Virginia Barton

20 October 2013: The past is a foreign country


20 October 2013

shutterstock_114542011 (1) (800x689)


“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

The Go Between,  LP Hartley


It’s a good quote and it describes well the place where you need neither ticket nor passport to visit, only to shut your eyes and remember.

Personally, I find the present so absorbing and busy; so crammed with event, conversation and observation, that there is little time for forays into yesterday. The doer, rather than the thinker may well find that reflection is pushed to the margins and one has to remind oneself yet again, that Mary chose the better part.

However, the loss of two beloved sisters within the last twelve weeks has given even this most determined of doers, pause for thought, and revived half-forgotten memories of long ago.



Incidentally, do I “do” in order not to think? Am I actually avoiding thinking, and fill the waking hours with so much “stuff” there is no time for consideration, let alone prayer? So that when I do come to turn over the events of the day and pray, usually last thing at night, I fall asleep mid-sentence. It’s a bad habit and I know it.)

The Angelus must have been invented for busy people: not only religious, but farmhands, cooks and mothers. Perhaps we might revive the custom? I don’t think I know anyone who says the Angelus nowadays – except perhaps my saintly parish priest. Having been brought up in the Church of England I never acquired the habit, and oh dear, one is so set in one’s ways and so reluctant to learn things new. Let alone the old memory! Just yesterday I couldn’t remember who wrote the music for West Side Story, an all-time fave. (Before you all write and say Leonard B, let me assure you that the name popped back 15 mins after I needed it.)

One becomes lazy with age and excuses oneself frequently for not doing this or that. There’s a lot to be said for the discipline of kneeling beside the bed to say ones prayers, as one used to as a child– it’s draughty; and the chill concentrates the mind wonderfully.

“But I can’t kneel down! I’d never get up again.”

I often think of monks and nuns tumbling out of bed at crack of dawn, to kneel and say their prayers and hope they remember us sluggards still abed…



Easily distracted as you can tell, such ramblings have distracted me from my two sisters.


I wrote Bluebells within hours of the eldest of my sisters dying, and Playmates almost as quickly for the younger. It was a way of fixing particular incidents connected with them in my head. They are verses full of emotion and they describe in the first case, the place and time of death, and in the second, incidents from long ago. Bluebells is a “poem” of the present – as indeed was my sister Chris. Like myself, she was a doer.

Playmates recalled the idyllic childhood of us two Babies, thrown together by only 15 months age difference, and a mother’s frequent illness. For 21 years we “watched each other’s backs” as they say. Our deep friendship altered with time; marriage and a long spell abroad meant a loosening of that bond where confidences were exchanged on a daily basis: it would never be exactly the same – how could it?

On the other hand, the subject of Bluebells, my eldest sister, became my closest friend of the most recent 25 years of my life.


Death brings a shocking in-your-face examination of one’s motives, actions, regrets. Inevitably there is a quota of “If Only”. There is also huge gratitude for having known someone dear so intimately. For the believer, there is the inestimable, glorious prospect of separation being only temporary; of knowing that we will meet again in a far, far better place. Deo gratias.


Now, wonderfully, three young friends have had babies within the month! Two boys and a girl – Deo gratias indeed.






Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(c) All Rights Reserved. Site Designed by Magtype CR