Hazel McHaffie

Guernsey

On that date …

I’ve been mulling over a strange thought this week. The significance of dates.

It began when I started to read yet another book about the Nazis: this time The Day the Nazis Came by Stephen R Matthews. This one is set in Guernsey at the beginning of the Second World War, and it’s written by a man who was a small child there and got caught up in the horrors. He was just four years old when he was deported with his parents to a camp in Germany.

To begin with, and with due respect, I should say, the author is not a natural wordsmith, but he has a family story to tell which I found worth persisting with, because these times were relevant to my own history. My parents started their family in 1941; they too were eking out a meagre living because of the deprivations of war; they too were seeking shelter from air raids, observing blackouts, watching developments fearfully. It resonated.

I’ve visited the Channel Islands twice and can envisage the places and scenarios Matthews talks about.

At the end of the 90s a beautiful tapestry had finally been completed commemorating the events of occupation, and I was blown away by the vibrancy of its panels and the profound sense of history it captures. The bulk of the embroidering was done by skilled needle workers, but anyone could add a stitch under their guidance, to give them a personal connection. And it’s that personal identification with events and experiences that I’ve been preoccupied with this week.

Identifying with dates and details in this book, I’m reminded of the profound feeling I had in Berlin where there is so much to remind one of the horrors perpetrated in the 40s which must never be forgotten. I felt devastated by a sense of terrible loss when I stood on the edge of a railway line marking the number of Jews deported to the concentration camps on the day of my birth. I was bereft of words looking at the memorials to the Romany people, to the trains taking children to life or to death, to the six million Jews who died in the concentration camps – all of which happened in my early childhood.

And isn’t that what we try to do with novel writing? Take the reader into that place, that time, that emotion? Leave them feeling the connection. So even though The Day the Nazis Came isn’t going to win any literary prizes, it’s enabling us to hear what it was like to live innocently on these beautiful islands, and nevertheless be sucked into a darkness, an evil, beyond comprehension.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments

On my bookshelves

It’s notable that so many folk we’re seeing on our screens these days – politicians, scientists, celebrities, TV presenters – appear in front of bookshelves. But hey, when I’m at Zoom meetings, so do I! Probably because for many of us, our main computers are in the rooms where we work. But it didn’t occur to me to criticize the material on other people’s shelves until Michael Gove was harangued for having a book by a Holocaust denier alongside other rather extreme literature, on his. Hmmm. It made me wonder … what would people make of my choices? Well, the truth is, it depends on which way the camera is facing in the room. Different walls display different genres. And the books I’m especially devoted to, appear in front of me – ie. behind the camera. But in any case, I certainly don’t agree with the substance or premises of every book we own. What would be the point in only reading things that you agree with? Surely you need to understand other perspectives, other ideas, in order to hone your own thinking.

It made me wonder, though. How do people judge me? As you know, I’ve been putting books outside at the end of our drive for passers-by to help themselves to, by way of distraction for lockdown. For the first few days the books, DVDs and CDs were all mine, but a neighbour put a post on Facebook about the bookcase, and since then I’ve had a tremendous selection of books, jigsaws, games, DVDs, quietly popped on the shelves – beautiful coffee-table hardbacks, dense tomes on the -ologies, best-sellers, how-to manuals, fourth-hand paperbacks, much loved children’s tales. The turn-over has been amazing. And despite the number that are snapped up rapidly, we’ve reached three shelves-full this week! An unexpected bonus. But … am I personally being judged by the books on display? Who knows.

Lockdown is offering lots of unforeseen opportunities for random acts of kindness and helping others, and I’ve been the beneficiary of one myself this past weekend. I attended a virtual Book Festival!

No need to take out a mortgage to pay for tickets, travel, accommodation. No necessity to hang around aimlessly for hours between events. This one came free, a composite of events originally scheduled for different venues around the country, now beamed directly into my study – no one able to peer critically at my book titles either! And I could even knit while I listened – a bonus when you’re just starting an adult jersey – a Gansey from Guernsey in fact – on size 13 (2.25mm) needles.

I particularly enjoyed listening to Terry Waite and Michael Morpurgo, who have such interesting takes on life as well as being brilliant writers. But there was something for everyone, so perhaps it’s not surprising that over twenty thousand people tuned in! Fabulous.

Hats off to the enterprising people who are masterminding these fantastic opportunities. I’ve already booked in for the famous Hay Book Festival later this month – what a treat. As are the multitude of programmes available to watch/hear: fabulous ballets, operas, plays, concerts, masterclasses. The arts and artists themselves have risen to the occasion magnificently, giving their time and skills generously, and I for one am profoundly grateful for all the extra cultural offerings which help to maintain mental stability and well-being in these troubled times.

 

, , , , , , , , , ,

Comments