In London with time on my hands so I went to Holland Park to pass by one of my favourite sculptures, ‘Boy with Bear Cubs’, and to explore the parts of the park I had not previously seen. I wanted to see the ‘Kyoto Garden’ and was pleased to find that I was the only visitor. The steady drizzle of February rain in London probably helped keep other visitors away!
The garden has been here since the early 90s. It boasts a rock waterfall and a pool with Koi carp in it. This little piece of Japan in the capital is here to celebrate the Japan festival held in 1992. As an extension to the garden, a further area called the Fukushima Memorial Garden was opened in 2012 in gratitude of the Japanese people for British support following disasters in Japan in 2011.
The area was silent when I visited so the sense of peace I was looking for was easy to achieve.
I read a review of this book which stated that it was about ‘nothing and everything’ and I thought that was a profound insight into why this book works so well. It washes over you, chapter by chapter, rolling out the rhythms of the lives of the people of one community. The passing of time is best seen through the younger people who start the novel in secondary school and end it post-university.
There is an event. It is significant and it starts the novel but the event is not solved. The book is not about this event: something happened to a young woman called Rebecca, Becky or Bex and she is missing. She remains missing for the length of the novel but her absence is also her presence in the lives of many of the people in this village.
It is a sign of strength that I both wanted to know what had happened and did not want any of the characters to be the ones involved in wrong doing. Not that all characters were equally likeable but all became part of the fabric of the novel and a revelation would have affected the balance of what had been created.
I was reminded of the painting by Brueghel, ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus’. The single, central event that seems so dramatic to some is peripheral for the rest of the world. So it is with this novel: life goes on!
‘Reservoir 13’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The poetry collection I would save from the metaphorical burning house would be ‘Armada’ by Brian Patten. Each poem is a gem. This one, perhaps, the most moving of all.
You never went to a ball, ever.
In all your years sweeping kitchens
No fairy godmother appeared, never.
Poor, poor sweetheart,
This rough white cloth, fresh from the hospital laundry,
Is the only theatre- gown you’ve ever worn.
No make-up. Hair matted with sweat.
The drip beside your bed discontinued.
Life was never a fairy-tale.
In Manchester on Armistice Day so I went to the Imperial War Museum North in time for the eleven o’clock two minutes’ silence. I am a frequent visitor to the IWM in London but this was my first visit to this northern version. I was impressed. It was the right place to be to mark the eleven o’clock silence.
I spent the time beforehand looking at the exhibits which focused on the effects of war on the innocents who got caught up in conflict through no fault of their own. The exhibits of the Kindertransport were particularly moving but so too were the artefacts of evacuees and the stories of families torn apart by wars of one sort or another.
The Cold War exhibit just seemed to serve as a reminder that the actions of politicians at these times lead to untold misery for so many. The museum is careful to stick to facts and not apportion blame but the inclusion of a ‘room’ specifically on the impact of war on people other than the military is a wise move.
In one corner of the museum, a doorway of suitcases acted as the perfect reminder that war always leads to upheaval and, for many, the loss of home and security.
The Imperial War Museum North is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
On the South Downs, overlooking Brighton, is a monument to soldiers from India who died in the First World War. The Pavilion in Brighton town was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers and the bodies of the dead Hindus and Sikhs were cremated on this spot. The Muslim soldiers were taken to Woking for burial.
The word ‘chattri’ means umbrella in Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi. It stands here as a memorial to honour the fallen from India who died a long way from home. It was erected in 1921 and opened by the then Prince of Wales. There are three slabs where the cremations took place. These were below the monument itself and had wreaths of poppies when I visited.
As always when I see walls full of names, I tried to hang on to one that I could remember. Jai Singh was the name I picked out. Trying to keep one name in mind is a way of remembering this was a person; lists of names can be impersonal. One and a half million soldiers from India served in the forces of the Empire. About twelve thousand of the wounded were in hospital in sites around Brighton. Fifty three Hindus and Sikhs who died in Brighton were cremated here.
I was fortunate enough to hear Brian Patten at a poetry reading some years ago. I hear his voice (or what I recall of it) when I read this poem. I love it!
What do cats remember of days?
They remember the ways in from the cold,
The warmest spot, the place of food.
They remember the places of pain, their enemies,
the irritation of birds, the warm fumes of the soil,
the usefulness of dust.
They remember the creak of a bed, the sound
of their owner’s footsteps,
the taste of fish, the loveliness of cream.
Cats remember what is essential of days.
Letting all other memories go as of no worth
they sleep sounder than we,
whose hearts break remembering so many
I love this poem by Jackie Kay. What other reason is needed for posting?
The Living Photograph
My small grandmother is tall there,
straight-back, white broderie anglaise shirt,
pleated skirt, flat shoes, grey bun,
a kind, old smile round her eyes.
Her big hand holds mine,
white hand in black hand.
Her sharp blue eyes look her own death in the eye.
It was true after all; that look.
My tall grandmother became small.
Her back round and hunched.
Her soup forgot to boil.
She went to the awful place grandmothers go.
Somewhere unknown, unthinkable.
But there she is still,
in the photo with me at three,
the crinkled smile is still living, breathing.