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Thursday 26 February 2009

Funeral for a Wonderful Lady

Just look at the silvery linings to those clouds, shining in our direction straight from Heaven.
This post is all about a truly wonderful lady whom my wife, Maria, knew for 47 years, since she was a child. I too have known her and her late husband Kazik for well over 36 years. Throughout she has been so very kind to so many, so generous, so genuine and so friendly. Above all she was so humble. She was 80 when she died and the world is a much poorer place without her.

Wasn't she a beautiful young lady? She was just 17 in this photograph, taken in 1945.

Today was her funeral - a full blown Catholic Requiem Mass, held at a church we know very well. We married there, Maria's parents had their funerals there, our daughter was Christened there. Maria had her First Communion there. We have very fond memories of this Church and, although I am not a Catholic yet a strong Christian, I feel very much at home there.

Today, at her funeral, we celebrated the life of Helena Bronislawa Kuca whom we respectfully always called Mrs Kuca. She was Polish and had a very hard time in the second world war under the heel of Nazi Germany. For a time she was held in an 'experimental' concentration camp where she was treated badly. We do not know exactly what happened to her but can imagine the ordeals she must have experienced. The photograph was taken just after the Allies freed her and many others. She later married Mr Kuca and they lived in England since the war.

Mrs Kuca was a very devout Catholic and attended Mass daily. That alone is a wonderful feat of dedication to Our Lord. Since Kazik's death she made the church, the parish, the people and Jesus her total life and she was a faithful servant for many years, right to the end. Recently, on her way walking to church, she collapsed and was taken to hospital where she died.

Throughout her life, she and her husband were very kind and, because she could have no children of her own, she treated all young people in the Parish as though they were her own. I remember in 1973 she and Kazik bought us a fridge for our wedding present. It lasted over 30 years, so she must have given it lovingly mustn't she? I remember going to Currys for a replacement and when the sales attendant asked me what I wanted I said I would like a fridge like my last one which would last 30 years. The answer and look I got I shall not repeat! Mrs Kuca was not only interested in us but our children too and watched she them grow up and loved both them and us. She touched a lot of lives - just imagine how many families were recipients of her love and generosity.

I could not take a photograph of the interior of the church but try to imagine the inside of the most beautiful church you have ever seen, in terms of design and architecture, lighting, furnishings and stain glass windows. Stop for a moment and search your mind. . . . . and try to remember. . . . . . We saw it again today and there was such an atmosphere there because over 400 people attended Mrs Kuca's funeral, such was the love and respect this dear lady had from her many friends who all turned out for her. She got the send-off she truly deserved - magnificent.

To honour her no fewer than seven priests officiated at her funeral as they surrounded the altar; two Polish priests and five English priests - they all loved her and three of them gave glowing testimonies of her in their addresses in English and in Polish, since there were a large number of Polish friends attending. Maria's parents were both Polish and she speaks the language very well, saying the tributes from the Polish priest were truly amazing.

The time came for us to go to the front for communion (in my case a blessing, since I am not a Catholic). We filed past Mrs Kuca, kissed our hands and placed them on the coffin as a final act of love and respect for her. Maria broke down on one occasion along with many others. As for me I was really happy for her because now she would be reunited finally with her husband, Kazik, lost to her 9 years ago and, of course, she would be with Jesus at last. If she is not in Heaven right now then nobody is.

The tributes from friends were wonderful and endless - she touched so many lives - accolade after accolade was showered upon her, the final one being, "She is the brightest star amongst the stars". As a person I rate her right at the top of the tree. Not many come close to her, only perhaps Edna and Marjorie, who I will tell you about one day.

The funeral service was almost over, and time for Mrs Kuca to be committed for burial at the cemetery. The service had been a Requiem Mass which sounds a bit daunting and a bit heavy - nothing of the sort - not at all - it was truly wonderful and actually enjoyable. The feeling of total peace that came across to everyone was truly staggering.

As we sang the final hymn the pall bearers carried the coffin, draped with a Polish flag, along the aisle towards the rear of the church with the seven priests following the mortal remains of our dear friend, soon to be buried.

In my mind I saw a much bigger and higher spiritual picture of what was occurring and this gave me a feeling of great joy. Very slowly a figure materialised facing us from the position where the coffin had been in front of the altar - the detail became very clear after a few moments. I saw the real living Mrs Kuca, but now a lovely young lady once more, smiling at us. She was recognisable as young Helena but much more beautiful than the photograph portrays. She was radiant and clothed in light, just like Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration. Beside her two angels each took a hand and gently carried her higher, then higher, ever so slowly at first. A brilliant white beam of light connected them to infinity. Normal time and space were modified for the occasion. In my mind's-eye I heard a choir of angels sing music with such beauty as I never heard before. As they ascended further, I saw beyond the roof - they passed straight through it unhindered. They journeyed ever upwards, towards the first Heaven then the second Heaven - I could still see them - ever upwards, further and further, through the clouds and then through the whole universe straight to the third Heaven, the Throne Room of God. The light was so intense I could just bear it but I was not allowed to see further. They stopped and waited a while and I saw a figure stepping out of the light walking slowly towards Helena. As it came nearer I saw a young man in his twenties and he too was radiant with a wonderful smile on his face. I recognised him as Kazik. He held out his hand to greet her, she took it and as their eyes met for the first time no-one was permitted to see her face, only him, just for that moment. After a while motionless together and still hand in hand, they turned towards the powerful almost unbearable light, walking away from me. To tumultuous applause they passed through it into eternal paradise and out of sight for ever, this time not as husband and wife but as part of the bride of Christ and into God's Heavenly purposes.

I am honoured to receive this Post Of The Day (runner up) from David McMahon of Authorblog, awarded 2 March 2009. Thank you David for my first award which means a lot to me. Click to see it and interestingly my sister Maggie May was also awarded a runner up POTD.

New M&S Jacket for £7.32

My wife, Maria, and I made a rare trip to the shops today in search of a new jacket for me. She had been nagging . . . . no let's be kind, trying to persuade me to get a new one for a few weeks. My old jacket was just that . . . old, and I am ashamed to say, way too small. Could I really have expanded that much in just a few years? Yes! The answer is that it was not just a few years! Was there any likelihood that I could contract again? No! if I'm honest. But maybe if I made a determined effort to slim? Who am I kidding? No!
Do I really need a new jacket, I wondered? Earlier I had protested,"I have a perfectly good one, my dear", but Maria replied, "Yes, it is very nice but it is size 42 chest and you are size 46". "Oh!"

But let's face it I am usually in my ambulance uniform so I do not wear 'civvies' that often, yet I suppose it would be nice to wear some decent casuals. So reluctantly I agreed to visit Marks and Spencers.

We found a lovely jacket almost immediately but the cost was a little more than we thought at £79. However, we liked it very much, it fitted well and we did not relish traipsing around all the shops in order to save maybe £10 or so. After all, it has been ages since I bought a similar item so £79 would not exactly break the bank. I could not help thinking that if everyone was like me M&S would have gone bust years ago.

Maria insisted that I used her £20 M&S voucher she had from her boss for a Christmas gift. She could not find anything she wanted herself, so we strode to the checkout with the jacket. "Very nice one, if I may say so", remarked the checkout lady. I thought that if we had chosen one with pink and white spots she would have said exactly the same thing.

The bill was reduced to £77.32 courtesy of Gordon Brown; remember, when he reduced VAT from 17.5% to 15%, thus a saving of £1.68. Gee, thanks Gordon. I feel a bit guilty now after all the Brown bashing I have levelled at him recently. The bill was reduced further by £20 with Maria's gift voucher, so I paid the balance, £57.32.

We arrived home and saw a letter on the threshold as we opened the front door. "A letter for you, dear; private and confidential", said Maria as we entered. "Oh I expect it is another wingeing letter from Gordon Brown, complaining about my blog", I answered.

No it wasn't. It was a cheque from Tesco which was completely unexpected. The value was £50, no less, and it was a cash back cheque for house and contents insurance which we had just taken out with them.

So the final cost of my jacket was just £7.32
How about that then. We had earlier attended the funeral of a dear friend, shown in my next post tonight.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Words of Wisdom from Bill Gates

Well I think I have done enough "brilliant Brown bashing blogs" for now. Thank you for the positive feedback from those who saw them. Sorry, I cannot kick the ill iteration just like that and I warn you I am prone to sudden attacks now and again.

Recently I came across some really impressive words of wisdom from Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. He offered these ten insights to anyone starting out in the big bad world of business. His points are well worth considering:

1. Life isn't fair - so get used to it.
2. The world doesn't care about your self-esteem; it expects you to accomplish something before feeling good about yourself.
3. You won't make £60K a year right out of school, or be a vice president with a blackberry. You have to earn it.
4. So you think your teacher is tough? Just wait until you have a boss!
5. Flipping burgers isn't beneath you; your grandparents called it opportunity.
6. Your parents weren't always boring; it came from feeding you, cleaning your clothes and paying your bills. So before you rush out to save the rain forest from the 'parasites' of your parent's generation, try delousing your own closet first.
7. Some schools may have abolished winners and losers, but life hasn't.
8. Life isn't divided into school terms. You don't get summers off. Employers aren't interested in helping you 'find yourself''. You do that in your own time.
9. Unlike television, real people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to work.
10. Be nice to nerds; chances are you'll end up working for one someday!

The Bible says: "Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied" (Proverbs 13:4 NIV)

No shortcuts - you've got to work for it.

Gosh! What powerful words and I wish someone had shown me this when I was knee high to a grasshopper. But I expect I would have thought it was just the ramblings of 'an old fart!' Old heads on young shoulders and all that. I wonder if I could add a relevant phrase which I have dredged from deep within my cerebral hemispheres.

Aim for the stars and you might reach the ceiling.
Aim for the ceiling and you'll never get off the ground.

The problem is that throughout life my aim has been dreadful and I usually shoot myself in the foot!

Sunday 22 February 2009

Gordon Brown Complains

Saviour of the World? Hmm! This week I received a complaint from Gordon Brown about my last blog. Whereas he agrees entirely with the content, he remarked that I had omitted to include a photograph of him. Sorry, Gordon, I did not remember to take my camera with me, as all good bloggers should do, always. Please remember, I am a beginner. Had I remembered and taken my camera and got near enough to actually take a photo of him several people have remarked that I could easily have taken a gun instead of a camera and shot him. He looks a bit 'shot' here doesn't he? Certainly someone appears to have spoilt his breakfast. Or maybe John Prescott took a swing at him.

In fact I looked for ages on the website for a flattering picture of Gordon and this is the best I could do. If you look now back to my previous blog you will note that I have endeavoured to put things right by adding this photo and one for Alistair Darling. I hope Gordon and Alistair will both be happier and, with that out of the way, feel able now to get on with the task of trying to rescue this country from catastrophe.

I thought it prudent to add a photograph of Alistair Darling since he is a major architect of the huge financial mess in which we live. As you can see, he is obviously trying to make a point of some sort and it seems as though this has fallen on deaf ears. He looks as though he is about to show his teeth to somebody - I wonder who is about to experience his wrath. Is it you, Gordon? Mr Darling seems to be behaving just like John Prescott did just before he hit or punched someone. It must be something to do with 'new labour' and the effect it has on people. Come to think of it 'old labour' had much the same effect, didn't it? I wonder what the labour party will call themselves now that both old and new labour don't work. Perhaps 'New New Labour' or 'Revamped Yet Again Labour' or 'Twice Dead but Resurrected Labour' or 'Honestly, this time labour will work'. I expect they will come up with something.

I have it by reliable authority that in his next budget Mr Darling will impose a severe tax on all bloggers because they are classified as 'not green'. His reasoning is supposedly that when all our computers are switched on and we are busy posting and communicating with each other in a highly civilised manner it is deemed that we all produce a huge carbon footprint, thus contributing to global warming. We are classified along with gas guzzling jets and four wheel drives! What a spoil sport he is. How dare he do that to us! I say vote conservative at the next election in protest. No doubt you were going to do it anyway.

Returning to the subject, Gordon expressly forbade me from adding a picture of Tony Blair to this post because he says there are far too many of him and Cherie in existence already and the grinning photos remind him of a couple of Cheshire cats. Couldn't agree with you more, Gordon. It gives me great pleasure not to include a photo of Tony and Cherie.

After agreeing to these two conditions I am very pleased to announce that Gordon has withdrawn the worldwide contract he ordered on me.

Monday 16 February 2009

Blundering Brown Bankrupts Britain

Before boring Brown began badly bludgeoning British Bulldogs, brainy bullshitting barrister Blair boasted booming Britain. Big bangs banged, bloated bureaucrats blossomed, brilliant bankers blindly bet banks' billions, "Buy! Buy! Buy! Back-hander big-wigs bloomed beautifully. Brain-dead boozy busy bees bought boundless bid bargain basement bargains between beers. Buzzing brokers bayed.

Bluffing Blair backed-down, Brown became Britain's boss but boom became bust. Bread-and-butter businesses, believed bell-weathers, belly-flopped, banks became blocked, bankers borrowed biliously but blocked business borrowing. Bank-of-England base-rates bottomed, basic buying broke-down, balance-sheets buckled bankrupting British business. Bull-markets became bear-markets. Blood baths bombarded business boards. Bitter back benchers bickered. Business basics backfired. Benefits ballooned. Billions! Billions! Bedlam! Balance-of-Payments breech broadened bewilderingly.

Brown's buddy ('Beloved'), bespectacled bashful budgeter, becoming brave, blatantly borrowed billions, bailed-out banks. Bewildered Britishers belly-ached, "Big British bills bankrupting bulldog's broods". Brown "Britainised" banks but Bradford-and-Bingley became bust. Barclays better! Brown blamed banks. Banks blamed Brown. Big banking businesses blue-printed, "Big bonuses!"
Beware Brown, belligerent British bulldogs bellowed, "Block-or-begone!"
Betrayed boiling Britons, blaming blundering Brown, bellowed, "Banish Brown's band-of-bandits". Blue banners began big bombardment. Big battles begin. Begone Brown. B-off!

Blair beamed. Blair's bride beamed. Brown blushed. Budget-maker bit bullets, Bank-of-England boss bossed banks.

Plenty of Clouds here thanks to Messrs Blair, Brown & Company but the Silver Linings seem light years away. Even with a conservative government in power, which seems highly probable next election, it will take years to recover and to remove both personal and national debt with which this government has saddled us - it is huge. Mr Brown, as chancellor, squandered billions in pointless government spending when the coffers were in surplus, through good conservative stewardship. He should have set this aside for a rainy day, so he was just as irresponsible as the bankers for getting us into this mess. Gordon Brown used to use the word, "prudent" a lot but quickly abandoned it as he borrowed more and more and more to spend more and more and more. The last labour government, when Dennis Healey was chancellor of the exchequer, did exactly the same thing and ended up going to the IMF with a begging bowl to save Britain. This time round under the Blair/Brown debacle a point worth mentioning is that when Tony Brown and his 'New Labour Party' took over they inherited an economy from the Conservatives so strong it took them 11 years to ruin it. The conservatives will have to do it all again and won't get much thanks for it. My, the British electorate have short memories, don't they?

Since this original publication I have received a personal visit and complaint by Gordon Brown. He agrees that the content is entirely factual but his complaint is that there was no photograph of him included with the text. Consequently this posting has been extensively revised to include the two photos and some more suitable words beginning with 'b' when I find them. As a matter of courtesy I have written a short sequel just for Gordon and Alistair which can be seen on the next posting.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Great Grandfather James - lost and found

Virtually nothing inside our family was known about my great grandfather, James, except he moved from Liverpool to the south of England circa 1898. By coincidence, some 54 years later, my parents, sister and I moved south also, when my father's business was relocated . Two years ago I became interested in researching my family tree and was astonished to discover that James, his second wife, Elizabeth and their two sons, actually had lived in my home town until 1905.

I found James on the 1901 census living in a lovely 17th century cottage on a hill which I had been passing back and forth for years, little realising who the occupant used to be in one of a row of cottages I had often admired. The 1901 census revealed that James indeed lived there and his occupation was "soap boiler". So I made it my business to research where he might have worked and discovered a soap works built in 1881, near the bank of a river, again in my home town.

I wondered how James might have died so I found his death record on the Birth, Marriage and Death register and then sent away for a copy. I was very shocked and saddened to discover that James committed suicide on 2 January 1905 by hanging himself in one of the lofts whilst at work - he was just 57. Further, I discovered on that day, his father John also had committed suicide a few months before James was born. After my initial jubilation at finding James it was a huge let-down to discover the sad demise of him and his father and I was determined to find out more information. I found some newspaper articles covering James'  death in the central reference library. Apparently James was suffering from severe depression after a bout of flu. The last time his wife, Elizabeth, saw him was at 6 am when he set off for work. He was factory manager at this time and after issuing orders to the men for the day he could not be found until the caretaker discovered a set of keys to one of the lofts missing. They later found him hanging and dead, with a rope wrapped twice round his neck and the other end attached to a nail in the wall. What a shock for me to discover this! I was now very fond of my great grandfather. The inquest was held at a local pub which I knew well and had visited often - how peculiar and uncanny!  There is no way of knowing why his father John took his own life.

I sent away for a copy of the coroner's report but alas Somerset records Office no longer hold any records prior to 1921. I cannot imagine just how unhappy James was to do such a thing. I know his first wife, Emma (my great grandmother) was lost to him through cancer when she was just 37. But this was in 1880 and now he had made a new life for himself. He married Elizabeth in 1891 and had a new family with all his eldest children all grown up and in living in the north of England, his eldest son being my grandfather. The photograph dated about 1896 shows him quite happy, so what went wrong? Sadly, we will probably never be able to find out - this side of the grave anyway.

The soap works is now let out as various commercial engineering units and I started to visit the site. The first occasion was one day on my way to ambulance duties, wearing full uniform. Brian and Dave at the site were very interested to hear my story which was new to them - they had no idea what had occurred in 1905. They showed me inside the buildings and pointed to the oak beams which still had a coating of white soap residue. They pointed out the door to the loft where the incident must have occurred and said they could get the key to it if I wished - to date I have not done so. They did remark that the building was a bit 'eiree' on occasions at night. Humorously, I remarked that I had arrived with all my ambulance gear 102 years and 3 months late. I chuckled to myself that this was not quite as bad as Great Western Ambulance Service. But deep down I was very sad.

I wondered if James might be buried in our local cemetery and I contacted the authorities. I was delighted to learn that he was buried there and they gave me the plot number. I found the grave attendant at the cemetery and he was able to locate the exact spot, under a large fir tree. I was saddened to see that James is in an unmarked grave situated at the extreme edge of the cemetery. I learned that suicides in those days were usually treated in this way as it was regarded a sin within the church to take one's own life. I resolved to try to put things right with James. Firstly, I made a wooden cross with a plaque giving his full name, birth date and death date plus a large RIP. At least he had a name now and not just forgotten in the ground.

And then a distant memory came to me about the soap works. Some 20 years ago, long before I knew anything about James, my wife and I were walking along the riverbank path past an old Victorian building dated 1881, which I now know to be the soap works. Unknown to me at that time the path on which we walked used to be a tow path for shire horses to pull barges containing raw materials up river to the factory. That day, I remember, was particularly hot and into view came a man in his 50s, dressed completely out of period, wearing a peaked hat. I cannot today recall his features exactly and could not say whether he resembled my great grandfather in any way. However, he pointed to the building and spoke in a northern accent. He said that the factory manager had killed himself there. I looked across the river and then back at the gentleman but he was nowhere to be seen - he had simply disappeared. I tried to dismiss the incident as just rather strange and asked my wife what she thought about it. She said, "What man? I didn't see anyone!" Was this a trick of my imagination? I mean, had events discovered recently somehow become confused with an earlier experience of what I thought I saw 20 years ago? Or perhaps I didn't see anything at all but today thought I did. Or was this perhaps James in some unexplained way sowing the seeds for my big discovery about his demise? Who knows? The mind sometimes plays tricks.

After making the wooden cross I contacted the church and asked the vicar, known to me very well, if we could organise a service at the graveside for James just in case he had not had a full burial service. We prayed for James and arranged the service. Also a mass was said for him and his father at the local Catholic church. It feels as though a dark cloud has been lifted at last and James and his father are now at peace. I get a much better feeling about it all now.

We wondered what became of the boys, Alexander and Joseph. I found their records at the infant school during a very rare open day, when the attendance books were open to view by the public. Another coincidence, I wondered? It was the 150 th anniversary of the school. When I found them I discovered that Elizabeth and the boys held on until June 1905 when we presumed they returned to Liverpool. The eldest boy, Alexander as new head male of the family, undertook hard manual work to keep the family afloat financially. This enabled Joseph to gain a much higher education which served him very well in later life.

We knew the boys were of prime age for World War 1 and we tried to find details of how they died. We could not find any natural death for either boy on the BMD records. Nor could we find killed in action records on the War Graves Commission website. They certainly could not possibly be alive at 113 and 111 years respectively. So I placed a message on the Ancestry on-line website, "I am looking for details of Alexander George ******, can anyone help please?" Two days later I was astonished to see a reply, "I think he is my father, but he had a brother called Joseph". Staggering! We were over the moon to make contact with Alexander's daughter, Esme, and we correspond with her regularly by email. I asked her if she had a photograph of James and you can imagine my joy when the photograph (above) came as an email attachment.

Alexander was indeed called up for WW1 and was in many of the big battles including Ypres and the Somme. He had many 'near squeaks' but came through safely, with only a bit of shell shock and hearing loss. Joseph somehow was not called up and later became a big shipping magnate in Liverpool.

There are a series of huge coincidences here which are truly uncanny. I just wonder if I was 'led' to do the research so that James may be helped spiritually. I really do wonder about this. Silvery linings indeed because after the church services I feel more at peace about James and John. May God bless them and one day I look forward to meeting James in particular. Naturally, I do have a few questions for him. Why did you do it James?