At the beginning of March 2013 I was lucky enough to be given a CD of eye witness stories from the D Day landings by a retired BBC broadcaster who was going to give talks on the Silver a Helm D Day cruise. After a bit of a false start I downloaded it to my iPod. It made for an atmospheric journey to and from work.
5 March 2013
The morning started with a bit of a technical glitch. On Thursday I bought home the CD of interviews with veterans of the D Day landings sent in by the retired BBC broadcaster thinking I’d listen to it and maybe even copy it. Of course, with such a busy weekend I didn’t get round to it. Yes, I know I should have done something about it before this morning but, in all honesty, I forgot. There was no time to listen to it before work and no blank CD’s to copy it onto but I had the genius idea to download it onto my iPod so I could listen while I walked. This was all very well except it involved starting up my laptop which didn’t want to play with me. Eventually, after much foot tapping and finger drumming it did spring to life and I began the process of copying.
Technology is not my friend. It seemed to take ages for all the little boxes to get green ticks so I went off to shower and clean my teeth. When I came back all the boxes were ticked but I couldn’t see the files anywhere and there was still a message asking me if I wanted to download the CD. Now, I hardly ever put CD’s onto my iPod, I rarely even open iTunes. I’m pretty sure the last time I downloaded a CD was shortly after I bought the iPod, about five hundred years ago. I thought perhaps it was a two stage process where it copied the tracks but you had to then click to actually download. So I clicked again and went to wash up and make breakfast. Eventually I worked out that it had actually downloaded both times so I now have two copies. One of these days I will get round to deleting one, maybe…
The morning I stepped outside to was cold and misty but with blue sky behind the mist and a promise of sun later. One of those days you just know the mist is going to burn off. Walking down towards the river, with the sound of D-Day veterans in my ears, the shafts of sunlight bursting through the trees illuminated the swirling mist clinging to the ground. It seemed a fitting sight as the tale of bombs, gunfire and battle unfolded.
In fact, by the time I got to the industrial units beside the water the mist was more or less gone. The cranes, silouetted against the blue sky, made me think of dinosaurs, big metal ones, standing around looking for something to eat. Further along the huge conveyor belt, pouring a steady stream of gavel onto a giant dune looked like another strange prehistoric animal munching away. I wondered if there were ever real dinosaurs living here.
Listening to the stories made the walk go lightening fast and I was almost disappointed to find myself outside the office having to turn the iPod off. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a little red car in the car park. Once I opened my emails I knew why, Arabella was stuck on the ship sorting out problems, tearing her hair out trying to get everything ready for the launch date in ten days time. So, the big pile of things had to wait and I carried on with the more pressing task of finding musicians to fill the empty spot in April. Replies were coming in for the 2014 cruises too so I certainly had enough to keep me busy. Just before lunch time the email I’d been waiting for arrived, a quartet who have been on previous cruises so don’t need auditioning and who are begging to be given a place on my empty cruise. YAY! One less thing to wake me in the middle of the night in a panic. I emailed Arabella with the good news. She seems pretty pleased that I’m being proactive about 2014 too.
At lunch time there was a half plan to walk up to Boots and get a new mascara because mine is getting a bit dried out. When I left the office something caught my eye, a splash of bright colour where normally there is only a dark corner. Of course I had to go to investigate. It was a large picture, as tall as me, leaned up against the fence. Brilliantly coloured petals being dropped into a bowl, although they were upside down so it looked as if the bowl was suspended in mid air and the petals were falling into the hand. When I looked closer I could see it had two big holes in it, as if someone had punched it. I supposed it had been dumped there.
I started to walk towards the High Street then changed my mind. It seemed far too nice a day not to take advantage and go for a proper walk. In order to avoid the coffee emporia I decided to walk in the opposite direction through the Holyrood estate towards Friars Gate. It’s not the prettiest of estates, low, light brick and concrete blocks of flats, built to replace a slum area flattened by bombs during World War Two. It does have a claim to fame, this was where Craig David was bought up, wrote his songs and played the local clubs.
I wasn’t really thinking about Craig David as I strolled through the estate though. I was enjoying the sun on my face, looking around for plants and interesting things to make me smile. It wasn’t long before I found something, a metal sculpture come sign on a pole standing out against the beautiful blue sky, a quirky thing, just the way I like them. It was a Viking in a boat, complete with three sheep poking their heads over the side, I believe he’s meant to be a merchant sailor, representing the port history of this city and absolutely wonderful he is too. When I Googled it I found there are five of these, all different, scattered throughout the estate, that’ll give me something to do in my lunch hours then.
Leaving the estate behind, mainly because I didn’t know about the other sculpture signs, I went on down towards Friars Gate. The sun was so bright I even had to put my sunglasses on. Yes it is more than likely a false dawn of spring but who cares, I was making the most of it while it was there. The block paved path running alongside the walls towards the gate is a strange mingling of the old and the new. On one side of the wall there are new flats, very upmarket, on the other a big office block and a car park. The wall is an oasis of history between the two. I sat on a bench for a while with my face up to the warmth of the sun, then I walked to the end of the wall before making my way back to the office.
This afternoon I had a long chat with the Planning Manager about 2014. Now I have a bit of a game plan and lots to do to get things together before Arabella does come back. Hopefully I can have everything mapped out and save her a big headache. Then again, these things never seem to go to plan.
At five twenty my mobile rang, it was Arabella. Things were not going well at her end. A delivery of lights that she was supposed to take to another port had come in late. The only problem being they didn’t fit in her little sports car but they had to be at the other port by Friday morning. Despite a terrible mobile connection I managed to get all the details and check with Alice that we’d be able to arrange for DHL to pick them up and deliver them again. Problem sorted.
By this time it was well after half past five, time to go home. The sky overhead was still brilliant blue but the sun was beginning to sink into the low clouds bathing the horizon with a golden glow. I decided to walk over the Itchen Bridge and get the best view possible. Part two of the D-Day interviews played in my ears as I crossed so one part of me was experiencing the sky and the sunset while the other was remembering the pillboxes, the beaches, the walks in the woods in Normandy.
By the time I reached the centre of the bridge the light was changing. The gold had turned to pink, reflected in flecks on the water below. When I reached the track behind the green the brilliant blue above was deeper, the colours bleached from the city turning them to blues and greys. There was still enough light to take the path through the trees though, so I carried on that way. As I passed the church, the tips of the roof just visible beyond the undergrowth the old soldiers were talking about St Mere Eglise and a night when thousands of parachutes fell from the skies. My mind was transported back to France and a sunny day in St Mere Eglise looking up at the church spire and the statue of a paratrooper hanging by a billowing silk parachute.
The story was one I learned the first time I visited St Mere Eglise. When the American soldier, John Steele, fell from the sky, his parachute caught on the steeple of the church and he was trapped. He spent two hours unable to move, watching the fighting going on below until eventually he was spotted and captured by the Germans. He escaped and rejoined his battalion, later liberating the village. The French people took him to their hearts and made him an honorary citizen of the town. He returned every year until his death, in France, in 1969, just three weeks before the twenty fifth anniversary of the landings. Everywhere in St Mere Eglise he is remembered and his story fondly told.
Instead of rejoining the main road I carried on through the back streets and took the cut way by the river. The final instalment of my D-Day story was the tale of the piper, Bill Millin. A twenty one year old from Glasgow, he was personal piper to Lord Lovat, commander of 1 Special Service Brigade. He landed on Sword Beach in his kilt, with his bagpipes, his only weapon the dagger in his sock. Under orders from Lord Lovat, as his comrades were shot around him, he walked up and down the beach playing his pipes, with never a thought that he too could be killed. When he later asked the captured German soldiers why they hadn’t shot at him they told him it was because they thought he was mad. Maybe he was but what a picture it painted for me.
At the end of the cut I took one last look through the trees at the river, glowing pink now under a deepening blue sky, then I returned to the last stretch of road before home. The light was really fading fast by this time, as I turned the last corner before the main road the pink was deepening too and by the time I turned into my own crescent all traces of pink were gone, just some icy looking mares tail clouds telling me it will be a cold and frosty morning tomorrow.