As the year draws to a close, I hope you’re all taking time to reflect on the past year, and to count your blessings, however modest or abundant they may be. For me 2019 has been an eventful and memorable year, seeing the publication of The Peacemaker and having the opportunity to share it with readers. In March I was grateful for the launch to be supported by the York Literature Festival and friends and new readers joined me at the Friends’ Meeting House at Friargate. We talked about whether we ever learn from history, and considered how the experience of Violet and Ellis Lowther in anticipating a second world war in 1938 had reverberations for those of us saddened by the prospect of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. I hope after the conflict generated by the election last week , we can indeed hold on not only to those ties that bind us as a nation, but also internationally. It seems so important now to work together to build peace and prosperity throughout the world and to do it with respect and love for our planet, because if we can’t protect it, it certainly won’t sustain us.
As Violet and Ellis found a way to make their peace at the end of my book, so I hope we can all focus on peace in our communities as we approach Christmas. Many people try to do something which makes a contribution to our society, often as an antidote to the ‘getting and spending’ which consumes us at Christmas. That might mean sharing time and energy with others who are sick, or lonely or facing hardship so that over the next couple of weeks people are warm, fed and comfortable. I know people who are involved with food banks, homeless shelters and refugee camps, and am grateful to all of them for giving so much. My wish though, is that we didn’t need any of these facilities, and I struggle not to be angry when I wonder why in a rich country like ours anybody should be hungry or without a roof over their heads. When I wrote in The Peacemaker about the poverty experienced by people like my relatives who spent time in the workhouse or accepted charity to help them survive, I knew that my life had been made so much better because of what had been put in place after the Second World War – the NHS and the Welfare State, good education and a programme of social housing. Without these investments in our communities, we do not thrive and the whole country suffers.
We know that people from poor backgrounds in general experience worse outcomes in terms of education and health. They are also more likely to be involved in crime, or rather to find themselves in prison. This year I have joined the Quaker Meeting at a high security prison and every fortnight spend an hour with men who are serving long sentences. Not all of them are from poor backgrounds, but many are. They value the silence we offer in our form of worship and the conversation we engage in over tea and biscuits. Last week I also attended the Carol Service which brought together prisoners, staff and volunteers to sing carols and songs which most of us knew off by heart. It brought back some of our best memories, from home and school, and even for those whose experience of both might have been difficult, Christmas is often the highlight in our childhood year. As well as carols we sang those songs which have become standards, like ‘Let It Snow’ my favourite ‘Winter Wonderland’ and the song made famous by Judy Garland in Meet Me In St.Louis – ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’
Faithful Friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more.
Thank you to those of you who have supported me in promoting The Peacemaker this year, whether at events, book groups or on social media. I am so grateful to those readers who have given me such lovely feedback, it is wonderful to hear, please spread the word!
I wish you a wonderful festive season and a very happy new year.