Nos­tal­gic mem­o­ries of Durham

Whanganui Midweek - - COMMUNITY LINK -

JOAN: There is ev­i­dence of a huge amount of prepa­ra­tion and com­mit­ment to the New Zealand Latin Amer­ica and Spain Film Fes­ti­val. Whanganui is for­tu­nate to be in­volved again this year, the 17th such event. The Davis Lec­ture Theatre is the ideal venue for the 11 films we are in­vited to at­tend. En­try is free and those in­volved in pre­sent­ing the films here are friendly and knowl­edge­able. The films come from all parts of the area and are shown in 12 dif­fer­ent towns in New Zealand.

The Chilean Am­bas­sador at­tended and the am­bas­sadors of the var­i­ous coun­tries con­trib­uted to a joint mes­sage which fronts a book­let giv­ing us a re­sume of the films. All have sub­ti­tles and give us a var­ied view of life in a world far from our own.

I was fas­ci­nated by the Chilean film about the present mem­bers of the Al­lende fam­ily and the ef­fect on them of the death of Pres­i­dent Sal­vador Al­lende, his demo­cratic elec­tion and forced sui­cide when he was over­thrown. It of­fered a glimpse, too, into the lives of a fam­ily of up­per-class Chileans. I was es­pe­cially touched by Al­lende’s widow, in her 90s and very frail but who had been an amaz­ing woman at Sal­vador’s side. Keyla, a to­tally dif­fer­ent mooded film of­fered us a view of life on the small is­land of Prov­i­den­tia, an exquisitely beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment where ex­is­tence is harsh and the temp­ta­tion of drug smug­gling great. A fam­ily again, fic­tional, who we cared about but were left won­der­ing where their fu­ture would lie.

Three films re­mained to be seen — on Thurs­day at 7pm, and 4pm and 7 pm on Satur­day. You get the chance to view film­mak­ing dif­fer­ent to our Amer­i­can and Euro­pean styles, but en­try is free, and we were of­fered drinks and food by the gen­er­ous hosts!

MIKE: This sec­ond in­stal­ment of my paean to Durham con­sists largely of nos­tal­gic mem­o­ries of my stu­dent days there, prob­a­bly in­duced by the ever-per­sis­tent, in­ex­orably creep­ing for­ward of the years. Dur­ing my fi­nal un­der­grad­u­ate year I stud­ied Ro­man Bri­tain as the spe­cial sub­ject of my Clas­sics de­gree, as did my best friend, a His­tory stu­dent. There were other in­ter­est­ing top­ics from which to choose, but Ro­man Bri­tain held the strong­est at­trac­tion for var­i­ous rea­sons. Durham is sit­u­ated only a few miles from Hadrian’s Wall, one of the out­stand­ing achieve­ments of the Ro­mans, with a large por­tion of the wall still vis­i­ble and ac­ces­si­ble to­day. Stretch­ing from Wallsend-on-Tyne in the east to Bow­ness-on-Sol­way in the west, it is a mag­net for hik­ers, his­to­ri­ans and ar­chae­ol­o­gists. Po­si­tioned along it are the re­mains of sev­eral forts, hous­es­teads be­ing the most sub­stan­tial, mile­cas­tles and tur­rets, all pro­vid­ing rich ma­te­rial for stu­dents. The main rea­son, how­ever, for our se­lec­tion of that topic, was that the Pro­fes­sor of Ar­chae­ol­ogy at Durham was Eric Bir­ley, ac­knowl­edged as the great­est liv­ing ex­pert in that field.

One of the most pho­tographed views of Durham is from the bank of the River Wear op­po­site the cathe­dral, which stands proudly against the sky­line. Be­low it, de­scend­ing to the river, is a path, shaded by trees, lead­ing down to the tow­path. Across the river runs a weir, at the far side of which is a sturdy, im­pos­ing build­ing, which served in ear­lier days as a mill, pow­ered by the weir on the Wear. Sub­se­quently it be­came the Depart­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy, where we lis­tened to lec­tures from, and had tu­to­ri­als with, Pro­fes­sor Bir­ley and other mem­bers of the depart­ment. Bir­ley was al­ways in­ter­est­ing to lis­ten to, though at times rather an­noy­ing . He would ex­pound the ac­cepted in­for­ma­tion on the given item, tease us along, then prove it in­cor­rect by de­scrib­ing a re­cent in­scrip­tion dis­cov­ered on the wall, and of­fer­ing us his novel per­spec­tive. We lis­tened, took notes, put a line through them, and took more notes! At least in tu­to­ri­als it was eas­ier to draw him onto the right track!

My friend Terry and I en­joyed these lec­tures, which al­ways be­gan on the hour. Chat­ting in my room in Hat­field Col­lege, we would grab our books as the cathe­dral clock be­gan to chime, race over the road and past the loom­ing ed­i­fice, then scam­per down the path to the mill. We would usu­ally make it by the last stroke, though oc­ca­sion­ally a 9am start found us a few sec­onds late. Noon lec­tures of­fered greater lee­way!

Bir­ley was an au­thor­ity on the Ro­man army, their move­ments and cam­paigns. Dur­ing World War II he served in North Africa, fore­cast­ing for British In­tel­li­gence, the likely move­ments of Rom­mel and his forces via his knowl­edge of what the Ro­mans did in that harsh desert en­vi­ron­ment. Per­haps the story is apoc­ryphal, but it was widely ac­cepted in the old mill, as be­ing yet an­other string to the bow of his amaz­ing knowl­edge.

For my ded­i­cated read­ers — or should that be in the sin­gu­lar? — the third and fi­nal in­stal­ment of this fas­ci­nat­ing me­moir will fol­low shortly.

MIKE: With rem­i­nis­cences of World War I flood­ing the me­dia just now, as the ar­mistice of 11/11 draws near to its cen­te­nary, it was fit­ting that Re­becca Holden’s ex­hi­bi­tion should open last week­end at the Mil­bank Gallery, adding both lo­cal and per­sonal touches to the mem­ory chest. Home Away from Home is the story of eight nurses from Whanganui and Wairarapa, who ran a con­va­les­cent home which they named Aotea for Kiwi sol­diers wounded in the Mid­dle East cam­paign. Let­ters and po­ems from these sol­diers de­scribed how im­por­tant it was to them to have New Zealand nurses car­ing for them. They termed “Aotea” a “home away from home,” since the home re­lied hugely on fundrais­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and do­na­tions from Whanganui, Ran­gi­tikei and Wairarapa.

Re­becca’s por­traits of the nurses are mainly in acrylics, oc­ca­sion­ally pas­tels, all on blue pa­per. Ap­par­ently Kiwi sol­diers were recog­nis­able by the blue pa­per in which their sand­wiches and ra­tions were wrapped, hence Re­becca’s choice. The por­traits are sen­si­tive, clearly de­fined, re­veal­ing the dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters of the in­di­vid­u­als. Some items on dis­play con­tain sim­ply a num­ber, a ref­er­ence to the com­mu­nity spon­sor­ship of cer­tain beds in the home. In ad­di­tion, eight nurses’ veils have scenes and por­traits on them, in blue fab­ric paint. To me it seemed that paint­ing on to such a del­i­cate medium would pose more dif­fi­culty than on board or firmer can­vas.

“It’s cer­tainly un­for­giv­ing,” she said. If you make a mis­take, you have to go with it.” There were no ob­vi­ous mis­takes! Three po­ems writ­ten by sol­diers have been in­cluded, pro­vid­ing an in­sight into the hard­ships of their cam­paigns, but with a wry, la­conic Kiwi sense of hu­mour. The po­ems were writ­ten for The Aotean, an in-house mag­a­zine from 1916.

Sev­eral fam­ily mem­bers of the nurses were at the open­ing, adding mem­o­ries and hu­man touches to Re­becca’s story. It is ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing and well worth a visit. It runs un­til Nov 18.


Durham Cathe­dral with the red roofed build­ing in the fore­ground, pre­vi­ously a mill, sub­se­quently the Dept of Ar­chae­ol­ogy.

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