Monday, 13 August 2012

The River of Lost Footsteps

by Thant Myint-U

i have just finished reading 'The River of Lost Footsteps' by Thant Myint-U.
i bought the book a few months ago because i realized that i knew next to nothing about Burma's history, and felt rather ashamed of it.

as a child my father's job with BOAC saw us briefly stationed in Rangoon, and i have very fond and quite strong memories of it; going to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda with my shoes off, the smells and lights, the hugeness of it. i remember the little bungalow we stayed in, the kitchen with its charcoal oven that you fanned to get it going, the plants in the garden.
as a 5 year old i didnt  really know what was happening in the country.

It is so important, i think, to learn about a country's history and culture before we decide to condemn or ostracize. 
i have felt this for a long time, and am sometimes a bit hesitant in signing petitions online - a nagging feeling in my mind that without the whole story i will not really understand what i am signing.
and i know it is important. 

recently, feeling supportive of the campaign for democracy in Burma, and having had this short sojurn in the country so long ago i felt i really wanted to learn about the country's history.

i found Thant Myint-U's book.
I recommend everyone to read this book, it is beautifully written, fascinating and informative, and a good example of why it is important to understand each other's cultures and histories.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Iona memory

I hope i have uploaded a short video from last summer's visit to Iona. if it has actually worked, it will be in black and white. it was a very warm sunny day and we were down at St. Columba's Bay, and i just wanted to rememeber this.
remembering it now.

No, the video wont upload. you have to agree to the terms and conditions which supplies you with nothing to click on to say you agree. not that i can find.

Just have to find a photo instead.  Or three.  Click on a photo to enlarge.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Samuel Palmer
b. 1805
He and several other artists called themselves The Ancients - or were known as such because they seemed to believe in the superiority of ancient over modern man.

i have realized i have always been drawn to Palmer's early works (i.e. The Magic Apple Tree, etc) because they seem to illustrate my own wistful imaginings of the English countryside, especially around
West Wellow where my maternal grandparents used to live when i was young.
somehow something was instilled in me in those days when we were on leave and went to stay with them.  then reinforced by my mother's and my stay at Peg's in the New Forest.
this is a deep vein, and i now recall my surprise and disappointment on discovering the different sort of countryside in the Scottish Borders when i first came to live in Scotland.  of course i am accustomed to it now and love things about it as well.
there is an inner secrecy, an inner idyl, to Palmer's (early) vision (& mine) of the English countryside, which hold you safe and provides an inner light.  sort of enclosed.
The Borders are more open and rough, there is more sky and the hills, high and bleak, have less trees, and drystane dykes instead of hedgerows.  the next landscape i find is the Highland and Island landscape(s) - wonderous amazing scapes, again so different.  wild and unsafe and free.. mountains and swelling seas - and of course more sky.

in the spring i was staying in the Borders where i used to live in the early '80s, and this is where i started thinking about this different landscape thing - the resonances within myself - the meanings i give to them.
and one day i was sitting outside in the sun, out of the wind, listening to the noises, the birds, feeling it all and remembering Iona - the differences between sea and land - noises are different, even the same ones sound different.  Borders background noise, when windy is wind in trees - a low level continuous whoosh.  Iona background is always waves, and sound echoes more there.  in the Borders there it sounds more enclosed; the trees, hills, land all muffle it a bit.
Iona background noise is also of the gulls and oystercatchers, the Borders of different birds - ones which i am not so familiar with so not able to name.
interesting differences.  i tried, that day sitting outside, to get the feel for the different places and what that 'said' to me.  not sure i succeeded!
notes taken from my sketchbook

it was while staying here that i re-connected with some old friends, one of which had first introduced me to Samuel Palmer when i lived there all those years ago - and who lent me once again the huge book so that i could re-connect also with SP.  and this is where i began to identify more what it was i was attracted to in his work and why. 
it seemed there were a few circles drawn, or finished while i stayed there.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

about A Childhood On The Move

about A Childhood on the Move

The link takes you to an article in The Guardian today.  A good friend texted me this morning to tell me about it.  When i read the article it felt as if it was my childhood she was describing.
One of my 'projects' is to write about my childhood, even if just for the benefit of my sister's and brother's children - one day they might want to know more about their parents childhood, even about their grandparents.

When my mother and father both died i felt bereft, and cut adrift.  I think it is fairly usual for people to wish they had asked their parents about more of their lives before they had died, its always the way, you just dont expect them ever to die (well i didnt anyway) and i just never got around to asking enough, or to recording things.  And so then there was no one left who knew, not in my own early childhood, because no one else in the family was there.
So i thought i would leave stuff written down for my siblings children. just in case they ever wanted to know.

So now I read that someone else has written it all down first!! well, it is so well written - a short article but I believe she has actually written a book. 

We were always told how lucky we were, what an exotic life we led.  I can remember not saying very much to these comments because I honestly didnt know how to respond. Now looking back I dont think i could have any idea what growing up in one place, in one country, knowing the same people most of your life, could possibly be like.  (This was the early '50s). 
Nobody very much went abroad in those days. 
I can remember leaves in England staying with relatives and family friends, our visits to beaches on the south coast where the whole beach was just pebbles, no sand at all and rather cold and uncomfortable. 
One leave we drove up to Scotland, it took 2 days.  Those old cars had a large ledge at the back window, my favorite place to sleep when travelling.  My father taught us to sing 'rounds', he would sing the first line then i would sing the first line then mother would sing the first line .. (she was not a person who could hold a tune, and made up for it in volume, so it was always a source of amusement).  I would make up stories about things i saw on the way.  My father was a member of the AA and salutes were exchanged between him and the person in a passing car displaying an AA badge.  I remember Oban - when I woke up on my ledge to find the car stopped, my parents not there and a policeman standing guard by the car.  They had just gone into the kilt shop and apparently he offered to look out for me.

I was sent to boarding school when i was 10.  By that time i had been to so many different schools in different countries my parents must have been worried about my education.  Like the person writing the article - my maths was non existant, my spelling dreadful (I have proof!) and my understanding of what education was for was zilch (proof of that too!).  Oh her name is Harriet! Thats the name I wanted to call myself at one time, so that i could be called Harry.

We were in Barcelona at the time.  I was attending the local Catholic school where i was the only Heathen.  Nobody seemed to hold it against me, apart from when i first went to Mass and took communion by mistake - just following what the others did.
My best friend was Anne McWilliam, I think I remember her father was the High Commissioner or equivalent, but she didnt attend the same school.  We lived in the flat next door at the bottom of Tibidabo.  We used to go up the hill to the park where we could spy on lovers kissing and giggle, get shouted at and chased away. 
My brothers were tiny.  The older one always translated the younger one's non-words - told us what he was saying.  He threw most of my mothers treasured Greek pottery over the balcony, my baby chicks (they survived), his wooden truck.  He threw father's alarm clock down the loo, and he put the plugs in the bathroom basin and bath and turned on the taps until our downstairs neighbour came rushing up saying she was being flooded.  (Not all on the same day).  He was always quite open about what he had done and surprised - I have this idea that he was just wanting to know what would happen if.....

Anyway. yes all the different houses. all the different friends you never see again. all the different cultures. 

Now there is this whole hoohaa about saying prayers in a council meeting.  I am sorry but really - i cant believe the fuss.. what are we like? Shall i go to court because i dont like seeing people kissing in public? because it breaches my human rights?  I know, i suppose its not quite the same thing. but what on earth is the matter with accepting people's differences? 
My mother had to organize all these dinner parties and stuff, catering for people of various nationalities, religious beliefs, eating and drinking beliefs - she just respected them all and got on with it, it would have offended her totally to even for a minute contemplate complaining that this was a breach of her human rights.

I am not sure if i particularly believe in God, but when my mother wanted our uncle to officiate a small communion service for her at her bedside with me and my sister there - i was glad to take part and respect her deep religious beliefs.  at the end i thought that perhaps they were a comfort to her. after all, when we are dying - who can come with us?

So there's a rant.