Saturday, 6 May 2017

Time and Place

Watching the excellent film interpretation of Ishiguro's Remains of the Day I was reminded of the day, in my early years as SENCO (school special needs co-ordinator) at Patchway, when the A46 was closed for filming. I travelled along that road morning and night, from Bath to Patchway and back, for twenty years. Early in the 1990s, when filming of Remains of the Day began, our section of the A46, just outside Bath, was blocked, and we took another route.
     The early scene in the film where Stevens, seemingly trapped in Darlington Hall for decades as a butler, seen driving out of the big house on a rare visit to Clevedon, was captured in the space of a few hours. We know this because the A46 was open as usual the next day. Of course the 'hall' being used was beautiful Dyrham House, in Dyrham Park, and I passed its entrance, from where Stevens drove the 1930s Daimler, twice a day, from 1990 to 2010, but in a much less prestigious car! However, whenever I see the opening shots to the film I'm so grateful that when passing the entrance to Dyrham I was always free to go home, unlike Stevens. The final shots of a trapped pigeon finally making its escape from the hall are moving. Unlike the bird Stevens is still incarcerated with little or no privacy, family nor home of his own. He was 'in service' for life. The novel encapsulates duty, its virtues and restrictions. I know no-one in such a subservient role.

Even more of a jolt - when comparing my life and fortunes to others' - I was horrified to learn that it was on March 13th, a day before my birthday, but removed by a mere 13 years, that the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto at Krakow took place. In researching the war years for the sequel to my novel 'Coming of Age', beginning in 1939, where the first book left off, I was shocked that a mere thirteen years to the day when my mother went into labour with me, her first born, established Jewry in Krakow was no more. I learned these facts from watching Schindler's List. I have yet to read the book but the film shows the gradual lack of freedoms endured by Jews, until the ultimate is achieved; their annihilation. Thirteen years is hardly a life-time. It's a shockingly short passage of time between their deaths, their tortures, the brutalities meted out on them, and my birth. It feels very,very close.

When I was three I would take my mother's hand and 'help' push my newborn brother in his pram to our local park. There, peering between the pink and yellow rose bushes, I could look down at shiny railway tracks, wait for a whistle, see white smoke and finally jump up and down at the site of the steam train passing through to Birmingham and the huge world beyond.

When the Jews of Krakow stood in railway trucks, melting in the heat, passing out from hunger, lack of air and water, and herded about like cattle, condemned for slaughter, I cannot believe they viewed the steam train, so beloved by nostalgic train-spotters, with affection. For us the steam train represented a journey of excitement, into the big city, into a world of the unknown. For them, in March 1943, they could only feel fear and doom. My memory of  seeing shiny railway tracks as a three-year-old will be for ever corrupted by the image of  tracks entering Auschwitz.

Adverts on the television still show suffering: street children in Asia, refugees in camps, the starving babies in parts of Africa and Yemen, donkeys crippled with overwork. While I sit in the comfort of my study watching scenes of depravity I recall the day my father told us he had been in the liberation party for Belsen camp. He had never talked about it until I was in my thirties, the year we took him on holiday to Arromanches, France, where he had served in D-Day. I had had no idea he had witnessed the results of acts of gross inhumanity. It explained, however, why dad had given me 'Spotty' for my first reading book. It was written, at a child's level, as a plea that we should accept those who are different from us, even if that difference is merely being spotty in a non-spotty world.
     Dad had witnessed wicked cruelty, intolerance and lack of freedom for human beings who happened to be living at the wrong time, in the wrong place. I am ever grateful to have a comfortable home in a beautiful city. I can come and go as I please. Not everyone, not even the butler Stevens, had those freedoms. He's seen 'disappearing' into the wainscotting he had just polished, accepting he had to be seen and not heard, pushed to one side, unimportant. A different time and place.

No comments:

Post a Comment