In our minds’ eyes, Jolene asked us to picture ourselves in a place where we’d felt moved or inspired by a book, a film or a work of art. It’s no surprise that afterwards we buzzed with things to say to each other on Zoom, on a topic which followed on so well from our previous meeting about great storytellers we had known. We all enjoyed recalling powerful emotional, visual and auditory responses to the creative works of others, and sharing our reactions to those books, films and paintings with each other. Your comments are welcome too, after reading the reflections some of us have written after such a rewarding session.
There are so many books to choose from, and so many that have remained with me even for many years.
The book I have chosen I have had for many years, and have read several times, written by Paul Gallico and containing two short stories entitled The Snow Goose” and The Small Miracle. I recently re-read the stories, on Zoom, with my twelve-year-old grandson, reading alternate pages in turn. He seemed to enjoy them, so the appeal is not simply an adult one.
The Snow Goose is the story of a disabled man who lives alone in a former lighthouse, caring for many seabirds. He is a painter who made pictures of the country and the animals he loved. A young girl from the local village brought a wounded snow goose to him, hoping that he could care for it. Although afraid, she helps the artist who takes great care for the wounded bird. As the snow goose regains her activity she remains near the lighthouse. The story continues when Philip, the artist, hears of the terrible situation during the war in France when the British troops are being evacuated – D. Day – and feels that, handicapped as he is, he must take his small boat to try to help. The snow goose goes with him, and both, after rescuing many desperate men, are killed. I always found this story very moving, as also is The Small Miracle.
In thinking of films, one of my favourite ones is a French one filmed in a very small country primary school, showing the daily life of the teacher with his children, aged from four to eleven or twelve years of age. As a primary teacher myself it was so interesting to see how the teacher understood each child so well. I saw the film at The Cornerhouse on the last day of its run and I was one of a very small audience, who perhaps like me had not managed to see it before. When it ended, I was sitting on the back row in one of the small cinemas I used to enjoy so much. I just wanted to see it again – and a man also sitting on that row turned and said to me “I want to see that again!” – so I wasn’t the only one.
In terms of music, I talked about the music of the film Cinema Paradiso written by Ennio Morricone – a really wonderful film and the music is a really memorable part of it.
There are many people who have told me many a great story. They include my grandmother and my mother and father. The stories they told were done orally and came from beloved memories they had stored away, only to retell them time after time through generations.
This week, we were asked to think about a favourite book, a piece of art or music that had a meaningful effect on our lives. Alice Walker is a novelist and poet and has many other strings to her bow. I chose The Colour Purple which was her third novel. In this all-consuming novel, published by The Women’s Press in 1982, Alice tells a story set against the backdrop between two wars in the segregated world of the Deep South. This awe-inspiring book captures the mood and carries the reader through those harsh times. The story draws you into the lives of two sisters, Celie and Nettie, who lead a pitiful life. Celie prays a lot to find comfort and presents her story through a series of prayers and letters some of which begin “Dear God”.
Story writing is quite new to me as I usually tell my stories through poetry but since joining The Stories Of Our Lives it has helped me to use another form of creative writing. I have been touched by the many stories regaled in our group and each session I learn something new. Jolene the facilitator and writer gently guides us and I think brings out the best in us. I would like to end with one of my poems that tells my story, inspired by Alice Walker.
THE FINAL PIECE OF THE JIGSAW This is me I am black I am stronger than that I have survived all the hatred and shame I have blossomed and grown Perfect petals are shown now I know I was never to blame There is no perfect world for an innocent girl But the strength from within always shines When the world shudders and shakes With the destruction one makes But it will take more than one coward to break mine.
My first recollection of going to the cinema was to see South Pacific, the romantic musical film based on the Rogers and Hammerstein musical which was released in 1958, when I was eleven. Six of us travelled the seven miles from Holmfirth to Huddersfield on a Yorkshire Traction bus one sunny Saturday afternoon to visit The Palace cinema, one of five at that time in the centre of the town. I remember being very impressed with the interior with ornate plaster work decorated in gold and burgundy and the plush red velvet seats that folded back to enable people to pass down the row. I was very excited to be sitting in the dark in what felt like a every opulent place. I loved the music and the dancing, but felt the romantic scenes were embarrassingly soppy.
In 1962 I met my first boyfriend at the local youth club. He invited me out on our first date to see Dr No, the first of the James Bond films, to be shown at The Empire Cinema in Huddersfield. We had to queue for ages in the bitter cold. We frequently went to the cinema after that action-packed movie, but I was never a great fan, often falling asleep in the warm dark smoke-filled auditoriums.
My husband was a great film lover. He had been a projectionist when he was a student. After our marriage, before our two children were born, he was keen to see newly released films in the early 1970’s at the Rivoli cinema, a five-minute walk from our home in Chorlton. One flew over the cuckoo’s nest, Easy Rider and Cabaret are some of the memorable films we saw.
Bill used to take the children to see Walt Disney and action movies, such as Ghost Busters at the Scala in Withington. He and Katherine used to enjoy watching black and white films on Saturday afternoons and she is still an avid film fan.
Since that time, I have rarely watched films even on television. Titanic was the last film I can recall going to see in the newly opened Trafford Centre in 1998 when my cousin came over from Spain and she was keen to see the much-hyped film and shopping centre.
Tears roll down my cheeks as I sit, in the dark, trying not to make a sound. I am aware of the sniffles of others all around me in the full cinema, watching Ken Loach’s Sorry we missed you. At the end of the film, the whole audience shuffles out in silence. Such a powerful film, showing just how easily hopes can be shattered and debt become overwhelming. It helps me to talk about it afterwards, to share our anger at the way the characters are exploited when trying to meet impossible demands in the only jobs available to them.
That was a couple of years ago, but the memory is still strong. I more often cry watching films than when reading novels, but I suppose I like to read in a similar way: not just a few pages here and there, but to sit down for a good hour or two of becoming thoroughly engrossed in the lives and conflicts being portrayed. Recently, sitting in the garden in the sunshine, I found myself crying as I read Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell. Unlike in a film, I could pause, make a cup of tea, come back into my own reality for a while before returning to the Stratford of Shakespeare’s time and the harrowing story. The characters in that novel are so well rounded, the emotions and relationships are so raw and real, that I think that in its own way, the novel reflects the timeless, universal truths revealed in some of Shakespeare’s plays.
A few days later, I was glad of the opportunity to share views on Hamnet in our reading group. We had similar reactions this time; sometimes we have very different responses and opinions on what we’ve read. It’s always an interesting discussion, even though we’ve only been able to meet via Zoom for over a year now. I’m grateful to that group, as I am to The Stories of our Lives group, for those virtual conversations and shared journeys over the last year.
This week’s session has been perhaps the most difficult to “pick the bones out of” as there was such a vast panoply of items to pick from. The favourite book which had come into my mind during the introductory meditation was George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. This autobiography reflects on his experiences whilst fighting with the International Brigade on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.
My choice of book led to a very interesting discussion with Joe in our breakout room which ranged over a number of inter-related topics. The catalogue of Orwell’s works and how he is sometimes mis-represented as a reactionary author. The radicalism of Manchester and Glasgow and their involvement in the International Brigades as remembered by a carved plaque in Manchester’s Central Library. This features the impassioned farewell address, “You are history. You are legend ——“, given by the republican leader La Passionara, to the departing international brigades in Barcelona in October, 1938.
In the way of these things, mention of both Glasgow and Spain led to a discussion of the films of Ken Loach many of which I have watched with my long-time friend, now based in London, Michael. Carla’s Song dealing with the war in Nicaragua begins on a bus in Glasgow whilst in Land and Freedom he explores many of the same issues as described in Homage to Catalonia.
During the feedback from the Zoom breakout rooms to the main body, another cultural link to the war in Spain was mentioned. This was Pablo Picasso’s epic painting “Guernica” which vividly portrays the horror of the bombing of that town by the German Luftwaffe.
This piece of artwork done in May, 1937 as a horrified response to the first concerted bombing from the air of a civilian target was for many years not acknowledged in Spain. It was not until September 1981 that it was first exhibited in that country as Picasso had stipulated in his will that it would not be displayed there until democracy had been restored. When I saw it in its new home, The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, I was struck that besides its depiction of the tragedy of war it is now, due to its history, a symbol of hope for the triumph of democracy over totalitarianism. There is a tile mosaic of the painting in the town today.