Crawling Through Thorns

 

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I almost didn’t read this book. The title was off putting. It sounded to my prim ears a tad self inflicted, self indulgent.

But what did I know. it is a quote from a Welsh poet Waldo Williams and not as I thought a life style choice… The trials of being homosexual. It is about forgiveness and the lengths needed in order to forgive injustice. Rather than chose bitterness one must do what it takes even crawl through thorns.An image of the First World War comes to mind. Crawling through barbed wire.
I understand the title of this book now and my prejudice and misunderstanding

It was uncomfortable reading too, at first, for a convent girl with a conventional, sheltered upbringing.

Set in Barmouth, a town I have visited most of my life and now live close enough to visit daily should I chose. The experiences of a boy, pretty much the same age, growing up with the realisation of difference was uncomfortable reading.

Growing up a homosexual, with the guilt that engendered with trysts and casual sex hard to reconcile with a ‘normal’ childhood. Perhaps there is a gender difference, too. Sex simply wasn’t on the agenda in the all female household I grew up in.

Memory can be a false friend, but despite being labelled as from a broken home we did well enough. What constitutes an idyllic childhood anyway? Day trips to Barmouth lying on the beach with my sisters in thick jumpers breaking our teeth on sticks of rock from the rock shop. My mother was preparing us for the first of several road trips to the south of France and so the four or five hours drive to and from Wolverhampton, were about right.

I stuck with the book and glad I did. Mostly an absorbing read with some very moving and lovely writing, it is a coming of age story,  the life of John Idris Jones, who happens to have been born a homosexual. Coming to terms with what that means in his community and the wider community makes a compelling read, as he and the wider world find acceptance, including aversion therapy by electric shock treatment as a cure and the dawn of AIDS and that devastation, written from the perspective of a gay man in San Francisco.

There are powerful recommendations to live by to take from the book:
‘kindnesses are for passing on’,  or if of religious bent, ‘God finds us where we are, and ‘The journey is home’, which I take to mean the journey of life is your life, not a stepping stone.

The eulogy for his dead friend is testament to both hero and friend.
Of how many people can it be said we are better people for having known them?

It shows a closeness born of true friendship that not everyone is capable of.

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Fascinating Lives

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It was interesting to hear how little is spent per capita, per annum on the arts in the provinces compared with the (princely) sum spent in London.  It is a fact that did not need confirming;  justifying, may be.

Perhaps it was ever thus, for there is a long tradition of community ventures in most small towns:  am dram, choirs, orchestras, art groups and exhibitions,  even in Stockport, Greater Manchester, that northern metropolis, where we used to live.  Only, when we did live there, the lure of the professionals, (heavily subsidised no doubt, but not as heavily as  in London) took us to places such as the Lowry and the Bridgewater Hall, rather than South Cheshire Operatic Society in Wilmslow Sports Centre. ( An example plucked  at random from thin air, and no disrespect intended to SCOS, if they exist, or to denigrate WSC as a venue for the arts.)  The point is, in a city, or even a large town, community ventures passed us by.

Here, in our north-western outpost, we need them.

I may have mentioned how blest we are with festivals but there are still the lean, mean, in-between times,  those long, dark and chilly nights to fill.

Theatr Fach, or Little Theatre, housed in a rescued and restored chapel in the old market town of Dolgellau at the foot of Cader Idris, is a community theatre, par excellence.  The other night there was a talk and film show called ‘Framing the Word in Film and Print,’ an illustrated talk about the late Vivian Ridler, amateur film maker and professional printer, given by his son.

That Vivian Ridler was printer to the University of Oxford for Oxford University Press for thirty years, was incidental to this talk. This was homage to the man as father who made beautifully shot shorts films using his sons, when boys, as actors  and an opportunity for the audience to handle  some of the books printed by Perpetua , Vivian Ridler’s  own  independent press,  including books  of Anne Ridler’s poetry, (Vivian’s wife of more than 60 years.)  We also heard extracts from a diary Vivian Ridler kept of the time he was an extra in the most magnificent flop/masterpiece western of all time,  Heaven’s Gate.

Alone in Berlin

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This was a ‘found’ book from a second hand stall.  I knew nothing of the author and precious little of Nazi Germany that was not gleaned from war films.  The chance encounter, like a pebble tossed in a pond, has released infinite ripples.  It is beautifully, delicately translated  by Michael Hofmann.

Hans Fallada

Hans Fallada

Hans Fallada is the literary name, of Rudolf Wilhelm Adolf Ditzen, chosen from  a Brothers Grimm fairly tale.  Fallada was born in East Germany in1893 and spent much of his life in prison or in psychiatric care. In 1911, a duel cum suicide pact with a friend, when they were both eighteen, that he survived but his friend did not, resulted in hIs first spell in psychiatric care, having been pronounced unfit for trial for murder on psychiatric grounds.  Addiction to various drugs, including morphine that was widely available after both world wars and alcohol, was a factor in his adult life.

He did not leave Germany as many authors did when the Nazis came to power in 1933.  As he told his parents in a letter, his next novel would be, ‘a quite unpolitical book which can’t give offence.’ It was viciously attacked by the regime.  He did move out of Berlin to  a small-holding and relative anonymity, but was denounced and imprisoned as an anti Nazi, and subsequently released, all on spurious grounds. Threats to personal and artistic liberty and integrity caused endless damage.

Some  subsequent manuscripts,  written in order to stay in favour, have not survived.   Iron Gustav,(1938) is his most notorious of the era. He was induced to  alter the end to suit the regime perhaps due to the veiled (reported) threat from Joseph Goebbles .. if Fallada still didn’t know what he thought of the Nazi Party, then the Nazi Party would know what it thought of Fallada…

Alone in Berlin was not published until after the war. It fictionalises the story of two ordinary people who, after  their son is killed in the invasion of France, decide to make a stand agains the might of the Third Reich. They leave postcards in public places reminding Berliners of common decency that has been almost totally wiped out by the regime. This of course is a crime against the state; high treason punishable by death.  They assume their words are sowing seeds of sedition all over the city.  Such is the pervading fear and  violence  that the postcards are immediately handed in.  The violence, meanness and fear, both casual and institutionalised, is deeply, worryingly, hauntingly portrayed.  A handful, who knows, unable to stand against the Nazis managed to preserve their integrity.  In small ways that often cost their lives, they kept a flame alive for when the war and the Nazi’s were defeated.

Hans Fallada  produced some of the most significant German novels of the twentieth century, including ‘Little Man, What Now?’ and was perhaps a genius in the writing world.

Vision

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In our small town and outlying villages, as in many round the world, there are good people. People on a mission, people whose aim  is not just random acts of kindness, but a long term force for good. This is not grandiose.  They work for the good of their community and incidentally, almost by default, for the larger world.  Perhaps a long winded way of saying these are people with vision: a vision of life and a vision of the world. Surely every act impinges one on another? One person’s gentle ministrations influence another’s as surely as one person’s violence or unkindness.  But I am thinking more of leaders of men, instigators.  In fact, I am thinking of Stan.

In the few years we have lived here, quietly adjusting from city to country life,  a 20 mile sponsored walk in aid of Barnados has been an annual event.  A sucker for such walks since school days. The walk is in its 20th year and has raised in excess of £200,000, thanks to Stan and a whole team of volunteers who make cakes for rest stations, marshal, lead , offer first aid, do the paper work.  It started with 27 people. This year, a bumper year, 230 took part.

The walk’s fame is spreading;  a tough walk, no amble along a canal tow path,  but  serious hill and mountain walking in and around the Rhinogs in Snowdonia National Park.  It is also family friendly, designed to custom fit all takers. Every five miles or so a rescue station offers  a lift back to the start point ( as well as  cakes and tea.) This year there was  the option to short cut the serious mountain climb, the more challenging challenge, (which I opted for but Sunny boy didn’t), thereby losing the hardest five miles but still giving the walker a stiff, satisfying 15 miler.

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Many locals walk too, those who aren’t manning the stations, whose ordinary day jobs, plumbers, builders, waitresses, hoteliers, run the town, alongside their role in the voluntary community:  mountain rescuer, lifeboatman (person), first responder.

An evening of jollity follows: a meal and an opportunity for more fundraising – a raffle; a shove a pound coin along the floor towards a bottle of whiskey ( donated) to see who gets the closest competition. Nice to see  faces rosy from a day of exertion outdoors in wind and sun (no rain this year)