I’ve been quite tired this week. The older my kids get, the harder it is to get them to bed before 9.30pm. That leaves less time in the evenings to relax (which, as all parents know, is almost impossible with children around), which means I go bed later. The problem is that the more tired I am, the harder it is to write. I can write up to 3,000 words on a day when I’m feeling awake and clear-minded, but sometimes as little as 500 if my mind’s in a fug. On day’s like that, I keep a supply of Coca Cola to hand, which perks me back up. This week has been an eight-can week.
I’m reading The Roses of No Man’s Land by Lyn MacDonald, a collection of eye witness accounts from nurses, doctors and wounded soldiers in the Great War. It’s very moving, sometimes funny, and often traumatic. One nurse tells the story of a “very young” soldier whose genitals had been entirely shot away. Her job every morning and evening was to remove the gauze from the hole that had been left, wash the puss away from the raw flesh inside, then repack it with the gauze. She describes how he would cry during the process and feel ashamed of his tears. She ends her account with the brutally honest words “I expect he was discharged from the Army, but he’d never be any good as a man after that”. A very hardy generation.
One of the most powerful works of fiction I ever read was Regeneration by Pat Barker. Strangely, novels and films set in the midst of battle often lose the sense of the awfulness of war, possibly because the audience is so emotionally invested in the characters coming through the immediate danger that there’s little time or space to dwell on the tragedy of what’s going on around them. By contrast, Regeneration was mostly set in a hospital back in Blighty, where the only shellfire and bullets were in the minds of the patients. What the book did so effectively was to show the mental and emotional effects of the Great War on the soldiers who went through it, and thereby bring the heartbreak of it all into sharp focus.
On the subject of the Great War, this Saturday – snow permitting – I’m dragging the family along to our first history event of the year: Trenches through the Ages at Park Hall Countryside Experience at Oswestry. A recreated trench with lots of reenactors. Just my thing.