SUTTON HOO

SUTTON HOO

On our recent holiday in Suffolk, we visited Sutton Hoo. We had last been there perhaps 30 years ago. Then we had wandered, with our children, through fields (of maize, I think) until we came upon an archeological dig. From here, presently, the archeologist in charge had emerged and given a lecture on the site which was so erudite and elegant that when he drew his remarks to a close, and invited questions, we were so overwhelmed by his eloquence that nobody could gather their thoughts together fast enough to construct an adequate response. Way down the line a woman whom I had noticed was rather restless raised her hand. “What happened to Mrs Pretty?’ she demanded. Edith Pretty was the owner after the death of her husband and she earned whatever rank she may have wished (but presumably did not wish to become a Duchess? ) she left the entire property to the nation and shook out her cloak

This time there was a proper car park, and an attractive visitor centre and cafe, museum shop etc.

It was (for me) a longish walk through marshy, hilly ground and then you arrive at the burial site.

It is said that Mrs Pretty consulted her deceased husband in a spiritualist session and he had advised her to examine the largest. You did not really require the advice. It was by far the largest mound. The team pressed on, hoping to discover the magnificent treasure which we now know to have been there.

The boat was HUGE. It had been hauled up from the river quite a distance. It had been built of wood and was clinker built. The boat would have held approximately 80 oarsmen and was steered by the helmsman in the rear with a deep rudder. It is thought that the crew had numbered aBOUT 80. They reckoned it had been to sea. It was a lovely object.

And then there were copies of the treasures found within the burial. Of the body, nothing remained. There was a beautiful sword with a jewelled scabbard, arm bracelets with enamel and gold. And the glorious helmet. A horse’s skeleton was also recognisable and its precious metal harness from

In the past I have looked with disapproval at cultures who bury grave goods with the deceased. These products were of tremendous value- a king’s ransom indeed. I used to think sniffily that they must have had poor people or those who were ill or injured and needed support and who could have benefited from the sale of these goods, Just letting my thoughts flow where they will, I suddenly realised that these people genuinely believed in the Afterlife, and therefore it made sense to go into the underworld prepared.

We have an ambivalent attitude to life after death. To any of you who still genuinely believe in Christianity’s legend of the afterlife, I have no wish to offend. I admire your faith and hope you may be right. But mostly we do not, in our secret hearts believe it. We have allowed science to seduce us. We don our blacks and we attend the rituals of burial. We say Amen to the prayers for the soul of the deceased. We find the ancient words a comfort, and we are happy to conform to the burial customs. But for us it is like a piece of theatre. In the main, we do not believe.

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ON REACHING SEVENTY

ON APPROACHING SEVENTY

In December, only a few months away, I will (deo volente) reach the age of 70. I’m quite surprised to have arrived at this point. I don’t understand how I got (quite suddenly it seems to me) to be so ‘dwedfully old’ to quote Dana. It has snuck up on me.

We are mortal; only ever one breath away from death and oblivion, yet we live our lives as though we were immortal.

I’m not someone who habitually watches films more than once but recently John and I watched Quartet for the 5th or 6th tme and I still found it enjoyable. The star studded cast, the humour, the music and the incomparable Billy Connelly make this a very watchable film. This is a good thing because we are not very good at acknowledging the pain and losses that come with old age.

Looking back on my life, I do not think I have recognised how fortunate I was. Although my childhood could be described as ‘difficult’ and certainly was neither standard nor conventional, it was happy. Our parents spent time and energy on educating us. My father was very intelligent and well read, and was knowledgable about many thing – all things natural, the history of Scotland, religion (as proscribed by him), woodwork (I could recognise any tool, no matter how obscure) and so on. He kept bees amd grew most of our food. He was also shrewd and cunning and a master of strategy in which he freely instructed me. He could speak the vernacular, which I never managed but he could also speak the Queen’s English and he was a powerful speaker who could raise a rabble before you could see his intent, He was a dictator of course, but I had inherited his genes sufficiently that when I became a teenager, I could deal with him. He had abandoned all his and my mother’s relatives apart from we three; but we stuck with him to the end.

My mother spoke the Queen’s English and she made sure that we did too and with an acceptable middle class accent. She ensured that I had middle class manners and knew how to entertain, run a house, deal with employees, knew how to seat people according to rank, how to cook and sew. She taught me how to dress well on little money. I had an easy rapport with men, and once I was a wife and mother I got on well with other women.

And in Eugene I had an intelligent companion, one who understood (and still does) where I was coming from. I therefore was rarely what people expected and one or two peope made catastrophic errors of judgement in relation to me (and I have to say that I was never in the least forgiving about these.)

I was fortunate in my husband and children, and I had the luxury of being able to bring up my children myself. I was also rich in friends.

In reaching 70, I feel that I have had a good portion. Life does not owe me anything. I have lived life free, comfortable, relatively healthy (I have no complaints) and. I hope and believe, have been well loved. I have been blessed with son and daughters and with many grandchildren of both sexes. I have travelled and seen many places.

I hope to live a longer portion still, but if the call came for me now, I would go without complaint. God has always been good to me, and it certainly is not because I have deserved it.

INSOMNIACS ARE US

INSOMNIACS ARE US

One of the suggestions to insomniacs is that they have a mantra which they repeat to themselves to help fall asleep. It’s basically intended to prevent you dwelling on those anxieties which seem like certain fish that rise to the surface of the ocean at night to feed, and circle the poor would be sleeper like sharks, before when the dawn comes, sinking back into the murky deep.

I tried counting backwards from 100 but found this much too boring.

So I thought I would try with a well known text, and I chose The Lord’s Prayer. It’s short, and the wonderful phrases have not been mangled by a translation into modern English (not in the version I‘m going to use anyway.) I breathe slowly in and out with each word.

However I find I have a tendency to lapse into seditious heretical thoughts while pursuing the policy. Let me show you.

OUR FATHER. Odd that God should be described as being exclusively pariarchal, since he representing all, must clearly have encompassed the feminine as well.

WHICH ART IN HEAVEN I’m always keen on a little excursion into grammar. Should this not say, WHO IS in heaven? If God says it, does that make it necessarily into correct grammar​​?

HALLOWED BE THY NAME. I am reminded of the no doubt apocryphal story of the little girl who asked her mother whether God’s name was Jack or Harold? When her mother looked puzzled, the child quoted, Our Father is Jack in heaven; Harold be thy name.

THY KINGDOM COME. THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN. It must be slightly tedious being always right and knowing what will happen. On reflection, perhaps Our Father is the best title for God.

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD. Amen to that for myself and everybody.

FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS. This could be a problem for me as I could spend quite a lot of time remembering grievances I may have had about someone from decades back. But in accepting that I am not perfect either and hope to be forgiven, I generally manage to remember some good things about my opponent and wish them well. For a few people however, and despite one’s best efforts, I cannot find a single redeeming feature.

LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION. DELIVER US FROM EVIL. I am sure that God does not do this. I am beginning to wonder if rather than God making man in his image, it is not instead the case that the ancient patriarchs could not compete with the m

I begin to wonder what form The Temptation would take when Big Sister, bossy boots that she is, always knows the answer and annoyingly nearly always does, suddenly wakes up and begins to berate me for my insidious, vengeful heresy. I don’t waste time arguing with her (nobody can withstand her deadly logic) and sadly agree that she might well be right.

Next time, I think, I’ll choose a song. I wonder idly, would I Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog, do​​​?

SPARING THE BLUSHES

SPARING THE BLUSHES

I’ve been reading a book called What Matters in Jane Austin by John Mullen. It is interesting and explores a whole range of different issues, some of which I had worried over on my own, and others which would never have occurred to me. It wonders which I have often done in private if she was indifferent to servants – she scarcely bothers to name them; or if she is immured to the evils of slavery with Sir Thomas going out to the Caribbean to protect his so-called Christian interests while teaching his son etiquette and good behaviour when dealing with lesser persons such as slaves. (I recommend the book but you need to have a detailed knowledge of all her novels.)The book quotes a lot from her various novels. There is much that needs to be discussed.

On another issue (one which had never crossed my mind,)was how they blushed. I have to admit to a deficiency here. I have never blushed. It is not , needless to say, that I have not suffered embarrassments – sudden urgent needs for the toilet when it wasn’t convenient, spilling a glass of red wine on my hostess’s new Belgian lace tablecloth; everyone suffers those from time to time. But one presumes when people blush they know they are doing so – they must feel hot. This has never happened to me.

I am not greatly concerned about other people’s opinion of me, and I used to find my mother’s wondering what the neighbours would think intensely irritating. What did it matter and who cared?

I have observed people who blushed. One girl where I worked, very blonde and fair skinned, used to go scarlet if anyone so much as noticed her. She was a nice girl, sweet natured and obliging, and spoke very quietly, hardly much above a whisper. She left us to join the police force, and I did wonder how she managed; and whether they had hired her to enjoy her sweet and lovely disposition among themselves. Her name was Violet which seemed appropriate.

When I think about it, my children weren’t given to blushing either, and I haven’t noticed this tendency among the grandchildren. Perhaps it’s all just down to genetics; or maybe, like fainting it is no longer fashionable. Did the wearing of corsets contribute to both fainting and blushing?

Your guess is as good as mine.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.

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LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED

I’ve been reflecting on the famous verses about love in St Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians, (First); Chapter 13. I’m quoting from the King James bible.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth. And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.

I find it difficult to believe in the creed of any religion but the above statement on charity (or love) I support in its entirety.

Love is not portrayed as a simpering sentimentality, nor as an adoring admirer. Love, he says, puts up with things for a long time; it’s kind; it isn’t envious; it doesn’t promote itself and isn’t arrogant. It doesn’t behave improperly; isn’t self interested; is not easily angered. It does not contemplate wickedness. It is not glad when grievous things happen to others and seeks the truth. Love tolerates all things, believes all things; hopes for good outcomes and endures. Love never fails. When all is said and done, faith, hope and love still survive. But the greatest of these is love.

So love is demanding and difficult in subtle ways. It calls for high standards of behaviour. It has to be modest and not self seeking. It has to believe in the power of good and act accordingly. It has to hope for a good outcome and go on having faith in this possibility and behaving lovingly long past the point when lesser values would have given up. Love never despairs.

This is by no means easy.

When I was in a French hospital last year,I received for 5 days double the dose of a dangerous drug, as a result of which I suffered from episodes of extremely violent uncontrollable jerking movements. Eventually I passed out during one of these fits (I had never previously fainted in my whole life) and woke up extremely distressed and disoriented in a chaotic recovery ward. On this day I also discovered about the double dose and declined to take it any further (at that level) and as a result had only a couple more much milder episodes. One of these however was on the day before I was due to be discharged, and I did not wish to prejudice my departure, so I endured this one on my own. It was comparatively mild and did not last long. But again afterwards I was slightly disoriented. The hospital was strangely quiet and apparently empty of people (or so it appeared to me.) In addition the sun was setting and my room was flooded with an extraordinary golden light. I felt like Reepicheep at the end of the world. I began to wonder if this was the end and whether the Angel of Death would arrive. My practical self, a down to earth, logical, practical girl who never loses the place and never panics (very unlike my emotional self) suggested that we should not be so melodramatic and that this scenario was extremely unlikely, but agreed that we should say our prayers and then wait quietly ad see what happened. So we prayed for all our people, finishing with the children and John. Then we sat, peacefully really, still bathed in this glorious light, and waited. We were somewhat taken aback when a firm tread sounded outside and the door was opened to admit a tall, golden haired and handsome man whom we had not previously met. He was not however the Angel of Death but a male nurse. He spoke only French. I was at a very low ebb and complained, weeping, that I had had only a very few twitching episodes in over 20 years and I was afraid I would never recover. He asked me if I was married, had I children and grandchildren. I said, yes, I did. Did they love me. I said yes, they did. Then he said I was extremely fortunate, and ‘calmez-vous, Madame’; that I should remember those who loved me, that I would recover to my ‘comme d’habitude’ and all would be well. Then (presumably he came from somewhere near the northern border) he gave me that salutation where the man bows his head and almost but not quite clicks his heels, and so he departed from me. I never learnt his name, but I will never forget him. He upheld all the principles of love, and he commended me to do the same. I did, and I have survived.

I commend to you, gentle reader, the principles of love, for all that they are not easy to follow. As we venture, hesitantly, into 2019, I think we have great need of them.

CROWN PRINCE

CROWN PRINCE

I am faced with writing a blog when no subject matter presents itself. Well one subject occurs to me, but I hesitate to tackle it for fear of giving offence. Oh what the hell, here goes.

We watched a programme on Prince Charles at 70. I presume it was intended to support his aspirations to become King of England on the death of the present incumbent, and it showed his various charitable undertakings at considerable length. It did nothing for me however, for I thought he emerged, beneath a surprisingly thin veneer of charm as an irascible, self obsessed, self indulgent individual with a persecution complex and a marked tendency to suppose that people were campaigning against him.

We have to be fair, to list the points in his favour. He has undertaken many charitable exercises and I am sure the Prince’s Trust has helped many young people. He is diligent and hard working. One feels sympathy for him when you see how wherever he goes he is the object of scrutiny and everyone’s curiosity; this must be a burden in life. Many of his obsessions, such as climate change, are indeed issues of great importance and he was aware of them and drawing attention to them early in the day.

However I still find him surprisingly irritating. It’s rather like the Archbishop of Canterbury who tends to speak (whoever he is) as though he held a position of authority over us. I feel like saying to him, ‘You’re not speaking for me.’ Archbishops tend to be more cautious these days.

So with the Prince of Wales. This is a democracy, but we’ve never been asked if we wish to continue with the monarchy. Given the disaster of recent referendums, we’re unlikely to be asked any time soon, and even if we were asked, I suspect the electorate might vote for the status quo; but I’d still appreciate being asked. However, I don’t think in the present Brexit uncertainty, that this is a good time. I expect this will all become relevant issues on the death of the present queen.

Statistically far more ‘spares‘ become King than heirs do, and this cannot be accounted for logically. It seems to be greatly to an individual’s disadvantage to be declared heir to the throne from a young age. They become accustomed to being deferred to and have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. Those who arrive at the throne by accident as it were are generally more realistic and can function as ordinary mortals.

One can also question Prince Charles’ moral fitness for the role of king which in England makes him head of the Church of England by the venal actions of Henry VIII. When Charles married Diana, he swore before us all that he would hold only unto her; yet he continued his affair with Camilla who was someone else’s wife (and he would have this woman as our queen.) Reportedly, he said to his wife he refused to be the only Prince of Wales not to have a mistress . He presumably never intended to keep his oath, and he therefore is forsworn. I think in the circumstances he is unfit to be king; and she unfit to be queen.

If you need those positions at all. I believe it would be better by far to have an elected Head of State, male or female, who would have to have been born in this country. They could have a longish term of office – say ten years, but could only stand once, and would be elected. We could also dispense with the corrupt honours system with its absurd obsession with rank, and have a citizen’s honour which was awarded for service to the country. The Head of State would swear an oath to defend the country and there would be a code of conduct that he/she had to adhere to, otherwise he /she would be impeachable. I think our modernisation of the role of head of state is long overdue, and the future accession to the throne of Charles, Prince of Wales would be a good time to initiate this.

The traditionalists and royalist sympathisers will hope that the machinery which deals with such events will just flow smoothly into place and Charles will be anointed king before we’ve had a chance to mount an opposition. But the Prince of Wales’ namesake once stood on his dignity, declared himself the anointed of God and saw no need to compromise with his ministers. He lost his head.

We live in interesting times,

ALFIE EVANS

I’m sure we all must feel tremendous sympathy for Alfie Evans, the Liverpool child who has been the subject of court orders regarding his life support system. Physically he is a nice looking little boy and it must be heart rending to watch him grow as a child should (though perhaps he is smaller? I do not know) while his neurological and mental progress has been curtailed. Who amongst us does not look at the distraught parents with secret dread in our heart, and think, There but for the grace of God, go we; and how would we endure it? We know that like them there is nothing that we would not try in an effort to save our precious child.

We can have sympathy for the medical team too. In all my experience with the profession (and I am by no means an easy, docile or compliant patient) I have not met a single one whom one did not feel was doing his or her very best to improve matters for the patient. This team will have done their utmost to help the child and support the parents and in the end it has all come to nothing.

Clearly it would be wrong to expect the parents to be able to retain a detached judgement in such cases. That’s not what parents are for. The medical team has a difficult task in that it is expected to deal with the parents with kindness and compassion, but to retain a certain detachment.

I am not sure it has been entirely successful in this case.

It always seems to me to be extremely regrettable when such cases end up in court. At the point where the hospital begins to refuse parental requests to take the child home, or to try unorthodox treatment, then I start to lose sympathy with them. They should, I think, show more humility. They are not always right . Besides (and I don’t care what the law may declare) at the last resort (and we are surely there with poor Alfie) – it’s not the hospital who is responsible – it’s the parents.

Surely the consultant in charge should say to the parents (and God knows we do not envy him or her this task); we have done every thing we can, but we cannot effect any improvement. While we can prolong his life a little with life support, he will not get any better. It is our opinion that the quality of life he would have is too impoverished, especially when there will be no improvement in his condition. It is with great sorrow that we request your agreement to switching off the life support system. They should give the parents a few days to think about this, and then they should ask them how they wish to deal with the time from when the life support is switched off to the time of the death of the child, offering them every support.

No doubt in this case and in the vast majority of cases the hospital is entirely correct in its judgement but if the parents wish to take their child home, or to Italy for other treatment, then I think every effort should be made to help them. They are in extremis. Their child is going to die anyway. If anything can be done to ease their pain, then let it be done.   What difference does it make to the hospital?

If you were hard hearted enough you could argue that this case with its many legal battles has been a colossal waste of money, given the likely outcome that the child will die; but faced with such parental grief and anguish I certainly could not bring myself to support such an argument.

PS Alfie Evans died in the night; may his journey be easy.