Snowdrops at Candlemas

For such diminutive plants, it was a Herculean feat. After something like a month of frost, with the ground as hard as bell metal, and then with fresh snow falling, our old friend galanthus nivalis made it through in the nick of time. I find snowdrops always take me by surprise. After days of watchful waiting, you turn your back, and there they are.

We are blessed with many snowdrops around where I live. 

From the kitchen window I have a wonderful view of an entire bank of them sweeping down to the Pennyland Burn. Under the stone dykes and hedgerows on field edges, along the farm tracks and loanings, snowdrops grow in abundance, and in sheltered spots these are often the first ones to appear. They are completely wild.

In my own garden I have a clump near the burn that catches a good bit of sun when it’s available, and I have more recently transplanted some ‘in the green’ to a couple of dogwood circles in the ‘arboretum’. I am patiently waiting for them to spread.

Beyond the common form, the only snowdrop name I can recall is ‘Three Ships’. It is prized for being in bloom on Christmas Day. But the snowdrop’s main association is with a different festival, Candlemas. 

Now I came to this by a diverse route.

In the late 1970s I got completely drawn into the BBC dramatisation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carre. Each episode ended with a beautiful choral rendition of what I came to know as the Nunc Dimittus. The haunting music matched wonderfully with Alec Guinness as the mournful George Smiley, brought out from retirement to find the ‘rotten apple in the barrel’. 

The Nunc Dimittus opens with the words ‘Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace’. This is the utterance of Simeon when he observes the infant Jesus with Mary, together in the temple for the first time, and knows he has seen the light of the world and can now himself leave it. The scene was captured beautifully by Rembrandt in one of his final works, Simeon’s Song of Praise.

The Christian tradition associated with the infant Jesus in the Temple came to be known as Candlemas. It is celebrated on 2nd of February, marking the occasion described by Simeon.

Yet its timing resonates with something far more ancient. The day in question is on or about the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is adjacent to Imbolc, the Irish festival that later became the day of St Brigid – one also associated with fertility. This day, the very middle of winter, was – and is – a time for light, for hope, for saying goodbye to the darkness and waiting for the harbingers of spring. It was undoubtedly important to the earliest people of these islands, and for some, remains so.

Later, it became an element in the annual cycle of agrarian soceity – a time for hiring labour, for paying rent, and for settling debts. Candlemas is one of the Scottish ‘quarter days’, along with Whitsuntide (15 May) Lammas (1st August) and Martinmas (11 November), when such duties are similarly discharged. 

By the Middle Ages, Candlemas was fully established as a festival in the Christian calendar. Like others, it had been successfully grafted onto older cultural stock, along with some added bells and whistles. There were candle lit processions, pageants, plays and municipal feasts. The white ‘Candlemas bells’, often planted in churchyards, were gathered into bright bunches for church decoration on the appointed day in February, and deemed unlucky to pick before it. 

The Reformation did much to dispel Candlemas. Secularisation did the rest. Yet the snowdrops remain, and this now they have taken on another significance for me. Eagerly awaited, delicate yet tough, they have arrived just when we needed them most. This year perhaps we see them in a new light, emerging through the iron-gripped cold of lockdown and leading us, we must hope, beyond it.

First published in Garden Musings, 2 February 2021

Epiphanies and Robberies Chapter 1: January 2023

She had finally said it. After months of trial by separation, the verdict had been reached. The marriage was over. Spending time together at Christmas for the sake of the children, or in some forlorn hope of reconciliation, had failed monumentally. It was no fun being around a distracted academic who throughout the holidays compulsively checked emails, text messages and innumerable social media feeds. It was insulting to be told that some of his scientific collaborators around the world weren’t even celebrating Christmas. He’d been tested for the last time and found wanting. It was work or family. His work had won. There was no one else involved.

Michael Gilmour wanders into the lounge of the Lowther Arms in the Nithsdale village of Kirkgate. Heading towards the open fireplace, he peels off his green puffer jacket and stretches his long frame into a battered leather armchair. His coffee ordered, Michael begins to review the events and tensions of the recent holiday period. The words of his wife roll over like stones in a burn, already losing their sharp edges and getting smoother. Scratching at his beard, he has to admit, there are some compensations to this whole business.

He can see the girls as often as he wishes and is happy to ferry them around. Yes, the pick-ups and drop-offs can be a bit stand-offish, sometimes tetchy. Money is going to have to stretch further too, just as the cost of living crisis is biting.

On the other hand there’s the 7.30am swim to enjoy and the café breakfast before work. What hitherto were occasional luxuries, are now regular routine. Likewise the late finishes whenever it suits him. At the flat, books and journals piling high in the sitting room with no one to complain. Obscure post-its on the fridge raising no criticism. A notebook by his bed, where he can jot down nocturnal inspirations, causing no arguments. This has been his way of living since the separation first began, last autumn. In many ways, it works.

Yet in his gloomier moments, he wonders how it has come to this, when times had once been so optimistic, exciting even.

The move here had begun eight years ago in a brief conversation with Esme.

‘I see there’s a job going at the University of Dumfries and Galloway’.

‘Really! Are you serious? I’ve never thought of that as one of your options. Weren’t we hoping to get back to Edinburgh one day?’

‘Well it’s for a Senior Lecturer and they want a hydrologist who does work on peatlands and river catchments. Plenty of opportunities for local research, a rural campus. Maybe it could be for me. For us …?’

A lengthy silence had followed. But one thing led to another. The application form. The interview. The job offer. Each step gathering momentum.

‘Really, why not?’ asked Michael the day after the Head of Department had ‘phoned with the good news.

 ‘But why leave Glasgow?’ she’d countered. ‘Our friends and families are here. I’ve got my work too, you know that, and what about nursery, school, somewhere to live?’

He’d already rehearsed his replies. ‘Ninety minutes away by car, I’m assuming they bring up children there too, and you know very well that being a proof reader means you can work pretty much anywhere you like’.

The following Friday they’d left the girls with his parents, travelled down through the Dalveen Pass and stayed right here in the Lowther Arms. After what turned out to be a surprisingly romantic first evening in Dumfriesshire, it was love at first sight.

Saturday was crisp and invigorating. Springtime. Wild daffodils in profusion. White painted buildings, sharp in the clear light, the sandstone a gorgeous deep rosy pink.  Friendly people wherever they went. A café-bookshop-gallery in the village to rival Byers Road. A newly built ‘through-school’ for ages 2-18. A castle up the road and another one down on the Solway coast. In between, the majestic River Nith, rolling green drumlins, ancient beech trees, boglands, and the spectacular sight of migratory geese by the thousands, preparing to leave for Svalbard and the breeding season.

By Sunday some kind of magic was working. A few miles outside the village a plot of land was for sale with planning permission for an ‘eco house’. It had plenty of space and open views across to the Galloway Hills in the west. A few mental calculations later and Michael and Esme were already planning their own migration.

Within a year, established in their new home, they were living the dream in south west Scotland.

Ironically, thinks Michael, a visit this weekend may not have achieved the same result. The night of 29/30 December had seen continuous, heavy rain. People all round the Nith catchment area had awakened to rising water and elevated assessments of risk. With the river at higher levels than ever recorded, the consequences were dire.

Evacuated homes. Business premises knee deep from the deluge. Stranded cars. Roads blocked. Livestock drowned. Rubble and debris everywhere. The clean-up was immense and ongoing. A perfectly dystopian setting for his marriage to come crashing down just as a New Year begins.

He tries to push these thoughts away, pulls out his laptop and gets to work editing a new research paper on freshwater acidification. Just a few feet to his right there’s a group of older men enjoying their regular Friday evening drink together. Seasonal greetings out of the way, they are debating the whys and wherefores of the recent flooding and what should be done about it.

Michael keeps hearing snippets and is soon actively eavesdropping on what seems to be a judicious mixture of science and indigenous knowledge. He’s impressed by the quality of the discussion, which is no doubt still coloured by a general feeling of New Year goodwill.

Sitting across from the fire and at times gazing far into it, is Andrew Carlyle Stuart. His sharply etched face is drained of colour and two dark half-moons have taken up residence below his eyes. Thoughtful, yet distracted, he zones in and out of the men’s conversation, nods occasionally but says very little and at times is far away from the varied opinions.

A local GP for decades, Andrew retired late last Summer. His farewell to medical practice came just in time for him to support his wife Sarah through the COVID-19 infection that ended her life. His festive season has taken place in a tunnel of grief, in which no light is visible. He turns awkwardly in his seat, willing himself back from his despondent thoughts and dreading the months ahead. It’s Epiphany, and like Eliot, he feel it’s just the worst time of year.

Beyond him is the dining area, with its muted lighting and soft earthy shades.  The revamped Lowther Arms has come up in the world from the run down fishing hotel it had once been. No doubt, it had its own charm back then. But the food is better now.

Anne-Marie Maxwell is at a table for two with her old friend Caitlin. They were at school together in Kirkgate, and have always stayed in touch, despite their differing origins and subsequent paths. Now in their early thirties, they always have plenty to catch up on. This evening they’re already into a three course menu of life experiences, travails and fulfilments. Well, at least those relating to Anne-Marie. As usual on these occasions, Caitlin is the listening ear, underplaying her own achievements as a solicitor, rarely touching on her problems and always relentlessly encouraging Ann-Marie in her efforts to become established as a professional musician.

From the toes of her multi-coloured Doc Martens to the land girl headband, Anne-Marie looks ready to go onstage. But the main item on her set list this evening is a question. Breakthrough or bust: will 2023 be her year?

‘It was hard going through the lockdowns, Cait. If it wasn’t for my one-to-one teaching and going online with that, the money would have dried up completely’.

‘But you did get some gigs from last summer, right? I thought you went down  a storm at the Eden Festival’.

‘Yeah that was really the start of the new good times. Then we did a wee tour in the autumn, finishing up at the Barrowlands, with a great Glasgow crowd in that night. You know, I reckon we have some serious material for an album if we could get the needful together for studio time and production’.

‘All that training at the Conservatoire must count for something, eh Anne-Marie?’.

‘That’s been the upside of the pandemic, the writing, especially after Jake moved out and I had the space to do as I wanted. Got loads of stuff worked through in my head, then written out and some of its already going down well at gigs. Best thing about COVID that was, seeing the back of him’.

‘Well I don’t remember those words at the time Anne-Marie’, Caitlin observes with a grin. But as my old grannie from the Isle of Lewis used to say “’s fhearr deireadh math na droch thoiseach “’.

‘Beautifully put’ smirks Anne-Marie, guessing at the meaning.

‘But seriously Cait, I haven’t mentioned this to anyone else in the band, but I’ve got something else lurking in the back of my mind just now, something much bigger, more experimental. So … this year, a new beginning and all that, I want to push things to the limits. But if it doesn’t happen in 2023 I’ll have to check out on my dreams’.

‘And do what?’

‘I could always go back to Uni and train as a teacher’.

Caitlin makes a face and dismisses the idea at a stroke. They order some more wine and start talking about favourite teachers from their schooldays. ‘I swear some of the things we heard about them must have been true’ declares Anne-Marie, to her friend’s mock horror. By the time the meal is finished, they are in good spirits and Caitlin reminds Anne-Marie that it’s not time to give up yet.

‘You might just find that 2023 has a few great surprises in store’.

‘Oh really?’

‘Yes, I’ve got a good feeling about it Anne-Marie, despite all the terrible things in the world right now. I reckon you and that fiddle are going to make things happen, big time!’

Around 9.30,  groups of the early arrivals are paying bills, picking up bags and pulling on coats in readiness to leave. Such departures have a habit of sparking new greetings, conversations and diversions. With Caitlin already out of the door, Anne-Marie nods to Michael, who she vaguely recognises as ‘The Lecturer at the University’, and then says a goodnight to Andrew, who of course most people know round here. He’s fastening his overcoat, knotting his scarf and getting ready to go.  The three of them leave the lounge, more or less together.

It’s then that Andrew notices a corner table where two people, unfamiliar to him, are at the close of what seems to have been a good meal.

They are immaculately turned out in tweedy country attire. The collective wardrobe is very House of Bruar and looks to be on its first outing. ‘A bit over the top even for the blow-in toffs who come here for the shooting’ thinks Andrew. ‘And why the travel guide on the table at this time of year?’  A couple drinking whisky and coffee, glancing quickly around the room, looking just slightly conspirational, and yet dressed to the nines. ‘What could that be about?’

Andrew ponders his own question, as he edges out through the big swing doors. He waves a goodnight to Michael and Anne-Marie, then steps into the cold damp of the early January night. For some reason his mind is suddenly feeling a little sharper than it’s done for a quite a while. 

The walk home clears his head still further. The night sky is peppered with stars and the moon is full, lighting his path. As the village disappears over his shoulder, he gets a clear view of Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini, forming a curious triangle with the Wolf Moon. 

He reaches the old farmhouse, slightly elevated among a stand of beeches. He’s left a light on but it doesn’t give much of a welcome. Their home for nearly 30 years, he and Sarah had bought Townbrae with a big family in mind. But children had not found a way into their lives. Then the practice demanded more and more of their time, and gradually work filled the parental void.

Still, they’d managed to expand into the space of the rambling house, each with a study, plenty of bedrooms for visitors and a huge dining room for entertaining, which they loved to do. Many a time, the house, now so quiet, had echoed to bright conversation, raucous laughter, and music of all kinds. Beautiful memories were ingrained into the very fabric of the place, and in his grieving, Andrew is sustained by them.

He goes into the sitting room, kindles the wood burning stove back to life and pours himself a small malt whisky. He’s already been through the perils of drinking alone late at night, and is now more prudent. The light of the flames gutters patterns on the wall. The stove can be curiously good company at the end of the day.  A sort of secular Compline.

But he’s not yet ready for sleep. Invigorated by the walk in the night air,  Andrew goes back in his mind to the tweedy couple in the Lowther Arms. Something was not right about them. It seems to him they were making a display in order not to be noticed. ‘Isn’t that called hiding in public?’ he thinks to himself. Surely, he’s read about this sort of thing before, but racking his brain, he can’t for the life of him think where …

Copyright © David Graham Clark 2023

AUTHOR’S NOTE: In this story I mix up and blur chronologies, geographies and biographies. Any resemblance to a person living or dead is purely coincidental. The 12 chapters of the novel Epiphanies and Robberies will appear sequentially throughout 2023. I welcome comments and feedback on my novel, which is being written in real time. Thanks to AG, FG, MB, SS and TH for advice and encouragement.

Floods in the garden

As the Christmas guests departed and the old year stumbled into its last few days, I was looking forward to a period of quiet contemplation, one or two pleasant walks, and a chance to check out upcoming tasks in the garden.

It wasn’t to be.

Just as the cheerful farewells were being said and the house was restored to some sort of order, two things struck. More or less simultaneously.

After a day or two of feeling unwell, Dr G and I tested positive for COVID-19. We’d had a good run. This was our first time, despite significant exposure to the virus. Over the next week we experienced a shifting array of unpleasant (sometimes puzzling) symptoms, brief remissions, and headache filled days

This wasn’t to be our only challenge however.

On the night of 29/30 December it rained heavily and continuously, hammering on the slate roof in the darkest hours of the pre-dawn. We woke up to a roaring Pennyland Burn that was already bursting its banks, flooding into the garden pond and then back into the main watercourse further downstream. A whole section of the garden was dangerously impassable, engulfed in water moving at speed.

The two events combined in their effects. Feeling unwell whilst at the same time monitoring the rising levels of the burn created an odd sense of fragility. Nothing could be done. We simply had to wait for the rain to stop and the water to subside.

On Hogmanay, that began to happen. Over the next few days, when COVID allowed, I was able to walk round the New Year garden and survey the damage, as the post-flood scenario gradually revealed itself.

The most mature areas, on higher ground close to the house, were largely unaffected. It was on the flat, lower places close to the water that the damage was everywhere to be seen.

This section of the garden is three parts encircled by the Pennyland Burn and in some spots may even be below the streambed itself. So it is vulnerable and the water flowing over it must have been 2-3 feet deep. It’s also an area into which I have moved more recently, as new planting space becomes more limited elsewhere.

On a first look, most apparent were the thick layers of silty sand that had deposited in swirling patterns across the borders and on the grass. This had completely obliterated some low growing plants, which we now hope, without much confidence, will eventually reappear. Larger specimens such as ferns, hellebores, epimediums and daphne had caught the flood full-on and been flattened or strangled by debris suspended in the water. Leaves, long grass, roots, twigs and branches in large quantities were entangled in foliage or washed up in drifts against trees and low walls.  It was a sorry sight.

As conditions and energy levels allowed, I slowly began the clear up. Removing the debris, untangling the worst affected plants, raking the silt and gravel, picking off the twigs and branches and removing these to the woodstore for drying.

I was astonished just how quickly things began to recover. A few sunny interludes made a difference too. But then the temperature dropped for a second spell this winter. The ground and pond froze, further inhibiting the clear-up.

At this point I found myself thinking back to how the Dumfriesshire garden had been created.  It was the late 1990s when I was delivered the opportunity to create a garden where none had existed before, in an area largely surrounded by water, and heavily overgrown. 

I look back now and shudder at my combined naivety and arrogance. I could see that the curve in the burn was in effect an incipient ox bow, which would one day be cut off. In periods of high water, the torrent was taking a direct line to a lower point and cutting out the sweeping bend. When levels were lower, the area which the flood water crossed could be seen as permanently damp and was home to rashes and cotton grass. Taking up a large amount of space in the centre of the emergent garden, I took the view that it needed to be ‘improved’.

Over a couple of evenings a digger was brought in to scoop out the wettest area, and the resulting spoil was piled up on the banks of the burn to restrict further water ingress. A pipe was installed from the burn to the excavated area, which quickly filled up as a large garden pond came into existence, the water held by the silty mud beneath. The addition of another pipe at the lower end allowed excess water to flow back into the burn.

Over the years, the pond has been a haven for wildlife. It teems with frogs in spring, is a permanent feeding spot for the heron, home to migratory eels, and a favoured residence of damsel and dragonflies. In and around it I have planted  irises, rheums, primulas, rodgersia and darmera.

It’s a terrific ecosystem that has been protected by the raised banks around the burn. Now in 2023 however, flooding is becoming more common. The banks are no longer working and the bordering plants are exposed to periodic bursts of heavy, flotsam-laden flood water.

More significantly, the flood residue is affecting the depth of the pond itself, which is getting shallower as silt, leaves, twigs and plant matter build up on the bottom. Also, with the hotter summers, the burn can be reduced to a tiny trickle for several months at a time. Since the in-flow is not enough to maintain the pond water level, large areas are more and more prone to dry out.

So now I need to re-think this part of the garden. I have bought willows and aspen to plant in areas where the effect of flooding is present, but still limited. These trees will cover a large area currently under grass, but where moss increasingly thrives. 

As to the pond, who knows? Perhaps native willows and alder will colonise it without my intervention. In between I’ll add more bog plants. The pleasurable sight of moving water caught on the breeze will gradually diminish. But the compensation will still be a pocket of rich biodiversity.

As I muse in this way, I am mindful that others, locally and all around the world, are suffering much more harshly from the effects of flooding. Here in Nithsdale, the damage to homes, livestock, roads and infrastructure has been extensive in the past few weeks.  One mustn’t agonise about a garden.

At the same time the garden teaches us. It’s a microcosm of a bigger issue. ‘Hard’ solutions to water management– raised banks, bunds, concrete walls – are widely contested by environmentalists. Nature based approaches increasingly gain favour: re-wetting peat bogs, slowing down the flow in river catchments, returning flood plains to their original purpose.

For now, and within a few weeks, the Dumfriesshire garden has recovered, just as the COVID-19 was shaken off. We see it here on a sunny day, emerald green and sparkling.

But for how long? Surely these events will recur. All manner of mitigations are possible. But the problem truly lies ‘upstream’. With climate change itself.

The missing person: a Christmas mystery

I’m home for Christmas, with a whole week to go before the celebrations begin. My end of term marking is complete and the research paper I’m writing can easily be progressed here in Dumfriesshire, away from the distractions of London and the university world.

I tell myself all this, but my deeper reasoning says otherwise. This early arrival for the holidays is really about avoiding a repeat of last year.

I’ve written before on that particular episode. I’d reached home late on Christmas Eve to find an empty house. Within a few minutes the dinner table somehow became a meeting place for three long-dead Nobel Laureates, who proceeded to unveil a plan for global peace and harmony. A plan which was then summarily thwarted in disastrous circumstances. I still haven’t been able to take it all in and I am hoping beyond hope, that elements of those inexplicable events from a year ago won’t resurface this festive season.

Continue reading “The missing person: a Christmas mystery”

Tony Bonning: stories, music and journeys

I first encountered Tony Bonning early one Saturday morning, years back, at the Moniave Folk Festival. He had a children’s session coming up and meanwhile was in the middle of the village entertaining the slowly surfacing festival goers with his own lovely mixture of songs, wry remarks and curious diversions. Over the years he has been compere at open mics I’ve organised, a resounding success at my daughter’s fourth birthday party and an informed adviser to my University colleagues involved in teacher education. I think the last time I saw him face to face was at Loch Arthur, where he was enjoying a cup of tea after a foraging session in the nearby hedgerows. When the lockdowns came he fell off my radar, until summer 2022, when suddenly he was across the social media as he trekked with his horse Chief, from Scotland’s deep south west to the far north east. When he returned to an admiring reception in Kirkudbright, I simply had to invite him to take part in my series of interviews with inspiring people in Dumfries and Galloway. He’s packed a lot in here. I’m grateful to him for taking part and hope that you enjoy his story as much as I have, and will follow that story further, as it unfolds.

Continue reading “Tony Bonning: stories, music and journeys”

My mother and the Christmas cactus

Now and again I have a sad reminder of a specific time when I upset my mother rather badly. There may well have been other occasions when I did something unkind or ill judged, but this one has stayed in my memory. Mostly dormant, it re-emerges at intervals, to provoke and disrupt. Just as it has done today.

Continue reading “My mother and the Christmas cactus”

Ageing and illness in a turbulent world

For nearly all of my 77 years on this earth, I have lived in the Dumfriesshire parish of Kirkmahoe. Not easy to find on a map, it’s a delightful place of rolling green pastures that slope down to the banks of the River Nith, just as it nears the end of its watery journey and debouches into the Solway Firth. I grew up here and with the exception of a few brief sojurns elsewhere, Kirkmahoe and its wider environs are where I have made my life.

Continue reading “Ageing and illness in a turbulent world”

The Hare, the Heron and the Professor: a story for ‘children of all ages’

Late one Spring evening, with the sun’s rays slanting low in the sky, the Professor took a walk around his garden. He paused for a moment to admire the view to the hills beyond. Then something in the grass caught his eye.

Lying next to a stone that had been warmed in the sunshine was a small brown, furry creature. It was keeping very still. At first he thought it was a rabbit. Perhaps a sick rabbit, as it showed no sign of movement.

The Professor decided it was better to leave the little creature in peace for a while. Maybe it would feel better after a good sleep. He’d come back to check later.

Then, as he slowly set off with his walking stick, there was a sudden movement to his left. Gathering all its strength, that small animal was now dashing off and heading for some oak trees across the garden.

As he watched, the Professor realized this was no poorly rabbit. Quite the opposite. In fact it was a very healthy young hare! Its long legs, tipped with white, were covering the ground at great speed and its beautiful red-brown soft ears were standing up straight and catching every sound.

The Professor was delighted. Such a lovely animal to have in the garden he thought, even if it might nibble at some of my vegetables!

Continue reading “The Hare, the Heron and the Professor: a story for ‘children of all ages’”

Five days at the Fringe: first performances of Cicely and David

Here’s my journal of 16-20th August 2022 at the Edinburgh festivals. The shows are back with ‘in person’ audiences and the place is buzzing. Meanwhile, I’m in a dual state of excitement and trepidation.

The reason? 16th August will see the premiere of my first play: Cicely and David. It tells the story of a Polish migrant, David Tasma, who is dying from cancer in post-war London, estranged from home and family. A brief, intense relationship with his social worker, Cicely Saunders, helps him to find some resolution to what he feels has been a worthless life. In the process, an idea is born that later changes the face of modern end of life care.

The journey of the play from ‘page to stage’ has been peppered with great people and enthusiastic collaborators. Together, we have gone through the gamut of detailed preparations and demanding logistics involved in bringing a show to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Now everything is to play for. Literally.

Continue reading “Five days at the Fringe: first performances of Cicely and David”

My play reaches the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The year was 1947. David Tasma was just 40 years old. A Polish migrant who had fled his homeland weeks before the Nazis invaded, he’d spent the war years living on the margins of London life, eventually finding employment in a Kosher restaurant in the West End. When peace came he hoped for better things. Then came his diagnosis of inoperable bowel cancer. As his illness advanced his biographical pain increased. He was estranged from his family, fearing most of them had perished in the death camps. He had lost connection with the Jewish faith of his forefathers. He felt he had achieved nothing in life. He longed for love and for reconciliation. Then into his world came a newly qualified social worker, Cicely Saunders. She first met David in the outpatients department of St Thomas’s Hospital and later found time to visit him when he was admitted to the Archway Hospital. Over a few months, an intense and elusive relationship developed between them in which Cicely sought to help David find closure before he died. Their encounter had a remarkable legacy. It inspired her to learn more about the care of dying people and eventually to conceptualise a new model of hospice care that would develop into a global social movement. Remarkably, David’s fear that his life would leave nothing behind was to prove groundless.

Continue reading “My play reaches the Edinburgh Fringe Festival”