Remembrance day

Vera Brittain

Vera Brittain

My last assembly at Maryborough School; ‘D’ day 70th anniversary; my last visit to St Fintan’s Psychiatric Hospital Links Centre; my birthday. Round the corner, my last week in Portlaoise beckons. A memorable day. A Gemini day. A Janus day.

Looking back

On the TV I hear ‘O valiant hearts …’ sung at the Normandy landings commemoration. It takes me back to Carlisle Cathedral on Remembrance Sunday in 1967 when I heard and sang it for the first time. Tear-inducing words set to luscious sentimental music that the 17-year old adolescent musician thought far from good taste, even though he was much moved by it. He knows better now, the ambivalence of simultaneously relishing two opposing responses now absorbed into the system. Back then, the more intellectual rejection of jingoism just about won the day. Now it’s the human cost that is uppermost and that leaves me silent and ‘filling up’ as I hear and sing Arkwright’s words and Harris’s music.

I lived and worked in Derbyshire for 8 years and it was a woman of Derbyshire who enabled me to understand something of that human loss. Vera Brittain from Buxton lost her fiancé, her brother, her friends, and her dreams, and as a result went on to change the world for the better. If you’ve not read her Testament of Youth, I recommend it; the film version is to be found on YouTube. As one who in comparison has led a charmed and self-indulgent life, I can only be silent.

St Modwen, Burton upon Trent (© A Class Photography)

St Modwen, Burton upon Trent (© A Class Photography), one of the three churches to which I’m going

Looking forward

I didn’t mind being 50 or 60, but I’m unsettled at 64. At the age when the Beatles wondered if they would still be fed and needed, and when many of my school and college mates have retired, I’m just about to start a new job. Don’t write me off just yet. Jorge Bergoglio was older and he seems to be doing fine. Can I recover the energy that the last three years has drained out of me? Once the decision to move was made, I started sleeping better and recovering the mentality of my inner 6-year old, so I think so. Do I have the imagination and percipience to see opportunities and make the best of them? I think so, for that is not age-related: I know plenty of sparkling old people and dull young people.

A dear friend in Portlaoise told me a couple of days ago that the thing about me that she would miss more than anything else was the mischievous twinkle in my eye. This augurs well.

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