Friday, 23 December 2016


Advent and Christmas Letter 2016
The year seems to have disappeared so quickly, but a lot happened in it.

I could pick many very special moments, but the best of all was during Evensong on Sunday 10th July, when the great organ of Rochester Cathedral mimicked the sound of fighting over Europe in the First World War and the choir joined in with 'And the Steel Wings Drumming, and the Steel Wings Drumming.... ' The music was masterful, evocative, shattering and it was written by my son David. The baby who sat the wrong way round in my womb. The child who loved nursery but couldn't handle school. The boy who drummed, sang, played the saxophone and who read notes on a stave before he read words on a page. The one for whom I had to fight every step of the way. He's graduated and won prizes, but nothing was so special as the sound pictures he created in Rochester that day.

Will they never fade or pass!
The mud, and the misty figures endlessly coming .....
And the steel wings drumming.
......a quaking bog in a mist, .......
And the dark Somme flowing.
Vance Palmer "The Farmer Remembers the Somme".

Ten days after the Rochester service, David and I were on the port side at Dover, headed for Ypres and the Somme where we joined the Australian commemoration events. It was a momentous trip, we heard glorious music in a church near Thiepval, written by young men who didn't survive the war and watched a Son et Lumiere at Pozières which told so many stories. We clambered into damp, rank smelling trenches at Hill 62, saw extensive battlefields at Beaumont Hamel, visited museums at Albert, Plugstreet Wood and elsewhere, found the grave of Roland Leighton at Louvencourt, were humbled by the cemeteries of many nationalities, too large and too numerous to comprehend and the memorials to those without a grave, who's names are inscribed on the great arches of the Menin Gate and Thiepval. We liked the mingling of the French blue cornflowers with the British red poppies. I've written about this and posted some of it on my blog spot (link at end).

Our exploration of WW1 sites was a sobering experience, made all the more poignant by the fact that we were still in shock, that a month beforehand, a campaign of lies and half truths, had resulted in a decision to unpick the coalition of nations, which has maintained peace in Europe since the end of WW2. The year then got more and more terrifying with President Putin manipulating the puppet strings of the war in Syria and it seems the American Presidential Election. I fear for us all and I fear for the environmental damage which President Elect Trump will inflict on our fragile planet.

We live at a moment every bit, or even more, worrying as the days immediately before WW1 and WW2. David recently watched a TV war history movie (research for his music) and we were both struck by the frightening similarities between the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler and that espoused by Farage and Trump in their campaigns.  The Prince of Wales drew a similar parallel in his BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day on the 22nd of December : "We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith...... All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s.......We owe it to those who suffered and died so horribly not to repeat the horrors of the past."
BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day, HRH The Prince of Wales - 22/12/16
There have been some other excellent recent 'Thoughts' most notably from Rev Lucy Winkett, who on 14/12/16 suggested that, in keeping with the Advent message, we should use a more kindly light, with which to examine the needs of vulnerable people.  On 21/12/16 she suggested that, as we listen to the Gospel narrative of the Christmas Story, we should address the question of "what did take place, not only when Quirinius, but also when Assad, was governor of Syria."

I recently shared the recording of David's Somme music with my WEA writing class. One of my classmates said 'it was one of those "you had to have been there" evenings'. The poetry and prose written by the group, in response to 'The Dark Somme Flowing' were terrific. Some shared their thoughts and fears of Aleppo and beyond. Meanwhile on the four Tuesdays of October, David has given 80 or more workers in the City of London something to think about in their lunch hours, with four organ and solo instrument duets, based around four poems by my friend Peter Phillips. The themes were the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the plane brought down by a Russian Missile over the Ukraine, Isis in Syria and the Holocaust.

Besides the WEA Writing Class in Muswell Hill, I've been attending a WEA Art History course and occasional other related classes in Enfield, this is helping me to join up various bits of art, culture, politics etc which had previously been separate islands of my knowledge and understanding. I make occasional appearances at Carol Justin's lovely Creative Art Class in Finchley and have committed myself to doing better in 2017. I swim whenever possible, to stave off the stiffness which takes over when I fail to get there. I really must make it more of a priority. The group of friends of the late Sonia Ribeiro, longstanding writing tutor at the sadly now defunct Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute, who call ourselves the "Legacy Group", continue to meet monthly in Golders Green. We share our writing and our support for one another. There are some very special people in the group and I feel privileged to hear their stories.

During the first half of the year I had numerous stays at my mum's former home, to be with her during two extended stays in Rotherham General Hospital and to visit her in her care home. She's deteriorated enormously and is now mostly bed bound. We thought she'd gone in June, but she's a tough old bird with songs to sing and pulled through, but who knows how long for? Recently I've not been there as often as I'd like, as I've had eye problems which reduce my driving ability and the train journey exhausts me so much that I have to spend days in bed afterwards. It was discovered a couple of years ago that, like my children, I've got Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and as I get older I feel it take its toll. Malcolm spends much of his time in Yorkshire and visits my mum every day that he's there, his faithful care for her is wonderful. She also gets frequent visits from both of my sisters.

In April, Malcolm and I had three nights in East Yorkshire to celebrate the wedding of my neice Amy Knowles to Andy Clark. It was a glorious event, during which they announced that, against medical odds, they were expecting a baby. It wasn't an easy pregnancy, but Aida was born in early November and a few days ago my sister Rosy sent photos of four generations of mothers and daughters - my mum, Rosy, Amy and Aida. Simply beautiful, very tear jerking.

Malcolm seems to have recovered from his heart attack and has been given the all clear, but he is slowed down by increasing arthritis and a troublesome bunion, he'd have loved to come with us to the Somme but couldn't have managed it. He acted as Mackenzie friend to a mother, who had sought assistance from Parents Protecting Children UK, supporting her in both the Family Court and the Court of Appeal, the case has now been taken over by lawyers and still continues. He was saddened by the Liberal Democrats collapse in the general election  but is heartened by their recent rise in membership and by-election success.

Despite ongoing medical difficulties, Helen is surviving and in many respects thriving at Royal Holloway University of London, she's due for sinus surgery in early January, which we hope will help reduce some of her infections. Her ultimate mission is to save the planet and its people, through her study of Environmental Geoscience, which can help to locate, extract and conserve clean water supplies. She is busily helping her fellow students as a Residential Support Assistant and a St John's First Aider. She was forced out of Founder's Choir for standing up for issues she believed in. She's now got her own car and a special friend called Simon who makes her happy.

My friend Francesca has not been in good health and had a recent stay in hospital with pneumonia. She generously lent Helen and me her family flat, for a week in Pozzuoli on the bay of Naples. We had a wonderful time, including an exhilarating day spent in what Francesca calls 'Naples Split', about which I've written on my blog spot. We feasted on local mozzarella, olives and other goodies. We visited the island of Ischia, the volcano of Solfatara and swam in the heated waters of a spa by Lake Lucrino, which was first used by Nero's soldiers. I enjoyed our trip and the chance to spend time with Helen. I also had a few lovely days in deep countryside, near to Canterbury, in the home of a special friend. David joined me for part of this and we had an afternoon out in Folkestone.

My Facebook page, Parents Protecting Children UK, goes from strength to strength, now with close to 1,150 likes. In some ways that's gratifying, I'm pleased that people find it helpful. In other ways it's devastating to realise that it's still and increasingly needed. On the first of December I asked on the page if people knew of families with Autism Spectrum Differences & Difficulties, who had been misjudged and accused of MSbP, FII or emotional abuse. Within about ten days I had over 80 responses covering more than 40 Local Authority areas. Numbers are still rising, a number of authorities appear to have multiple cases i believe this to be the tiny tip of an enormous iceberg,  covering not just autism but also a variety of medical, neurological , mental health and learning disability issues, most notably ME / CFS and connective tissue disorders (such as Ehlers Danlos and Marfan Syndromes). It's very very far from what the government believe to be a 'handful of isolated cases'. Besides the public responses, I've had a plethora of private messages, telling harrowing stories of the persecution of vulnerable families, by the authorities who should be helping and supporting them.

For seventeen years, since the social ostracism which resulted from my own family being vilified by idiotic and prejudiced 'professionals' with no understanding of Autism, ME / CFS or what turned out to be underlying Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, I've lacked confidence in many social situations and especially around children.
This year, more than any year, my confidence has started to return and I'm now more able to be spontaneous, in ways which haven't been possible for a very long time. I've been especially boosted by :
David's triumphs in Rochester and at St Lawrence Jewry; knowing that he is writing music which is capable of arousing people's spirits, to help them understand and hopefully become agents for change in our increasingly fractured world.
Helen's passionate understanding of politics and the environment and her accounts of life as part of the support team in her university; I'm  awed by her capacity to care for the world and its people in any kind of need and I know that (before graduation) her life is already making a difference.
An early morning playtime with a little girl called Zoe; who reminded me of children I used to know.

I realise increasingly how important it is to be yourself. As Christmas, Hanukkah and the year end approach I wanted to remind everyone to stand up for what you believe to be true (provided that it doesn't harm, degrade or undermine anyone else). I remember the song from "La Cage aux Folles", which Beverley Knight made famous at the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony, "I am what I am". Here is a link to it sung by Shirley Bassey in 2009.

And I've been thinking that as the years advance :
"....... maybe I ought to practise a little now
So people who know me
are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old
and start to wear purple! "
Jenny Joseph

This Advent I've heard some wonderful music, bringing light into what feels a very dark world. Most notable were : Derbyshire Handbells rung in Ulley Church in South Yorkshire, the BBC Singers performing Tavener in St Giles Cripplegate, the FT Choir (including David) with Paul Ayres in Southwark Cathedral and Kate Rusby performing her win versions of Yorkshire Pub Carols in the Union Chapel, Islington. Kate Rusby included her version of 'Sweet Chiming Bells' and a few days later the Choir of St Jude on the Hill performed David's arrangement of the same song. I've written about the origin of this and similar songs : SWEET CHIMING BELLS

I look at my children and sometimes get moments when, despite the horrors out there, I feel that I've helped create two rays of hope for the future.
Very Best Wishes for Christmas, Hanukkah and the New Year,
Yours Jan

P.S. Today as I've been writing this I heard that Joan Bailey MBE of Peterlee in County Durham, died this morning on her 87th birthday. She was one of the very special people with whom I worked, in the 1980s to develop and promote Children's Play provision, through the IYC & BASSAC Latchkey Project and the National Out of School Alliance. Joan did much for the children of Peterlee and contributed to the development of Nationwide after school and holiday provision. I almost saw her last year, but didn't quite make it, now I can't. She will be missed.

Jan Loxley Blount, Finchley 23:12:2016

for pieces about Naples, Ypres & the Somme, and other matters.

D J Loxley-Blount : Composer

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