Jews in Latvia


The Jews in Riga

When I was in Latvia last week (that’s a fun sentence to write!) I visited the Jewish Museum. Riga has several monuments and memorials dedicated to the Latvians who died during the 1991 barricades, but there was little reference to the Jews who died during the Nazi occupation. I found directions to the Jewish museum in the guidebook, and set off.

The museum is in a tall building in the Art Nouveau section of the city. The door was locked, and I had to be buzzed inside by a lady in a booth—perhaps even today the Jewish people are unsure of their safety. The museum is in a Jewish Centre, where you can also sign up for Jewish dancing lessons, and language courses.

The displays were all in glass cases (not an attractive museum to visit) but I was given an audio guide in English, which helped. The guide was rather long-winded, and the man speaking was rather pedantic, but there was a fast-forward feature, so I gleaned what I could from his descriptions and muted the other bits (be nice to do this in real-life sometimes). The museum is Jewish, and I guess any museum is likely to have a bias. Whilst what happened to the Jews was unforgiveable and too horrid to properly grasp, I’m not sure if the pre-war Jews were all quite as perfect, fully integrated and wonderful as the museum portrays. It felt a little like when you attend a funeral, and you don’t recognise the person everyone is describing because they sound like a saint but you know they could be an awkward individual when they were alive. Is that right, or should we be more honest? I don’t know. We like our victims/heroes to be perfect and our villains to be completely evil, but life is not like that.  Here is my understanding of the history of Jews in Riga, based on what I saw:

In the early 1900s, the Jews were poor, but rather clever at business. An example was given of a merchant who could initially only afford to employ 3 men, and two years later due to clever business skills he owned 3 factories. However, there were limitations on their social status, and they were only allowed to work in certain areas.

In 1905, during the revolution, there were attempts to suppress Jewish people, and many left the Baltic region at this time.

The Jews were part of society, but they were seen as inferior. Literature shows the Jew as a figure of fun, they are portrayed as slightly dim and generally unhealthy and dishonest. They were laughed at, though not particularly disliked. Jews often appeared in children’s stories as a travelling peddler, a thin man with a big nose, who would try to trick you if you weren’t careful.

In 1918, during the Latvian fight for independence, Jews signed up to fight. The Bolsheviks, known as ‘The Red Terror’ were violent and unfair. In 1919, many Jews joined the army, some as young as 15 years old. The museum had medals, showing the awards Jewish soldiers had received for bravery, though it didn’t state what percentage of Jewish men joined the army.

In 1920, rumours began to spread that the Jews were against the new Latvian nation. There were reports that Jews had refused to fight, that no Jews had joined the army, that they were not truly part of Latvia. The Jews attempted to combat this by publishing their own newspapers, in Russian and German as well as Yiddish. Jewish students set up clubs (fraternities) to balance those that were anti-Semitic. Jewish business flourished in free Latvia, and Jewish people owned banks and businesses (though the anti-Jewish cartoons were still around). The Jews took part in sports, to try and dispel the idea that they were physically weak, and set up competitions and tournaments.

When the Nazi party took control of Germany, people in Latvia boycotted German goods in protest. Many Jewish refugees arrived in Latvia, trying to escape the Nazis.

In 1940, the Soviets entered Latvia. All Jewish societies were closed and some Jews were deported to Siberia. Then the Nazis arrived, and the horrors increased.

In August 1941 a Ghetto was set up in Riga. All Jews were forced to leave their homes and live in the Ghetto. Synagogues were burnt—sometimes when filled with people trapped inside. Propaganda depicted the Jews as weak, ugly, thick and greedy. It was said they refused to be part of society, they hid their wealth, they were the cause of all the troubles. The Nazis tried to turn Latvian citizens against the Jews, and they became outcasts.

By the autumn of 1941, the Ghetto had been emptied of all Jews apart from men deemed strong enough to work. Everyone else had been murdered.

The museum even has films of Jews being shot (after being forced to run into a pit). The Nazis were so sure of their absolute supremacy, that they would never be held to account, that they filmed and photographed the killings.

Somehow, seeing these photographs was harder than seeing the ones when I visited Auschwitz. Perhaps because the people were well-dressed and healthy. I found it more shocking, to see attractive teenaged girls being killed, rather than the gaunt pictures of starving people in the camps—it’s always easier to relate to people who look like the people around us, I suppose. And that is the point—these people were like us. They would have been good people, and not so nice people, and some who were kind and others who were rude, just like us.

One display case showed the passage from Psalm 22, used by Jews to express their agony: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” These are familiar words for Christians, but in the later context of the crucifixion.

In 1943, the Ghetto was emptied of men, when they were sent to the death camps. The Riga ghetto was then divided, and became a stopping place for Jews from other countries who were on their way to the camps in Germany and Poland.

I was interested to read that there had been some Jewish resistance to all this. Some people smuggled weapons into the ghetto, hoping either to escape or to at least die with dignity, defending themselves. There was a big escape attempt from the Riga ghetto, but most escapees were later caught and shot, and 80 other Jews were shot in punishment. However, some Jews did manage to escape from the ghettos, and from the death marches.

One area of the museum was dedicated to people who had helped the Jews during the war. Not everyone believed the propaganda, not everyone sided with the Soviets and the Nazis. Some people were brave enough to risk their own lives, and helped Jews to survive. (Would we be wise enough today, to resist the messages in social media, to be able to discern what is actually true?)

In 1940, it was estimated that there were 95,000 Jews living in Riga. In 1945, it is thought that only 1,000 were still alive.

There is a big memorial, in a forest, in memory of the slain Jews. One day, I hope to visit it. Perhaps by remembering the horrors of the past, we can help to ensure we don’t repeat the same evils today.

I recently read a novel, which examines the idea of national bias, set amidst the more recent conflict between Zionists and Palestinians. I’ll tell you about it on Monday — why not sign up to follow my blog so you don’t miss it?

This is my final blog about Latvia for now. Next time we visit will be in the winter, I’m so looking forward to seeing the city with snow.

Live well today.

Take care,

Love, Anne x

Anne E Thompson has written several novels and writes a regular blog each week. You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com

A laugh-out-loud book about travelling the world with a family. From India to South America, and across most of Europe, this book has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

A great book to read on holiday, and you can read it for free if you have a kindle! Available from a Kindle near you.

U.S. link here

UK link here

Visiting Auschwitz


Visiting Auschwitz

We followed a long line of coaches and minibuses, alongside the disused railway line, to the car park. It was a huge car park, with hundreds of people. Our guide went to park, and we went in search of washrooms.

The washrooms are in the basement of a brick-built building—we stand in line on stairs which wind downwards, the walls are grey, the steps are concrete, surrounded by people speaking various languages—we pay 2 zloty to the women at the counter—we file into the clean but over-used cubicles. There are lots of people, everyone sombre, all sort of waiting for what comes next on our tour. Which has faint echoes of the past with the immense difference that we are here voluntarily, and only our emotions are at risk.

We are at Auschwitz 1 (there were two camps—I’ll explain later). This camp has the iconic gateway, with ‘Work Makes Free’ welded above it. We walk through the gate, into the camp, and look around. My first impression is that there are trees (were there trees when it was a prison, or have they been added since it became a museum?) and that it is relatively small—when you stand in the centre you can see all four corners. It reminds me of a students’ hall of residence, which is perhaps not surprising as it started life as a barracks for Polish soldiers, though was extended by the Nazis.

Auschwitz is the German translation of Oswiecim, a small town in Poland, which before the war had a population of about 70% Jewish Poles. It was chosen because of its position, in an area of forests, near good resources, with excellent transport and several large industries (which could be supplied with workers). The Nazis turned the barracks into a prison, filling it with anyone who was deemed to be an enemy of the state (so initially, mainly Polish people who were resisting the occupation, and later gypsies and Jewish people). It was designed as a work camp, with the prisoners sent out of the prison to work, marching to the nearby factories. As the war progressed, the inmates were gradually starved, abused and finally executed.

Auschwitz is now a museum, and although it’s possible to visit alone, there is more opportunity if you have a guide. When we arrived, we had our bags checked (you can’t take much more than a bottle of water and sunglasses inside) and were given headphones. These connected to a microphone which our guide spoke into, making it easy to hear him, so there was not a general cacophony of noise with various guides all trying to out-shout each other. It also meant that when I wanted to simply think and absorb what I was seeing, I could turn him off (though that probably wasn’t the plan). We did though have to follow the route that the guide chose.

We were taken to the extermination block: Block 4. We filed inside, squashed on all sides by people from around the world, a murmur of other languages, cameras in hands, bags slung on shoulders. The building smelt clean, but of bodies—a bit like a school. The stairs were dipped, worn down by thousands of feet—but during the war, these buildings were relatively new, it is tourists’ feet that have worn things down.

The block has been set up like a museum, with display boards and signs and maps and photographs. (The photographs were found by chance, by a little girl after the war, and were taken by German photographers.) The map showed how people from all over the occupied world were sent to Auschwitz. In 1942, the inmates changed to being mainly Jewish, and it became a death camp. The numbers are so big they begin to lose their meaning. The local town became full of German families, moving into the area.

The displays explained facts from both prisons (Auschwitz 2 is much larger). It showed how the Jewish people had been told that they were being relocated, and they paid to buy tickets to Auschwitz. They were told how much they were allowed to bring: up to 25kg of stuff, and we saw displays of their possessions. What, I wonder, would you pack if told to relocate with only what you could carry? There were scissors, and rolling pins, pots and cutlery. On arrival, people were told to leave their bags and go to be disinfected. We saw heaps of their luggage, briefcases and baskets. There was another display of their clothes—a child’s clothing was displayed in a glass case; the clothes were handmade and I wondered who had knitted the socks, who had sewn the trousers? Another display was heaped with shoes, most of which looked faded and dusty, but you could still see fashionable sandals, and fancy heels, and children’s shoes scattered at the front. The inmates were shaved, and there was a display of their hair, faded grey now, and matted with time, so it more resembles old wool than human hair. It was used to make blankets and socks for the war effort. There was a display of crutches and false limbs, which made you realise the scale of the operation, and made you wonder how it felt to relinquish these last, necessary, items. There were shaving brushes, and hairbrushes, and brushes (like my dad had when I was young) for polishing shoes. One display was given to prayer shawls.

After being shaved and showered, the prisoners were given uniforms—the blue striped pyjamas that we recognise from films. This was their only uniform, so if they couldn’t wait to go to the washrooms (only allowed toilet visits morning and evening) or if it got muddy, it stayed dirty. I guess that dirty, stinky, people are easier to dehumanise.

When they arrived, they gave their profession. It was best to be something useful (like a welder, or jeweller, or cook) rather than useless (like a lawyer or accountant—they were sent off to do hard labour).

We were taken (not my choice) to the ‘judgement block’. Some of the things were heard about were horrid, so I shan’t repeat them. We saw the wall where people were shot (I believe the original wall was destroyed, so this was reconstructed in the same place). This now has flowers and candles, with the Israeli flag flying behind it. People paused for a moment, some crossed themselves, couples held hands, people bowed their heads as if praying. It’s in a sunny courtyard, and we could hear birds singing, and the crunch of footsteps, and the murmur of guides’ voices. Then we walked, though the open wooden gates, away.

The next block was the one which I found the most affecting. It was simply showing home-movies, taken before the war. As the images flickered on the walls: a child learning to ride a bike, a family swimming, a school concert—you remembered that the people who died here had lives which were not so dissimilar to our lives today. This did not happen hundreds of years ago in a strange land. This was Europe, less than a lifetime ago.

Auschwitz 1 was where the first experiments with gas were undertaken. Zyklon B was used before the war, as a disinfectant. It is blue/grey pellets, and was sent to the camps in tins. I won’t describe how the Nazis refined their techniques, because it was horrible, but they eventually built a concrete gas chamber, and it still stands today.

As we were about to enter, our guide pointed out the corner of a house, next to the camp. This is where Rudolf Höss lived with his family. I cannot imagine raising my children in such a place (clearly what the book The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was exploring.) We looked at the flat-roofed concrete building used as a gas chamber, and went inside.

There was an outer room, where people would undress (because undressing a corpse is difficult). There were drains in the floor, it was dimly lit, everything was concrete. We shuffled forwards in the line of people, into the main room. Concrete floor, concrete walls, concrete ceiling. There were scratches on the walls (don’t think about it) and drains in the floor and holes in the roof where the gas was added. I expected to feel upset, or claustrophobic, or frightened, but I didn’t. If it reminded me of anything, it brought back memories of changing in a damp concrete changing room at the swimming pool at Letchworth—not a nice place, but still just a place. I didn’t feel the echoes of the people who had gone before, I don’t think their ghosts have lingered.

Then we walked into the area used as a crematorium. There were rails and turnstiles on the floor for efficient moving of heavy bodies, and large brick-built ovens. As we stood, in silence, thinking, a woman started to weep; the only sound was of her sniffs. I touched her arm, and she clung, briefly, to me, needing the comfort of another human. I have no idea whether we speak the same language, but we are both human, and that was all that mattered—which is sort of the point of visiting this place, trying to grasp how humans could lay aside their humanity so easily. One of the saddest things I saw was the photographs of the Nazi soldiers; they were young people. They didn’t look evil, they just looked like the young people who I know and love. How could this have happened?

We went to Auschwitz 2. I will describe it for you tomorrow. Why not sign up to follow my blog so you don’t miss it?

anneethompson.com

Hong Kong History


Hong Kong History

Husband has finished work, so he joined me on Anne Time and reset his watch for 3 hours behind HK time. The weather forecast was dry, which makes a huge difference to what you feel like doing, so we left our raincoats in the hotel which was very brave (I smuggled my umbrella into my bag—too many days of rain so far).

We walked to the Hong Kong Museum of History. I’m not keen on museums, and at first, this museum reminded me why—too much information on tiny cards and displays of geological features in glass cases. It was also basically dark, with ferocious spot-lighting and lots of very loud recordings—don’t visit with a headache. However, then we went upstairs. Upstairs was so much better; some parts were hardly like a museum at all.

The museum explained how Hong Kong had been an area of boat people. They lived their whole lives on the boats, fishing and trading. Gradually, the population moved to simple huts on the islands of Hong Kong.

The dragon dance originated with the boat people. When a couple got married, the bride would be carried in a dragon boat (a 10-person rowing boat) to the groom’s boat. When the people moved to the land, they adapted this tradition into a dance, with a symbolic dragon, and the other dancers imitating the rowing action. According to tradition, the bride must neither see nor step on the ground when she is going to meet her husband, and she was carried, piggy-back style into a sedan chair, and then taken to her husband. She wore red. (Brides today in China usually wear red, though they also buy a white dress, for photographs beforehand—we have seen a few brides being photographed in various scenic places.)

The museum has a model, which shows the fort which was in Kowloon. This later developed into a walled city, and when the British took over, it was outside of their jurisdiction, but also beyond the control of the Chinese, so it became a completely lawless place. When I was young, I read Chasing the Dragon which tells the story of the people inside the walled city—it’s a good book if you’re looking for something to read. Eventually, the British and the Chinese agreed to demolish the city, and today it’s a park (which I’m hoping we can visit).

Another display explained how rice is produced. It looks a lot like wheat, and the rice grains are the seed head (I didn’t know that).

There was a display that explained the Opium Wars. In brief: China was a closed country, and did not want to trade with the rest of the world, but the rest of the world was jealous of China’s resources. European countries decided to attack the coastline, so sent boats to attack. China relented, and allowed some trade. The British were very keen to buy tea and silk, but they had nothing to trade in return, so the market was very much in favour of the Chinese. At the time, Britain occupied India, where opium was grown. So, the British imported opium to China, to rebalance the market. The British sent so much opium, that at one point there were over 10 million Chinese addicts, which had huge repercussions on the Chinese economy and health. (Writing this does not make me proud to be British—we did some terrible things in the past.) China tried to stop the opium being imported, and there were wars. In the end, an agreement was reached, and Britain stopped importing opium, and in return, China gave us Hong Kong. However, we still smuggled opium into China, via Hong Kong.

Under British rule, Hong Kong became a major trading port. The museum has recreated an old-fashioned Hong Kong street, which you can walk along, looking at shops from years gone by.

There is then a section devoted to the Japanese occupation. There is a photograph of Nathan Road (which we have walked along several times) showing the response of the locals when the Japanese left.

Many of the museum’s displays explained the various religious festivals in China—like the Bun Festival. One island has huge structures, covered in buns—which look like a massive tribute to McDonalds. The festival takes place in May, so we might go to see it.

After a couple of hours, I had no more brain capacity for further discoveries, and so reluctantly we left. There were still displays we hadn’t seen—this is a museum where you could spend an entire day. I hate museums, but I really enjoyed this one. The displays were like storybooks, you felt as if you were stepping back in time and experiencing what it was like to live in ancient Hong Kong. If you ever visit Hong Kong, make time to come here.

I hope you have an interesting day too.
Take care,
Love, Anne x

Written in 1605


My family has an old book. We have had it for years, and I have never really taken any notice of it – I thought it was an old Bible. But recently, James happened to see it, and became fascinated with it, and I realised that actually, it was rather special. Even if it has no financial value (it is in terrible condition, my father even took with him on a trip to the US once, and showed it to a whole congregation of people!) it certainly has historical value. Let me show you.

The book contains sermons, written by Master Henry Smith, in 1605. Now, even if the book itself is a reproduction, have you ever read anything that was written so long ago? It’s only about 80 years after the first English, Tyndale, Bibles were printed. Think about what was happening in England during the 1600s – the plague, the fire in London, all the stuff about the reformation, people being burnt alive for what they believed. Elizabeth I died in 1603, so things weren’t exactly stable.

It also predates Dr. Samuel Johnson (who wrote the first dictionary and therefore standardised spelling) so the language is amazing. Why wouldn’t you want to spell “poison” as “poyson”? (You do, when reading it, need to remember that all the letters which look like ’f’ are actually ’s’.)

As you read it, you can hear how people spoke in those days, and can imagine yourself back in time, sitting on a hard wooden pew, listening while the preacher berated the congregation. He was pretty harsh about ‘Papists’.

Apparently my granny rescued it from a bonfire her sister had when their mother died.  I will try to find out more and let you know. I don’t know if it is of any historical value to the wider world beyond the family. I’m not sure how much literature survives from 1600s, so it might be of interest. I have emailed the British Library, to ask. No idea if anyone will reply.

The words are a little hard to read (unless you have had years of practise reading the writing of 5 year olds, in which case it’s easy!) I have translated a passage about transubstantiation for you (which is when people believe that bread and wine at a communion service change physically – a big area of dispute between the Anglican and Catholic church in the 1600s) I have changed the spelling, but not the grammar or punctuation:

“It followeth, As often as ye shall eat this bread and drink this cup, ye shall show the Lords death till he comes. Here are three invincible arguments against popish Transubstantiation, like the three witnesses, under which every word doth stand.

“First we are said to eat bread; then it is not flesh, but bread. Secondly, we are said to show the Lords death; then it is but a show or representation of his death. Thirdly, it is said, until he come; then he is not come: if he be to come, how can we say, until he come?”

There is another sermon, about Noah being drunk, which I enjoyed. I am guessing the sermons were to be preached to ordinary, working people, as they talk about working the land, and being humble:

“First we are to speak of Noah, then of Cham (Ham?) his wicked son, and after of Shem and Japheth his good sons: In Noah, first of that which he did well, and then of his sin. In Cham, first of his sin, and then of his curse. In his brother, first of their ‘reuerece’ (reverence?) and then of their blessing.
Now we will speak of the father, and after of his children. Then (father Moses) Noah began to be an husband.
This is the first name which is given to Noah after the flood, he is called a husband; and the first work which is mentioned, was the planting of a vineyard; one would think when all men were drowned with the flood, and none left alive to possess the earth but Noah and his sons, that he would have found himself something else to do, than them to plant vineyards: and that the holy ghost should have entitled him King of the world, and not a husbandman of the earth, seeing there be no such men as Noah was, which had more in his hand than any King has in the world, or shall have to the worlds end: but thereby the holy Ghost would show, that God does not respect kings for their titles, nor men for their riches, as we do, and therefore he named Noah after the work which he did, not after the possessions he had, a husbandman.
It seems that there was a great difference(?) between this age and ours: for if we should see now a king go to plough, a noble man to drive the team, a gentleman keep sheep, he should be scorned for his labour, more than Noah was for his drunkenness: yet when we read how this Monarch of the world thought no scorn to play the husbandman, we consider not his princely calling, nor his ancient years, nor his large possessions to commend his industry, or modesty, or lowly mind therein. Which may teach us humility, though we learn to disdain husbandry. Of whom will we learn to be humble, if kings give examples, and the son of God humbleth himself from heaven to earth, and yet we condemn(?) the example of the kings of the earth, and the king of heaven.
The time was when Adam digged and delved, when David kept sheep, and all the house of Jacob were called to be occupied about cattle: but as they for this were abominable to the Egyptians (as Moses saith in the same verse) so they which do like them, are abhorred of their brethren: and they which live by them, scorn them for their work, which would be chastened themselves because they work not.”

If I learn anything more about the book, I will let you know. I hope you enjoy the tiny extracts I have shown you. Am personally loving the thought that Adam “digged and delved”!

Thank you for reading. I’ll write again next Monday, have a great week.

Love, Anne x

Next week I’ll tell you about the mystery of the missing lighthouse…

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow today?

A Little London History


A Little London History

Walking around London is always fun – there is so much to see, so many tiny parts of our past left for us to find. However, not all of it is obvious, so here are a few snippets I learned recently.

Did you know, that if a name ends ‘sey’ it was once an island? Bermondsey, near London Bridge, was once a small area surrounded by marsh land. Most of the south bank was marshy, which is why there was only one bridge – London Bridge – crossing the Thames. When you are next crossing London Bridge, just after leaving the railway station, look down at the road underneath. You will see two metal tram lines. These mark the position of the original bridge. They are surprisingly narrow, considering the bridge was a main thoroughfare and had houses and businesses on both sides, over-hanging the river. There is a story (possibly not true) that because people crossing the bridge had to pass very close to each other, they would pass with their sword hands next to each other. Most people were right-handed, so people walked on the left side – and this is why today, English people drive on the left. Apparently Napoleon was left-handed, which is why the French drive on the right side.

If you walk along the south bank through Bermondsey, there are many buildings which were the original dock buildings. Most are now converted to homes, but when you look at them, it doesn’t need much imagination to see how they would have been. At St. Saviours Dock you can see the setting where Dickens wrote the death of Fagin in Oliver Twist. If you walk back to the river, there are areas of floating gardens, and on Sundays they are open to the public.

Many of the railway arches are now small businesses. If you wander around Bermondsey on a Saturday morning, you can buy all sorts of fine produce – a foodies paradise. There is a fine honey shop, which uses the honey from London beehives. Did you know there are beehives on top of Fortnum and Mason, which are shaped just like the shop? There are also hives on top of the KPMG building, though I doubt they are shaped like a set of accounts!

Near to London Bridge is Borough Market, a hive of human activity. This is the place to shop if you want unusual spices, fancy breads, or specialist fish. Just beyond, is Neal’s – the place to buy English cheese. There is also Monmouth coffee house, which I am told sells the best coffee.

The South Bank is where the prostitutes worked and they were called ‘wild geese’. A short walk from Borough Market is a plaque, marking their graves.

Many of the areas of housing are named after what the area was previously used for. So, the housing on the Neckinger estate is so named because it was an area of execution. I’m not sure that the current residents realise that…

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Thank you for reading.
You can follow my blog at anneethompson.com

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.

xxxx

If you enjoyed this, you will love my new book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary.
I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

Why not buy a copy today? I think it will make you laugh.

The US link is here:

https://www.amazon.com/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1549015525&sr=8-1&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary

The India link is here:

https://www.amazon.in/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1549015429&sr=8-1&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary

The UK link is here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sarcastic-Mothers-Holiday-Diary-ebook/dp/B07N95281F/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1549014970&sr=8-2&keywords=the+sarcastic+mothers+holiday+diary

A View of History…..


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What is your view of history? It seems there are three main views (do let me know if you think there are more.)

The first idea is that time is like an old fashioned clock. It has been wound up, the pendulum is swinging and slowly, slowly, it is winding down. There was a beginning to life on earth and there will be an end. That is all there is to it. How individuals live and behave is pretty meaningless in terms of history. In millions of years from now, there will be no life on earth and no one to remember it. There will be nothing.

The next idea is that time is circular, more like a spiral. Everything that happens has happened in the past and will happen in the future. Events repeat – possibly after thousands of years, but basically the same things happen over and over again. Whilst this clearly doesn’t apply to specific inventions (the Romans had central heating but no internet!) in terms of humanity, empires rising and falling, people doing the same things over and over, history repeats.

I guess this idea is behind the philosopher who said,

“Every river flows into the sea, but the sea is not yet full. The waters return to where the rivers began, and starts all over again. Everything leads to weariness – a weariness too great for words. Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough. What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the whole world. ‘Look!’ they say, ‘here is something new!’ but no, it has all happened long before we were born. No one remembers what has happened in the past, and no one in days to come will remember what happens between now and then.”

The last idea is that history is more like an arrow that has been shot from a bow. It is going somewhere. We might not see the big picture, but there is a clear aim, there is somewhere that all this life on earth ultimately leads to.

So, which view is your view? I’m not sure if it’s possible to hold the third view if you have no belief in God or an afterlife. What do you think? I would be very interested to hear from anyone who does hold that view and who doesn’t believe in God. It is certainly the view held by religious people but if there is no God, I’m not sure where life could be leading. What do you think?

I thought about this a lot when I was a teenager. Actually, I was a very unhappy teenager – all those hormones whizzing round made for a very troubled person. I also could never summon enthusiasm for things that I felt had ‘no point’ (a common view amongst middle children I believe.)

This was something of a problem at school and I frequently skipped lessons and rarely troubled much about homework. It wasn’t helped by our family having very little money. Why learn French if the only foreign country you are likely to visit is Wales? I was also brought up to believe that the best thing for girls to be was a wife and a mother, so what use was chemistry going to be? (I do now, as an adult, think that being a wife and mother is an excellent thing to be. However, I also think that other careers are also excellent. I do sometimes wonder if I might have made a good journalist, going around the world and giving other people a voice. Some better qualifications would have been helpful. Too late now…)

I did actually, for a while, get very depressed. I was brought up in a religious family, but we were pretty much taught rules and knowledge. I really couldn’t see the point of life. If the point was to have fun, and I clearly wasn’t, then why bother? If there was a Heaven, why not just go there straight away?

No one ever told me (or at least, if they did, I never heard) that there was a plan and that I was part of it. I never heard anyone explain the last view with the addition that the God who had ‘shot the arrow,’ actually had a purpose for me, there was a point to being alive, right now, even if I didn’t always see it. I wish someone had told me that. That’s why I’m telling you.

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A Trip to London with Aunty Ruth


Letter to a son….

I hope you’ve had a nice week. I went to London with Aunty Ruth. She wanted to see Lincoln’s Inn and Grey’s Inn (because I sent her the books by C J Sansom, which are murder/mystery books set in the 16th century. The main character, Shardlake, is a lawyer who works at the Inns.)

We got the train to London Bridge and then walked up, past the Bank of England and Guildhall. We got a bit distracted at Guildhall. I told her about going to a function there and we decided to see if we could break in, so I could show her the really cool hall. We went into the art gallery bit first, because I thought we might find a route through into the hall. This was free and had some fantastic paintings. I was a bit surprised to see a miniature version of one of my favourite paintings – The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Delaroche – do you remember me taking you to see the big version in the National Gallery? (We went when you were small enough to be persuaded to do things that I considered ‘good for you’.) Anyway, apparently Delaroche did this tiny painting first, as a sort of practice attempt.

IMG_3907There wasn’t a route into the hall but a nice security man told us that actually, we were allowed into the hall, we just had to use a different entrance. We found the right door, had our bags checked, and went into the hall. There’s a plaque on the wall that tells you about some of the famous people who had their trials there – people like Anne Askew (a heretic), Lady Jane Grey, and Henry Garnet (part of the Gunpowder Plot.) A lot of history, makes you think, to realise that it was real.

 

 

 

IMG_3903Something which I assume isn’t based on reality are two statues of Gog and Magog, who were two giants who fought Brutus on the site of Guildhall.

 

 

 

 

After Anne Askew’s trial, she was carried on a chair to Smithfield Market to be burnt. (She was carried because she couldn’t walk due to being stretched on a rack when tortured.) She was only 25.

We walked up to Smithfield Market to see if there was anything marking the spot where people were executed. (It’s very lucky that Aunty Ruth shares my interest in this stuff. Perhaps we had a weird childhood.)

IMG_3911Smithfield Market is a meat market, it has been one for centuries. There was nothing to show where they actually killed people, though there was another plaque giving information. It’s where William Wallace was hung drawn and quartered (you have seen the film, Braveheart, with Mel Gibson.)

It is also where people could sell their wives. Apparently, a few centuries ago, getting a divorce was very difficult, so men would take their wives to Smithfield Market and sell them! I assume that’s where the term ‘a meat market’ comes from (when talking about nightclubs or places with lots of available women.)

 

We then had a very nice lunch in Carluccios (email, in case you want to go there, is: smithfield@carluccios.com ) It was very relaxed and the food was good and we spent a very long time just chatting about when we were little. Aunty Ruth started with a coffee, but then she has been living in Canada for a long time now, so I guess some oddities are bound to appear.

IMG_3738We did finally make it to the Inns. Aunty Ruth was slightly nervous about just walking into places that had ‘Private’ and ‘Do Not Enter’ signs but I assured her that it would be fine, we could just apologise and leave, they don’t execute people anymore in the UK. I told her to try and look like either a lawyer or a criminal, so people would think we had business there. She took lots of photos, which rather spoilt the image. (Actually, according to the website, it is open to the public at certain times. But it was more fun when she thought we were trespassing.) It really is an amazing place, brilliant buildings and peaceful gardens right in the middle of London.

Walked back to London Bridge and got the train home.

Saw some lambs when I drove her back from the station – first ones I’ve seen this year. The sheep from the field next to the house have been moved, so Kia is a bit more relaxed this week.

The rats have destroyed FOUR duck eggs. Am very annoyed, I really want some more ducklings this year. I don’t know what to do now, whether to collect them (eggs, not rats) and hatch them in the incubator. But that is a month of incubating plus about a month of keeping them warm at night and I’m not sure if I am definitely here for a two month stretch. I might ask the boys in Sunday School if any of them would like to ‘baby-sit’ some ducklings in their garage for a week if I go away.

Take care,

Love, Mum xxx

PS. When you wash your duvet cover, remember to do up the poppers first, then it won’t fill up with all your other washing. I do realise that there is a bit of an assumption there. If washing your duvet cover is not a regular event, I don’t need to know…

PPS. Please try to eat some fruit/vegetables.

 

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Thank you for reading.

My sister’s letters can be found at:http://ruthdalyauthor.blogspot.co.uk

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