Reflecting on a Rose

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The photo I am posting for this week’s WPC theme is of a yellow rose which I keep in my glass cabinet.

Among the Ancient Romans, the rose was the symbol of victory, pride and triumphant love.  But for me it is a reminder of many happy times when I travelled on pilgrimages to Lourdes in Southern France with ACROSS on the Jumbulance.

Lourdes is where Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to the peasant child, Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.   She was described as having a yellow rose on each foot.   I have been devoted to Our lady of Lourdes since I was a small child.  She is my role-model, my refuge and my strength.

I consider Lourdes to be Holy ground.   God’s Spirit moves there in the rushing waters of the River Gave, and in the gentle breeze that wafts down from snow-covered mountains.  The Spirit moves there in the grand Basilica bathed in sunlight, and in the peaceful Grotto silent in the moonlight. Even the souvenir shops, where the staff will literally move the doors, displays and furnishings to enable a wheelchair bound customer easier access, are filled with the Holy Spirit..   For almost 160 years the sick, dying, troubled and faithful have travelled to Lourdes in the hope of finding relief, comfort, healing and grace.

But, today I am reflecting, not on Lourdes but on Fatima in Portugal. 13th May 2017, is a very special day for anyone who is devoted to Mary, as it is 100 years since she appeared to three peasant children there.  This is such an important event that Pope Francis is attending the celebrations.  He arrived yesterday, and one of the first things he did was to place a golden/yellow rose in the Little Chapel of the Apparitions.

For readers who are interested, there are detailed accounts of the celebrations with live recordings on the Vatican website.

Having been to Lourdes and experienced the powerful atmosphere created by 50,000 pilgrims praying, singing, or standing in silence together, I can only imagine how moving it must be in Fatima this weekend, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, have gathered to pray in many different languages for unity and peace on Earth.

I am joining them online!

“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.

 

Bluebells with the Brontes

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While taking my little dog, Toffee, for her walks this week, I have been thinking about WPC’s cue for my blog ~ ‘Earth’.

It struck me as I wandered across the park and through the woods near my home, just how marvellous the earth is at recovering from what nature, and we humans, subject it to.

We had a short cold spell when the grass was covered in frost and the earth in the woods was as hard as rock underfoot and twisted ankles were a real danger.  Then as the long and wet winter dragged on, the grass became waterlogged and sodden, and the woods were a quagmire with mud.  But through it all, the snowdrop, crocus and daffodil bulbs survived, and bloomed.  When the weather turned milder a few weeks ago, the blackthorn hedgerows were covered in blossom and the daisies started to appear.  Then, just in time for Easter, the sun came out and transformed everything.

Suddenly the grass over the park is green and dry and covered in bright yellow dandelions alongside the daisies.  In the woods the mud has dried up and carpets of bluebells have miraculously appeared in vast swathes of violet among the weeds, ferns and tree roots.  The smell is wonderful and indescribable.

I can see why they are called the fairy flower, they are just so delicate and beautiful and seemingly appear from nowhere.  They seem to speak of childhood and innocence.

As I wandered with my puppy, a poem started to form in my mind.  Then it struck me that many poets, including Shakespeare, have crafted lovely verse about Bluebells, which I could never match.

So, I will include a couple of my favourites here from the Bronte sisters.

Firstly, a really poignant poem by Anne Bronte who suffered so much sadness in her adult life and died far too young.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.


There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.

‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

And one by her sister Emily, who also died tragically young:

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.

I was going to write a learned post about Shakespeare and Bluebells but then I thought I could just add this link about the bard’s garden.

Then I thought I could write about the beauty of bluebells but then I realised that I could never match this one by bookishnature

So I think I will just post photos of bluebells from my walks with Toffee instead!

 

A Lego Doughnut

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I have made a rather obscure link to this week’s photo challenge theme, which is ‘security’.  But, as regular readers of my blog know, I will use any excuse to write about my grandchildren!

One of the many advantages of spending lots of time with the grandchildren is that I can have fun playing with their toys.

Currently I am enjoying Lego Duplo with Stanley who is 4 and Thea who is 2.  The sets are a far cry from the uninspiring little pieces I remember from when my children were young.  They are so colourful and child friendly now, with animals and themed sets.   Yet they still stimulate the imagination and encourage a world of creative play.

Fortunately I don’t have a tablet, or an ipad, or a kindle, or any of the gadgets they seem to get addicted to as soon as they can hold them these days.  And, horror of horrors, I only have terrestrial TV channels, not games on demand!  So at grandma’s house creative play still rules.

Thea is particularly enjoying the Forest Park and Family Pets sets because she loves animals while Stanley loves the vehicles and characters.  But, however many sets they get, their first desire is still to build the tallest tower!

My older grandson, who has reached the ripe old age of 13, is also into Lego.  He has a bedroom full of it and is very expert.  I don’t even attempt to meddle with his models though, as they are very technical and way beyond my skills.

So, you can imagine how impressed I was to hear recently that part of our national security agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is based near my home, had set it’s employees the challenge of modelling the building out of Lego. This is not just any regular building,  it is shaped like a doughnut, which must be really difficult to model.  But they did it and the result is impressive as it would be with all their skills brought to bear.

I can’t take credit for the photo as it was on the official GCHQ website, but I do have permission to use it.  I think it is brilliant, especially as it was created in order to raise funds for a local charity, Elisabeth’s Footprint, which is very dear to my heart.

Do click on the links to see more blogs on the theme of ‘security’ and if you want to know more about the Doughnut Lego model, or the inspiring story of the marvellous woman behind Elisabeth’s Footprint.

What else can you do with grandchildren in the absence of gadgets? Well, We build dens, paint, play with sand and water,  picnic in the woods, take the dog for walks, or go to farms, parks and forests.  If it is cold or wet we make up stories, poems and fantastical adventures…

What did you do today?

Did you go to the airport with an alligator,

Or go to the beach with a bear?

Did you eat in a café with a camel

And frighten the people there?

 

Did you build a den for a dinosaur,

Or run through the grass with emu?

Did you go to the fairground with a fox?

Did he win a goldfish for you?

 

Did you play houses with a hedgehog,

Or go ice-skating with an impala?

Did you drive a jeep with a jellyfish,

Or fly a kite with a koala?

 

Did you eat lunch by the lake with a lamb,

Or play marbles with a monkey?

Did you go on a nature trail with a newt?

Now that would be quite funky.

 

Did you eat an orange with an octopus,

Or splash in a puddle with a pig?

Did you quiver and quake at a queen bee,

Then go out and dig?

 

Did you ride the rails with a reindeer,

Or go to the seaside with a snake?

Did you climb a tree with a tiger?

Now that would be a mistake.

 

Did you race upstairs with a unicorn,

Or drive a van with a vole?

Did you make a wish with a wallaby,

Or did you do nothing at all?

 

Did you swim with an x-ray tetra,

Or sail on a yacht with a yak?

Did you go to the zoo with a zebra?

Tomorrow ~ are you coming back?

 Poem by Brenda Kimmins.

As Green as the Grass

As Green as the Grass

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What a fascinating theme for this week’s photo challenge, the colour green is.

I chose the featured image, showing the flag of the United Kingdom, which I took in Willersey during the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations, as a mark of respect for those who died or were seriously injured as a result of a supposed terrorist attack in Westminster on Wednesday.  My heart goes out to all of them but especially the policeman who was murdered doing his job of controlling access to the Houses of Parliament.  My nephew is a member of the Metropolitan police and knowing what a wonderful person he is, I expect that PC Keith Palmer was equally dedicated to his duty of keeping the public and our members of Parliament safe.  He did not deserve to die like that and his memory will be treasured by everyone who cares about the values of democracy; peace, freedom, human rights, the rule of law.

I’m not really a green person fashionably speaking as I don’t think I suit the colour. I do try to be green ecologically in that I recycle or reuse whatever I can and I try not to waste anything.  I guess I am green emotionally as I am a pushover for a charitable cause if it is anything to do with children, or people in distress through poverty, illness or homelessness.  Physically, I have to admit that most fish dishes can turn me green as can anything with peppers in as I am allergic to them.  This is quite a problem when eating out these days as most salads, and a lot of cooked dishes, seem to have peppers in them cunningly disguised in some cases as tomatoes or cucumber.

But thankfully all the WPC requested this week was a single photo or a gallery of photos reflecting the colour green. This is a joy to me as I live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and I love taking photos.  I love the green rolling hills of the Cotswolds, the fresh green fields of the sheep folds and cattle farms, the wild greenery of the hedgerows and roadsides, the manicured lawns of the stately homes, and the lush planting in much loved cottage gardens.  They all make wonderful backdrops to any photo. But most of all I love trees.  There really is no manufactured or digitally created frame that can improve on a picture framed by trees in my opinion.

I have included photos that I have taken on various days out or holidays too so they are not all of the Cotswolds, or even the UK!

So here below is a gallery of green for you to enjoy…

Greenery framing lovely buildings…

Green enhancing the view…

Green as a backdrop for animals…

Time to play

Time to play

 

Toffee aged nearly 7 months

Each week I spend lots of time with my pre-school grandchildren and I love every minute of it.  I have so much fun joining in their fantasy worlds where dinosaurs roar, toy trains hurtle through tunnels, sparkly unicorns upstage colourful ponies, and teddy bear families have picnics under blanket-covered playpens.

There is not a bit of my tiny house that hasn’t been given over to play, and that includes the garage, shed and garden.

I realised this week that although I may be getting close to my second childhood, I am actually reliving the one I missed and wished I had enjoyed.

I was born just after the  second world war in a northern city which had been in dire straits with poverty and unemployment even before the shipyards, mines, factories and chemical works were bombed.  The after effects of the war meant more joblessness, more shortages, and rationing of even  essentials like food.  Toys were a luxury that very few children in my area had, unless they were home made.   Thankfully I had a clever mum who knitted dolls and soft toys, and a wonderful dad who wittled away at wood to make tops and whips and covered them with shiny paper for decoration.

Add to the mix the fact that in the 1940s children tended to be tolerated in the family rather than central to it as they are now.  And, as well as all that, or maybe because it, I was a very sickly child who spent a lot of time in hospital, or a horrendous children’s convalescent home where the idea of play therapy was light-years away.

The result as I remember it, was a rather unhappy childhood, thankfully worlds away from the one that my grandchildren are enjoying.

However, the advantage of my early experience is that I developed a vivid imagination and have a buried need for creative play, which is at last being given free rein.

The trigger for this line of thought is in the photo.  No, not my puppy, but the mouse!  I have been collecting the characters from The Gruffalo story for the grandchildren and the mouse is rather special.  It was created by a local woodcarver from a bit of fallen tree in the Forest of Dean.  There is a marvellous museum there called the Dean Heritage Museum celebrating the mining and forest crafts that used to go on in the area.  One of the attractions is a magnificent Gruffalo trail where each of the characters is carved from wood.   I just had to have the mouse for my garden.  I thought it would enjoy living among my daffodils  for a while.   As I stood atop them I wondered if I could find a home in my garden for a 6 foot Gruffalo?  The grandchildren would love it!

Grandma’s house is very small
Just 2 bedrooms off the hall
A tiny kitchen, shiny-floored
A larder where my treats are stored
A shower with a seat inside
Wardrobes where doggy and I can hide
An archway leads into the lounge
Where furniture gets moved around
To make a station for my trains
Or an airport for ‘copters and planes
Sometimes it’s a racetrack for my cars
Or a farmyard with tractors, paddocks and barns
Grandma puts blankets over the table
To make a den, a forest or a stable
In the garden there’s gravel that scrunches when I walk
And a patio where I can draw pictures with chalk
In granddad’s shed there are drawers full of tools,
Boxes of nails, tubes of glue, jars of screws
A little mouse is nesting inside the wood store
While outside live birds, bees, hedgehogs and more
Grandma says her shed is a magical place
It’s furnished and carpeted and curtained with lace
Lavender hangs drying from the painted ceiling
While pine shelves are covered in things that have meaning
Like Icons from Finland, and medals from Lourdes
Calabash from Africa made out of gourds
Matrushkas from Moscow, maracas from Spain
I can’t wait for summer to play there again
Grandma loves it when I come to play
She makes indoor picnics we eat off a tray
She has lots of photos all over her wall
The best one is my mummy when she was small.

 

snowdrop time

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One of the best things about this time of year in the UK is the abundance of spring flowers that battle their way through the cold wet earth. In my garden the hellebores have been flowering since Christmas, the snowdrops all through February, and the daffodils popped out as March poured in.  This is something of a miracle as I was sure my little puppy had destroyed them all with her frantic digging.  But thankfully they survived her and Storm Doris.

In the park opposite my little bungalow there are banks of snowdrops growing beside a stream, clumps of crocuses among the trees, and a touching display of daffodils that appeared in 2010 spelling out, “Will You Marry Me?”  I walk my dog there every day.

But for a really impressive display I have to go a little further into the Cotswold countryside and take a walk around the Rococo Gardens at Painswick  or Colesbourne Park.

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This year the road taken had to be meticulously planned and carefully executed as my husband came with me to both places. He has been using a wheelchair for the last 18 months due to his medical conditions and the debilitating effects of his treatment.  But over the last two months he has made great progress and started walking indoors with some mobility aids.  He has done so well that I was determined to take him to see the snowdrops.  This would be his first walk in the great outdoors.  It was a bit difficult in some places due to uneven ground or slopes, but together we did it.  Fortunately there were lots of places to rest on the road taken.  It was a lovely afternoon out for us both.

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Leaving my husband to rest on a seat in the Rococo Gardens, I wandered down a gravel path and came across a most unusual sight.  A fairy castle inspired by Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria was carved on top of a fallen birch tree.  According to the label it was created by chainsaw sculptor, Denius Parson.  It really was impressive.

I was joined on my walk, as I often am, by a friendly robin.  I enjoyed the sights as he hopped about bending his head to watch me.  There were banks of snowdrops in every direction, with little clumps of cyclamen and hellebore dotted about, and daffodils just beginning to show.

Enjoy my spring photos from the Rococo Garden.  It was dull and drizzly and the sun was setting by the time we left but the photos show the abundance of snowdrops …