Felice anno nuovo…

…might well have been the greeting to you all at this time of the year, but that would have been from the time when retirement plans were angled very much towards La bella Italia. Having bought a des res on about 0.6 of an Irish acre (about a quarter bigger than one of our English ones!) – complete with a barn and the solitude of the most beautiful Tipperary countryside (even in lousy weather) – the greeting should now be bliain nua sásta. Anyway, in Italian or Irish, I hope 2018 is a good one for us all.

Our Tipperary view from the front of the des res. The River Shannon is only some 3km away.

The thing that attracts us most to Ireland is the simple fact that people seem to move a lot slower that the frantic “rat-race” our modern British society has become. Who in modern, angst-ridden Britain has the time to give you the time of day or – and this is the scary one – even just to smile at you or even acknowledge that you exist? Who amongst you has not held a door open or – following the Road Code – pull in to allow another vehicle to pass and been “thanked” with nothing – not even the slightest nod of the often over-imperious head. The three-point turn has been dropped from the driving licence requirement; given the generally inconsiderate use of our badly-pitted and potholed roads, perhaps they have scrapped the Road Code, too. We would probably be the last to know…

The Irish do not seem to be scared of being involved in a conversation – none of that “I’m sorry, we haven’t been formally introduced” sort of attitude. On a recent trip and in a well-known supermarket, a tramp was buying his nightly bottle of the hard stuff and the people in the checkout queue were actually talking to him, not trying to shy away. Going into the local store, petrol station, post office or even hardware store – where you can still buy just about anything from just 3 screws or a single light bulb (EU approved, of course) to a complete bathroom suite – often provokes a lengthy discussion into the relevant parties’ health, the weather or the state of the flocks or crops (it’s a very rural locality). The latter could possibly prove a little daunting, given that the veterinary knowledge possessed between the two new ones from England extends to knowing that one end can have horns and the other doesn’t! Still, my point is that they – the Irish – still maintain a sense of the value of the individual within time, which makes for a refreshing return to a less frantic way of co-existing. We were also encouraged by the revelation made by our sole immediate neighbour, Michael by name, that we “weren’t to be having anything to do with the worry” while we wait to move to Tipperary permanently. Apparently our neighbour on the other side of the valleyette – “sure, ‘tis a true gentleman he is,” – has been known to accost unexpected strangers with a rifle sticking out of his driver’s door. By now, we are certain the Michael has spread the news of the new residents-to-be throughout the far-flung homesteads, so security, as graphically outlined to us, shouldn’t be an issue!

No, not the lake on the top quarter acre! These are the gardens at Johnstown Castle, near Wexford. There is an agricultural museum there, together with an excellent Famine Museum. Fingers of blame are not suggested or pointed in any way, but the exhibit does make you feel very uncomfortable, because of the then government’s lack of concern over what was a national (and, for that matter, Europe-wide) catastrophy!

Then there is the small matter of national pride, something once tangible on this Fair Isle, but now mocked as being non-PC or – even more hysterically – as political extremism. The Irish seem to know exactly where they have come from (including what is turning out to be a spectacular recovery from economic disaster just a few years ago) and, more importantly, where they would like to go. Putting “Proudly Made in Ireland” and the tricolour on local produce seems to be the done thing. Something similar in feeling to what Prince Philip did decades ago, when he promoted the “Buy British” campaign. How unfortunate (or perhaps significant?) it is, then, that nowadays in “directionless” Britain, it seems that the retail outlets with the highest “British is Best” type profiles are both German!

The first concert of our German tour in the fabulous concert hall in Bad Ems. The Kaiser and Wagner, among others, were frequent visitors.

In addition to now being a house owner again after a great many years, the other significant milestone for me in 2017 was to “retire” as music director of the East Grinstead Concert Band. After 8 years at the helm, during which time the Band’s playing developed to often equal that of a service band and the membership list from which we could draw our players soared to the high forties, I felt it was the right time to hand over the baton, particularly with retirement to Ireland on the agenda. We had completed an extremely successful tour of Germany in October, so, after the November Poppy Appeal concert, it seemed a good point at which to bow out on a high. I plan to return to the Band and try and get my clarinet playing up to strength again, which is something I have really missed. You can’t wave the stick out front and play the clarinet at the same time – not enough hands!

My final appearance as MD of the East Grinstead Concert Band during our Poppy Appeal Concert in November.

Writing continues apace, with the fourth “An Eccentric In Lucca” well on the way, the third “Rupert Winfield” nearing completion of the proofreading process and a new children’s book, “Daydreaming Dillon” almost half way through. It’s all go at the keyboard!

 

Advertisements

Time Marches On…

…and we all have to do our best to keep up with it. Or do we? Surely, the truth of the matter must be that time is our master and, no matter what we do or don’t do, it will always march on regardless. The problem of our modern world must rather be one of our misconceptions that we perceive as having to keep up with something as intangible as time. As it is, on New Year’s Eve, the boffins controlling the world’s time will add one second to the global system to keep up with the earth’s rotation. Such a minuscule thing as a second becomes globally important!

In my opinion, all of this becomes even more to the point when you hear of someone retiring after very many years of loyal service and the milestone being regarded as “just the end of another day”. Perhaps those who used to be called “couch potatoes” were on to something. Is it so bad to sit down and do nothing for a stretch of time? Is it so wrong not to fill every passing second with activity of some sort (sorry Kipling)? Life would surely be richer for us all if we just side-stepped the escalator of time once in a [regular] while and took the time to just listen to the beat of nature or to the non-materialistic world about us. Thank goodness Christmas advertising is now behind us (endless pushing of what you really don’t need to be buying for that perfect, over-commercialized Christmas experience). But wait: January 1st could well herald the start of Easter advertising. Perish the thought. All of it rolled into an anthem for lost innocence and the disappearance of just about everything that actually meant anything. Do we really need electronic reminders to go home, eat lunch or even breathe?

We spent the week between Christmas and New Year in Belgium. Plucky little Belgium, where we always seem to be happy. The whole concept of time is thrust into sharp focus over there, by virtue of the simple fact that for so many hundreds of thousands, time suddenly and irreversibly stopped as they were blown off the escalator.

The Royal British Legion have launched a scheme whereby you buy a poppy lapel pin made from brass fuses and shell cases recovered from the Somme battlefields; the central dot of red enamel also contains grains of soil from the Somme. With your pin, you are invited to remember a soldier killed during the Somme. We went and found ours on the Thiepval Memorial; both of them have no known grave. I found the experience very emotional and penned these thoughts as a result.

Do You Hear?

Do you hear the rolls of the drum –

Two sets, mechanically even, with an unblocking break between?

Do you hear the shouted orders to form up and become

As smart a line as any parade ground has ever seen?

And then, rising up the hill from the lower land below, the pounding of the big bass drum

that shakes the ground before stilling the chattering tongue.

Listen, as the sound increases with the familiarity and expectation of martial sound.

Do you hear? The march, triumphant, thunders: The Voice of the Guns!

And the wind, freezing, unending, blows up that same hill,

for every mother’s husband, brother and son.

  

Do you hear the constant, unending rolls – too mechanical to be human?

The ominous thump of the bass drum, grown even more deafening in its authority.

And we wait atop the hill, in silent expectation of the regiment’s appearance with

band playing and bayonets fixed, parading for the thrill of the uniform

and the menacing grandeur of the march!

Or is it just the wind, laughing – or sighing – among the trees; but what trees?

There were none then.

The march, triumphant, thunders: The Voice of the Guns!

In the cacophony of the parade, a three-striped voice seems to whisper against the rhythm:

“23029: Bramhall, Edgar!”

For the shortest moment the biting wind is still, but there is no reply.

 

Do you hear the suggestion of a discordant melody, one at odds with that well-known tune?

Could this be something unwritten, or something already too sadly known?

Atop the hill the parade seems thinned and the pulse of the big drum dimmed: the wind knows,

but is not telling, sighing woefully as it blows over mud and wire,

the mire of the regiment, the remains of the smartly-assembled ranks.

The march, triumphant, thunders: The Voice of the Guns!

Over all, the staccato beating of the drum never falters – pausing only for a second

to load another belt or to cool the barrel.

Such is the cold message the wind blows up the valley from the lowlands below.

Do you hear that voice again?

“4931: Crabtree, Ede!”

For another grudging second the haunted wind is still, but again there is no reply.

 

Do you hear the mournful wind about the erected stones: but what stones?

There were none then.

The biting, unrelenting wind that plucks at the names when the roll is called

and sighs at the silent answer, known even before the question is uttered.

The beating of the drum, too, is broken, as if the drummers’ arms can bear it no longer;

The unending beat now a vacuum-like silence,

as the rhythmic pulse that once was life now only sporadically fills the air.

Only occasionally does the bass drum speak, weary to the point of stillness.

The march, triumphant, thunders less: The Voice of the Guns!

Do you hear that? The heavy voice does not reflect the glory of the music.

“13571: Waude, J.C.!”

This time, amongst the whining wind, is that a voice that begins to answer, wearily?

But no – still, there is no reply.

 

Do you hear that? Voices confused in the wind, muttering that they got things wrong?

How the biting, numbing wind plucks at the names on the stones and sings an immortal song!

It moans that these are the best of men, who turned out for that promised parade,

When the bass drum first boomed and the staccato drum first played.

Don’t blame them – they gave their all and now stand proud as their regiments pass from –

But where is it they pass from?

They parade through the very air itself and that is why we stand atop the hill,

Chilled to the bone in the biting wind, remembering their song

as the beat of drum echoes through their incised names that will live for evermore.

The march, triumphant, still thunders: The Voice of the Guns!

Do you hear that? The voice sounds proudly defiant, reflecting the glory of disorganized futility.

“30506: Waugh, A!”

Against the wind comes a faint reply. This name is not among the missing on the

Stones of Thiepval.

 

Getting back on the escalator, the news on the book front is that book no.5 is due out around March, 2017. This is what the cover will look like:

 

The cover of An Eccentric in Lucca 3.

The cover of An Eccentric in Lucca 3.

Book no.6 – the third Rupert Winfield Journey – is almost finished proof reading and will go into the publication process once book no.5 has been released.

Other news is that we have bought a house in the middle of the countryside of County Tipperary, Eire, and yes, it has been a long, long way getting there! Trees, fields, bird song, detachment and tranquillity. Bring it on!

Still waiting for the Irish Land Registry to confirm to property boundary. such thngs take a lonftime over there, but the slower pace of life is the big attraction!

Still waiting for the Irish Land Registry to confirm to property boundary. Such things take a long time over there, but the slower pace of life is the big attraction!

sign_off