Fairfax, heroes, ponderations, present

Whispers of Immortality

It must have been a long, hard couple of weeks for the Grim Reaper – first Lemmy, then Bowie, and now Alan Rickman.
(I am imagining the poor bony sod with Lemmy’s gravelly sweariness down one ear, Alan Rickman being sinister and growly down the other, and trying to work out which David Bowie he’s got hold of – but there we go.)

It is an odd thing, but I have been much possessed by throughts of mortality of late – not my own, I’m not that old, but in general.
I think I have a fairly solid attitude to death. When it’s your time, you go, and that’s all there is to it. Sometimes it’s fair, and sometimes it’s not fair, but there is no raging against the dying of the light. We have not that choice.

We do have a choice about how those of us who remain, go on. Whether we love, and remember the good things, or whether we try and stop ourselves at the moment when we lost part of our lives. And I think, I hope, I will choose the first.
I remember very clearly speaking at the Wascally Woyalist’s memorial service, at Veryan church on a bright and breezy spring day with the rooks thrown like rags over the high trees. (Bloody cold in that church it was, as well.) I remember the sunlight being behind me, though there wasn’t much warmth in it, and I remember being very passionate that we should not forget Ensign Crowhurst of the 32nd Cornwall Regiment of Foot, but nor should we make him into a thing he was not. He was who he was – he was kind, and funny, and intelligent. He was also useless with a paintbrush, fiercely conservative, and prone to farting in the freezer department of the supermarket and running away.

There will always be someone left behind. That is the nature of mortality; it’s probably the one thing you will do, absolutely alone. No one else can go with you, no one can prepare you for it or do it for you.

I was saying last night to someone that in my fantasy-Hollywood casting of “Red Horse”, Alan Rickman would have been my choice for the Earl of Essex. And I’m not sure any more that’s true.
By all accounts decent, poetry-reading, a man to whom no breath of scandal was ever attached: a good man, with a reputation of honour and decency and kindness. He’d have had to be Fairfax, wouldn’t he?

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Babbitt, Cornwall, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Lucey, new books, South West campaign, spoiler

The Serpent’s Root – Cornwall 1646.Two months and counting….

Release date of March 21st and if you’re wondering what may have befallen Hollie Babbitt and the rebel rabble since the end of “A Wilderness of Sin” – here’s a taster…

“I want to go home,” Luce said dully, and turned his head on the pillow, though his eyes stayed closed. “I want to go home, Hollie.”

“Aye, I thought –“

He was mending, and his hair was lank, sticking to his forehead with sticky sweat: bless the lad, there wouldn’t be a girl in Hampshire who’d look at him twice, now, but he opened his eyes then and looked up at Hollie.

“It’s all right,” he said, in that rusty, thready voice, strained with coughing. Closed his eyes again. “I’m sorry. I – she – I dreamed of her. Of Gray. It was nothing. The fever. I -” He trailed off, and under the blankets, his chest jerked, as if he might have sobbed. Only the once. “I almost believed it was real. That it – that she – that this was the dream, and she the reality. That I might wake and find myself at Bristol again, and be -. It was the fever. Nothing more.”

“Just the fever. Aye. I know.” And he wanted to do something reassuring, just a reaching out so that Luce might know that his lost girl might have faded like smoke, but that his friends were here, and real, and solid. But what comfort was that, when you had dreamed of a loss made whole again, and woke to find yourself in a lonely bed? Hollie put his hand on Luce’s shoulder, and squeezed, gently. (The brat was a boy again, all skin and bone and tousled hair. That made Hollie’s heart hurt, too, for the lad had no right to be so fragile.)

“Just the fever,” Luce echoed. “Surely.” And then he closed his eyes, and one single tear made its way from under his lashes, and slid down his face into his tangled hair. “It was a good dream, though. I wish -“
“No you don’t,” Hollie said, for that way lay madness.
“I miss her,” he said, as if Hollie had not spoken, and his voice was as flat as ever, as if he were talking of a skipped meal, or a forgotten engagement. “All the time, I miss her. And I do not know how I might bear it.”

And how could he answer that, without sounding as if Gray were a thing of no account? You get used to it? There will be other girls? “Yes,” he said, eventually, and hoped that was sufficient.

“She was not beautiful. I never counted her beautiful. But she was- alive, she was always so, so – she was never still, was she?” For the first time in weeks, another slow tear made its way from under his lashes, trickling down into his hair, soaking the greasy pillow. “Hollie?”

“Aye?”

Luce covered his eyes with the back of his wrist. “How do you forget?” he said, in a tiny voice.

And all Hollie could say was, “You don’t, Luce. You keep putting one foot in front of t’other. You don’t forget. But you get used to it.”
No consolation to think that after almost ten years there were still nights when he dreamed of Margriete, and still hurt to wake and find her gone. And that just for that first heartbeat, it hurt as much as it had.
“It will always hurt?” Luce said, and Hollie nodded, forgetting the lad had his eyes screwed tight shut.

“Like any other scar, brat. It will always hurt, if you get touched on it.”

“Good,” he said fiercely.  “For – I c-cannot bear that she should not be here, Hollie, and yet I cannot bear to pretend she never was.” And he sat up, quite forgetting that he was supposed to be on death’s doorstep, with all his tangled dirty hair falling about his face, and he buried his face in his two hands and sobbed like a little boy, with no thought for his beauty or his dignity. “It hurts,” he wailed, “it hurts, Hollie, it hurts!”

Aye. Well. Luce had forgot his beauty and his dignity, but Hollie was reminded, suddenly, that he had a daughter. And that one day, as the sparks flew upwards, she would look to him to comfort her. It was thinking of Thomazine that he sat on the edge of the bed and put his arms round the brat, patting him gingerly on the shoulder as he wept.
“It’ll all come good, Luce,” he said, and closed his eyes and thought of Thomazine. “It’ll all come good.”

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history, politics, ponderations, present, society, writing

The (Public) Rights of Man. And Woman

I got my log-in details for my Public Lending Rights registration today.

Now, unless you’re an author, that probably means very little to you, and if you are an author, you’re probably thinking “PLR? oh crikey yes!”

Basically, I’m now recognised as an author whose work is available in libraries, and I get paid royalties for same. Which is kind of exciting, and makes me kind of sad at the same time, because there should be something more to it than an email saying that I’m now registered. I don’t know, a fanfare? A raspberry? It’s sort of the stamp of recognition that I am a Real Author, and holding my own against people with epic publicity budgets and dedicated PR teams. And there’s me, writing like stink in the back bedroom on a laptop with most of the keys missing.

But more than that, it made me think about libraries, and other institutions that we take for granted – education, that we take for granted, and the ability to read books. I live in Cornwall, and I can’t walk much more than a mile from my house in any direction without coming across one of the Passmore Edwards Institutes.
John Passmore Edwards was born in Blackwater, within walking distance from me, in 1823. He was the son of a carpenter, and like the children of many of the Cornish working poor of the 19th century, pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He became a journalist, and then a media magnate, as well as a delegate to peace processes in Europe between 1848 and 1850. However, and most significantly for me, he was also a passionate believer in the working man’s right to an education; he was a generous donor to the Workers’ Educational Association, and gifted libraries, schools, and art galleries for men and women whose hard working-life meant that they – or their children – did not have the luxury of access to full-time education.

I wonder sometimes if perhaps we turn full circle; if perhaps having been given the right to education, people no longer see it as a hard-won privilege, a thing that men and women fought to achieve. That to many of us now it’s devalued currency, as taken for granted as our air and clean water. Two hundred years ago, my little boy would only have been going to school tomorrow if we could afford it, or if he could be spared from wage-earning labour that put food on the family table. (Yes, two hundred years ago, children were still working in mills, their nimble little fingers, speed, and small stature being valuable, and their poor little bodies being cheap to feed and dispensable.) Schooling until the age of ten was only made compulsory in 1857, and the age at which a child could leave school was only set at sixteen, in 1972.
We – people my age – we have never been part of a society in which we want to learn but are deprived by circumstance of the ability to do so. Have never, thank God, lived in a world where books are “for your betters” – not beyond the reach of poor people, or working people, or children, but are for everyone.
And, you know, maybe we need to think about that. That maybe education and literacy are still a prize, an achievement to be proud of, rather than a casual box to be ticked. That there are still places in this country where adult literacy is not universal, before we even consider that there are countries in the developing world where parents are still fighting for their children’s opportunities to be educated out of poverty. We don’t hold any moral high ground on literacy at all. When you think that Passmore Edwards and his like made it possible for every adult in England to access literacy and learning, the idea that there are grown men and women who have the physical and mental capacity to gain an education, and make a conscious choice to remain ignorant is rather obscene.

Books are not our friends. Books are as necessary as breathing. Not just mine, but science books – romance books – books about keeping fish, or driving test theory.

If you’re reading this, it’s because someone fought for your right to an education. Don’t ever take it for granted.

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