Digging In The Past

George Ernest White - Signup Papers - 23/09/1914With the 100th anniversary of The Great War being commemorated all around the country, if not the World, it was amazing to find my Grandfather’s sign-up papers recently. George Ernest White, my mother’s father, joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry regiment on 2nd of September 1914. His enrolment marked the start of a European wide and terrifying journey.

My maternal grandfather died of tuberculosis shortly after I was born, so although we met, I have no recollection of him. He was a respected jeweller, working in the jewellery quarter in Birmingham from the early 1900’s.

Although he survived WWI, he did not come out of the conflict unscathed, being gassed, shot and shelled during his time in Gallipoli, Egypt and France. He was also a machine gunner, the most hated of all roles. Soldiers on both sides of the trenches, performing this role were shot if caught, so devastating was the trail of death they left behind them.

It is difficult to condone the actions of our ancestors, living as we do in an era of comparative peace, but I imagine they did what they were told and had little or no choice in the roles they were given during their service.

I feel no pride for what my grandfather did, nor do I condemn him for his actions. Many lives were lost during the conflicts of the first and second world wars, and what should be condemned, is that those lives were lost largely in vain. We have truly not learned the lessons of human conflict.

I am hoping to discover more about George Ernest’s exploits during the 1914-18 campaigns. We have snippets of his history, but it will be very enlightening to follow his progress through the geography and battles that left so many lying in war cemeteries all over the Europe.

86 Today – Happy Birthday Mom

My Mom, 86 years old today !!!It’s my Mother’s birthday today. Happy Birthday Mom, congratulations on another fabulous year!!!

I bought her a voice recorder, to help her collate the many memories compiled over the years. Now all she has to do is learn how to use it.

She is a practicing Christian, a Methodist as some of you may already know.

It’s interesting to compare the Christian background I was brought up in and Mom’s Methodist Religion, and the Buddhist Practice I now choose.

Interesting too, that Nichiren Buddhism is an atheist belief system, which fits my way of thinking much more closely.

Any way, Happy Birthday Mom, and many happy returns too.

Such A Sad Day

My DadToday is one of those days that none of us look forward to, because as I post this, it is exactly twelve years, almost to the minute, since my Dad passed on.

The day is made all the more strange, because the 27th of September had always been a special day, it was also his mother’s, my Nan’s, birthday.

Just another one of those coincidences that life turns up occasionally.

On that day, 12 years ago, we knew that Dad wasn’t well. He’d suffered from Angina since his early sixties, but that was under control, as were his cholesterol levels. But he had had a silly little accident, dropped a heavy wooden box on his shin, and the resulting wound refused to heal.

Because he was forced to rest the leg, he stopped going out for walks and could usually be found sitting reading, or sleeping, in his chair in the lounge. He started to put on a bit of weight and whenever he did venture out, would have to stop occasionally to draw breath.

But that wasn’t really why he was in hospital that day. He had gone, the day before, to have some routine tests. During the tests they noticed that he had a rather swollen belly, and asked him a bit about it.

It turned out that he had been having a bit of trouble with his ‘plumbing’ and actually had a very distended bladder. They used ultrasound to take a look inside, and decided that they should drain it using a catheter.

Now my Dad was a rather private and quite shy man, always kept himself to himself, and would have been most uncomfortable with this procedure. Not only that, but he was never one for staying away from home, even if it meant driving long hours to be in his own bed that night.

So when they told him that he had to remain in the hospital overnight, just as a precaution, so they could keep their eye on him, he would have been put under further stress. Whether it was as a result of this stress, or maybe the fact that having been drained of five litres of urine allowed his organs to settle into unfamiliar positions, we will never know, but that evening he had his first heart attack.

The medical staff made him comfortable and although it was worrying, when my Mom rang to tell us, we all felt he was in exactly the right place to be looked after and to recover. We talked about coming up to see him at the weekend and left it at that.

I don’t think I had even mentioned the new Jaguar I had picked up that day, but I was looking forward to showing Dad the car, he always loved Jags, though he’d never owned one. But driving to work the next morning, I was unaware that everything was going to change that day.

My mobile rang at about 9:30am, I was in the office, suited and booted as usual, it was my Mom. She was clearly upset, and told me that Dad had had a second, more serious heart attack a couple of hours earlier, and that I should come up to Sutton if I could. It’s a journey of about 100 miles, and I set off at once.

You can do an awful lot of thinking during a journey of that length. I wasn’t chanting back then, though I was a practicing Buddhist. Even the journey was strange. To start with, I was driving this brand new car, all shiny and bright, and trying to get there as fast as possible whilst still trying to break it in gently.

As I came off the M42 at Curdworth, I decided to take the back road to Bassetts Pole and come into Sutton from the North, to avoid any congestion. Big mistake, it was the Ryder Cup, being played at The Belfry, and I drove straight into all the hullaballoo.

A very nice Policewoman stopped me at a checkpoint. Understandably, wearing a sharp suit and driving a brand new Jag, she mistook me for one of the players, or an official, definitely somebody connected to the golf. I explained the situation, that I was rushing to get to the hospital, that my Dad was very ill, she asked me to wait.

I was sandwiched between two pairs of Police motorcycles and we set off at pace. The two riders in front went ahead to clear the route, stop the traffic at islands, lights etc. while the two at the rear leapfrogged at each junction and went ahead to continue the process.

I have never driven so fast on a public road, they were amazing, and we reached the hospital in double quick time. One officer took my keys and told me to go to find my Dad while he parked the car. After it was all over, I wrote a letter to the Chief Constable, thanking them for their help.

I rushed to Intensive Care, where I found Mom sitting in an ante-room. She was looking very worried, but was pleased to see me, we talked about what was happening. Then a doctor came in, asked us to sit down, and gave us an update. I asked whether I could go and see my Dad, I had a heavy cold and didn’t want to make things worse. The doctor explained that I couldn’t make it any worse and ushered me into the room.

My Dad was covered in wires and pipes. A respirator, heart monitor and all manner of machines were gathered around the bed. He was unconscious, and the nurse explained that he had been sedated to stop him from suffering any pain. We sat with him for a while, just watching his chest moving up and down as the machine kept him breathing.

The nurse asked us to go back to the ante-room and told us that the doctor would be in to talk to us shortly. When it came, the doctor’s message was short and to the point, and although he spoke very quietly and calmly, there was no easy way to say it. My Dad was being kept alive by the machines, the damage to his heart was too severe for him to recover, and they asked us whether they could turn the machines off.

I don’t really remember what was said, but they went away to turn off the apparatus, to remove the wires and pipes and to clean Dad up a little. We just sat and waited. When they were ready, we went back into the room, the machines were gone and Dad was lying motionless on the bed.

I say it was Dad. But actually I remember thinking it looked like a waxwork model of him. The total absence of life had changed everything. It looked like my Dad, but it wasn’t my Dad, something very essential was missing.

We took a little while to say our goodbyes, the staff were very kind and looked after us, but their jobs were done. I don’t remember whether I cried, I don’t remember Mom crying, we just looked after each other.

I do remember walking down a long, long corridor towards the hospital entrance. There were people laughing, whistling, running about. Life was going on as usual. But my Dad had just died, what were they thinking?

But slowly the truth becomes clear. We are all part of the Universe, all connected through the universal life-force, and when we die, the Universe continues, life continues, the Wheel of Life continues to roll inexorably on.

So September the 27th is a day I hate to remember, but it is a day I shall never forget. My Buddhist faith has put a different slant on the events of that day. I know that my Dad is back, somewhere, leading his new life. Knowing that takes some of the pain of losing him away, and for that I am very grateful.

I love you and still miss you Dad, it’s a pity you never got to see the Jaguar.

Kutai Lighthouse

Suzanne Vega - Tom's DinerWe are off to see Suzanne Vega at The Lighthouse theatre in Poole tonight. She is, and has been, one of my favourite singers for decades, so I am really looking forward to the concert.

As I often do, and I’m sure you do too, I’ve been listening to her back catalogue since I bought the tickets a couple of weeks ago.

Each song is like an old friend and arrives bringing a plethora of memories with it. Those memories, in Buddhist terms are held in a state called Ku, or Kutai, where something exists and doesn’t exist all at the same time.

The human brain is an amazing thing. On the one hand we can remember people and events from forty years and more ago. On the other, I can walk from the lounge into the kitchen and forget why I went in the first place, and I know we’ve all been there.

Amazing stuff that grey matter, a hugely complex system of neurons and synapses awash in a cocktail of serotonin, dopamine and countless other magical neurotransmitters, all busy doing their own thing, but all in sync. And all it needs, to switch on some memory buried deep in time, is a handful of notes in a particular sequence.

Here are a few rather shaky images from the show …

Suzanne Vega - Live In Poole

Suzanne Vega - Live In Poole

Suzanne Vega - Live In Poole

Who The Kutai

Dr WhoI saw the very first episode of Doctor Who, way back in November 1963, sitting on the sofa in my Nan and Grandad’s lounge at 50 Ryland Road, Erdington, Birmingham. Watching The Day Of The Doctor tonight was awesome, it was brilliantly written, performed and produced and brought many of the intervening years together in a very clever storyline.

The amazing thing is that the program also brought back memories and images from half a century ago. The whole family sitting around a black and white telly, watching William Hartnell, my Doctor, in a brand new series on the only BBC channel, BBC2 didn’t appear till 1967.

Such vivid memories. Only I could see them, but they were as real as were the original experiences. So they exist and they don’t exist all at the same time, and Nichiren Buddhism calls this Ku, short for Kutai. All they need are the right conditions to become manifest, in exactly the same way our own potential does.

The human brain is an amazing thing. On the one hand I can remember people and events from fifty years and more ago. On the other, I can walk from the lounge into the kitchen and forget why I went in the first place, and I know we’ve all been there.

Amazing stuff that grey matter, a hugely complex system of neurons and synapses awash in a cocktail of serotonin, dopamine and countless other magical neurotransmitters, all busy doing their own thing, but all in sync. And all it needs, to switch on some memory buried deep in time, is a handful of images or a series of electronic notes in a particular sequence.

Instant 80’s Kutai

SiouxsieIn a vain attempt to block out the distractions of the office, I’ve been listening to an 80’s compilation album this morning. Some of the tracks are fillers with no special meaning for me, but some are kutai-tastic and have all the memories flooding back.

Bands like Culture Club, New Order, Bronski Beat, Thompson Twins, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Blondie, Billy Idol, The Stranglers, the list goes on and on and on, and so do the memories.

All sorts of memories came flooding back as the lyrics and notes unlocked them, some good, some not so good.

Only I could see them, but they were as real as were the original experiences. So they exist and they don’t exist all at the same time, and Nichiren Buddhism calls this Ku, short for Kutai. All they need are the right conditions to become manifest, in exactly the same way as our own innate potential does.

Now the morning itself has been consigned to history, as indeed has typing this sentence, but all those memories will remain forever.

Stairway To Heaven

In The Court Of The Crimson KingI’ve had a wonderful time today reliving my teenage years, listening to Led Zeppelin whilst enjoying more sunshine lying on the balcony. Each and every song hold memories of years gone by.

Zeppelin were one of the first supergroups and I was a huge fan back in those days. Along with groups like Cream, Yes, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, they wrote the soundtrack to my youth. I could name many, many others, but the list would fill the page.

Things were very different back then. An Afghan was an embroidered shaggy coat that smelt awful when it got wet, not what it means today. A trip to Oasis in the old Bull Ring was always an adventure filled with Loons, Tie-Dye T shirts, Joss sticks and psychedelic cheesecloth.  My first live concert was at the Town Hall in Birmingham in 1969. It cost 6/- (six shillings), 30p in today’s money, and I watched Genesis, Lindisfarne and Van der Graff Generator on their first tour and soaked up every last note with my mate Martin Loake.

But listening to the music today, some 45 years after I heard it the first time, revived memories in a way that only certain smells can emulate. I say smells, because in my case, the smell of steam engines takes me right back to childhood holidays in Margate. Each morning, or so I recall, my grandfather took me to the shunting yards to watch the tank engines arranging the commuter coaches into the trains for people to get to work. One whiff of coal smoke and oily steam, and I can see it all so clearly.

The music took me back to school days. Long hair, those loons, tie-dye T shirts and evenings spent in my bedroom with the commandeered family PYE gramophone, and a reel to reel tape recorder blasting out the latest Progressive Rock tracks. I was supposed to be studying, or doing homework, but all I can remember is trying to pick out the chords on my six string and practicing riffs. No wonder my exam results suffered.

As those memories came flooding back, it got me thinking about how wonderful it would be if we could recall events from our past lives. I have been through past life regression sessions in the past, with some interesting results, but that’s not quite what I mean.

My life has been a cycle of repeated events, some good, others not so good, but the cycle is quite clear. Finally I have seen the light, I’m taking steps to avoid another cycle and trying to learn from past mistakes.

My Buddhist Practice, and particularly the study of Karma, have made me look at the past in a different way. I now realise that I created the causes for that cycle to repeat and by stopping doing that my life will change course forever. It can be a painful realisation, seeing where you have been going wrong all these years, but not as painful as going on the way I had.

Life has changed, I have changed, and the music is as brilliant as it ever was.

Poignant Memories

My Nan, Charlotte and HannahMarch the thirteenth always stirs up the saddest of memories for me and my family. It is exactly twenty one years ago today, that I lost the second most important lady in my life, my paternal grandmother. Just to make it even worse, if that were at all possible, ironically, March the thirteenth 1992 was a Friday, probably the worst Friday the thirteenth ever.

She was the most wonderful grandmother anyone could ever have had. She looked after me when I was very young, when my Mom was suffering from Tuberculosis, in the days when it was often fatal. She was a tweeny, a maid between stairs, in the days when Upstairs, Downstairs was a lot less romantic that it is on TV today. She was married to my grandfather Walter, in the days when Wally wasn’t a derogatory name.

She lived in a council house in Erdington, Birmingham, never owned a car, never really had two pennies to rub together, but was dignified and always proud of the way she looked and the way she kept that house. I spent many, many happy school summer holidays there, and remember being spoiled rotten.

She made the best bread pudding in the world, always had peaches or pears and trifle on the tea table and knitted me more school jumpers than I can count. We went on lots of holidays together as a family, but never outside the UK, in fact she may never have been abroad in her whole life. She was never happier than when she had something to worry about, but she was always happy and full of love.

She was just wonderful, was always there for us and is greatly missed. It makes me happy to know that she is back in the world somewhere and I know she will be spreading love and light wherever she (or he) is. We are thinking of you Nan.

10 Years, And It Still Hurts Like Hell

My DadToday is one of those anniversaries that I really don’t look forward to. As I write this, it is exactly ten years, almost to the minute, since my Dad passed on. Strange, because the 27th of September had always been a special day, it was also his mother’s, my Nan’s, birthday.

On that day, 10 years ago, we knew that Dad wasn’t well. He’d suffered from Angina since his early sixties, but that was under control, as were his cholesterol levels. But he had had a silly little accident, dropped a heavy wooden box on his shin, and the resulting wound refused to heal.

Because he was forced to rest the leg, he stopped going out for walks and could usually be found sitting reading, or sleeping, in his chair in the lounge. He started to put on a bit of weight and whenever he did venture out, would have to stop occasionally to draw breath.

But that wasn’t really why he was in hospital that day. He had gone, the day before, to have some routine tests. During the tests they noticed that he had a rather swollen belly, and asked him a bit about it.

It turned out that he had been having a bit of trouble with his ‘plumbing’ and actually had a very distended bladder. They used ultrasound to take a look inside, and decided that they should drain it using a catheter.

Now my Dad was a rather private and quite shy man, always kept himself to himself, and would have been most uncomfortable with this procedure. Not only that, but he was never one for staying away from home, even if it meant driving long hours to be in his own bed that night.

So when they told him that he had to remain in the hospital overnight, just as a precaution, so they could keep their eye on him, he would have been put under further stress. Whether it was as a result of this stress, or maybe the fact that having been drained of five litres of urine allowed his organs to settle into unfamiliar positions, we will never know, but that evening he had his first heart attack.

The medical staff made him comfortable and although it was worrying, when my Mom rang to tell us, we all felt he was in exactly the right place to be looked after and to recover. We talked about coming up to see him at the weekend and left it at that.

I don’t think I had even mentioned the new Jaguar I had picked up that day, but I was looking forward to showing Dad the car, he always loved Jags, though he’d never owned one. But driving to work the next morning, I was unaware that everything was going to change that day.

My mobile rang at about 9:30am, I was in the office, suited and booted as usual, it was my Mom. She was clearly upset, and told me that Dad had had a second, more serious heart attack a couple of hours earlier, and that I should come up to Sutton if I could. It’s a journey of about 100 miles, and I set off at once.

You can do an awful lot of thinking during a journey of that length. I wasn’t chanting back then, though I was a practicing Buddhist. Even the journey was strange. To start with, I was driving this brand new car, all shiny and bright, and trying to get there as fast as possible whilst still trying to break it in gently.

As I came off the M42 at Curdworth, I decided to take the back road to Bassetts Pole and come into Sutton from the North, to avoid any congestion. Big mistake, it was the Ryder Cup, being played at The Belfry, and I drove straight into all the hullaballoo.

A very nice Policewoman stopped me at a checkpoint. Understandably, wearing a sharp suit and driving a brand new Jag, she mistook me for one of the players, or an official, definitely somebody connected to the golf. I explained the situation, that I was rushing to get to the hospital, that my Dad was very ill, she asked me to wait.

I was sandwiched between two pairs of Police motorcycles and we set off at pace. The two riders in front went ahead to clear the route, stop the traffic at islands, lights etc. while the two at the rear leapfrogged at each junction and went ahead to continue the process.

I have never driven so fast on a public road, they were amazing, and we reached the hospital in double quick time. One officer took my keys and told me to go to find my Dad while he parked the car. After it was all over, I wrote a letter to the Chief Constable, thanking them for their help.

I rushed to Intensive Care, where I found Mom sitting in an ante-room. She was looking very worried, but was pleased to see me, we talked about what was happening. Then a doctor came in, asked us to sit down, and gave us an update. I asked whether I could go and see my Dad, I had a heavy cold and didn’t want to make things worse. The doctor explained that I couldn’t make it any worse and ushered me into the room.

My Dad was covered in wires and pipes. A respirator, heart monitor and all manner of machines were gathered around the bed. He was unconscious, and the nurse explained that he had been sedated to stop him from suffering any pain. We sat with him for a while, just watching his chest moving up and down as the machine kept him breathing.

The nurse asked us to go back to the ante-room and told us that the doctor would be in to talk to us shortly. When it came, the doctor’s message was short and to the point, and although he spoke very quietly and calmly, there was no easy way to say it. My Dad was being kept alive by the machines, the damage to his heart was too severe for him to recover, and they asked us whether they could turn the machines off.

I don’t really remember what was said, but they went away to turn off the apparatus, to remove the wires and pipes and to clean Dad up a little. We just sat and waited. When they were ready, we went back into the room, the machines were gone and Dad was lying motionless on the bed.

I say it was Dad. But actually I remember thinking it looked like a waxworks model of him. The total absence of life had changed everything. It looked like my Dad, but it wasn’t my Dad, something very essential was missing.

We took a little while to say our goodbyes, the staff were very kind and looked after us, but their jobs were done. I don’t remember whether I cried, I don’t remember Mom crying, we just looked after each other.

I do remember walking down a long, long corridor towards the hospital entrance. There were people laughing, whistling, running about. Life was going on as usual. But my Dad had just died, what were they thinking?

But slowly the truth becomes clear. We are all part of the Universe, all connected through the universal life-force, but when we die, the Universe continues, life continues, the Wheel of Life continues, to roll inexorably on.

So September the 27th is a day I hate to remember, but it is a day I shall never forget. My Buddhist faith has put a different slant on the events of that day. I know that my Dad is back, somewhere, leading his new life. Knowing that takes some of the pain of losing him away, and for that I am very grateful.

I love you and miss you Dad, it’s a pity you never got to see the Jaguar.

Boogie Woogie Poppadums

Chicken VindalooSaturday night and we’re out with Charlotte and Rob at the Rupali restaurant in Kingswood. The boys are being looked after by grandma and we are free to have an evening to remember.

The food is great, chicken vindaloo for me, preceded by a pile of poppadums with the obligatory accoutrements, lime pickle, diced onion, mango chutney and some kind of yoghurt sauce, yummy.

It’s a really nice place, very friendly. The last time I was in there was after Rob’s stag night. He wasn’t with me that time, he was safely at home, being tended by his brother, after a slight over indulgence of the amber nectar.

It’s funny how some memories come flooding back, whilst other stubbornly refuse to put in an appearance. I know was there with his mate Jason, both of us slightly the worse for wear, but I have no recollection of how we managed to get back to Longwell Green that evening.

Anyway, I digress. After the meal we walked up the high street to the Black Horse, where Rob’s mate Richard was playing lead guitar for a local blues band. It was loud, it was hot and the landlord, who is know for his abrupt nature, was rather abrupt. But it was a great gig and the place was heaving.

It’s been a rather long time since I’ve been out with C & R without the children, and I’m sure it was as nice a change for them as it was for us. They say that a change is as good as a rest, and this change was great fun, we mustn’t leave it so long next time.

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