Tag Archive | Scotland

A Winsome Sweet ‘17

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2The New Year’s Day 2017 has arrived with hopes – giving new courage and belief for a fresh start. The transitory period when the old year gives way for the new often kindles a curious manifestation of optimism in us and inspires hope for a “happy and better New Year” – free from the misfortunes of the year just gone by. Inwardly, this feeling is merely a repetition of the optimism that inspired us at earlier New Year’s Eves when it was wished that the ensuing New Year would bring its own heaven. Even though the year’s outcome was contrary to our expectation, yet again, when the clock struck the first note of midnight at the New Year’s Eve, and the bells ring, the fire crackers were lit, Auld Lang Syne was sung to be followed by other old, new, nostalgic medley of seasonal carols and songs, and toasts were raised, we take fresh heart to, once again, hope for the best.

New Year’s Day is the eighth day after Christmas and traditionally, bears the name “Octava Domini” (In Octavas Domini) in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. The first of January appeared as an ecclesiastical festival at Rome for the first time at the beginning of the ninth century, where it is called from the first Circumcisione Domini. The idea and date of this festival are derived from the Gospel of St. Luke (Chapter II. 21), since eight days after birth, the Christmas child of Virgin Mary was circumcised and received the name Jesus, a personal name. The year ends with the birth and begins with the naming.

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This year’s crib in our house

The traditions and customs related with New Year’s Day were concerned with bringing good luck for the coming year. When the year dies out at the chimes of the midnight hour, and when the traditional toast and ubiquitous salutations of “Happy New Year” and “Good Health” resonate the air and people hugged, kissed and shook hands; whatever be the attitude of the body, certain thoughts in some of us would become silent prayers turned heavenward, thanking for the past years and hoping for the best times and good health. Holy Toledo! The truth is you cannot savour the joys of life without good health.

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It is also a time for New Year resolution – decisions intended to abandon a bad habit or adopt a good one in the New Year, most popular being the decision to give up smoking and to diet which are always updated as time passes by. According to a survey, two people out of three made such resolutions but most soon break them.

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Back in December 2013 we were in Bangkok for the festive season. There was political unrest in the country at that time between red and yellow shirts. But rather than let the tourism go haywire and celebration of people curtailed, the sensible local authorities, very efficient to cope with the matters of their positions and departments, did not clamp on any undue restrictions which was laudable.

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On that warm Saturday morning of December 2013, I was waiting to keep my appointment at one of my favourite Foot Reflexology parlours in Bangkok which I had managed to reach from my hotel with some difficulty. As many of you will know, Bangkok is notorious for traffic congestions, but since yesterday (Friday, 27th) the streets were unusually packed as the New Year revellers flocked out of Bangkok to their villages. A friend of the owner of the parlour, a middle-aged Thai was also in the lobby with me waiting for the arrival of his friend. A great conversationalist, he is known to me from my earlier visits. That was the extent of our acquaintance. Having known that I write about Bangkok, he wisely used my waiting time to give me a run through about some of the many traditions and customs of his land – most of which I had come to know over the years in some finery.

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9When our conversation touched upon Songkran festival (marks the start of the traditional Thai New Year which falls during April), he suddenly switched the topic to the hair style he would be getting at the adjoining salon either on 30th or 31st (specifically on Monday and Tuesday which he believed are the only good days for getting haircut!!) in time for the New Year’s Eve. At that time, his hairdresser would remove the red-shades from his natural jet black hair worn too long by Thai standards. Although I tried to avert the conversation from being nosy about his personal choice, he went right ahead and told that he is clearing the red shades for his elder sister who has invited him to her house for late dinner on the New Year’s Eve which he intended to attend, after cutting-short his own razzle-dazzle with his friends at the local pub.

8As assigned, he would be the “first-foot” to enter his sister’s household to usher in the New Year. This fairly clear-cut custom, which has many versions, is based on a Hogmanay (a New Year’s Eve in Scotland) tradition, and still kept up in some Far Eastern and Australian households.

It is believed that if the first person to cross the threshold of a house after midnight, when the old year ends and the New begins, is a dark haired man, a year of good luck will follow. Since her brother’s last “first-foot”, she had experienced lesser gale over the domestics. And certainly, once more the elements of specific gifts a “first-footer” usually brings which symbolised life, hospitality and warmth is in his consideration to take along with him.

For his sister, who displayed great strength and furious energy to go through the ritual of sweeping her whole house thoroughly on 31st of every December, the recruitment of her brother to make the necessary entrance at her house is rooted on her belief that it should be someone with dark hair and not of her household.

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Family ties are stronger at Christmas and New Year time – and louder, too. First of January is Global Family Day, too. Mind you, he would have his fun in her home ground – the whisky, the songs, the smile, the smells – and the mishmash of games: shuffleboard, Ping-Pong, Bingo, cards, and God knows what else. To reach her home at that time of the night without the bow-wow of stray dogs in her street would be a benefit since any stray dogs living in the premises on New Year’s Eve were particularly cleared because, according to his sister, they brought bad luck.

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People do strange things hoping for best things ahead. Not long ago, a European chef of Mandarin Oriental spoke about a Thai chef’s unbridled enthusiasm for anything associated with superstitions. The Roman belief that misfortune would come into a house by anyone entering with his left foot first, is a custom which is strictly followed with right foot by his family. They have a tradition to criss-cross certain rituals of the Thai Songkran festival also with the customs of New Year’s Day.  The ingredients they used in this respect, forming part of the ritual of bathing of Buddha statues during Songkran, consists of five bowls containing different-coloured floating flowers – each colour to represent prosperity in a variety of forms: Rose Red to bring a tranquil life devoid of obstacles; Marigold Orange to signify success and wealth; Anchan Blue representing strength to overcome obstacles; Pandan Green for peace without problems; and Jasmine White to symbolise a joyful life.

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The question about how a fairly intelligent and even moderately educated person could inwardly believe these superstitions – that number 13 is unlucky, or that one should not start a new venture on Friday, etc., in spite of its universal acceptance, is, how-do-you-say-it, much like a pyramid balanced in unstable equilibrium upon its point. Nevertheless, people do knock on wood; take a pinch of salt and throw it over their left shoulder; or refuse to walk under a ladder, and hope that, “touch wood”, this New Year would hopefully go down in memory as the year they moved into the house of prosperity, good health, peace, joy and all things of goodness – with the baggage of serious misfortune safely left behind. I remember the saying, if you must leave your old house and move to a new one do not take your old broom with you.

Thank you for riding with me during the past year. I raise a toast: Here is wishing my friends and readers a lovely, peaceful and prosperous new 2017. Jo

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

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StarChoice 24: The Shell Seekers

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“Life is so extraordinary. Wonderful surprises are just around t

he most unexpected corners.”

This quote appeared on the Facebook page of a friend just in time for Christmas of last year. The quote from Winter Solstice by British author Rosamunde Pilcher was familiar to me from one of the only two books I have read by her in early March 2001 while in Rome. The part-time Receptionist of my hotel, an American student in Rome, had just finished reading it and lent it to me to keep me “company”.

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Set in the north of Scotland, Winter Solstice tells the story of Elfrida Phipps. Single and in her 60s, she had retired with her canine companion “dog size” Horace to Dibton in pretty Hampshire, England after a long career on the stage. Though this delightful novel of people who converge to form an unlikely family; of loss and the healing power of love, was a best seller; unlike the 1989 TV movie adaptation of her 1987 novel The Shell Seekers, (the only other novel of Ms. Pilcher I have read), the TV movie adaptation of Winter Solstice (2003) starring Sinéad Cusack, Geraldine Chaplin and Jean Simmons did not conjure up much inspired reviews.

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Author Rosamunde Pilcher OBE (née Scott) was born to Helen and British commander Charles Scott on 22 September 1924 in Lelant, Cornwall, England. After World War II during which she was on active service as a member of the WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service), she married Graham Hope Pilcher in 1946 and moved to Dundee, Scotland, where she raised two daughters and two sons. It was here she took up writing in order to earn a living. Setting off as an author of Mills and Boon romances, she wrote under the pseudonym Jane Fraser: (Half-Way To The Moon (1949), Dangerous Intruder (1951), A Day Like Spring (1953), A Family Affair (1958), The Keeper’s House (1963), A Long Way from Home (1963), Young Bar (1965), etc).

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Having switched her pseudonym to her married name Rosamunde Pilcher in 1955, her breakthrough into the more lucrative American fiction market in the 1970s gave a much needed transformation to her career and the birth of nearly 30 novels, the front sleeves of some of which are pictured here.

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While many of her stories are set in the land of her childhood and featured characters so very human, they also presented culinary recipes and tips for gardening. “The Shell Seekers”, Ms. Pilcher’s 13th novel and international breakthrough, had topped the New York Times best-seller list for 30 consecutive weeks and was nominated by the British public in 2003 as one of the top 100 novels in the BBC’s Big Read.

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In the Introduction to the Tenth-Anniversary Edition of “The Shell Seekers”, Ms. Pilcher wrote that the ideas for this “big fat novel for women” took shape when she saw a programme on television entitled “Painting the Warmth of the Sun” – about the painters of West Penwith, in Cornwall, some of whom she had known. Of the many Pilcher movie adaptations in my movie collection, viz., September (1996), Nancherrow (1999), Winter Solstice (2003), etc, the one I preferred most was her poignant family saga The Shell Seekers (1989).

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Filmed entirely on location on the beautiful island of Ibiza (Islas Baleares, Spain), Cornwall, Lee International Studios, Shepperton, England and the picturesque villages of the Cotswolds, “The Shell Seekers” is the story of Penelope Stern Keeling and “the disastrous effect that the prospect of an inheritance, worldly goods and money, can have on a perfectly normal family.”

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This typical English poignant family drama opens with Penelope, age 63, recuperating in a hospital bed from a mild heart attack. No sooner we take in the scene, she discharges herself from the hospital where she was supposed to stay at least a week and heads for her little cottage called Podmore’s Thatch in the village of Temple Pudley. Happy to be back home, she was absolutely determined to get down to make her garden into something special that year.

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However, Penelope’s departure from the hospital against the doctor’s wishes was nothing short of concern and displeasure to her children owing to their concern for her living alone at her little cottage.

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Progressively, the film moves ahead to reveal the passions, tragedies, and secrets, her bohemian childhood at Cornwall with her painter father and French mother years and years ago, her loveless marriage during the World War II with Ambrose Keeling; her forsaken love affair with Richard Lomax, an American friend of her father; down to the troubled relationship with her three children, Nancy, Noel and Olivia, she had failed to bring up a little better.

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  1. Nancy Chamberlain: Penelope’s tiresome social-climbing first born, who liked to think that she was responsible for her mother. Brought up in London and indulged in fantasies nurtured by the romance novels of Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer which she devoured, she presently lived in an old Georgian vicarage at Bamworth, Gloucestershire, trapped in a miserable marriage with George, and overshadowed by Dolly Keeling, an unsolicited alley who is her father’s sister, the one who disliked Penelope and sought every opportunity to belittle her.
  2. Noel Keeling: The young and handsome, materialistic and self-centred son, obsessed with his desire to become a commodity broker.

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  1. Olivia Keeling: A cool-headed, compassionate woman in love and living in Ibiza with a divorced Italian called Cosmo Hamilton and his teenage daughter Antonia. She was desperate to secure a career as a Managing Editor of a magazine, a position for which she had worked for quite some years. Liked by matriarch Penelope, she is the only one of Penelope’s children truly concerned of her Mumma’s health and knew her closely down to the point that Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” was her Mumma’s favourite.

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When Nancy and Noel learned that one of the landscape paintings of their long-dead grandfather Lawrence Stern (1870-1945) had fetched £200,000/- in an auction triggering a flurry of renewed popularity in his paintings, the event set Penelope’s life on a course of discoveries about the hidden sides to her children’s ugly personalities and family devotions.

15Nancy and Noel were quick to figure out the fortune that could be earned from the sale of Stern’s last painting “The Shell Seekers”, which their mother owned and considered her prized possession, although Noel had till then thought of it as old fashioned. Symbolizing Penelope’s unconventional life, Stern’s painting featured his wife Sophie Stern (1906-1943) and their child Penelope happily playing on the beach.

Nancy’s first ploy was to incite her mother to sell the masterpiece which hung on the wall of her little cottage and to use the money mainly for her mother’s well-being and care, She lauded about all the good things that the money could bring Penelope: she could have a gardener; a housekeeper; a nurse…. Simultaneously, Nancy and Noel’s necessities, which were also of a higher nature and could not be attained with their present financial resources, can be appropriately resolved.

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  1. For Nancy the simple has become obsolete and the complex more attractive. Nancy was prodded with monetary issues such as: money to pay the school fees of her two children Melanie (age 14) and Rupert (age 11) to attend expensive boarding schools; to purchase new clothes for Melanie; funds for George’s club fees which were already late, etc. Allowing that Penelope could unload some money from the painting on Nancy, all these could be dealt with to her satisfaction;
  2. Noel could use the money to keep up his extravagant lifestyle which he was now striving to achieve from a tiny apartment in a superior location of the town. It would still remain a distant dream for him unless he could obtain his share of inheritance which would enable him to leave his low-income job and become a commodity broker. He would also buy a bigger Flat from where he could work, break into certain highflying circles and entertain them.

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Like Penelope, Olivia was unmotivated to cash in on her inheritance. She loved her mother and admired her non-judgmental attitude. Penelope knew it all. For her, the painting and some sketches are mainly all that’s left of her father. If an occasion arises for her to sell the painting, she will only chose at her own choice. However, she cannot sit on the fence undecided. The emphasis on monetary affairs had left her bruised, but much wiser. She devised a scheme which she believed would not only be important to her but would also be best for her children and could pave way for peace amongst them. The first step toward creating an improved future is developing the ability to envision it. At the outset, she would go to Cornwall. You simply cannot do away with the past.

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A Central Film production for Central Television in association with Marian Rees Associates, Inc, The Shell Seekers was produced by Anne Hopkins and directed by the BAFTA Award-winning, Lucknow, (Uttar Pradesh, India) born Waris Hussein (“Henry VIII and His Six Wives” (1972), “Edward And Mrs Simpson” (1978)). It is adapted from the novel for the TV by John Pielmeir, the winner of the Humanitas Prize for “Choices Of the Heart”, and features the following:

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Production crew: James di Pasquale (Music), Fred A. Chulack (Editor), Jane Martin (Production Designer); Brian West (Director of Photography); Judy Moorcroft (Costume designer); Ann Brodie/Magdalen Gaffney (Make-up); Paul le Blac (Ms.Lansbury’s Hair & Wig Design).

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Many of Rosamunde Pilcher’s novels were made as long-running series of television adaptations (“Die andere Frau”, “Federn im Wind”) in Germany and were shot on location in Cornwall and other parts of England. It is an undeniable fact that her novels have given a much needed fillip to the tourism in Cornwall as tourists flock there to enjoy a first-hand experience of Ms. Pilcher’s world in Cornwall where good things happen to good people.

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What a happy woman I am, living in a garden, with books, babies, birds and flowers, and plenty of leisure to enjoy them. Sometimes I feel as if I were blest above all my fellows in being able to find happiness so easily,” Ms Pilcher wrote in The Shell Seekers. Plain and simple – if you like happily ever after movies that warm the heart, The Shell Seekers is a gift for you. So long for now, Jo

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Notes:

  • To honour the 90th birthday (22 September 2014) of Rosamunde Pilcher, a Cornwall Art Exhibition titled “THE SHELL SEEKERS” was organised by Seventh Wave Gallery, UK featuring 30 Cornish Artists showcasing 60 pieces of original artwork at The Castle, Bude, Cornwall from 11 September to 4 October 2014.

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  • The Shell Seekers was adapted for the stage in 2006 by husband-wife team Terence Brady and Charlotte Mary Thérèse Bingham.
  • Another TV adaptation of The Shell Seekers directed by Piers Haggard appeared in 2006 starring Vanessa Redgrave, Prunella Scales and Victoria Hamilton.
  • Books/Audio books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with http://www.amazon.com, http://www.amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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The disease of indifference toward others arises when

each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity

and warmth of personal relationships.” Papa Francesco

(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)