In memoriam

A description based on a post-blitz scene from Coventry (photographed 1940-41)

The first thing you noticed was the jagged outline of the shattered brick house on the skyline. Some chimney stacks still remained, monuments to stubborn British grit, towering high above the street. The naked shell of what had once been a home lay in soft repose next to the remains of a block of flats, then a factory, now a pub, once a shop. Weird, unearthly shapes broke up the rest of the horizon. Iron poles and steel beams lay exposed for the first time since the buildings had been erected, but now they were often twisted, bent out of shape by fire or by explosive force.

The power of the bombs was clear to see. And so the hushed group of civilians who trod carefully down the middle of the street were awe struck; simultaneously mourning the loss of home, perhaps where they’d lived for years, and also stunned by the raw power of bombs and flames – how they could re-work, and remould a landscape into a twisted mess.

The glass-works stood out for me: The empty windows, tall, Victorian and church-like; the dark shadowy outline of two of the outer walls, but then an unnatural gulf of empty space between them; only dust and rubble where walls and roof had been less than 12 hours before that moment.

The woman to the left of the glass-works stood almost reverently on the edge of the crowd looking back, like Lot’s wife, at the doom behind her; fascinated, filled with memories. You could tell that number 22 had been her home; that the umbrella she held had recently stood in a basket in the hallway; that just yesterday there had been a bottle of cold milk with a silver top on her doorstep. Her shawl and long shirt bore patches of dust.

There was dust everywhere. It seemed to hang in the air like a smoke. The smell was over-powering; a combination of gas, brick dust, petrol and the unmistakable bonfire-like scent of burning wood.

It was an earie scene. Disaster had struck Birch Tree Road, and nobody really knew what to do next.

 

 

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‘Somebody say so’ No.1

Today I introduced my year 7 class (11 year olds for American readers) to what I believe to be the greatest truth of our time. The cure for every conflict and the lack of which has led to every conflict in history. Unfortunately it is also the single hardest thing to do.

I gave them an illustration. I told them how someone had hurt me when I was their age, at school; and how this had continued and then ended surprisingly. I told them that I had learnt how to forgive. I know of course and will continue to need forgiveness myself. Nevertheless I said, the truth of forgiveness can set us free.

This is where the lesson moved on but it got me thinking.

Every conflict that ever occurred was preventable. Indiscriminate acts of evil are incredibly hard to cope with, but when the research is over there are usually clear motivations or reasons (no matter how incomprehensible) for the initial negative action. I would include school shootings in this, something which I will always find incomprehensible and disturbing… but not necessarily unforgivable.

The word ‘unforgivable’ is probably the most innocent evil word in existence. Because what you are really saying is that love has gone. That the perpetrator is inhuman and deserves all the suffering that comes to them, but more than that, you will never, could NEVER, love them. You are excluding them from humanity and therefore indirectly claiming no responsibility for them. However, any sensible person knows that Priestley was right, we are one body, we are responsible for each other; so saying that an action is unforgivable presents us with a huge problem: How have things got this bad? What (or who) have we broken to enable this kind of atrocity to take place? What hatred have we allowed unquenched to spring up?

The logical step for a loving being to take when someone has hurt them, no matter how badly, is to forgive. Now forgiveness does not mean lack of consequence, this is a misnomer. Every negative action must have a consequence as any parent or teacher worth their salt will know. Neither does forgiveness mean ‘unpunished’. What it really stands for in a modern context is not seeking revenge. Not reacting negatively to a negative action; not putting pride and vanity before love… letting go. And it is letting go that really sets you free.

Now what follows could be a very disturbing and humbling thought and will probably expose me to some ridicule but here goes. Imagine that before WW1 When Archduke Frank Ferdinand was shot (the catalyst for war), that instead of triggering a series of alliances and treaties that led to war across Europe, imagine that the Austrian government and hierarchy had ‘forgiven’ Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian nationalist who shot him. He would have been put on trial and punished of course, but imagine they had given Princip a very public hearing and that they had separated this event from their rather petty treaties… In short imagine that someone had had the courage to allow forgiveness to overpower administration; could the deadliest event in history have been expunged and thus not only saved millions of lives (the vast majority young men who could have helped to shape the future), but could also thus have prevented the second twenty years later? Tragically I believe so. We have blood on our hands, and we need to learn to forgive each other or risk an even greater judgement in the future. 

Before you seek revenge consider not only the result, but also the implication of your inability to forgive. Is that road the one you choose to go down? Or is there a more powerful, more courageous alternative… not to forget, not to let off, but simply to forgive, to love, to feel compassion for those who have acted in fear or with misguided conviction.

We all have a choice, every day; to forgive and discipline, or to seek ‘an eye for an eye’. Which will you choose?

Sent from my iPhone

Face your fears

People say ‘find yourself’, don’t dwell on the negative. People say life’s tough but you have to rise above it.

The only way to avoid fear and doubt is to face up to your very worst fears and let them become ‘real’, face them and conquer them one by one. 

So I have to imagine life with a disability that affects my movement. I have to face up to that idea that it could easily happen and then calm my mind; count my blessings in that life, no matter how few they may be. I will have to do the same with blindness and acute loneliness. Why? Because these are my worst ‘selfish’ fears. The fears I have for those I love need to get the same treatment; I will not record these but they’re in my mind.

Now in your own strength you will never do this, human weakness is fact. So you need a teacher, an instructor or guide if you will. Some may have their mother, their cousin, their father or their close friend fulfil this role. Others turn to health and fitness or a religion, or a combination of the above: But all are seeking the same hedonistic possibilities- freedom from their worst fears. 

I wish you luck on your journey.

God bless

Sent from my iPhone

Standing

‘Standing man’ (title courtesy Bridge of Spies scriptwriter)

‘The greatest want of the world is the want of men, men who will stand for truth though the heavens fall’ (adapted E. White)

Sometimes loneliness and boredom bring their own challenge. It is possible to be bored and feel like you are standing in a storm with wind and rain hurling themselves at you.

It is possible to feel that you have lost some faith and yet feel closer to God. It is possible to feel that you have lost friends and yet that you are doing the right thing. It is certainly true that others can make you feel guilty for crimes you never believe you have committed: fear, doubt, disbelief can undermine the strongest and best of us.

Above all to weather the storm will require knowledge and courage that is almost beyond human.

Do not worry.
Be the standing man.

(Or the standing lady).

Sent from my iPhone

R.A.F.

Royal

Her Majesty. Patron, rock, guide and inspiration. Grandeur,

Pomp and Ceremony

Gracefully waving from the Palace balcony

Wisdom and grace have led us far, a Commonwealth, we all are

Learning, developing, changing, but our hearts will always be

Devoted. As servants. To duty. We, who wear your uniform with pride

Will never forget, those injured, those who died, in service for Queen and Country.

 

Air

To feel the hurricane force power push you upwards, into blue yonder

And find your soul, afterburner; much to think on, ponder…

How does the watery, orange sun set itself? Is this sky the same witness

That looked upon The Great War, Falklands, The Battle of Britain?

We are blessed, and should count ourselves fortunate, in the sky

Our future is written.

Blue. The sky is air force blue. Blue-sky thinking, dreaming, listening,

Parachuting – thoughts come down like gifts from heaven.

Flying, twisting, Immelmann turning, barrel rolling,

Closer to God…  space, clouds like a roundel flag unfurling

 

Force

Engineered for life; we, the force of nature fix and mend, attend

To all the needs of all who serve, have served, will serve

Mess dinners, Dining-in, or rat-pack out – foreign field, or home redoubt,

We will defend with force the things we love – this country, our people,

Traditions, history, most of all our family, not only friends in blue,

But all those who call our Union Jack their pride and have the will to fight

For what they believe to be right. A force for good – a force to help

Those weaker and less fortunate than ourselves…

Per Ardua Ad Astra

To make the world a better, safer, brighter place… We give all for you

RED, WHITE and BLUE.

 

© Matthew Scholes 2017

 

 

Another teaser… a short extract from Chapter 13 of ‘Genesis’ (teenage science fiction)

The war went well for Captain Makachev of the Gondocian 12th Flotilla. The ‘wolf pack’, besides the loss of one ship to a mine off Arendse, was doing well. War at sea was like a game of chess. Each side positioned his pieces and waited for the next move. There were diversions: Intelligence and counter-intelligence. Makachev would try to think three moves ahead. His opposite number, Thomasson, a Germianian Commodore, was weak. He had not joined his navy to fight. He had joined for the lifestyle, the thrill of the high seas; not for tactics, for mind-games with deadly consequences. Thus, Makachev frequently outwitted him. The threat from space was becoming more real every day. It transpired that both countries possessed weapons that could be launched from satellites. These were both difficult to locate and almost impossible to defend against. Surface ships were practically obsolete. It was the submarines that could escape. Diving below 800 metres, even a high powered satellite could mistake a submarine for a rocky outcrop, or a large whale.

Still, Makachev remained unconvinced about the purposes of the war. In his heart, he felt that The President was acting more like a dictator, and less like the saviour of his people that he was portrayed to be by the press. Their power – the power of broadcasts, of presentations and news, was fading. People had their own means of obtaining information. They were tired of being treated like fools. They had finally begun to realise, that what they read and saw only faintly touched the surface of what was really occurring. That action, and not discussion, was the way forward.

Makachev had secretly supported a liberal senator before the war – by the name of Milan Sova. But Sova and his party had mysteriously faded away just before the war had begun. Now The President was waging this war with the backing of the Senate. His staff seemed to fully support him. Makachev felt sidelined, but kept quiet. There was a job to be done.

Secret Smile (1999)

The image of that secret smile that my memory holds

Has waxed and waned as I’ve grown old

And though I still can hear the sounds and see the sights

They are blurred and faint, for I have new memories

And new dreams (it just seems right) that

When I meet you I should know where we last met

And how long ago

It’s just polite

To ask ‘How are you?’

And then the image of your face is engraved on my mind

And each new engraving distorts the older ones

Like, at night, when you close your eyes and

pictures flash in front of you like slides

I just know that at some point, I’ll see the old engraving

The faded painting

Of your secret smile.