The Fairies of Cornwall (2)

Two very different geniuses (or perhaps genii), have both offered their opinion about our O-so-short existence on Planet Earth. One was the Venerable Bede (or the Venereal Bede as we used to call him at school). TVB lived from AD 672–735. He was a Saxon and he was the author of “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” and “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: The Heavy Metal Years”. And TVB’s views were not exactly overflowing with either certainty or optimism, despite his continuing promotions from one job to another in the hierarchy of the church, bringing him ever closer to The Big Man. Pope St Gregory III. Here is TVB, on his visit to Craggy Island:

Young Father Dougal McGuire is taking notes of the Great Man’s order for the Chinese takeaway while Fathers Ted and Jack debate whether, if priests were Chinese meals, Dougal would be Dim Sum. And TVB continues:

“The life of man upon the Earth seems to me like the flight of a sparrow through the Great Hall where the king sits at supper in winter, with his noblemen and knights. The fire blazes brightly and the hall is warm, even though the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging outside. The sparrow, flying in at one door, through the hall, and flying out at the other door, is safe from the wintry tempest whilst he is inside, but after a short interval of nice warm weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So our life as men lasts for a little while, but of what went before our lives or what is to follow our lives, we know nothing at all.”

Shakspere, a man who couldn’t even spell his own name consistently, was ten times as pessimistic:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

It is a tale
Told by an idiot,

Full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Our understanding is not helped either by the fact that, because of the shortness of our lives, it almost always proves impossible for Man A in the twelfth century to tell another man, Man B, in the late eighteenth century, that, between them, they have discovered the two halves of one of the great truths of human existence. But without being able to compare notes, neither of the two will ever realise that, by putting the two halves together, one of our great questions may have been answered.

The two men in question both had an identical and absolutely extraordinary experience.

Man A in the twelfth century was an Iroquois hunter:

One day he gets tired from his hunting. He lies down in the forest and goes to sleep. When he awakens, a hundred years have passed. His great-grandchildren have grey hair and his children and his grandchildren are all dead.

Then there’s the Dutchman from the late eighteenth century. One day he is walking up a mountain path and accepts the offer of a drink of liquor from some elegantly dressed men. He soon falls asleep and when he awakens, twenty years have passed. His nagging wife is dead and so is his dog, Wolf, and his country no longer has a king but a president. The man’s name? Rip van Winkle:

Both men have found answers to at least one of the questions which, nowadays, we are all burning desperately to solve. But, in actual fact, the question may already have been solved centuries ago, and the answer has then been hidden away in the dust of our premature deaths, lost in the passage of time. If only 21st century Americans knew that they need to talk to a late 18th century Dutchman , or perhaps even a 12th century Iroquois to get an answer to one of our biggest questions.

And that particular question is:

Are there beings out there somewhere who have powers way beyond ours, such as the manipulation of time or even time travel itself? :

Other burning questions, near to the top of the list, are :

1         are there superior beings out there somewhere who like to spy on us?

2        do they ever intervene in human affairs?

3        do they ever abduct us and take us elsewhere for periods of time?

These “superior beings”, of course, extend upwards as far as gods and angels.

Here in Merry Olde Englande, we, of course, have the answers to all three of these questions. They are Yes, Yes and Yes/Perhaps. And these answers have all three been known to the country people of Cornwall for, possibly, ten centuries.

The Cornish country people have long been familiar with these superior beings. They may spy on us, they may take an interest in our affairs, they interfere with our lives and they occasionally abduct us and do what they want with us, for as long as they think fit. Today, in our technological society, these superior beings are now known as “extra-terrestrials” and they apparently possess technology light years ahead of our own:

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, though, the Cornish people knew them not as “extra-terrestrials” but as “fairies”. They seem to have encountered them quite frequently and they accepted their existence without hesitation.  And those beliefs, while nowadays not quite as strong as in the past, still persist even nowadays.

All you need to know is that the Cornish fairies of centuries ago have never been quite the same as the poetic, upper class, literary fairies of JM Barrie and Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Cornish fairies are usually just like human beings in size and appearance, and they all have very strong magical powers, rather like Samantha in “Bewitched” :

And one other thing….Cornish fairies are always nasty, and sometimes they can be very nasty indeed:

 

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Anthony Richardson : the RAF poet (1)

It is often said that there are no great poets from the Second World War, but I’m not always so sure about that.

True, there are perhaps none as good as Wilfrid Owen or Siegfried Sassoon from the First World War, but, armed only with a computer and a credit card, I’ve still managed without too much difficulty to buy around half a dozen books of decent quality World War Two poetry, all of them the original editions published in the early 1940s.

And if I do inspire you to buy any poetry books from this period, please be aware that after more than seventy years, the dust jackets can be very tatty and may even have changed colour. And if you can find a copy where the dust jacket has been covered by “Mylar”, buy that one!

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What I intend to do is to show you some examples of what I think are the best poems, with my own explanations of the difficult bits if I feel that they are necessary.

DO NOT PANIC

None of this RAF poetry is in “ye funnie lankuage” spoken by Shakspere or Geoffrey Chaucer.

There’s nothing from King Lear:

“Thou changed and self-cover’d thing, for shame,
Be-monster not thy feature. Were’t my fitness
To let these hands obey my blood,
They are apt enough to dislocate and tear
Thy flesh and bones: howe’er thou art a fiend,
A woman’s shape doth shield thee.”

It’s not from Chaucer:

“And, whan he rood, men mighte his brydel here

Ginglen in a whistling wynd as clere,

And eek as loude as dooth the chapel-belle”

The RAF poetry is all easy to understand and you might even enjoy it.

First up to the plate is Anthony Richardson, (1899-1964). His full name was Anthony Thomas Stewart Currie Richardson and he would one day marry a lady with an equally impressive name. She was Marion de Mouchet Baynham.

Richardson’s first book of poetry was entitled “Because of these: Verses of the Royal Air Force” (1942). You can even get a nice dust jacket if you are patient:

This poem is called “W/OP–A/G Blenheim Mk IV” and it was included in what is actually a rather slim volume.  A Blenheim is an RAF light bomber and a “W/OP–A/G” is a “wireless operator-air gunner”.  Read this easy bit first. Balham is a district of London:

Richardson draws the parallels between the inoffensive man at home in the first eight lines above, and then the air gunner in the extract below, sitting in his gun turret, holding his guns, ready to fight. And at eventide he wonders if he will be alive to see the rising sun greet the morning. And in the last two lines, he watches the sky for German fighters, just as once he used to watch his beautiful daughter with the firelight on her hair creating a halo around her beautiful face. And finally,  “this most strange, impersonal affair”, I think, refers to the fact that any quarrel between himself and the fighter pilot is not personal, it’s just the way things are:

All that, and it rhymes too! And the syllables have a regular pattern.

That’s why it’s poetry and not prose.

Next time, I’ll tell you about Anthony Richardson in more depth and we’ll look at one more of his poems. Poetry is like spicy food for the brain. You have to take it slowly at first.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (1)

We humans live short lives and then we die. At that point, because of our short lives, we have learnt nothing definite of any great significance to answer our most basic of questions. “Why are we here??”

We have not managed to find a single concrete, scientifically testable, answer to this most basic of our questions. We have not managed to find a single conclusion that will convince the scientists in their laboratories that we have made any real progress.

Why are we here??

Some answers do seem to make more sense than others, though:

At least with this poster, you can see where they’re coming from:

Why do we exist?

Every single answer we have found so far can just be handed back to us and they will say “Well, that’s just what you think. Nothing more. All you’ve got there is opinions, not facts.” or “How is this anything more than just belief and blind faith? Where’s your proof?”

We have discovered nothing that will make those scientists read our conclusion, nod sagely and say:

“Well, well, well, the Great Pumpkin is what it was all about after all!!”

Some people think about the world and find new questions to ask:

“Where were we before we were born?”

“Where will we go after we die?”

Some of them may actually sound very scientific:

“Is our world just one dimension of a hundred million others?”

“Are we in a huge computer where every single thing that happens to us is designed to test us out, to see if we are good enough to move on?”

“Is everything pre-ordained so that we cannot escape our inevitable fate?”

Are we free to do whatever we want, subject to any man made rules we have established for ourselves?

Well, nobody could have put it more succinctly than Johnny Nash:

And don’t worry about all these posts concerning fairies. They are not the same fairies that Walt Disney had. Far from it.

And this is all leading somewhere. Honestly. It is.

And we’ll meet those other fairies next time.

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (7)

Last time I related how the crews of two Sunderland flying boats, having spent the entire war without seeing a single U-boat, found two German submarines on their way to surrender and sank both of them. I used two pictures borrowed from the Internet. One was a beautiful painting:

And the second was a genuine black and white photograph:

The Coastal Command airmen that Fred had met in the pub, probably in north Scotland, explained to him that they sank the two U-boats because they had spent so many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of their young lives out on dreary patrols over the cold grey waters of the Atlantic. They had risked their lives in the pursuit of an enemy that they had never ever seen, as he hid in the cold grey metal waters of the Atlantic and emerged only at night. In similar fashion, Fred himself had never ever seen a German aircraft in combat during any of his nineteen missions. And even if they never saw a submarine, flying for ten hours over the cold grey featureless ocean is not without its dangers:

 

Most of all, these young men knew that they had wasted their youth, the best years of their lives, pursuing not pretty young girls at the village dance, but elusive submarines in the featureless cold grey seascape of the Atlantic Ocean. And it was revenge for this irreparable loss of their youth that they sought. If the RAF lads had a six or seven year gap in their young lives, then the Germans, who had now started their second major global war in twenty years, would not be allowed to have the rest of their own lives, certainly if the RAF had anything to do with it:

Sinking a U-boat which was on its way to surrender, after the end of hostilities,  was, of course, a war crime.

“Thou shalt not kill” the Good Book says, although the original words of the Torah, “לֹא תִּרְצָח”, should really be translated as “Thou shalt not murder” rather than our rather wishy washy “Thou shalt not kill”. And this was indubitably murder, so it was a war crime, although in many ways it was an understandable one.

It was the waste of so many years of their short lives that had finally got to them. Fred himself very much resented the years that he had spent “stuck in a Nissen hut in the middle of nowhere.” He was stationed at one stage at Elsham Wolds which was not a particularly beautiful or interesting place. It must have provoked great boredom and frustration among the hundreds, if not thousands of young men who were all forced to be there. Here’s the old runway, with its present-day green half and its grey half:

severn trent

Yet despite their boredom and their frustration, these young men would all have felt raw naked fear for much of the time. They knew that they were laying their own young lives on the line pretty much every single day.

My Dad told me that the only things that got him into that Lancaster were the fear of being thought a coward, and the fact that the crew all depended on each other and were all in it together:

Because of his never ending fear, like thousands of other combattants, Fred also despised the comfortable lives of many of the older people in the area where he was born and where he spent the majority of his leaves. They lived out their humdrum existences without any risk whatsoever, while young men in their early twenties were killed in large numbers every time there was a raid. The contempt Fred felt was, of course, just a measure of his own fear, at the possibility of having to fly over burning Berlin, or some other heavily defended Bomber Command target:

Having joined the RAF as a volunteer on September 29th 1941 at the age of nineteen, Fred expected to return home in May 1945. Alas, he wasted yet more time after the end of the war.

Fred was eventually discharged from the RAF well after the date when his favourite team, Derby County, whom he followed for more than seventy years, won the FA Cup for the only time in their history. Fred missed the game as he was “busy, doing nothing” with the RAF:

Fred eventually left the Second World War on November 19th 1946, after just over five years. Not much in a lifetime of over eighty years, but as he himself was never slow to explain in later life, these were potentially “the best years of my life”.

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What would you do ? (4) The Solution

Here’s the problem from last time:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

“The referee would rule “No goal”. The rules of the game state that the ball must be a certain weight (14-16 ounces). He would then restart the game with a bounced ball at the spot where it was last kicked. The ball would be bounced between two opposing players. “

First, a few words of explanation. 14-16 ounces is between 0.40-0.45 kilos or 340-397 grams. Nowadays a “bounce-up”, as it is popularly known, is no longer contested between two opposing players, because it was found that having two burly men face up to each other and then having a football dropped between them, tended to encourage the players to kick each other rather than the ball. With aching shins, they would then start a punch-up as they argued.

Nowadays, I suspect that the ball would be given to the player who last kicked it with no opponent involved, but I’m not totally 100% sure of that. The “burst ball” has happened a number of times in football history. You can find quite a surprising number if you just google “burst ball in cup final”.

The two most famous times for a burst ball were firstly in 1946 when Charlton reached the FA Cup Final, only to lose 4-1 to Derby County in extra time. When the Derby centre-forward, Jackie Stamps, shot for goal in the closing minutes of normal time, the ball burst en route to the back of the net. A week earlier, when the same sides had met in the League, the match ball had also burst then. Here’s the winning Derby County team, complete with directors, the most important people in any successful football team:

The odds on this bizarre event happening again must have seemed very unlikely, but the following year in 1947, in the first live televised FA Cup final, Charlton reached the Final again, this time beating Burnley by 1-0. And again the ball burst!  The theory at the time was that because of the war, the quality of the leather in the balls was not what it should have been.  Here’s Charlton, in their white and black change kit:

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What would you do ? (4) The Puzzle

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover, which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

What an unusual event. The centre forward shoots very powerfully, the goalie can’t stop it, and the brown leather ball sizzles into the net. Thousands of people are ecstatic. Their team has scored. But the referee has found some nits to pick. He saw the ball deflate in mid-air as it flew towards the goal. Will it be  a goal ? What will his decision be?

Depends on who the teams are, I suppose. The forward who has just had a shot is wearing a yellow shirt and white shorts. That’s an old Tottenham Hotspur away kit from the late 1960s. And the red and white stripes is Atletico de Madrid. No problem for the referee there then.

Incidentally, the yellow box’s infatuation with the orange arrow quickly diminished, and she soon parted from him. She realised that he was only after her puzzle setting skills and once she’d set the scene a few times for him, he left her high and dry in a cheap hotel room in Cromer:

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“Of course, we were much younger then” (2)

This is a second series of photographs taken by the Reverend Charles H Stephens. They portray some of the actors in the Junior Plays during the academic year 1976-1977. All of them were in Form 2L. What is most striking is how the actors have begged, stolen or borrowed, items from ordinary life and then, by putting them all together, have created a character for their own particular Junior Play.

The first picture shows the actors in a drama whose plot I cannot begin to imagine. It must surely involve a huge admirer of Harpo Marx, whose hobbies include cross dressing in those night dresses you get in the Hammer Horror films of the period. Just to prove the point, on the right is a sinister Christopher Lee type figure, presumably waiting patiently for a cup of luke warm blood from the demented waiter in the middle:

Picture Two shows the Exorcist in the middle, apparently wearing some of the Reverend’s robes that had shrunk in the wash and were therefore surplice to requirements. The little boy on the left clearly has completely the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the rule that “Junior Plays are not performed in School Uniform”. Just taking your tie out of your jacket will not be enough. And on the right, the happy little chap who won the North of England “Neat shirt sleeve folding” competition for the next fourteen years running:

The third photograph shows a capacity for violence compatible perhaps with “Straw Dogs” or “Clockwork Orange”, two films of the time. On the left is the little boy who had clearly decided that the winner of the Junior Plays will be decided not by the judging panel nor the Ballot Box but by the Armalite. In the middle is the representative of the Metropolitan Police, looking a little morose, perhaps, but with his plastic policeman’s helmet, just like you get in toy shops, jauntily on the back of his head:

The boy on the right looks rather sad too. The police had promised to help him find, and then recover, his trousers. Still, that dress is rather nice and compliments perfectly his top garment, whatever it may be. A housecoat? Or the “Something more comfortable” that dubious young women with dyed blonde hair are keen to get into?

Next is the Junior Play set at Woodstock with three classic haircuts, two state of the art guitars and one army surplus coat in two extra small. Note the camouflaged ex-US Army cap that fishermen wear and always cover with lots of badges. Note, too, the denim waistcoat complete with war surplus sew-on USAAF wings:

The final photograph shows the final three actors. On the right is the cowboy, whose costume is the easiest of the lot. A pair of jeans, a heavy, thick shirt, your Dad’s fishing hat and your little brother’s cap gun. And in the middle, somebody to whom you’d really have to pose that embarrassing question “And who are you meant to be, sonny?”. Well, he has made a fair attempt at reconstructing the beret of the Parachute Regiment, but the shirt and the trousers are a strange combination. Note the snake belt fastening, incidentally, which was then compulsory for all small boys to wear at least once before they reached the age of fourteen. On the left, he must surely be something Arabian, but exactly what I am not so sure. He has his mum’s tea towel over his head, held on with elastic, and a pair of wide, flared, bell-bottomed trousers which belong to his sister. Presumably his mother hasn’t noticed her missing Laura Ashley curtains in the third bedroom. Let’s hope too that that is a plastic scimitar and that the bra-like garment over his shirt has not been borrowed from his sister:

Next time, we’ll look at some of the School Plays over the years.

They laboured under a terrible handicap, which is clearly stated in the School Magazine:

“After the First World War, the Dramatic Society would put on an annual play for their parents and their siblings and friends to come and see. Usually, it was a classic, although not always by Shakespeare. The problem was that the School was for boys only and, in the words of the School Magazine: “The Dramatic Society has always hesitated to produce a modern play because of the difficulty of finding boys capable of filling the female parts. Twentieth Century dress does not lend itself so well to the purpose of transformation as do Elizabethan and Georgian costumes”.

 

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