Thursday, 4 January 2018

Sounds Like Home

The sounds change as the moon rises then dips below the Karachi horizon.

The whir of the ceiling fan provides the canvas, while car horns and shouts from the street below are the threads of the tapestry.

Two or three cats hiss and yowl like banshees in the garden. They may be the displaced spirits who claim this plot as their own.

Deep in the night the watchman whoops and calls as he rides the streets, our protector on a rusty old bicycle. He is unarmed and ill-equipped but he channels our guardian angels and is more powerful than you would believe.

On New Year’s Eve fireworks and celebratory gunfire start just before midnight. It’s a real cacophony of sound…not just pistols but machine guns and Kalashnikovs add to the mix.

There is peace for a few hours until the call to prayer marks the end of night. But I confess that rest is more tempting than prayer and I sleep until a mynah bird squawks, “Wake up! Wake up!” directly outside the window while Shameen’s pots and pans clang in the kitchen.

The soft swish of a broom on marble soothes me into the day. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

A photo blog for Remembrance...

Although my father Ronald's military career was brief, it was dazzling. He was enlisted into the Royal Artillery in 1940, aged 22, was commissioned in 1941 and promoted to Major, acting up as Lieutenant-Colonel towards the end of his time. At one time he was the youngest major in the Royal Artillery. 

Ronald served in the Western Desert Campaign under Field-Marshall Montgomery, at one point serving as a junior staff officer for him. He sustained a fractured pelvis in September 1943 resulting in lifelong osteoarthritis.

"The 31st Field Regt. R.A. was in the area [Jerusalem] for mountain warfare training and I was a passenger in a vehicle which overturned causing the fracture of the pelvis, other minor injuries and shock," he wrote. All other occupants of the vehicle were killed. He spent months in military hospitals in Jerusalem and Sarafand. 

He was awarded the 1939-1945 Star, the 1939-1945 George VI Medal, the Africa Star and the Defence Medal.

At the end of the war he went to staff college in Woolwich, and it was his intention to stay in the army after the war. He was going to be posted to India, but his second child was due and he chose to leave the army to be with his wife and children. 

He was discharged on 27 November 1946.

All photos are from my family collection. Thanks to my sister Kate Moulin for some of the detail.

Ronald in June 1940

Buerat, Libya. "Official photograph passed by publicity censor."

Zliten, Libya.

Ronald is the second on the left.

"Official photograph passed by publicity censor."

Heliopolis, September 1942. Ronald wrote on the back: "It's all the fault of the sandwich in my R. hand!!"

Ronald on the left, seated, at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Cheops

Tanks firing

"Official photograph passed by publicity censor."

"Official photograph passed by publicity censor."

"A smashing Xmas, Adolf. Official photograph passed by publicity censor."

Ronald in February 1944

Ronald on the far right in South Africa. "I'm not as stiff as this would suggest!! Perhaps I adopted it 'cos I'd been so long on my back."

Ronald on the far left. "Bob and I look just about as brown as we are!!"

Ronald taking "light refreshment at Aswan. N.B. it's lemonade - not beer - worse luck. Sept. 44."

"The guns - in action - for the last time!! St Barnabas Day memorial service. 4 Dec. 45, Almaza, Cairo."

Letter from The War Office dated 11 October 1946.

Ronald with my mum Pat, 27 July 1984.

I have Ronald's trunk and complete army uniform, including pyjama case and goggles.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Witchy weathervanes and woodsmoke

I love to walk down the high street of our village at dusk, just before the curtains are pulled close, to catch a glimpse of others’ inside worlds. At this time of year the perfume of woodsmoke and the nip in the air add to the atmosphere. You feel almost as if you could step back in time into those timber-framed dwellings, while the witchy weathervanes and the swirls of pargetting suggest that the past and its mysteries are merely a step away.

This homely feel as you peer into the pastel-painted snugs of neighbours is deceptive. Not so long ago, this part of Suffolk was a hotbed of suspicion and persecution, and that witch atop the weathervane serves as a reminder of dangerous times.

From 1599 to 1694 a series of witch trials took place a few miles away in Bury St Edmunds. The most famous was that of 1645, overseen by Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General.18 people – 16 women and two men – were executed in one day as a result. And this was only one of 124 witch trials that took place in Suffolk that same year…

More evidence of the fear of witches can be seen quite clearly today. In one old farmhouse, just down the road from where I type, marks made from candle flames can still be seen upstairs, where they were believed to ward off evil or protect against a possessed member of the household. The ‘possessed’ may simply have been a sleepwalker, the marks’ proximity to bedrooms suggesting so.

Desiccated cats – often placed in the walls of newly-built homes centuries ago to ward off evil - are a regular feature here too – one has been hanging up in the bar of The Nutshell pub in Bury St Edmunds for years, and you can come face to face with Rameses at the Guildhall in Lavenham. Bottles and shoes would also be placed strategically to protect against witches.

It’s not all scary though. Our village was once home to a priory of Augustinian canons, founded in 1100. The remains of the priory church and tomb slabs can be seen today, in the lawn of what is now a private house. It may be spooky to think of the goings-on 900 or more years ago, but I have only ever felt a surge of positive benevolence in the vicinity of the building.

Suffolk’s historic backdrop has inspired some of my own unusual experiences.

Close to the site of the Order of the Holy Cross of Welnetham, the Crutched Friars, I was met by a shimmering mass of energy, almost – but not quite – in human form one dark October evening when I opened my front door. Again, there was no feeling of malevolence, it was just like a friend popping round to say hello, or beware, or may peace be upon you.

I am happy to share my village with the imprints of my forebears, even those accused of witchcraft, the monks, the Roman soldiers who once stood guard on the corner there, and the Anglo Saxons who left burial urns and a fine gold cross to mark their place in history. They were friendly folk, I’m sure. What I find more infinitely more chilling are the witchfinders and the self-proclaimed mark makers and the finger pointers, who sought persecution and terrorised a peaceful place.