In June, thanks to our chum Dr Keith Souter of the Friends of Sandal Castle, I was given a fantastic opportunity: to deposit some of my work in Wakefield’s Time Capsule, placed into the well at Sandal Castle to celebrate a unique national occasion, the Platinum Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. This was particularly exciting for me since the castle is our local monument, allegedly a favourite home of Richard, Duke of York, (father of my favourite king, Richard III), who died at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 (subject of two of my non-fiction publications). I was duly proud to donate six books including the Wakefield histories, a ‘biographette’ (due to appear on my website home page), and the piece below in case you’re not around in fifty years and would like to read it now!
Helen Cox, aka Helen Doggett, aka Rae Andrew/Rae Paxton
Hello! Do you read me? I hope so, because it’ll mean that despite the mess the world’s in as I write on 8th June 2022, humanity’s still hanging in there… and that even if the ice-caps have melted and you’re among Wakefield’s survivors living in a rebuilt Sandal Castle, standing proud above acres of water, you’ve managed to haul this time-capsule out of the well and take a peek back fifty years.
Unless I’ve been bitten by a vampire or stumbled on the key to longevity, (in which case I’ll be eleventy-one, like Bilbo Baggins minus the One Ring), I doubt very much I’ll be among you – which makes this an odd, uniquely poignant piece to write. Obviously, all writers would like to think that their words will live on after them, being read and enjoyed by generations to come; I now have the privilege of knowing that even if all my other works are long lost in obscurity, some people in 2072 will read (the covers at least!) of the little gift here enclosed with my love and best wishes. And while writers may keep a hopeful eye on posterity, we normally work in the here-and-now, for living contemporaries, rather than for a posthumous audience of people currently either young or as yet unborn… though my soul will be thrilled if that audience includes anyone – perhaps our great-nieces – who read and enjoyed Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat as a child, or came to any of my talks, guided walks, or Wars of the Roses events here with Towton Battlefield Society’s Frei Compagnie, the re-enactment group Hubcap and I founded in 2007.
Above: Battle of Wakefield Commemorations back when today’s Castle Café used to be a Visitor Centre: me and Hubcap (far right and left) with friends, and me holding forth on a guided tour of Sandal Castle. If the present building still exists, the perspective of the castle on its window was painted by current Frei Co secretary and renowned fantasy/gaming artist Wayne Reynolds – just thought I’d bask in a little of his reflected glory!
If you are still with us, I hope you’re living in a cleaner, safer, wiser, kinder, saner world than I am today. One of the great frustrations for any historian is the truth of George Santayana’s statement, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ 561 years after Richard, Duke of York led his troops from this castle to slaughter at the Battle of Wakefield, nations and individuals are still ruled by the same power-hunger, greed, self-interest, and ruthless ambition that characterised politics in the 15th century (as they had for centuries before, probably ever since humankind gave up hunting and gathering in favour of accumulating land and possessions). Sadly, it seems that very few people remember, or learn anything from, even the most recent past. We’re still living through the biggest pandemic since World War I Spanish ‘flu, the one that locked the world down for months only two years ago, when everyone started saying, ‘Oh, isn’t it lovely and quiet, listen to the birds, see how beautiful the sky looks without con-trails, we must keep things this way etc etc’ – but of course now we’re back to the ‘new normal’ with people jetting off abroad willy-nilly, congregating in large numbers, driving ten miles to buy fast food or franchise coffee, (then chucking the rubbish out of the window as they speed home, backfires exploding), hardly anyone bothering with masks any more, even on public transport, just as if it had never happened – and still dying by the hundreds per day, vaccinations notwithstanding.
Is it still part of your lives, I wonder? Has it turned into one of those annoying things people take for granted, like the common cold, (‘I’m having a couple of days off work, got a touch of COVID’), or is it still fatal like ‘flu and pneumonia can be? And is the climate still in such crisis? I can’t report on today’s situation because I can’t bear to know; if I paid any attention to the horrifying statistics, the news about wild fires, floods, rainforests burned for palm oil etc, I probably wouldn’t still be around to write this, I’d have overdosed myself out long ago. Some things are improving though, especially since lockdown when people had more time to notice and get upset about plastic pollution and littering, for example. Helped by the Council’s brilliant StreetScene initiative, we now have a lovely social network of hundreds of volunteers all round Wakefield, who go out solo or in groups to litter-pick and clean up fly-tipping day in, day out, year-round. But I hope it no longer exists by 2072 because it’s no longer needed, because EVERYONE has finally grasped the basic social responsibilities of minimising waste and disposing of it properly. However, I do hope that junior members have picked up the torch and that Kettlethorpe Nature Action Group is still alive and knagging on nature’s behalf. Thanks to semi-retirement, we could make KNAG our contribution to lockdown life, a Facebook group founded by Hubcap in January 2021 to help local flora and fauna in any/every way – improving our woodland walks, cleaning up harmful litter, donating and fitting swift-boxes to provide homes for an endangered species luckily still flourishing here, helping neighbours create wildlife gardens, and generally trying to make this a cleaner, safer place for all residents, human and animal. I hope we succeeded in leaving you the legacy of a Kettlethorpe Community Nature Reserve to enjoy, as I hope the thousand or so trees we’ve planted to date around the estate (that’s Hubcap below, helping plant our bit of the White Rose Forest), have grown up into nice little woodlands, and that the two wildlife ponds the Council dug this year near Kettlethorpe Lake are still there, looking as if they have been forever, full of frogs, toads and newts. Maybe we even achieved our bigger dream of integrating our neck of the woods into a wider ecological landscape, a protected Calder Nature Corridor embracing Newmillerdam, Kettlethorpe, Pugneys, Seckar Wood and all our other wonderful local wild areas. That’d be nice.
To close with a few words of such wisdom as I’ve gleaned in my 61 years: life is the only thing that matters; the only thing any of us truly possess yet can only rely on keeping from one heartbeat to the next. So take good care of yourself and of your loved ones, of your pets, and the birds and bees in your garden, and of all living things, and above all, take good care of Mother Earth herself… then maybe there’ll still be people around to open YOUR time-capsule in 2122.
Love and light to you all from this little blast from the past,