Gareth Malone – You Owe Me The Price of a Box of Kleenex Balsam

I have a scribbled list in front of me of things I really, really must do today.  Not things I can put off.  Things I actually have to do.

Instead of doing them I have been eating cheese and onion crisps and crying my heart out watching the last episode of Gareth Malone and the Military Wives Choir. (I’ve linked to episode one, but all three episodes are on iPlayer at the moment if you want to watch).

I am not really very sentimental, but this programme has had me in floods of tears since the first episode, and by the final half hour I was howling like a baby, but in a good way.

I have blogged about Gareth before.  He is an unassuming, frankly weedy looking swot of a young man who has a mania for teaching the world to sing.  Gareth believes that pretty much everything from the Foot and Mouth crisis to rioting can be solved if everyone would just come together in perfect harmony.

He may well be right.  I’m not knocking him.  For a man who looks like he couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag, he is a single minded, one man crusade regarding the power of music to heal and bring together communities.

In this series, Gareth takes on the wives of RMB Chivenor and Plymouth down in Devon while their husbands are away in Afghanistan, and teaches them to sing.

It is a very simple premise.  They need something positive to focus on, something to distract them from what their husbands are going through, and Gareth provides it.

But it isn’t really that simple in the end.  Like most things that seem simple, but which are powerful, like this project and this programme, it is so much more than the sum of its parts.

You cared about the women in the choir.  You wanted them to succeed.  You related to what they were going through.  It gave you a new understanding of their lives.  Lives that are usually forgotten behind all the stories about what the men are doing.

When you hear the women sing at the Festival of Remembrance at The Royal Albert Hall at the end of the programme it is a truly heart burstingly joyful thing. The solo, by Sam, (a young mother with two children, one of whom is autistic, and a mother who was in a high dependency unit with serious injuries from a car accident that happened just after her husband got back from the front line), was achingly pure and touching.

The programme stirred up all kinds of complex feelings in me.  I can only imagine what it did to people more closely connected to the cause and the wives.

I have to be honest and say that I am pretty much a pacifist.

I can’t say I don’t believe in war, because I think that is naive.  Human beings who live cheek by jowl with each other generally tend to fight each other.  It has happened throughout history.  Unless there is a sea change in human psychology I am pretty sure it will keep happening.  I think this is a terrible shame, but there you have it.

I can say that unless I considered what was being fought for was a just cause, I would not choose to fight.  And even if I did consider a cause to be just I would still have to think long and hard knowing that what I was doing could result in me having to take another life with my own hands.

Were I to be called up myself, I would be a conscientious objector.

Luckily nobody is asking me to make any such choice.

I have that luxury.  But then nobody is threatening my family or harming anything or anybody I care deeply about.  Who can say what I would choose were the circumstances different?

I do know that in this current society and climate, I would not choose to take part in our action in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I think I would have felt differently in 1939.  Who knows what I will feel in future if something were to say threaten the well being of my children?

It’s not an easy thing to think about or talk about.

I am also aware that other people feel differently to me, choose differently to me, and believe very passionately about the choices they make.  That doesn’t make them stupid or lesser people. It just makes them different.  I think choosing to take part in any branch of the military is very different from say, the mindless violence of the riots in the summer.  At least I like to think it is.

Frankly, I feel uneasy about anything military at all.  I nearly didn’t watch this series.

The programme made you think again.

I may not agree with our military action, but we have an army, a navy and an airforce, and just because I don’t agree with them for the most part, doesn’t mean they’re going to go away.  The people who choose to serve in those areas have a job to do.  It’s not a very nice job, but many consider it a very necessary job, and there is no denying that they put their lives on the line in doing it.

And I have to respect that.

But more than anything I have to respect those people who stay behind and wait.  The wives, the girlfriends, the mothers’, the children.  All the people who don’t get any choice about the people they love being in the front line, putting themselves in harm’s way.  The women, who as Gareth put it, had no voice.

Their fortitude and support for their other halves and each other was really touching and inspirational.  The pressure they live under must be immense. I can only imagine what it would be like to say goodbye to Jason for six months at a time, and how it would affect our children.  I am not saying that I wouldn’t cope. I would.  These women coped beautifully.  They don’t lack in strength, and neither do I, but still, it would be like being a ghost in my own life.

And the worry would drive me round the bend.

The women were inspired and inspiring.  They were powerful and strong.  They found their voices and used them, and they genuinely touched my cynical old heart, which is quite a feat.

I hope they go from strength to strength. I hope they run with what they have and make it bigger and brighter and better and reach out to more women, and not just other military wives.  All women.

I know they did to me.

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9 responses to “Gareth Malone – You Owe Me The Price of a Box of Kleenex Balsam

  1. Fabulous blog Katyboo … I was too exhausted to watch last night and you have just motivated me to catch up on i-player – thank you xx

  2. No worries. Hope you had a box of tissues handy.x

  3. PLEASE is there a CD and if so how do I get it?

  4. Would love to have a dvd on episode 3 of them singing at the Albert Hall can that be purchased?

  5. David
    I have no idea unfortunately. The military wives have a facebook page and twitter accounts and they keep them completely up to date with all new stuff, so check them out. Good luck.

  6. I’m with you about the tears, Katy. Unfortunately I missed the series, but the single is unbelieveable, and when Chris Evans told the story this morning about a serving father in Afghanistan getting back just in time to watch his son in the school nativity play I was crying buckets. I just hope now it makes no. 1!

  7. Here, here! Like you i am not a crier and i just cried my way through the full length re-run of The Choir. Beaufiful song. What an achievement by women who already achieve so much, on their own, on a daily basis. I can’t imagine having to mind the kids alone for months on end all the while worrying about loosing my partner. True heroines!

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