Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Modern words from the past

I read recently that no one wants to read a blog post over 500 words.  Oops.  I hope you'll indulge me in this one!

When our church newsletter landed on the doormat the other day, along with a Monthly Musing from a certain Winwick Mum whom you may have heard of ;-), it contained a poem that I have never read before.

It was written in 1927 by an American poet called Max Ehrmann and it is called Desiderata.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Isn't that lovely?  It's just the right sort of poem for our church newsletter, but as I read it, it reminded me of something that I had heard much more recently.

In the last form tutor session that big daughter had before she left school, there was an exchange of presents; from the pupils to the teacher, a kind, no-nonsense sort of lady who has nurtured and guided them from year 7 to now, and from the teacher to her students. After having received her watch and scrapbook full of memories put together by her class, Mrs Gilbert gave each of them a CD, a compilation of songs that she said were to listen to, dance to, or wonder what on earth she'd put them on the CD for.  It was quite clear to me, as big daughter and I bounced around the room to "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, grinning at each other like Cheshire cats, that Mrs Gilbert had put quite a bit of thought into her choices.

The first song was Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann and as we paused for breath to listen to it again, I knew that it struck more chords with me than with big daughter.  It's not that she doesn't understand it, or isn't interested in what it says, it's just that sometimes you need to be a few years older before things make sense.  And it reminded me very much of Desiderata.  See what you think ...

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '99 

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it 
The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists 
Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable 
Than my own meandering experience, I will dispense this advice now

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, oh, never mind 
You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth 
Until they've faded but trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back 
At photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now 
How much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked 
You are not as fat as you imagine

Don't worry about the future or worry, but know that worrying  
Is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation 
By chewing bubble gum 
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things 
That never crossed your worried mind 
The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday 
Do one thing every day that scares you


Don't be reckless with other people's hearts 
Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours


Don't waste your time on jealousy 
Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind 
The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself 
Remember compliments you receive 
Forget the insults, if you succeed in doing this, tell me how 
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements


Don't feel guilty if you don't know what to do with your life
The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 
what they wanted to do with their lives 
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't 
Get plenty of calcium, be kind to your knees 
You'll miss them when they're gone

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't 
Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't 
Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the 'Funky Chicken' 
On your 75th wedding anniversary 
Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much 
Or berate yourself either 
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else's

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can 
Don't be afraid of it or what other people think of it 
It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own,

Even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room 
Read the directions even if you don't follow them 
Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly

Get to know your parents, you never know when they'll be gone for good 
Be nice to your siblings, they're your best link to your past 
And the people most likely to stick with you in the future

Understand that friends come and go 
But a precious few, who should hold on

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle 
For the older you get, the more you need the people
You knew when you were young 
Live in New York City once but leave before it makes you hard 
Live in northern California once but leave before it makes you soft


Accept certain inalienable truths 
Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you, too, will get old 
And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young 
Prices were reasonable, politicians were noble 

And children respected their elders
Respect your elders
Don't expect anyone else to support you 
Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse 
But you never know when either one might run out

Don't mess too much with your hair
Or by the time you're 40 it will look 85

Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it 
Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past 
From the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts 
And recycling it for more than it's worth

But trust me on the sunscreen

The language is much more modern than Desiderata, but are the sentiments really that different?  I don't think so.  History, in many forms, repeats itself.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Romans in Warrington

Small daughter is studying the Romans at the moment and her teacher asked if I'd go in to talk to the children about the Romans who lived in Wilderspool, an area of Warrington.  As it happens, I know quite a bit about this thanks to my Open University MA dissertation which was about this very subject.  

Wilderspool was a supply town for the Roman fort at Chester, although much less is known about it than Chester's Roman heritage.  I loved finding out about what had happened in my local town all those centuries ago; sneezing over dusty documents in the Museum archives, sifting through archaeological reports and hunting for clues in academic documents.  It's a bit like being a detective, putting pieces together to make a bigger picture - although it was going to be no mean feat condensing my year's work into a 30 minute talk for small daughter's class that wasn't going to bore them senseless!

Many years ago I worked as a training consultant delivering courses for a software company, but it's been a long time since I've stood up and talked in front of anybody, let alone a class of twenty-five children!  However, armed with my maps and pictures of local finds, I found myself standing at the front of the classroom being watched by expectant faces.  I took a deep breath and launched in.

And do you know, it was great!  We started off by putting the Roman settlement into context in the modern-day town, linking the area to places that the children would know.  The picture above shows you where it is, but I also showed pictures of local areas and bridges which the children easily recognised.  I asked question after question about where they thought the Romans would live, why they would come to Wilderspool, what they would do there, and I was impressed by their answers.  

We talked about this artist's view of the town and how it looked so different from Wilderspool these days.

I showed pictures of various finds and asked the children what they were - some were easy to guess and others were more difficult.  These are brooches, quite different to anything we might wear today, which created lots of conversation and some interesting guesses as to what they were!

There was no difficulty in guessing what this is and as you can imagine, this picture went down the best of all!  (It's actually Venus' bottom, the only part that's left of a small statuette which was originally made in France.)

I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the children about a subject that's been absolutely fascinating to me, and I loved that they were so interested, especially as we were able to bring it so close to home.  What was even better was being able to show them pictures of very special artefacts such as this mask - the only one of it's kind in the country and one of only three that have been found in the world - which was made right here in Wilderspool.  It's on display in the Warrington Museum which is free to get into, along with many other artefacts that tell the story of Warrington from neolithic to modern times.  What was the mask for?  Who was it made for?  Why is there only one of them?  There are so many questions and no answers - it's a mystery and that, I think, simply adds to it's appeal.  


Pictures 1 and 2: Strickland, T. (1995) The Romans at Wilderspool:  The Story of the First Industrial Development on the Mersey, Warrington, The Greenalls Group plc

Pictures 3 and 4: Hinchliffe, J. & Williams, J. H. (1992) Roman Warrington. Excavations at Wilderspool 1966–9 and 1976, Brigantia Monograph No 2, Manchester, Manchester University

Picture 5: author's own

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Monthly Musing - July 2014 - We're all going on a ....

I once overheard someone say that a family on holiday was just an opportunity for the same family to argue in a different place. Although I laughed at the time, those words have stayed with me and I’ve often wondered if they are really true. After all, the whole point of a holiday is to relax and recuperate, to get away from our daily routines and to come back refreshed and ready to face the world again. Yet we’ve all been to places where we’ve heard frustrated parents, whining children - and sometimes we have been those parents or those children - who apparently aren’t appreciating their time away. 

With the summer holidays approaching, I have been thinking about it once again, and I wonder if sometimes our expectations of our holidays are what let us down. When I was a child, we went to the same seaside village in Wales every year. I loved playing on the beaches, even when it rained and I wore my wellies and we sat in an igloo made of windbreaks, and would quite happily spend every day doing so. To be taken away from the beach to look at a castle or worse still, around another town, was just a waste of my holiday as far as I was concerned. 

Now, as an adult, I like to look at other attractions in an area and my children grumble at missing out on precious sandcastle-building time. Our ideas of relaxation change as we get older. Some people want nothing more than to lie in the sun with a good book, others want to get out and explore and children are generally drawn to anywhere that involves water and fun. It’s no wonder that families fall out on holidays when all of those needs can’t necessarily be met at the same time, especially as the normal escape routes of bedrooms with familiar toys, gardens or even pubs aren’t there. We feel obliged to stay together as a family in a way that we never would at home. 

I don’t know if there is an answer to this other than to compromise more than we might do at home. Holidays offer a good opportunity to listen to what other members of our family actually want. We spend more meal times together in one or two weeks than we might have done in a whole month. We have the chance to listen to what our children have to say, and often they surprise us, being funnier, more insightful and having absorbed far more of the world around them than we assume from the usual “not much” answer we get to the question of what they have done in school. Asking questions and listening to the answers are valuable skills that we are all guilty of not using as much as we should. Let’s use our holidays to practice and we might all come back more refreshed and relaxed than we expect.
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