So a few weeks later, when the Queen entered a state room to meet an assortment of ambassadors, governors and other Very Important People, the young Fijian was in attendance, resplendent in his Royal household footman’s uniform. She saw him straight away and ignoring all the Very Important People waiting to exchange a few pallid jokes and platitudes with her, she walked straight across the room to talk to her newest recruit. The guests probably assumed he was an even more important person then they were….
I love such little vignettes which give an unexpected insight into character. On this occasion, the Queen’s humanity would have meant an unforgettable experience for the young man from the Commonwealth and the other side of the world.
I think of the story I read in a blog, when a South African blogger I used to follow was taking her dying daughter for a specialist appointment. While they were waiting outside the lift, the daughter sitting in her wheelchair, the doors opened, and out stepped a tall African. On seeing the mother and daughter, he walked over to them, and bent down and had a few gentle words with the dying woman, before smiling at her mother and continuing on his way… another act of kindness and connectedness – from Nelson Mandela who could well have just continued on his busy way.
I loved reading about Albert Schweitzer, the famous doctor, musician and founder of the hospital at Lambarene in Africa, standing on a train platform in the US where he had been invited. One minute the old man was talking to his group, the next, he was nowhere to be seen. And then someone saw him down at the end of the platform, carrying the suitcases of an old woman, helping her onto the train.
The Queen’s mother was famous for these sort of spontaneous kindly deeds, though one of my favourite stories was of her as a young woman… she had a sweet tooth even then and was happily chewing a caramel as she drove through Liverpool… she caught the eye of a young policeman, and tossed him a caramel, which he caught! Did he chew it too, or keep it in a glass cabinet as an unlikely relic?
A shopkeeper whose shop was on her route to Cheltenham races once wrote to her to say he would like to present her with a bunch of flowers when she drove past on her annual visit. She replied, and for the next eighteen years, until she stopped attending the race meeting, she stopped to talk to him on her way. By then, a crowd was always waiting too, and she never failed to stop and chat with her faithful admirer.
Her grandson’s wife, Diana, not one of her favourites, also had this gift. Few people know of the time when she was visiting this country as a twenty-one -year old. She came out of a reception in Wellington, the country’s capital, and a noisy group of IRA sympathisers was waiting for her with hostile banners and angry shouts. Gathering her courage so as not to disappoint the other people who were waiting to see her, this brave young woman walked over to them, and ignoring the heckling of the Irish, talked to the others. That took real character.
And later, in Auckland, she came out of a banquet late at night, and seeing a little girl standing in a knot of spectators, crossed the road in the pouring rain, red shoes and white tulle dress getting soaked, and bent down to talk to her and take the posy being offered.
General de Gaulle has never been one of my favourite people. Hating the British who sheltered him, gave him offices, staff, aeroplanes, money to support him throughout the war, he could rudely say to Mr and Mrs Churchill while lunching with them at Number 10, and discussing how to handle the French fleet in North Africa, he said it would give the French great satisfaction to turn their guns onto the British. This, of course, was the man who was able to write a history of the French Army without ever mentioning Waterloo.
But many years later, sitting next to Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary, when she was the wife of the British ambassador, he asked how she passed her time. She blurted out, ‘walking my dog’, and was deeply touched that he spent the rest of the lunch discussing the best places to do this. Even de Gaulle had a heart! He showed it again, writing a tender and touching letter to Lady Churchill on the first anniversary of Churchill’s death.
And talking of animals James Herriott the Yorkshire vet who wrote the popular series ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, was the vet to some of my closest friends. He lived up to his reputation. Anthony told me that when they first moved to Yorkshire and signed up with Herriott, then just an unknown country vet, their cat seemed unwell. It was Sunday but they rang their vet anyway. Herriott was enjoying Sunday drinks before lunch at a friend’s home, but he dropped everything and came to the house to treat Anthony’s cat.
These are not great acts of heroism, but little random acts of goodness, kindness or humanity, spontaneous responses in circumstances where pomp and ceremony were often the order of the day… and that’s why they are so revealing… they demonstrate character and connectedness. And there are many people who are not public figures who also respond to everyday situations with spontaneity and kindness, and we never hear of them… let us now praise famous men, as the psalmist wrote… and some there be which have no memorial.
When I listed all the beautiful gifts a friend had given me over the years, and all her acts of kindness and imagination towards me, my love said why don’t you write and tell her. I said I have and I do…. But I made a mental note to tell all my other friends too, how much their friendship and love have meant to me over many years.
I thought about all the wonderful things people tell about their loved ones at their funerals. I always hope the spirits of the dead may be hovering to hear these words of love and appreciation. But how much more they would have enjoyed these tributes during their lifetimes. So one of my resolutions for the rest of my life-time is to make sure those I know and love also Know how much they are loved and valued… not just for their deeds or gifts but for the essence of who they are. Seeing a person’s essence is to recognise their soul. There can be nothing more satisfying than to know you have been Seen, that you have been recognised for who you are, and that who you are is precious, beautiful and utterly loveable.
This is a priceless gift which should be the birthright of every child, and this is my daily prayer: that the parents of all children may see and love the essence of each child, so they grow up undiminished by self- doubt. Then they can feel, and are, whole and happy and loving themselves. A world of loving souls would be a world without fear, and a world of peace, the sort of world we all long for – where peace and goodwill to all men would obliterate the divisions of race, religion and other limiting ideas which separate and divide us. For, as Thich Nhat Hahn says: ‘We are here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.’
Food for threadbare gourmets
The picture is my kitchen dresser groaning with summer produce. We’ve had lots of fresh asparagus this spring, but I had reached satiety with asparagus with melted butter, asparagus with vinaigrette dressing, and asparagus with a complicated Japanese dressing. So when I was the grateful recipient of a harvest of fresh broad beans from my daughter-in law’s garden, I decided to try something else. This is it!.
Wrap enough asparagus stalks for two in a sheet of kitchen paper, putting the join underneath so it doesn’t blow open. Sprinkle the paper with water, and cook the asparagus for just over a minute in the micro-wave. At the same time, chop and fry in a little butter a small piece of good thick ham, then pour in cream, a capful of brandy, a couple of chopped garlic cloves, (I used chopped garlic from a jar!) and half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Boil it all up until it thickens.
Blanch the broad beans -enough for two. Cook in boiling water until tender – I used small fresh ones, so didn’t need to pop then out of their outer skin. Then cut the asparagus stalks in two, and add them and the broad beans to the ham and cream mix. Eat with good bread to mop up the delicious juices – and I had a glass of champagne too, to enhance the feeling of well-being!
Food for thought
Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace. Albert Schweitzer
27 responses to “All people great and small”
A beautiful post, Valerie. The story that appealed to me a lot was of the Queen mother stopping to chat with the shopkeeper on the route to Cheltenham races. Year after year I think both sides enjoyed the interaction.
You said: “So one of my resolutions for the rest of my life-time is to make sure those I know and love also Know how much they are loved and valued… not just for their deeds or gifts but for the essence of who they are.” On the surface, that seems a natural thing to do. And yet we seldom do it. It seems embarrassing. I don’t know why. I think, though, it’s worth the effort of trying to overcome that embarrassment and tell people we love how much we appreciate them.
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Thank you so much, Nikki, good to hear from you. I know what you mean about the difficulty of telling them about our feelings for them… I’ve found that writing does the trick, and also means they have it to read and savour. I did this with my grandson, and he replied with something exquisite he’d written about me some months before, and hadn’t sent !
PS, the picture has now manifested on my blog !!!
Charming and riveting snippets. That one about Mandela makes me deeply sorry that we lack anyone in leadership worthy of cleaning his boots.
With mentions of royalty, I am reminded of a couple of my aunts and uncles waiting on the wrong side of the tracks to get a glimpse of George Vi and Queen Elizabeth as the train shot through a tiny station in the back of beyond. Lo and behold, it stopped, and the royal couple not only got out that side to stretch their legs, but came over to chat. Aunts and uncles were mortified to recall, later, that they had been so entranced by the queen they had completely ignored the poor king!
On the Rhodesian leg of that 1946/7 tour, my father, who had been requested by the painter HG Wiles to take pictures for a portrait he had been commissioned to do, stumbled and fell while trying to sneak a picture of Princess Elizabeth. She laughed uproariously, and he was so taken with this spontaneity that he lost the opportunity to snap her doing it!
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What a lovely collection of reminences… loved them – they too are charming… so good to hear from you… lovely comment about Mandela… sadly, I thnk it applies to the whole world at the moment…
and PS… the picture has now manifested on the blog !
Lovely vignettes, and, being Fiji born, I particularly like the first story of the Queen and the young Fijian. And thank you for telling me a new ( to me) method of cooking asparagus. I will try it tomorrow.
Good to hear from you Amanda… glad you think you can use the recipe… and by the way, the picture has now manifested on the blog !!
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Oh thanks for letting me know. I have just had a peek, and it’s a beautiful harvest and dresser.
I love the way you share the humanity of legends. Who would have imagined De Gaulle had a heart? The one that brought me to tears was Nelson Mandela. What a person he must’ve been. He’s one of the people I truly wish I’d been able to meet in my lifetime.
It made me smile when I saw your post in my inbox this morning. I hope the Pohutukawas are blooming and the Monarchs are flying on your side of the world.
Shalom, my friend,
What a lovely comment, Rochelle, thank you so much…I had to smile myself, when I read your comment about de Gaulle !!!
And yes, Mandela was a magnifcent human being, wasnl’t he… we could do with a few leaders like him now !!!
While I am writing this, my love is talking /communicating with you sitting right by me !!
He’ll bring you up to date on the pohutakawas and the butterflies !!!
And thank you again for telling me the picture was AWOL – army term – Absent Wih Out Leave !!!
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I’m a military wife. AWOL needed no explanation. Any time my dear friend. Any time. ❤
The thing about kindness is that it doesn’t cost anything but a bit of time and attention. These days, those two seem to be in short supply. They are well worth recovering! Thanks for sharing these wonderful stories and I hope you are well and having a wonderful week.
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Hello Janet, lovely to hear from you, and lovely too, to know you enjoyed the stories … have been rather under the weather the last few weeks, hence no reading of blogs – or writing either,,, but all good now,,, so have a wonderful week too, yourself, love Valerie
Glad you’re feeling better, Valerie. I’m getting over “a little something” myself and getting ready to visit one of our daughters in a few days. I hope you’re enjoying the coming of summer. 🙂
I read this with tears in my eyes and with the knowledge you are sending to each one of us love…boundless, wonderful, supportive, true, unconditional love. Thank you, Valerie! I want you to know I love you too!
Dear friend, your comment is such a gift… so beautiful that that is how you saw and read the blog… thank you, thank you…
a letter coming your wayXXX
and a PS… the picture has now manifested itself on the blog, and knowing you, you will enjoy it !!!!
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OH! Your china pantry/closet/hutch is so pretty. I love the good taste you have and that you so willingly share it with us!!! HUGS!
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All, very lovely stories of humanity, Valerie. Like you, I make it a practice to tell those dear to me that they are loved. It’s no use saying it after they are gone. xx
Hello Ardys, so good to hear from you, and I hope you’re enjoying your break from blogging…yes, stories about people and their goodness are so heart-warming aren’t they…
and a PS, the picture has now manifested on my blog !!!
This is such a joyful piece.Amongst all the heartache in the world it’s lovely to read about people in wonderful things people in power can do..
Thank you Leila… that’s a lovely thing to say … yes, isn’t it heartwarming to read about simple goodness???
So well-said, Valerie! What a wonderful world it would be if your daily prayer was answered! I pray that it is.
So good to hear from you Shirley, and thank you for the lovely comment … we can but try ….
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I have read this post over and over again, Valerie. Kindness is a priceless gift that remains forever in the heart, to be recalled in difficult times, much like J.R.R Tolkien’s “light of Earendil our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.” Kindness is a two part gift, in that the giver receives the greater benefit. We are defined by our kind acts; in so doing, we give the gift of healing to ourselves – spiritually and physically. Much love coming your way. Thank you for your gift of kindness…
I always love reading your comments, always full of insight and also encouragement. I also love your Tolkien quotes… you must know him by heart to always have the right words for every moment !!!
I totally agree with you about the gifts that giving bestow upon the giver… you give me so much… and you are so much,
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De Gaulle certainly had a spiky relationship with the British, but it wasn’t all negative. He had only praise for the welcome he got from ordinary British people. He and Churchill were two bulls in one room, but had high points as well as low. After the British did turn their guns on the French fleet in North Africa, De Gaulle was relatively quiet and admitted in Churchill’s place, he’d have done the same. He did have a huge ego, but his love for his Down’s syndrome daughter was outstanding. He also deserves some credit, I think, for managing to hold together in the Free French prewar antisemitic far-right nationalists and Jewish Socialists.
Thank you for your comment Simon… I think I show in my log that he was like us all – a mix of good and bad !!! Though somene who can manage to write a history of the French Army without mentioning Waterloo has certainly got some hangups about the victors !!!!