Monthly Archives: October 2015

Last part of Edith week – The Edith Pilgrimage

Comments and tips for those following the cycle/walking trail from Swardeston to Norwich

Sometime in the summer, stickers began appearing on lampposts, with a 19th C style silhouette. The Edith trail had arrived in Norwich.

I’ve had the leaflet, available free but now scarce, for some months. At the end of Edith’s fortnight of centenary commemorations, I did the trail. It felt a fitting end to an intense week.

Signage is often good – except towards the village itself, on that country lane where you most need assurance that you are on the right route. It’s brown for walkers, blue for cyclists but I found the cyclists’ route on the whole better for both – the outward leg, anyway, via Unthank Rd.

The leaflet doesn’t give directions, just a map to follow which is NOT TO SCALE. That is like having a clock not on time. It misleads about the length of the route.

I’ve oft read that Swardeston is 4 miles from Norwich and the signposts in the village say just that. As the crow flies perhaps, but not as the Elspeth walks or cycles. Although the fastest route is via the A140 Ipswich Road and the B1113, these include not nice bits for non drivers, such as a huge roundabout intersection on to a main road and then a fast traffic but lonely stretch on the B1113, though there is a path suitable for cycles or pedestrians along much of it – but like many paths, it stops and starts.

I am confident that the most direct route by cycle or foot is nearer 7 miles from Norwich rail station, which is included in the trail and is close to the Close.

I am shocked that Edith walked this journey daily to school – not marked on the trail – at the Assembly House on Theatre Street, which you are directed right past. Today’s Norwich High School For Girls is on Newmarket Road which is a direct route from the city centre to Swardeston.

However – beware.

Many of the roads chosen are dull and have nothing to see or to do with Edith.

Ipswich Rd is a fast road with 1930s housing along it and a retail park with Tesco’s on it at the extreme, country end. I recall no other facilities – perhaps one pub? – and do not recommend the Marsh Harrier just beyond Tesco’s, which is not easy to access without a car anyway.

Hall Rd’s farthest end is basically industrial estate with no facilities.

Lakenham Way is an ex railway line running from behind Sainsbury’s on Queens Rd/ Brazen Gate to Hall Road. It’s fast and straight and flat, but as a shared path, can annoy all types of users. Mind the kink at the outskirts end.

Marston Lane is for cycles only – it’s too weeny for anything else and there’s little life down it except the private golf course. There’s nowhere to tie your bike if you want to walk on the marshes and I should warn walkers that for at least the second time on this trail, you are plunged into a wood. This is not a suitable lane for after dusk, nor is much of the route beyond Eaton – which you are now entering.

Newmarket Rd is full of fast traffic and many buses, but whom rarely stop here. Grand houses hide behind trees and open woods, so it’s eerie after dark, despite being so built up. There’s a shared cycle path and walkway, but there are few on it. After the Eagle Pub near the old N&N hospital, there are no facilities until you reach Eaton Village.

Unthank Rd – the city half – has shops and a little bit of buzz; there’s some nice pubs and cafes along or just off it. It rightly features on the trail, and feels safe by day or night, and there’s plenty of people about. Unthank Rd might be a better way to do this journey, especially if you’re coming back after dusk. The grand houses at its top (outskirts) end aren’t so tree lined as Newmarket Rd and it’s also quieter traffic wise – though the cars that are don’t drive slower and I saw some maniac driving into a well known mini mansion. It’s lit but again, not loads of people on foot.

As you cross the ring road, whatever arterial road you’ve chosen, beware – it has few pedestrian crossings and is too busy to do otherwise. If you’re on Newmarket Rd, stay on the left as you come out of the city, and use the crossing on Daniels Rd. If you’re on Unthank Rd, also stay left and go slightly down Mile Cross Road to get over the junction.

However, there’s an issue at the top of these roads and I am shocked that the Edith trail sends you over it, and without warning!

Unthank Rd at its outer end finishes at the top of Newmarket Rd, and so both roads make you face a terrifying crossing. If you are not on the left side of Newmarket Rd, you will need to cross a fast arterial road as it becomes a dual carriageway and major trunk road – and the cars prepare to go full legal speeds, or just start cutting back. There’s a tiny ‘watch out for people’ sign and a little half way point to stand. It’s crazy. Not on the map are a few roads between Newmarket and Unthank Rd such as Upton and Judges Walk. But there’s not a good solution to this.

Then go down the slip road into Eaton Village. (Note that if you try to avoid this crossing by going via Bluebell Road, there is also a lonely bit and a wooded bit and I wouldn’t recommend this after dusk either).

Once you arrive at Waitrose in Eaton Village centre, you are on the last of everything – shop (Waitrose, closes 8pm weekdays, 4pm a on a Sunday), cafes and pubs, toilets, and village shop a little further up on Intwood Road, Cringleford. Often the trail map doesn’t name streets and misses some off. This is your last chance to withdraw money, and soon the pavement will disappear as you reach the crossroad at Intwood Rd Eaton. Coming back there’s no sign to Norwich but it’s straight on if you’re following the cycle (brown route).

Keswick Hall can be accessed with one of the other turnings, but I don’t recommend it on foot as there’s high verges and as ever, fast drivers coming round bends in country roads.

I am shocked that you are led by the A47 – a thundering bypass – and onto what seems to be a private horse field – and not well signed. I couldn’t see how to get off and it and rejoin the trail. You meet the thunder of traffic (originally if not oddly likened to warfare) as you cross it on the Intwood road, next to some ominous pylons, and then dip into Intwood village, or the lack of it. After the Intwood Hall gate we’re-very-private-signs comes the church at which you go left. There’s a dribble of a stream and a barn about healing and a tiny mud track called Swardeston something. Don’t deviate, keep on this road which is long and lonely and has a wooded bit, and not great for jumping aside when traffic appears.

I never saw a sign to Swardeston or telling me you’re in it, but when at last houses start again, you are almost at Edith’s birthplace. The road kinks at a cattery and then on the other side is Cavell Barn and next door, Cavell House. The trail doesn’t say it but the signs on it do – this is private house!!! Keep walking – it still doesn’t look like much of a village yet – next to the large common whose growth is as high as a person, until you come to a proper T junction. You can go either way but the trails sends you right and then up towards a sports ground. Walkers are directed through what Lady Catherine De Burgh would call a pretty sort of wilderness – which didn’t look at that safe – so I followed the cycle path and the road. You’ll glimpse the vicarage which has a sign about a hair salon, though the church is on the other side of it.

I found that the trail wasn’t so accurate in the village, which never does have a cohesive centre. The church is found off Main Road, which is the B1113 from Norwich, and there is the bakery, garage (not a petrol sort), a farm shop open til 6 Mon-Sat but only til noon on Sunday, and the ex pub. So little food buying opportunities and no toilets or drink stop.

Note the memorial to Edith and others who died in the village in the first world war as you walk up the lane to the church. It’s not mentioned on the trail.

There’s a window with Edith on behind the altar and a display re wartime participants of the village. The Cavell Room is like a mini scout hut on the other side of the church which you can find by going through the door next to a picture of her. There is a DVD and a display on her.

On the main road, the B1113, towards Norwich, is the village sign not mentioned on the map but worth seeing as it’s about Edith.

The trail doesn’t tell you opening times for the church or the Cavell Room, without access to which your trip would feel wasted. I think it’s about a mile to walk round Swardeston.

I wouldn’t attempt this after dusk or evenings generally as I don’t think anything is open by night. Norwich is considered a safe city but some places on this route, the country bits especially, can feel eerier and dark. Today 18th Oct, dusk began ant 6 and it was dark by 730pm, but next weekend, the clocks change and it’ll be an hour earlier. Note if you’re visiting from elsewhere in Britain, daylight varies and the north enjoys more in summer but less in winter.

Despite calling it a green pilgrimage, I would actually say it is better by bus or car.

Warning re buses: they are expensive and a single is often nearly as much as a return.

Rural buses can have big gaps in the timetable and stop early (c4pm) and not run on Sundays or Bank Holidays. The recommended bus is a First bus 37, the purple line, but there are buses to Cringleford (by Konnect) and Eaton (Anglia) but not the same bus company and tickets are not valid between companies. Buses do not run on the outer part of Unthank Rd but the inner part has regular buses which run to the railway station via the city centre.


I used the walk to think more of Edith; perhaps I’ll write about her myself, as I still feel the woman, her feelings and relationships are not unlocked by anything I’ve seen or read so far.

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Seeking the Good Germans in Edith Cavell’s story

At the supermarket, I walked round dazed, feeling it sacrilege to walk aisles of tins after what I’d just been to. When asked what sort of day I’d had, I said – I’ve seen a woman tried and shot. Again.

This is part IV of Edith Cavell week.

I went to two other one woman shows, by JAC Intimate Productions and Broad Horizons, both again in Norwich’s Forum. And I’ve been to a talk and book signing “Faith Before the Firing Squad” by Catherine Butcher, as well as another exhibition at the Norfolk County archives, and words and music for Edith at St Peter Mancroft church – all still in Norwich.

I’ve seen the letter Edith’s mum got from Buckingham Palace after that firing squad. I’ve seen her copy of The Imitation of Christ with the prescient record of her own death. I heard she may’ve loved her cousin, to whom that book was inscribed.

Each thing I read or watch gives new information, some contradictory, some filling in a piece like a fat jigsaw. It’s all swirling about. But by the end of the week, much of it’s becoming familiar.

What’s missing still for me is that story; it is series of events more than a narrative.

Today I learned she was a fun loving woman. But Ediths of the stage seem as starched as those nursey sleeves of hers. She’s still not really in a relationship with anyone, although I know she picked up stray dogs and humans – I’m seeing a sort of magnetic compassion in Edith who built a family although she didn’t bear one herself. I felt myself wanting to meet the others in Edith’s story, for she interacts little – even with her own demons, as the premise of the Broad Horizon production promised.

The perspective I want to hear is that of the Germans. They are villains in this piece, but like the George Clooney and Cate Blanchett movie, I want to find Good Germans in this story.

What would have been better than doubling army subscription at home would have been for Edith’s death to change hearts of the German army and secret police. Yes I know what the Kaiser said. I know that a German rep laid a wreath at her London memorial for the first time this year. But what of a German’s change of heart?

What goes on in the heart of a Sgt Pinkoff or Lt Bergan? What kind of man was Pastor Le Seur who took her to the firing range and buried her? In Julie Ann Cooper’s play, Edith resists this German chaplain at first, and then sees it as her last life challenge. There is a good German. But he only got a part in one of the plays I’ve seen – the focus is on the Anglican chaplain he worked so hard to fetch.

I turn to the next war and to a German philosopher. Edith read several of these, as did her father at Heidelberg university. Hannah Arendt wrote in the 1960s that Nazi war criminal Eichmann was not debauched, but bland. His evil came through doing his duty without question. He never stopped to think and see people beyond what he had been told about them from his work and from the government. In Edith’s interrogator Pinkoff’s eyes, he too was following orders and doing his duty; Edith had broken the military code – even she agreed that – and this troublesome woman was rightly being stopped.

I’ve been thinking about how to stop such a machine – the duty, non thinking killing machine. What would I do if a foreign army came to occupy my country, as it has in the past, and as mine is doing now? I know that change of heart is the most powerful force for a literal revolution – turning round. I want to uncover a story of someone who was turned because of Edith and her friends. No I don’t mean they became Allied undercover agents. But that they saw a different way to live. That they couldn’t help but see her as a good human, not the enemy.

That she was a woman doesn’t make her death more shocking, because men’s lives aren’t more expendable or less valuable.

I was angered that it was alleged that as a non mother, Edith’s death was acceptable. Who we have in our lives or what biological functions we’ve exercised does not give meaning or greater importance. Edith was caring for many – two young women, two dogs, her mum, her nurses, and those many, many men – not just those who escaped, but those Germans too, whom she noted stalked into town with weary, damaged feet.

As I continue my search for Good Germans, I state again the perceptive words of a more contemporary one who suffered at a German army in her own country – and the warning exhortation to never stop thinking, never stop seeing people as human, and never to put duty before humanity.

I have decided that I do admire Edith because that’s what she did with her duty. Her soldier saving was an easy extension to her nurses’ philosophy – help and save lives.

The keeper of the Swardeston Collection (Edith’s natal village) called her a Good Samaritan in the Norwich diocese magazine. Yes, but only when she was binding German wounds.

I wasn’t comfortable with the Joan of Arc suggestion. She did not lead her country into battle – though her death was used as a call to do so, I don’t think that was what Edith was about at all. I heard evidence from Catherine Butcher that Edith was passionately patriotic, walking out of the room when the Queen was insulted, so perhaps her famous quote was actually a deathbed revelation for her. But news or no, it was a powerful realisation to share with the world. And I will be wearing a badge with it on poppy day.

There are two versions of Edith’s final speech. I prefer the less used one. Not having hatred and bitterness is a negative statement. She also says she must not have it – not that she doesn’t. It is another duty, an ideal state. The other version recorded by Rev Gahan, the chaplain who met with her on her last evening, is that “…it is not enough to love one’s own people. One must love all men and hate none.”

Still, she did not speak actively of love and forgiveness; still it is an ideal, not something she is actually doing. But it one that those who hear her words can do.

It is here I want to leave Edith; and whatever I’ve said about allopathic medicine and propaganda, I do not think she intended to be used as a pawn and poster girl for either. She meant to do good, I think. I’d like to think that if she didn’t change any German hearts at the time, that those of that same ilk, of whatever uniform, could be changed now.


My vision for Edith’s old home                                                     

Edith provided a place of confidential safety when people were in need. There are already nursing homes named for her. I’d like the old vicarage or Cavell House in her natal village of Swardeston, Norfolk to be the Cavell house of Compassion and Contemplation; open to the public as a museum, to pray and meet, and also have a separate residential area with a warden – something like The Elsie Briggs House of Prayer in Westbury on Trym, Bristol, crossed with the Bronte parsonage and a safe house – for whatever the needs might be.

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Edith and Espionage

Edith Cavell Part III: It’s Edith week, don’t you know. And I’m participating

A German official gave a mean response (unlike the Kaiser) to Edith Cavell’s death, but one that actually has a point: so many have been killed in the war. Why single this woman out?

It’s said that lady spies were recruited as more fuss would be made of their deaths, which could be useful. Was Edith one? Some are saying she was. It’s what the Germans called her.

I am suspicious that Edith said her sentence was just, and she refused to don her nurse outfit for the trial. Would you normally wear one to court? But did she do things that she knew weren’t under the nurse answer to the Hippocratic oath? And do they make her a spy?

Espionage is about collecting information to pass on, often to use against someone. Spying was a wide definition used when condemning people, but it didn’t always fit. Edith did have a relationship with the resistance and undercover people, and despite her faith and what’s been said about her not lying, she did dissemble by giving disguises and false documents to those she conducted out of occupied Belgium.

Britain’s national left wing broadsheet The Guardian did cover Edith as a spy yesterday, though most of the article was on her earlier life. All it said was that she snuck soldiers out of the country. No news there. They let The Telegraph actually dish the dirt on a ‘shock’ radio programme featuring former M15 chief Stella Rimington. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the suggestion – book about Edith’s spying came out in 1968, by Adele De Leeuw.

I don’t have access to those MI5 files that Stella speaks of. I don’t have the clothes of soldiers with info sewn into them. And I don’t know how we can know who did the sewing, or if Edith was cognizant of it. Even Stella says we’ll not ever know. So why bring it up, then?

Also, The Guardian’s not a religious paper and likes to uncover government secrets – and I admire its work on speaking out and exposing. But it does colour it a little on this matter. The Guardian made a blooper – its picture tag said that Edith’s first grave was in France. Now what country is BRUSSELS in?

At the time, effort was made in keeping Edith and espionage apart. Interesting that martyrs are popular passion and pity raisers, spies aren’t. Angels in either sense – and the Eastern Daily Press just called Edith both – do not go with the image of deceit and betrayal at the heart of spying. Spies may be glamorised in film and book, but her ‘holy and pure’ epitaph wouldn’t have matched if Edith was known to be a spy. It would have dirtied her white and blue wings.

More on Edith soon as I continue to research and attend events at her centenary this week – and continue with my novel campaign

PS Historians Georgette Vale and Catherine Butcher agree that they no of nothing that makes Edith a spy

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Unravelling Cavell

That rhymed. Just so you know how to pronounce her name. Norfolk people aren’t like Hyacinth Bucket.

This is Edith Cavell part II; the first came earlier today, in time for her death.

Is Edith truly world famous, or was that just 100 years ago, when the British army wanted more recruits and the Commonwealth more hatred of the Germans?

Did the Cavell bridge in New Zealand have a memorial service at 7am today, when Edith was shot? Norwich had one. I know of only one other death we remember in real time, and that’s on Good Friday. Will Brussels’ memorial be adorned with a wreath? Will the one in London, that had the “patriotism is not enough” quote added later in smaller writing?

I found out and was intrigued by who did and didn’t recall her. Brussels has its own Edith centenary website. Peterborough, where she was at school, is having several events; a Leicestershire village will plant a wreath. Leeds will show a silent film about her called Dawn. London’s pretty busy with Edith events – nearly all the venues are churches or nurse related. My favourite is that Edith has her own mountain in the Canadian Rockies and it will be climbed in her honour today. But Edith lived and worked round the UK and there are no events on the official website in some of those places.

In her native Norwich, Edith is almost as prominent as the poppy itself – coming out early this year and already on her grave, in various wreaths. I checked – they were laid by nursing and military organisations in an annual outdoor service. The Belgian ambassador joined us and was one of the few who laid a wreath of his own. I’d have been more impressed if a German had. I’m concerned that we still demarcate Germans as enemy, even though we’re supposed to have let our wartime sides and deeds be water under a bridge – one we like to collect and swim in.

I peeked in guides to Norwich. Edith’s mention under famous sons and daughters gets bigger over the years. The secular books quote her as the brave nurse who was shot for letting allied troops escape. They don’t mention her beliefs or her indiscriminate care. One mentioned her nursing advances, but not what they were. One made a mistake that she helped all soldiers escape – but it was only allied ones.

The local rag’s pull out did speak of her faith, alarmingly comparing her death to her Lord’s. There may be a little overlap, but if you’re Christian, suggesting that a mortal can be compared to Christ’s passion is theologically offensive. Yet Norwich cathedral’s art display is called just that – the Passion of Edith. The artist’s naive works claims to strip her of the propaganda. I don’t think he stripped off too many layers. I also went to the Hostry exhibition at the other end of the cathedral, which was less on Edith than her times and related themes, but it did include her devotional books.

In Norwich, the Forum is the most prominent spot in the city. Since local TV is broadcast within it, you could say it’s central to the region, of which Norwich is capital. And here are two more important ongoing Edith events. One is outside, a much photographed and easily passed spot, where the Cavell Van stands as a mini museum. It’s the rail wagon that brought her body back to England after the war ended. She was buried at the Belgian shooting range where her body fell until May 1919, when it was paraded in military style though three cities, and had two cathedral/abbey funerals on the same day. One was at Westminster, then again by train to her natal city, to be escorted through the tall stone gatehouse built at the battle of Agincourt (also having an anniversary this year) where her bust now stands.

In 2010, the year that austerity began in Britain, £27,000 was given to restore this carriage and make it into a museum. Most of the space inside is taken up with a coffin and then some panels about Edith and also the two other British bodies which were expatriated after the war, both military.

If you’re in Norwich, you can’t easily avoid going in the Forum, it has 50,000 visitors a week, and it’s filled with Edith stuff, or more truly, nursing. You’re hit with her on the way to the various information centres, main city library, cafes, or toilets. In a former visitor attraction, the story continues by pushing military nurses, Edith’s nursing charity, and the local university hospital’s nursing. It’s more about nursing that Edith.

I’m not sure how I feel about Edith’s nursing. She was taught by a friend of Florence Nightingale. She’s credited with assisting nursing becoming a serious trained profession. Without willing it, Edith’s nursing reforms helped the hegemony of allopathic medicine and the spread of central control via those involved in sanitation. Diana Souhami, whose biography is the most pushed work on Edith, has also written the Pitkin guide, the cheap and quick readily available introduction series, on Edith. Diana says that Edith’s work helped all society realise that poor sanitation was key to illness, and that there needed to be joined up thinking between plumbers and water companies, epidemiologists and doctors. Hm, what an interesting alliance. Diana then says that Edith would be amazed at today’s medical technology, she’d consider it heaven come to earth. And that Edith believed that disease could be eradicated though medicine and sanitation. If true, Edith is not wise, for it misses out the spiritual and psychological role in illness, and that sometimes it is needed for our development. Technology is not the only or always the best way to deal with illness. It is also quite a lucrative one.

The part of Diana’s Souhami’s biography that most interested me is chapter 49 – propaganda, and the next one about the German reaction to Edith’s death. Diana is well aware of the use of Edith’s shooting in the Allied cause, and so was the exhibition in the BBC lounge in the Forum. I attended a brief 1 woman show there – there’s a spate of these, apparently, which I preferred to Saturday’s ‘Remembering Edith Cavell’. In the question time, it was asserted that the public response to Edith’s death was akin to Princess Diana’s. Living Historian Georgette Vale stated that despite the images on posters, Edith did not die in a nurse’s uniform: she was nearly 50, and her death pose would not be the young swoony immaculate corpse shown in the pictures of her “murder” – always by the GERMANS so we know who to hate and rally against. Diana’s biography tells us that the then bishop of London said at Edith’s state funeral no 1 that Lord Nelson (another Norfolk war hero) would not sit about with diplomatic meetings after such an event – he’d get his guns out. Shocking words for a man who is supposed to be about love and peace and wisdom. Again I reference the Community Of The Cross Of Nails born after the next world war. I’m far more impressed by the bishop of Coventry’s response to being bombed.

Facts and ideas overlap with interesting new titbits –

  • Edith’s dog Jack was stuffed and is currently at the Florence Nightingale Museum, London
  • Edith now has her own beer, brewed locally and available in gift packs; profits to Edith’s charity.
  • Edith’s mother never got to read her daughter’s final letter to her
  • Edith’s body was exhumed 4 years on and found uncorrupted – so surely she’s a saint. If she’d been Catholic, she’d be canonised, but she gets her saints day anyway. How convenient, a month before armistice day, just right to kick off poppy sales. I’ll be wearing white and purple ones, as usual.

I do hope to read and watch some more on Edith. What’s emerging is a disparity between the Edith that the Edwardians wanted to be believed in and who she would like to be remembered as. A perceptive audience member at today’s show said, “So Edith’s death saved others” – for some associates due to be shot were not, and eventually released. Her death was convenient for those who wanted a catalyst – some say that America joined the war because of Edith. Martyr, matron, heroine, patriot, Christian, philanthropist…. all useful descriptions to be spun together.

What is still worrying me is how this quietly spoken and dry humoured 5’3” matron is being used now. If Elizabeth Gurney Fry or Harriet Martineau had centenaries, would they be this big? because neither of them are connected with war or country. Mystic Julian of Norwich’s 625th and 640th anniversaries weren’t as obvious – but then she preached a God of love and that’s not so marketable and useful when you’ve other wars to wage at unpopular times…

I will report on other Edith Cavell things tomorrow

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Edith and Emily

Two women are being commemorated in Britain today: Edith Cavell, the Norfolk nurse who was shot by Germans and Emily Wilding Davis, via the release of the film Suffragette – two women who lost their lives for their beliefs.

Thus my schedule is busy – already with my also Norfolk set novel campaign now over half way – and with trying to fit in attending commemorative events for both these women.

I shall be back when I’ve seen Suffragette, released today (why, on a Monday? I can’t find an anniversary to match). In the meantime, here is my painting about the suffragettes, who were seen as responsible for the occurrence below. Their pamphlets were found at the scene. It is another Norfolk connection:

bye bye Britannia - the burning of Yarmouth pier

Bye Bye Britannia: The burning of Yarmouth pier, by me.

I’ve also got a full week of Edith Cavell, but I have seen a new musical and dramatic piece about her in the place that she is buried – Norwich cathedral, which I review anon. I shall add other thoughts as I attend other events during the week.


I’m trying to understand who Edith is – or who she is said to be. At first, I thought her fame came through helping injured soldiers in the first world war, regardless of their uniform – an humanitarian act driven by her faith. Or was it that she harboured soldiers from her own side, sneaking them out through Belgian streets via her underground contacts to safety? The patriotic angle has seemed more prominent lately, and I note the phrasing of her gravestone: –

“To the pure and holy memory of Edith Cavell

who gave her life for England

12th October 1915

Her name liveth for evermore.”

-Classic military memorial mixed with virginal hagiography.

I’ve even heard her called a spy. What is she – plucky honourable Norfolk girl, exemplary nurse, brave British martyr, or compassionate Christian aid worker? Who wishes to claim her for what?

I would like to attend events with different perspectives on her. I thought that Saturday’s “Remember Edith Cavell” by Searchlight Theatre was going to represent the Christian angle on her. Her faith is integral to her deeds. Her final words were about believing that her soul was safe and that she feared not death; one of her final acts was taking communion. her reading material in her 10 week solitary stretch was “The Imitation of Christ”. I was most touched she told that the German pastor who took her to the shooting range that she hoped to welcome him into heaven. He had to bury her moments later.

However, those thoughts were not the one most propounded in Searchlight’s production. Its title is from contemporary recruitment propaganda. The piece began and ended with the same words – those of the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. His official statement about Edith’s death concluded with “She has died as she has lived – for her country”.

What is Edith’s most famous quote?!


Yet for this piece, patriotism seemed to be the not so subtle theme, odd to come from an overtly Christian theatre company, being shown in a place of Christian worship. It seems to me from this and another play I’ve seen (by Chris Joby) that Edith was first and foremost a nurse, and her duties to that profession guided her actions. Though one might argue how nursey it is to smuggle and hide people, how often finding counterfeit papers and liaising with secret networks is just another day on the wards.

Edith often spoke of her faith; it is naively given in the play as a reason to expect her not to lie at her inquisition. Edith’s not very savvy with her answers at that – I’d have enjoyed courageous, witty replies, but hers are almost Enid Blyton truthful. I understand the trial was quite different from this scene. But here, she is interrogated by only one man – the writer – who tries to steal the scene as a heavy guard.

I wonder what sort of person Edith was; both plays I’ve watched had her as formal, earnest, but quite flat. I don’t recall her laughing or smiling, or showing any emotion. The weeping here was done by her fellow nurse Elizabeth Wilkins, the only other woman on the stage.

There was much to improve upon, I think, in this piece. The orchestra was sometimes a little off key, yet it was the solo violinist (Fiona Hutchins) who alone got a picture in the programme, and was first to receive a bouquet at the end – not even the actress who played Edith (Rebecca Rogers) got a headshot or her image on the publicity. The writer (David Robinson), who played two roles including Sir Grey was named before Edith in the programme. The show felt like David and the violinist’s vehicle more than Edith’s, for whom of course the audience had come.

The musical pieces didn’t often fit with the dramatic scenes. Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending began the performance. That was a hint that this was going to be a “Edith realised that patriotism’s not enough – but we haven’t yet” show. We were invited to sing along to classic war song “It’s a long way to Tipperary” – is Edith from Norfolk or Eire?! and All Things Bright and Beautiful, which felt compiled on the same basis as the songs in Mama Mia. I was expecting “I vow to thee my county” – with the emphasis on the second verse, but we heard “Abide with me” twice – once from near death Edith, which was touching, and at her reconstructed state funeral with full choir, orchestra – and our own contribution. There was a hint of the use of the hymn in football – a side-making hero’s welcome anthem, not the final song of a woman facing death and asking her God to be near her. A woman who repeatedly said that she didn’t take sides – just dress wounds.

The shooting of Edith happened live, which was disconcerting, with big screens down the nave and uncomfortably overloud sound, but they missed an obvious and powerful reconstruction around Edith’s funeral service, actually held where we sat. The current cathedral Dean was asked to reprise her predecessor’s eulogy for Edith, but no coffin was carried in.

But unlike Edith’s actual funeral 100 years ago, the church wasn’t full. In fact, it was rather gappy, with the three seat prices meaning that some were alone or in pairs, preventing the effect of solidarity with the rest of the audience. Cathedrals weren’t built for concerts and I wish they’d not be used for them, for it feels like the public did when the monks occupied the quire stalls: that you can listen in, from a distance, but it’s not really for you.

The actors spoke in over egged theatrical tones, and I question Edith’s accent: being brought up in rural Norfolk as a parson’s daughter, might she not have sounded more native of that county? And wouldn’t the audience here be most acutely aware of her accent, which is often badly represented in film and theatre.

There seemed little real story or narrative here, little drama, little pathos – save for Edith’s shooting (or was that more loud and unpleasant) and of the tears of Sister Elizabeth. We never meet the mole in the clinic who gives Edith away. There’s no tension at her trial. We don’t see her for long in her cell – that’s the sole premise of another play on next weekend. Did Edith ever love? She’s called passionate and loving, but I didn’t see that in her.

I left feeling that the contribution I paid for my ticket and programme – which went into a charity bucket of something not previously explained – might have funded something not very akin to the No Glory In War campaign. In fact, I think I may have inadvertently supported its nemesis. I’d have rather given the money to The Community of The Cross of Nails, or to the many homeless people I met afterwards.

More anon after I’ve visited Edith’s death train, local exhibitions and other performances.

I’d be interested to hear what’s happening beyond Norfolk and how other people view her. How well known is she?

And why at this centenary of Norwich’s famous dead daughter is there roadworks around her memorial?

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Marion and Macbeth

My second actor that I admire who’s just turned 40 is someone that has once starred in the same film as Kate Winslet, but not in a scene together. She is five days older but I did my piece on Kate first as I knew Kate first.

The face on the weekend newspaper pullout drew me. But the pictures on the inside of her in her next film startled me. A young woman chose to become older, less conventionally or obviously attractive, and be in a gruelling, often sad story. To take on such a part intrigued as much as it impressed me. The film was La Vie En Rose. The actress – Marion Cotillard.

From then on, I began looking out for Marion; like Kate and a few others, it’s almost a given that her presence in a film will mean my presence at the cinema. I prefer Marion’s French speaking roles, although I have seen several of her Hollywood ones too. She enlivened Inception and gave it heart and psychology. She has told Petit Mouchoirs (AKA Little White Lies, I prefer the French title); she has been the magical, time travelling muse of Woody Allen; she’s fought for her job at a Belgian factory. And she was in Mary, along with Juliette Binoche – an elusive but brilliant film on the making of a Jesus epic, focussing on Ms Magdalene.

But my favourite role of Marion’s is Rust and Bone, which I review on here – a film of the stomach and the heart.

I waited to post this until I’d seen and thought about Marion’s latest role as Lady Macbeth.

Although I’d wanted this to be a post in praise of Marion, I knew before starting this that it would end as an appraisal of Macbeth.

So let me round up what I love about Marion before moving to Scotland. I want to counteract the negative recent discussions, pulling up some past comments she made, and say that I admire someone who doesn’t take what is the supposed accepted norm and isn’t afraid to ask questions about our supposed reality. That’s not ridiculous, it’s courageous.


Right, we’re in Caledonia now; it’s the 11th Century and snow is howling about our muddy mountain camp; blood and sweat make the protagonists’ hair stick up like a duck’s tail.

What I didn’t like about this Macbeth is that there was not enough Lady Macbeth. Or witches. And so I didn’t get to enjoy much of the person for whom I watched the film.

This meant that it was a very male focussed story, or truly, a very Michael Fassbender focussed story. It’s one of those plays who are basically vehicles for the acting prowess of eponymous hero.

I felt alienated as I need women in a story to have a way into it. And I didn’t like the person Macbeth, so I had little to hook onto.

Then was my big issue – I need to check the play to see if it’s better fleshed out in there. I’ll come back to what was missing as my snaky logic mind is going to take me to two other places before I get to elucidate this point. I’ll do the first natural link – abridgement.

I know that some of the witches’ lines from the play were cut, and I enjoy the witches most. I also noted that both witch and wife are temptresses, Eve and serpent in one, and that it’s easy to see this as an almost Tertullian view of women – the “devil’s gateway”. Tertullian is one church father I never let claim paternity rights, or sent a greetings card to. And it’s not a view I’m happy to see apparently propounded. I was surprised that Germaine Greer, queen of radical feminism (or at least, in its royal family) did not mention this in her insightful Oxford Very Short Introduction to Shakespeare, though she spends some pages on the play. Macbeth is about subverting the natural order, but that interpretation suggests that women being agents and instigators brings down horror on everyone. Again, it’s a Fall story, though Scotland here doesn’t exactly look like Eden.

I could tell that it was a film made by someone not familiar with Scotland. Indeed, director Justin Kurzel is Australian.

It looked like Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights. It also looked how a non British person told me she pictured the country before living here. I thought that our films would make her think we lived in Jane Austen land. But she said that due to the films she’d seen, she imagined us to be gritty, muddy, bleak and rainy. This was just such a film.

My practical self leapt in – no-one who’s lived in Scotland would wear so little outdoors in winter. The Real Macbeth website shows him in head armour and with furry animal skins as a cloak. This is a sensible Scots warrior. However, I noted Inverness was too cold to shag without all your clothes on, according to this film. Like Shakespeare in Love, the key couple said their lines intently whilst in the act. That’s about all these two films have in common.

I have a big bugbear about sense of place and architecture especially. As I can recognise buildings from a glimpse and often date them, I knew instantly where the filming took place and that it was a) far from the place that real Macbeth lived, and b) totally the wrong period.

Bamburgh Castle looks wonderful, but it’s not Scottish, and worse, it wasn’t built in Macbeth’s day! Castles were a Norman invention, and Macbeth died before they got building.

That brings me to an even more upsetting piece of location. The oldest parts of Ely Cathedral are c100 years younger than the actual King Macbeth. The Normans built structures greater than had ever been seen by Dark Age dwellers. No palace ever had spaces the size of Ely Cathedral’s 248ft long nave, save Westminster Hall. Yet the idea of cathedrals for palaces was also used in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth – but with an interesting contrast.

Shekhar also had high crane shots down onto tiny people; it was part of his mis en scene to create a dark, frightening world where Elizabeth was not yet an established queen. He also chose stone for destiny, as something outlasting and greater than even a great prince. Durham cathedral, the location for the royal palace of the first film, was a male dominated world of court, and Elizabeth had yet to come into her own.

When she’s done so in The Golden Age, the stone shade shifts: it’s warmer, the sets are brighter, there’s more colour. Shekhar leaves the brooding Celtic North East for the Ship of the East Anglian fens. The location of Ely cathedral signifies that although we’re in the same palace, Elizabeth’s in control; it’s now the court of a woman. And yet that same cathedral serves Macbeth as the setting for the downward spiralling darkness of a male dominated world but woman generated ambition that leads to murder and madness. Similar shooting, contrasting story and symbolism. Ely Cathedral also features in my story.

Elizabeth and Lady Macbeth dine in the same room – the Lady Chapel of Ely – but that Scot would have seen no nodding ogees – for Gothic came in well after her time. The Macbeths sleep in a bed that’s 16th Century – Elizabeth could have done so, but not they.

Obviously, a look has been chosen that ignores the furniture of the time, which was brightly painted – but it jangled on me every time I saw the Norman aisles turned into bedrooms that they never could’ve been. And there was stained glass in the shots – also not yet invented. And under the 14th Century famous lantern tower, 11th Century Macbeth curses with Satan’s name – which surprised me was allowed in a living church.

What I minded most was that the film never gave a sense of why the Macbeths want the throne so badly. We’ve barely met the Macbeths before they’re desiring and scheming – wouldn’t they believe the kingship prophecy would fulfil itself, without so quickly and ineptly making it happen through foul means? The first time Lady Macbeth speaks, she’s onto the “Unsex me here” speech, so understated that I didn’t feel her evil incantation had reached sufficient climax to execute the execution. Without a real impetus and build up towards the desire for the act, the central piece of plot fails.

It also seems a ridiculously conceived murder. Two people in the camp stand to gain from Duncan’s death. One runs – yes he could be a culprit, or understandably, he’s fled for fear of his own life. The other chief suspect kills Duncan’s guards in a fury that surely says – 1) I can kill violently and at close range, 2) I’m overacting to cover up. Duncan dies not through accident or disappearance, but a very obvious murder in Macbeth’s own home! Wouldn’t need Miss Marple for anyone to get Macbeth on trial!

He is a horrid king, not a hero as some say of him, and so I cannot understand how ruled as long as he did, nor did I want to spend time with him on set.

The scene of Macduff’s wife and children’s death was so horrific that I couldn’t see why people would stand by as it happened. It’s not in the play that way. And I felt that Macbeth would be killed at that moment – no need to wait for the avenging one who was ripped untimely from his mother’s womb. What a strange plot that is! Aren’t those delivered through caesarean considered born of a woman?

In thinking of how that prophecy could have been better fulfilled – someone begotten not created? – I wish to nearly round up by commenting on the lack of magic and how it was missed in a medium that would have done those supernatural elements so proud. The film tried to be semi rational and it failed because it took out those elements of an essentially magical story. The more literal and rational you make Macbeth, the less it works.

I am angry at how witches are portrayed, when they have fought to have their sisters freed from the vilifying paranoia that has dogged them so long. The witches here are more seers than hags. If they were men, they’d be called wise men and prophets. Witchcraft is the craft of the wise, yet these sisters are definitely weird, and I’d have preferred in the Terry Pratchett sense. Shakespeare’s contemporaries may have seen witches as evil but is it fair to still portray them so today?

Visually, the scene that remained with me was the orangey tiered mists of the final battle. We’d seen orange before, in flames, and the fire and blood connoted was therefore fitting and powerful.

I struggle with tragedy as a genre – this is too tragic. At least Romeo and Juliet do something for their families and city potentailly. The Picturehouse brochure tries to connect Macbeth to popular political TV shows House of Cards and Game of Thrones, and to the war on terror, but I didn’t feel anything very contemporary in this film, other than the stylistics.

I am reading a Scots penned book on the real Macbeth and may return to discuss this or with any insights I have about the play; but as a vehicle for social commentary or psychology, I felt I didn’t move very far.

But as I sought out both play and historic figure (somewhat unlike Shakespeare’s king), the film must have had some success.

Back to my novel campaign and I’ll be back on Monday with an English centenary

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A post for Kate Winslet’s 40th

Life begins at – and has already been significant for….

Within a week, two of my favourite actresses turn 40. I am choosing to write this on the birthday of the younger of the two, as that is the person I know best and have followed for the longest.

I think I’ve known Kate Winslet for her whole career, and she has been important to me for much of that time. Anyone who’s read this blog before, or even glanced at the tag cloud on the right, will see that Kate is someone who has taken up much screen time – on my computers, on my television sets, of my cinema going. I have seen all her films, often at the cinema and within days of its release; and I own and have rewatched many of them. Click on the cloud to see my analyses of these. It will keep growing.

Yet it is more than reviews and articles that she has inspired in me.

The power of those we don’t know, those that are public and we have an idea of and yet none at all of their real selves, is a theme that drives much of my work. It is true of queens who died centuries before I was born, princesses who died during my lifetime, and superhuman princesses that are invented, but yet feel like real people.

With an actor, there is who they are really, their persona, and the roles they play. There is what they say in the media, and what the media says of them. We glean ideas about them from those roles, those interviews, the analyses of the dresses they wear and the causes they choose. But perhaps like Sarah Douglas said of her role as the black shiny clad Ursa in Superman, the slits in the costume that seem to show the bare skin of the wearer are highly calculated false portals. “You think you see me in places you don’t.”

This theme of revelation of self and of celebrity is pertinent right now. I’ve already said so much about Kate on here, and will continue to view her films (two new ones coming out next month!), but I wanted to speak a little about what she means to me, or rather, what function she has served in my life. It is true of other actors, but her especially.

We don’t need to know our muse, or them to know who we are, and who we think they are doesn’t have to be true. That’s not to say I don’t want to meet Kate – she might be the living famous person I’d most like to – but that a sort of relationship can be created without an exchange, at least, on my side.

I’ve found Kate’s c2000 roles her most powerful and enduring. As a person that I’d like to be with, I’d choose Maddie from Quills, though I’d like to take her far from Charenton, and also Hester from Enigma. I also warmed to Sabine in A Little Chaos.

At this time, I am also doing a Sarah Douglas costume, starting to show some well planned slits as I make my writing known to the world, because I’m launching my book. Although my creation is separate from Kate Winslet, there is something of and someone like her in my novel (which I plan to also make into a film). It is a story about false bottoms of drawers, of consciousness of the layers of ourselves and what we show, and what we keep to ourselves – and how it is easier to explore and reveal ourselves through personas, even publically, than me as me, to those I know well.

It is about the power of an actor’s persona, one which (like Kate’s) often feels very real, very ordinary (and yet not at all ordinary), and a particular role – one that I invented – to be part of our lives; and for stories to have life changing power, not just a couple of hours of entertainment and escape, but to make you face what you couldn’t bear to see.

Thus today, which is not my birthday, is also for me a time of anniversary and celebration – not yet of a life, like Kate’s, which is full of public recognition; mine has thus far been of preparation.

I would like to thank Kate for the inspiration, joy and challenge she has brought to me and so many others who may not know you but whose lives you have certainly touched.

Marion Cotillard will get her own post when I have seen her latest film, Macbeth – hopefully, any day.

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Plastic bag ban – a public tax in the name of ecology?

This has just come in in England and Wales, and some are welcoming this new law. Marks and Spencer’s already charge for disposable plastic shopping bags at their tills, as do Scotland, and some local towns have campaigned for it. Now it is nationally legislated – bag needers will be charged!

The official reason is an environmental one: that plastic is harmful to wildlife and its dumping in landfill produces not only ugly landscapes but the wrenching photos – to the viewer and the sufferer – of creatures fatally and painfully entwined with the toxic chemicals of our careless wastage.

We should be encouraged to recycle, and bring our own bags to the shops, say proponents of the ban. A small (5p) charge for each plastic bag will make customers think before asking for them, and the 5ps can go towards a good cause.

Let us stop there.

So customers know what size their shopping will be, and always have sufficient bags on them? Don’t shops want us to buy a little more than we planned?

Many of us have brought our own bag for ages, or walked out with our goods under our arms, unbagged. There used to be a fear that no bag will look like we’re stealing and earn us a grilling with the shops security guard.

I’ve seen a mother try to instil a sense of responsibility in her kids by asking for a bag each for them at the till, so that they can carry their own purchases. I could see the counter staff itching to say, how exactly is this responsibility, and wouldn’t saving on these thick, oil induced bags by putting the small items into one and YOU as adult carry it be a better responsibility lesson?

It means that staff packing for customers will slip, for if we bring our own bag, will anyone feel this service is needed? When I worked in retail, long before anti plastic bags was much of a movement, I asked, do you need a bag. And whoever didn’t still got a packing offer – for why should being organised and waste conscious deprive you of a basic shopping service? It’s flustering to have to gather up your own goods as they fly at you and there’s pressure to pay and leave before the next person starts being served. For the server, it’s no harder to run them through the til and place them down on the counter for the customer to pick up than into a bag, which is good service and means no stress for anyone.

I’m also concerned about this 5p to ‘good causes’. Not every group with the legal status of a charity is my idea of worthy. How will they assist those disabled children or people with mental health issues? Where exactly is my money being spent – is it going on admin and bosses’ salaries, or to the cause itself? I query those that claim to work to stamp out diseases (that’d take another post to explain) and those that support the military. How are offenders being ‘resocialised’? Is putting water supply in that third world village actually joining the pipeline to commodifying free resources and a welcome to capitalism and western control?

So far, the causes are not named and I do not trust these funds to be distributed to things I support in the best way. I’d rather just give to the charities I do support.

And once again, this is a tax on the people, not the shops, some of whom are huge chains, undercutting small shops and not paying their suppliers or staff on the ground properly.

Isn’t the real issue – if this is truly about ecological concerns about plastic – the need to find a biodegradable, non harmful substance to make bags with?

I have seen plastic carrier bags turn into little bits within a few months, so it’s not true that they last for decades.

But I’ve also seen councils stipulate corn starch liners for food waste collection bins – so there is something available – so why not use those instead as carrier bags?

And what of what we do put in our rubbish bins? Most councils will only collect if it’s in a plastic bag. I think many of us – when we’re not reusing our carrier bags anyway – use them for holding our waste. Thus it cuts down on what we purchase to put refuse in.

Like paying to offset carbon footprints, it feels that all we’re doing is not really cutting down on plastic or changing the issues that create harm for the environment, but in putting a price on it, using our greatest valued item – money – to dissuade but also appease any conscience we may have.

At 5p, it’s too little to put off seriously, so it’s an innocuous seeming new tax – think how many 5ps could be rung through the tills of supermarkets from now on – that’s a lot of cash for someone – but who? It recalls the plot in Superman III where Gus Gorman works out that taking a half cent off everyone’s wages makes him a rich man.

It feels both naively green and greedy, another nanny state act, under the auspices of that fashionably hot potato, the environment, but without really doing anything to change the bottom issues; and which meanwhile takes from the people and gives to the unknown whilst not seriously affecting the plastic industry’s supplies – or are we the public paying their compensation?!

And shop staff have been dreading this day and the arguments they’ll be getting into….

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A film that shows what the people can do

Today, I again saw a film that makes me inspired and alive. It is Belle, which shows us what can happen when people of conviction speak out for justice. It was an issue that felt so entrenched and widespread, with opposition so numerous and powerful, that a hope of quashing it must’ve felt extremely daring.

But this is the real story of how a major step was taken towards justice and the end of something that had caused so much suffering and been a disgraceful aberration of human rights.

It made me think about the essence of all injustice, and how it relates to continuing despicable problems.

A powerful group defines themselves as other to another and sees that other either as a threat or something less valuable than themselves. Therefore, that other is there for their profit, to be silenced and destroyed.

Once we start to care and give features to those we have commodified, once they cease to be expendable or wicked, we cannot continue treating them as we have. This is true of all earth life. It is true of those we call enemies, those and that which we would use for our own gain.

Not saying: it’s always been that way, it’s too big; it’s too costly to change or end, but: this is enough!

The more I read history, the more I see the themes of control by fear occurring, from armies to bailiffs – people carrying out the instructions of another without question. Rebels will be punished. Conformity is rewarded.

But I also read stories of people who did push for change, of balls of moss that gather in size and momentum.

Stories, actual and imagined, can give us the impetus to put faces on those we refuse to see, give voices to those who hadn’t been heard, and to empower us to take on that which pretended to be invincible.

I post this as the Tory party conference takes place in Manchester this weekend.

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