Counting Down to Advent

The frost lay heavy in the garden this morning….our shaggy scrap of lawn had whitened to resemble some untidy heap: my ironing pile is only slightly better. November has sent icy mornings with bright sunshine such as today’s: the crows sitting high in the trees above the house looking out from dead branches shared with our grey squirrel neighbours. This morning was one in which Beatrix Potter might have taken her easel into the garden to capture chattering animal lives alongside my routine trips to the compost bin. November has also sent raging gales, torrential rain and dark days in which trips out had to be undertaken with the knowledge that a heap of dripping clothing would result.

Writing plans were diverted to other arenas as I dealt with stuff that had to be dealt with.

My books of First World war poets were opened and read….the 11th of the month should have resulted in a written piece to bring together a slice of history and a local project featuring a “yarn bombing”. The result of months of creative fingers transforming red wool into poppies was a beautiful view splashed blood red along the railings….this “Road of Remembrance” is the very one feeling the touch of men’s boots as they marched the last quarter mile to ferries that carried them to certain glorious victory. The muddy, rat-infested trenches are well recorded in those sad black and white photographs: those smiling Tommies, those young boys, lie in neat rows marked with white crosses.

The project was promoted within social networking and resulted in yarn poppies being sent from creative fingers working as far away as the West coast of the USA.                              It was a beautiful bright morning as we set off to join the charming organiser to help attach hundreds of red splashes using tough cable ties. My own contribution were hand-sewn from a remnant of glorious satin…their black centres created from knitting wool (the precious ball I keep to repair my winter woolly tights in fact). My dozen poppies carried garden twine strings to attach each securely in public space: within minutes they had left my care and shone brightly against grey railings with the sea sparkling in the distance below.

The bright sun was deceptive and, by the time the international floral tribute had been distributed as far as the harbour train station, we were thoroughly chilled. Tying each one with iced fingers was hard work: how must it have been for soldiers suffering months of cold days and nights to fumble with their catches as they prepared to go over the top?

The official Remembrance Ceremony at the top of the hill featured the expected collection of dignitaries, Salvation Army band, service and emergency personnel: the crowd who had chosen to attend was clearly drawn from all walks of life and generations. It was a significant contrast to the daily view of a Road of Remembrance scarred by abandoned Fast Food wrappers and sack-loads of rubbish. Perhaps it is a sign of the times in which images of dead professional soldiers enter our homes during news broadcasts at any time of day? A sense of loss and despair over a continuing conflict, of which many feel there is no purpose, has perhaps re-kindled an understanding in new generations: how cruel life is to take the precious youth, still so close to childhood.

November is a dark cruel month for me as I remember the sudden death of my father only weeks after he’d celebrated his 60th birthday: a life much longer than many of those who also wore the uniform of a British army officer in previous generations. But, his too was a life cut short when he had just retired from a demanding role that offered little freedom of choice. I will forever hear his words as he voiced his plans for his retirement….so many plans for creative hands when given their freedom.

Today is the anniversary of his burial….we shared the same bright sun today as the day he was laid to rest in a spot with a beautiful view.

Grief is a very personal affair; how we deal with it cannot be dictated by some theory. How we celebrate those gone before may depend on their achievements: for those who didn’t have the time or opportunity to create a lasting legacy it may just be their kindness, their capacity to feel, to share, to appreciate the work of others. My father would not have shared many of my beliefs but he taught me to tell the time: I recall trying to draw neat clocks required for homework in Bahrain when he created a little card with red and blue pen. A couple of years later, in the cooler climes of Templar Barracks he explained multiplication using Kentish cherry stones arranged on a plate. His study still carries many visible signs of his work and how he was valued by his colleagues. His loss hit me hard but I kept it quiet for many years: I wish he could feel proud of me now: I’m pretty certain he’d have disagreed with my opinions on some very bloody international news this month but I believe he would have admired my dozen satin poppies with their neat stitching.


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2 Responses to Counting Down to Advent

  1. Tweezerman says:

    This is such a moving piece of writing. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Hypatia says:

      I’m very glad it made an impression….my attempt to explain why I hadn’t managed to write for over four weeks gathered a life of its own!
      Have to say I was pleased with the natural interweaving of my recent activity, family memory and local history….it all seemed to happen as I wrote. Re-reading the piece now, I feel I’m able to draw a line under the month…
      December has arrived in frost and sun, with new hope: nine of my dozen poppies are still bright red on the railings and soon I shall unwrap precious family creations to decorate the Christmas tree. Thank you for your comment which is much appreciated.

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