Saturday, 17 December 2011

Star of wander...

I've drifted away from my blog the last few months; wandering off in other directions to see what else is possible in terms of having a voice and sharing thoughts across the blogosphere. Looking back I really regret not continuing this blog at the same time, because I feel like I've abandoned it – left Comfort Blanket lying in a muddy puddle by the side of the bloggy highway. And I also feel I've let you down – my loyal followers – by not commenting so much on your wonderful blogs, where you have continued to inform, entertain and generally shine, week in and week out.
The thing is, I decided several months ago that I wanted to start blogging as myself, rather than behind the name Comfort Blanket. And once I made that decision I put my energies into trying to get that up and running, attaching it to my website, which I'd get re-designed. Unfortunately, in an effort to save pennies, I'm getting it done by a friend of a friend who has to work on it in his spare time. So it's taking a while. But, finger's crossed, it will be ready by January. And once it is, I'll post the link on here so you can find me – if you still want to that is!
As we hurtle towards Christmas, I just wanted to step off the merry-go-round for a moment and wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy, Joyful New Year. And thank you for taking the time to read, and comment, on anything I've posted here the last 12 months. Here's to 2012!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Picture the past

I posted back in September (Making A Connection - 1st September 2011) about an episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are' and the emotion attached to searching for your ancestors. I finished my musings by saying...

"Alongside the thrill of making a connection to certain people in a certain place during a certain point in history, is the realisation that, like them, we are born, live, love, laugh, cry... and die. Here one moment, gone the next. That is our connection. It's the same journey, just different outfits". 

And, as if by magic, here is a set of incredible pictures, which seem to illustrate the point perfectly.

This fabulous website was brought to my attention earlier today by Mister CB (thanks love!). And I adore their clever header  – 'The past is a foreign country. This is your passport' – part-borrowed from author L P Hartley's famous opening words of his novel The Go-Between.

It's your chance to be Dr Who... get packing!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Marco Simoncelli (20th January 1987 to 23rd October 2011)

Four minutes ago it was announced on BBC Sport that the MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli has died after a horrific crash at the Sepang race in Malaysia. He was 24.
I was watching the race live this morning. We're MotoGP fans in Maison CB and saw the crash when it happened just minutes after the race started. And, as the BBC reported, it was horrific. Simoncelli fell and was hit by two other riders. As the replay revealed in all its terrible, slow-motion detail, he was run over in front of our eyes. The impact was such that it forced his helmet off, and that was a sure sign it may have been fatal. That and his motionless body on the track. As the commentators struggled to say anything other than "oh no... oh no", we saw a shot of Simoncelli's girlfriend back at the paddock. She was staring at the screen, her hands to her face. I'm not sure I can find the words to describe the look in her eyes.
Like all motor sports, motorcycle racing is fast and contains a huge element of risk. These young riders understand that, and, to many, that is part of the appeal. There are, however, surprisingly few fatalaties when you add together the number of races and competitors over the years. So it is a shock to see it. And in such graphic detail.
I'm not sure if anyone else who reads this blog is even interested in MotoGP, but it's the end of a life and that's what usually moves me to write a post. Compared to his family and friends, my reaction to Simoncelli's death is pretty insignificant. But I do feel shocked and upset. I can't quite seem to switch off the action replay in my head. Or that look on his girlfriend's face.
I visit families all the time who have lost loved ones in accidents. Sometimes they are young. Sometimes their death has been witnessed by others. A death seen by thousands of track-side fans, or millions of TV viewers, doesn't make it any sadder or more significant. They are all tragic in their own way. But this morning served as a sharp and terrible reminder to me of what some people have gone through before I knock on their door.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


I feel bad. This has been the longest gap between posts I think I've ever had. But a rush of work, combined with a re-think on the bloggy front, have contributed to a large pause in the conversation.
But silence is good, right? It's actually 'golden' according to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. And putting a stop to the external and internal chatter that fills our every waking moment is the only way to really engage with our true selves. Or so I read, anyway.
So, perhaps this quiet spell has been a good thing. A blessing. A gift from me to you. Hell, what's to feel bad about? Let's celebrate! But keep the noise down...

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The fallen

Falling Man by Richard Drew
As we approach a decade since the 9/11 attacks, there are the expected news stories, TV documentaries, magazine articles, etc. recalling the horrific events of that day and paying tribute to those who died. In the Sunday Times today was a very interesting feature questioning 'Why America won't talk about the scores who jumped from the Twin Towers'.
In the article, David James Smith investigates the response of, among others,  the media, officials, emergency services and, of course, the families of those who leapt to their deaths. Smith encounters resistance – some feel the term 'jump' or 'jumper' is inappropriate as they were 'forced or pushed out by the heat of the flames'. Smith writes, "To be a jumper, many people feel, implies the act of suicide, an act that some perceive as shameful".  Officially, all the deaths as a result of 9/11, with the exception of the hijackers were ruled to be homicides, not sucides.
Others, including firefighters, are so traumatised by witnessing the sight and sound of the falling bodies they can barely speak about it. The first firefighter to be killed on 9/11 – Danny Suhr – was, in fact, hit by a falling woman. Some families have taken comfort from the fact that their loved-ones decided to jump, as it meant they had taken some control in an out-of-control situation. One mother saying "They were falling into the arms of God".
Of all the photographs taken of those who fell to their deaths, is one known as 'The Falling Man' taken by photographer Richard Drew (see pic above). It is an incredible photograph, and one which has caused great debate over the identity of the individual and whether it was morally right to publish such a picture. Drew has said he "liked to think of the Falling Man as the photographic equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, representing all those who had died by jumping or falling".
This was a really interesting feature, on a subject which will always remain complex and highly-emotive. And among the thoughts and feelings provoked as I read about these men and women who fell to their deaths, is how must it feel to have to choose your death? Would I have stayed put to be consumed by fire, or let the building collapse on me? Or would I jump out of the window? Suicide is choosing to turn away from life. These people chose one form of death to escape from another. There is no word for that.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Making a connection

Last night I settled down to watch 'Who Do You Think You Are' on BBC One. I love this series – it's always an entertaining and informative mix of history lesson, practical advice on how to find ancestors, following the trail around the globe, and, of course, seeing 'celebrities' in a different light.
This week it was the actor Larry Lamb. And what a story! He came from a family of well-known showmen and wild beast menagerie owners. One great-great uncle, called James Day, was a lion tamer known as Jimmy Wildbeast (see pic), while his other, more famous great-great uncle was Thomas Day, alias Martini Bartlett – king of the lion tamers. Fantastic! But alongside the surprising characters, was the rather sad story of Larry's mum who had been adopted and always hoped to see her birth mother again. Unfortunately, she never did.
In every episode I've watched over the years, there is always a moment where even the seemingly 'hardened' celebrities start to get emotional. Jeremy Paxman being a case in point. Sometimes it's because they feel sorry for ancestors who have suffered or fallen on hard times. Or perhaps they have met up with relatives they never knew existed. But last night, Larry Lamb became very emotional as he realised he had more in common with his ancestors than just looks or characteristics. After explaining he had found strength from knowing who his grandparents were, he wanted to say something else, but had to take a moment to compose himself. When he did, he said "Because you're just a part of the journey yourself".
I thought his strong reaction to this notion was both interesting and very moving. Like many people, I've attempted to trace my family tree and, alongside the thrill of making a connection to certain people in a certain place during a certain point in history, is the realisation that, like them, we are born, live, love, laugh, cry... and die. Here one moment, gone the next. That is our connection. It's the same journey, just different outfits.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Sew in love

Those of you who have followed me for a while (gawd love yer) will know I take pleasure from putting needle to thread and 'centering' myself with a spot of sewing, for reasons explained in an earlier post
So when I read this story from across the Pond earlier today, my heart swelled. All these women sewing together, the idea of helping families and playing a role in the life (or, actually, the death) of someone in such a way, the equality in death these garments bring. A wonderful story, a beautiful idea. From what I have read about Jewish customs – in particular surrounding dying/death/funerals/bereavement – I think there is a lot we could learn. Hope you are equally moved by this article from North County Times (

SAN JOSE ---- The handful of sewing machines and bolts of plain white cotton muslin didn't look like much, but at a recent Sunday's Sew What? meeting, they kept alive deeply rooted Jewish customs with a meaning thousands of years old.
Inside a room at the Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, a small group of women sewed all morning and into the afternoon, cutting and stitching pattern after pattern of the same outfit: traditional Jewish burial clothing.
"Everyone, whether rich or poor, is dressed the same this way," said Betty Menkin, the group's founder. The clothes, which include a shirt, pants, a robelike jacket, belt, head covering and burial sheet ---- for both men and women ---- are all made of white fabric and emphasize equality in death.
Menkin was inspired to create the sewing group in 2004 after hearing about similar ones at a national Jewish conference. The draw for the participants, she said, is being able to contribute something, even peripherally, to ease the transition for the deceased's relatives.
"We sew these garments, and we hope they'll never have to be used," Menkin said. "But when the time comes, we've lent a helping hand to the family. Every person who helped sew the clothing has touched the process."
Traditional Jewish burial also involves a washing and dressing of the body and a vigil until burial. The prescribed plain clothes, simple casket and graveside ceremony are meant to keep the funeral humble, and each step of the burial is clearly delineated in Jewish tradition ---- something that the bereaved family finds helpful.
"People in general have dealt with deaths of family members for eons," Menkin said. "Judaism developed a set of rules about how to proceed, and it's comforting to have a guidebook, a recipe. It gives structure when you're grieving, especially if it's the first time."
Currently, about eight or 10 of Beth David's congregants undergo traditional burial each year, but the number may grow, said Beth David's Rabbi Philip Ohriner.
"As word spreads of more people choosing to do so, the more comfortable others feel in doing the same," he said.
Menkin said the community-based burial traditions ---- including having community members act as shomer, or vigil guards, with the body, and handle burial preparations ---- allow the congregation to re-adopt a role in a practice that is otherwise parceled out to private businesses such as funeral homes.
And the garment sewing, while just one part of the process, can be an important healing step for those who participate, she added.
Menkin recalled that a woman who'd been sewing shirts for the group was called to her father's bedside where he was dying of pancreatic cancer. As she sat with him until his final hours, she finished sewing his shirt by hand and found that the tangible action helped her come to terms with his death.
Another group member, San Jose resident Christel Sanders, said that when her husband died in 2007, she'd also been very comforted to know that details of his burial such as his clothing would be taken care of by those around her.
"I started sewing these because at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do," she said. "But after (my husband's) death, it took on a new meaning."