The Lights Go Out In Europe…

It was the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry into the First World War on Monday of this week, August 4th. I’ve been doing some research about my own ancestors who were caught up in that conflict, for a trip to northern France in November.

Two of my maternal great-great-uncles were killed in 1916. One was killed aged 37 years, in July of that year, and is buried in a military cemetery at Bouzincourt, near Arras. He was a volunteer, rather than a conscript, despite his age. The other died in August of 1916, at the age of just 16 years. The family story is that he ran away from a father and stepmother who treated the children of my great-great-grandfather’s first wife neglectfully after her death. For that reason his brother is recorded as his next of kin. Heartbreakingly, his body was never identified and so he has no known grave, he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, again in the Arras area.

It’s quite easy to hearken back to the “good old days”, the days when summers were long, everyone behaved respectfully, family breakdown was unknown and there was no crime. Unfortunately that’s also a fairy story. I’ve been reading Selina Todd’s “The People”, a history of the working class in Britain over the past 100 years or so. Poverty, lack of power and personal autonomy, very poor living conditions and even poorer life chances were the lot of the vast majority of the British population from the First World War until after the Second World War. My great-great-uncle Joseph was killed as a child, far from his home, probably in painful and terrifying circumstances and leaving no identifiable remains. There were many more like him between 1914 and 1916, from many nations.

One young man brings home both the enormity of the event and perspective on the society in which I am fortunate to live today.



I’ve had changes in my working life in the past.   Generally, as one door closed, another one opened.   And I would hurtle full-tilt down the hallway to that newly open door.   Next (predictable) stage of my life, here I come!


I was born in the 1970s and had what was the standard careers advice of the 1980s.   Find career path.   Stay with it.   Maybe move around on the path a bit, but stay on that path.   Never stray.   Retire.   Simple.   That was my career to date.   I have worked in 3 different workplaces in the last 20 years.   Or rather two for the first 7 years and one for the last 13 years.


However, in those 13 years, the world changed.   Things are done differently, often down to the economic upheavals of the last few years.   I changed.   The job changed.   The things I loved about my job seeped away and what was left, wasn’t for me.


So I walked away with no full-time work to go to, for the first time ever.   I do have some part-time work on an “as needed” basis and I’d also prepared financially for the change over the past year or so.    But this is a position in which I could not have imagined myself only a few years ago!


But I was ready for that change.   I’ve got some breathing space to recharge and plan for how I actually would like my future to look, rather than being swept along the path from the 1980s onwards.   I’m going to find a chair in the proverbial hallway and sit for a short while, weighing up a few of those doors which are, or might, be open.


I think it important that we make the process of change “good”.   A “bad” change process sends you on your way with negativity ahead and bitterness in your wake.   You never know where, on your future path, those particular waves might wash up.


I’m big on gratitude.   There were people who made my day a little happier or smoother.   They helped me when I was new or showed kindness.   It might only have been once or twice. Remember the good, even when it’s the bad or ugly that’s got you going in the first place.


Even though I wanted this change, this is still an upheaval for me.   My routines, finances, choices, even how and when I spend time, are all changing.   Running headlong into thick fog is not generally recommended, it’s a huge waste of energy and generally ends in confusion.   Get above it all, and you can see the way ahead.   Take time to consider the options.   Try to identify a destination.   When the way ahead is clearer, put energy into going forward towards the chosen horizon, rather than running around in (metaphorical) circles.


Even in the darkest night, small graces remind us that sunrise always follows.