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Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Mental Footprint

Carbon footprints are all the rage and it's a fad to measure your own, much as it was a fad a couple of years ago for everyone to wear pedometers and walk so many miles a day. Somewhere along the line, someone makes a fortune out of these fads and it makes no difference whatsoever to the overall health of the population or the earth. Here's a wacky idea which I think makes more sense. How about the mental footprint we leave behind wherever we go? No one makes money out of this. No one uses this to promote a product (well...a few people try with strange machines) but it has, I think, a bigger effect on the environment in which we all live than anything else. How often to we go into a place that has an atmosphere of gloom and come away feeling exhausted? How often does a particular historical site retain the atmosphere of ages? Some places have a happy atmosphere, others an atmosphere of gloom. Some people you meet leave you feeling much better about the world, others leave you feeling drained. When a house has been the site of a murder, it is often pulled down, so even the most sceptical must accept there is something going on about atmospheres. My suggestion is that instead of measuring our carbon footprint, we measure our thought-print. If we go among people thinking the worst, being miserable and condemnatory we add to that atmosphere. If we go among people thinking the best, we create harmony and will do far more good to ourselves as well as to others, than counting calories or how many watts we have used. The earth is much older than we are and has come through ice ages and all kinds of geological changes. Humanity is much younger than the earth....how arrogant to think we are more powerful than the environment in which we develop. We are not responsible directly for what happens in the ice caps and the weather systems. We are, though, responsible for our own thoughts...If we want to make the world a better place, the best place to start is in our own minds.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Princess Alice, continued.

Devoted as Alice was to her husband, it did not take long to discover that their intellectual and spiritual interests were far apart. Oftentimes melancholic, profoundly spiritual Alice had a questioning faith, and longed for a soul mate who could empathise with her quest for truth. She became fascinated by the controversial theologian David Strauss and her patronage of his work led to her being branded by the superficial Queen Augusta of Prussia as an atheist. Nothing could have been further from the truth but when tragedy struck her family with the death of her little son, Frittie, it seems Alice felt the need to return to a more conventional view of religion.
Frittie, diagnosed the previous year with haemophilia, was playing in Alice's room, when he caught sight of his brother through an open window. Climbing up to wave to him, the little boy fell onto the concrete below. At first he seemed merely dazed but that night he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died. Alice never fully recovered from his death.
Five years later, her eldest daughter Victoria contracted diphtheria which quickly spread through the family. Only her second daughter, Ella, remained free of the disease and, for her own safety, was sent to stay with her paternal grandmother in nearby Bessungen.
Alice personally nursed all of her children in turn, adhering to the doctor's instructions that she must neither kiss nor hold them for fear of contracting the illness herself. In spite of all her care, her youngest daughter, May, died, and, since Louis had also been struck with the illness, Alice was obliged to attend her funeral alone.
When Alice's son, Ernie, himself suffering from the disease asked for news of his sister's progress, Alice felt obliged to conceal from him the fact that she had died for fear that the news would further weaken him. As Ernie began to recover, Alice told him the truth and he was so upset that she could no longer bear it. Contrary to the doctor's instructions she hugged and kissed him...It was to be what Disraeli reported to Parliament, 'the kiss of death'.
As the rest of the family recovered, Alice contracted the disease and too worn out to fight it, died, at the age of 35, on the anniversary of the death her father - 14th December 1878. Her final whispered words were, "Dear Papa..." It seems her beloved father had come to take her home.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Princess Alice 1843-1878

Over the next few weeks, I intend to add accounts of some of the members of Queen Victoria's extended family, beginning today with one of the most tragic and heroic of all the Queen's children, her second daughter, Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse.

Only eighteen-years-old when her father, Prince Albert, died in December 1861, the young princess virtually took over all her mother's duties, while the Queen was lost in her grief. This gave Alice little time to come to terms with her own bereavement - and she had been very close to her father.
Alice's wedding, the following July, was a gloomy affair. Virtually everyone was dressed in black, the Queen and several of Alice's siblings wept throughout the service and even the recently-widowed Archbishop performing the ceremony was in tears.
Alice went with her new husband, Prince Louis of Hesse-and-by-Rhine, to Darmstadt, the centre of the little German Grand Duchy to which her husband was heir. By royal standards they were not wealthy and were driven to beg Queen Victoria for financial assistance.
Alice devoted herself entirely to the people of Hesse, often going incognito to their homes, scrubbing floors and making meals for the sick and elderly. She founded countless charitable institutions, supported the Red Cross, opened a 'mental asylum' and personally worked in the hospitals carrying out the most menial tasks.
She bore 5 children - two of whom, Ella, the future Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna, and Alix, the future Empress Alexandra of Russia - were destined to be murdered by the bolsheviks. Unlike many princesses of her day, Alice took a personal interest in every aspect of her children's welfare and education, shocking Queen Victoria by breast-feeding baby Ella herself. Their curriculum was wide-ranging and alongside academic skills she introduced all her children to the idea that responsibility accompanied their privileged position.
To be continued....