Saturday, 11 November 2017

Gwaith 25 (Catch Up): Remembrance Day and March, York, 2016

Hi Everyone

A few days after my visit to Bridge and my experience of Bonfire Night (see my last post), I arrive in York to research the dark ages history of the place for my novel.  The morning after my arrival, I walk into the city to grab some food before my explorations. I pop into a bakery and stand in line to buy some Chelsea Buns, for which I had developed a taste while in Wales. Suddenly, all noise stops as the shop radio announces the two minutes of silence for Armistice/Remembrance Day. I stand with my head bowed and think about my nephews, one currently serving in the Navy and two recently discharged from the Army, and of my father, who was in the RAAF during World War II. For the rest of the day, my thoughts keep returning to them and what I know of their experiences, and in the evening I draft a poem. Below are the opening lines of the final version, which was published a few days ago in Eureka Street (and can be read here):

In a bakery in York, I stand silent
With other customers for two minutes,
Think of nephews who have served
And seen action, some still serving
On land and on water, some bearing
The costs of their service in bad knees,
Hard hearing, scars in hidden places,
And think also of you, my father…

Two days later, Sunday, 13 November 2016, I am walking through the city on my way to the train station for my trip back to Wales. I notice people are gathering on the bridge over the Ouse. Babes in prams. People wearing everything from their Sunday best to work clobber. Tourists with cameras. A security presence.
View of the River Ouse from the bridge
I ask an army press officer near me what’s happening. It turns out there is a march through the city every year to celebrate Armistice Day/Remembrance Day and then a laying down of wreaths at the war memorial in a park near the banks of the Ouse. I am ahead of schedule for catching my train, so I decide to stay and watch. Below are photographs of the occasion. (I tried to get one of each of the different services/units, but am not sure of their names. Any suggestions would be welcome.)
The head of the march 

Royal Navy 
Military Police? 
Other veterans
The wreath laying at the memorial
The lowering of military colours
Smoke from the gun salute near the end of the ceremony
Much of the crowd stayed around after the ceremony, to share in the memories evoked and to give thanks, but I had to get to the railway station. I was glad to have seen the march and the wreath-laying and so pay my respects to those, like my nephews and those of my father's generation, who had given something of themselves in the service of their country.

As always, I welcome your comments, especially if you’d like to share some of your own Remembrance Day memories.

Best Wishes


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Gwaith 24 (Catch Up): Bonfire Night, Bridge, 5 November 2016

Hi Everyone

This catch-up post is out of chronological order because of today’s date. One year ago I attended a Bonfire Night in Bridge, a village near Canterbury, UK, with my good friends Simon and Lise. And so, I wanted to blog about it to celebrate the anniversary of that event.

We don’t celebrate Bonfire Night in Australia anymore, for a variety of reasons, some to do with safety and some to do with a distancing of our culture from such English customs. I remember the bonfires of my childhood on the empty block of land on the other side of the road from our house. The whole neighbourhood participated. For days, people brought old furniture, timber off-cuts, and broken fruit boxes and piled them high. I wrote about these memories in ‘Fall Out’, a poem about a dead childhood friend, which won a national award many years ago and was published in Azuria #4 in 2015. Below is the opening stanza:

Dead now thirty years or more, you were
just one of the neighbourhood knockabout kids
kicking a rolled-up-newspaper-and-twine footy,
racing bikes and billy-carts down the hill,
playing gangs in the paddock across the road
with its grass hillock hideaways, rubbish mound forts,
whooping and hooting with the next fruit box tossed
flinting sparks and flames on the Guy Fawkes bonfire,
skyrockets whoosh-slicing the night to the refrain
of bolts and penny bangers in metal pipes.

So, when Simon and Lise suggested we attend the Bonfire Night being held in a local field, I jumped at the chance. Once night, with a light touch of dew, had truly descended, we joined a couple of hundred people crowded at the fence line around an enormous mound of wood in the middle of the field and cheered when fire safety officers 'lit her up'.

We were treated to a sprightly fire that at times grew menacing, with its raging, crackling sounds, its tumbling and crashing timbers, and its glowing embers and burning debris carried by the north wind, which troubled our eyes and threaten to ignite the nearby oak and beech trees. The fierce heat baked our faces with grins, gasps and exclamations. The erupting, rolling, leaping flames took on whirling shapes with elongated mouths and jagged limbs.

Then came the fireworks, a magnificent, wonderful, splendid, surprisingly long, keeping-your-gaze-engaged set of explosions and colours. Whistling rockets. Crackling white star bursts. Dazzling splurges and cascades of yellow, red and green against the backdrop of night. Sooty embers raining down around us. The smell of burnt air and gunpowder. Cheers. Little children pointing and clapping. Adults with arms around each other. Faces turned upward and glowing.

Afterwards, we went back to Simon and Lise’s ‘Wendy House’ for some beer and wine and a pre-dinner reading of entries from The English Year: The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, from May Day to Mischief Night. Padstow Oss. The Wooden Horse of Kent. And, of course, Guy Fawkes:

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

A great end to a night that was part nostalgia and part wonder.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any memories of Bonfire Nights, do share them in the comments if you like.

Best Wishes