Friday, February 21, 2020

100 Years Ago

I've been telling you about my husband's father lately. Today, Feb. 21st, 2020, would have been his 100th birthday.  Richard wrote something on his Facebook and he has allowed me to share it with you here.  (The photo above is of his parents on the beach in Eastbourne sometime in the 1950's.)  

100 years ago today my father, William  "Bill"  to family and friends - was born in Holborn in London. Twenty - something years later when he and his two brothers were in various parts of the world fighting for their lives and our future, the family home in London was destroyed by the Luftwaffe but none of my family was seriously hurt. Tragically, my father died in 1959 - almost certainly as a result of his service during World War 2 - having spent five years of his short life in military service. When at last the war was over and my father returned from Burma to the family home - which was by now a prefabricated house in the southern suburbs of London - he arrived at the front door in the middle of the night. Rather than wake the family, he sat outside and waited for the day to dawn! This may be hopelessly sentimental but I imagine he enjoyed the peace and tranquility of the English night as he sat outside and probably smoked a pipe or two of tobacco. I hope there was a beautiful sunrise and dawn chorus as all the while he was looking forward to the first of many happy reunions. My father did come home from the war and I know hundreds of thousands did not, but the inscription on the Kohima Memorial in India to the fallen of the Campaign in Burma still seems appropriate to me: " When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our today. " We owe so much to the Greatest Generation! Thanks, Dad! Wish you could have had a lot more time with us! And thank you, my friends, if you've made it through this! " At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them."

There...I hope you found that as moving as I did. The story of him getting back home and staying out in the garden...perhaps relishing the sound of the dawn chorus and the peace of being back home. It does paint a picture, doesn't it?  

 I knew that Richard was writing this and the song "You'll Never Walk Alone" came into my head. I think it fits this post. So, I have it for you here...

Sunday, February 16, 2020


Shetland.  What is the first thing that comes to mind? The Shetland Pony? (The little long-haired pony has been there for 4000 years!)  "Shetland", the TV series that is filmed there based on the books by Ann Cleeves?  After reading my post, I hope that you will also think of "Shetland Bus" whenever you hear "Shetland".  (And Shetland is situated in the North Atlantic between Scotland, Norway and the Faroe Islands.)

After Norway was invaded in 1940 by Nazi Germany, some 300 boats filled with refugees left Norwegian shores by heading west. The majority of these went to the islands of Shetland. If these boats could get to Shetland, then they should be able to return, it was reasoned. Those who returned could execute clandestine missions. This became known as the "Shetland Bus.".

So, the Shetland bus- not really a bus, but a wartime resistance movement using boats between Norway and Shetland.
"It was a dark and stormy night"...that is a phrase that should come to mind when you read of this because the most favorable conditions for entering Norwegian waters were on the darkest, stormiest nights, so that put the boats in danger not only from the Germans but also from severe weather. (However, such was the skill of those involved, I think I've read that no boats were lost.)  It soon became apparent that bigger, faster boats were needed. The U.S. Navy donated three American sub-chasers.  I found a video of the sub-chaser and it is much larger and I assume faster than the fishing boats that were used. I can't get that same video on here but I do have another one...

And please look at this link...Shetland. It is an excellent source of information.  While there, pay attention to the map showing the location of the Shetland Islands and that will help you understand the importance of the islands in relation to Norway during World War II.

Like many people, I used to only think of Shetland ponies when I heard the word "Shetland" but years ago, I read a book called "We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance" by David Howarth. The book is an amazing true story of Jan Baalsrud and his escape from Nazi occupied Norway. It is one of my favorite books of all time. It became a film in 1957, "Ni Liv", which means Nine Lives" in Norwegian. The author, David Howarth helped to set up the Shetland Bus and was second in command at the Naval base in Shetland. When he died in 1991, he asked that his ashes were to be scattered over the waters of Lunna Voe, Shetland  which was the first base of the Shetland Bus. His request was honoured.   

Why am I telling you about Shetland? Have I ever been there? No! It is because we recently discovered that Bill, Richard's father was stationed there in World War II.  Some 20,000 British troops were stationed there during the war and that number was greater than the residents. It was very much feared that Germany could invade Britain beginning with the Shetland Islands. (Therefore, the reason for all those British troops.)  There was a very large Nazi occupying force in Norway.  If you draw a straight line around the coastline of Norway, it would measure about 1,650 miles. However, with all the islands, fjords and bays, it measures over 15,000 miles. The Germans thought (incorrectly!) that the Allies might have their landings in the North Atlantic.

Apparently, from what I have read, the people of Shetland were very welcoming to the troops. Just as I hope Bill was able to hear the lady sing in South Africa,  I also hope that he was able to enjoy some of the local entertainment on Shetland. 

I hope my research has been accurate. Please forgive any mistakes that I have made.  All respect and honor to all the brave men and women in the "Shetland Bus" and to all who served on Shetland.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Lady In White (I HOPE Bill Heard Her Sing!)

When we were in London in October, we visited the Holborn area which is where Richard's father grew up and lived with his parents, twin sister and two older brothers in the Laney Building on the Bourne Estate.   While Bill, his twin and both brothers were in the war, the family home was bombed in the Blitz.  Reading about it, the Laney Buildings were mostly spared, although many other buildings were bombed in the area during World War II. I do know that they were bombed out, and that when Richard's Dad came home from WWII, that his parents were living in a house in Bellingham. (During the Blitz, more than a million London houses were destroyed or badly damaged and more than 20,000 civilians died in London alone.) Richard's father died in 1959, just after his 39th birthday when Richard was just 3 years old. His Dad had spent five years of his adult life in the British Army in the Royal Corps of Signals. (Will tell you more about that in another post.)  Richard and I have just spent some time looking up the places that his Dad wrote down in the small journal that he kept while in was in the Army. His Dad's name was William but he was called "Bill". 

Durban, South Africa...that was one of his postings. What do you know about it?  Let me tell you one thing that I have learned...

During World War II, Durban was a very busy harbour with many troop ships and hospital ships. What do you think I found out? Oh, you will never guess...there was a woman who would come down to the pier and she would sing to the troops as the ships went past! Coming or going and she never missed one!  Her name was Perla Siedle Gibson and she NEVER missed a troop ship, not even on the day that she lost her oldest son in the war. She was called the "Lady In White" because she always wore the same outfit- white dress with a big red hat and a red necklace. (You may read more about her just here.)  How wonderful would that have been for the men to hear her sing! It is believed that she greeted over 5000 ships and that a quarter of a million men heard her sing. And she would sing through a megaphone to be sure that she could be heard.   Now, I am hopeful that Richard's father heard her sing! It is very likely, is it not? 
Here, just listen to the quote from Perla Gibson herself...."I adore British Tommies, they make you sing and sing and sing and never let you stop. I once sang six hours at a stretch for them".
You see, the men would sing along with her! Have you ever heard Brits singing together? To my American ears, they all sound so very good together!

Perhaps you have heard of Vera Lynn, the Forces Sweetheart, she is well known for her songs during World War II. Vera Lynn and Perla Gibson met after the war and became friends. Well, of course, they would! These women are just my kind of people, both of them, after my heart, I tell you!
(And Perla Gibson was also an anti-apartheid campaigner for democracy in South Africa, I am happy to say.)

Perla Gibson died in 1971 just before her 83rd birthday. Vera Lynn is 102 years old now. (If anyone knows this great lady, let her know I have two of her songs on here!)

Now, I urge you to look up more about Perla Gibson. I think you would agree that her story would make a great film! Who could play her? Perhaps Kathy Bates? Don't you agree? (And how about a film about Vera Lynn while we're at it!)

Now, let's get back to Bill, Richard's father who was in South Africa during 1943 on his way to Burma.  I very much hope that he heard Perla Gibson singing through her megaphone!
One of the songs that she would have sung would have been "There'll Always Be An England'.  Why, I even have the lyrics for you, you can sing along like the servicemen did! 

Bill, Richard's father would have been 100 years old this month. I will have more about the research I have done about his time in the Army. I hope to write more about him this month. Our son has a resemblance to his English grandfather, I believe.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters

Every year these daffodils push up through the Earth and bloom. The green blades come up first, reaching towards the sun, pushing aside all the dead oak leaves. They are not native to the USA but were first planted by the British colonists, so you could say that they have "naturalized" here. Daffodils are always a welcome sight for me. The same flower in England and in Georgia! (Of course, the daffs bloom here much earlier, the photo above was taken on Jan. 25th!)  I am certain I have told you this all before but it bears repeating!

Today is Groundhog day! Apparently, the groundhog saw his shadow, so that means six more weeks of winter. we will have early Spring! (Please forgive me, I live in Georgia and it really does not matter what the groundhog sees in Pennsylvania! We have Spring for about 5 minutes and then, it's summer until November.)  More importantly, I hope you have seen the film "Groundhog Day"! Please say you have, it is so funny. The man who wrote the screenplay and directed the film is no longer with us, Howard Ramis. (If you remember, he is the actor who wore glasses in "Ghostbusters", the film from 1984. Harold Ramis shared the screenplay credit with Dan Akroyd.) The film is not just funny but it makes you think. The day was EXACTLY the same for the character but it all changed when he changed his attitude. Now, I have to tell you some happy news, there will be a new" Ghostbusters" movie coming out this year! Many of the same actors from the 1984 film will be in the 2020 film. That is good news, don't you think we need to laugh more?

Look at this little Carolina wren perched on the "wing" of the iron humming bird. Nice of him to pose for me while I snapped the picture for you! (See the nice long stick that Richard put at the bottom of the suet feeder where bigger birds can perch? Nothing is too good for our birds!)
Now, I know I must have told you this poem by Emily Dickinson before...but here it is again! (You all might think you are in the film "Groundhog Day" with my post today!)

Hope is the thing with feathers,
that perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops-at all.

And sweetest - in the gale- is heard
and sore must be the storm-
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land-
And on the strangest sea-
Yet - never- in Extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

My friends, people are going through so many things just now. We need to try to be encouraging and hopeful. Have you heard about the people who live in the high rise buildings in Wuhan, China and they are locked away because of the deadly virus and yet, they will call out, "Be strong, Wuhan!". That is what I am talking about. We need to try and outdo each other in giving hope and encouragement.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Gordon Bennett! It's an ICE SPIKE!

Hello, my friends! Look at what Richard and I found in our birdbath this week...

Is our birdbath thinking it is a unicorn?  We had no idea what it was. I typed "icicle growing up" into a search engine and you will now REAP the benefits of my new-found knowledge!

An ice spike is formed when the water freezes on the surface of the water, which traps the water below. When the water beneath begins to freeze, it expands which pushes the water out and forms a kind of bubble on the surface. Gradually, more and more is added onto the bubble and it creates a narrow tube, freezing and building up into a spike. "Ice spikes have been reported for many decades, although their occurrence is quite rare".  That last sentence is a quote from Wikipedia! Richard and I have had these little bird baths out for our birds for over 30 winters and we have never observed an ice spike before. Chuffed to see one! (How is that for another British expression? 

Now, did you notice that I said "Gordon Bennett" in the post of my title? Someone else for you to look up! His name is used in the United Kingdom. "Gordon Bennett" to express surprise, puzzlement, incredulity, annoyance, etc.". (Gotta love that etc.!)  Some believe that it is a euphemism for GOR BLIMEY which means "God blind me or God blame me, no one seems to know for sure.  So, who is Gordon Bennett? You may learn more about him just here.

A very wealthy man, he sponsored explorers. He financed Stanley's trip to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone and put up the money for the USS Jeannette's journey to the North Pole.  Now, if you want to know more about the USS Jeannette, I suggest a book by Hampton Sides, "In The Kingdom of Ice.".  It is an incredible, heartbreaking story.

What song for you on this post? It has to be "Cold As Ice" by Foreigner from 1977.  Enjoy!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"Bespoke" and "What Is It When It's Home?"

Having been married to a Brit since 1983, I am still amazed at how many words or expressions that I come across that Richard will know but that I have never heard in my life! When we were in London a few years back, we came across a sign that said, "Bespoke Tailoring".  Now, we don't use that word in the USA so I looked it up.  It simply means "custom made". Funny how there are certain words in the English language that simply didn't make it across the pond! Another funny thing for us, you can listen to a Brit pronounce it (male voice) and then, an American woman pronounce it, and they sound very much like Richard and myself! You may listen just  here.  Okay, I listened again and the woman sounds a bit like me but the man's voice made us both laugh since it sounds very much like Richard!  (Wait, Richard are you making extra money with your voice and not telling me?)

And it is not just words but expressions that I will not know! We were watching a TV show from Britain, "Vera" with Brenda Blethyn.  One of the characters stated to Vera that he was trying to get into the IOAS, and she said back to him, "What is that when it's home?".  It made me laugh and I asked Richard if he had ever heard that expression before and HE said, "Of course." (In his very polite English voice, don't you know!) You can get the meaning from the context quite easily but if you look it up, it states this: "British English spoken used humorously to ask what a long or unusual word means". Of course, in the example I gave you above, it was a long string of letters...which by the way, have any of you come across that lately? People will automatically think you know every single initialism and acronym on Earth! I am in a state of bewilderment at any time of the day.
NOTE:  I used IOAS above but I can't remember what the exact letters were used! So before anybody tells me there is no such thing as IOAS, I had to give you some kind of letters so I could tell you about the expression. As always, I can never remember details, I am a look-at-the-big-picture kind of gal!

Okay then, you now know that I am in a state of confusion on most days. How have you all been? I was thinking of asking y'all "How are you? and "Have you been alright?" and you know it brought a song right into my head! There really is a song that comes to me almost every single minute. My brain is full of tunes and song lyrics.  (No room for passwords or appointment dates.)

Jeff Lynne! There, isn't it nice to hear his voice? You know it is for me! "Lovely, thank you very much".  I hope you will listen until the very end! This video is just Jeff Lynne singing as he plays the guitar along with someone playing the piano. Incredible! It is from 2012! And you must remember that Jeff Lynne is also the SONGWRITER! How much do I love good songwriting? You know I do! Now, Jeff Lynn released a new album in November 2019, it is "From Out of Nowhere". (Jeff Lynne ELO, I should say and I hope you all know that ELO stands for Electric Light Orchestra. You know I know THAT one!) Grateful for the voice of Jeff Lynne and thankful that he is still writing music and performing. (I am also quite bewildered by the mumbling of most singers these days. Honestly I am.)

Richard and I took a late afternoon walk at the Monastery last week and that is where he took the first two photos.  The last photo of the sunrise, that is from our front driveway just yesterday morning. What is Richard when he's at home?  TALENTED! 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

"To The Marvelous Energy" - Albrecht Durer "Art Lies In Nature"

When Richard and I visited England in October, we went to the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne. They have a collection of books there and like a small library, you are welcomed into a room with tables and lamps and there you may read those books to your heart's content. (Ah, "to your heart's content"...that is an old fashioned phrase that I have not heard in years but it fits here, so I shall use it!)  What marvelous books! Many of them were quite old.  One that I took from the shelf was "Albrecht Durer" by LJA ie Allen. (That is what it said!)  It was published in 1903 by William Brendon and Sons LTD, Plymouth.   Here is the quote that I wrote down, I loved it so...."To the marvelous energy, untiring hand and virile mind that whether working amongst his familiar friends...or seeking new ideas in strange lands, ever sought to carry out his favorite axiom, that 'art lies in nature'."

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was one of the greatest German Renaissance artists. Here is something that I found written about him..."He created altarpieces and religious works, numerous portraits and self portraits, copper engravings and woodcuts but also about nature."
That is my emphasis on the last three words there because nature was so casually mentioned but it seems to me that nature meant a great deal to the artist.  He believed that nature which is God's creation was the very source of art.  Here is a quote from the man himself, "Never imagine that you can or should attempt to make something better than God has allowed his created nature to be. For your ability is impotent compared to God's creativity."

"The Great Piece of Turf" is a water color painting that he completed in 1503.   The detail is amazing. It looks as if he looked at each blade of grass with a microscope which would have been impossible of course, microscopes not being invented yet.  I know you want to see the painting! The best I can give you is a video...

There is also a very famous painting that he did of a hare...
And of the hands clasped in prayer...

To the marvelous energy that produced such works of art, I am grateful.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

R-E-S-P-E-C-T and Robert Louis Stevenson

The song "Respect" is very well known with  Aretha Franklin as the singer and very rightly so but I hope you know that the song was written by Otis Redding! We lost Otis Redding very early, in 1967 in a plane crash when he was only 26 years old. (The smash hit, "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay" was released just days after his death.) Besides being an incredible songwriter, he was an amazing singer. We lost Aretha Franklin in 2018. Both are gone now but we still have their songs to enjoy. 

By now, you must be thinking how does Robert Louis Stevenson somehow work into this topic on respect? Here is what sparked this connection:  Several months ago, on an episode of "Jeopardy" all three contestants could not answer the final Jeopardy, which was this: "When he died in Samoa in 1894, his obituary said, 'He loved Samoa better than any other place, except Scotland.'  Of course, the answer is Robert Louis Stevenson! (Except on Jeopardy, all answers are in the form of a question, so I was saying, "Who is Robert Louis Stevenson!" to the TV!)  Now, these contestants had hardly missed a single clue on this show and yet, not one of them could answer that correctly!  I would be interested to know if this is true in other countries but in the USA, teachers did not encourage students to read any of the books by Robert Louis Stevenson.  His books, "Treasure Island" and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" are the most well known. So, in America his books were relegated to the children's books section and the horror section. (And yes, he also wrote the very popular, "A Child's Garden of Verses" but we should not think that is all that he wrote! And even if that were so, I very much respect authors who write for children!)  In the Norton Anthology of English Literature, he was completely excluded from 1968 to 2000. What does someone have to do to get respect, for Pete's sake? Not only was he an outstanding writer but I think he was a fascinating person as well.  I have read that in the last part of the 20th century, his writings received more attention and praise.
If you want to see a list of all his writings, you may go to this website just here.  
While there, make sure you read about the letter that he wrote defending Father Damian in Hawaii. And his friendship with King Kalakaua of Hawaii and the king's daughter, Princess Kaiulani.  I think this says quite a bit about the character of Robert Louis Stevenson.  (Once again, the life of Princess fascinating! You may read more just here!)

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1850, Robert Louis Stevenson suffered from poor health for much of his life and he only lived to be 44 years of age. He traveled to many countries and wrote stories from each place he visited. He married an American woman named Fanny Osbourne. I think she was fascinating in her own right! You may read her story just here.  On a personal note, I was thrilled to read the book "Sailing Alone Around The World" and Joshua Slocum stopped in Samoa on his journey and visited with Fanny Stevenson! What a charming host she was to him! (His voyage was from 1894 until 1898, so the visit would have been after Robert Louis Stevenson's death.)  I am not sure how long she stayed after his death, because she did go to California to live and...well, read about her! I think her life would make a great film and to combine her story with the writer, Robert Louis Stevenson...well, another movie that needs to be made!)

Here are a few quotes from Robert Louis Stevenson that I like:

"Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others."

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."

"Our business in this world is not to succeed, but to continue to fail, in good spirits."

Continue to fail, in good spirits...I don't know about you, but that is the kind of person that makes you smile and gently gives you inspiration.  And I think someone like that deserves our respect.

      I might have shown you this photo before, it is the pier from Eastbourne, completed in 1872!
                                                   Love it!

AND I am happy to tell you that when we were putting away our Christmas decorations, we found the blue Christmas tree! It is only a little tree, very inexpensive but Richard enjoyed taking photos of the lights on the wall with the afternoon sun. So, we will have it next year! "It's not a bad little tree, it just needs a little love."  And respect! (And someone who won't forget where it is stored.)