Stories on Whalls: St. Mary’s Church, Marston, Lincolnshire

 

The church has an Early English tower. The Chancel was restored by Charles Kirk in the 1880s. The church is a Grade I listed building. Whall’s two- light window in the South Aisle West celebrates the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s rule. The left hand light shows a mother with two children and the right hand light shows a child sitting on Christ’s lap. Inscription in left hand light reads “Suffer the little children to come unto me” and that in the right hand light reads “For such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” At the foot of the left hand light is a crown and the date 1837, and at the foot of the right hand light is V.R.I. and the date 1897. (List of works by Christopher Whall)

Many moons ago when I was rethinking my Christian roots, I was guided to read a new passage from a prayer-book every time I entered a church. I was a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction at the time and so one day went into the local church to see if I could find the quote which Samuel L Jackson’s character, Jules, claims was from Ezekiel 25:17:

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

I found out soon after that in actual fact, Ezekiel 25:17 doesn’t say this at all. Tarantino had liberally exposed Ezekiel to the Genesis story of Cain and Abel which he then finished it off with an infusion of the spirit of Psalm 23. It was quite a marriage of different texts used to justify vengeance and acts of great violence throughout the film.

Whilst I was disappointed back then to find the text was a figment of a screen writer’s and not a scripture writer’s imagination, I was reminded of Tarantino’s stories a few days after Brexit’s Article 50 trigger had been pulled,  and when I visited  St Mary’s Church in Marston to view the Christopher Whall window which commemorated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was a lively affair full of exhortations of national pride and future empire building. Chamberlain suggested the Diamond Jubilee should be seen as a “Festival of the British Empire” and communities across the country decorated streets with arches, flags and bunting and the usual Jubilee paraphernalia. Children received Jubilee mugs; elderly women were given tea and elderly men were given tobacco. Clearly they’d not heard of Health and Safety in those days. In Marston, the Christopher Whall window was installed in the west window in the south aisle to commemorate the event.

“The streets, the windows, the roofs of the houses, were one mass of beaming faces, and the cheers never ceased,” Queen Vic wrote in her journal the day after her anniversary (presumably about the street parties, not about the installation of the window). Later that night Victoria sat next to Archduke Franz Ferdinand at a state banquet in Buckingham Palace.   His subsequent assassination in 1914 led, as we know, to the start of World War I.

Perhaps had they had the benefit of a Tarantino mixed up biblical script we wouldn’t be sat where we are today. He could have added a recipe to the Barkston Village Recipe Book which instead of calling for vengeance, could have made a powerful call to action for wisdom in times of nationalistic fervour and difficult international relations. He might have fused elements of Chapter IX of the Wisdom of Solomon – the bible reading on the lectern from last week’s service or the preparation for next week’s:

God of my ancestors, merciful Lord, by your word you created everything. By your Wisdom you made us humans to rule all creation, to govern the world with holiness and righteousness, to administer justice with integrity. Give me the Wisdom that sits beside your throne…

with something from Matthew from the New Testament:

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Unfortunately, as far as I know, Tarantino hasn’t yet visited Marston, but when he does, I’m sure he’ll be given a warm welcome, especially if he can shed some guiding light on the fictions we’re all facing in these Brexit fuelled, anxious times.

Coming Closer to Home: after the communism…

I’ve often wondered whether EU funded adult education projects are not just about their alleged subject matter – but much more about sharing languages across our difficult and contentious continent.

A few years ago July we participated in an EU funded programme, Forests for All. As well as taking a day trip around the Mersey Forest (starting at Wirral Waters where there were no forests at all and ending up in Delamere Forest where there was plenty to look up to), many participants also massively improved their language skills, testified to best perhaps by the teacher, Alina, from Romania.

We asked her to write a short story in her own words about her experiences on the project and this is what she wrote.

This is not just a story. It is a part of my life. In high school I’ve studied the Russian language for 4 years. Our country back then was dominated by the communism and Ceausescu forced the students from most of the schools to study this language instead of English.

After the communism, the English language appeared everywhere: on TV, on the radio, in the cinema… I was fascinated by this new sound and I learned it all by myself from movies and especially from music.

For 20 years, I have never spoken English, never! I was able to understand it, but I haven’t had the courage to actually say a word. I tried to learn it from books, but I never passed the second lesson; I preferred to learn it only from what I heard.

In this project, in October 2011, it was the first time when I spoke English in public. I can’t explain where my courage came from. For me and mostly for my Romanian colleagues, it was a big surprise, one of the biggest of my life.

You, all my partners from this project, you didn’t laugh, you have encouraged me. I know I make a lot of mistakes, my accent is wrong, but you never stopped me and this means a lot to me.

Thank you for your patience, for listening to me; I’ve learned a lot from you and each one of you is important to me perhaps only for a word or for a joke or for a new expression. You’ve been my English teachers, the best I could have had.

When Nick asked me to write this story, I was terrified! I don’t know if it’s correct, but it is my real story, a story from the bottom of my heart and it could be the story of any Romanian girl who found from nowhere the trust in her own forces and mind.

There’s more of these stories to hear about in the months coming up to the UK Brexit referendum.  Please feel free to share them here.

Coming Closer to Home: the Prospect of the UK becoming a EU free zone.

So, we’re under starters orders; and we’re off.

The rumours are starting to circulate already at work. If we opt for Brexit, there’s a possibility that the very large EU contract we are about to have signed off by DCLG may be delayed until after the referendum. Meaning not only that over 350 creative and cultural businesses miss out on much needed business support to help them deal with the ravages of the public sector cuts of the last five years; but also, closer to home, a small group of staff are suddenly faced with potential cut backs and downsizing until such time that the contract is signed. The safety afforded by what looked like regular funding is suddenly looking very fragile. Childcare is reconsidered, holidays put on hold and we try to remember if we have any premium bonds locked up under the bed.

It’s at times like this that you realise the impact that the EU has had on the cultural sector in the UK. I worked in Liverpool for over 25 years and there wasn’t one day in that period that hadn’t benefited in one way or another from EU support. Whether this was at the Everyman Theatre in the late 1980s when the EU propped up that ailing theatre for a good 5 years (although you’d be hard pressed to find anybody in that organisation who would admit it); or at LIPA, when McCartney’s modest financial contribution to firing up the Mothership had the galvanising effect of attracting container loads of ERDF funding in through the gates; or at Aspire when EU funding in the shape of Comenius, Grundtvig or Youth in Action grants had a powerful impact on the working lives of teachers, students, families and everyone in between: the fact is that EU support has been a major source for economic, social and cultural good in Liverpool, across Merseyside and indeed the world as a whole.

And closer to home, it helped shape careers, livelihoods and families. Whilst many were leaving Liverpool in the 1980s to find work, me and many others were able to gravitate to the city precisely because of the job and training opportunities European funding generated.

There are so many stories that EU support has afforded the cultural and creative industries in Liverpool and beyond, I’ll never be able to capture them all here. But I’ll try to capture as many as I can because right now we are faced with the possibility that the respite that funding has provided in the last 30 years could now be sucked out of the sector irreversibly: and the opportunities it provided for the young people, its creative and cultural movers and shapers – and most importantly, it’s communities – could be lost for at least the next generation.

So: over the next few months this blog is going to try and remember the impact that EU support has had on us working in the arts and culture – not just in Liverpool but further afield.

One thing we do know is that working in the arts involves dropping a lot of stones in lots of ponds and that the resonances of our work are felt well beyond the streets, studios and workshops of struggling artists trying to come to terms with their practice in some quiet city back street. One thing we learnt is that EU support makes us citizens of the world, not just our local neighbourhood, country or continent. It makes coming ‘closer to home’ a much more expansive act than just acting out down our streets to a global, TV audience.

If you have any stories to share it would be great to hear and share them. If we don’t, come Brexit, it may well be too late to remind ourselves later on.