Friday, 27 March 2020

A Compelling Recollection.

Broad, Sunlit Uplands: How those words fired my young imagination! Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say: how those words fused, in my young mind, with the image printed on every packet of Fielder’s Cornflour. Always fascinated by history, especially modern history, I cannot hear Churchill’s wonderfully evocative words, even at more than half-a-century’s distance, without Edmond’s image of morning sunlight, golden fields, and a plentiful harvest gathered in a time of peace, rising unbidden from my store of childhood memories.

IT’S CURIOUS, isn’t it, how words and images fuse into a single compelling recollection? As I look up from my keyboard, my eye alights upon the decades-old packaging art of “Fielder’s Cornflour” – now, alas, replaced by a more up-to-date expression of the graphic designer’s skill.

The original packaging features a brightly rising sun, its broad rays dappling the rolling hillsides in a golden glow, while below a farmer leads a team of draughthorses across his wheatfield. I remember my Mother giving me the name of the peculiar standing bundles of harvested wheat: “Those are ‘stooks’.”

Even then, in the early 1960s, the Edmonds company’s graphic art had an old-fashioned feel. When my Father’s North Otago wheat-fields were ready to be harvested, I looked forward eagerly to the arrival of a gigantic (to my eyes) combine harvester. The days of draughthorses and stooks were long gone.

So much for the image. What of the words?

My Father was 15 years-old, and my Mother was twelve, when World War II broke out in 1939. Old enough to take a deep personal interest in the great events that were now shaping their young lives. Twenty years later, married, with a growing family, both would recall those years with a mixture of pride, sadness and exhilaration. My Mother would entertain us at the piano with “In The Mood” – Glenn Miller’s wartime hit. On Anzac Day, both of them would sing Vera Lynn’s haunting anthems: “The White Cliffs of Dover”; “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”; “We’ll Meet Again”. And Dad would quote Churchill.

Churchill was still alive in the early 1960s, but failing fast. In the hearts and minds of my parents’ generation, however, he would always be the indomitable “Winnie”, whose stirring wartime speeches – masterpieces of English rhetoric – gave heart to Britain and its empire in the dark days of 1940, when Western Civilisation found itself staring into “the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Dad could quote huge chunks of Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech. Not just its immortal last sentence: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’”, but also many of the sentences that preceded it. It was one of these: the sentence that promised the millions of people whose future then seemed so dark; that they would overcome their enemy; that Europe would be freed from Hitler’s tyranny so that “the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands”.

How those words fired my young imagination! Or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say: how those words fused, in my young mind, with the image printed on every packet of Fielder’s Cornflour. Always fascinated by history, especially modern history, I cannot hear Churchill’s wonderfully evocative words, even at more than half-a-century’s distance, without Edmond’s image of morning sunlight, golden fields, and a plentiful harvest gathered in a time of peace, rising unbidden from my store of childhood memories.

“Broad, sunlit uplands”, it was a phrase that resonated not only with me, twenty years after the event, but with the people – most especially with the people – who lived and fought and died in the awful shadow of Hitler’s evil. They were determined that the dreadful experiences of the decades that followed the First World War would not be repeated in the decades that followed the Second. This time all the death and destruction, all the suffering and heartbreak and sacrifice, had to produce something better, something fairer, something that would, indeed, allow the world to move forward into “broad, sunlit uplands”.

It is my hope, as New Zealand once again finds itself in a dark place, beset by the threat of loss and ruin, that we can make our way, as before, into broad, sunlit uplands and a new morning. I am also confident that young New Zealanders, now walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, will, like their forebears, emerge from it not unscathed but unbeaten. And that, twenty years from now, they’ll be singing the songs of the Great Pandemic to their own children, and explaining to them proudly why this was their finest hour.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 27 March 2020.

24 comments:

John Hurley said...

Should have listened to Dr Greg Clydesdale instead of Paul Spoonley. It's "Argentina here we come"*?
* The Politically Correct Economy

Peter Cresswell said...

Magnificent, Chris. You've outdone yourself.
Thought your paean to crisis opportunism was tone deaf. This however is the perfect chord to strike.
Bravo!

Kat said...

“We shall go on to the end. We shall isolate in the airports, we shall isolate on the seas and oceans, we shall isolate with growing confidence and growing strength in the cities, we shall isolate our islands, whatever the cost may be. We shall isolate on the beaches, we shall isolate on the playing grounds, we shall isolate in the fields and in the streets, we shall isolate in the hills; we shall never leave our bubbles…….”

All da rage said...

@John Hurley
What does that comment have to do with the post above?

kiwidave said...

Good one Kat, there's a real danger in this becoming overly draconian and it backfiring badly as a consequence.
A couple of days ago someone official (police I think) was saying folk couldn't (not shouldn't) go out on their boats. I can't imagine who they're going to infect out at sea.
Perhaps "we trust you to be sensible" would be a lot more inclusive and respectful than treating everyone like they're five years old. I'm getting grumpy already, a few weeks out on the water with a pile of books sounds like a great idea.

sumsuch said...

Strange, I can reach you but not the Daily Blog or the Standard. At least by that measure Kiwiblog's taxi drivers are seriously deprived. Slur undeserved, cabbies' heads are fully available for considering ideas, unlike most of us. My most interesting conversations are with taxi drivers.

I thought your 'tone-deaf paean to crisis opportunism' was as salient as a razor. I also like 'The Hill's Krystal Ball's recommendation capitalism should be suspended for now and not resuscitated after. But the individuals are atomised now (depoliticised), hence Trump's approval rating going over 50 %. Hence Biden instead of the Great Demo-crat. We hunter-gatherers are not up to running the world. We rely on the 'great' leaders, charismatics who can take people down roads to the left or right, good or bad. It goes with disasters as change-points.

Not expecting rationality to come to the fore in my lifetime. And it hasn't done anything for me personally. Emotions all the way, from the brain stem.

I hope Ardern will build on this but it's just the poor man's angel, hope.

sumsuch said...

That's a real newspaper column to the unknowledgeable. My grandfather loved Churchill. Brilliant words for questionable causes inspired us all. Churchill was cornered into good words about democracy and freedom which saw him hypocritical re India and out of office in 45.
And, of course, Cicero's Philippics for a vile oligarchy. Last human words for 1500 years.

sumsuch said...

Still cut off from TDB and The dubious Standard. Could you recommend your favourite blogs?

greywarbler said...

Stirring words Chris and someone has to keep stirring and shifting or the plums will sink to the bottom of the pot and probably burn and be spoiled.
Something that happens to me when i spend too much time on blogs trying to get my ideas over, critiqued, and look at others' and see what is being implemented, who is doing what, and how much they are being paid.

I have read some surprising things about Churchill, but we are all a mix, and he was the man for that hour and with the charisma to carry people through. Although he was of the upper class the ordinary people did feel that he represented all of them when he made his speeches, though he got blamed for mistakes in the positioning and personnel required for some fights. The thankless attitude of the remote Brit admin showed up when they cancelled a promotion of a resistance fighter and Gestapo survivor on his way back to the UK at the end of the war. And Dowding annoyed the romantic old boys in the War Cabinet by sticking to reality and sensible provisioning to eke out the defences to get them through the Battle 'for' Britain; they gave him the same position that a retired penpusher would have received. After all he was from the lower classes, quite a step up for him. And Turing, the puritans were as generous and grateful to him and his individual unsocial traits as ours were to Ettie Rout for giving out condoms and advice in WW1, and saving lives and health, which allowed men to start families without disease; some of us probably owe our lives to her.

Yet despite the pettiness, doltishness and duplicities of people with power NZ and UK came through WW2. We who care about this country and each other and, indeed, the world, may be able to inspire NZ to take the road less travelled. or support an inspiring leader who can shine over an apparently misled or diseased civil administration soaked in neoliberal economics, efficiency propaganda, and replacement of people by expensive machines and technology at every opportunity. We may have to struggle to find our way that leads to a simpler, finer civilisation.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora KiwiDave
We have heard rumor that the New Zealand government has prohibited fishing and hunting, which happen to have an important role in our own Covid-19 survival strategy as well as our ordinary daily life.
We are willing to listen to the New Zealand government over this matter, as we are willing to listen to any government, non-governmental organisation or individual.
But we seek reasoned explanations. We do not submit to arbitrary dictates.
So what is the New Zealand government's policy, and if so what is the rationale for it?
Perhaps Chris can inform us.
We implemented strict household isolation (in some respects stricter than the NZ Level 4) in our rohe prior to Jacinda's Level 3 announcement, and we will continue to follow our own epidemic control strategy.
Why?
Because there is a gaping hole in the government strategy: the supermarkets where short of a miracle virus transmission will continue.
Because we are confident that our own measures will work.
Because we prefer well reasoned voluntary community initiatives to the imposition of a police state.
So while not exactly at cross purposes, I profoundly disagree with the line taken by Martyn Bradbury, Chris Trotter, Dr Liz Gordon and the Daily Blog collective.
God willing we will all be safe. But only God can save New Zealand under its present government.

Bill Wright said...

Nostalgia, Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn and old Winston. I was 7 in 1939 and have a vivid recollection of sitting round our Murphy radio listening to Neville Chamberlain announce that we were at war with Germany. When he finished the siren sounded and it became the background to our lives in the months ahead.

But Churchill's speeches were something else and the whole country stopped as Big Ben sounded the hour, a pause, and then these sonorous tones of the Prime Minister. There is little doubt that had Lord Halifax become Prime Minister in 1940, then we would all be speaking German now. As someone said, Churchill was a man for his time.

That said, I cannot but feel that the comparison of then and today does not stand up. Now, we have no blackout, no rationing, no air raids, no threat of invasion, and it lasted five years, it just ain't the same. Likewise, back then we relied upon the wireless and newspapers for news.

I've written a little about those days at HTTP://inacorner.net.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Geoff Fischer.

You and your community are to be commended for moving early to contain the virus in your rohe.

The ban on hunting, however, is one you should respect.

The rationale is simple: a hunter who is injured, or becomes lost, will divert crucial resources to Search & Rescue until he is located.

Now, you may say that your own people will go in search of any missing hunters. But, surely you must see that this will involve bringing people together - the very thing we are all trying to avoid.

You might also say: "Well, just leave it to us. Don't divert resources - we've got this."

Unfortunately, that is not the way it works. You may disengage yourself from the state, but the state will never disengage itself from you.

Believe me when I caution you that any attempt to test the above proposition under a State of Emergency will not end well.

Stay strong. Stay Kind. Break the Chain.

Pinger said...

Is Mike Hosking the 2020 Lord Haw Haw?

Kat said...

@ Pinger

Hosking (Lord he is not) may not end being hanged but most likely hoist by his own petard.

sumsuch said...

I'm sure we can all agree not to save those who risk their lives in these times. We've agreed to so many innovations for this crisis. I thought staying at home except for essentials was about enforceability. I too always feel I'm just flipping a coin by going to the supermarket, that nexus of infectious.

And the Third World will just take covid's 1 % mortality rate on the nose without a flinch. Par for the course for the poor. And of course the rich can't take that, 50,000 here, now.

How things will change in our lifetimes.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Chris
The reasons you give for the ban on hunting are secondary and indirect.
In itself, hunting will not result in a single new case of Covid-19 but it may, if carried out in a careless manner, lead to consequences which strain the resources of the state and indirectly limit its ability to respond to the epidemic.
For the same reason perhaps no one should use the isolation period to paint the roof or a score of other activities that involve a risk of injury if not done safely.
I can see the point, but safety should be a concern at all times, and when the state implies that we do not have the wit to hunt or fish safely it is being presumptuous. The state is all wise and the people are incompetent??
That is a ridiculous proposition coming from the state in question.
A government of the people would just say "Look guys, we are hard stretched. Before you do anything which might involve risk to yourself or others think long and hard. If you have to do it (to put food on the table) then do it as carefully as you can"
That in fact is what the local representatives of the emergency services are telling us right now.
We all get along better when the state does not throw its weight around but acts as one with the people.

JanM said...

That's ok as long as you're happy not to be rescued if you have a boating mishap

Unknown said...

@ Geoff Fisher
It;s far more likely that there will be contact with the police to arrest you for being out there than to rescue you. At least a hundred times as likely I would say. And it seems keeping a 2 M distance applies only to the public not to the police. Perhaps they know something we don't.

D J S

Pinger said...

@ Kat

Nice Hamlet reference...

Geoff Fischer said...

Rhetoric borrowed from the Second World War may be inspiring to some but it makes no impression on the Corona virus.
Let me repeat the message I gave earlier.
The supermarket distribution system is a gaping hole in your epidemic control strategy. This warning has now been confirmed by modeling conducted by epidemiologists in the United States.
You have good epidemiologists.
Listen to them before you turn aside to glorify your politicians.
If you can persuade your politicians to also listen to the epidemiologists then you may save thousands of lives.
But if not you can still save thousands of lives by following our procedure for food distribution during the lockdown.
Do it.
I can only assume that the New Zealand government is so loath to alter any part of the system of production, distribution and exchange that even while it is willing to shut the economy down for an excessively prolonged period, it is unwilling to make the simple changes to that system which should keep you safe.
Do not abandon your own intelligence to the dictates of the state.
Do not put your hope in another Dunkirk miracle.
Do not surrender your own agency.
Your life may depend on it.

Geoff Fischer said...

How to get out of the Covid-19 lockdown

The former New Zealand Prime Minister Mr John Key has raised the question of how to move out of  "lockdown".   He suggests that going out of lockdown will be more difficult than going into it.
There are proper methods for moving out of total social isolation for epidemic control ("lockdown").  
However the New Zealand state has a particular difficulty.   Unlike the Republic of Korea (South Korea) it does not appear to have sufficient Covid-19 testing capability to safely and effectively manage a nation wide transition from total social isolation to normal social interaction.
So we have to take a way out which does not depend on extensive testing, and one such way is progressive binary clustering. 
Two households which have been in individually isolation for two weeks socially join together to form a first level household "cluster".  
Ideally these will be two households which are geographically close to each other, whose members known each other, and who have trust and confidence in each other's compliance.
The first level clusters will be in isolation from the rest of society for two weeks, but during that time there should be free  interaction between the two households in the cluster without need of social distancing.
Each household in the first level cluster thus functions as a check on the other. If illness is detected or non-compliance observed at any time in the two week isolation period the cluster breaks up and each household returns to the previous level.  
At the end of two weeks if there are no signs of illness, two first level clusters of two households each combine to form a second level cluster of a total of four households which are isolated from the rest of society but socially interact within the cluster of four households.
Again, being local and having confidence and trust are important, but not quite so important as at the first level, because an objective test of wellness and a subjective test of compliance have already been put into effect at the first level.
And so it goes on. 
By the time eight weeks have passed society is  organized in clusters each of which comprises eight healthy and cooperating households.  
At this point infection rates should be very low and we also have a high degree of social normality.   Then even given the limited testing capabilities of the New Zealand state, a transition to full and nationwide social interaction should be possible.  
Alternatively, if we can jump to wide area and somewhat looser clusters of several hundred households (suburbs, small towns and so on)
The crucial thing is that we can follow this route independently of any government action or inaction, and it provides us with the "way out" that John Key found so difficult in anticipation.

David Stone said...

@ Geoff Fischer
As I see it there are two scenarios that would render the lockdown pointless. One is there being no new cases and no international arrivals, and the other that random sample testing which is badly needed anyway to get a picture of where we are, reveals that the virus is so widespread through the community and presumably has been for some time , like a year or so , that the lockdown is not and will not make any difference.
I don't see why if it is not already widespread and having far less effect on people than is predicted, it cannot be presumed to be beaten by the present measures with perhaps another month's extension.

D J S

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora David
The government will presumably take the country out of lock down when testing shows no positive tests coming in from the domestic population, which implies the need for random testing of the whole population and rigorous testing of all contacts of all known cases.
The border needs to remain closed to those who test positive with quarantine for those who test negative for the indefinite future.
There are many things the New Zealand government presently does not know because it lacks sufficient testing capability.
It also doesn't know and can't yet know what are the long term physiological effects of the virus.
It does know that the immediate effects of Covid-19 infection are at least an order of magnitude more serious than the effects of the seasonal flu.
The elimination strategy makes sense. But it must be made to work. There is some evidence to indicate that attempting to eradicate the disease and failing will have worse public health effects than simply letting it run its course in the first place.
Realistically, expect two months of lock down.
Allow progressive binary clustering and you will have a semblance of normality for the latter part of that period and greater certainty of emerging from lock down with a population free of the virus.
So far Jacinda has made one disastrous move and one correct decision. Let's hope that she can be right in two out of three of the big decisions.
But even if she is not, the population at large have it in their power to beat Covid-19 with or without a lead from the New Zealand government.

Kat said...


Reading and listening to the many learned opinions of the majority of epidemiologists, Jacinda Ardern has not made any disastrous mistakes as PM related to C19. Yes quite right to listen to them and ignore the professional blow hards across the country who every day in their own moronic micron minds, lacking any expertise or repercussion, endlessly speculate how they would do things differently.