Dear Friends and any visitors to my website and blogs,
This year I have been defeated by forces largely outside of my control, and despite not going for my pre-festive ski, I have not managed to write Christmas cards and get them in the post. So, I am entirely digital – which is of course environmentally sound - but not so pretty or personal. Notwithstanding this, here’s my (by now familiar to those of you who have been reading these updates since I started them in 1996), round up of key highlights carefully curated in categories that reveal my abiding affection for alliteration. Last year’s themes were ageing, activities, and attitude. This year, I turn to damehood, death, and delight!
The day in April when the letter arrived at home informing me of my Damehood, I was in Scotland, a country I love. My DNA, as well as our family history, attest to the fact I am 44% Scot, my paternal 2x great grandfather, the orphaned William Wood, having left Edinburgh in 1850 to walk to Manchester in search of work. As I sat quietly that morning in my room at Dumfries House, looking out over the estate gardens, unaware of the news that awaited me on my return to Stony Stratford, I found myself saying ‘Thank you God for everything and everybody in my life’. It was a moment of profound peace, genuine gratitude, and sublime surrender to an incomprehensible cosmos.
Dumfries House is a very special place for me. It is the headquarters of the heritage-led regeneration charity, The Prince’s Foundation, where I am Deputy Chair. This year I have spent time there in January, (with Maggie) and in April, July, September, and December. On returning home after my April visit, the letter informing me of my Damehood was waiting. Maggie and I read it together. There were no whoops of joy, exclamations of disbelief, or encomiums of pride proclaiming this a much-deserved honour. My auroral mood of acknowledgement and acceptance of the simple ‘is-ness’ of life prevailed as I read the citation highlighting the (peculiarly British) honour of Dame Commander of the British Empire, DBE. My overwhelming emotion was the sense of the responsibility carried by this recognition. I was glad and grateful that it had come at this juncture in my life - an at an age when I believe I have grown into someone resembling the rounded and grounded human being I’ve been trying to become for the last seven decades, reaching a stage of life when Kipling’s poem ‘If’ actually means something to me (because of what is fashionably referred to these days as ‘lived experience’), and when Maggie can affectionately and appropriately remind me that DBE really stands for ‘Don’t be Beguiled by Ego’.
A self-conscious, over-weight, under-confident butcher’s daughter born in 1950’s Moss Side, Manchester, with a life-long tendency towards depression and comfort eating does not grow up dreaming of Damehood. Supported by hard-working parents and family, inspired by teachers who believed in me and nurtured by an education system that is the powerhouse for social change, I found the courage to become myself, to speak out against inequalities of all kinds in society, and to speak up for others, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds. I accepted the Damehood because I want people to look at me and say, ‘This person is like me’. I want to encourage people, regardless of their start in life, to step up to serve humanity with kindness, compassion and in a spirit of peace building.
As a Quaker, I am still getting used to being called Dame Ann by other people, especially as Quakers do not use titles. The Quaker Elizabeth Fry famously never curtsied to Queen Victoria who nonetheless admired her and her prison reform work enormously. I admit to not being able to live up to Elizabeth Fry’s example. On the occasions I met HM The late Queen and, more recently and frequently, HM The King, I find it impossible not to conform to convention.
Damehood is of course wonderful - the more so because of the warmth and generosity of everybody’s reactions. In these days of equality, I think Maggie should be entitled to be called Lady Margaret - had I received the equivalent male honour – a knighthood, she would be a Lady - but that is a change in the British honours system yet to be achieved. Maybe I will live to see this. Will HM King Charles, whom I admire and in whom I have faith and hope, make changes in monarchical practices that uphold and reflect a contemporary British society that is progressive, diverse, and inclusive? We will see. My investiture will take place next year. Pictures will no doubt feature in 2023 edition of this annual update.
Death (of HM The Queen, and in our case, preparations for the inevitable)
Having been born in February 1953, until this autumn, my entire life had been lived in the United Kingdom’s second great Elizabethan age. The death of HM Queen Elizabeth on 8th September 2022 marked not just a change of sovereign but also, I believe, a pivotal point of promise for the future – what Richard Rohr would call ‘a teachable moment’. At dinner with HRH the Prince of Wales, at Dumfries House on 7th September 2022, there was no hint of anticipation of the momentous (and for him life-changing) events that would follow the next day. It was a remarkable moment in this country’s history and to have witnessed it personally, I can attest, with admiration, to the smooth machinery of accession, planned for so long, that slid effortlessly into place. I shall never forget where I was, aged 10, when I heard the news of the assassination of President Kennedy, although that foggy November night in Hazel Grove seemed miles away from Dallas, and JFK was an American! To have been present at Dumfries House, and close to such historic events for the United Kingdom as they unfurled between 7th - 8th September 2022, was one of life’s unbidden experiences that this cosmos I cannot comprehend conspired to make part of my own destiny - and once again, I succumbed to its energy and serendipity.
Planning the arrangements for what happens when we die, is something that, at 80 and 70 respectively, Maggie and I, together with a group of Quakers in our local Quaker Meeting in Milton Keynes have also embarked on – well at least determining where the ashes of our human remains will rest in eternity – or more precisely in the ancient earth of Hogsty End Quaker Burial Ground, Buckinghamshire. There has been a Quaker Burial Ground on this spot since the early days of Quakerism in the mid 17th century, but the site had fallen into disrepair and had not been used since the 1950’s. Over the last 2-3 years, we have undertaken the process of restoration which will be completed with final planting out in spring/summer 2023. A key feature of the Burial Ground are two pieces of Cumberland Slate from Honiston, in the Lake District, which Quakers refer to as ‘1652 country’ as this is the part of England widely acknowledged as the ‘birthplace of Quakerism. The words have been written by Maggie, on behalf of Milton Keynes Quakers. The lettering has been designed and cut by hand by the renowned letter cutter Lida Kindersley Cardozo and the installation prepared and erected by her Cambridge-based workshop. We are pleased to have made this a place that will serve in perpetuity as a burial ground, an outreach testimony to the values and beliefs of Quakers in Britain, and a beautiful and contemplative spot for our families and friends, the local people of Woburn Sands and nearby Milton Keynes to visit.
Delight - Walks: Weddings (and Engagements): Wishes (fulfilled)
It is difficult to know where to start with the delights and highlights of 2022 as we are blessed to have had so many.
Walking - with my sister Julie during a glorious week in March in Kitzbuhel, Austria, when the sun shone, the snow was amazing and I skied every day (safely) as well as walking with Julie and enjoying sisterly time and much laughter together; with Marian and Nick (Mann) raising money for the PACE Centre, with another Nick (Holden), a long time university friend; and with our dear Quaker friends Kathy & Michael with whom we walked in Highgrove Gardens and had tea afterwards! I walked a lot on Holy Island too during our two glorious weeks up there during the heatwave, when we met up with my friend Angela and her wife Pippa and had a lovely time catching up on things
Weddings - first Felicity, one of my goddaughters, married Josh in October, with their baby Iris in tow. Felicity is the younger daughter of Catherine Capon, my oldest secondary school friend and at the wedding, I was able to meet up with Rosemary, Catherine’s sister, and Jane Wilkinson, another friend, and Marple Hall Girls’ Grammar School alumna. My cousin, once removed, Lorna, the elder daughter of my cousin Paula, married Matt, also in October and for a second time this year, Julie and I were able to see our ‘northern’ cousins and their families. Then, last month, Jo my niece and her partner Rob announced their engagement and will marry on 23 April 2023 - so another wedding to look forward to next year.
Following the travel and personal restrictions of Covid, my sister and I were determined this year to visit our cousins in the northwest and do a trip ‘down memory lane’ visiting our old schools and the homes of our childhood. We fulfilled our wishes, and I could write a book about it, but suffice to say we had a wonderful stay with Paula and Mark, and a super visit to Phil, Fiona, Ed, and Olivia, spending a fascinating time going through our shared family history which Ed had researched during lockdown.
This year I was also determined to meet up with Melanie Russell who is in fact my very oldest friend because we met aged 5 at infants’ school, Norbury Church of England School in Hazel Grove. Melanie and I met in September and a lunchtime was not long enough to catch up on a lifetime, and I very much hope to see her again soon. Spending a morning on a private visit to the barracks of the Household Cavalry was not on my bucket list but the opportunity, provided by the generous Pam and Ashok, meant that Nick and I got to see at close hand, and just prior to the call to service for the Queen’s funeral, the two most senior regiments in the British Army – the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. What a treat!
Our love to you for a peaceful and happy Christmas. May 2023 bring you all you wish.
Ann & Maggie written 21 December 2022 (‘in law’ this is our 16th wedding anniversary, although we have been together for almost 35 years and posted Christmas Eve 2022
24 December 2023
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31 December 2022
24 December 2022
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05 May 2021