June 2016 Archives

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My parents celebrate their eightieth birthday at 21 Park Road.

Day 5-6

The year was 1963, and we were caravanning from the Midlands to East Anglia, the caravan consisting of a removal van with all our furniture, and the entire family with both our cars. If I recall rightly, by that point we had a green Austin Cambridge mainly distinguished by a propensity to break down and a white Ford Anglia. Our family comprised four children, three adults and two cats, one of whom temporarily escaped when we stopped at a layby. Several of us were in tears, unhappy at leaving our old life in the beautiful market town of Melton Mowbray. We had been half-dragged out of empty rooms, weeping hysterically.

After the momentous journey, we pulled into the drive of a red brick house built in 1901, formerly a boarding house for schoolgirls. Boxes began to be unloaded, cats were let out in a closed room and the neighbours came over with lemonade and snacks to welcome us to Park Road. A new life was beginning in Ipswich, Suffolk--and for my parents it would last more than fifty years.

Both my parents were born in London, Mum in Southwark, near the Elephant and Castle and Dad in Muswell Hill. After their marriage they moved to rural Leicestershire. And now we had come to the county town of East Suffolk, where Mum would be working in the public health service. Mum claimed that as a cockney, she only knew two bird species, sparrows and pigeons. Nevertheless, my parents were to indigenize themselves in Suffolk, with its saltmarshes and rich bird life. They watched Ipswich, once the greatest port between the Humber and the Thames, be superseded by the roll-on roll-off container port at Felixstowe. They saw a mainly white provincial town of 75,000 become a multicultural city, home to 300,000.

There are many ways to make a place your own. My parents tended a beautiful garden with magnificent old roses and a small greenhouse for Dad's tomatoes. They also grew vegetables in their allotment (community garden plot), at one point insisting on being self-sufficient in vegetables during garden season. They made key contributions to many aspects of community and parish life and formed close bonds with neighbours on Park Road. They took the time to know and appreciate Suffolk's unique ecology, walking the seawalls and footpaths and spending many a weekend on their yacht, the Wild Rose, moored on Shotley Peninsula. They reached out in their own ways to the disadvantaged, Dad by being a reliable source of odd jobs for men in need of a little cash to get by, Mum by helping start a counselling centre and, after her retirement, serving as counsellor.

Dad also made Ipswich his own in the same way that Van Gogh claimed Arles, a place far from his native Holland. Dad's urban landscapes of snowy days and rainy nights on humble street corners illumine the quiet beauty of a provincial East Anglian town. He saw the Ipswich people walk past every day and never really notice, capturing the radiance of a traffic light on a wet street or the cheerful colour of a garage door on a snowy day. It's because my parents made this place their own that it continues to reflect them, even after both of them have passed on.

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Day 4

Today we completed the process of taking care of Mum's earthly remains. Since the funeral and cremation, her ashes have been in the living room of our close family friends, Sue and Murray. Her wish had been to have her ashes interred in the churchyard of St Mary le Tower Church, where she worshipped from 1963 until her death. In a simple ceremony, attended by the close friends who supported Mum in her final years, we fulfilled that wish.

Finality

White powder in black earth.

Ashes to ashes

Dust to dust

Ache in heart.

The body that bore me in the womb

Nursed me at the breast

Held me on warm lap

Dust you are

To dust you shall return.

Your earthly remains

Rest by the path

Where bells peal,

Summoning worshippers

Choristers process

Brides walk

Mourners stand

Flowers offer welcome.

Mother

Your warm voice

Always in my ears

Your love

Always protecting

Your eyes in my eyes

Your wisdom in my heart

Until I too

Return to dust.

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We are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me', so here it is.

Day 3:

One feature of any journey of remembrance is that life keeps flowing on, current events impinging upon the time set aside for remembering the departed. This became clear at the end of 2009, when we travelled to Wales for the anniversary of my father's death and to scatter his ashes in the Aeron River. A big crisis erupted in the village, replete with lies, adultery and betrayal, sweeping up a lot of the energy we planned to devote to mourning Dad.

This time, the eruption is being far more intense. We flew into Heathrow Airport on the morning of the referendum. Of course, we were utterly exhausted from the journey and there was no prospect of staying up all night to follow the results--only Gibraltar had declared by the time we tumbled into bed. I peeled my eyes open at eight next morning and turned on the computer only to get a horrible shock--Britain had voted Leave. My mind was spinning with the insanity of quitting the single market, turning our backs on Europe, crashing the economy, degrading the pound, splitting the UK, losing Scotland, jeopardising the Good Friday accord and giving up our ability to live, work and travel freely in twenty-seven countries. Facebook immediately revealed that my siblings, cousins and nieces were just as upset.

In the two days that have followed, the horror has only deepened. Both major parties are falling apart. Scotland is calling for a second referendum on independence. The Prime Minister is resigning, leaving us to be governed by the extreme right of the Tory party. A Polish cultural centre was vandalized. British Muslims and Sikhs are being attacked with cries of, "Get out, we voted Leave!" (Leave the Commonwealth? The World?). The Remainers are calling the Leavers Fascists and the Leavers are calling the Remainers whiny millennials who make poor losers. But the millennials grew up as Europeans and have never known any other reality. The other EU countries are telling us to hurry up with the divorce and yet we seem to have no leadership at all, no plan B, no way forward.

For me, so many emotions are mingling together. It was enough to be dealing with the death of my mother--now my motherland is in crisis. I'm losing my identity as a European. I love my family very much and don't want them to be stuck in an impoverished and divided country with a right wing government. And as my cousin and 'big brother' Garry said, my parents would be really sad. They would be sad not just because they would care what kind of a country and world their grandchildren will live in, but also because they were Francophile, widely travelled, global in perspective and raised us to have broad minds and wide horizons. They did not expect us to live in a Little England where foreigners are unwelcome.

With all these emotions tumbling within me, we went for a walk in Christchurch Park and the arboretum and visited the Lebanon cedars Mum was so proud of. The greenery, flowers, fragrant roses and honeysuckle, bumblebees and birdsong soothed my soul and epitomized the England I love and that my parents loved too.

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Ancient House, Ipswich, formerly a bookstore

We are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me' , so here it is.

Day 2:

Saturday today, and we walk to the town centre to do a little shopping at Sainsbury's and Boots. Meanwhile, I experience a flood of reminiscences of Saturdays forty-five or fifty years ago, back in the Sixties. Reminiscence, although perhaps frowned upon by many spiritual and meditative disciplines, seems to be an intrinsic part of the grief process. After Dad died, Mum and I would reminisce together, not only about Dad, but also about her childhood, the War, and long-dead relatives, kept alive by the passing on of memories. So here are my reminiscences of those long-ago Saturday mornings.

I remember Mum working on her menus and shopping list on Friday evening. She had a card index of recipes, things she had learnt in Cordon Bleu classes (I used to believe there was a chef named Gordon Blue!), recipes she had cut out of Woman's Weekly and so on. Mum leafed through recipes, created a menu for the week and made the shopping list accordingly. Fifty years later, I prepare Alandi Ashram's weekly shopping list in very similar way, leafing through Ayurvedic cookbooks and scrolling my own recipe blogs as I create the menu and list.

Next morning, we all set off to the town centre, parking in Mum's parking space at County Hall. The exciting day began with a visit to the County Library. Unlike other Ipswichians, who could only use the town library on Northgate Street, we had County Library privileges because Mum worked for the county. After stocking up on books for the week, we went shopping. Sometimes I accompanied Mum to the butcher, baker, fishmonger, greengrocer, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's, helping to carry the heavy shopping bags (we brought cloth bags from home, plastic shopping bags lay in the future). At other times I would make my own way to our magnificent Ancient House Bookstore to get the latest assigned reading for History or English Lit, or visit Woolworths to look for sundry items. Without mobile phones, the meet-ups were tricky and might involve quite a bit of waiting. Sometimes we might stop for tea or for a Danish in Marks and Spencer--each shopping day had its unique features and each expressed our family energy in its own way, according to the season and the needs of the group. But they were always happy and exciting expeditions, full of the promise of delicious cheeses, fresh vegetables and new books to read.

Today, Ipswich town centre is not what it was in those days. Pound shops (similar to dollar shops) and charity shops full of secondhand wares have filled much of the once-bustling streets. Yet not all the changes have been for the worse. The last twenty years have brought a tremendous influx of diversity, enriching our provincial town with many cultures, languages, ethnic food stores and cuisines. Today, amid all the darkness and gloom of Brexit, we wandered by chance into the tail end of Ipswich library's Multicultural Day. Vibrant African fabrics and glittering belly dancers filled the hall with life and colour, and world music got us clapping. Surely my parents would have loved it and found hope in the spirit of diversity and friendship that prevailed.

As I wrote in a previous blog, we are on a journey of remembrance, following the same vacation plan we've followed every year in order to visit my mother--except that this year, my mother is no more. I promised to give you a chance to 'walk with me', so here it is.

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A glimpse of Christchurch Park, mapio.net

Day 1:

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Ipswich, very tired. Aside from the usual jet lag, I had also developed stomach 'flu on the plane journey. And things were so different! On every other visit since 1991, we had arrived to the loving welcome of my parents, or in recent years, of Mum. Now we had to face that empty space. How would we feel? Our Airbnb hosts, Gertrude, Steve and little Angelina, are from Malawi, and offered the kind of warmth and welcome I associate with East African culture. Their genuine human kindness and friendliness went a long way to assuage the initial grief. They made certain that our needs were met and then took off for London, leaving us our own space, peace and quiet.

We had chosen our location carefully, to be in the part of Ipswich where I grew up. In recent years Mum had moved from Ipswich proper to a retirement community in Kesgrave. Now we are back in the old haunts of the family. The bells peal from the churches, thrushes and blackbirds sing and seagulls cry, just as they did when I was a girl. Two minutes from the house where we are staying, we found Bolton Stores. Now part of a chain, the store was started in I973 by a Ugandan Asian, after Idi Amin expelled the Asians. Dad loved to pop over to Bolton Stores for sundry items and chat with the proprietor, who in Uganda had been a philosophy professor. The two men had a natural kinship and Dad spoke enthusiastically about his visits to the store. Another minute away and you get to The Woolpack, Dad's 'local' where he liked to go for 'a swift half' before lunch.

Cross the street and you're in Christchurch Park. I was so blessed to grow up right by this beautiful park, which was like an extension of our own back yard. Here are the lawns where Magnus, my parents' beloved Sheltie, used to romp, the pond where little Nick used to feed the ducks (an activity strictly forbidden in these more ecologically enlightened times), the gently-sloping path where I used to go roller skating, the mighty oaks which Dad portrayed in a powerful and unsettling expressionistic style. Today I saw that my parent's death did not have to mean the loss to me of Ipswich and Suffolk--and that in ways great and small, Ipswich contains my parents and always will. There is a sweet and cherished memory on every corner. In the magic of place, I find my parents still.

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    This page is an archive of entries from June 2016 listed from newest to oldest.

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