Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Today is the 150th Anniversary of Rudyard Kipling’s birth

Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30th 1865, in India.

His life and his writings have been written about and discussed extensively. I have read a lot of criticism of him and his works and I agree with some of it, but he is still one of my favourite authors.

Kipling is also a person of interest because the kind of unseen influences that I am very interested in appear to have been at work in his life. This will be the subject of a future article.

In the meantime, there is a big coincidence involving a place in Hampshire where he stayed as a child. I have mentioned it in another article, but decided to repeat the story to mark the occasion of the birthday of a very great author and poet.

It came first as a surprise, then, on reflection, not such a surprise, when I first learned that Lorne Lodge, the ‘House of Desolation’ where he and his sister suffered so much as children, was (and still is) in Campbell Road in Southsea. ‘By chance’, Lorne Lodge is just around the corner from a house where my family lived for a while when I was 11 years old. What a coincidence. Although I knew nothing at the time, I always avoided walking down Campbell Road because it gave me bad feelings.

The name of the people Rudyard Kipling stayed with was Holloway; by coincidence, when my family left Southsea it was to go to a house very close to a big thoroughfare called Holloway Road. By coincidence, the ‘terrible little day-school’ called Hope House that Kipling attended in Southsea was run by a man with the same, not particularly common, last name as that of my step-mother, who was behind our move away from Southsea. She disappeared from our lives not long afterwards.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

An unusual Midnight Mass: the real spirit of Christmas?

I like this poem very much. It is based on what may well be a myth, but to me it conveys the essence of Christmas.

              Eddi's Service (A.D. 687) 

              by Rudyard Kipling

Eddi, priest of St Wilfrid
In the chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
For such as cared to attend.
But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
And the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to service
Though Eddi rang the bell.

'Wicked weather for walking,'
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
'But I must go on with the service
For such as care to attend.'
The altar candles were lighted,—
An old marsh donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
And stared at the guttering flame.

The storm beat on at the windows,
The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet yoke-weary bullock
Pushed in through the open door.
'How do I know what is greatest,
How do I know what is least?
That is My Father's business,'
Said Eddi, Wilfrid's priest.

'But, three are gathered together—
Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!'
Said Eddi, of Manhood End.
And he told the Ox of a manger
And a stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider
That rode to Jerusalem.

They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
Eddi preached them The Word.

Till the gale blew off on the marshes
And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together
Wheeled and clattered away.

And when the Saxons mocked him,
Said Eddi of Manhood End,
'I dare not shut His chapel
On such as care to attend.' 

This poem is in the public domain and can be found online in many places, including Project Gutenberg.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Unseen Influences at Christmas

I don’t enjoy this time of year very much. Seasonal depression prevents much enjoyment and turns necessary tasks into impositions; painful memories and feelings surface and thoughts of what might have been become overwhelming; people are stressed and I pick up a lot of the tension and unhappiness that are in the air.

Even though I am not a Christian, I hate the way that consumerism and secularism have taken over what should be a religious festival.

Despite not being religious, I did go to a Christmas service once, at the suggestion of a neighbour, just for the carols and the spectacle. One fateful Christmas Eve many years ago, I went for the first time ever to a Midnight Mass. It was held in Westminster Cathedral.

The outing was pure delight from beginning to end. I felt very well, euphoric almost; I had the feeling that something wonderful was on the horizon; the weather was very mild; we saw some happy looking policemen driving around in a car that was covered with Christmas decorations…

I enjoyed the lights, the surroundings and the music inside the Cathedral very much. Just as midnight was striking, I wished very hard for a good cause to support and a new and exciting interest in my life for the coming New Year.

The expression “Be very careful what you wish for as you may well end up getting it” is becoming a platitude but is very relevant here. A ‘chance’ meeting with a stranger on New Year’s Eve brought me exactly what I had wished for. For good or evil? I still don’t know. It led to some of the best and some of the worst moments of my life, including a Christmas that I still can’t bear to think about.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Prison guards and parents: two memorable passages

I was reading about Laurens van der Post recently, and came across something that he wrote during his captivity in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

Once, depressed, he wrote in his diary:

"It is one of the hardest things in this prison life: the strain caused by being continually in the power of people who are only half-sane and live in a twilight of reason and humanity."

Van der Post’s words summarise his experience very well; they are of particular interest and significance to me because they could also be used to describe some people’s experience of childhood – as seen in retrospect and not at the time though.

Van der Post was an adult at the time of his internment; he had experienced freedom; he had seen a different world and lived a different life; he knew what reason, sanity and humanity were.

It is another matter when we are born into what seems like imprisonment and into the power of people who are more like prison guards or hostage-takers than caring parents. There is an extra dimension to deal with: we need to put everything into context and learn from first principles how decent human beings behave, and what reason and sanity are.

Carole Nelson Douglas summarises this stage very well in Cat in a Midnight Choir:

“ anger, no fury is stronger than the final, unavoidable realisation that the protector has betrayed his role and is really the destroyer. But it takes a while to find out that the unthinkable is not the status quo, and that your daily 'normal' is very abnormal to a larger world. “

It certainly does take a while, perhaps because after living so long in the twilight zone we can only take the truth in small doses and need to adjust to reality very slowly. We need to deal with some devastating realisations.

Our lives may indeed have been as far from normality as Laurens van der Post’s life in the prison camp was.