Hamba kahle Madiba

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

National Heritage Open Day in Goldhanger

A tour of Goldhanger today as part of National Heritage Open Day.

Our guide was David Newman, who also runs the comprehensive Goldhanger Past website.

Although I’ve lived in Goldhanger about 18 years it was still a fascinating tour and I learnt things I didn’t know. Over the years I’ve read bits of the Goldhanger Past website but it has been added to so much there is always something new on it.

Living in the Coastguard Cottages gives me a strong link to a thread of history in this village. I like that feeling of connection to people who have been here before. It’s a tenuous connection as the lives of Goldhanger residents 50 years ago, 100 years ago, would have been very different from mine. The village was far more isolated than it is now and would have been almost self-sufficient because of the isolation.

There was a time when the sea wall would not have held back the tide completely and the land to the bottom of Fish Street and beyond would have flooded at high tides. Because of the lie of the land, this meant that a direct route to Maldon – the nearest market town – was not possible and a detour would have to be made via Little Totham. This added some miles to a journey and increased the isolation. Considering the number of creeks reaching inland along the estuary, a large number of villages in these parts would have been more isolated than they are now.

Isolation also meant that nefarious activities could take place and often go unnoticed. While it may have been quite lawless in these parts there are records stretching back centuries detailing court appearances and convictions. Goldhanger has long been known for illegal activity, such as: endeavouring to steal and convey away somebody’s daughter; felony; dice playing; not attending church on Sundays, and smuggling – a thriving activity in its time. Various ale-houses were notorious for rowdy behaviour and the owner of one even set up and built the Wesleyan Chapel in Head Street!

There can still be a sense of isolation here, even in the 21st century. There are no shops in the village any more and no Post Office. Shopping takes place in Maldon and if you have no car you have to rely on the few buses that come through the village. In almost 20 years of living here it has been rare that I cannot leave the village because of flooding or snow, but when it does happen I’ve been glad of a well-stocked freezer.

Some years ago, we had regular power cuts because of a fragile sub-station that would cut out at the merest hint of rain. This had the effect of bringing people together by candlelight to pass the time. The Chequers would continue to sell beer from hand pumps and was lit by candles and oil lamps. Since extensive work was carried out by the energy companies we get very few power cuts now. They were inconvenient if you were in the middle of cooking dinner (there is no gas in the village) but at other times forced us to abandon the modern world and go back to the more simple pastimes that our ancestors would have enjoyed.

This is a fascinating, historic, and peaceful place to live and I love it.

Dreams And Daydreams As Writing Prompts

I’ve been reading the new post on Writing Forward about using dreams and daydreams as prompts for stories. Melissa suggests keeping a journal of dreams and daydreams and using them as a way to inform and inspire your writing.

I’ve written a couple of posts about dreams (Hiram B. Redfern and Premonitions or Dreams) but never used them as stories or ideas in stories. Perhaps it’s about time I did.

It’s not that the whole dream needs to be used. It could be names, places, feelings, or events that are incorporated into a story. Hiram B. Redfern can be a character without the events in my dream or I could use what his wife was doing and turn it into a curious incident that might need explaining somehow. I always felt that Hiram was a real person – perhaps I could turn him into one.

I often find that I conjure up vivid images just before I go to sleep. I’m even awake enough to be able to describe them to my partner. I don’t know whether this is the precursor to sleep or whether I’m just daydreaming. Trying to write them down at this point would be difficult as I want to just drift off rather than bounce up and start writing, but I could jot them down when I remember them. Sometimes this might be a few days after the images come to mind; I’m starting to recall some now because I’m thinking about it. Alternatively I could ask my partner to remind me in the morning.

Dreams are not wholly understood but it is widely believed they are a way for the mind to sift and sort the things that happen to us on a subconscious level. They can be full of mystery, beauty, and the bizarre and this is what writers often tap into when coming up with story ideas. Where else do our ideas come from if not the subconscious, as well as from our own experiences and those of others? The imagination, to quote Wikipedia, is:

… the ability of forming new images and sensations when they are not perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses. Imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental faculty through which people make sense of the world, and it also plays a key role in the learning process.

This sounds a bit like dreaming to me, even if it’s not exactly the same process. Writing (and reading) can also be seen as a way of bringing meaning and sense to the world and both also play a key role in the learning process. We have powerful tools at our fingertips as writers and we provide powerful tools to those who read what we have written. Tools that are not to be underestimated.

So, next time you wake up remembering a dream, write it down – however disjointed and bizarre it may sound. You never know, you might have material for your next story.

Secrets And Story

I was listening to the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage‘ on Radio 4 on my home from work this evening. They were discussing code-breaking and the extraordinary achievements of the team working at Bletchley Park during WWII.

There were about 10,000 people working there and all were sworn to secrecy, with something like only 6 people in the world who knew the extent of the work at Bletchley Park in the war effort. This secrecy continued for decades after the war.

As is the way with the Official Secrets Act, there are various time periods when secrets are no longer secrets. As deadlines passed and knowledge could be shared, some extraordinary stories began to emerge. A husband might turn to his wife 30 years after the war and tell her, ‘I have something to tell you. I worked at Bletchley Park during the war.’ To which the wife might reply, ‘So did I. Which hut were you working in?’

This shows the lengths to which ordinary people like you and I would go to to keep the secrets they were sworn to. It also set me to thinking about the secrets people keep from each other and how we choose whether or not to reveal them. My story entitled ‘The Secret‘ was based on a similar idea – two people living with a secret they both knew about. There are always things we do not discuss with others, however close they may be, and it is these things that weave subtly into a story-line to create interest and suspense.

Premonitions or Dreams?

Last week I had a dream that I met one of my work colleagues carrying a pram with a baby in it. I stopped her and asked where she’d got the baby from and, while were cooing over the baby as if it was the most normal thing in the world, she said, ‘Oh, but he looked so lovely.’ I remember telling her that she couldn’t possibly keep him as he wasn’t hers and she kept saying how lovely he’d looked in the pram as if it was justification for taking him in the first place.

In that way that dreams have of seeming to be so real and ‘normal’ we carried this on for a while and then I found myself walking with the pram, presumably to return the baby. I remember walking across a large open common with lots of people around and some policemen gathered around a house on the other side, who I thought must have had something to do with the missing baby so I aimed for them. I have no idea what happened next because I then found myself dreaming about Stephen dancing around in a kilt and flower-patterned wellies!

I told my colleague about the dream the next morning. She is mid-forties and has a 15yr old daughter and said she hoped the dream wasn’t real because she has nothing to do with babies anymore.

This morning I got to work and she told me about her 15yr old daughter somehow ending up looking after a friend’s 4 month old baby at the weekend. I can’t remember all the details of what happened but the police got involved because the mother has depression and hadn’t returned to collect her baby on time. My colleague was worried about her daughter being left to look after such a young baby and had told her daughter she couldn’t possibly continue to do so.

If I hadn’t told my colleague about the dream she would have thought I was making it up if I’d told her about the dream afterwards. Was it a premonition? I have no idea. Is it coincidence that the content of the dream (baby that wasn’t hers and the police involvement) and the events at the weekend are so similar? Again, I have no idea.
In the early seventies I was in the RAF and, probably about 1972, I remember asking people what had happened to Concorde when it crashed on a test flight. I have no idea where the knowledge came from but there it was in my head as if I’d heard it from the TV or a newspaper and couldn’t remember the source. Nobody knew what I was talking about because Concorde hadn’t crashed on a test flight.

In 1973 I was watching the news and the main item was about the TU144 (the Russian equivalent of Concorde) crashing at the Paris air show. The two planes were almost identical. I knew as I watched the news that this was what I’d been asking about a year or two earlier. But then, in July 2000, Concorde crashed on take-off from Paris.

So which one had I been asking about in 1972?