My dear stargazer readers, I want you to know that I love this woman with all my heart.
I love her courage, her insight and outsight, her skill as an astonishing photographer and her love for others.
I dedicate this piece to my beloved photographer friends, who also know how to make film… to Hena Begum, to Mike Losban and to Pete Yankowski – and also to Raja Miah, cos I’m beside you still on the road to Damascus.
On a morning in late September 1973, my blue-eyed boy was born… Chris didn’t have an easy entry to the world. He had been ‘turned’ several times during my pregnancy and was born with the umbilical cord around his neck. The sweet midwife worked hard to get him to breathe and I watched through a haze as his little face started to change colour.
“What’s his name?” she asked, “I have to christen him!”
The student midwife, who was helping, ran out of the room and never came back. It was all I could muster in response to the word ‘christen’ to say quietly, ‘Christian’. And so it was that Our Kid got his name, although his family name is Prune, following from his wrinkled little face after the ordeal of taking a breath. It was the doctor who confirmed he was breathing after mouth-to-mouth and early exercises for the wee man. How and I breathed a sigh of relief too.
Dom came home from school to find his brother had moved in. Their life together had started.
I think. on the whole, it has been a happy life they shared.
Here’s your big sister Ria holding you on one of our visits to your Nana and Grandi Claydon in Great Barford.
And here you are, forty-two years ago, rehearsing the nautical theme for Chow and Julie’s wedding…
And here’s your big brother Dom holding on to you, with your elephant matching his socks. He still holds on.
I wonder if you remember when we moved from Ellesmere Port to Middleton, with Duch, the black Labrador? Mischa the cat wasn’t too happy and decided to run away as soon as I opened the boot.
It was a new place and a time to explore the lovely places around Manchester – like Malham Cove.
I was terrified on the top with my two fearless boys!
You were only eight but you settled and seemed to like your new school. You were never one who needed to be told twice – and if I told you off for something, tears would well up in your blue eyes so I could never be cross for long.
Your favourite position on the football field was goalkeeper and the more mud the better! Sometimes we’d have a visit from Cookie down the hill from Oldham – always a happy time!
You spent hours with John and Dom preparing the flowers for Ria’s marriage to Keith. A happy time with music and your big brother home. On the day you were the official distributor…
When Hinnie was born, you came into our bedroom with Amy – your sister, eight months old, steadying her as she tried her early steps. Sisters around you can only be a good thing…
The guitar became your great comforter – and later you were to learn how to make one for yourself – and a mandolin.
We all piled off down to London to march against the invasion of Iraq – and then we did it again in Manchester, meeting Dom on the way in Piccadilly.
Or we’d all pile off to London to see Dom in an opera in Covent Garden – with careful preparations all round and Susan walking back barefoot.
And so to your own marriage to Susan in August 2010. Dom was dead chuffed when you asked him to read a passage for you both. Susan, your bride, was beautiful and we’d all had a hand in the flowers again! You were both so happy and we share in the glow of your love.
You built your happy home for your three children and your beautiful grandson.
Then you lost Dom to cancer the following year, having helped care for him all through 2011. Grief challenged you with new adjustments and you rose to it.
“D’you think Our Kid will call in this evening?” Dom would ask me… always looking forward to seeing you in your work clothes after a heavy day on the construction of Manchester’s Metro! (They should put your name on all the trams!) Your shared language was beautiful and mysterious: a language full of secrets and playfulness and always intent on laughter. It was a language which had grown from birth, filling a gaping hole in Dom’s life and one which sustained him in his last days. Now I know that he lives on in you.
As Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant would say, ‘There are many beautiful flowers in my garden, but the children are the most beautiful flowers of all’.
Our children are our blessings.
Thank you for reminding me to place my bet last Saturday for the Grand National Chris. My horse, Rogue Angel, tried so hard up to the last fence. ‘Bloody hell”, I thought, “I’m in for a £160 win here – and £80 for Our Kid.”
I can’t believe it’s fifty years since the Torrey Canyon disaster. The whole thing haunted me for years – along with the slow demise of my first marriage and later, having to live without my children.
The Sixties was not a good decade for lots of people: women were not listened to and still suffering from the post-war expectations of the kitchen-sink repression.
Not having a paid job or a home with my name on it proved a costly and life-threatening episode in my life.
In March 1967 the 974 ft oil supertanker Torrey Canyon was carrying tons of crude oil from Kuwait to Milford Haven in South Wales – there’s a big British Petroleum depot there and BP chartered the tanker.
The Captain had decided to take a short cut around Cornwall – not the best of choices at that point as many a sailor knows and while his Captain slept, the First Mate steered a course off Land’s End between Seven Stones Reef and the Scilly Isles. The huge tanker grounded on Pollard’s Rock on 18th March 1967. We’re told that the crew of the Seven Stones Lightship, two miles off the reef, realised the tanker was in danger when she was a mile away from the reef, but there was nothing they could do but raise the alarm. This was bad enough – but what was to follow was one of the greatest maritime disasters. It was man-made all round and made worse by unfortunate man-made attempts to resolve the problems. At the time, she was the largest vessel ever to be shipwrecked.
The crew were rescued by helicopters and lifeboats and the Captain and three crew stayed on board for as long as possible.
The Torrey Canyon began to split in two after two days of trying to refloat her.
The oil tanks were splitting and up to 117000 tons of crude oil was pouring into the sea. With a growing oil spill 8 miles long, on 28th March the RAF bombed the ship to sink her. Only 23 of the 41 bombs dropped hit their target and it took two days before she sank.
120 miles of the Cornish coast and 50 miles of the coast of Brittany were suffocated with crude oil. 10000 tons of BP’s crude oil detergent was poured into the sea – some in barrels from the top of cliffs.
15000 seabirds were killed along with beach marine life and micro-organisms of the seashore.
Hundreds of volunteers along with the army and emergency services took to the black beaches for the long, slow clear-up operation. Research has revealed that on beaches where no BP detergent was dispersed, it took 2-3 years for nature to resolve the tragedy, but where the untested detergent was used, it took 13-14 years for the balance to begin to be restored.
It was a tragic way to learn environmental lessons. The crude oil transported to a quarry in Guernsey is there to this day. The wreck of the Torrey Canyon lies 98 feet deep.
And that’s how, my dear readers, this poem was born.
There are times when the world closes in on me
I struggle for shore, aware of encumbrances,
Of the enormity of the waves
and the vast illegibility of the sky.
The power beneath me throws me at the strand,
Recedes, then whispers back
To feel my trembling consciousness.
I open my eyes to see myself crouched in fear…
My wings discoloured and glued down
By the coal-black tar of foreboding.
Thoughts which seem as deep as the vastness of my sky
Pin me down.
– And sand begins to gather on the tar.
And I have felt the earth tremble with your presence.
Felt strong hands hold me, lift me to your face.
And on that gentle face, outlined against my sky
Is fear, to match my own.
The real fear, the one which says
“You frighten me but I understand your pain;
lie still in my hands and trust me.”
That such a fear should breed you such compassion!
These hands that paint the tar away
Are of the stuff which first did give me life
– And threw me at the waiting sky, to fly.