“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire”

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Beached

For this week’s, WPC theme of ‘danger’, I thought I could post my daughter’s photo of the injured seal that had worn itself out and washed itself up on the beach near Santa Cruz, where she lives.  It was in grave danger until Lisa called Marine Rescue, who turned up quickly and returned to poor creature safely into the ocean.

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There was also a photo of a skunk walking down the garden path between Lisa and her front door!  Skunks are notoriously aggressive, unafraid of humans, carry diseases and smell disgusting.  She was in great danger of being attacked or sprayed as she carried her shopping in from the car.

But then, as I was reading Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice for my Open University course, I suddenly realised just how much danger some persecuted individuals or groups have faced, over the centuries.

In the Merchant of Venice, it is Shylock who is hated for being Jewish.  Shakespeare explores this brilliantly as only he can.  But it reminded me of places I have visited where evidence of the dangers of being Jewish is still clearly visible, or just below the surface.

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Wrought Iron Star of David on the Cemetery gate in Krakow

Last year I visited a little Catalan town called Empuriabrava.  In the old town, I was horrified by the evidence of past abuse of Jews. There was a cemetery dedicated specifically to those who had been coerced into converting to Christianity.
“On 18th February, 1417 more than 100 people were baptised at the font of the Basilica of Santa Maria, surrounded by their godfathers and authorities.
In 1415, there was the first wave of mass conversions to Christianity as a result of the Perpignan ordinations driven by Benedict X111, known as “Papa Luna”. From that moment on, the converted Jews were buried in a delimited space of the Christian cemetery. The cemetery was attached to the Northern wall of the apse of the basilica. This area has been known for centuries as “the cemetery for the converted Jews”. Nowadays part of the old cemetery is occupied by the Cappella del Santissim, built in 1724, and the other part has been restored as a pedestrian walkway. “
It is a beautiful, peaceful town now but I have to say the references and reminders of those dark times were everywhere, and quite menacing.

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wrought iron representing barbed wire on the cemetery wall

At Gettysberg, Maj. Gen. Joshua L Chamberlain said,

“On great fields, something stays.  Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; buts spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision – place of souls”.

I knew exactly what he meant when I travelled to Krakow in Poland.

The city of Krakow is beautiful, compact, well preserved and a joy to walk around.  But my visit to the old Jewish quarter in Kazimierz as well as my visit to Schindler’s Enamel factory in Zablocie, which is now a museum, was a revelation.  It happened that I was there on 14thMarch 2012, 69 years to the day of the “final purge”.  The fact that this holocaust happened within living memory is horrific.  The fact that slaughter of innocents on this scale may be happening in parts of the world today is unbearable.

There were about 225,000 Jews living in Krakow before the war but only about 15,000 managed to survive it with the help of brave Poles who kept them hidden, and the enigmatic German Oskar Schindler who needed the cheap labour force they provided.

In March 1941, all Krakow Jews who previously lived in areas such as Kazimierz were forced to live in the new ghetto of Podgorze. The area comprised 320 buildings which had been home to the poorest Poles.  Almost 17000 Jews were now crammed into these buildings and the area was surrounded by barbed wire and walls.  By the autumn of 1941 the jobless Jews who did not have the correct paperwork were transported to concentration camps or shot where they stood.

On March 13-14th 1943 the final extermination was begun.  The first-hand accounts of the few who survived these events were recorded and can be heard at the Schindler factory which is now a museum.  I heard that the remaining men were separated from the women and children.  They were marched off to be used as forced labour.  Any who could not walk unaided were shot on the spot.  Then German soldiers went through the buildings clearing out the women and children to be loaded onto transport which would take them to the extermination camps.  Children and babies were just thrown out of the windows onto the waiting carts, not all landed safely.  The sick and elderly were just killed where they lay.
Literally thousands of Jews were loaded onto transport to the Plaszow camp where they gradually died from starvation, beating, disease, hard labour or execution.   Thousands of others were taken to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau over the next few months.   The Auschwitz archives record the fate of those transported.  In February 1944 the remaining men arrived, in May the rest of the children and in August the women.  They all died in the gas chambers shortly afterwards.  The final transport of prisoners from Krakow arrived in Auschwitz the day before the camp was liberated by the Soviet army.
For a harrowing first hand eyewitness account of all the deportations including the final purge there is the memoir, The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy by Tadeusz Pankiewicz.

Here are some photos from the displays at the Schindler factory or the Jewish Museum which touched me greatly.  They show families and groups of Jews being taken or led away from the ghetto to the camps.  They had to carry whatever they could and abandon the rest.  The last picture shows the Plaszow Camp between 1943-44 where women are being marched to forced labour.

 

Happy Times Past

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. — Goethe

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The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘Nostalgia’ and my friends and I are certainly feeling nostalgic today.  We had some truly upsetting news about our old school. The huge tile frieze that we created in 1999 to mark the new millennium, was destroyed in a fire.

It is hard to imagine today just what a big deal it was being on the threshold of a new millennium.  There were all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about power failures, planes falling out of the sky, computer systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really knew what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 or what the new millennium would mean for civilisation.  So, as St Thomas More School was such a huge part of my life, I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent.

In the early 1970’s I watched the new school building rise in the middle of an open field that had once been farmland and an orchard. There was an ancient hedgerow all around the site and just one magnificent old oak tree in what would be the playing field. When it was opened in 1975, I was having my third child so was not available for teaching. But, as I drove past the school every day, I vowed that one day I would work there.

I got my wish in 1984 when my youngest child was ready to start school. I was offered a job and jumped at the chance. The next decade was a time of great blessing as I worked in virtually every class, teaching all age groups, then became deputy Head.

In 1994 the original Headteacher was due to retire and, to my surprise, I was offered his job. He had been such an inspirational Head that the school was a joy to work in. Taking on his role, I tried to emulate him while making my own mark and bringing my own vision for the school into being.

Due mainly to the quality of the staff and their outstanding teamwork, the school became a strong and successful community, ‘an oasis of excellence’, appreciated by staff, pupils and parents alike.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, the staff wanted to mark the year 2000 with a special feature. We wanted the whole school community to be involved in creating something totally unique and meaningful. We came up with the idea of making a large tile frieze. Each year group was asked to brainstorm their favourite lessons, subjects, or topics, and represent their ideas on paper.

Reception class, the youngest children were just 4 or 5 years old and had only just started school. They had their photographs taken in their shiny new uniforms, so that was their contribution.

The Year 1 class had helped to build a pond and were raising ducklings which they had hatched from eggs in an incubator, so they drew pictures of that. I have a wonderful memory of the day the ducklings hatched out ~ the local policeman had called up to the school on a social visit and he watched as the first duckling struggled to crack open the shell. When it finally succeeded and out popped this beautiful and perfect little bundle of yellow feathers, he was overwhelmed by emotion and had tears in his eyes.

In Year 2 the 7 year olds made their first Holy Communion as it was a Catholic school so they drew a chalice and host. Being the most significant event in the year ~ yes honestly, not SATs! That was their contribution.

Year 3 was the first year of juniors and the children enjoyed learning about Vikings and the Human Body, so they drew lovely longboats and skeletons.

In Year 4 things got much more subject focused so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Creative Arts such as Music, Dance, Drama and painting were the main features, so a pot of paint and a brush was drawn. Science too was represented by the planets.

By Year 6 the children were getting ready to move on to secondary school. In order to give them a taste of independence and adventure, it was our tradition to take the class away to Shropshire for a week to stay in a Youth Hostel. Here, in the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we had a wonderful time. We visited the Iron Museum, The Jackfield Tile Museum, Blist’s Hill Reconstructed Village, River Severn Museum and of course the first Iron Bridge ever built. We also had amazing night hikes, midnight feasts and parties. Altogether it was an incredible opportunity for fun and learning. So naturally the Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale was the emblem of Year 6.  Yes, again it wasn’t SATs that featured large in their lives.  How times changed!

For our frieze the staff gathered all these pictures and images together and chose the ones that would be painted on to the tiles. The Year 5 teacher, Anne Bate Williams, a wonderfully creative artist and teacher, took on the challenge of putting all the ideas together and creating a design on tracing paper which could be transferred onto numbered ‘green’ tiles. It was agreed that we would go to Jackfield Tile Museum to create the finished work.

A representative group of staff, parents and children spent a weekend at the Youth Hostel and were each given a small area of the tile frieze to paint. Anne had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would truly reflect the life of our school.

It was agreed that the year 2000 would go at the top, as well as the 4 trees, oak, ash, poplar and beech, which were the school emblem.  In the top corners would be tiles depicting the Ironbridge itself.  The children’s artwork would go around the edge, and at the centre would be the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by flames.

We painted the tiles in coloured glaze.  I will never forget the atmosphere in that studio at Jackfield as we worked on the frieze.  There was a stillness and peace in the room which was truly sacramental.  While we worked, the Spirit moved in that place and heaven happened.

When we finished, the tiles were left at the Jackfield tile Museum to be fired.  A couple of weeks later they were collected and set into a frame made by Tony O’Shea, the reception class teacher’s husband.

Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton RIP came in the year 2000 to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and he blessed the tile frieze.

Although most of the staff who worked at the school have retired or moved on now, the frieze stayed proudly in the school hall for the last 16 years and with it, a little piece of all of us who made it.  And now it is no more.

Nostalgia  in my dictionary is defined as ‘a feeling of sadness mixed with pleasure and affection when you think of happy times in the past.’  I think this sums up our feelings today perfectly.

So here I go down Memory Lane…

 

Partners

Partners

I just have to post photos of my grandchildren to illustrate this week’s photo challenge.  The theme is Partners and these two are definitely partners when it comes to getting up to mischief.  But they adore each other!

Following on from the surprising result of our referendum on membership of the European Union this week, I feel sad that our partnership with the other European countries is coming to an end.  So many people gave so much to bring peace and partnership to Europe during the wars, not least the combined services of army, airforce and navy.  In their honour I am posting some photos I took on Remembrance Day at Westminster Abbey in London.

I can’t resist putting in some of my favourite photos.  Of course my little Dachsund, Dayna, is a wonderful companion for me, but her hero is my husband.  When he is at the hospital for dialysis she often sits beside (or on) his slippers waiting for his return. The pair of ponies share a field near me so I guess they qualify as partners.  And of course the garden birds are my constant delight and we have a partnership.  I feed them regularly and they reward me by coming into my garden and sometimes even into the house like this little one!

And last but not least, partners for life ….literally!

My mum and Dad lived in parallel streets as children and went to the same school.  They were friends from the age of 8 and eventually married in 1945.  They were inseparable until my father died in 1993 and she followed him some years later.

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My mum and Dad on their wedding day in 1945

 

Royal Numbers

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On 11th June 2016 our Queen will celebrate her official 90th Birthday and her husband, Prince Philip will be 95!  These are wonderful ages to reach and definitely worth celebrating.

London is already awash with flags and the celebrations start tomorrow.  Nobody covers royal events as well as the Daily Mail so do click to see the fabulous images of London bedecked.

I’m sure there are street parties planned for cities, towns and villages throughout the UK and beyond.  On my travels through the Cotswolds I have seen lots of bunting in the streets and flags flying from shops churches, public buildings of every sort, as well as private homes and gardens.

I went to Willersey yesterday which is a gorgeous little village.  It is quintessentially Cotswolds with its duck pond, village pubs, honey coloured stone houses, and beautiful cottage gardens.  It also has a village shop which has got to have the most helpful owner in the world.  My sister in law was desperate to buy some bread to take back to her caravan for tea so she popped into the only shop in the village.  Sadly, they had sold out of bread but the owner said,

 “wait a minute I’ve just used 2 slices out of my loaf, you can have the rest of that”

He then ran upstairs to his flat above the shop and returned with the remainder of his lovely crusty seed-topped brown bread!  Can you imagine getting that level of care and service in a city or town supermarket?

Willersey was like a model village perfectly dressed for a royal themed party.  There was bunting all over the pubs, and flags flying high in the summer breeze.  Several owners had really gone overboard with the decorations in their gardens as you can see from my photos below.  One in particular had a garden table and benches covered in union flags with more flags and bunting in the trees as well as a huge flag on a flagpole.  It looked beautiful against the poppies and colourful flowers in the border.

Willersey is holding a really royal party all afternoon and evening on Saturday 11th.  I do hope the weather stays fine for them.  There will be royal themed fancy dress and hats, races to the next village, themed picnics, and lots of musical entertainment.  There will also be a royal pageant and a whole village photo for the archives.  The day’s events will be rounded off by a Toast to the Queen and everyone writing a message in a giant card for Her Majesty.

It should be lots of fun.

A Tribute

W L Langsbury Printers front

It is quite normal these days to see small shops close down in High Streets up and down the land.  And, after a few weeks or maybe months, the passing shoppers don’t even notice they have gone or forget what was there before.  But just occasionally, a shop is so well loved by its regular customers that its closure is a genuine shock.

This was the case for me recently when I popped to W L Langsbury, the local printers in Suffolk Road.

I arrived to find a simple notice on the door saying, ‘closed due to bereavement’.  My heart missed a beat on reading this.  I hoped that it was not the lovely old printer who was known to me, and all of his regular customers, as Bill Langsbury and to his family as Lionel.

I used to pop in to Bill if I wanted anything special printed for school in my teaching days, before we had computers and photocopiers in the school office.  Then after retirement, when I became the secretary of our WI.  Many of our older members did not have email but they all needed monthly minutes and agendas as well as occasional newsletters.  I produced a master copy on my computer and then Bill printed out enough for everyone.  He did the job to perfection ~ quickly, efficiently and cheaply.  He took great delight in telling me that there is no VAT on newsletters.

It was always a joy to step inside the door of his shop.  The smell of metal, ink, wood and paper is a heady mixture, like a steam train in a timber yard.  It was for all the world like the living museums at Blist’s Hill or Beamish and yet the jobs got done if not immediately, always by the end of the day!  The machinery looked ancient, in fact one of the printing presses was a 1938 Heidelberg and it still worked perfectly.  On the walls there were pictures of Cheltenham in days gone by and posters from the 1940’s warning that ‘careless talk costs lives’! Almost every inch of wall and floor space in the front shop was used to store boxes of paper of all sizes and colours.  There was also a wonderful selection of notepads which Bill made himself from the paper offcuts.  These he sold for pennies and they were great for shopping lists or jotters.  Some were so old they still had the price in pre-decimal currency.

In the back room of the shop where the serious work was done there was a treasure trove of vintage wooden shelves and drawers full of cast metal numbers and lettering of different sizes and fonts.

High up on the walls was the ‘filing system’, which I am sure only Bill or his brother and workmate Ken could understand.  Beyond, there was a narrow hallway with a staircase leading to where Bill lived, above the shop.

I suppose I find all this a delight because my grandad had a general store in the 1950s after he left the army.  He and my grandma lived above the shop and I loved staying there.

But of course the shop would be nothing without the character of the printer himself.  I was full of admiration for him and the life he had lived over 83 years.  It is the living history that fascinates me.

Bill was born in Shepherd’s Bush, London, in December 1932 when King George V was on the throne. He moved to Ealing with his parents where his brother Ken was born in 1938.  There they lived through the short reign of King Edward V111 who abdicated in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee.    He was a young lad of 7 when the bombs started dropping on London during the Blitz of WW2 in the reign of King George V1.  When a neighbouring house was destroyed by the bombs his parents, Harry and Queenie Langsbury moved the family to Cheltenham for safety.

After a brief stay with in-laws they lived in a cottage behind the King’s Head Pub in the Lower High Street where Queenie worked.  The boys went to church 3 times on a Sundays and went to local schools.  Bill was a keen student and talented artist enjoying cartoon drawing.  So he went on to the art college which is where he learned his printing skills.  By this time our Queen Elizabeth 11 was on the throne.

Leaving college he got a printing job in a pharmaceutical company but he had an entrepreneurial streak.  He managed to save his money, and, with the help of his brother’s paper round money, he bought his own second hand printing press by the time he was 16 and set up business in the family home.

Bill did his National Service in the catering corps with the RAF in the early 1950’s and returned to Cheltenham where his mum had bought the terraced house in what was Andover Road and is now Suffolk Road.

At first Bill, aged just 24, was printing in the front room while the family lived in the rest.  However, Bill got so many orders that he took over the back room too and the family were relegated to upstairs.

Bill’s brother Ken married and moved on to have his own family.  Bill, staying single, lived with his mum until she died aged 93.

Eventually Bill had so much work that his brother Ken came to work with him.  It is wonderful to think that these two brothers got on so well that they worked together for over 40 years.  But you couldn’t not get on with Bill.  He was an eccentric, sweet, kind gentleman.  He loved his work, his shop and his machinery.  He lived a simple life with few mod cons and no visible luxuries, but he was always cheerful.  Printing was his passion.

In 2016 W L Langsbury Printer’s celebrates 60 years in business.  To commemorate this Bill produced a special edition of his letterpress Gloucester bold calendar, containing a selection of proverbs from a collection first published in 1640.

Bill worked a normal day in his printer’s shop on 14th January 2016.  He had a problem with his leg but didn’t bother anyone about it.  This was typical, as according to his brother, Bill had not visited a doctor between 1948 and 2015 and he only went in 1948 because the National Health Service had just started and his father took the boys for a free health check!  He ran a bath and sitting on the edge his kind heart finally and peacefully took its rest.  His brother found him there next morning.

The shop is now closed and the fittings will no doubt go to letterpress collectors or to auction.  I feel sad that this delightful, Dickensian shop with its vintage machinery, which is a feast for the senses, will be open no more.

But mostly I feel sad that Cheltenham has lost a truly irreplaceable character.  I, and many other customers I’m sure will miss him greatly.

Steam train from every angle

Steam train from every angle

Well it is Bank Holiday Monday in the UK so as usual the weather is atrocious.  The rain is pouring down.  I have a sweater on as it is cool to say the least.  I feel so sorry for all the residents of local North Cotswold villages and towns who had planned fetes, festivals, open gardens and the like.  Their long planned for events will all be a washout.

I had planned to go to Childswickham for the ‘retro’ English Village Fete on the village green.  There was to be a flower festival in the church too.  After this I had planned to go to Dumbleton, which is a quintessential English village.  It has a pretty church, a well-used cricket club and a picturesque 19th century Hall which is now a hotel.  There are magnificent trees around beautiful parkland all set off by pretty little cottages and some rather grand houses.  Later I would have gone along the road to my favourite village of Broadway for good food and live music on the green.

I imagined I would get some good shots with my new digital camera (Panasonic Lumix TZ70) that I could take from every angle for this week’s photo challenge.  But it is not to be.  Instead I will use some shots I took some time ago at Toddington Railway Station.

This wonderful old steam railway takes me back to my childhood when we would take day trips by steam train from the grime of Gateshead to the fresh air and fun of the seaside at Whitley bay or South Shields.   It is beautifully restored, maintained and run by dedicated volunteers of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.  The route it takes gives wonderful views of the Cotswolds, and the towns and villages it passes through.

It is so beautiful that it is sometimes used as a film set and that is how I got my shots.  Alex Sibo, who was studying at our local university, wrote, directed and produced a short documentary film about his family history.  It follows the story of his grandfather, Bruno Siba, as he managed to escape WW11 Czechoslovakia.  He had to hide his identity and change his name in order to escape.  I played a minor part in his film, which was great fun.  You can watch a bit of the film here.

Here are my rather atmospheric shots of Toddington railway station early on a damp morning.  There are more recent shots on a previous blog.

Victor and Vanquished ~ Symbol of The Battle of Tewkesbury

Victor

Victor

This weekend there is a Medieval Festival taking place in the nearby market town of Tewkesbury.  It is an annual event which commemorates the Battle of Tewkesbury which took place here on 4th May 1471.  The main event is a very realistic re-enactment of the battle on the actual site.

The Battle of Tewkesbury brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York whose symbol was the red rose, and the house of Lancaster, whose symbol was the white rose.  The Yorkist King Edward 1v, was victorious while Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry v1 and last Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed.  His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with an inscription which reads,

“Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth, Anno Domine 1471, May fourth. Alas the savagery of men. Thou art the soul light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”

Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a magnificent Red Rose carved, which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sun in splendour’.

Fittingly, both the victor and the vanquished are remembered in the Abbey.  They are also remembered by an impressive sculpture, which was installed on the Stonehills Roundabout at the Tewkesbury end of the A38 road to Gloucester last year.  The sculpture is called ‘Arrivall’ and consists of two timber framed horses 5m (16ft) tall.   One is a mounted knight, known as Victor, which is a symbol of the victorious Yorkist forces of King Edward IV.  On the opposite side of the roundabout stands the other sculpture, the riderless horse Vanquished, which is a symbol of the beaten Lancastrian forces.  His head is bowed in defeat and exhaustion from the battle.  The sculptures, made by Phil Bews from the Forest of Dean are of green oak, and the work took 2 years to complete.  Local schoolchildren and members of the community were invited to carve poppies on the horses’ legs in remembrance of the centenary of WW1 in 2014.

Both of the horses have lances with pennants which swing in the breeze.  These were made by a local company and donated free.  In fact the local people and business community raised almost all the £65,000 needed for this magnificent sculpture, which rather eerily faces the original battle site.

I took my life in my hands on this busy roundabout to get some photos.  I am looking forward to going back and getting more photos at different times of the year and in different weather conditions, at sunset and in moonlight.  But even in daylight I found the sculptures very impressive and strangely moving.