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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WINSTON CHURCHILL. 50th Anniversary of his death.

I was born in 1938, my father went off to war in 1939. For the first two years of that war England stood alone against the Nazi hordes which had swept through, conquering all Europe. The one reason we stood? Churchill. Without his bulldog spirit, standing up against many of our lesser politicians who wanted an accommodation with Hitler, we might well have become like the Channel Islands, a Nazi province, shipping unwanted minorities off to Germany, the concentration camps  and the gas chambers. (whose liberation, we are also remembering at this time)

So he is a man I deeply respect. He had his foibles and made mistakes, but he was the man for the hour. He remarked at the time, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial...”.

 When he died he lay in state for 3 days at Westminster Hall, London. Thousands queued to pay their respects and thanks, my wife and I included. It was a unique moment of history which we shall always remember for our participation. I borrowed a car from a work friend (a mini - quite new at the time), we drove some 30 miles up to London, parked on the outskirts and got the underground into the centre. The queue wound back from Westminster Hall, where he lay in state, over the bridge for about 3 miles. The weather was bitter. But there was almost a "blitz spirit" amongst everyone. All wanted to be there, all venerated the greatest English prime minister. As we entered the Hall where his coffin stood it became deathly quiet, men took off their hats (a lot more wore them in those days) and many people were crying as they walked by.

It was as if the nation had lost a dearly beloved and respected grandfather.

A profound memory.

I owe this Youtube clip to my daughter in Australia. The commentary is by his former bodyguard H.Thompson. Who knows, my wife and I might be in that view of people filing past his coffin.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


My personal circumstances (and the weather) do no permit me to roam abroad at present and I have been mulling over some memories.

On the windowsill lives a plate containing a collection of pottery, stones and bits of road surface – all collected from  places and times – all open up a memory for me.

I won’t bore you with a full inventory but the following will give you some idea. Anyone who has ever read my full profile will know of my interest in archaeology and Roman Britain. This first is the rim of a Roman mortaria, like the complete one at the rear of the picture which follows it.

 Walking in Roman Caerleon one day I looked in a trench where they were renewing gas mains. Underground in such places is always a mass of history. This fragment I plucked from the trench. You can see where the potter’s finger fashioned the rim, ending with the “pinch” which was the spout. My own finger fits this exactly, connecting me to someone who lived nearly 2000 years ago.
Next is a fragment of Roman masonry, covered in melted green glass. I picked this from the ruins of Regulbium, a Roman fort of the “Saxon Shore” on the north Kent coast. It completely symbolises the end of Rome in Britain. Ruin, burning and destruction when the fort was finally sacked.
Roman roads, both extant and lost are a particular fascination for me. In the 1950’s the course of the Roman road through Ashdown Forest was discovered and excavated, wheel ruts still observable.
Being the area of Roman ironworks it was surfaced with the iron slag from the local furnaces - this is a fragment of that road.

Lastly we move forward to the “recent” past. I joined the army in 1956 (since I was not 18 for a further 3 months for a short period I had the “distinction” of being the youngest solder in the British Army). Our days were spent continuously drilling on the parade ground. Pictured here is my platoon marching off from that ground after our passing out parade.
40 years to the day I returned on my motorcycle to the derelict camp – now being built over by an industrial estate.
The parade ground once extended away to the left of the picture and my platoon’s barracks would have been to the right of the motorcycle. I picked up a fragment of the old parade ground. Here it is. With light in the correct direction the indentations of hobnailed boots can still be picked out.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015


It is now 15 days since my stroke and I have the leisure to observe how my body is coping and my brain is re-wiring. I think of my great grand - daughters, how they crawl, pull themselves up, take first tottering steps and then get confidence to run around. This is happening to me.

Small things, leading to bigger, I hope. For instance, I can now use both hands to type this (going over it to correct the mistakes is quicker than pecking it out with one hand). I can now reach my left thumb across my palm to pinch my little finger – albeit not much strength yet in that pinch. Easy, you say? Last week I could not get within a centimetre of closure. Stairs – with bannister assistance I climb one foot to each tread (not hauling up both feet onto one tread at a time).

A pleasant, middle aged female physiotherapist calls each couple of days with exercises for balance. Standing to attention on a dense, thick foam rubber mat for extended periods does wonders for brain training in balance! I get along fine with her since she is a fellow German Shepherd Dog enthusiast (on her third – a white one). One day I may get another, if one finds me.

A fine morning tempted me to walk slowly down the garden path to the garage to see how my “toys” were faring. I reassured them that they both would get out for some exercise soon. (A blessing that in winter they do not get extended use anyway)
So hopefully that summit is in sight. In the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Let us go forth together to the Spring”.