Layers of Leaves

Layers of Leaves

I can’t resist the photos of my grandchildren, layered in clothes, playing in layers of leaves in the woodland.  Autumn has arrived in the Cotswolds, and it is certainly a magical time of year.

IMG_1686

Layers of leaves lie

Overwhelming the senses

Deep in the forest

 

 

 

Enveloped by a Rainbow

Doughnut building enveloped in rainbow lights copyright GCHQ, used with permission

Doughnut building enveloped in rainbow lights
copyright GCHQ2015, used with permission

For this week’s photo challenge the prompt is the word “enveloped”.  I understand it to mean totally surrounded or covered, and as such I could only choose one photo as illustration.  I did not take the photo, the copyright belongs to the Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, but I was given permission to use it for this blog.  The photo shows the entire doughnut-shaped building, which is near my home, surrounded and lit up in the colours of the rainbow.  This occurred last weekend (17th May 2015) on Sunday evening from 9pm as the sun set.  It was to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.  It was amazing in many respects.  Firstly, that GCHQ would make such a public gesture of solidarity with these misunderstood minority communities; and secondly, that a large crowd of people, including myself, drove, walked, and waited there to see it late on a Sunday evening.  I know parents who kept young children up specially to see it and then took the opportunity to discuss the reason for the event.

Not so long ago it was illegal in this country for men and women to be practising homosexuals.  And it would have been unthinkable to get a job with the security and intelligence services while openly gay.  But of course many people did work in these fields while keeping their sexuality hidden.  One such man was the mathematician and cryptographer Alan Turing.  He worked at Bletchley Park, which was the forerunner to GCHQ.  There he and a brilliant young team helped crack Germany’s Enigma Code, which certainly shortened the second world war by a couple of years thereby saving millions of lives.  But when his sexual orientation was discovered, Turing lost his security clearance and was convicted for gross indecency.  His life was ruined by this conviction and his reputation was destroyed.  He was subjected to ‘corrective’ hormonal treatment until, two years later it is believed, he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning.  In 2013 he was granted a posthumous pardon by the Queen and honoured for his work.

In 2014 the film The Imitation Game was made about Turing and his work.  The film is so good that it won an Oscar as well as 51 other awards.  Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, the acting is outstanding.   The truth may be stretched a little for dramatic effect, but the film is gripping from beginning to end.

My opposition to any form of discrimination and prejudice stems from my years in teaching when I observed the misery it caused to children.  During my 30+ years working in the field of education, I taught over a thousand primary school pupils in state schools.  It is reasonable to assume that they were a fairly representative sample of children raised during the second half of the 20th century.  The majority were from stable, loving and supportive families with parents who worked hard and were able to provide good homes, experiences and opportunities for their children.  But over the years I also worked with many children who were not so lucky.  Lots of families suffered from the negative effects of poverty through no fault of their own.  But in some cases families were dysfunctional due to addictions-to gambling, alcohol or illegal drugs.  There was also a criminal element including a small minority of parents who were actually dangerously antisocial.  Whatever the cause, the children suffered most.

In all those years I only encountered one child with what I would call a ‘wicked’ nature.  He took pleasure in inflicting pain and suffering on other children, animals and even his own family.  Every available agency tried to help him, his parents, and the school, manage and change his behaviour, to no avail.  In those years too I met many confused and unhappy children who had a poor self-image and little confidence.  There were as many reasons as children for this; inadequate parenting, poverty, social, emotional or physical issues, learning difficulties, and sometimes gender issues.

Someone once explained to me that the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us is crucial to our self-esteem.  School age children are social creatures.  They need to be accepted and respected by their peer group.  They are not born with low self-esteem.  It is an acquired condition.  If, for whatever reason, they do not ‘fit in’ to their group, their self-esteem suffers.  And they may become victims of bullying.  This is enormously important because research has shown that low self-esteem leads to unhappiness, ill health, and a less rewarding and successful life.  In extreme cases it can lead to suicide.

This brings me to the tragic case of a 15 year old boy who took his own life because he was being taunted at school for behaviour which ignorant bullies called ‘gay’.  The effect of this on his family and true friends was so traumatic that some months later his father took his own life and then one of his friends did the same.

This is why I am so proud of GCHQ for lighting up the ‘doughnut’ building in rainbow colours at the weekend.  In this country, and in many others I am sure, the past has been marred by intolerance bred of ignorance and fear.  People have been judged because of the colour of their skin; their accent, age, gender, beliefs, finances, job, clothes, or sexuality rather than their humanity.  There is no place in a civilised society for such prejudices.  Critics have denounced the gesture online as a political gimmick, but if it draws crowds of ordinary families who then discuss these issues with their children then it was a very worthwhile one in my opinion.

Read about a previous creative gesture by GCHQ in my blogpost Living Poppy in a Doughnut

The Boy

Fragile and different

Defeated by the bullies

He jumped to his death

 

The girl

Remnants of ribbons

And fading flowers weep, where she

Fell to her death

 

The Father

The death of his son

Drove him to despair.  Destroyed,

His life he ended.

 

The Cemetery

Lawned garden of grief

Compassion carved into stone

Too late to show love

 

Carpe Diem ~ Corn

LOGO SEPT 14

I went to Taize one summer when it was so hot and dry that the magnificent River Loire had almost dried up in places.  Too hot to stay in the car I decided to walk for a while across the fields and I had an amazing experience.    At the foot of the hill were fields of sunflowers, corn and poppies.  I stood alone in a field full of sunflowers, looking up towards the church, as a gentle breeze blew.  The wind caused the flowers to bend and the sound they made was so strange.   I experienced what I can only describe as the spirit moving.

Today’s Haiku prompt at Carpe Diem reminded me of that moment.

Soft wind whispering

Spirit moving through the corn

Speaking to my soul

It reminded me strongly of the beautiful words of one of my favourite hymns:
 Be still for the presence of the Lord
Be still for the presence of the Lord  The holy one is here
Come bow before him now  With reverence and fear
In him no sin is found  We stand on holy ground
Be still for the presence of the Lord  The holy one is here
Be still for the power of the Lord  Is moving in this place
He comes to cleanse and heal  To minister his grace
No work too hard for him  In faith receive from him
Be still for the power of the Lord  Is moving in this place
Icon at Taize

Icon at Taize

The Joys of Cornwall

Derelict mine building at Wheal Coates3

Old tin mines stand tall

Telling stories of the past

On Cornish coastline

I recently spent another lovely week in Cornwall. I wanted to be near the sea while still being near Truro for my hubby’s regular dialysis sessions, so I opted for a cottage in St Agnes. St Agnes is a beautiful, unspoilt little town on the North Cornwall coast. It is full of fascinating relics from the days when tin and copper mining was the main industry. It seemed strange to me to see derelict tin mines visible from behind houses and forming the boundary walls of gardens. In fact tin is still produced in St Agnes at the Blue Hills Mine, the only place in the UK that still produces it. St Agnes is an area of outstanding natural beauty and it has been designated a World Heritage Site. I can certainly see why. I just loved the rugged land and seascapes. Even in our state of unfitness we were able to walk some of the coastal path. This leads to sights that can never be appreciated from the road. One of these is Wheal Coates Mine. It is truly amazing when seen from a distance with its three shafts and its spectacular position on the side of the cliffs. In fact the mine goes all the way down to the sea and at high tide you can hear the waves crashing against rocks through a grid in the ruins. It was possible to get into this mine via a large cave at a nearby beach. There is a local legend that says Wheal Coates is haunted by the spirits of the miners who died there. I expect the eerie sounds of the sea account for the legends.
I’ve always been interested in industrial buildings. I guess this is mainly due to my father’s influence as he was a steel man from the age of 13 and he developed in me a passion for ships, bridges and buildings. The other reason could be because of where I grew up. I lived in the Felling, a shipbuilding and mining area in the North of England. I skipped past the railway station and shipyard every day on my way to school and there was a derelict engine house complete with winding gear at the end of our street of 2 up and 2 down back to back miners’ cottages. These were our adventure playgrounds. Children were never allowed to play on the grass or ride bikes in the municipal parks in those days! Parks were for floral displays and grown-ups to walk in and the park warden was fierce.
Being a traditional and romantic sort of person I regret that industrialisation almost destroyed the crafts of blacksmiths, weavers, spinners, millers and grinders. But I find there is great beauty to be found in the derelict buildings, in the machinery that drove the mines and the mills, and in the engines that turned their wheels and moved their goods

Around St Agnes there are beaches, bays and coves with caves where wreckers and smugglers, no doubt, once hid their treasures. We visited a pub reminiscent of Jamaica Inn. The pub is called the Driftwood and it has a fascinating history. It is a 17th century building which in its time has been a warehouse for the tin mines, a ships’ chandlery, and a sail maker’s loft, before becoming a characterful old pub. It is built of Cornish stone and slate and ship’s timbers and spares. Behind one of the fireplaces in the pub there is a tunnel which was uncovered during restoration. It is said that this was the secret escape route for the wreckers and smugglers of the area as it leads all the way to the beach.

The cottage we stayed in was perfect and my joy was complete when my daughter came to stay for a couple of days with my adorable grandson. He just loved the sea and sand, the horses in the paddock and the trampoline in the garden. We took him to Lappa Valley Railway, which is kiddie heaven in my book. Built on the site of yet another ruined mine, there are castles and treehouses and adventure equipment to satisfy any age. There are also 12 steam engines giving rides on trains which Stanley really loved. There is also a boating lake, café, shop and everything you could want for a fun day out. I loved it.
http://www.lappavalley.co.uk/
Sadly it will be another year before I can go away again due to the shortage of holiday dialysis spaces around the country. But until then I have my photos to remind me of the fun we had and the beauty of Cornwall. Enjoy!

The Cuckoo Returns

Cuckoo signals the arrival of Spring in UK

Cuckoo signals the arrival of Spring in UK

Children back to school
Spring holiday is over
The Cuckoo returns

This morning I heard a nearby cuckoo for the first time this year from my garden in the UK. It is amazing to think that many of these cuckoos have wintered in the Congo, having endured tempestuous weather in Europe, flights over the Sahara desert, and droughts in many places, since leaving the rainforests of Africa. They arrive in the UK between the end of March and mid-April. As everyone here knows, they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and then abandon them to the care of the resident bird. Once hatched, they take over the nest, being so much bigger than their host. They especially like the nests of meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers. This is a bit worrying for our local garden birds as we have a few Dunnocks as well as lots of Blue Tits, fat pigeons and some Robins.
The cuckoo is a dove-sized bird with blue grey upper parts, head and chest with dark barred white under parts. Because of their sleek body, long tail and pointed wings they can be confused with kestrels or sparrowhawks. The male and the female are similar and the young cuckoos are brown. Cuckoos are in decline so I suppose we have to protect them even though we don’t like their squatting habit!
They do of course herald in the spring and for that we are truly grateful
Links you might find interesting:
http://www.arkive.org/cuckoo/cuculus-canorus/
http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking

Palm Sunday 2014

I have celebrated Palm Sunday in many different countries, Kenya, Spain, France, Poland, Italy and UK and it is a church tradition that I love. When I was at work (teaching primary children) one of our jobs was to make the palm crosses for the local church each year. It was an eagerly awaited treat for the 10/11 year olds in their final year of primary school, to learn how to weave and fold the crosses from simple palm leaves.
I have written about other Palm Sundays before and the links are below if you would like to read them. I hope you do.
This year I am laid up in bed with a very nasty case of tonsillitis on antibiotics so I have not even seen a palm!
But I did look at the Vatican website to see the celebrations in St peter’s Square. My overriding impression is that this Pope, like Jesus is adored by the people because of his common touch and understanding of what it means to be poor in this world. But my fear is that like Jesus, he is rattling too many cages and there will be those who plot against him. I also see in his face that after only a few months in the job he is looking exhausted and strained.
Two Haiku I wrote last year sum up my fears.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Cheering throngs gather

In Messianic fervour

Fronds fall at His feet
~
Calling for His death

Crowds that cheered Him now decry

Innocent, He’ll die

You can see the Palm Sunday in Rome here http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-to-celebrate-palm-sunday-mass-in-saint-peters
And my previous Palm Sunday posts are here:~
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-y
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-t
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-i