Yesterday I started thinking about flowers & rememberance & the circuits in which our lives are all embroiled. Today this hit home even harder.
On Wednesday night, a young man was killed down the road from my house. I don’t know what happened; word of a ‘fatal accident’ just spread around the grapevine, as such things do. It was a friend of friend. You recognise the face, know loads of the same people, drink in the same pub – you’re not friends yourself, but you’re both part of the same circuit.
Such a sad situation. There are no words or gestures that can be of any use or much comfort, but the desire to ‘just do something’ is strong – an act of rememberance, however small or seemingly pointless. It’s horrid to admit, but I’ve always been a bit condescending of people putting flowers down at the scene of a tragedy. All those bouquets at the gates of Kensington Palace? All the bunches left by fences & lamp-posts & houses? What’s the point, I’ve sneered countless times over the years. For the first time today, I have realised the point – the point is the act itself. The gesture of getting flowers & going to the place – that is the point, pure and simple. It’s small & paltry & yes, largely pointless. But it’s an act of rememberance. It’s recognition & respect for the young man’s life, cut tragically short.
Flowers: the language of love, the language of rememberance, the language when there are no words.
The first poppy opened in the garden this morning. They’ve looked fit to burst for a week or so now; it’s just been a matter of watching & waiting for the first blast of glorious colour. I adore poppies: they always seem so tenacious, so ‘look at me’, with their huge floppy petals & bright red and black combo. Yet their aesthetic joyousness is always tinged with the meanings of rememberance; at the same time as they declare their own existence so proudly, they symbolise the deaths of so, so many others.
It struck me as poignant that this first poppy – the flower of rememberance – should open today, the 70th anniversary of the Dunkerque evacuations. Like the poppy, Dunkerque can be read in so many ways: a military disaster that saw the death & imprisonment of many young men; emblematic of national spirit & solidarity; triumph over adversity – like life itself.
The radio was reporting on the ‘little ship’ commemorations taking place today, asking listeners to recall their family stories related to Dunkerque. I thought of my great uncle Ron. He lied about his age so he could join the army in 1939, aged just 14. He became trapped at Dunkerque & spent 3 weeks being sheltered by strangers in a cellar, before being rescued at brought back to Britain. He also served in ops in Norway & on D-Day. I cannot begin to imagine how these experiences must have affected such a young man, & I struggle to reconcile these events with my memories of a jovial & flirtatious old man whom everyone (but especially the ladies!) adored. He died last year, aged 85, and was – aptly enough – buried on the 11/11, at 11am.
When I started writing, I didn’t know what order to put the above thoughts in, or really where to start: poppy, rememberance, Ron, Dunkerque. Really they could have gone in any order. These thoughts, memories & feelings aren’t a sequence but a circuit; there is no start or end, only a loop, a continuous circle linking them together. Like our lives: they are always part of circuit, linked and connected and emeshed with others. Our lives are never simply our own.
As a child, I remember sitting down with bated breath to watch the world’s fastest wrapper on ‘Record Breakers’, the BBC programme which featured various record attempts and was presented by the late, great Roy Castle & Bucks Fizz’s Cheryl Baker. To my enormous disappointment, ‘wrapper’ turned out to be ‘rapper’ – not someone attempting to wrap presents at great speed but the urban music genre.
That was my introduction to rap music & I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from the sense of deflation that accompanied it. I’ve nothing against rap music; rather, I just love wrapping. I love everything about it, from the sensory (the paper, the ribbons, the assorted other bits that do nothing except make it look pretty) to the emotional (the excitement at possible contents; the surprise of an unexpected gift; the pleasure of a well-chosen gift, wrapped with love).
The gift in the photo made me think of brightly coloured iced buns, or surreal technicolour dim sum. So tantalizing! So cheerful! And a poignant expression of my hopes & aims for a life of my own.
When I started out, I wrote ‘Be more creative’ in my journal. I didn’t really know how I was going to be more creative, but wrapping – relatively cheap, relatively simple & something I had always loved doing – seemed a good place to start. And it’s working. I now have quite a collection of random bits of paper & ribbon & other goodies, ready to cover up whatever gift comes along. My skills at cutting haven’t improved much, but my imagination & resourcefulness have come on leaps & bounds!
Wrapping has also become a poignant task emotionally. The more I have realized how important my family & friends are to me, the more I have also realized how poor I am at expressing that to them. Life, work, paying bills, watching TV – from the profane to the profound, so much gets in the way of expressing love to people. I would like to be better at expressing my feelings to those I love, but until then wrapping will be a substitute for words. The transience of wrapping does not, I hope, diminish this sentiment; like a message written in sand, I hope it lives on after its physicality has passed. My efforts at lovely wrapping are trying to say ‘I love you’. With a jaunty ribbon on top.
In one week’s time, my personal email account will close down as the host site is folding. Ho hum, I thought upon receiving news of this – a bit of a fafarolla letting people & mailing lists know of the change. Part of me was quite pleased; I had been using the same service for over ten years & while I had loved the association with ‘handbag.com’ at one point, it no longer seemed to fit. Maybe I’m alone in feeling so sensitive to the impression created by one’s email address, but it seemed chance to start afresh.
Who do I want to be in cyber-space now? If only that question was as easy to answer as it is to ask! And if only it were as easy to find email providers that you can be sure are free & reliable – this quest for a new email account has caused me untold dilemmas & lots of wasted hours on search engines. It’s not that I have anything against any particular email provider; I just felt this was an opportunity to do something in keeping with my efforts to live a simpler, more ethically-concerned life. I thought about just using my work account, but as my job may be no more in a few months then I could find myself without any email address. I thought about a charity email; I figured there must be some such thing, like credit cards where a certain amount is donated to a specified charity every time you make a transaction. If there is a charity email in existence, I cannot find it! I’ve ordered a book from the library that I thought might yield some clues but it is lost somewhere in the county library system & won’t arrive in time. Now I am at an impasse. Tonight’s the night with some time set aside to sort a new account out & I think I’ll just have to admit defeat on this one. It’s frustrating but in the grand scheme of things I guess it’s not the most important issue on which to try & make a stance.
‘Sisters are doin’ it for themselves’, sang the Eurythmics & Aretha Franklin back in the 1980s. ‘Standing on their own two feet & doing their own thing’, the song continued. I love this song & have the single on vinyl. The cover shows a famous Ken Russell image of four girls on a bombsite (http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?imgurl=http://www.spaceandculture.org/uploaded_images/TG15-735258.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.spaceandculture.org/2006/03/02/teddy-girls/&usg=__7D32K1L64INAQRVMyMbbZrc6CXg=&h=341&w=336&sz=25&hl=en&start=5&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=4S4EclgWKUuVAM:&tbnh=120&tbnw=118&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dken%2Brussell%2Bteddy%2Bgirls%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26rlz%3D1T4ADBR_enGB243GB243%26tbs%3Disch:1). I was in Brighton on Friday for a work thing & someone showed this image as part of their talk – hence the song has been on my internal play list since, a constant loop of two or three lines repeating themselves.
Yesterday I sat in the garden. Gorgeous weather, hot legs. Only owning semi-decent skirts & pj trousers was not conducive to curling up on the grass or in a garden chair. I wanted shorts. So I made some. In my 1st ever attempt at dressmaking, I lopped the legs of some old pj bottoms, hemmed them et voila! I am now sat wearing my very own shorts. I am inordinately proud of said shorts. Even more than the actual results (pretty fetching, even if I say so myself – they have a certain 1940s sailor shape to them, totally accidental), I am proud of my resourcefulness & confidence in having a go at making something. I look at the shorts & feel a sense of resilience & self-reliance.
So often crafts & other ‘making’ things are thought of in terms of self-reliance, but usually in an economic sense. The psychological effects – harder to pin down & describe – don’t get much attention. But to me, this aspect of crafting & making is paramount: belief, trust, confidence & pride in my own (albeit limited) skills & imagination (the latter outstripping the former by a million to one!). Since I’ve started making things for myself & as gifts, I have come to feel so much stronger, more secure in my ability to survive & face the world. Alright I shan’t be climbing Everest or sailing the Pacific single-handedly anytime soon, but in a workaday way, I am mentally & spiritually better-equipped to live my life. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this joy from producing & making with one’s own hands; like the Freemasons or something, crafters seem to be able to sniff one another out from 50 yards. You only have to consider the success of the V&A’s quilts exhibition to see how widespread this love of making is becoming. Sisters really are doin’ it for themselves.
Shame the photo isn’t bigger (curse my phone & its rubbishness!) but such a beautiful image, taken while I was having my elevenses in the garden in the gorgeous sunshine. Happy days!
This morning I finished reading Judith Levine’s ‘Not Buying It’, which charts her & her partner’s year of shopping only for food ‘necessities’ (what constitutes necessity being itself an area of discussion). A thought-provoking & humorous book, it was so reassuring to read of someone else on a similar mission to me. I’m not as strict or dedicated to a particular aim, but share the urge that seems to inform much of Levine’s quest: the desire to simply consume less (both in terms of shopping & the older sense of consume, as in to use) & to see what life is like when shopping & buying stuff becomes replaced by other activities. ‘I shop therefore I am’, states my Barbara Kruger book bag. So if I don’t shop (well, don’t shop as much!), who am I then?
‘Not Buying It’ has left me in a dilemma, though. I got the book out of the local library but having enjoyed it so much, I would like to have a copy close to hand to re-visit as I choose. The question is do I buy ‘Not Buying It’? Or does that counter the whole ethos?!
The compromise I’ve devised is to photocopy the final twenty pages or so, which re-visit the key themes. If I keep feeling I want to re-read it, then I’ll try to get a 2nd hand copy.
If only all consumption-related compromises were so simple to negotiate. It’s a tug-of-war that I’m constantly engaged in. It’s not that I’ve suddenly become rabidly anti-consumerist; I just want to stop consuming so much. There are so many reasons why: financial, spiritual, ethical, environmental. I own so many things; sometimes I feel over-whelmed by all my possessions. And what purpose do all the possessions serve? It goes beyond utility. Is it status? Security? Ego? Susceptibility to marketing hype? Peer pressure? Probably a bit of all these factors.
I’m learning where I can make changes & not consume, or consume in a different way – a way that feels better for me. All these efforts deserve posts of their own; ‘Not Buying It’ has given me a cause & reason to reflect on these changes in their entirety. But now I have to go – I need to order a take-away curry for a night with my sister-in-law. A take-away curry: undoubtedly this will be an evening where I will still consume far too much!