The Pity of War

Window honouring the war poet Wilfred Owen, Birkenhead Library

November 2018 has marked 100 years of remembrance since the end of World War 1, which raged from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Much of the despair and brutality of battle rings out in the words of war poet Wilfred Owen who attended school in Birkenhead. And in the local library, a poignant window shows the experience of war. Helpless men, blinded by gas, lead each other into the unknown.

The artwork honours the courageous truth of the poet soldier who pulled no punches when it came to describing the experience of the front line.

The tragic beauty is the work of artist David Hillhouse. More recently, another visual telling of the Wilfred Owen story is The Burying Party, an international award winning crowd funded film.

I attended a screening of the film where the director, Richard Weston, described how the experience of seeing war memorials in small Scottish villages impacted him deeply. The wartime loss of many men ravaged rural communities especially.

The fishing township of Lochinver celebrates those who gave their lives for their country. The war memorial is in a seafront position, overlooking the bay from where boats steam to hunt in fishing grounds for many weeks at a time.

Lochinver war memorial


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Many of those who left this remote landscape for fierce battle came from small and peaceful family crofts, like this one.

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For many, there was no recounting the experience of war. Yet Wilfred Owen, much encouraged by fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, treads fearlessly in his verse. ‘My subject is war and the pity of war.‘ he wrote. ‘The poetry is in the pity.’

A deeply moving new statue in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, expresses that pity.  A despairing World War One soldier is lost in futility and despair.

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Might he have been one of the boys who attended school with Owen? One of those whose names are listed on the shiny memorial in the library where the Owen window dominates the staircase?

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Close by the library is one of the Owen family homes. Here Wilfred lived with siblings Harold, Colin and Mary. His father worked on the railways, which caused the family to move several times, and his devoted mother was deeply protective of her children. Tragically, the news of Wilfred’s death reached his parents on Armistice Day 1918.

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Birkenhead Institute was Wilfred’s school and The Visor, a history of the the establishment and pupils, recalls with pride the poetic boy who went to war. Dulce et decorum est.

This comes from one Owen’s most famous poems, the title is inspired by a line from the Roman poet Horace. The translation: ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’

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Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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North Coast Journey

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The Magic of Scotland’s Northern Highlands

My new book is published!

Further to my award winning books in my ‘52 Weekends‘ series, North Coast Journey is a richly illustrated, magical odyssey through the highlands of Scotland’s far north.

The dramatically changing coastline, awesome mountain scenery, scattered cottages in sparsely populated landscape, abundant wildlife and birdlife, and welcoming community hubs make this a very special adventure for people of all ages.

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The discoveries I share are diverse. I invite you to travel routes taken by skilled drovers herding hundreds of cattle through wild scenery. Weave your way through ancient landscape to spine tingling settlements and monuments made by our ancestors in prehistory times. Surf some of the finest cold water waves in the world. Visit crofts and castles were you will be made most warmly welcome. Explore at ease through 10 clear stages; each offering the bonus optional detours to yet more fantastic discoveries.

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The essence of the book is to slow down, to connect with the north highlands in a meaningful and respectful way.

I invite you to nourish your spirit in nature, to be inspired by driech damp weather and golden sunshine days, to observe mountains express moods of light and shade through veils of mist and drifting cloud. To enjoy the tang of salty sea air as wild wind whips surging white horses and to peer into the ocean mirror as it reflects passing boats and romantic sunsets in the bewitching hush of calm, flat days.

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I invite you to feast  – on simple pleasures! To connect with local people in diverse communities, to reach dreamy beaches and secluded coves off the beaten track, to saunter footpaths with heart-stopping island views, to be still, to hear bird song, the rhythm of softly lapping waves, the uplifting sound of silence, and so much more!

North Coast Journey is based on my authentic, first-hand experience, my knowledge and extensive research. I am thrilled to share this beautiful, romantic and magical new adventure with you.

Whatever you do, don’t rush it!

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Happy Birthday Glasgow Central!

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The glassy wonder of Glasgow Central station is 139 years old today. I love this busy place! I love the city too! There are more images of it on my Facebook page but here is a hidden beauty that some people never notice in the city railway hub.

IMG_4534This beautiful mosaic celebrating Glasgow as The cultural Capital of Europe in 1990  is installed in the station below eye level so you have to seek it out carefully, but it’s well worth it.

I especially love the left hand panel that depicts a sunrise over the west of Britain and a return of the light to the land. The mural, commissioned by British Rail, is the inspired work of Jude Burkhauser an artist and curator with a huge passion for Glasgow. She was born in Trenton, New Jersey 10 September 1947 and died 19 September 1998.

If you are visiting the station, take a few special minutes to experience her beautiful work. It feels, to me, a meditation on journeys in life.

The installation was achieved by Fiorino Pallisco (1932-2008) a brilliantly skilled artisan mosaic specialist at DeCecco Ltd. Fiorino was a native of Italy who lived in Scotland and created murals around the world.

So happy birthday to the beautiful station, made ever lovelier by inspired and creative souls!

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Take It To The Bridge!

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Friday, May 18 is Light Night in Liverpool, a fantastic, free, hugely diverse cultural celebration across the city from 5pm until late. There’s so much to see and experience, it’s a firm booking in my diary. A great night out!

While I was working in Edinburgh with the publicity team and my commissioning editor on the final stages of my new book, North Coast Journey, I received a lovely invitation to contribute to one of Light Night’s wonderful installations.

The project is an ambitious collaboration between Tate Liverpool art gallery, Arup ,an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists working across every aspect of today’s built environment and Open Eye Gallery.

The team has been working with school pupils on both banks of the River Mersey to create a scale paper bridge that would span the river and link the communities on either side. Around 800 people will take part in this fantastic creation which will be made from paper and extend 15 metres across the atrium of the Open Eye Gallery at Mann Island in the city centre, close by the waterfront.

I feel honoured to have been among the people invited to contribute my thoughts on the theme of ‘Transformation’  on one of the many fragments of paper that will ultimately make the bridge.

I received a plan of the neat space into which I had to fit my concept and return it to the Arup team ahead of construction on Friday. My challenge was to make something eye catching and meaningful! I began by spraying the white paper gold, then I tore up some strips of thick hand made paper into small fragments to carry my words. The lovely hand made paper was bumpy and rough, I needed to write with care. I knew the letters would go all wobbly across the rough surface but I figured that was OK, as long as the final result legible! Besides, any transformation can be a wobbly process!

I thought about what I wanted to say and was inspired by the idea of the transformation of a caterpillar into a magnificent moth or butterfly. It’s not an easy journey. The caterpillar has to do a lot of unseen work to develop itself within its chrysalis. And when at last the magnificent moth or butterfly emerges it is not able to simply fly off immediately it must be patient. Very slowly it pumps body fluid into its silken wings. Then when the wings are expanded, the moth or butterfly must take time to rest and allow the structure within them to harden. Eventually the moment comes to fly and take to the air! Everything happens at just the right time. That’s the wonderful magic of transformation!

The butterfly has just two weeks to live, so every day is an extraordinary adventure. I also learned while researching this journey that butterflies taste with their feet!

It seems appropriate that I made my bridge artwork during Mental Health Awareness Week. It seems we are all like those magnificent moths and butterflies, evolving though life, facing new challenges, often needing quiet time to discover what works best for us and needing to take good care ourselves through the process.

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I wrote out my words on four pieces of paper and set them out just a little bit like butterfly wings. Sure enough, the hand made paper made my writing wobbly! Then I found some golden hearts to add to the words because any process of transformation requires a lot of love. I put them through the middle of the words, just a teeny bit like a butterfly body, made with love! Then I remembered I had to put my name on it somewhere so I managed to fit that onto another strip of handmade paper.

It’s been wonderful to take part in this amazing project. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity, thank you to everyone involved in making the bridge and for inviting me to play a teeny part in it. It was a lot of fun.

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I’m looking forward to seeing the bridge on Friday night, I’ll post pictures of it here! These pictures show my transformation of white paper into a message to be built into the bridge, inspired by butterflies! Here’s how my completed contribution looks!

With love X

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World Sleep Day

I am a writer and also a Creative Director. I conceive ideas and events and bring them to fruition.

To celebrate World Sleep Day, here’s some of my recent work for an international client, John Lewis.  My client was seeking outstanding concepts to creatively, imaginatively and distinctively communicate the beautiful John Lewis Natural Collection of beds. A great project!

Here is what I conceived and produced, discover it in John Lewis stores nationally and internationally.JL_Cover