Writing

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.


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


Life is like a book

Just thinking today about how easy it is to go through life never taking any chances or stepping outside of our 'comfort zone'. 

Just wondering ...

What might I be missing?

 

Life is like a book


Pandemic - a year on

It's March 11th ... and it's EXACTLY a year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Not just an epidemic but a pandemic! 

Not just a rapid spreading of a disease within a population, but an epidemic which is spreading across many countries, across the world. And quickly!

We'd been hearing about coronavirus since the end 0f 2019. Cases in China, cases emerging in other locations and countries. Mid-February, cases and deaths growing in numbers in Northern Italy.

On March 11th 2020 the WHO cited over 118,000 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus  in over 110 countries and territories around the world. They predicted ongoing and sustained risk of global spread.

At the time, the World Health Organisation's Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this:

“This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector. So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.”

It was official. The world was in a pandemic. We are still in that pandemic.

I'm not going to go over everything that's happened since. I just feel I need to mark the spot really. 

Millions of people have died across the world .. as I'm writing this those numbers are over two and a half million. Globally, over 116 million have contracted the virus. And the numbers still rise - you can follow the daily global figures via the WHO numbers dashboard.

And these are not just faceless 'numbers'. Some of us have lost dear family and friends.

To contain the spread of the virus, most of us have adhered to strict living restrictions and 'lockdown' ... a word we hardly knew this time last year.  We've worn masks, sanitised, kept our distance, not gathered in groups, missed out on meeting even our close family members. Members of our medical professions and those who are responsible for keeping our community going day-to-day have done so sometimes to the detriment of their own health. 

Manufacturing , hospitality, service industries, shops, offices, transport systems, travel - just some of the sectors badly affected. Some will never recover.  Many have lost their jobs, many of us have worked from home for nigh on a year now. Life has changed out of all proportion.

Covid signsBut now, thanks to the brilliant efforts of the world's scientists, we have vaccines. And although, unfortunately they are not being rolled out equally across the world, distribution has begun. 

We know that vaccines won't 'eradicate' the coronavirus - experts say it is here to stay. The jabs don't 'cure' people from COVID-19 but the vaccine does, it appears, limit the effects. We are already beginning to see a slow down of deaths from the disease, although it is very very slow.

And being vaccinated doesn't mean we will be completely free to do whatever we want, go wherever we want.  In fact some say the 'new normal' will require ongoing restrictions to our behaviour, especially as the virus mutates and takes different forms.

Here in Jersey in the Channel Islands we are coming up to the anniversary of the first COVID-19 positive test. We've lost nearly 70 dear people. And our community and commerce has been badly affected.

But there is optimism in the air.

Covid vax cathyThe Government of Jersey is rolling out an excellent vaccination programme and I am privileged to have already received my first dose. Not because I'm 'vulnerable' but because I really am that old!

So today ... I remember those who are lost and those who are grieving. I remember those who are affected in so many ways, including physically, emotionally and financially. I thank those who have kept us safe, those who have nursed us, served us throughout this past year, distributed food parcels, ensured our island has kept it's head above water.

And today, I give thanks for the vaccine, and hope and trust that everyone across the world will soon have access to it, regardless of their economic or social status and the country in which they happen to reside. Only when the whole world is able to be vaccinated will the world begin to be a safer place.

 

 


Smile! It's Saturday!

Not much to say today ... apart from the fact that ... it's Saturday!

I'm so happy!

It's the first weekend in March, so if you're in the northern hemisphere, I hope Spring is 'springing' wherever you are, that you maybe get a chance to get out into the fresh air and you have an opportunity for a bit of rest and relaxation. 

If you're somewhere else ... enjoy whatever season it is where you are!

That's all ... have a great day!

Saturday smile*image by Cathy Le Feuvre ... isn't it lovely?


A Wave of Prayer

Happy Friday everyone!

Did you know ... today is the World Day of Prayer?

Now, if you're a female of the species you may be aware of this day ... previously it was known as the 'Women's World Day of Prayer' where millions and millions and millions of woman across the globe prayed on a specific theme, for 24 hours. I've been part of this day for a very long time, including attending special church services and gatherings. The best thing about this day is that it's all people, from so many different churches and traditions, coming together in one purpose.

People in more than 170 countries celebrate The Day of Prayer. It all begins in Samoa in the central South Pacific Ocean, and it moves eastwards, with prayers and services held in native languages throughout Australasia, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas before finishing in American Samoa (on the other side of the International Date Line from Samoa) 39 hours later.

It's a day-long Wave of Prayer across the world!

That's very special. Knowing that you are praying with others, on the same theme, is really powerful.

Although it was and is still mostly women who mark the day, men and boys were never excluded. And just a few years ago the name was changed, with the word 'Women's' taken off the start of the title to represent the inclusivity of the day for Christians internationally.

So what happens today?

Well, every year follows a theme, and a group of Christian women from somewhere in the world is selected to write resources  with prayers, songs, readings and stories on the chosen theme. It's always a culturally exciting time as people, for instance, in the UK will experience what has been prepared for them by fellow Christians maybe across the other side of the world.

Last year, for example, we all enjoyed a service prepared for us by people in Zimbabwe in Africa. Each nation brings its own culture to it's contribution, sharing their own stories and experiences, so this is not just about prayer and faith but it's also a bit of an education about other cultures.

Which brings me to this year - 2021.

Where is VanuatuBy the time this daily blog is published at 0800 GMT (London time) women will have been praying already for many hours on the theme of 'Build on a Strong Foundation', prepared for us by the Christian women of the island of Vanuatu in the south Pacific Ocean.

Of course this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the prayer resources which the Vanuatu faithful have prepared will not be used in many church buildings, but there will be thousands upon thousands of online services and 'gatherings'. Here in Jersey, the World Day of Prayer service is at 1.30pm lunchtime and it will be hosted online by St Paul's Church in St Helier. 

However, it's not all doom and gloom because in addition to resources produced for today, you can also enjoy a fabulous mix of music, readings, prayers and stories online from Vanuatu and other people across the world.

And it's all on Youtube ...

Today people around the world will be thinking about how to 'Build on a Strong Foundation' and in the press release from the UK WDP (World Day of Prayer) Committee, the thinking behind the day was explained...

Women of the Republic of Vanuatu (located in the South Pacific Ocean) have prepared this year’s service. The black and white sandy beaches, coral reefs with coloured fishes, lovely birds, fruits and nuts in the forest, all make the islands a pristine environment but they are vulnerable to frequent tropical storms, earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis and active volcanoes. Women, men and children of all ages are called to ‘Build on a strong foundation’ and live in unity, love and peace in the context of ethnic and cultural diversity like Vanuatu and so many other places around the world.

On this World Day of Prayer there will be opportunities to learn about the island nation of Vanuatu, and all the prayers will focus on creation and construction and the importance of building something solid, not just physically but also spiritually. 'Structures' that can stand against the trials and storms of life. And once again we will be encouraged to think about how we, as humanity, can learn to live together despite our many differences and circumstances.

But then, we'll be encouraged to continue praying, because although today is special, prayer is something we may do every day. And the learning can continue too because now you've heard about it,  you might want to check out the World Day of Prayer (UK) website, where among other things there are some great activities for children (and all of us) including making sand paintings, and cooking up a batch of coconut cake.

So I'm just off to the kitchen. I fancy a bit of that.

Have a happy, and prayerful day!


Ordinary Miracles

I work at the BBC ... BBC Radio Jersey to be specific, in the Channel Islands.

I'm the Communities Journalist, so part of my job is to engage with our local community and help people to share their stories. Not just to contribute to 'news stories' but to share their life experiences and talents.  

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic BBC local radio stations across the British Isles have been highlighting the good that is happening in communities through a campaign called 'Make a Difference'.

Every day we hear about people who are making their world, their communities, better places. Initially it was just really a response to the impact of the pandemic and to highlight how people were helping those who could not get out, and those assisting directly in response to the pandemic restrictions we are living under.

Now it's extending beyond that and we love to hear from people who are just helping others in all sorts of ways, helping to make the environment better, coming alongside those who need help. We've had stories about fundraisers for charities that are struggling to survive in these Covid19 days. We hear about those doing beach cleans, we highlight jobs that are in caring roles. As well as the ongoing direct response to the pandemic - charities and individuals offering food parcels, clothing, and general day-to-day help to those who continue to be affected.

I'm sure I'll talk a lot more about this down the line ... but it has got me thinking about my life.

What do I do to 'make a difference' to the lives of others? I'm not talking about saving the world, inventing something that will change the course of human history or intentionally setting out to be an inspiration.

I'm just talking about the kinds of things that our 'making a difference' people do every day.

Reaching out a hand of friendship, caring enough to smile at someone (even with a mask on), picking up a phone to chat to someone, dropping them a message on social media, doing a little kindness that will bring a little joy to another. 

There's a song by the fabulous Barbra Streisand which, I think says it all. It's one of my favourite songs. I love the sentiment that we can all be 'ordinary miracles' just changing the world quietly, not drawing attention to ourselves, even by sharing our efforts and stories on the local radio station.

Enjoy and be inspired!

Change can come on tiptoe 
Love is where it starts
It resides, often hides,  deep within our hearts
And just as pebbles make a mountain, raindrops make a sea
One day at a time change begins with you and me
Ordinary miracles happen all around
Just by giving and receiving comes belonging and believing

Every sun that rises
Never rose before
Each new day leads the way through a different door
And we can all be quiet heroes living quiet days
Walking through the world changing it in quiet ways
Ordinary miracles like candles in the dark
Each and every one of us lights a spark

And the walls can tumble
And the mountains can move
The winds and the tide can turn

Yes, ordinary miracles
One for every star
No lightning bolt or clap of thunder
Only joy and quiet wonder
Endless possibilities right before our eyes
Oh, see the way a miracle multiples

Now hope can spring eternally
Plant it and it grows
Love is all that's necessary
Love in its extraordinary way
Makes ordinary miracles every blessed day

 

 


A person's a person, no matter how small!

Here are some lines you might recognise if you, like me, have been a reader since you were very little.

"The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said 'How we wish we had something to do.'"

Or how about this? 

Do you like green eggs and ham?
I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.”

The cat in the hat bookcoverYes, opening lines from two children's classics - 'The Cat in the Hat' and 'Green Eggs and Ham'

By 'Dr Seuss'.

Admittedly, if you're my age, you're more likely to know the name and the books if you were brought up in the United States of America, but nowadays Dr Seuss is globally popular not just for the books (he wrote and illustrated more than 60 books under that pen name), but also because of the cartoons and films that have brought the author's incredible imagination and creatures and thoughts to life over the decades since he first put pen to paper.Green eggs and ham book cover

'Dr Seuss' was actually a chap called Theodor Seuss 'Ted' Giesel, who was born on this day - Mach 2nd  - in 1904.

He wasn't just an award-winning world renowned children's author and poet, but also an illustrator, animator, filmmaker and political cartoonist. And by the time of his death in September 1991, his many children's books had sold over 600 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages.

Horton hears a who book cover

'Horton Hears a Who' (published in 1955) is one of my favourites - the story in rhyme of Horton the Elephant and how he saves Whoville, a tiny planet based on a small speck of dust, from the evil animals who mocked him. 

The most popular line from that book is "A person's a person, no matter how small" - it's just so profound! Dr Seuss isn't just about fun, there's usually a moral in there somewhere too.

And how about 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas!' ? That one was published in 1957.

All written by Dr Seuss! NOW do you know who I'm talking about?

As was/is the case with many successful authors Ted Giesel's first efforts as a children's writer - a book called 'And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street' - was rejected by many dozens of publishers. But just a few years later, by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, he was beginning to become quite successful. During the war he supported the US war effort and made a name for himself as a filmmaker. One of his war documentaries inspired a film called 'Design for Death' (1947), a study of Japanese culture - and that picked up an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. A couple of years later in 1950, a film called 'Gerald McBoing-Boing', which was based on an original story by Seuss, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Such a brilliantly talented person!

Dr Seuss was also at the forefront of the movement to get children reading. In 1954, a report was published in Life magazine highlighting illiteracy among school children in the USA. It concluded that kids were not learning to read because their books were boring. The director of the education division of publishers Houghton Mifflin, William Ellsworth Spaulding, compiled a list of 348 words that he believed were important for young readers - first-graders - to recognize. Spaulding asked Ted Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words.

The result was 'The Cat in the Hat', which uses 236 of the listed words.

Astonishing!

Seuss' books, his words, have certainly got children reading down the years. Just as JK Rowling got a generation at the end of the 20th century picking up a Harry Potter book, Dr Seuss' creations have inspired millions of young readers. 

Down the years Dr Seuss picked up many an award, and even a special Pulitzer Prize in 1984, for his "contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents".  He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and although he passed away in 1991 he remains one of the highest paid celebrities and authors. 

But I think it's his ability to engage children with words and to encourage them to read, opening up their imaginations to a world of possibilities and to laugh out loud, shed a tear or two and empathise with others, that is his greatest legacy.

So, with that in mind, I'll leave you with a brilliant quote from the amazing man called Dr Seuss.

Cat in the hat reading

 


Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus!

Today is St David's Day!

And if you're from the country of Wales, if you're Welsh, or part-Welsh (as I am) this is an important day.

On March 1st every year the people of Wales, and those of Welsh heritage wherever they are in the world, celebrate their patron saint. 

My Mum is Welsh so in our family we've always known about St David's Day. But it was when I spent my final two years of schooling in Wales that I realised how passionate people are about their saint, their history, their culture and their language. 

DaffodilOn this day, people wear the traditional symbols of Wales - daffodils or leeks - and enjoy traditional Welsh food ... my favourites are Welsh cakes which are like little griddle pancakes. Yum!

But who was St David?

Well in the 6th century, he was a Bishop of a place called 'Mynyw', which is the modern day St Davids, a city in the county of Pembrokeshire  in the southwest of the country.

David (Dewi) was born in Wales, although there's no clear evidence as to the year that happened. It is known that he was a celebrated teacher and preacher and that he founded monasteries and churches in Wales - St David's Cathedral is situated on the site of a monastery he founded in the Glyn Rhosyn valley of Pembrokeshire - in 'Dumnonia' (a kingdom in the southwest of England) and even Brittany in France. David is even believed to have visited the ancient religious site of Glastonbury

David established his own Monastic Rule, a system of religious and daily living for monks, and one of David's main rules was that when his followers were tilling the soil, THEY had to pull the plough themselves, rather than animals. Monks living by the Monastic Rule of David drank only water and ate only bread with salt and herbs - no meat, and certainly no beer. They were allowed no personal possessions and while David's monks worked in the day, they spent the evenings reading, writing and praying. 

So, why is David's feast day March 1st? 

That's the day when it's thought he died. As with his birth, there's a question mark over what year that was. Some say 601AD, others 589AD. 

David was buried in St David's Cathedral and his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. Invading Vikings removed the shrine during the 10th and 11th centuries but in 1275 a new shrine was constructed, the ruined base of which remains to this day.  

Although St David had been a popular saint in Wales since the 12th century, his religious feast day didn't become a national festival until the 18th century. And it's on March 1st every year that Welsh heritage people celebrate the man who now is their patron saint. Children especially are encouraged to celebrate as they learn about their history, and they often head to school for the day dressed as coal miners or in the traditional Welsh woman costume, with the girls often wearing a leek in their lapel. I remember at school one girl wearing such a BIG leek, a huge green vegetable, that it covered her whole chest and ... boy did it smell (like onion).

But why daffodils, and why leeks ? 

Well the leek became a symbol of the Welsh spirit because one legend says that St David advised his people to wear leeks in a battle against the Saxons. It was the days of hand-to-hand combat and wearing the leek meant that they would be recognised as Welsh by their compatriots in the heat of the battle - so no chance of someone killing a fellow Welshman! That's just one of the stories, but leeks were a popular food for many centuries and were also used for medicinal purposes, and the link with St David's Day is thought to be especially through the Tudors, who had strong Welsh roots and heritage.

And the daffodil?

This lovely yellow blooms appears in early Spring, around the time of St David's Day and it's just a joyful flower, isn't it?

But the floral link with Wales is fairly recent really and is thought to have been adopted as an alternative to the leek in the early 20th century, by which time the wearing of vegetables on your coat on March 1st had become a bit of a joke. Welsh politician and elder statesman David Lloyd George, who was British Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922, was said to be an advocate of the daffodil being used as a symbol of his Homeland.

The Welsh are a proud people and on St David's Day that pride is more obvious than ever.

If you're not aware, the country (now called the Principality) has its own ancient language. Welsh is a Celtic language - with links to the ancient Celtic Britons - and although for centuries Welsh was the common language of the people, it did fall into decline in the early 20th century as English became dominant. However in the 1990's the value of the native language was formerly recognised for its importance to the Welsh culture, heritage and future, with The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998  regulating that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally in the public sector, where sensible and possible.

These days there's Welsh speaking media, the language is taught in schools, as well as there being educational establishments where Welsh is the predominant language for conversation and teaching. I read recently that as of September 2020, it was reckoned that about a third of the population of Wales could speak the language and more than 15% spoke Welsh every day. It's been a real success story for the reinvigoration of a mother language that could easily have died out. And if you visit Wales, you'll see signs everywhere in Welsh and English.  

I know just a few words of Welsh ... passed down through my Welsh heritage ... but I'm no expert.

So, finally, today I could say 'Happy St. David’s Day!

But I instead will sign off by wishing you ...  'Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus!'