RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: History

PLATOON of POPPIES

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.”

On the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 Wilfred’s mother received news that her son had not survived.
He lost his life just six days before the armistice.
 
 
Platoon of Poppies‘ by Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Between the Lines

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Weave  between the lines you see;  search for what lies beyond,

the portal to a life lived four score years plus ten and then four more.

Cocooned in a chair, reduced in presence and time as synapse fade

but within those four walls a human soul beats on,

  memoir script upon her face, invites us as witness, scribe to her life.

Touch gently that place,  the trigger to find, a flicker of recognition

lights up the entree to memories, illuminated, transported in time.

Each crease, every fold of sagging, mottled skin belies a chapter,

an experience gained, a lesson learned, heartbreak and joy.

As a pebble dropped in stagnant pond, ripples radiate

 as rings in a trunk strip back the years in lucid clarity.

 Hesitant at first, then like a wave memories flow

 to wash upon the shore where long held dreams splash forth

and like a child  she dances once more.

The Somme 100 Years

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The Somme 100 Years

1st July 1916 marked the start of this bloody battle

57,470 casualties

19,240 died

And that was just the British

In a single day.

Today

in a fractured  Great Britain

on the cusp of cutting ties of friendship with Europe.

Least we forget the terribly consequences of political failure.

Peace must be prized above all else.

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(Installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock)

Easter 1916 – Was it Yesterday?

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‘Was it Yesterday’ by Rebecca Pells

available from https://www.artfinder.com/product/was-it-yesterday/

A few moths ago I attended the launch of a book written by the father of a friend.  First published in 1928/29, ‘Was it Yesterday?’ by A M Bown recounts his experiences in France during the First World War. For many years it remained out of print until his son and daughter, themselves now into their 80’s, realised that his story would be of interest to many others and so they set about the task of re-publishing.

‘When  he volunteered in 1914, A M Bown was a twenty year old scholar at Oxford (university) studying science.  He became an artillery subaltern and remained one throughout the First World War, being wounded twice and gaining the Military Cross for bravery.  This book, although fictionalised, grew out of his personal experiences and is a vivid and authentic account.

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He tells of ordinary day-to-day incidents, some amusing, some frightening, and gives a sense of real lives – and real deaths.  He keeps throughout a respect for his fellow soldiers, saying:

“So this little team in khaki stood waiting for the starting gun . . . in the greatest game of all, and whatever share the fields of Eton (college) may have had in any winning of it, the same share must be credited to the back alleys and the cinder patches, the parks and the recreation grounds which had been the nurseries of most of those who stood together in that forward line, picked to play for England.” ‘

Inspired by Bown’s story and with his family’s permission, I painted  ‘Was it Yesterday?’  The opened book sits upon a table from around 1916.  Original wallpaper tinged with ‘forget-me-not’ blue symbolizes the fading of memories of a time long since gone but which also bears witness to the present – a jug of fresh spring daffodils and bright scarf cast aside in a hurried moment. So intense are the events of which the author writes, that they feel like they happened only yesterday.

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‘Was it Yesterday?’ by A M Bown

available from

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Was-Yesterday-M-Bown/dp/1909644595/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459161959&sr=8-1&keywords=was+it+yesterday+a+m+bown

Olive’s Table

005‘Olives’s Table’ 

available from

https://www.artfinder.com/product/olives-table/

A couple of weeks ago I was contemplating the subject of my next painting and looking for inspiration.  Around the same time I took delivery of a small mahogany sewing table which originally belonged to my great Aunt Olive.  When she passed away some thirty years ago it came into my father’s possession and has lived the last three decades in his spare room, somewhat forgotten.

A journey of two hundred miles in the boot of the car has brought it to rest in my home.  An ideal size and height and with a suitable covering for protection, it is has found it’s place in my studio as a table for my brushes and water pot.  Practicalities aside, I’m surprised at how fond I have become of this little table, this physical link which ties one female generation of my family to another.  Slightly battered in places it is of no great monetary value, neither would it take pride of place in a smart antique shop.

However, it does exude charm and on investigation of the deep drawer suspended below the table top, I found my aunt’s personal sewing items – half used reels of thread, a wooden darning ‘mushroom’ and most touching of all – a felt needle case embroidered with her initials.  Immediately I was reminded of my mother’s needle case with it’s navy blue initialled cover and I clearly remember how she taught me to make my own.  I now have all three, a very real thread to the women of my family, items which would have been in daily use by them and as a young girl my own was too.

Then it became unfashionable to make do and mend and financially possible to buy new socks, or a skirt from a boutique rather than homemade.  And thus  a small sewing table became just a piece of furniture, no longer used as the cabinet maker conceived.  But this little table has come into my life just at the right time and  has found a life anew and is in daily use once more.  I also found my inspiration, as I felt this small piece of my heritage deserved a painting of it’s own and so I set it up with a vase of white roses in memory of my recently deceased father along with a book of Longfellow’s poems, a favourite of my mother’s and the result is ‘Olive’s Table’.

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Patterns

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Patterns are everywhere.  Life is made up of them.  We are their product.   From the extraordinary beauty of a single snowflake to the relative simplicity of the double helix which forms our DNA, patterns dominate life.  Nature produces them over and over, evolving yes but still within the boundaries of a recognisable pattern.  Man has replicated them from ancient times, everywhere you look you will find a pattern, not always obvious, sometimes we must seek them out.

There is a comfort in patterns, familiar, predictable they have boundaries and therefore a certainty about what has been, what is happening and what is yet to come.  Patterns dictate our behaviour too.  The rebellious teenager who pushes the boundaries of parental control and wisdom, wanting to forge their own path, unaware that they too are following an age old pattern.  They do not, however always work in our favour.  Behavioural patterns can be destructive, like a mutating cancer replicating it’s ugly cells the pattern forges forth, carried by belief that we are right, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

 I recently visited an installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock in a local church.  Photographs of all the men and women from Shropshire who lost their lives in the First World  War – including Shropshire born poet Wilfred Owen – were formed into the shape of shell cases.  Alongside the beautiful floor tiles this human pattern was a haunting sight.  All those involved in that dreadful war unwittingly became part of the pattern of history.

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In recent weeks Germany has lead the way welcoming those seeking refuge from Syria and other ravaged countries.  There is a collective will to break the historical dysfunctional pattern of their homeland and create a new one – for some perhaps a form of absolution.  But scratch a little beneath the surface as one journalist did and the old prejudicial pattern is soon revealed, veiled but by no means dormant.  Collective will is shunned when reality challenges the pull of our individual autonomy  and the old destructive pattern snaps sharply back into place. Like the rebellious teenager we refuse to listen to wisdom even when we know the consequences may be devastating.

Why do we repeatedly do the same things and yet expect a different outcome?  Most of us are driven, controlled even by our ego, our immaturity beckoned and  seduced toward false havens – a flawed, myopic  isolation of the present suspended from historical context.  We witness the arctic melt, we see that prejudice leads to conflict, we feel when our repeated actions damage our personal relationships.  But still we resist the fluid, less unilateral stance which maturity demands of us, safe in the false belief that it is another at fault, another who must shoulder the burden of change.

   If we are to liberate ourselves from the cancerous, cyclical patterns born of short-sighted self interest, we must learn to cross familiar thresholds with a different, more determined intent in our step.

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“Courage was mine, and I had mystery    

Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery.”

Wilfred Owen

The Building that Changed the Face of the World!

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“It is one of those rare structures that changed the world of construction and design.  With it’s revolutionary iron frame it was the predecessor of the modern sky-scrapper.”  These are the words of Sir Neil Cossons, former chairman of English Heritage about the Flaxmill in Shrewsbury, UK.

  Described as the ‘grandfather of skyscrappers’ although it is no taller than a modern five storey building, the Flaxmill was designed as a ‘manufactory’ for the processing of flax into fine linen, by architect and amateur engineer Charles Bage in 1796.  Influenced by his friend Thomas Telford and Abraham Darby’s now infamous Ironbridge just 15 031 miles down the road, it was the first time a building had been constructed with an internal iron frame.  The fireproof combination of cast iron columns and cast iron beams was a system which later developed into the modern steel frame making modern skyscrappers possible.  The success of the Shrewsbury Flaxmill quickly spread to a series of other iron frame mills in Britain reducing fire risk but fuelling the industrial revolution.

   047   That is quite a CV for one a building!  But there is so much more to The Flaxmill’s heritage than just facts.  It’s impact was not only on the development of architecture but on the progress of industry, economy and wealth, population, housing and lives.  It has touched four centuries, crossing the threshold of three.  At the time of construction of the main mill building America had not long since won it’s independence, the dust was still settling after the Storming of the Bastille in France and Shrewsbury’s most famous son Charles Darwin had yet to be born.

This sense of encompassing history is palpable.  The collection of buildings radiate an imposing heaviness, weary of having witnessed too much but it’s iron skeleton provides not just a frame but an iron will to keep standing when gravity and time would have it otherwise.  Woven into it’s walls are the stories of all who have lived and worked within them – the blood, the sweat, the tears, the deaths. Two hundred and twenty years spinning, twisting, weaving their threads and stories from the 18th to the 21st century.  The iron frame soars with dignity above your head, the warp and the weft of the architects pen waiting patiently for the next plan to be drawn.

Through the Mill 2015

‘The Iron and The Flax’ and ‘The Linen and The Dye’ by Rebecca Pells

038I have passed by this building hundreds of times but it has only been recently when I had the opportunity to exhibit a couple of my paintings during the Flaxmill Heritage Open days  that I have taken any real notice of it.  Researching it’s history in preparation for my work it is only now that I have come, with some guilt, to appreciate the influence it has had in the development of the modern world.  Imagine the 21st century without skyscrappers – where would all the businesses go, where would all the people live?  London, New York, Tokyo would not be the places they are today.  Things could have taken a very different path.  But they didn’t – thanks to one Charles Bage and his iron framed Flaxmill.

It was to be a further twelve years before another Shrewsbury man named Charles would also change the world.  Charles Darwin.  But that’s a whole other story!

For further information about Shrewsbury Flaxmill visit Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings

For my artwork visit Rebecca Pells Artist

The Child of Fear and Grievance

The temperature of nationalism has been on the rise in Europe since the beginning of this century.  This week it came roaring it’s way over the threshold of the UK parliament seating itself firmly in the chambers of power.  The middle ground is being pulled to the outer edges of fear and grievance.

At best nationalism is an invitation for the unwelcome guest to return home; at worst the exorcism of an unwanted presence in our homeland.  We struggle to let go of the way we have decided to tell our story, embellished by time and enmeshed with grievance it provides us with a sense of belonging.  Nebulous and lacking definition it longs for incarnation and roams with intent, seeking the portal of increasing support through which it can transmute and manifest.  At the same time we are not quite knowing or recognizing the form of our intention.  We explore the streets of our political landscape looking for firm ground but finding only rough terrain which keeps us off balance and unsure.

 Instead of choosing to let go of the foundational memory of those we were wronged by, a false sense of self enables a collective pain to thrive and breeds fresh fear of a contemporary but false enemy.  We cease to be afraid of our neighbours when we cease to carry the collective fear and injustice of our past, choosing instead to make friends with those we previously challenged with a beckoning hand to our future.  To let go is to enable ourselves – our nation – to see our place in the world more elementally and clearly.  It is to unburden ourselves from carrying the past and lighten the load, sweeping away the black cloud of history which was passed down to us and – without such bravery – we will inevitably pass to our children.

Withdrawal from the front line of demand and grievance enables us to realign and find a fresh perspective, viewed through a contemporary wide angle lens rather than the myopic glass of selective and painful memory.  It is only from here we will find solid ground from which to step forward in friendship and have our voice heard in a different, clear fresh and powerful way.

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You may also be interested in an earlier post  A Sense of Un-Belonging.

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