As the Bee Gees’ lyric continues ‘and words are all I have’. In a week when many around the world are feeling impotent, frustrated, angry, riddled with hatred – so many emotions – I feel the need to adjust the focus. I put my faith in the ripple effect, if I can change the fragment of the universe that surrounds me perhaps it will, by osmosis, have a wider impact. In the interests of realignment, this is not going to be one of my rare political posts, I have said all there is to say before. My post that I wrote during the aftermath of the EU referendum is equally appropriate to the debacle that is the US election.
Today’s post is about progress and positivity but about conflict nonetheless. What weapons do I have to take into battle? What am I able to do and hopefully do well? I write, I stand up and talk to large audiences without a qualm. Sometimes I dress in strange outfits so to do. Mostly, I talk and write about history; how is that relevant to the present, let alone the future? How can I be a warrior for change when I am so rooted in the past? When I applied for college, part of the interview process was to write an essay entitled ‘Why Study History?’ I have largely forgotten the words I used then but they obviously struck home as I was accepted. It was the 1970s, I know that the Irish Troubles and their echoes and reflections of earlier events were part of my response; the details no longer matter. The value of history has not changed. Those who study history are not slightly strange individuals whose work is mere self-indulgence. An understanding of what has gone before is essential to our current well being. That is why those particularly personal branches of history, family and local history are so relevant. By learning where we have come from we become more firmly grounded, we have a sense of belonging, of well-being, we can better comprehend where we are going. We really do need to take heed of George Santayana’s telling statement that heads the home page of my website: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfil it”. An understanding of the past informs our actions in the future. It teaches us to analyse, to think critically, to be aware of the need for proof and to be wary of propaganda. The universal lack of these skills has been blatantly self-evident this year.
Well crafted words provoke reactions, emotions, they are powerful weapons for good or evil, they need to be well chosen. So, what have I been writing lately? Most of my output has not been of national import, although I like to think that the way in which I expressed my opinion in a letter to BBC’s Newswatch, was one of the reasons that an extract from it was read. My first two articles for The In-Depth Genealogist’s Magazine have been submitted. The column is about women’s work and will be an eclectic mix of descriptions of household tasks and paid work. So far I have written about making clothes and munutionettes; next stop laundry.
I have been encouraging others to write too. My ‘Writing and Telling your Family’s Story’ course for Pharos has come to an end and I was privileged to have an enthusiastic band of students. The course is being repeated in February; bear this in mind if your New Year’s Resolution is to finally put fingers to keyboard. I have also been writing another course for Pharos, this one is about researching families and communities in the first part of the twentieth century. It starts in January and you can sign up now. These are online courses so can be taken from any location.
Oh and words also have to be accurate. I am pleased to have been chosen as a speaker at Who Do You Think You Are? Live again in 2017. Tickets for workshops (including mine on Tracing your Elusive English Ancestors) can now be booked. Currently, the description of my session does not match the title! I am trying to work out if this is better or worse than two years ago when my ‘Creating your Family’s Story’ was billed as ‘Creating Your Family’ – it did sell out though!
What else have I let myself in for? Our little group of North Devon authors are trialing ‘writers in residence’ sessions in a local café and I’ve volunteered to be the first victim. So I will be in Latte and Lunch café on Bideford Quay on Wednesday 16 November between 10.30 and 12.00 chatting about what I have written and what I am creating now. I will also have details of the output of others from our group. I really don’t want to look like Billy no mates so, if you are local, do come and grab a coffee and make it look like a crowd. As an incentive, the cake is yummy too!
And finally….. The news has just broken that one of my all time favourite artists, Leonard Cohen, has died. There was a man who knew how to weave magic with his words. Even if his musical style is not to your taste his compelling lyrics need to be read as the poetry that they are. Halleluya may be the most well known and it one of my favourites but for today, The Guests seems appropriate.