Letters, laughter and family stories

A few weeks ago, I received a proper, old fashioned letter through the post.  It was from my uncle, whose laugh I can hear clearly in my head although we’ve only seen each other a handful of times over the past couple of decades.

Knowing that I’m studying ‘Writing for Young People,’ he wrote of his favourite children’s story: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. In it, Phillip takes his small sailing boat to aid in the rescue of the British troops trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk. It has a resonance for our family, because my uncle’s uncle – my own Great Uncle John – was one of those soldiers.

dunkirk 1

Despite his rescue that day, Great Uncle John’s story did not end well. He became institutionalised as a result of mental illness and eventually took his own life. Long after the war was over, he was still a victim of it.

I recently wrote a piece for my course, the prompt being ‘an object lost’. I’d chosen my late grandmother’s house and, the more I wrote the more memories came back. It got me thinking about the stories we hear from our families when we are children and how they interweave with our own memories to become part of us. It’s made me think about the stories in my fictional characters’ pasts. I need to know what has made them who they are.

My uncle’s letter was full of lighter family news, too, including a photo of his first grandchild. Looking at her sweet round face and the distinct lack of hair, I could see the resemblance to my cousins when they were small.

Last week he sent me a video clip of her laughing. Light in the darkness.

Year’s End

I see I last posted in October. Hmm. And now it’s the last day of the year.

It’s been a year of challenges for me; some good, some less so; but they will all make it a year that stands out in the fog of my life.

I’ve been dwelling on humanity and its extremes. I visited a relative with Alzheimer’s this week. There he lay, as he has for the past four years, unable to communicate, helpless as an infant; yet he is cared for, fed, washed and shaved, spoken to every day, kept alive, really, and with dignity, by the people who look after him.

Hard to believe that in the same species there are those who will storm into a school and kill children. Children.

This morning, I saw it again.  On the BBC news app there are two headlines next to each other:

“Children ‘groomed in every town'” reads the first.  Sadly, that speaks for itself.

“MBE for volunteer maths teacher” reads the second. This refers to Gbolahan Bright, a teacher for 36 years who runs free after school maths clubs. “We view every child as gifted.  It is our job to motivate them,” he says. “It is beyond mathematics. The aim is to bring the best out of each child. It gives us joy.”

There it is again; one end of the human spectrum abusing vulnerable people, turning them into victims; Mr Bright at the other end, helping them to become heroes.

I’ve got my usual New Year’s resolutions, I suppose, but I want next year to be less about giving up things, less about hanging around in the middle of the spectrum of humanity through idleness, and more about doing something positive and in whatever small way I can being on the same side as the people making the world better.