The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Summer notebook: looking back

Marie Benoît Sunday, 18 August 2019, 09:49 Last update: about 7 months ago

As, in the summer months my socialising is strictly confined to the homes of family and friends or to trips to cooler climes,  I am going to resort to reproducing some excerpts from my old diaries published in Gallarija in The Malta Independent.

23 November 2003
I was touched to receive quite a response to my piece on Ypres which appeared in last Sunday's First magazine. One well-known French lady said in her e-mail: "I was moved by your article on Ypres. My grandfather was in the First World War - Verdun, Le chemin des dames... St Mihiel and so on."

An Englishman told me his father was gassed and he also lost two uncles in that war. He has always wanted to go to Ypres and continues to read everything he can lay his hands on about the Great War.

A young boy, too, read my piece and wants to visit Ypres. He collects and reads anything to do with war, which fascinates him, his mother told me.

There were several more reactions. I had visited Ypres with my young one and we cried our eyes out at the sight of all those thousands of graves of young and old.

When we write it is like sending a message in a bottle. You never know who is going to pick it up or what influence even one sentence may have on a reader. Which of us has not been influenced, for better or for worse, by some piece of writing? Whenever we put pen to paper, and we all do at some point in our lives, we are carrying a huge responsibility.

I should have bought at least one book about Rudyard Kipling's son from the museum's bookshop at Ypres.

Kipling's only son John, was killed at the age of 18, in the Battle of Loos in 1915. Kipling had two passions: his love for children - above all his own - and his devotion to King and Country. He was determined to send his severely short-sighted son to war to fight for England.

Kipling had already lost a daughter, Josephine, to pneumonia in 1899 so his only son's death was another enormous blow.  John's body was never identified and his name was posted on a war memorial. And then eighty years after his death, a body of a "lieutenant", previously unidentified, was dug up and identified as that of John Kipling. He was reburied under his own name. But was the body really that of Lieutenant John Kipling? This is a controversy which will never be solved, especially after all these years.

His son's death, as one can imagine, haunted Kipling and this tragedy is said to have influenced his writing enormously, as such tragedies are bound to do.

His world famous poem If, an exhortation to self-control and stoicism, has almost reached biblical status. It is an elegant way of saying: 'Whatever the weather, we'll weather the weather, whether we like it or not.' Kipling was writing from the bitter experience of losing two of his three children.

Wilfred Owen's verses come to mind:

"My friend you would not

   tell with such high zest,

To children ardent for some desperate glory

   The Old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

Kipling must have felt doubly guilty and partly responsible for the death of his son who tried twice to enlist but was rejected. But he had been lifelong friends with Lord Roberts, former commander-in-chief of the British Army, and colonel of the Irish Guards and at Rudyard's request John was accepted into the Irish Guards.

I would have spirited my son away somewhere safe and I am sure many Maltese mothers would have done the same given the choice.

And just now with one ear to the radio, as I am writing this, they are breaking the news about another bombing in Istanbul... more innocent people are dead. Will destruction and war ever end?


2nd September 2007

Such a great deal of fuss over the possible rise of two cents on a loaf of bread. Prices are rising all the time, imperceptibly and we don't even mention it. But when it comes to bread so much ink is spilt when the price goes up by what is, after all an insignificant amount. Wait till the Euro is introduced in January. Do you really believe all the hype that prices are going to remain stable? I won't even bother asking St Anthony to intervene in this one. I don't like to pressurize him and ask him for the impossible.

Quite frankly if the rise in the price of bread is going to mean that as a nation we shall be eating less bread then it would be a good thing.

I love Frans, my baker at St Helen's street, covered in flour as he always is... working in front of a furnace even in summer and at night. Such a darling soul and a gentleman. He is one of the few, outside Qormi who makes the proper Maltese hobza which doesn't have the texture of cotton wool. His son, he tells me, refuses to take over the bakery. And who can blame him.

Helen Caruana Galizia and Julian Sammut have campaigned relentlessly about keeping the Maltese hobza alive. The real Maltese hobza must be kept going. We simply cannot expect these bakers to produce our bread in the traditional manner while we go on paying a pittance for it. Nor can we expect government to subsidize it. We have to learn to pay a fair price for a good loaf of Maltese bread and perhaps eat less bread and consequently put on less weight.

I am desperately trying to follow my own advice but it's not easy.

The geography programme Thalassa on Friday nights is an institution on TV 5. I sometimes watch it if I am about the house. It is a programme about anything to do with the sea and invariably filmed somewhere exotic. The photography is magnificent. I only caught the second part of it the Friday before last and so had no idea in which corner of the world it had been filmed. It was some part of Africa though.

I thought how wonderful to have such a simple life: a mud hut with a thatched roof, a thong, banana leaves as lingerie - apple green, Irish green, electric green, shamrock green, depending from which tree you had chosen your leaves. And dipping in and out of the sea all day long to keep cool.

These people eat fish caught by their children and when they feel like some meat their men go to the forest to hunt wild boar. On special occasions they make themselves a new grass skirt.

No fear of the washing machine, iron, television, dish washer, air conditioner breaking down. No plumbers and electricians to struggle with.

Oh what bliss!

I was happy to see Dr Mark Micallef, our man in Portugal, shopping briskly at Scotts the other day and out of the wheel chair in which I had seen him on the flight to Portugal. I was in a hurry and could not stop to ask him. But it seems the wheelchair was a temporary measure. I was glad to see that.

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