Who Is Like God?

 

a-boy-looking-out-to-sea

Who is like God?

Love was the father and love the mother.

You arrived in December, anticipating another Christmas

A reward in yourself rather than a present

A pilgrimage more than a journey

Because we cannot find love in ourselves

Only with another

And you were the purest love

The world of love in a moment

To complete the place that was prepared for you

A place shaped, breathed into, palpitating, anticipated for you

And you arrived linking Winter with Spring

A week after Mandela died and two days before his burying

You arrived, your hair already hinting of gold

Woven like the wealth of the Transvaal on the South African flag

You arrived to separate the before from the after

The Anno Domini

Dividing the past from the future

You arrived to say that there was no going back

As the Ukraine edged westwards

After the charge of the dark brigade in Crimea

And your mother wrote the gospel of your life

Like a scream of joy

As the Scribes and the Pharisees fled back to the Old Testament

Making way for the new covenant of love

Turning over and seeding the soil of hope

Too big an enterprise now for the old scythes and hoes

‘We need a tractor’ you said in almost your first words

And we realised that the lines and the furrows

Could mean happiness after all.

Roy Stannard for Michael’s Naming Day 21.8.16

For a version of this mixed with music please visit Soundcloud at:

Do It Yourself Celebrity

Do It Yourself Celebrity

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Last Friday 29th July I went to the Holmbush Centre at Shoreham to help my old friend and radio colleague Patrick Souiljaert man (person?) a stand at the entrance to Tesco there. He has written an autobiography in microscopic detail about the challenges of his life as a person with Cerebral Palsy. He was starved of oxygen a birth which led to the condition. However, instead of letting it define him, he has used it to energise and power his ambition, refusing to accept its limitations, using them instead to define his goals.

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After going to school in various special establishments (the word special is used in its loosest context here) in the South, Patrick emerged as a man with extreme sensitivity to his and others place in the world. He worked at a major telecomms company for many years before deciding that he could be a radio producer. He achieved this and worked for three Sussex-based radio stations before deciding that he could also be a property investor before going on to become an international speaker, writer and motivator.

His book — ‘Stairs For Breakfast’ was self published a year ago and has so far sold over 700 copies.

It is a raw, no-holds-barred account of the first half of his life with names and organisations changed to protect the innocent and the less than innocent. It is a page turning, honest, gripping story that demonstrates an almost documentary, forensic recall of detail and really installs the reader inside the head of someone who reacts powerfully to the limitations that life has laid upon him.

Last Friday, Patrick, John , Clare and myself went to Holmbush armed with 200 copies of the book, some banners and a great pitch provided by the generous customer services team at Tesco led by Lisa. I was given access to the public intercom system in order to make announcements.

Patrick called out to most passers by with a friendly ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’ and a goodly minority stopped to have a chat and by the end of the day 38 copies of the book at £10 each were sold.

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The point of this post? That you don’t have to accept the hand that life has dealt you. That you can dream and then wake up and achieve those dreams.

That you can decide to be a writer and go and write and publish your book. That you can call yourself an international motivational speaker and go and motivate by speaking. Internationally.

Stairs for Breakfast. Success for lunch. The world for supper.

 

Is this the bravest book ever written?

Is this the bravest book ever written?

Digit by digit, key by key

Digit by digit, key by key

In 2011 while viewing buy-to-let properties Patrick was waiting for the estate agent to arrive. Puzzled, seeing a disabled man standing with crutches, the agent asked whether Patrick was OK walking up the stairs as there was quite a lot of them. Patrick replied as quick as a flash, “Yes I’ll be fine, I eat stairs for breakfast.”

The humour in this disguises the fact that Patrick has had Cerebral Palsy since a four minute air blockage at his birth starved him of the oxygen needed for a normal delivery. It has meant tackling life on his terms for over 40 years and as an obstinate, determined, visionary man, Patrick has refused to allow this disability get in his way.

This may be the bravest book ever written. Why? Firstly, because in physical terms it took Patrick the best part of two years laboriously typing 700 words a day with his left index finger. Secondly, the subject matter is raw, honest and occasionally self-deprecating. His account of a visit to an unfeeling, heartless prostitute, his account of how an equally heartless employer made him purchase his own desk and computer screen; his account of how he was bullied and abused as a child at a special boarding school. Thirdly, real people close to Patrick are featured in the book, sometimes painfully.

Brave because he sees his Cerebral Palsy as a gift – inspiring people and giving them the aspiration to do something equally remarkable. To show them that with enough self-belief and determination they can do anything they want.

He has spent his 41 years refusing to accept second best and above all refusing to be categorised as ‘disabled’. The worst thing (or best?) you can say to Patrick is don’t do something. It will mean that he is almost certain to do it. He was born in the south of England in 1973 to Belgian father and English mother. He has a sister and large extended family of devoted friends. He insisted from an early stage on being treated like everyone else and this led to an early career in IT and computer programming with a household name in telecommunications and a parallel career in commercial radio where he worked for three radio stations as a producer. This would be achievement enough, but Patrick was (and still is) determined to do more.

This led him in 2011 to leave the large corporation and set out on his own in property investment, pursuing an ambition to make £1 million. He started writing a blog at around the same time and this gave him the idea to write Stairs for Breakfast.

By networking in the property investment Patrick found his purpose in life: To help and inspire people – and to reach his full potential.

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that makes dealing with the physical demands of life very difficult but does not impair in any way the normal functions of the brain. Stairs for Breakfast is the first half of Patrick’s autobiography and it could have been a mawkish, self-pitying book but instead its real triumph lies in the upbeat, humorous narrative approach that entertains as much as it inspires. His other gift is a photographic memory that allows him to recount incidents from three decades ago as if it were yesterday.

Patrick was recently asked to take part in a TV documentary on inner peace. After being filmed Patrick said “This is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I want my journey and my book to make a difference in the world”.

The book is a search for self-awareness, achievement, acceptance and love. Patrick has become by default a very good, inspirational public speaker. His ability to engage the reader and the listener is quickly apparent. Not many books set out to change perceptions and succeed in doing so. This is one of them that does.

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What the critics have said:

“When someone tells me they can’t do something I tell them Patrick’s story and share his ability to overcome whatever is put in front of him. He is an inspiration.”

Glenn Armstrong www.glennarmstrong.com

“This book is a must for anyone. It’s honest, funny and inspirational. It humbles me just thinking about the effort it must have taken.”

Paul Ribbons www.paulribbons.com

“An enormous achievement. Do yourself a favour. Add it to your reading wish list – and those of your friends.”

Roy Stannard www.roystannard.wordpress.com

Stairs for Breakfast is on Amazon now for £15.99. Patrick is available to deliver inspirational talks on overcoming adversity and his journey to success.

For more information please contact: Patrick Souiljaert

http://stairsforbreakfast.com   / 01273 465519 / 07710 021454 / mail@sussexpatrick.com

Mean Time

Shadows Mingle

 

Mean Time

 

Where the sea kisses the horizon

Someone once drew a line

and now we see the boundary when before there was just a deeper blue.

In the beginning there were days when I drew you with words

that turned into sentences.

Why is it when we see a gate

we want to close it?

Even if there is nothing either side?

And when there is grass

We long to shorten it.

The long misty country trails turn into infinity

not destinations

as far as the eye can see.

When we walk together and our shadows mingle

There is no point where one person ends and another begins

Perhaps there isn’t meant to be.

When you fully discover another

and the soft edges become a little harder

the temptation to repaint the masterpiece

pouring trouble onto oily waters

doesn’t lead to change, only the desire to change the very thing

that was autographed by the Creator.

From here

in the deep, uncharted sun-chipped pools

On the endless shore of being

Where the you meets the me

Someone has drawn a line

Like a monstrous meridian

Snatching mean time

from a perfect eternity.

 

Roy Stannard. 17th May 2011

 

A Southend boy visits the Turner Contemporary Gallery at Margate

Two Colussii rising from the jellied eels – The Turner Contemporary

 

Nearly half a century ago as a little boy I would walk to the end of the longest pier in the world at Southend and board the Daffodil Steamer and travel across the Estuary to Margate. The beaches were wider, deeper and sandier. The seaside entertainment, louder, more garish and seemingly endless. The rough and ready locals were brash, red faced and cheery. When Tracey Emin appeared on the scene as part of the new British Art Movement in the 80s she seemed to emblemise my memories of Margate. Open all hours, brutally honest, yet friendly for all that.

Half a lifetime later, the seaside day-trippers have largely disappeared. The Cockney bolt-hole of Margate has been busy re-inventing itself. Yet, even in our wildest dreams we could not have expected nearly £20 million of grant money to have been invested in the best of modern art amidst the whelks, mussels and ice cream of Margate.

The Turner Contemporary, opened on the 16th April this year with the declared intention of re-awakening the faded Victorian splendour of Margate. The Gallery, designed by award-winning British architect David Chipperfield, is spacious with exhibition rooms lit by soft northern light and by super porthole style windows overlooking magnicent Estuary views that drew JMW Turner back to the town over and over again.

Turner first came to Margate in 1786 as a child and returned there to paint often, motivated by what he described as the best light in Europe. Later in his life, he stayed in a slightly seedy guest house run by Sophie Booth, a widow 25 years his junior, who, according to local gossip was his lover.  The Turner Contemporary occupies the very spot on Margate beach where Mrs Booth’s guesthouse stood and where Turner painted his epic sea and skyscapes of Thanet.

One piece of  Turner’s work will always be on display, but the mainstay of the Gallery is contemporary work.   For its opening show, “Revealed: Turner Contemporary Opens”, ‘The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains on the Island of St. Vincent’, on loan from Liverpool University, is on display along with a poem that Turner wrote about the work. 

The opening exhibition at the new contemporary art gallery is limited to a few works by a handful of artists, three of whom were specially commissioned for the opening. The first show was designed to show off the light and space of the Turner Contemporary.

Afterwards, my son Callum and I walked the same walk that Turner took all those years ago, across the seemingly endless sand into the afternoon sun. Margate is cultivating bohemian back streets and almost Provencale-like squares that sit hazily in the sun, populated by locals and tourists mingling in street bars and cafes, cars parked erratically in off-street spaces, for all the world like Aix-en-Provence.

We sat idlyon the seafront overlooking the two hanging colussii of the twin Turner buildings, allowing the light, the space and the sun to bathe us gently as we felt ourselves dissolve and re-emerge blinking into a new era of Margate. We took pictures of the sand, the light and the sun. Turner would have been proud of us.

Henry Olonga – Today a good man stood up

Today a man stood up.

Today I attended Sussex County Cricket’s Mark Davis’ Testimonial Dinner at the Grand Hotel.

Nearly 350 supporters and cricket fans were there to give Mark’s Testimonial year a good start. After the usual cricket stories and dressing room humour, a dreadlocked guy stood up and walked to the microphone. He apologised for not indulging in the usual cricket stats and introduced himself as Henry Olonga from Zimbabwe.

After a short introduction to his life, he sang four songs, beautifully. It was unexpected and poignant. Like a flower sprouting in the desert. His version of ‘You Lift Me Up’ was particularly piquant. It was sung by someone who had made a major life choice. Someone who knew that the here and now wasn’t the be and all.

Henry Olonga is an impressive man. Clear of voice, clear of purpose. He stands tall and today he won over a crowd of Sussex business people with his simple honesty and sincere beliefs. He had made a decision a few years ago to not tolerate corruption, oppression and intimidation. He had stood up and been counted. He is still standing, and he still counts.

Olonga was the first black and youngest-ever cricketer to represent Zimbabwe. Yet he was nearly a non-runner before he started. He was called for throwing in a Test in early 1995 and had to start again on his action from scratch. One of the fastest and least accurate bowlers, he had a poor hit rate with no-balls and wides.  He also suffered more than his fair share of injuries. However, as a strike bowler he could play with devastating effect as he showed in the 1998-99 tour of Pakistan when he destroyed the Pakistan top-order to engineer a win in the first Test.

Olonga was just 17 when he debuted in first class cricket in the Logan Cup for Matabeleland against Mashonaland, emerging from it with five wickets. He was chosen for the Test team to play Pakistan in 1994-95 when he took a wicket in his first over but was then penalized for throwing. A dramatic remedy was called for. He was coached by Dennis Lillee, who modified his action slightly and the shortcoming was turned into an asset.

From 1998 onwards Olonga became a regular in the Zimbabwe side. Selected for the 2003 World Cup, Olonga made international headlines when, along with Andy Flower, he donned a black armband to protest against the ‘death of democracy’ in Zimbabwe.

Henry Olonga with black arm band

This was a brave but foolish act. It would lead to his having to leave his adopted country in fear of his life. He played no meaningful part in the remainder of the competition and could not return to his homeland after the tournament. He fled Zimbabwe and found a new home in England.

Henry Olonga picks up the story in his own words, “Back in 1995 Zimbabwe got involved in a war in the DCR. Things became bad in our country. I was involved in helping an orphanage and began to ask how we got into this mess. I had always respected Robert Mugabe. But I began to hear people speak about him as a dictator and I started doing some research. I found references, for example, to the fact that he had killed some 30,000 of his own people in Matabeleland and the whole thing had been hushed up. I felt a deep, righteous anger.

To cut a long story short, I and another cricketer named Andy Flower decided to make a peaceful protest. We wore black armbands at the 2003 cricket world cup which was taking place in Zimbabwe and wrote a statement mourning the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. As a result I was in trouble.

At that time God proved himself very real. There were threats made against my life by those within the Mugabe regime. I needed to get out of the country – otherwise a mysterious ‘accident’ would happen to me. I called to God.

The day before the final game, we were poised to play Pakistan. If we won – which was highly unlikely – or drew the match, the Zimbabwe team would progress to the next stage of the world cup and go to South Africa and I would escape. So I prayed, ‘O God I need your help’. Unbeknown to me, a cyclone started to brew over the coast of Mozambique. We caught the edge of it and it washed out our game at Bulawayo. We were through to South Africa. The next day the weather in Bulawayo was absolutely fine. You can call it a coincidence, but I believe it was God’s way of answering my prayer.

In South Africa, I was put up by a wonderful family. I later put in my resignation to the cricket authorities in Zimbabwe. I had people still after me. It was just weird. But it was a quiet time in my life. I was on my own. I had left my country. I didn’t know where I was going to go. But God intervened again.

What Andy Flower and I had done was in the headlines. Still in South Africa, I gave an interview to CNN. And it was really through that I was able to come to Britain. I got an offer to come and play cricket in this country if I could raise the air fare. But I had no means of doing that. Out of the blue I got a phone call from a man I had never met before. I was a little frightened of this. Was he really someone who was involved with those who were still after me? He had seen the interview and turned out to be an American, who had been helped out of a very difficult situation in his past, and now had become very rich and just felt that he should help out someone else. He bought me the ticket to Britain.

All I know is that God says, ‘Call on me in the day of trouble and I will answer you’.”

When Henry Olonga entered the room today, the people in the room realised that here was a man who had met a defining moment in his life and had not blinked. As he put it, ‘evil will flourish when good men don’t stand up to it.’  Today, Henry Olonga stood up. Again.

Watch the video below and ask yourself the question, what would you do?

http://vimeo.com/13385623

Henry Olonga’s website: 

http://www.henryolonga.net/

Interview with Henrry Olonga reproduced with kind permission from ‘Cricket at the Cross’ – Evangelicals Now Dec 2008

http://www.e-n.org.uk/p-4448-Cricket-at-the-Cross.htm

Walter Tull. Why have you never heard of him?

Walter Tull - the first black English Army Officer

The 25th March marks a lonely anniversary. There should be parades, bunting, crowds.  But there will not be a single Reveille. On that day ninety-three years ago an authentic hero died in the Second Battle of the Somme. A Boys Own hero, a sporting legend who had played for Spurs, a leader of men who had stood side by side with them as they went over the top in some of the most dangerous fighting in modern warfare. A man who had been sent into care after the early death of his parents, separated from his brother and left to survive alone. A man of principle, impeccable morals, and the highest standards. An example, an icon, a man you probably haven’t heard of.

This man was Walter Tull.

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888. By 1900, both his Barbadian father and his English mother were dead. Walter and his elder brother Edward were placed in a children’s’ home in Bethnal Green.

Spotted while playing for the children’s’ home team, he was invited to join Clapton, a top amateur team, in 1908. Helping them to victory in the FA Amateur Cup, the London Senior Cup and the London County Amateur Cup that same season, he was soon attracting the attention of other clubs. It was Tottenham Hotspur who moved in for him, trialling him in their ‘A’ and reserve teams throughout the season. Still an amateur, Walter Tull was invited to tour Argentina and Uruguay with Spurs, signing as a professional on his return. After only seven first team games, he was dropped. This may have been a consequence of the racial abuse he received playing at Bristol City. Rather than stand by Tull, the Spurs management consigned their young star to the reserves.

In 1911, Herbert Chapman signed him for Southern League Northampton Town where he stayed until, like many of his contemporaries, he joined the army in September 1914. Serving in the famous ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ the 17th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, he reached the rank of Sergeant. Still able to play football when on leave, he guested for Fulham in 1915.

Recommended for a commission, Walter Tull became an officer cadet in 1917. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 23rd Battalion in the Middlesex Regiment, he was mentioned in dispatches early the following year.

The strange thing is this. There was a ban of black men becoming officers in the British Army. It was somehow ungentlemanly to have a man of colour leading white men into battle. Yet that is what Tull did, heroically.

He was destined for further greatness. In 1917, Tull signed for Glasgow Rangers. Unfortunately, Walter Tull didn’t live to lead the Ibrox attack in the same way that he had led his soldiers. He was killed in action during the German Spring Offensive of March 1918 whilst serving with the 23rd Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment.

Walter, like many professional players, had joined the Football Battalion in 1914. The Army recognised Tull’s stature as a leader and he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

In July 1916, Tull took part in the major Somme offensive. Tull survived this experience but in December 1916 he developed trench fever and was sent home to England to recover. Tull had impressed his senior officers who recommended that he should be considered for further promotion. When he recovered from his illness, instead of being sent back to France, he went to the officer training school at Gailes in Scotland. Despite military regulations forbidding “any negro or person of colour” being an officer, Tull received his commission in May, 1917.

Tull became the first Black combat officer in the British Army.  Phil Vasili celebrates this in his superb story and scholarly work, ‘Walter Tull. Officer, Footballer – All The Guns In France Couldn’t Wake Me’  (Raw Press ISBN-10: 0956395406  ISBN-13: 978-0956395405)  He relates, “According to The Manual of Military Law, Black soldiers of any rank were not desirable. During the First World War, military chiefs of staff, with government approval, argued that White soldiers would not accept orders issued by men of colour and on no account should Black soldiers serve on the front line.”

Lieutenant Walter Tull was sent to the Italian front. This was epoch-making in its own right because Tull was the first ever black officer in the British Army. He led his men at the Battle of Piave and was mentioned in dispatches for his “gallantry and coolness” under fire.

Tull stayed in Italy until 1918 when he was transferred to France to take part in the attempt to break through the German lines on the Western Front. On 25th March, 1918, 2nd Lieutenant Tull was ordered to lead his men on an attack on the German trenches at Favreuil. On penetrating No Mans Land Tull was hit by a German bullet. Tull was loved by his men and several of them ran under a hail of machine gun bullets to try and bring him back.  These efforts were in vain as Tull had died soon after being hit.

One of the soldiers who tried to rescue him later told his commanding officer that Tull was “killed instantaneously with a bullet through his head.” Tull’s body was never recovered.

So on the 25th March the distant guns of the Western Front will lay silent. The campaign to award Walter Tull a posthumous Military Cross after an Early Day Motion in June 2008 failed will also fall silent. The fluttering white papers of bureaucracy in Whitehall will fall like feathers over the memories of gallantry against impossible odds. The battle for Walter Tull began the day he was born in Folkestone in 1888, an Englishman of valour and faith. He died a hero twenty-nine years later.

The German Army shot him. His body was never found. And yet we have still managed to bury him.

Walter Tull (left), a true English hero