Monday, 29 January 2018

Musical Harmony

I am impressed by the original ideas people keep coming up with for TV singing competitions. It's a shame that at the core they're all as shallow and staged as each other, and but for spotting someone i know on the judging panel (one of the '100') on the BBC's latest offering - the cheesily named, 'All together now' - i probably would have switched it off. However, putting aside the disappointing production, i do like the concept of this show.
     There is a certain amount of music that is meant to be listened to, and appreciated, but there are equally as many songs that are meant to be sung corporately, or are just fun to join in with. So a show that encourages the singer to try and get the judges joining in seems like a nice idea. Of course the best song choices are going to be upbeat classics, but i would like to see someone brave attempt a real choral song, where the 100 might not know the words but will put their own vocal talents to the test by simply making backing music.
     If this has been deliberately timed to be shown after the release of The Greatest Showman then that's a good move, if not it was just fortunate, but hopefully their combined effect will keep Britain singing together, in unity, something that music has more power than possibly anything else, to do.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

No Greater Spectacular

If tonight is anything to go by there is one thing that hasn't changed in a hundred years and that is the audiences. I was at the cinema for a midweek showing of a film that has been out for four weeks and the place wasn't far from packed out, and this, I believe, was not necessarily because it was the greatest film, but more because it was the greatest show!
     As La La Land revealed last year, this film was a proof that cinema is far from dead when a true display of all that is great in mankind comes to the screen. When soaring music, song and dance, acrobatics, magic, energy and passion, colour and light and joy combine it lifts the heart like little else. The musical too can hardly be called a entertainment medium of the last century. Clearly here in England at least (although I believe probably everywhere) people will flock to witness the talents of great performers, to see smiles and tears and to applaud them for who they are as much as for what they can do.
     The Greatest Showman is a new musical of the life of Barnum, for a new century, and may it carry on the baton of bringing life and joy and love through great performances in the way the circus did so many years ago, connecting people in a shared passion for people.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

To the end of the garden

Leaving behind the comfort of the house, my cosy chair, the soft lights and the warm radiator; putting down my mobile phone, my laptop and with them the internet, that great web of connectivity that traps us and keeps us bound within its sticky strands; I escape to the garden. To the rain washed stones and crumpled grass. The grey skies and the brown earth and the cold.
               I follow the path past freshly worked flower beds and the tree chopped down last year. I spot a lost clothes peg, an ancient tennis ball and a plastic lizard that looks so realistic it makes me jump. I duck under the low branches of a pine tree, maybe as old as me, and as the path fades to nothing I have to crouch to the ground to climb past a bush and down a hidden corridor of ivy and evergreen branches until I reach the end of the garden.
               Here, in what some might consider a secret wasteland, there are broken bricks and crisp packets, piles of unwanted branches and rotten fence posts, and quiet. A sacred silence, a breathing space, an intimate moment. And it’s here that I find what I’m looking for. The pilgrimage is complete. This is no rubbish pile, it is the fuel source. Life is often found in unusual places.
               I gather up the old wood, the twigs, the branches and the fractured trellising and I return to the garden. In a small pit I arrange my fuel, my power source and then I set it alight. Flames dance. Heat and light spill out into the evening air. The damp wood hisses, while pops and cracks echo off the walls of the house. Embers shoot upwards and sideways, energy has been released. Pine wood scents the smoke rising to a clearing sky and a crescent moon.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Just Right

The years keep us busy, or should. Time doesn't stand still and neither should we (except for holidays and particular moments). The leaves on the trees come and go, and soon another year is over, like this one, so let's be sentimental for a moment.

Things have been achieved this year - for me, I bought a house, and have begun putting it to use, inviting people to come and share in what I have. I've also been able to share my time with friends and family, in many parts of the country. I've visited London twice, gone walking in the Lake District and Snowdonia, and gone sailing for the first time.
     Of course, the ever present question at this time of year hangs in the air, "What next?"
     I don't know. More of the same, probably, but hopefully new goals will present themselves at the right moment. I hope you have goals too, we should always have something worth striving for. Things will never work out how we'd like, or expect, but we can more than manage with what we have.

I unashamedly like the story of Little Women, and I enjoyed the BBC adaptation over Christmas, especially this line, which I think sums up life quite well:

"Nothing's ever perfect. But things can be just right."

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

2017 awards

From the books I have read, films I have seen and songs I have heard for the first time this year, here are my top choices.

Best Book
I have not read as widely as I would have liked this year, possibly because the year has been more broken up than previously, with different things going on, but I have completed a few excellent books, including All the light we cannot see and Lion. My pick for the best book I have read, however, goes to A town like Alice, by Nevil Shute.
     Written in 1950 it splits the setting between 2nd World War Malaya, and post-war England and Australia. The main character, Jean Paget, has come into an inheritance and is determined to use it to generate prosperity for a small community in the outback.
     The characters are superbly formed and the settings dramatic. The descriptions of life I cannot imagine are almost unmatched in anything I have read before and it taught me a lot about places I have never, and possibly will never, visit!

Best Film
By contrast I have seen quite a lot of films this year. I finally caught up with Inception, and I was deeply challenged by I, Daniel Blake. But my favourite film of the year, is La La Land. It is the first time I really appreciated my film studies A level, and felt like I was getting my money's worth from going to the cinema. For my full review see my blog post from January.

Best Song
There aren't many new songs that I've been singing throughout the year, but one that I have is Coldplay's Something Just Like This. I've enjoyed Coldplay's music before, but this is the first year I would really say I have become a fan, discovering many of their lesser known tracks. This song, of course, was very popular, partly for it's catchy tune, but also for it's message, something I think we all appreciate - we may not all be heroes, or want to meet them, but we all want someone we can miss, true relationships. It's part of what life is all about.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

O For a Song

Terry sings at the football every Saturday.
Susanne sings in the prestigious Philharmonic choir.
Adrianna sings in the school production.
Jake sings at Canterbury Cathedral.
Jen is learning opera.
Harry does every open mic night around, hoping for his big break.
The radio DJs of the world blare out an incessant stream of music from across the ages.

As ABBA said, "Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing." Even those who never sing (or never admit to it) can't deny that without songs the world would be a poorer place. But I think all of us can still underestimate the power of song. Without it we lack a certain unifying force. An uplifting, spirit-changing power that takes us beyond ourselves and makes us something more.

However, other than in large groups, singing is more often laughed at than supported. Maybe it's our age of individualism or maybe it's just pride and vanity, but people are much less inclined to sing out loud and proud. The school assembly, once an occasion for a rousing song to begin the day, is now most often devoid of corporate music making, and when it is, only mumbled drudgery limps from uneasy lips.

How can the new generation get past this hurdle. Perhaps with a new song, to unite them?

Robert Leckie, American, World War Two Marine, writes in his memoirs Helmet for my Pillow of the tragedy of having no song to sing:
   "It is sad to go off to war without a song of your own to sing. Something like a rousing war song - something like the "Minstrel Boy" or something jolly and sardonic like the Englishman's "Sixpence" - might have made the war a bit more worth fighting. But we got none. Ours was an Advanced Age, too sophisticated for such outdated frippery. War cries or war songs seemed rather na├»ve and embarrassing for our rational time. We were fed food for thought; abstractions like the Four Freedoms were given to is. Sing a marching song about that, if you can."
   Despite this they still loved to sing (or at least "Bellow out a tune"). It provided more than just joy, it became a part of life. A part of life that seems at times to be missing and thus leaves something locked up inside of us that would be better released.

O world, give us a song, and give us the freedom to sing it.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

In Memorandum

Peter Ligertwood
Acting Captain
2nd Royal Marine Battalion
Date of Birth: 14 Nov 1887
Date of Death: 26 Oct 1917
Killed in action
Peter Ligertwood enlisted in January 1906. Four years later he was promoted to Corporal and four years after that to Sergeant, just as the war started. However, for the next few years his company resided first on the south coast of England and then further from the action, in Ireland.
Peter Ligertwood became the crack shot of the Corps and in January 1916 received a commissioning as Lieutenant. He was to get one more promotion. But still it was other men who were called to France, other companies who served their country. Peter spent most of 1916 writing a training manual which survived the war and may have been used for many years after. In May 1917 he joined the 1st Royal Marine Battalion and the next day transferred to the 2nd Battalion only to become sick and be laid up in hospital for the rest of the summer. He must have wondered if he would see anything of the war, but in mid-September, 1917, he rejoined his Battalion, and, as it happened, just in time to be finally shipped to France.
Summer on the continent had been bad, and not just on account of the war. Endless rains had turned northern France into a mud bath. Ligertwood’s division was taken to the front at Arras and then on to Ypres. They trained, as well as they could, and saw enough action for Peter to receive two wounds. Their Captain, however, suffered worse and died, so on the 22nd of October Peter was promoted to Acting Captain until another one could be officially appointed. The war, though, wouldn’t wait.
               Instructions came that 2nd Battalion were to pass through the 1st Battalion and attempt to reach targets across the Paddebeek stream, some 800 yards further on. Peter Ligertwood gathered his Marines and informed them that in a few days they would go ‘over the top’. Knowing that they would quickly become disorientated in the mud and the dark he devised a plan. In each company a Marine would carry a wooden banner with red stripes, like in days of old, as a rallying point. The Chaplain, Father Davey, blessed the wooden banners and the men soon considered them to be sacred.

When dark came on the night of the 24th of October the Naval men relieved the Royal Scots. It was evident even then that troubles lay ahead. There was no real front, just mud scrapings with some machine guns and riflemen. When shells came over and a soldier was walking the duckboards there was no alternative than to go on. Richard Tobin remarked, unhappily, “there is no hope of food or ammunition and the Germans will rain down a storm of steel.”
On Thursday, for a change, the weather was bright and the clear autumnal sunlight lifted their spirits a little, although nothing could take away the knowledge of what was to come. It’s hard to imagine what someone will think about in that situation, knowing that in a few days they must face a very high chance of death. Did they wonder why they were there at all?
The forecast for the morning of Friday the 26th of October was for more fine weather but in the early hours the rain returned. For two days they had shelled the Germans, caving in the trenches, making massive mud holes in the desolate landscape that now became black ponds in a black land.

The Battalion was directed to assemble on a line 150 yards east of Burns House, Vacher Farm Road. At 6:30 am they were to form for attack behind the stationary barrage at the limit of the first objective, and move forward with the barrage at 7:36 am. German shells were already throwing up clouds of mud but the red banners were held aloft for all to see on the howling battlefield. 
             The Battalion duly set off but it was only on the flanks that they were able to make any headway. Acting Captain Peter Ligertwood led A Company. He'd found a length of spun yarn and connected his men together to prevent them leaving the narrow tracks through the mud. When a man fell he was quickly hauled back to his feet and with Ligertwood leading from the front the whole company crossed the Paddebeek and soon made good their position.
Ligertwood’s plan was working as the men rallied to the banners, but the other companies were struggling to make the same level of progress in the dim, early morning light. Ligertwood set his sights on the final objective and once more roused his men. On they went, step after muddy step, while the German resistance mounted. Gunfire burst out on every side and the other companies, now lost in sprays of mud and water were completely bogged down.
Peter marched on but his luck would not hold and he was hit. He paused, winded but ok. The adrenaline masked the pain. He carried on, but being at the front is a dangerous position and he was struck again, twice, in quick succession. The blows were nasty but he was still alive and determined to reach the target. He was compelled to drop back in the line, but forced himself to continue only to be hit a fourth time and to lie in the mud. Still Peter tried to rise as the machine guns raked the ground, but he could not do so. He croaked instructions to one of his sergeants and then pointed to the German line saying, “There’s your objective lads; get it.”
Chronicler Douglas Jerrold wrote that it was, “one of the finest exploits of that fated day.” As Peter sank backward the red banners advanced across the Ypres mud and widened Paddebeek stream. The right pressed forward and captured a strongpoint and on the left another success. In the centre the Germans “from countless pillboxes and redoubts, rained like hail on the dauntless men.” Wrote Surgeon Lt Geoffrey Sparrow. Some time later it became clear that the attack was being held in the swirling rain and iron storm. A company reached their target and defended their position. Only one man, their courageous leader, was killed on that march, and such a testament cannot be bettered.
               Three of the sacred banners also survived the attack and the war, and one may still exist at the Royal Marine museum. Afterwards it was said they inspired the men of Flanders and filled future generations with pride for their Corps who's traditions cannot be touched any other regiment.
Tragically the attack of the 26th failed to achieve all of its objectives. Some units were even forced to pull back later in the day. The notorious battles of Passchendaele followed but on the 6th of November the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions finally captured the village of Passchendaele, at a cost of almost 16,000 lives. In the Spring of 1918 a reinforced German army retook all of the land.
Captain Peter Ligertwood, the older brother of my Great Grandfather, died in the mud on the 26th October, 1917. 100 years ago today.
Through mud and mire and steel rain, bursting from the darkness, he fought and won and lost. His actions are recorded. His commitment to preserve life among the death of war, honoured.
His vision, determination, gallant leadership and noble ending chronicled as another tale of a time now out of memory but not forgotten.

Officers of the 2nd Royal Marine Battalion, mid-October, 1917. Lt. Peter Ligertwood circled.