Friday, 8 August 2008

Thunder of memory

Shortly after I posted yesterday's gibberish, we had a series of magnificent thunderstorms. These sent all the campers scurrying for cover, but did not appear to bother the 2 men putting up the large, new toilet/shower block, who continued to clamber around on the roof, wielding their electric drills etc, while magnesium-white flashes illuminated their work!

The sky had been bright while I posted my blog, but over a space of less than 5 minutes it turned darker and darker, till I needed to put the lights on - then, a stupendous white flash, that blinded me for 3 or 4 seconds, the sound of a heavy oak cupboard falling down a long spiral staircase and a rattling on the roof that I assumed to be hailstones - but no, it was large, individual raindrops that I was very glad to be protected from. This bout lasted for about 45 minutes, then we had a break of blue skies for an hour or so. Then, equally suddenly, the next one arrived, heralded by squally gusts of wind that threatened all the tents and awnings, twisting and lifting them so they struggled like terrified torture victims, when the torrent hit, the wrenched canvas flung the water in fountains and cascades that a designer of 'water features' would have envied! When the wind dropped, the water ran off the excellent modern waterproofing in distinct snakelike formations, looking remarkably like a display of trickling mercury - quite entrancing.

It's a long time since I last remember experiencing storms like this (they continued most of the night, a wonderful light show that I was glad to be awake to enjoy) The last time I recall storms of such impact was in my early teens, at my first secondary boarding school, Bearwood. This was the senior department of the Royal Merchant Navy School, to whom I owe a great debt, they gave me a far better education and standard of living than my mother could have afforded, had I stayed at home, and continued to pay for my education at a fine Girls' school, once the girls section of Bearwood closed (when I was 14) The school was in a fabulous 19th century mansion, built by the family who owned the 'Times' newspaper, and donated, with its enormous grounds, to the Royal Merchant Navy Orphanage when they found their original property, at Snaresbrook, no longer up to the job. A modern block of classrooms had been added to the original building - a long corridor, with rooms off, and I vividly remember standing in this corridor one summer term, with hailstones the size of golf balls crashing onto the sky lights, and wondering if the glass would stand up to this assault! Suffice to say they did, and I got into trouble (again!) for being late for my lesson, standing around contemplating the weather.

Bearwood has a special place in my heart, along with several members of the staff there. I won't pretend I was happy there, on the contrary, I was very miserable indeed, but this was not the fault of the school or its staff, or even of the other children, many of whom teased me unmercifully. The problem was that I was shy, gawky and deeply insecure, too much had happened in my short life, and I was a bully's dream! Some of the boys only needed to look at me hard, and I'd burst into tears! I was very frightened of life itself, having lost my father at four and a half, found myself sharing my remaining parent only 7 months later, and then packed off to boarding school at nearly 8 - the world didn't look like a very safe place to me, and I remained bewildered and confused by it all for many years, right into adulthood. Nonetheless, Bearwood was my rock for several years, and many of the deeply caring staff did their level best to fill the yawning gap left by our absent parents, they went way beyond the call of duty in the support and love they offered to children partially orphaned by death, and deprived of their remaining parent by circumstances.

The basics of simple survival were much more of a priority in those post-war years, and, although they cared as much as any modern parent ( maybe even more than some?) simply keeping a roof over their heads and food in our mouths was foremost in their efforts - there was little in the way of State support in those days, and charitable bodies served an even more vital role than they do now, in this country. In the early years in our little house in Canterbury, SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors and Air Force Association) were vital to my mother, providing us with many basics, such as clothes, furniture and even food, sometimes. Many I talk to about going to boarding school at such an early age are aghast that my mother could send me away so young, they find it hard to understand, in this age of minimum wages and charity shops, not to mention food being thrown away, that she was doing her best for me, ensuring that for 3/4 of the year I was fed, clothed, warm and housed to a standard way beyond what she could manage, and, furthermore, given a higher standard of education than the local school would have offered. My mothers' generation had suffered the Depression and the Second World War, what emotional damage did they suffer? In comparison to that, what was I suffering? I have no right to complain, but to be grateful that I was given so much by people who owed me nothing.

As the thunder clouds roll over again, I sit in my caravan home, with more than enough food in my cupboards, a modern gas cooker, a fridge, a heater and loads of modern comforts, and I'm deeply grateful. What's more, I have this wonderful machine, through which i can inflict my thoughts on you, the reader - isn't life magic!

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