Mayflower 400

Dear friends

Growing up in Southampton means that you know about at least two famous historical ships – the Titanic and the Mayflower. And this year is 400 years since the Mayflower sailed from this port town.

The thing that impressed me most about hearing the story of the Mayflower is that it’s about a group of people that fled religious persecution. It’s essentially the story of a group of people who wanted to live and worship differently than the dominant religion at the time and were being persecuted for that. They gathered together, got a ship (the Speedwell), and sailed from Holland to Southampton where they met the Mayflower ship, which had set out from Rotherhithe, London. The Mayflower was carrying 102 passengers who wanted to build a new life, in peace, across the Atlantic Sea. Half of those passengers died within the first year in their new home (mainly from disease having arrived in November 1620). But essentially they were colonisers, settling where other people already lived. That always seems to end in pain for those who lose their land for no other reason than someone else wants to live there! This website gives a great in sight into the full story of the event and it’s position in terms of native Americans and the colonisers: https://www.mayflower400uk.org/education/the-mayflower-story/.

So, these past several months one of my work projects has been conservation work to the Pilgrim Father’s Memorial (aka Mayflower Memorial) here in my hometown, originally constructed 1913. As it is literally a 5 minute walk from my former primary school, I can’t tell you how many times, over 40 years ago, I saw the memorial and heard the story of the Pilgrim Fathers.

The commemoration weekend here is in 2 weeks – 15 August 2020. Despite knowing about the commemoration date for the last, well, hundreds of years, the Culture team were a little slow to get going on the conservation work and had to be rescued (financially) by the Property team. An exemption request submitted to Procurement was eventually approved and a specialist main contractor was appointed in February. However with stone to be sourced and carved, completion of the works for the commemoration weekend was always ambitious. And then, the pandemic was declared!

The first half of the contract took place in the stonemasons yard with lots of photographs being sent showing the stonework progression. I really wanted to go to the mason’s yard so was rather disappointed that the pandemic meant this was too high a risk to take, especially with 5 of us at home, since the yard was in another town.

However, with site works commencing in May, I was finally able to visit site and hold external site meetings, rather than conference calls. And this past week, with copper Mayflower ship back atop facing West, the upper layer of scaffolding came down to reveal the refreshed mosaic dome, renewed stone work and, at night, a beacon light shining out from it’s quirky Art Nouveau/ Arts & Crafts style fire basket metalwork. The memorial isn’t the tallest of columns, about 15 metres or 50 foot. And it’s location means that most people in town probably will never see it, unless they make an effort.

But it is a story, an event that happened, 400 years ago and, like with any real event, it shouldn’t be forgotten.

I am descended from people who, not wilfully, were transported across the Atlantic Sea from the African continent to work and effectively colonise islands of the sea. Many of them died within months of arrival, from disease, from hard labour, from abuse, from broken hearts. Though there is no specific monument with their specific name that I can definitely say they are my descendants, I still feel proud that somewhere in my family history, I am descended from survivors.

student days… (a quick memoir)

Dear friends

30 years ago I was towards the end of my first year studying architecture. I may have mentioned before, I studied at University of Edinburgh – it had been my long time desire to study there and I was blessed to make it. I absolutely love my Edinburgh days; I made great friends and had great experiences. I loved studying architecture, that had been my long time desire since the age of about 14 years. However it was not a pleasant experience as generally I recall struggling with the large egos of tutors and fellow students, not all, but enough!

30 years later and I am traveling to a local university where I have been tutoring first year architecture students these past six months. How enlightening it has been for me to discuss architecture with these young people. And how difficult!!! And how sad as I see them not working and continually falling short of what I see so clearly in them. We recently did a hand drawing quiz, prepared by one of the full time lecturers, i.e. 1 minute to draw an internal wall with a door at scale 1 to 50. (This may sound technical but remember these students have been drawing and studying the topic since last September so it should not have been a difficult task). Only a few managed to correctly draw this in the minute given to them 😦

I’m now on my way to see the annual school exhibition. In my first year, my hand drawn sketch of a half onion was exhibited 🙂 I’m interested to see what the third years produce at the end of their degree since some of my first years will be there in two years. Hopefully this will also help me to understand the ethos of this school of architecture and current architectural education.

Much can happen in two years… not to mention thirty years…

I’ve been much more reflective about time in recent months as I approach the age of Kylie Minogue! I recently heard a radio journalist who invited two friends to live by a motto for a month, such as, live every day as if it’s your last. I was impressed by the attitude of the individual as they made the effort to contact extended relatives and even organise a simple family gathering.

The recent words of living prophets and apostles – #LDSconf – have also touched my heart. I keenly feel that we are living in the time of the parables specifically concerning the last days, like the parable of the ten virgins. These are wonderful but perilous times – we must prepare and that doesn’t happen overnight… two years?… thirty years?… a lifetime?…

You can judge for yourself 🙂

minority families…

Dear friends

Last week there was a policy announcement from church leadership. I wasn’t aware of it until Sunday, when after church meetings, Daur1 said it was mentioned in young women’s lesson and there is loads of comments on the Internet about it.  So, back home I looked up lds.org to see what it was about, for myself.

In my words, it’s that children of / within a same sex marriage couple can not be baptised until they are 18 years old. 

This seems perfectly reasonable to me – no point having a child baptised (we don’t believe in infant baptism, a child must be at least 8 years old) when their parents are in a situation which opposes those beliefs.  Regardless of how stable and how supportive those parents  may be of the child’s decision, at some point there will be conflict.  Either for the child or for one or both of the parents. And, I’m certain, for the child, it will be confusing at some point, even if eventually that child manages to mentally resolve it. I can refer to my own situation, which some of you may feel is not the same, but for me, it feels relevant.

My dear parents were never married, and, as far as I can tell, never lived together. I don’t know why – I’ve never asked, and I probably never will.  My Dad has a wife and children and a home.  He visited my Mum and us once a week.  For the bulk of my childhood I said nothing more than “Hello Daddy” and “Goodbye Daddy” at the start and end of an uncomfortable 20 minute visit where he money to my Mum and pocket money to us.  I am the oldest of his children.  My younger brother is younger than my oldest half sister, so you can work that out!  My relationship with my dear Father deserves a post of it’s own, so back to the point of this post.

I was in the clear minority at school, not only for my skin colour, for growing up in a single parent family, for “having no Dad” as my peers described, and I felt that as a ‘stigma’.  I knew I was loved and was very matter of fact with friends that asked, “do you have a Dad?” Response “yes!! Everyone does. He just doesn’t live with us.”

By the time I reached my teens, although I knew what was right in terms of civic society – not hurting, stealing, killing, lying – when it came to what was right in terms of my own personal welfare, well, I was in a state of confusion, particularly in terms of relationships, questions like what is the real, true position, God’s point of view, on premarital sex?  I was in search of personal peace, personal answers, as I was becoming an adult. I never felt able to ask my mother since I was fully aware that she had all of us out of wedlock.  And although my mother was firm, provided a Christian upbringing (Mum not affiliated with any particular church though I went to a pentecostal Sunday school) and and told us not to ‘drink from the governor’s cup’ (or some strange phrase where the governor and his cup was an innuendo for sexual activities), it was a struggle, at least for me to reconcile this with her own actions.  (You may judge me as weak because of that).  Once I had the opportunity to learn more, I made a choice, to make and keep covenants with God, and I found peace. 

So, what am I saying? I’m saying when it comes to eternal matters, our choice matters.  And most of us, when we reach adulthood, will have the ability to choose things in this life.  And quite simply I believe that our Father is fair and that 18 years in any loving home where respect is taught for parents, with one, two, male, female, black, white, parents, is beneficial for our eternal welfare – family love can be learned and that is fundamental.  There will be time, and I feel, time to make and keep sacred covenants once we individually make that choice…

I’m probably not explaining this very well.  It may be difficult enough to grow up in a minority-type family, so why would our Father want to make it worse for his children in such a situation.  So I totally accept this policy statement as Father’s will.  And I fail to understand why others feel this shows intolerance or a degree of being unfair.  I expect the reason it wasn’t explicit before is because same sex marriage is a new situation.  Thankfully, revelation is always relevant and for the times in which we live.

memoir – green cabbage

Dear friends

There were so many things I thought to tell you about this past week: FISH!; the cull (redundancies); buildings that look like ships; the weather (very wet); winter coat – parka v. duffle. Finally I’ve settled for a childhood memoir, prompted by the fact that we’re having savoy cabbage this evening.

image

I was only sick (I mean actually vomit sick) once at school. In fact I only remember being sick twice as a child – the tale I’m going to tell now and an incident involving tinned burgers. (Imagine my horror at the nausea and vomiting accompanying all four of our beautiful children!)

So, I was about 7 or 8, in Mr Fairhall’s class – he had to be the tallest teacher ever, and one of the strictest in the school; we were addressed by surname only and never allowed to toilet during lesson time.  School dinners (lunch) included a healthy portion of green cabbage – I’ve always supposed it was cabbage! – it was green, watery and really did not look good. I’m fairly certain that I was in the habit of ducking out of the green stuff either by withdrawing my plate or discretely leaving it to the end and on my plate.  However, this lunchtime a dinner lady made certain I ate the green stuff.  Yukkk!!!

Later that afternoon, after play, sitting at my table I began to feel distinctly unwell.  Could I do it? Could I raise my hand and ask to go toiletdinnereven if I managed to ask would Mr Fairhall let me go?  I was desperately uncomfortable so asked.

You do look a little pale, Simmons. You can go.

Pale, I thought to myself, and since then. What hue had come across by brown skin?  What shade was I turning? And I headed down the corridor. I had just turned the corner, by the staff room, when I knew why I wasn’t feeling comfortable and why Mr Fairhall described my appearance as pale.

Once I was done, I sheepishly knocked on the staff room door where the school admin lady opened it, looked at the floor, then looked at me as if to say, “you could have made it another few doors to the toilets!!” All I could see was undigested green stuff.  And at home time, there remained a pile of sand, to mark the spot.  And I never ate green cabbage again, until a few years ago I began making stir fries for the family.

It’s cottage pie with savoy cabbage this evening – little bit of olive oil, yumm!!

I really don’t know how school dinner cabbage in the 70’s looked the way it did.  My theory.  I actually think it was spring greens. I think the dinner ladies told us it was cabbage. So spring greens – however cheap they are – will not land in my shopping trolley – they look too much like the green stuff.

saying farewell

Dear friends
Thursday was the funeral of a cousin, my father’s cousin to be exact – their mothers are sisters. 

I can’t say I really knew Ada, but my father spoke of her often so I really went to support Dad.

I’m not good at funerals; who is? But I have a hard time not breaking down in tears. So, arriving early, I sat a couple rows behind my aunt and my cousin – there was no space on their row – and I saw on the programme that they were both participating – a poem (Do not grieve) and the eulogy. My Dad arrived with the family and casket.

One thing about Caribbean/ West Indian church services is the singing 🙂 so loud and passionate. Even though I couldn’t quite manage to sing the last couple verses of ‘All things bright and beautiful’, the singing uplifted me and the old man next to me sang wonderful harmony to Bill Withers ‘Lean on me’ the music on leaving.

Another thing about attending West Indian church services in my home town is that I am guaranteed to be recognised by someone that I don’t recognise. My dear husband has decided that I don’t recognise them because, in his words, “you’re not a people person.” !!!
So as everyone filtered out into the foyer after Bill Withers, two women (I DID recognise one, but I couldn’t remember her name) said hello and asked for my Mum, sister and brother. You see, growing up, our Mum sent us to the New Testament Church of God for Sunday school and we dutifully attended. My Mum was not a member and stayed home enjoying a peaceful Sunday morning with her Jim Reeves albums, I always suspected 🙂 I stopped attending Sunday school after my 16th birthday, not because I didn’t believe but because I did believe. That church did not have everything which I could see, from the Bible, that Jesus’ church should have. My sister continued to visit when she came home from university and so everyone knows her. Therefore, amongst this group of people, I am always seen in the context of my big sister, rather than as an individual, at least that’s how I feel.
Even one older woman who approached me – who I know I’ve not seen in about 30 years and I gave her a big hug – and asked if my sister has any children. I said no, waiting for her to ask for my own family, but no, this dear lady asked for my brother. He’s well, living in L, my sister’s in B and I’m here. Pause. I’ve got children, four of them. And that was the end of the conversation until I asked for her children, who I recalled were older than me, and who now live all over!
I began to wonder if it was the presence of my bright red coat, but I was carrying it and wore a dark work suit with white blouse. Sometimes families ask for people to wear bright colours, so I’d come prepared!
But I’ve decided it’s more likely that I am seen as rebellious, fallen or wayward. I was always a nonconformist in the small Sunday school. I was asked once to offer a prayer – I offered it with only Amen said out loud. Another time, I challenged the teacher by declaring that discos (this was the 1980s) weren’t inherently bad places – you could choose not to get drunk or do bad stuff. And let’s face it, a year after leaving the Sunday school I was baptised, with my mother, as a Latter Day Saint. I’ve never really expressed to them what a big positive impact Sunday School had on me! 🙂
So as I said farewell to our cousin, I felt I was saying farewell (again) to people from my past. I felt sad that although we all pleasantly speak, we go back to our own worlds, ne’er to meet again, except around the next casket!