Posts Tagged ‘Winston Churchill’

I bet you’ve never really considered this, have you? I hadn’t either until the other day when I noticed that Son and I were stirring simultaneously in opposite directions. Most of you will perform this daily ritual stirring clockwise but for just around ten per cent of the population, the opposite will be true.

It will come as no surprise to friends and family that I fall into said ten per cent. I was born with a minority affliction. I am not disabled – I am left-handed and being so renders simple everyday tasks tricky.

Using a tin opener is a challenge; I have trouble with serrated bread knives (a beautiful loaf will end up with a 45 degree overhang); I can’t use a corkscrew and even getting into the house via the front door using a simple Yale key can be problematic. Everything has been manufactured by the majority for the majority but for us Lefties, the world is just the wrong way round.

Buying something as boringly necessary as an iron means I have to choose carefully and from a meagre selection – of those where the electrical cord emerges from the top of the appliance rather than the (wrong) side.

When I was a child my grandmother despaired because she couldn’t teach me to knit properly – I would train the wool ‘the other way’ around the needle.

Of course, there are left-handed alternatives for a lot of things. I wouldn’t be without my left-handed scissors for instance or my left-handed cheque book (not used quite so much these days but so simple – the perforations are on the ‘other side’ of the book) but most left-handed items tend to be flash-in-the-pan five minute gimmicks and of no use at all. The craziest thing I saw advertised last Christmas was SLOPED LINED writing paper. The lines were printed on a downhill slant to prevent ‘left-handers from smudging [their] writing.’ Give me strength! Firstly, whoever writes with a smudgeable pen these days – quill pens went out even before I was at school – and why oh why are we not teaching our left-handed pupils to do the simple thing and SLANT THE PAPER?!!

I’m astonished and irritated that so many left-handed students struggle with their handwriting. Most of them hold their pens awkwardly and/or “hook” their hands over the top of their writing in order to see what they’ve just written. Left-handed children should be guided, early on, to turn their paper so that in effect, they are virtually writing top to bottom, almost vertically. (I’ve always done this – I think I figured it out for myself because I don’t remember anyone suggesting it and my writing is at best stylish and at worst legible). Turning the paper negates bad pen holding habits and helps improve writing. No need for that uncomfortable hooking. I find it incredible that teachers don’t seem to be aware of the subtle and simple changes that could be suggested to make a left-hander’s life easier. I’m astounded that, once a seating plan has been devised, some pairs of students are knocking elbows. Never sit a left-hander on the right side of a desk facing forward: swap them round and instantly both pupils gain much more space. Obvious, you may think but there’s been many a time that I’ve had to quietly suggest a reshuffle.

Left-handers are adaptable by nature – we have to be. We are creative because we have had to be. We come at the world from a different angle. From learning to tie shoe laces to driving a car, our lives have been fraught with difficulties that right-handed people can’t even imagine. We have to put up with the negative connotations that the word ‘left’ dredges up – ‘left out’ and ‘left over;’ the French ‘gauche’ and the Latin ‘sinistra’ whereas the opposite of wrong is good old goody two-shoes Right.

I have to admit to a couple of advantages. I can surprise an opponent playing tennis if I hit the ball well because a left-hand spin sends the ball off in an unexpected direction. I feel at home driving in mainland Europe because for me, anti-clockwise around a round-a-bout holds no fear – in fact, it feels more comfortable.

Left handers are probably more ambidextrous as we have to adapt to using right-handed things. For instance, I was once offered a set of left-handed golf clubs (not that I play the real game – the most I’ve ever done is the crazy variety on holiday) but I did try them out and they felt just wrong. Interestingly, we know a right-handed person who plays with left-handed clubs. What’s going on there, I wonder?

I checked out a list of famous left-handers. Einstein, Michelangelo, Winston Churchill, Bart Simpson, Paul McCartney, David Bowie…the list was quite surprising. I seem to be in esteemed company so why should I worry. Truth is, I don’t. Just don’t ask me to slice your bread, knit you a jumper or open the wine and I’ll be fine.

 

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When I started my first school, at the age of five, Dad seemed very excited to hear that I had been placed in “Churchill” – one of  four houses our tiny school was divided into for Sport’s Day events or collecting merit points. The houses were each designated a colour and I was to wear blue webbing bands which, because blue was – and still is – my favourite colour,  pleased me more than its name which at that time held little significance.

The houses were named after famous local residents – and Winston Churchill had his country retreat less than five miles away. As children we drove past the place often; were taken there for outings; were told stories of a great man who had lived there.

During the war Dad was a despatch rider for the Royal Signals. He would regularly make trips to Chartwell to deliver documents or papers and of course always held Winston in very high esteem. He got to know that part of the countryside pretty well and it is probably part of the reason  he decided to buy the virtually derelict house he did in the 1950’s which was to become our family home for over thirty years.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. Time, then, to revisit.

Chartwell sits behind a high stone wall down a narrow winding lane with far reaching views across the Kentish Weald. Winston bought the place in 1922 and it provided a sanctuary for him, his wife Clementine and their children away from London and matters of state.

When World War Two ended in 1945 the Churchills were not confident they could afford to keep the place going but a consortium of friends got together and shored things up for them with the proviso that the property  be bequeathed to the National Trust on the deaths of Winston and Clementine. The Trust is now custodian of this quirky yet highly personal house and its magnificently sweeping gardens and I’m pleased to say that I was able to gain free entry for two using my marvellous National Art Pass.

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Our walk started with a gentle stroll down towards the lake where black swans can be spotted if you’re lucky. Following a rough path around the water’s edge brings you to a small clearing where a sculpture of Winston and Clementine Churchill is situated showing them sitting together looking towards their beloved house. The art work is by sculptor Oscar Nemon and was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1990.

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Carry on past the sculpture and you reach wild woodland to the south-east edge of the estate. The path here winds uphill through beech and bluebell woods to where a unit of Royal Canadian Engineers camped out during World War Two. These troops set about camouflaging Chartwell, hiding the swimming pool, draining the reservoir and disguising the lakes with brushwood, keeping the place safe from possible aerial attack. Apparently Winston was mightily relieved that his precious goldfish were not in immediate danger.

image Returning downhill from the site of the Canadian camp, the house comes into view across the fields and sloping lawns.

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Inside, the house is a delight – the rooms have been maintained almost as they would have been when the Churchills were in residence: some personal things remain – Winston’s slippers, for instance. Sadly, photography is not allowed, but you can click here to view interiors from the National Trust’s website.

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According to the National Trust’s blurb the house is ‘of little architectural merit’ having been added to and changed over the years by various occupants – Churchill included. When he bought Chartwell he opened up some of the darker rooms by installing large casement windows, making the most of its position overlooking some of Britain’s finest green and pleasant land. It was this view that enticed him to Chartwell in the first place and one of which he never tired.

“A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted.” (Winston Churchill)

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This view point overlooks the miles of  rolling countryside stretching towards the English Channel that fired Churchill’s fierce resolve to keep Britain safe from  invasion. In the centre of the photograph is the wall around the kitchen garden which he helped to build – at a reported two hundred bricks a day.

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Through the arched gateway  is Winston’s art studio, left as if he has just popped out for an amble around his garden.

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He spent hours here painting, finding the relaxation it derived a perfect antidote for the famous depression he suffered and  which he referred to as his ‘ black dog.’ One of his paintings, of his goldfish pond, sold at Sotheby’s for £1.8m last December. Now, having seen his collection of paintings in the studio  (sadly, no photos allowed here either), while they are the dedicated work of a very enthusiastic and prolific amateur, I’m not sure the price the painting fetched at auction is justified, other than the fact it is by Churchill. Here’s a photographic representation of his painting, as near as I could get …

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So much has been written about Churchill: his policies, political leanings, the crossing twice of the House of Commons from Conservative to Liberal and back again, his failures and his triumphs, his family, his speeches and most of all his determination to never surrender to a Nazi invasion. Without his dogged and ruthless determination to plan and implement the Battle for Normandy, which the French will be commemorating this weekend, the course of the war would no doubt have been different. And while we cannot forget the tremendous sacrifice made by  Allied troops on D-Day – 6th June 1944-  and in the days following – perhaps a silent salute to Winston wouldn’t go amiss.

Enjoying your freedom? Thank a veteran.

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