Ireland, England, Italy, and France are the four foremost countries that command my eternal endearment, each for different reasons, and yet, for all their distinction, they have had a great impact upon the way I am and think today.
Ireland is a place that is centred in my heart. It is the land of my birth, the home of my deceased parents before they married and had seven children and the graveyard of my ancestors. All people know where they were born, most know who both their parents were, but very few know the precise spot where they were conceived! According to my late mother, the very ground, near to The Metal Man in Tramore, County Waterford, is the place where I was conceived during the cold month of February 1942. Kilkenny is the county that my dear late father played soccer for and excelled in this sport before going on to play for the National Irish squad. The South West of Ireland is the geographical area that my maternal grandfather, William Fanning went on the run as an I.R.A. rebel during the immediate years following the Irish Easter Rebellion of 1916. The river up the Curramorgh in Portlaw, County Waterford is the place that a precocious young, girl two years my senior, took me skinny dipping one summer afternoon during a holiday back home to my birthplace when I was 16 years old and introduced me to 'love on the rocks'. Ireland is not only the land of my birth but it forms the very nature of my history, my earliest childhood memories and the clay of my character. My very first breath of life at my birth will remain preserved in my lungs and bloodstream of my body until I finally expel it on my deathbed. When I die, part of my ashes will be buried within the graves of my maternal grandparents in Portlaw.
England, forgive me Granddad Fanning, is the country that has given me the most since I arrived here at the early age of 4 years. England provided my father with work as a miner when unemployment in Ireland drove millions of migrants across the Irish Sea to the shores of England to secure a better and more prosperous life for themselves and their families. We obtained a lovely newly-built council house within five years of arriving in West Yorkshire on Windybank Estate, Hightown, and not unlike the migrants of today, all the Irish Catholics on the estate kept in close contact and supported each other through thick and thin during our earlier years here. England provided us with work, accommodation, education, and national health service access. As my mother used to say whenever my Irish nationalistic father would utter some uncharitable comment about the Royal family or some other English tradition, 'Paddy Forde, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Everything we ever had in this world, we got in England. Shame on you!' Ironically, my paternal grandfather was an Englishman and it was my mother's father who had the I.R.A. connections. She was the parent who'd been reared in an Irish rebel household until her marriage at the age of 18 years, yet she was the parent who was eternally grateful to England for all it gave our family.
England is where my home will always be, while a place in my heart will always hold Ireland forever dear to me. It was within England that I enjoyed a full education up to and beyond university level. It was a West African surgeon working in an English hospital that saved my life at the early age of 11 years following a horrific traffic accident and when my multiple injuries were extensive and life-threatening. This single incident in my life shaped my attitudes towards non-white skinned people thereafter and reaffirmed my belief in fate and God. It was England that offered me the opportunity to become the youngest Youth Leader in Great Britain as well as the youngest Shop Steward in Great Britain at the age of 18 years. It was my research in England that led to me becoming the founder of Anger Management, one of the country's foremost Relaxation Trainers, a Mill Manager, a Probation Officer, an Author of 67 published books, along with making friends with hundreds of famous people on the national and international stage. It was in England where the locality, the county and the country gave recognition to my contribution to society by giving me a medal from the Queen for my services to the wider community of West Yorkshire, followed by two awards from the Borough of Kirklees Council for my services towards the local community. The National Health Service has literally been a lifesaver to me since the age of 11 years. The N.H.S. has saved my life six times with its operations performed on me and treatment given to me over the past 60 years. Even as I write this post, the care they have provided has already extended my lifespan three years beyond the average lifespan of people with my blood cancer condition.
I mention these achievements, not out of an inflated ego or sense of importance, but to illustrate that everything that has happened to me of significance since the age of five years has occurred in England, and everything my parents and family ever received of significance was given in England!
For any pair of sweethearts to visit Paris without declaring their undying love from the top of the Eiffel Tower is a sin not to be forgiven. To stride through the district of Montmartre which is renowned for its white-domed Basilica of the Sacre Coeur on its summit and not mar at its awesome architecture or to walk in the footsteps of famous artists such as Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh without sensing that you tread on the cultural minds and mould of history is to deliberately bar oneself from ever knowing the sheer bliss of appreciating good art.
I love being in Paris, particularly in the autumn. It is the place to be when one is in love; the place where love can be purchased in any cafe or on any corner along the Champs-Elysees by any seeker of it for no higher outlay than that of a wayward glance.
As for Italy, ah, Italy! What can one add about Italy that hasn't been said by the traveller. The Italian unification was between (1738-1870). Modern Italy became a nation-state during the Risorgimento on March 17th, 1861, when most of the states of the Italian Peninsula and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies were united under King Victor Emmanuel 11 of the House of Savoy, hitherto the King of Sardinia. Since then, however, Italy has not adorned itself in international glory. It was 'on the wrong side' at the start of the Second World War and under the dictator, Mussolini, Italy allied itself in treaty with Adolf Hitler of Germany.
Even before Hitler ever appeared on the scene, organized crime has been prevalent in Italy, particularly, Southern Italy. Since the 19th century, organised crime has affected the social and economic life of many Italian regions, although the more heavily active Mafia-like organisations such as the Costa Nostra is known to have existed the longest and started to develop between 1500-1800. The very first time Sheila and I visited Italy, we witnessed the stranglehold power that the Mafia exercised on the Government of the day through its control of the country's unions and their ability to call instant strikes and bring the country to a standstill whenever it wished. Indeed, the influence of the Mafia pervades the entire economics and even politics of the country. If an Italian head of the family, for instance, runs a business, almost all his employees are 'kept in the family'. Not even the Vatican can free itself entirely from the influence of the Mafia and particularly the involvement of organized crime and its laundered money through Italian banks.
Yet, the other side of Italy that tourists predominantly see is the friendliness and openly-welcome nature of its people. I love being in Italy for its food, culture and spectacular scenery more than any other country I have been to in the world. Like most/all of the Mediterranean countries, its slower pace of life and its consumption of fish, fruit, salad and olive oils makes it one of the healthier parts of the world in which to eat well and live longer. Italy has a history that dates back way beyond the Roman times and a culture that has impacted every other European country significantly. One of its current greatest economic failings is the people of the country's propensity not to pay their taxes as they ought to and still expect the coalition government of the day to pick up the tab and still provide an adequate level of services overall.
Given all the ups and downs in the world today, the nationalistic part of me says loud and clear, 'give me England to live in any day of the month or year' as all round, it beats all other countries hands down when it comes to democracy, personal freedom of its citizens, along with its educational, employment and health provisions. Where England undoubtedly lacks as an adequate provider today is in the area of housing and low pay. Over the past decade, we have established the practice of squeezing the worker until the pips squeak, thereby keeping a vast portion of the employment force earning inadequate wage levels for the work they perform and the economic responsibilities they are saddled with and cannot ignore like eating, keeping a roof over one's head and staying one day ahead of going into the red. I realise we are not alone as a country in these areas where things could/should be much better, and this is why each country across the world needs to draw on its strengths more than being preoccupied with its weaknesses."
Love and peace Bill xxx