Monthly Archives: May 2015

Greyfriars

Greyfriars Window

Greyfriars Window

Greyfriars is a National Trust property in the heart of Worcester
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/greyfriars/

Curiosity and communion need frequent updating. Historic houses are doorways through which we can glimpse other worlds, where we may assume the lives of people long gone. We get a flavour, but only that. We reach out to touch their reality, but can never quite bridge the gap, nor shake off our knowledge of what’s happened since. We reflect on our present reality, reaffirm the choices we have made living in our time, in our way. We may pretend for a moment, “wouldn’t it be nice to have lived here then”, but deep down we know it would not.

Because we want to experience that different life, we half-way imagine these unknown people, sketching in their lives, their loves, their victories and their losses. Especially their losses. Every life trades in loss and missed opportunities. Every time we choose – this person; this job; this town; this country – the ‘what if’s sear our souls. We strive to reclaim that which we never had, futures which never came to pass. It’s hard, too hard, so we insinuate ourselves into other people’s lives, try them for size, see how they work for us. They never do, not completely. So we keep searching, and sampling, snatching glimpses: a swish of skirts rounding a corner, a scrap of paper falling on the floor, a cat being shooed off the bed. Soon, even those fading memories are gone. Lost, we cling to that life’s embellishments, those objects that were other people’s choices: a broken quill in its inkless well, a bird in a diamond pane, a nine point star in a bedspread, an elephant with a castle. These become our tokens for paths we could never take, yet we hold them dear, assigning to them our feelings, our desires, our hoped for pleasures. For once again we have arrived in the middle of the story, not knowing how it started, nor where it might lead. Such a truth applies to every life. We even think we know our own story, but we are mistaken. We do not pay attention, misread the signs, misremember what it was really like. Blindly, we stumble eagerly into the worlds of others. Will we never learn?

Greyfriars Diamond Pane

Greyfriars Diamond Pane

Not all is lost. You provide a presence, just being there, bringing your humanity into this fragile space, guiding us when lost, bringing fragments of messages from this resurrected world, urging us to explore further. Your own curiosity opens boxes and pulls out drawers so that we may breathe that ancient captive air. Such small gestures deepen our contact with completed lives. Alas, nothing lingers of the polite conversations, the snuffled laughter, the earnest inquiries, the calls for dinner. The books here never tell those stories. We are left with china ornaments, and metal doorstops that hold open the space between people. The dolls in the pram look blindly back at us, merely hinting that children once played here.

Greyfriars Clockface

Greyfriars Clockface

The clock ticking in the library quietly feeds its pulse into our veins, telling us with every swing of the pendulum that a moment of decision has arrived, uniquely now, never to come again. Here, time is released to connect with all time, as each second decays into dusty silence. It slips between our fingers. What might have been eludes us once again.

Those people lived here fully, feeling the cold chill of the fireless room, straining their eyes in the dark corners and suffering the acrid smells of burning tallow and beeswax. Now the four poster bed with its history of love and anguish no longer offers comfort, but tidily repulses the visitors, each of whom has savoured just a little of the private soul of this building. Simply by coming here, each person has brought new life, has reached out, caressed the tapestries, drawn back the curtains, and encountered pilgrims on this quest for meaning and understanding. And so we connect. Briefly, fleetingly. Then we must depart, taking with us new memories of as yet unknown significance. For this short time, measured by the quiet heartbeat of the clock, we share a universe.

Greyfriars Four Poster Bed

Greyfriars Four Poster Bed

© Peter Young 2015

 

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Thirty Years

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Found item in a Parish Magazine

It seemed a good idea at the time. This was in the late 1990s, with the Millennium approaching. A long-term member of the PCC raised it: “Why don’t we build a proper Church Hall for the Millennium?” The vicar thought this a good idea, seeing it as a monument to his incumbency. In the parish there was general enthusiasm, and this extended to some generous benefactors in the village: people whose families had lived there for generations, who had money to spare, and who had long seen the need for better facilities, given that the vestry was far too small and cramped, and had little in the way of catering facilities other than a tea-urn. We all assumed that planning permission would pose no problems, so plans were drawn up. Little did we know how much controversy and challenge we would encounter in the following months and years.

The plan was to build the hall in the small field adjacent to the churchyard which had been abandoned ages ago. No one was really sure who owned this land. Enquiries were made, nothing was forthcoming. While we waited, one brave soul dared venture in, slashing a way through the overgrown brambles and scrub, and discovered a badgers’ set. Not good news. So we kept quiet and gently urged the badgers to leave. Which was probably good for them as they would have no doubt been culled at a later date. Now it was safe to have a survey done.

A historical search revealed that there had originally been a building on the site, a leper house, but this had been destroyed, or had fallen down centuries earlier. Concerns were expressed by English Heritage. A proper archeological survey had to be carried out, ancient monuments informed. The Millennium was approaching – so far not a brick had been laid.

Access and parking were especially contentious – the environmental lobby were against turning half the land into an asphalt covered carpark. There was heated debate and discussion about access for vehicles along the lane to the church, as this was from a rather narrow lane – churchgoers had been content to walk the last hundred yards or so, but now the Highways Agency were involved, more delays, more traffic surveys, forms to be completed.

Once the undergrowth had been cut back, various people began poking around. Members of the local archeological group – that sounds grand, but it was nothing like Time Team – discovered some old graves, complete with human remains. Panic. Everything stopped. Some were worried that there might be plague victims buried there – until it was pointed out that no ancient parishioners would be so daft to bury them so close to habitation. The police weren’t interested. Forensic pathologists were called in and declared the bones were ‘of antiquity’. Having carefully removed them, with the Vicar’s blessing, we had them reinterred in a corner of the existing graveyard. We held a ceremony for this.

Now, way past the Millennium, some sad news: the PCC member whose idea it was died. The good news was that he had left a substantial amount in his will towards the building. Otherwise, raising the money was an ongoing problem, especially as we’d had to pay for those extra surveys. Now the actual building could commence, however, it was not easy finding builders – they all seemed to have gone off to long-term housing developments, and no one was available for our hall. It was suggested that people from the village should work as unpaid laborers – a community project. But a quick survey of the village revealed few sound of body and wind, with the necessary skills, so it was back to whistdrives and carboot sales, and further applications for funding to ecclesiastical benefactors.

Over the years, enthusiasm for the Millennium Hall has fluctuated rather like the concern for climate change: veering high and low but never disappearing altogether. When the vicar retired in 2010, he left a legacy of a brilliant idea still unrealised in actual bricks and mortar. The incoming vicar – when we finally got one – was less enthusiastic about building the hall. She saw this as wasting funds for local benefit, when what was needed was helping third world communities to improve their lot. Africa was more important than our village.

And now, seventeen years later, it looks as though the project could be completed in the near future. But I’m heeding the old Chinese saying: that on a journey of one hundred miles, the 99th mile should be considered the half-way point.

© Peter Young 2015

[NB There is no connection between this piece of fiction and the photograph at the top.]

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The Wish

Cajarc shop 090808Have you ever made a wish, and found that it came true … the next day? This happened to me yesterday. The previous night, I had been thinking about the legs on my bed – they are one-inch-square cross-section legs which bolt on. And they’re right near the edge, given that they have to attach to the frame. This causes me concern, as a couple of time last year, bare-footed, I caught my little toe on the leg, and suffered for weeks after with a bruise. So when I’m near the bed I take extra care that my feet are facing the other way. Having earlier in the day passed the house round the corner which had been surrounded by scaffolding, some of which had been covered with yellow foam to protect passers-by, it became obvious what the solution was. All I needed was some smaller-diameter foam insulation used around water pipes to keep them from freezing in the winter. Easy. Knowing that such materials abound in the world, and that odd lengths can usually be found discarded in skips, or at the edges of building sites nearing completion, I decided I would keep an eye out for some.

Yesterday, on my way to the French Conversation Group in Little Comberton, I took a circuitous rural route that I had not driven before. Approaching Kinnerton from the north, I suddenly noticed what I took to be a long pole lying across the road.  Not wanting to run it over, in case it caused damage to the car, I stopped, got out and went forward to pick it up. At first I thought it was one of those foam ‘noodles’ that you play with in the swimming pool. Silvery grey – unusual colour. Then I noticed the hole down the middle. So not a pole, not a noodle, but a two metre length of pipe insulation foam. Just what I wanted. I laughed at my good fortune. I put the insulation in the car and drove on. A hundred yards on, a second length appeared. Fate had smiled upon me in abundance.

It had happened before. Last year, when I bought my washing machine, I found that it shook itself violently during the spin cycle, and physically moved around the cramped space it lived in. There was a gap less than an inch wide between the washing machine and the cupboard of the sink unit. All I needed was a strip of foam rubber – dense foam rubber this time – to wedge in between and voilà! All I had to do was to find it; I knew it would be waiting for me somewhere in the universe. The next weekend, I was on an early morning walk, out in the farmland beyond Shrawley, when I found my strip of foam rubber half buried in the mud at the junction of two fields. It was perfect. Well, it was once I’d cleaned it the dirt off. It wedged in really tightly, and now my washing machine must do its spin without dancing round the kitchen.

Is there something about wishing for foam rubber that makes your wish come true? I’ve been trying to remember the other objects that the universe supplied – I know they’ve come to me, many times – but I can’t recall at the moment what they were, or confirm that they were also made of foam rubber. Anyway, such a gift. I’m still smiling.

© Peter Young 2015

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