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Diary: Elizabeth Figg

22 May 2020


Those we have loved

AS I write, the VE Day bunting is lying on the dining-room table, waiting to be rolled up and stored in readiness for VJ Day in August. I’m hoping for a rather different celebration then; the VE weekend has been a peculiar one, even given these strange times. Before the anniversary, I raked through old family photographs and letters, garnering memories for this monologue in the service of commemoration we streamed on our benefice YouTube channel Happy? A Conversation with My Grandmother:

Happy? Well, yes, I was, child. . . after six years of war and worry and woe, we were all ready for it to end, and so I was — very happy. Happy that the bombs would stop falling on our country and on theirs. Happy that I could leave my curtains open at night. Happy that I could watch the light of the full moon glimmering on the loch, without worrying that I would be woken by the drone of German bombers, using that moonlight and my loch to navigate their way to Clydebank.

“Happy that the wee boy who came to stay with us would be safe in his bed in Glasgow again — he was only five when he arrived, and I remember cradling him to sleep while he cried for his mummy . . . and I wept for my own boy who would never again be in my arms.

“On VE night, we had a big bonfire above Arrochar, and we all walked over from Tarbet. It was good to see flames of celebration instead of destruction, and we danced and we sang — nothing like the pictures you see of London with everyone looking so glamorous; but we had fun.

“Your grandfather and I walked home together, arm in arm, each of us holding torches, laughing, and pointing them defiantly at the sky. But, as we got closer to the croft, the ghosts of loss crowded around us in the dark: the faces that had been missing from the celebration; the voices who would have led the singing; dear ones we would never see again; our own darling, darling, boy.

“And, even as we celebrated the end of war in Europe, your great-uncle was still fighting away, over on the other side of the world — and that fight wouldn’t end until the August.

“Yes, child, I was happy on VE Day . . . but may you, and your children, and your children’s children, be spared the need of knowing such happiness.”


Canine contributor

HAVING stirred up so many memories, “happy” was far from what I felt; in fact, I couldn’t read the words “and I wept for my own boy who would never again be in my arms without crying; so I had to cut it. I was glad we’d decided — for the first time since we started streaming services — to pre-record this particular offering. Nobody wants to see their vicar’s wife sobbing on screen!

Live-streaming generally has been a challenge. Mothering Sunday (our first weekend of streaming) was fine, as we were in St John’s, Yealand, which has B4RN (Broadband 4 the Rural North) superfast broadband; after that, church buildings were closed altogether, and we had to stream from the vicarage.

I’m sure many of you have stories of vicarage-streamed services interrupted by pets; our dog very nearly brought our first attempt to an abrupt halt by walking into a tangle of electrical wiring. Leads for my laptop; the external speakers I was using to play readings pre-recorded by parishioners; the webcam that I’d put on a tripod to get a better angle; the TV that I was using to play a video with a message from our bishop — all of these leads were hanging at her chest height, but proved no deterrent for a hound on the scent of the treats in my husband’s pockets.

Number Three Son, who is isolating with us, averted catastrophe by extricating her from the wiring, scooping her up, and dashing from the study with her in his arms — not an easy trick with a slightly portly lab/collie-cross intent on food.


Do not adjust your set

RAVENING pets aside, our biggest challenge in streaming from the vicarage has been the speed of our broadband. While the rest of the universe seems to be superfast, our particular corner of Main Street languishes on standard. For those of you who, like me, have recently learned more than they ever wanted to know about such things, our “upload” speed on one particularly bad Sunday was 0.62 mbps (if you are in the blissful position of not needing to know what that means, trust me — it’s bad).

I tried everything: running a cable direct from the router; buying a device to create a mobile “hotspot”; using my mobile phone to create a hotspot. Nothing made much difference; so our patient parishioners joined us each Sunday, never quite knowing if they’d be watching the circle of doom swirl maddeningly in the centre of the screen or be treated to the full glory of our deceptively tidy dining-room (what goes on behind the camera stays behind the camera).

Just before VE Day, our diocese decreed that we could resume streaming live from church buildings; so, on 10 May, we were back on superfast B4RN in St John’s. We took with us the “resurrection butterflies” made by our parishioners for Easter, and placed them around the altar: colourful symbols of the love, hope, and faith that carry us through dark times.


Elizabeth Figg is an ex-QARANC officer, nurse, midwife, and laughter facilitator, now working as a free­lance writer. Her husband is a vicar in the diocese of Blackburn.


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