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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Voice

Once again, Eldest had managed to riddle my PC with viruses.  I tried writing an iPad post last week but it is very hard work.  I can't work out how to scroll properly so end up posting and re-editing numerous times. Sorry.
Anyway, yesterday I got my creative writing course homework.  We were handed a poem called In the House of the Voice of Maria Callas and told to pick someone else famous for their voice.  We now have to create a 500 word story along the lines of said poem, which uses images of what and how Callas sang.  To say I am confused...  I did not do well with my story this week.  Everyone else had had two weeks to hone their stories.  They are not doing childcare during half term!  So I really need to shine on this....
It did get me thinking about voice and its impact though.  Initially, we had to firstly name three people and then choose one.  Someone at the class has chosen a nineteenth century castrato singer and someone else has chosen Plato.  However, to me, the inspiration for this task needs to come from hearing the voice for oneself.  I had put down Churchill, Callas (not knowing what was coming!), Sinatra, Olivier and Garbo.  Lots of people chose Churchill which goes to show the effect that oration has on listeners.  I doubt if any of the class were more than babies when Churchill died and his most famous speeches were fifteen years before that.  So I have chosen Frank Sinatra, thinking that I could attempt something Italian and/or mafia related.  We shall see.
On a family history tack though, it is very interesting to speculate on future family historians' available resources.  No longer will it be finding a rare cine film of an ancestor.  If the internet continues to store data at the current rate, they will be able to find chapter and verse for sight and sound of their ancestors - even, if their kin were so inclined, footage of actual births!  Personally, I don't have any film or sound sources of which I am aware.  My family have no cine films to digitise.  We did not even have one of the big clunky 1980s video cameras. The first film I took was of my husband crashing whilst attempting to water ski on holiday.  I also have a old video cassette with an ultra sound of my son in the womb.  Although, as Chandler says in Friends when confronted with similar, it does look a bit like a film of an alien ship about to attack the Starship Enterprise!
We should save voice though - now that we can.  Imagine if I could hear my nineteenth century ancestors!  What about even my grandparents' voices?  I have a strong memory of what I believe to be my Anglo Indian grandmother's voice but how does one know if it is correct without a comparison?  Her voice was of the "sing song" Indian-speaking-English-type.  [Apparently there are stories of Anglo Indians trying to get into British clubs in India, only to be turned away not because of their skin tone but because their voices gave them away.]  Certainly, many of Nana's expressions did bear a strong resemblance to those used by Indian and Pakistani families that we knew.  And my grandparents' siblings and cousins - my only comparison at the time - were very similar.  I have nothing from my maternal side either, despite having even met one of my great grandmother's on that side.
As you will know from previous posts, we recently lost my father in law.  At the moment it is still his voice on their answerphone.  My husband is not up to hearing this often at the moment.  However, I am desperate to find a way to preserve it for him.  We have little film or sound of his dad.  There is some, in old age with the grandchildren.  But very little of his music or his voice in earlier years.  He was a councillor but we have no footage of speeches.
Voice has a huge impact on how we feel about someone.  Look at David Beckham's much squeakier early voice (surely he has had lessons to deepen his tone!) and Margaret Thatcher, whose voice got lower (and more patronising!) every year, it seemed.  I do hope that data from Facebook and other social media will survive, not because our descendants should see all our selfies and moaning and jokes and so on.  But because recording voice is a pretty painless way of preserving a little bit of personality. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Do We Know Who We Are?

Every day there are stories about the interception of or deaths of migrants to Europe.  Whether it be across the Mediterranean or over the Channel or even over the Asian land mass. The stories are so frequent that they have become, for many of us, almost a numbers game.  300 deaths here, 40 deaths there, 200 discovered barely alive in an abandoned crew-less ship and so on and so on.

On  BBC Radio Four's From Our Own Correspondent on 14 February, a reporter went out with one of the EU ships tasked with tracking down the Mediterranean migrants from Africa and the Middle East.  Listening to the report - her own tale of horrific sea sickness, the interview with an officer who could barely speak of some of the horrors that he had seen whilst doing his job, the description of the estimated numbers who try every day to make the crossing - it struck me that it is very easy to lose sight of the personal calamities which drive each and every one of these desperate people.  They are pawns in a numbers game being played by governments and the media but they themselves are making life threatening decisions to migrate rather than to stay in their current situations.  We, in our safe lives, agonise over how to travel with a baby on holiday, for example.  What if you had paid over your life savings in desperation to escape and then found yourself with a baby in a rusty cargo hold with no water, food or fresh air....

Some would have us believe that all migrants are drawn to Europe by the promises of our benefit system.  I am sure that there is a percentage of migrants who are indeed economic migrants, looking to milk the system.  But just how desperate must a person be to risk life, limb and often their families' lives and limbs in order to arrive near penniless in a place where they know no-one?

There is also the fact that for many of us Europeans, it is only a matter of a couple of generations or so back on our family trees before we find our own ancestors taking such risks.  The Italians and Irish to the USA and the UK, the Indians from Uganda to the UK, the partition of India or the Afro Caribbeans to the UK.  Further back, the French Protestants fleeing to England, Jews leaving the Russian pogroms behind. And these are just a few examples.

There are can be very few "Europeans" today who can confidently say "We Know Who We Are" thank you very much.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Let there be dark

I am, it has to be said, a huge fan of Hilary Mantel's books Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.  I think I have previously written about going to see the stage plays in fact.

I was dreadfully nervous about the current television adaptation because so often, such things just do not live up to your expectations.  We all form such personal pictures in our heads when we read books that it is virtually impossible to please everyone with television or stage representations.  The best series are, in my humble opinion, the ones which best capture the essence of a book.

This morning, it has been reported that the Wolf Hall film-makers spent over £20,000 on candles.  A lot of the reporting since the series started has focussed on the low level lighting used.  People complaining that they can't see the "action" and so on.

Whilst agreeing that this is a large amount to spend on candles (a (candle)stick of which the Daily Mail will make good use, to beat the BBC!), I absolutely love the atmosphere created by the candles.  Finally, I thought after the first episode, we can see how it must have been.  It really was possible to be lurking in corners and hiding in rooms where people were exchanging confidences.  It was dark!

There is a tendency to look back at history - whether our own family's or the state's - through the view which we have today.  Perpetual light whenever and wherever we want it.  We find it impossible to believe that people could have lived in a world where you gathered around candles every evening or just went to bed.  I lived in a Victorian house until recently.  I never did truly experience it as it's original owners did though.  Even turning off the lights would not give me a Victorian view of the house - there was a dirty great street lamp of the worst orange sort right outside the house!  I was forced to get blackout blinds to get any quality of sleep!

Only a power cut can give any kind of authenticity and even those are often limited to one row of houses these days.  A city is never truly dark - car lights, torches, phones, emergency generators, you name it, we can combat the dark with it.  What are we afraid of?

I have ancestors who drove trains across India, who guarded Napoleon on St Helena, who did actually trade in the City of London in the 1600's, who worked in service at great houses.  They truly lived in  the dark.  The light from a roaring steam engine, firelight, flaming torches, carrying candles for their master to make his way to bed.  That was it.  Blips of light in a dark landscape.

Wolf Hall shows us how it felt to live in Tudor times.  It is not just a piece of "action".  It would be fascinating to see more plays and adaptations done in the same way.  Talk about shedding a whole new light on the subject....

Monday, 9 February 2015

Six Words

So the "writing family history every day in February" is going really well.  Not.  I got so bogged down in writing the goldfish story that the family history stuff went for a burton.  However, the goldfish story - my first creative writing since school! - was well received.  I suspect they were all being kind for a first effort but we shall see. 
This week I have been given the task of writing as  an "omniscient narrator" about a main character who owned a pink basque (we had to choose a number and these numbers then assigned to random items to write about....).  This is all new to me, I can tell you.  I had to look up the phrase "omniscient narrator"!  It turns out that some of my favourite books are written this way - it means a narrator who is not part of the action and can see everyone's thoughts and motivations and actions.  Pride and Prejudice was one of the examples given!  Who knew??!
Anyway, on the genealogy theme - which this blog is supposed to be vaguely about - one of the writing exercises sent by the Family History Writing Challenge did start me thinking.  I believe it is a useful little way of thinking about the characters you discover and also of distinguishing between generations who have the same name. 
It is the Six Word challenge [adapted by the FHWC from Six Word Memoirs in Smith Magazine.]
Choose an ancestor and attempt to sum up their life, the meaning of their life or the point which you wish to emphasise about their life in six words.  Think about unusual facts, character traits etc.
For example, I did:
Solomon Major - son in India, wife in Bristol
Edward Guest - drunken soldier, many children, appealed pension
Charles Shaller - army orphan, ended as a missionary
They just serve as little reminders when looking at long lists of repetitive names.
But can I apply this to the wretched basque?  Pink, black lace, nylon.....

Monday, 2 February 2015

Every day!

So today, it is back to "business", after my attempts to express our family situation in the last few weeks.  I have taken the plunge and signed up for the Family History Writing Challenge.  I missed this particular boat last year as it was well under way before I discovered it.  I nearly missed it this year but I did at least register before midnight on 1 February!

Anyway, it means that I have to write every day for the next month, in an attempt to get a good start on a longer version of my family history.  Today's assistance email asks me to choose a protagonist for the story.  Looking at the advice on whom to choose, I think I am going to use Joseph Shaller in this role.

I have written about him on this blog a couple of times.  Particularly a post called Great (Travel) Expectations in July last year.  Apparently, the protagonist needs to move the "action" forward, to have some kind of conflict - whether inner or outer - in their life and to be relatable.  Flaws are important for the relatable (Think flawed genius, detectives with rubbish personal lives, etc!).  And "something must change".

I am thinking that moving from London staymaking to a regiment sent to India, gaining an Indian wife and family and never seeing England again should provide these things!  Wish me luck...

In a further attempt to improve my writing, I have also enrolled in weekly creative writing course.  So I am also working on a short definition of the mystery genre of writing and a story from the point of view of a goldfish "including a description of a human".  The attendees at the course were a fascinating bunch and the thought of having to read my story out in front them on Thursday is already giving me palpitations.  They all seem older and far more experienced.  It was wonderful to see so many takes on a theme though.

Really hope these various enterprises do not get mixed up.....  India from the point of view of a goldfish, anyone?  A mystery set in the 30th regiment of Foot?  Now there is an idea....

[It is not too late to join the Family History Writing Challenge if you would like to have a go at improving your writing habits. 
Click here http://www.familyhistorywritingchallenge.com/]

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Pure History

A week ago, I was living through an experience unlike anything I have ever witnessed before.  As mentioned in the last two posts, my father in law was nearing the end of his long life and last week, we lost him.

In the UK, when someone dies, it usually takes at least a week to organise a funeral and any after events.  A  memorial may take place at an even later date.  In Ireland, particularly rural Ireland, things happen much more quickly.  So if someone passes away on Thursday night, the funeral can be as soon as that next Sunday.  Without dwelling on the practicalities, you can see that this is quite a feat of organisation in every aspect.
However, last weekend in rural County Mayo was an example of pure history at work.  Living, functional traditions.  Not traditions shown in a "working museum" but right there as part of twenty first century life.
We had always known that such funerals are speedily organised.  My husband has, of course, attended a few over the years.  Apart from the obvious affection shown for my father in law, what made the greatest impression on me, though, was the attention to detail and the way in which these details were ingrained into community life.  Passed from generation to generation.
For example, as I was dashing from the airport to the house on the day of the wake, my husband called to say that he had an initial duty to perform.  He and his brother had to take a bottle of whisky to the cemetery and have a drink with the grave diggers.  By grave diggers, he did not mean council workers with a machine.  It was the sons and grandsons of the village men who had grown up with his father.  They did not offer this service as a favour, in fact until he was told to go and drink with them, my husband did not even know that they were doing it.  It is simply accepted that a burial party will be formed and the work will be done.  The grave is hand dug, using Irish turf spades.
Examples of such community tradition and spirit, interwoven with genuine kindness and sorrow, punctuated the entire proceedings.  From deliveries of food from neighbours to the huge number of people who took time on a  Saturday night to visit with the funeral parlour or the house, to press our hands and truly look the family in the eye and express their condolences.  From the full village Sunday Mass being turned into a funeral mass to the many people at the gale stricken cemetery to, finally, the grave diggers again, closing the grave in front of us.  It was streaming with rain, so windy that umbrellas were impossible but the oldest man  in the parish was laid to rest in the spot which he had chosen and as he would have said "the thing was rested, so".
As a non Catholic, non Irish person who had never been to such an event before despite over twenty years of association with the family, it was quite a shock to the system.  (Not least finding the coffin lid in our bedroom on the night of the wake, if I may inject a little humour...)  It was, though, a cathartic process.  By the time we were back at one of my father in law's favourite pubs after the cemetery, it felt as if we had done him proud.  Those ancient funeral and burial rites are there for a reason - they work.  Both practically and spiritually.
Now we begin the hard road of life without him.  RIP.