from insomnia brought on by stress and his doctor suggested he try "counting his blessings" as a way to deal with it. I can certainly sympathise with the great songwriter on this one ... insomnia is something that I'm plagued with!

And although it appears to be just a little song, Count Your Blessings was nominated for an Oscar in the "Best Song" category at the Academy Awards, only to be pipped at the post by Three Coins in the Fountain from the movie of the same name ... another iconic film!

But maybe I'll come to that another day. Who knows?

 

 

 


A Love Song

I'm sure you've heard the saying 'The Soundtrack of my Life' ?

Well today I'm talking about a song, an album and a group that really takes me back in time and which were and are part of my personal 'soundtrack'.

I was a little bit too young to be part of 'Beatlemania', although I do remember listening to the 'Fab Four' as a child ... my eldest brother being six years older than me, there was lots of pop music around.

When the Beatles split up Paul McCartney began creating his own music, solo, and eventually created a rock bang called Wings and they took me into my early adulthood. I even saw them 'live' in concert at the old Southampton Gaumont Theatre when I was in my first year at university. That would have been in late 1979 or thereabouts.

Wings produced masses of great music and I'm sure I'll mention them again. I'm thinking 'Band on the Run' among other albums - some of my very favourite music was produced by Paul and his band in this era. But today I'm remembering a lovely song which was on Paul McCartney and Wings' second studio album, released on this day in 1973.

Wings _Red_Rose_Speedway_(1973) (1)

'Red Rose Speedway' was preceded by the release of the lead single - a beautiful ballad entitled "My Love", which came out a couple of weeks earlier as a taster.

The album and the song topped the US Billboard Hot 100. In the UK it received more mixed reviews and the song peaked at Number 9 on the UK Singles Chart, with the album reaching Number 5 on the UK Albums Chart.

It's a love song written by Paul for his wife and Wings bandmate Linda, and in my opinion, it is beautiful.

And I LOVE it!

SO today ... I simply share it with you. 

Enjoy!

 


No News Today!

Many of you who regularly read this blog may know that for most of my working life I've been involved in the media business.

And for most of my adult life, news has been something I've been involved in - listened to, watched, written, read out for listeners and viewers, reported on in studios and on locations, investigated news stories and chatted to people making the news for whatever reason. I'm one of those people who when I awake in the morning I automatically reach for the radio and switch on, to catch the latest headlines and commentary.

The news recently, of course, has been dominated by the coronavirus - news of numbers, deaths, hospitalisations, vaccines - it's been relentless. And I have to say, even though I am by my own admission a bit of a 'news junkie', it has all become a bit overwhelming.

Prior to this pandemic, of course, here in the UK our news programmes and headlines were dominated for many many many months by ... yes ... BREXIT!  THAT also felt like a never-ending story! 

With our current rolling TV news channels, it does sometimes feel like it's just a constant barrage of relentless facts, figures, analysis, comment. Often things appear to happen really really slowly, so hour on hour it's the same thing over and over and over again, with obvious clutching at proverbial straws to try to 'freshen up' the newslines being delivered.

I know that for a lot of people this past year, especially, has been quite depressing. A lot have simply stopped watching and listening to the news and have just 'switched off'. I've read comments from so many people who've said that they are just 'fed up' of hearing the same news lines and the same people talking about the same things. And I sort of get it. 

The challenge to current news providers is always to try to keep people engaged, but there is something in the argument that some of the methods of modern news delivery are rather jaded.

You know what I'm talking about. 'Experts' and so-called 'correspondents' unpicking issues endlessly and telling us what they think about it all is one of my personal bug bears, I have to say. Having worked in the news for so long, I'm aware that to be an 'expert' in any particular area is something that often comes with much time and great effort. And I'm not sure these days that everyone who stands outside an important building spouting what they've probably just actually been told to say by their colleagues back in the newsroom are real 'experts'. It sort of diminishes the trust in 'specialists'.

One big challenge is how also to keep people engaged with the news without just delivering scary statistics and frighteners? That doesn't always work either. One way of making news come to 'life' is to turn to 'examples' of people who are living through it. But even that can get a bit jaded because often the stories are framed in the same way - sad looking person filmed doing something that doesn't really relate to what the story is about (making a cup of tea/pottering in the garden, walking in a field), a rather sad little interview with a serious looking reporter, followed by the sad person doing something also unrelated to the story (leafing through a book/looking pensively out of a window).

Part of the problem is that the person's story is always framed through the news story and by the 'line' that the reporter is aiming for, and in the time allotted to them ... usually a TV news story is all done and dusted and shoe-horned into under two minutes. Radio can allow more TIME to really explore a subject, but the truth is much of the news delivery these days feels rather rushed. SO many stories, all covered rather superficially and only really for the purpose of illustrating the top 'news line'.

The other thing that people have often asked me is why the 'news' is so often 'bad.' I've tried to explain in the past that actually it's because 'bad' stuff happens really quite infrequently, so that's why it's unusual and makes the news. But these days I'm not so convinced by my argument. Years ago there was a bit of a debate as to why 'good' news couldn't be more prominent in a bulletin. Especially on a 'slow' news day, why can't our news be full of 'good' news? People doing great things, people making a difference in their communities. And not just covered as your typical 'And Finally ...' story.

On BBC local radio at the moment there IS a move towards more 'good' community news stories. Some bulletins are featuring 'Make a Difference' stories which celebrates the brilliant people in our communities. It was part of what I did towards the end of my time at BBC Radio Jersey and it's a great development.

But sadly, I think I may have actually to create my own 'good news channel' if I want to hear more positive news stories. The mainstream news media DOES have challenges ahead, although how one fixes a broken model is another issue and one that will take more than my ramblings to sort out.

But why am I talking about this today?

Well it's because on this day - April 18th - in 1930, the BBC did have a very slow news day and something rather unusual happened.

It was before television, so this was radio news. 

BBC microphoneIt was 8.45pm and all over Great Britain people tuned it for the radio news but instead heard the announcer simply say these words...

“Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” 

That was it. Then the rest of the 15-minute news segment was filled with some piano music.

Of course this was before the days of world media. And the BBC wasn't endowed with all the reporters and 'correspondents' we have today. In fact the BBC didn't create it's own news operation until 1934. It's really interesting to read about the early days of the BBC,  when their news gathering was rather constrained by the demands of the newspaper publishers who feared that broadcast bulletins would damage sales.

In those early days of the BBC - after the first news bulletin in November 1922 - they weren't allow to broadcast news before 7pm and the British government didn't allow the BBC to have its own reporters. They relied on stories and copy from the wire services like Reuters, the Press Association, the Central News, and the Exchange Telegraph Company, whose ‘tape’ machines spewed out their stories into the BBC News Room. The BBC news teams then chose what stories to run and by all accounts, they were determined only to choose the best stories. 

Obviously on April 18th 1930 there weren't enough good stories to make a bulletin!

I didn't grow up on this story ... it's something I learned about down the line. And I'm not sure that everyone who works for the BBC knows about it.  Some are aware and think it's just rather quirky. Click here to listen to a more modern take on what happened that day.

Even on a 'slow' news day, this would never happen today. Imagine if we switched on the BBC news channels to hear 'Good morning, everyone, today there is no real news for us to talk about, at least not sensibly. So we're just going to enjoy a film or some cartoons, or listen to some great music'.

Now ... THAT would be an interesting News Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A London memory

I worked in London for many years and so commuting into the City and across the metropolis was a great part of my life for a good deal of time.

At one point and for many years I often passed through one particular London Underground (Tube) Station - Baker Street - almost daily, and I got to know it very well.

It's a fascinating place. It's where lots of different underground lines converge, and it's a labyrinth of platforms and interlinking corridors. 

And it's historic - Baker Street is one of the original stations of the Metropolitan Railway,  the world's first underground railway, which opened on 10 January 1863.  When I was working in London, the Bakerloo Line, which gets it's name because it links Baker Street and Waterloo among other stations, celebrated it's centenary. The line opened in various stages between 1906 and 1915.

Baker Street is also famous because of its links with the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock holmes baker streetHis creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes living at a fictional address - 221B Baker Street - which back at the time when the novels were being written, would have been a high class residential area. Today the Sherlock Holmes Museum is at the address and there's a statute of Sherlock Holmes outside Baker Street station which also draws masses of visitors to the tube stop.

The platforms are decorated with tiles bearing an iconic silhouette of Holmes - pipe and all ! I love the way the powers that be have embraced the mystery of a fictional character, and woven it into a place of historic value.

But I'm thinking about this particularly today because, LONG  before I knew about the Tube station at Baker Street, I was aware of the name, thanks to a fantastic song which bears the same title.

Not that it has anything to do with the story of the underground station, but today is the birthday of Gerry Rafferty, the Scottish singer/songwriter and the creator of  'Baker Street'. Born this day - 16 April - in 1947

I've loved this song since it first made the charts in 1978, and I have to say, often when I passed through the actual station I found it ringing around in my head!

So - in celebration - here it is ... 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Grapes of Wrath

There are some books that define a generation and I'm thinking about one of those today.

If you've not read 'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck, then may I recommend it?

The grapes of wrath book coverI think I first read it when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression on me.

It is a glorious piece of writing which is not a surprise. After all, after it was published on this day - April 14th - in 1939, the book won the National Book Award  and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

But it's also a narrative of a period of history in the USA which I was learning about at school at the time and it really helped me to understand the era and, more importantly, the people who lived through it. And so the study of history became more than just facts and figures. It helped me to understand that history is about the people who live through it. People just like you and me. People with feelings and fears, people with emotions and dreams.

'The Grapes of Wrath' is set in the Great Depression - a severe worldwide economic depression which began in the United States of America and which blighted the 1930s. It all began with the Wall Street Crash in autumn 1929 when stock markets collapsed, people's livelihoods and lives were destroyed. It was the depression that defined the pre-World War II years.

As I said before, when one is studying history, it's easy just to study the facts and to forget the impact of world events on the ordinary lives of individuals. Not just the rich, influential  and famous whose stories might hit the headlines or ultimately be included in the history books, but the lives of ordinary people who make up the great majority of our world.

The family at the centre of 'The Grapes of Wrath'  are the Joads, poor tenant farmers in the state of Oklahoma who are driven out of their home by a series of events. First, drought - the economic crisis coincided with some climatic challenges not all natural ... some of the problems were caused by over use of the land. But, in addition,  the Joads also faced economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures which forced tenant farmers out of work. 

The family epitomises the problems of their generation. They are in a desperate situation, trapped in what was known as the 'Dust Bowl', they decide to become part of an exodus to the 'Promised Land' of California, where they believe they will find work and land and a future.

So the Joads join thousands of other "Okies" heading west. 

However, once they reach California, they find the state oversupplied with men, women and children all seeking employment, workers are exploited and wages are low. The poor face a future where the big corporate farmers collude, smaller farmers suffer from collapsing prices and the future is not much better than that which the family faced at home in Oklahoma. 

Although the Great Depression, and any depression or economic downturn actually, often affects everyone at the start, there's no doubt that it is the poor who ultimately suffer the most. The rich and powerful often find ways of escaping and sadly that's often at the expense of others.

As I was researching this blog, I discovered that Steinbeck not only was aware of this, but actually wrote the book to highlight the issue, and in fact 'The Grapes of Wrath', with it's brilliant writing and his sympathy for migrants and workers, won a huge following among the working class. 

He's reported to have said "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this (the Great Depression) and its effects."

And Steinbeck also famously said, "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." 

And THAT is indeed what happened to me when I first read the book - it taught me so much not just about that particular period of history, but also a good deal about how greed and power can corrupt, and how it is the poorest and weakest in our society who invariably suffer the most.

Even though 'The Grapes of Wrath' was written almost a century ago, it certainly feels to me that it has a few messages for this current generation, and this current period of human history.

I haven't read it for a while, but I think I need to read it again.


A Musical Experience

If you're a person who sings, and sings seriously - I'm thinking about choirs and the like, including in church - you MAY know the piece of music I'm talking about today.

It's not easy to sing - I know, because I've tried it once or twice and it was beyond me.

But it's a glorious piece, actually more of an experience I would say, rather than just a 'sing'

And it was on this day - April 13th - in 1742 that Handel's 'Messiah' was first performed in Dublin!

George Frideric Handel was a German born composer who had trained and worked in Germany and Italy before moving to England in 1712. His reputation was built on compositions of Italian opera but as public tastes began to change, he adapted. In 1727 Handel became a naturalised British subject and by the 1730s he began producing English oratorios.

Hallelujah chorus sheet musicResearch tells me that Messiah was actually Handel's sixth oratorio in English and although it apparently had a rather low key debut, it was immediately popular. About a year after the Irish first night, Messiah was premiered in London, a gala performance attended by royalty. And apparently King George was so moved by the rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” that he rose from his seat. The audience also took to their feet and for the past 270-plus years, audiences have continued to do the same. Over the centuries it has become one of the best known, most popular and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

But what I didn't realise until I started researching was that it was written at a time when Handel's health and reputation was failing. He was an opera man and that genre had begun to become less popular. He felt his work had become rather jaded and he was struggling, but he was a deeply religious man and he turned to the Bible for inspiration. And that's when he was re-energised and he started to produce some amazing works!

Messiah is all about life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the 'Messiah' being the saviour of humankind who is first mentioned in ancient Jewish scripture. Christians believe Jesus is the 'Messiah'.

Handel was so inspired that he apparently finished Part I of the piece (the birth of the Messiah and the Old Testament prophecies) in only six days. He composed Part II (the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus) in nine days. Part III ( which charts the promise of redemption, the day of judgement and the resurrection which ends with the final victory over death for all those who believe) was completed in just six days. The orchestration took Handel only a few days more which means that in total, the whole composition took less than 25 days. Astonishing!

Handel's music is set to words compiled by Charles Jennens who drew from the King James Bible, and from the Coverdale Psalter, the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer.  The 'libretto' is apparently not designed to dramatise the life and teachings of Jesus, but to acclaim the "Mystery of Godliness", and anyone who has sung or heard Messiah will be aware not just of the wonderful music but also of the spiritual impact it can have on a soul!

Handel continued to write religious music and to perform until, at the age of  74, he collapsed while conducting a performance of Messiah. At that time, as he was laid in bed he allegedly said  “I should like to die on Good Friday.” 

That wasn't to be, although he did die on a Holy Saturday -  April 14th, 1759. That anniversary is tomorrow! Handel’s grave is in Westminster Abbey in London and it's marked by a statue of him with a score of Messiah opened on the table. The page that is visible is, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” 

But today I'm going to share perhaps the most familiar piece of music from Messiah and it's the piece that brought a king to his feet. And it's still attracting crowds ... as this 'flash mob' by the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus in the USA proves.

I love this and as I watch it I wonder if all those singing are actually members of the Chorus, or whether because the piece is so well known some people just started singing along?

I think Handel would have loved it.

Enjoy!

 




I'll Fight

I've done quite a few jobs down the years. Worked in newspapers, radio, television, PR and communications, training. I'm also an author.

My first book was about the founders of The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation, William and Catherine Booth.

William and catherine book coverWeirdly it was called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Monarch/Lion Hudson 2013) ... and yes it was based on the letters the couple wrote to each other from the time they met and throughout their engagement and long marriage.

The letters are full of their love and family life, but also show how that love, and a love for and faith in God, led to the creation of The Salvation Army, from very humble beginnings in the East End of Victorian London to a 'movement' which today can be found in more than 130 countries. 

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's because today - April 10th - is William Booth's birthday! Born this day in 1829 in Nottingham in England, he was a man on a mission. Having become a Christian when he was what we today would call a 'teenager', he was determined to spend his life in God's service.

He yearned to be an evangelist and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He tried hard to fit into the Methodist Church, but he was such an individualist that, ultimately, that just didn't work. Finally, after years of struggle and ministry, he and Catherine found themselves in London where William began to really see the plight of the poor and to be challenged into a response. He and Catherine had realised their 'calling' in life was to champion the hoards of people excluded from church and society, marginalised, ignored, undervalued and even abused.

In 1865 the Booths created the East London Christian Mission, among other things to preach to, feed and support the poor. In 1878 it was renamed and became 'The Salvation Army' and from that moment it really took off, with its quasi military structure and distinctive character. Uniforms and brass bands were among the features which captured the public imagination and attracted not just people from the poverty stricken part of the population but also those from the higher echelons of society who felt that 'church' should be more than just ritual and Sunday attendance at services.  Christian faith in this context was to be shared, and to make a difference in the world. In modern parlance, Christian faith is '24/7' and is to influence what you get up to and how you interact with the world.

The Booths and their followers (known as 'Salvationists') faced much opposition, from society and even the church. Among other things, The Salvation Army asked, and still asks, it's members to give up the booze and that didn't go down well with publicans! Salvation Army members were imprisoned for their faith, and attacked by those who opposed them, including groups calling themselves 'The Skeleton Army'.

But by the time William was an old man he was revered. He and Catherine (she had died in 1890) and their children and followers had developed not just what was effectively a church with many hundreds of 'corps' across the globe, but a mission which helped to pick people up from poverty and equip them for a future where they could look after themselves and their families. Not just a 'hand out' in charity, but a 'hand up'. 

WIlliam's last speech = albert hall ihq imageAnd even as an old man, William Booth never lost the spirit to fight for the marginalised, people who no one else would champion.

On May 9th 1912, just a few months before he died, William ... the 'General' of The Salvation Army ... appeared before a huge crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He had just completed a tour of Europe and it's reckoned around 7,000 Salvationists packed into the venue to hear what would be their leader's final address. 

It was here he was reported to have said something which would sum up his 60-year Christian ministry, and the mission of The Salvation Army.

And it still inspires today 

While women weep,
as they do now, I’ll fight.

While little children go hungry,
as they do now, I’ll fight.
While men go to prison, in and
out, in and out, as they do now,
I’ll fight.
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl
upon the streets,
While there remains one dark
soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!

Quite a few years ago, I was employed as the Head of Media for The Salvation Army in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and we produced a video for a big event (a 'congress') which brought together Salvation Army members and friends from across the UK and the British Isles. 

It was called the 'I'll Fight' Congress and it's theme was that great speech made by General William Booth at the start of the 1900s.

But, big question  - is the sentiment of the speech still relevant for the 21st century?

Well of course there are still 'poor lost girls' ... in fact today The Salvation Army is at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, the modern slave trade, across the world. People still go hungry, still go to prison and end up isolated. Drugs, alcohol abuse, homelessness, unemployment ... these are unfortunately still issues which The Salvation Army helps to address day on day. 

And for that 'congress' we re-worked the original Booth speech to suit the times. It was some years ago, so apologies to the children who kindly helped me on this project. They are now grown adults. 

But it still works ... and it still challenges ... 

 

*image above and film embedded in the video copyright The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre


Daffodils

Today I'm thinking about Spring and that wonderfully cheerful flower - the daffodil.

Over the past few weeks Jersey has been festooned with the bright yellow trumpet shaped blooms  - in gardens, in fields and on hedgerows. It's been glorious!

I think daffodils have the ability to raise our spirits, make us smile and even get the creative juices flowing.

Daffodils poem april 7Back in April 1802 a poet called William Wordsworth was taking a walk with his sister Dorothy around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater, in the Lake District, when they came across a "long belt" of daffodils. A couple of years later that memory led to the creation of one of the world's most popular poems ... called 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud' or 'Daffodils'.

Years ago I visited Wordsworth's Lake District home in Northwest England - Dove Cottage - and one day I might chat about that as well. It's a place I had always wanted to visit, ever since I read Wordsworth as a teenager, including this fantastic poem. In fact, his sister Dorothy also wrote about seeing the daffodils in all their glory in her Journals ... again another brilliant read, if ever you fancy it.

So today, to mark the birthday of William Wordsworth - born on this day April 7 1770 - I bring you his immortal lines...

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth