I HAVE an abundance of recollections of my grandfather – the smell of him cleaning his guns, the harshness of his tweed, the rabid chihuahua tucked under his arm, the never-ending nonsense verse. All part of the myriad of memories that have nurtured me and given me comfort.
This poem, by R L Sharpe, entitled A Bag of Tools, is, however, probably what brings him back to me the most. A relic of his masonic days long gone, but with a message that is eternal.
Isn’t it strange
That princes and kings,
And clowns that caper
In sawdust rings,
And common people
Like you and me
Are builders for eternity?
Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must make –
Ere life is flown –
A stumbling block
Or a steppingstone.
On his (almost daily) recital of this poem, my grandfather would insist on saying ‘building block’ in place of ‘stumbling block’.
He was a man of complete positivity, not one who gave up when things became too difficult. A man who strove onwards, with integrity and individuality, indelibly defined by his smile and his humour; a spiritual man who believed that even one day of life without loved ones around him was a day not worth living. A man who believed in fair rules, kindness and respect.
Here is a man who would be truly horrified at the life we are leading in the UK this very day, where there are now so many stumbling blocks constructed, and so few stepping stones being laid.
Freedom, happiness, surety of worth, guidance of elders – all foundations that should now be prepared for our children, but which are undone by sermons of fear, relentless propaganda and destructive barriers.
Time in the last year that kids should have spent with grandparents and friends is being squandered in listless home learning and enforced separation. Missed cuddles, missed wisdom, missed poetry, missed reminiscences, missed smells and missed smiles.
Complacency and submission are no fit base for any stepping stone. The general compliance may appear to be an enticing bed of sand stretching out for so many in this land, but worthless without the crucial cement of joy, hope, ambition, and love: A desert mirage only of an easy life that can never become substantive to our souls.
To deny the young and the old today of wondrous, precious generational bonds is one of the cruellest actions this government has made.
To see a child prevented from hugging their beloved grandmother in a care home, or to speak to a single man on the street weeping with loneliness, are just small parts of a tapestry of carnage that continues to be played out.
On Mothering Sunday I wept as, for the second year in a row, I am forced away from my own mother, the church I adore, and the little posy of flowers given traditionally in my parents’ village. A small token of love that is one of the largest community gestures in the calendar. A gesture now maybe lost forever in our need to keep our distance from others.
We are failing to nourish and strengthen our young, failing to look up at the landscape ahead. Children this year only get the cold technological input of data from their devices, seen only at arm’s length on a social media account. Too many have not experienced for many months the solid warmth of knowledge passed direct from a beloved relative’s lips.
To reach for the sky you must stand on firm ground. How can our children build stepping stones when we deprive them of the crucial elements they will need to do that?
The UK government has shown itself not as our moral arbiter, nor as our nurturing mother. It is a grotesque empty promise of safety.
We must build for ourselves with our own individual human convictions. We must not forget what it is to be human, to be autonomous, and to be guided by the past, and our grandparents, as we look to the future.