Monday, 25 May 2015

This England: Love and Marriage

“Why, sir, you know this is your wedding-day” – from Taming of the Shrew

It was wonderful to attend two family weddings recently: (Laura’s here and Gemma’s here.) There can’t be many events in the human calendar that are more optimistic than a wedding – two people setting out on what they hope will be a lifetime commitment. Two people investing in a future together, choosing to be thought of as a couple rather than two individuals.
An unorthodox wedding in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

Memorable weddings

Both recent family weddings were affirming and inspiring events. I haven’t been to so many weddings that they have become routine. All the ones I have been to as an adult have been distinctive and memorable. One for a work colleague at Victoria Hall in Saltaire included the couple rising through the stage on a Wurlitzer organ. One at a hotel on the Wirral had quirky balloon table decorations. Leeds Town Hall was the magnificent setting for a civil partnership ceremony for two men who sported stylish brooches for buttonholes. Personalised touches seem to be the way to get your wedding remembered.

Historically, church weddings are modern

Marriage has been a non-religious institution far longer than it has been a religious institution. Only in the 12th Century – 1184 – did priests begin to preside over weddings. Until the 16th Century the betrothal part of the ceremony was allowed only in the church porch. It makes sense, therefore, that weddings in hotels, in forest glades, on beaches, in castles and in town halls are not only legitimate but they are more traditional than church weddings which are – in historical terms – new-fangled.

Irish Common Sense

The recent vote by the Irish people to change the constitution to allow gay marriage is a triumph of progress and civilisation, in my opinion. It is truly wonderful (I’m full of wonder about it) that one of the most famously Catholic countries in the world has been the first to legalise gay marriage by popular vote. Objections to gay weddings are borne out of prejudice, not historical development. The argument that weddings are the property of the church and are purely for the procreation of children makes no historical sense.
Rainbow over Dublin as Ireland's people votes to allow gay marriage

A threat to family life?

Why on earth wouldn’t a country in the 21st Century allow two humans to commit for the foreseeable future to loving and supporting each other? If a creator God exists, hasn’t he created everyone in His/Her loving image? Doesn't He/She promote that Love is Everything? Two men or two women marrying will not threaten the march of time, destroy the ozone layer or awaken the sleeping horsemen of the apocalypse.

Christian scripture

Jesus had nothing to say about gay relationships but was very clear about not condemning others.
  • he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her….And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee…. I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  (John 8)
The Old Testament rules forbidding sex between the same gender (Leviticus 18) also ban: 
sex during menstruation
mixing meat and dairy (eg cheeseburger, lasagne)
eating pork
touching a dead pig
being uncircumcised
working on the Sabbath
being a drunk
planting more than one kind of seed in a field
wearing mixed fabrics
clipping the edges of your beard.

And that list is just the obvious selection. President Bartlett in The West Wing expressed it well (in the clip linked here; the relevant bit starts around the 2:15 mark.) If all those bullet points above are now allowed (and have been for a very long time), why pick on one item in the forbidden list that simply fits a prejudice?

"These couples shall eternally be knit" – from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Historically (and rationally, logically and philosophically), therefore, committing to another person in public in front of witnesses seems to have nothing to do with religion or sexuality and everything to do with love, friendship and loyalty. All good things. Non-church, non-religious weddings have a longer history than church or religious weddings. Any two people can join their hands in matrimony (it used to be called hand-fasting) and therefore gay marriage is a perfectly proper historical act.
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream - a dreamy ending!

Love Thy Neighbour

And, just in case anyone worries about what Jesus’s own rules are:
  • ….thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.  (Mark 12)
Anything legislating against love, therefore, seems to be distinctly un-Christian.
If God is the Creator, He/She Created Everybody

Friday, 22 May 2015

This England: Bluebells

A walk in the woods
The planet turns, life goes on, humans connect and we go for a walk in the woods.
Badby Bluebell Woods - all photos by Harriet

The famous Badby bluebells
I mentioned “Badbeee” in the blog “Living in the South” (here) and last weekend that’s where we stayed for a weekend checking out the latest Merchant of Venice at the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The production was fascinating and I expect I'll blog about it in the future but another memorable and relaxing activity was a Saturday afternoon walk in the famous Badby Bluebell Woods.
Paths in the wood - all photos by Harriet

Happy Valley
Both Emily and Anne Brontë penned a poetic tribute to the bluebell, catching (as they would) the heartbreaking ambiguity of this tough perennial.  It was exciting to learn that Sally Wainwright is scripting a new drama about the life of the Brontës.

Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley, a 1979 French film poster

Happy Valley was one of the most compelling TV series I’ve seen in recent times. Her earlier work is also distinctive in giving natural voices to ordinary people and effortlessly fulfilling the Bechdel test with great roles for actresses.
I'm expecting the characters of Charlotte, Emily and Anne to have plenty to say to each other in Sally Wainwright's script - and rarely about men.  The bluebell poems of the Haworth sisters are interesting to compare and I copy them below for those who have time to pause.
Badby Bluebell Woods - all photos by Harriet

The Bluebell by Anne Brontë

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power. 

There is a silent eloquence

In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago

A bright and sunny day,
'Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road

All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,

Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times

I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank

My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,

That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me

My happy childhood's hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment

When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds

To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others' weal
With anxious toil and strife.  

'Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times

That never may return!'
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.
Badby Bluebell Woods - all photos by Harriet

The Bluebell by Emily Brontë

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit's care.

There is a spell in purple heath

Too wildly, sadly dear;
The violet has a fragrant breath,
But fragrance will not cheer,

The trees are bare, the sun is cold,

And seldom, seldom seen;
The heavens have lost their zone of gold,
And earth her robe of green.

And ice upon the glancing stream

Has cast its sombre shade;
And distant hills and valleys seem
In frozen mist arrayed.

The Bluebell cannot charm me now,

The heath has lost its bloom;
The violets in the glen below,
They yield no sweet perfume.

But, though I mourn the sweet Bluebell,

'Tis better far away;
I know how fast my tears would swell
To see it smile to-day.

For, oh! when chill the sunbeams fall

Adown that dreary sky,
And gild yon dank and darkened wall
With transient brilliancy;

How do I weep, how do I pine

For the time of flowers to come,
And turn me from that fading shine,
To mourn the fields of home!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

This England: the 2015 General Election

Election dust is settling

Who knows what the next five years will bring politically?  Dangers ahead appear to include – (hyperlinks to articles on each one if you want further reading) – 

John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II:

This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Patrick Stewart and Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt with their prophecies about England

Nil desperandum

This will pass
The world goes on
Even though Spring follows Winter and Autumn comes before
And Summer flares often enough across the land
Even though Time passes as surely as the Sun rises
And Governments that emerge will just as surely fall
Even though Boys and Girls will couple and depart
And Men and Women will endure and survive
Even though Death stalks the fields and reaps random targets
And Mothers squat, spread or kneel to squeeze out brats anew
Even though the Heart beats and sometimes feels shredded
Even though the Lungs fill and breathe, though often spray nonsense
Even though Love, Desire, Passion and Compassion
Are compromised by Doubt, Pain, Struggle and War
The world goes on
Hoc transibit

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Roots that grow towards each other underground

In April I created a blog for Laura’s wedding – and this May Bank Holiday weekend was Gemma’s turn. Two nieces, both beautiful, inside and out. Both of them married partners that seemed ideal for them. Both invested in the ancient human notion that two people can join together and vow to support each other on life’s journey.

Thanks to Mick, Jan, Jess, Teresa, Laura Boothroyd and Harriet Johnson who posted pictures on Facebook or sent me their photographs so that I could combine them with my snaps to make collages. We had a memorable and enjoyable day, afternoon and evening at Cannon Hall Museum and the reception venue 315. Thank you also to Jenny Gascoine, one of Barnsley MBC’s Registrars who appears in the pic at the start of this blog between Gemma and Olllie leading the ceremony, and leading it beautifully; Jenny kindly sent me the poem that she read out to conclude the wedding.

One tree and not two 

from Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Love is a temporary madness,
it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.
And when it subsides you have to make a decision.

You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together
that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.
Because this is what love is.

Love is not breathlessness,
it is not excitement,
it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion.
That is just being "in love" which any fool can do.

Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away,
and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground,
and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches,
they find that they are one tree and not two.

A Marriage is a Promise
A marriage is a promise
That two hearts gladly make,
A promise to be tender,
To help, to give and take.

A marriage is a promise
To be kind and understanding,
To be thoughtful and considerate,
To be fair and undemanding.

A marriage is a promise
To share one life together,
A love-filled promise, meant to be
Kept lovingly forever.

The divided self made full and perfect….
I'm going to repeat from the earlier wedding blog one of my favourite Shakespeare quotations about couples from King John:
He is the half part of a blessed man,
Left to be finished by such as she;
And she a fair divided excellence
Whose fulness of perfection lies in him.

Best wishes to Gemma and Ollie and to Laura and Aaron. 
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.