Thursday, 26 December 2013

Is THIS Love?

I am thinking about soul stuff again. 

The wisdom- tradition handed down to us by St Francis of Assissi is that the soul resides below the heart. I like this, because the soul is the dwelling place of God- within, and when waiting for God, who always comes, this is from where. I have never seen a blinding light, heard a booming voice, or even had a conversation with an Angel. He comes as a gentle upwelling, and an out-flowing : of joy, and laughter or sorrow, and tears, it all depends, and always fits. 

Trumpets and Angel-song is for Christmas, and for babies I find: a different reality.

If, of course, I am describing any kind of reality at all - you know me, believing what I like - I am open to the possibility of error. (But not very...) 

I never claim to be good, because, in fact, I am not. Not for the want of trying, to be fair, but something about me always reassesrts itself when I am at my goodest - An inbuilt tendency to rebellion that is part of me, and is impervious to persuasion, or prayer. The Church calls it 'original sin' and has come up with a myth to explain it, which works, in a funny sort of way.  And yet, and yet... Let me try to make sense of it.

I am as I am because I am a conscious being with a conscience. This is elementary stuff,  I know. In addition I am graced by an amazing set of circumstances that brings me to you now, happy, fulfilled, imperfect, good enough, sometimes... Forgiven at others. In short, at peace. 

So the myth. It's all too easy to get tangled up in the free-will thing, which is always too simplistic and rarely satisfying. (Pretty much knocked on the head by neuro-science too, for the record.) I am thinking that perhaps after all, we didn't screw up in the beginning because God let us, just to be disappointed in us. 

Eve, the proto-mother in the myth, was sinless when deceived by the voice of the serpent into biting into the apple. In order to be disobedient, she would have had to be capable of knowing what disobedience WAS:this is a foundational tenet of human justice, one can hardly suppose it to be absent from the divine. She didn't, so she wasn't, so the whole thing is more about finding a way out of a state of sublime innocence than laying all the troubles of this world on the actions of a woman - for which all women must be eternally blamed. 

Look, I know this is heresy, but as I intimated earlier, rebellion is in my nature, and better out than in, say I. I am not feeling the least bit condemned: though I am pretty sure if this were the seventeenth century, I wouldn't be blogging it... 

There is one Question God-within invites all who can, to answer when called to judgement: "Is this what Love would do?" Pretty fundamental, if you ask me. Many of the dearest people I know have no truck with conventional religion, and really, who can blame them? Not me. The news is full of grudge-taking revenge attacks by adherents to this or that god-bent, by faith-full people inventing new and worse ways of harming each other, in order, usually, to attach God to their pursuit of power, or wealth.  All equally convinced of the rightness of their cause, never asking, "Is THIS Love?" 

I long ago realised that I had to give up the notion of an 'anything' God. I mean by that a God  OF justice or a God Of love. A being that will necessarily attach himself to any of my causes, or shield me from any of the stuff that comes to everyone else. (I mean, how just would that be?) He isn't OF anything - She just IS. 

With Eve, I walked out of belief in the easy life in the Garden. I have sorrow and joy, I love and lose, I am well and sick, I am good and bad... I enjoy and endure and enjoy again. This is to be human - to be conscious with a conscience and it is GOOD.

So what then, is 'faith' all about..? It is knowing that God is not a distant Other. But a living, loving Inner. Here, dwelling among us, upholding us  and  experiencing his creation through us. He, not me, is the innocent one. She is Love.

He is perfectly presented to us as a baby, born to live a precarious life in a troubled world, with an inevitable and messy death. just like the rest of us.

Thankfully, that is NOT the whole story.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Is It REALLY Saturday Again?

I ask because last week, I thought Friday was Saturday, and had, as a consequence, TWO Saturdays, which was great, and sorted out by the time Sunday came around, which was manic because my friend John Gow came unexpectedly to Mass and I was keeping an eye on Abigail, collecting cyclamen, and asking for contributions for Gloucester City Mission Christmas Hampers all at the same time.. It is to be hoped the three will not be subject to confusion and deposited In the wrong resting place. Highly unlikely, as Abigail, a two-year old who knows her own mind, will not take kindly to be given away to a homeless person, or being used to decorate the window sills for the Feast of The Nativity.

I can't believe how quickly the week has flown by! It was relatively successful, especially in the joke department. I say, and it used to be true,  that I only know two jokes: though now I strain to recall what the one that wasn't about George Washington and the cherry tree, was. I rather hope it will return unscathed, but these days, there's no guarantee.

Monday was the Salvation Army Christmas Dinner. It was everything you'd expect, with a real brass ensemble playing carols. Although, come to think of it,  you might reasonably expect that at the Salvation Army.

Here's the first joke:

Three drunks approached a night-club. The gentleman on the door, AKA' a Bouncer', refused them entry because they weren't wearing an item of Christmas cheer. The first drunk went away and returned with a sprig of holly pinned to his jacket, and was allowed in. The second, likewise, only sporting a bunch of mistletoe. The third came back with a pair of knickers on his head. " You can't come in wearing THOSE. There's nothing. Christmassy about them!" Exclaimed The Bouncer.

"Oh yes there is!" Our third friend retorted. "They're Carol's!"

Ho ho ho. 

The second joke is worse than the first, so you may wish to give up and go home at this point. Oh Lord! I've just remembered, it might be construed as anti-religious, so I'd best be careful. 

An Anglican, a Catholic and a Calvinist went to heaven. At the Pearly Gates they entered into a pact to come back and let each other know how they got on. 

The Anglican went in first, and after ten minutes came out to make his report:

"Well, that wasn't too bad... I was wrong about a few things, but they let me in."

The. Catholic went in next, and SHE came out looking very relieved. "I was wrong about a few things too!" She said, but I'm in.

The Calvinist went next and was gone a very long time. Eventually, Jesus came out... 

"I was wrong about a few things ... "

Oh! Well, you'll either get it or you won't.

Merry Christmas Everyone! 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Anti-Shopping: An End To Spending

I have reached that stage in my life when I own more stuff than I know what to do with, an embarrassing proportion of which I have forgotten that I have. There is the occasional squeal of delight as some forgotten treasure, or especially poignant piece of memorabilia comes to light:Marylyn's baby shoes, silk flowers from a chocolate box,a whistle I confiscated from the naughtiest boy I ever taught. (Darren Gibbons. 1988/89) 

On Saturday, Ray and I went shopping for a sofa, as the one I am lounging on to write this, is seriously compromised by the snapping of a third of its supporting wooden slats. First stop, the Emmaus outlet near the old Drill Hall in Tredworth. Nothing suitable there, but we did succeed at the Furniture Recyclying Depot: a fabulous green corner unit in sea green, for £60. An multi-colour African throw completes the look. 

Whilst browsing around the shops I invented a brand-new shopping experience for the seriously over endowed (with stuff!) who nevertheless love the thrill of acquisition. Anti-shopping. 

Anti-shopping works like this. You browse your favourite outlets and spot things you would LOVE to own. You make a note of the price and keep a tally. At the end of the session you can tot up how much you haven't spent, and use the money for a treat that doesn't sit gathering dust at the back of the cupboard.  I saved £250 by anti-buying a bread maker, a deep-fat fryer and a fireside rug.

I shall use the savings to enjoy a Spa Day with my friend Jeanette.

I have yet to persuade the family financier of the legitimacy of this exercise, but that, I think, is just a matter of time. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Sidestepping The Fight

Twice in one day! Seems a little excessive, but I found this in my inbox today, and though it worth passing on. It makes sense to me.

Thomas pokes his finger into the wound on the resurrected Jesus' chest with a look of disbelief on his face.

    Image: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (detail), c. 1601-1602, by Caravaggio   

Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation

Seven Themes of an Alternative Orthodoxy

Seventh Theme: Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion (Goal).

Liberals Versus Conservatives

Meditation 21 of 52

At this time in history, the contemporary choice offered most Americans isbetween unstable correctness (liberals) and stable illusion (conservatives)!What a choice! It has little to do with real transformation in either case. How different from the radical traditionalism of T.S. Eliot: “You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity or carry report. You are here to kneel . . . ” (Little Gidding)

There is a third way, and it probably is a way of “kneeling.” Most people would just call it “wisdom.” It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind of both liberals and conservatives. An authentic God encounter is the quickest and truest path to such wisdom, which is non-dual consciousness.

Neither expelling nor excluding (conservative temptation), nor perfect explaining (liberal temptation) is our task. True participation in God liberates us each from our control towers and for the compelling and overarching vision of the Reign of God—where there are no liberals or conservatives. Here, the paradoxes—life and death, success and failure, loyalty to what is and risk for what needs to be—do not fight with one another, but lie in an endless embrace. We must penetrate behind them both—into the Mystery that bears them both. This is contemplation in action.

Adapted from Contemplation in Action, pp. 27-30

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Stepping Into Presence

Every piece by an Oldie that begins, "When I was young" deserves to be by-passed, so I'm expecting the worst. However, what lies on my heart deserves an outing, albeit in a wheelchair. So here goes:

When I was young, I was certain that I knew how the world worked, what my place in it was going to be, and how to right its wrongs. Those were the heady days of passionate belief, blind faith and towering ego. I smile quietly to myself now, looking upon Mary the Younger with the same gentle compassion that I reserve for every other sinner. 

I might think that I played the game of life and lost. I am not rich, the great career I mapped out for myself ended in failure, only one of my poems has been  published, and ... And ... And...

By no means! Everyone of those little failures achieved a great work: the slaying of my ego. That is, the laying to rest of my false, invented self, that thought those things were important, and wasted years striving for them. 

I am thinking of the parallel life that I have that flows silently on beneath all the sound and fury of the striving self. The laughing child, that never stops playing in the woods, and invites me, moment by moment, to wonder at the Presence that is both  'me' and 'Other' within and beyond the boundaries of my consciousness. 

I don't understand what this is, that I am trying to explain, and I know that none of you can learn of it from me.  Neither caught nor taught, but discovered, uncovered, awakened: maybe in times of ecstasy, maybe in times of great pain. 

I think I used to call something  less than this, 'god,'  but so much less! 

I spend a lot of time with religious people, and would count myself among them, but I am aware that I am journeying away from the limited parameters of many of their beliefs, whilst at the same time admiring how deeply held they are, and how beautifully made manifest in work amongst the weak and vulnerable. 

It's the striving that marks the difference between them and me. I don't feel the need. I heard Jesus cry, 'It is finished!' from the cross, and believed him. You see, at that moment, the veil in the temple was torn in two. Everything that separated us from Union vanished, the river of life so eloquently described in the Apocolypse, now flows freely through the whole of Creation. Through me, through you. 

So, prayer. Not a begging of a diffident divinity for a hearing and a boon. No. Rather, stepping into the living Presence and source of life, and holding those who need it, in loving compassion in this place of great peace - until they have learned to come to it for themselves. The gift to them is not to say prayers for them, but to wait in silence and BE prayer in their stead. 

What I understand now, that I could not have appreciated, or even believed,  when I was young, is that I am not able to put the world to rights, it will right itself in time. That my place in this world, that which I have tried so poorly to explain, is gift and wonderful, and has nothing to do with wealth,  or  power, or success. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Lost For Words

Because Tony and I occasionally meet with members of the local council to discuss 'the homeless', I sometimes ask permission from some of the visitors to Gloucester City Mission Drop In Centre if I might write down their stories to be given in evidence ...

Jonathan is seething with anger. I might have turned from him and picked a softer target, had not Annie, another of our guests, nudged me and said, "Looks like he could do with some help." This is lighting the blue touch paper to a Type Two on the Enneagram, so rush in to 'help', I did.

J poured out hs life story. 

In 1987, Johnathan aged two, was taken to a courtroom and handed over to a social worker to be made ward of the state. he stayed in care for nineteen years. he is now twenty-six years old. 

during those nineteen years, Jonathan lived in thirteen Children's Homes, and was placed in seventy-eight different foster homes. Seventy-eight. 

Was there anyone in those nineteen years who dared to care enough to at least TRY to guarantee a stable home?

No. I doubt he was an easy child. He wanted his own family. Lost, bereaved, confused, angry, I expect he made every adult and institution pay for his sense of emptiness and loss. .

He married, a son was born that lived just two days. His wife left. His fractured and unwanted life fell apart.

It doesn't get any better. When I hear people sounding off about 'benefit scroungers', I don't respond. If you haven't heard this for yourself, how could you comprehend it?

Saturday, 9 November 2013


Further into The QI Book of the Dead, 76%, and something struck me with the usual OMG gasp of recognition of the blindingly obvious. 

I retweet those cosy and comforting 140 characters of encouragement I am pleased to receive  with a passing, 'Aw, that's nice' without much thought to how true this particular sliver of wisdom might be.  ( If 'true' is even the right word.) My own, though perhaps not my VERY own, insight into the inner working  of the human soul:

 (Altogether now!!!)

"You can believe what you like and get away with it." 

Is resoundingly vindicated  in the section  I am currently reading on the after- life convictions of some of our dearly departed that are so far out as to be - well, very far out indeed. 

Nikola Tesla. Great bloke, phenomenal mind, nutty as a fruit cake, invented stuff the which of, you couldn't be doing without, and generally got himself robbed of the benefits. Believed he was in communication with aliens, and had a, platonic,  love affair with a pigeon. This guy could see and work in three dimensions and solve complex mathematical puzzles before the challenger had finished writing them down. I forgive him the pigeon. He got electricity to work. 

Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers, a  gentle peace-loving Christian sect that threw themselves about ( in the Spirit, that is) and got themselves persecuted in the process, for making too much noise. Ann took herself and her followers off to New York State, back before the Statue of Liberty was up, knocked on someone's door, took over the house, and shook away for a couple of hundred years when not making astoundingly good furniture. 

Ann had the most show- stopping visions of Hell, which appeared to be populated by people who insisted on having sex. (Whilst alive...) Shakers didn't. A practice that pretty much put paid to Shaking as a means of grace once Ann (thought by some to be Jesus) died and was no longer around to hold the reins, and get converts. The Shakers voted in1965 not to admit more members, and there are now just three of them left.

You see? You really CAN believe the most extraordinary things and be good, kind, and/or  a genius. 

LOTS of famous people have. Let's give it a go! 

I wondered what grandiose, whacky, amazing, worldview I could come up with, with attendant lifestyle,  if I really put my mind to it. I gave it a lot of thought. No aliens, Messiahs, pigeons, shaking, or sexual abstinence: those slots, thankfully, are taken. 

I haven't decided where I'm going with this yet, but I have divined that with a bit more imagination life could be a whole lot more interesting!

On second thoughts, my life as it is, is often as interesting as I want it to be, so perhaps I'll just finish The Book of the Dead and let my fantasy- life return to normal. MY normal, that is.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Screwing Up The Future

I am reading, and enjoying, 'The QI Book Of The Dead' and have made a startling discovery. Many of Britain's great achievers failed in school. I should, by rights, give chapter and verse, but can't because I have clean forgotten the details. To maintain credibility, I will go back and look, and add the names in due course.

I have run from British politics because they make me mad. You might remember this, but it bears repeating if only to ensure that I do... . 

However, certain bits of information filter down to my depths, and as my antennae are, through habit, attuned to education, I am currently watching with a kind of dumbstruck incredulity, the nation's attitude to equipping the next generation for the uncertainty that the future holds. I hear that A Levels are, yet again, judged incapable of delivering the Holy Grail, and resits are to be curtailed to ... to ... Do what, precisely? 

Does ANYBODY question the annual prize-fighting over 'standards' in education? How can they always be falling but never hit bottom? Are our children REALLY less well educated than the Finns? 

You know something? I don't care. I've nothing against the Finns, they are good at passing tests and they founded Nokia. What's not to like? It's what we English are are up to that's got my goat.  I hate what our system does to kids. Are, the competition for University places, the assumption that an academic education is superior, the unconscionable stress kids are placed under to achieve, REALLY the best we can do? 

Open your eyes. The University merry-go-round is a market like any other. Do you REALLY think that 'standards' would be an issue if there were more places than students? 

Disaffection amongst young people, graduates with no prospects of jobs, a poorly educated and unemployable underclass, are the result of the god-awful win/lose, pass/fail mentality that continues to be touted as the ONLY way to prepare our children for the rest of their lives. It's unfair, sure, but worse - it's wasteful. 

I taught the 'proper' Baccalaureate for a while. Not the 'get a minimum number of subjects' travesty that the DoE peddles, but the real thing. Student questions formed part of the Programme of Study, as did mandatory inclusion of the elements of the Learner Profile - 'Principled', 'Open-minded' and 'Risk -taking' to name but three. The outcomes of the REAL  Bac are measured  both in academic achievement, and in what the students produced as a result of their learning that benefited the community. 

I call that REAL education.  And surely, in a global market, an international education, and a practising meritocracy, is exactly what our  young people need? Maybe fewer of the truly intelligent will drop out? 

Interested? Take a look:

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Hopeless Causes

So St Jude has made the headlines, riding the coat-tails of Sunday's storm. Now everyone knows that my Birthday Saint has hopeless causes in his care. I am tickled pink by this.

I respect the views of my fellow-Catholics on the efficacy of appealing  to saints for their intercession, though it's not a practice I adhere to, BUT I have a remarkable tale to tell. 

Two years ago, Sunderland Football Club had an abysmal run of eighteen losses on the trot. It was almost unbelievable ... After the sixth successive defeat, I stopped offering sympathy, and holding out hope for victory 'next time'. After the seventeenth defeat I mentioned that it might be time to call upon St Jude... .

Sunderland won the following match, then sufficient in number to avoid relegation from the Premier Division, which ought to be counted a miracle. I was just as amazed as the Football Fan in the household, which shouldn't surprise you. Oddly enough, a brief mention to the hallowed gentleman this weekend  seems to have pulled off a last minute goal against arch-rivals Newcastle United.  This was definitely a mixed blessing, as I support Newcastle, when I remember to do so: though not seriously since the charming Rud Gullit was given the push, many moons ago. 

Prayer seems so arbitrary to me. The queen appears to be long reigning over us, which might prove something, but death, disease and misfortune seem to be impervious to entreaty. Yet, I persist, because it helps. Which is to say, it helps ME. At least, in the face of the inevitable and sad, I feel as if I've done something.

Perhaps St Jude feels the same way.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


I am thinking about cups. As an avid reader of Regency Romantic Fiction (in my TEENS) I learned that to be 'in his cups' meant the would-be ravisher was drunk. Cups is a suit in the Tarot deck, which is an ancient and rather guilty memory, because to have dabbled in Tarot Reading  is a stoneable offence in the Old Testament. which I was once commanded to swallow whole, but now do not. On the grounds that if I couldn't do terrible things to people, God, who is Love, wasn't about to do them either. I brush my Tarot dabbling aside along with the Regency Romantic Fiction, as something left behind in my teens, and about as meaningful. 

There's that lovely phrase from the 23rd Psalm, 'My cup runneth over.' My youngest self, that spent hours working with words, interpreting them as pictures, imagined  something like a flood in a chalice, and wonder what it was running over.... The literalism of young children is delightful, but something to be occasionally wary of... 

I should be working, but I am patently not. The house must be fit for habitation by Thursday at 7pm when Ray and I arrive home with Ursula, our house guest for six weeks. Ursula is a friend of my friend Ruth, with whom I spent a lovely vacation in Zurich and Locarno the year before last. The Icelandic Poppy seeds I bought in the Botanical Gardens in the middle of Lake Locarno bloomed magnificently this summer. I may have a photo to post, because I'm sure, if you're still reading this, you'd like to see it. (Aside)

Cups. I was actually thinking about the half-full cliche that defines an optimist. What was I going to say?

Oh yes! Half-full and still filling.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Beforelife

Two weeks ago I met with like-minded people to explore death. It's a queer thing, death. We don't much want to talk about it, which is hardly surprising, because contemplation of our demise isn't terribly cheerful. It's not the topic, when otherwise lost for words, that one would usually raise, when one has 'football', or 'Coronation Street' to fall back on.

One of the would-be participants in the Death Weekend obliged by dying the week before the meet. This is not so dramatically spooky, as she was over eighty (an achievement that is an ambition of mine) but her appointment with her maker did mean the Death Group could attend her funeral. A worthy and wonderful woman emerged from the Event. We Deathers later eulogised over what a marvellous woman she was;how special; though we never met her, we knew we would  have been friends... . 

"That's precisely BECAUSE,"  I remarked, sagely, "You never knew her. Nobody discusses the tough stuff at funerals." A trend I fully intend to have perpetuated when  I pass on. 

I died once. I was much too young to remember where my consciousness went in the process, but I returned as I am today, totally unphased by the prospect of extinction. Wherever I went, I was pleased to be there. Pretty pleased to come back too, accepting with a child's surrender to what is, that whatever will be will be. 

The point of this weekend hosted by Grim Reaper Elves, was to get death out of our systems. To tell death stories, thus removing the trauma from them. To look forward to what remains of life, and to drink tea and eat cake. I intended to plan my funeral too, but never got round to it. I will, I will, - stop nagging! 

Last Wednesday, I visited my friend Margareta. We talk about death a lot, because she's very, very ill, and we know her time is short. She's worried about leaving her only son behind, but otherwise rather looking forward to the Afterlife. Neither of us speculates much about what it entails. We are Catholics. We are trained to live with mystery. 

Bearing in mind that she's so sick, I really shouldn't have quarrelled with her about Hell. "You don't want to believe in it, because it's too hard," says Margareta. "Not at all, " I retort, "I don't want to believe in it because it's an obscenity!" 

An obscenity. For there to be a hell, there must be no love. And God is Love, or a waste of space. 

"If people I love have to go to hell. then I choose to go with them. In protest. Suck THAT up God!" 

Oh dear! That's torn it. 

Meandering on to a conclusion:

Speculation about what happens when we die is intellectually stimulating, if rather pointless. We are practically pure energy, as is all matter, and energy can neither be created or destroyed, so survival is guaranteed in some form by a Universal Constant... . There's food for thought... 

The Afterlife can, and will, wait. It's the Beforelife that concerns me now. Whatever comes next for me won't be a physical entity like this one, no matter what. So I am going to make the most of what I experience now. Even the sad and bad bits. Everything is amazing.

I would like to leave you with something uplifting after this rather gloomy piece of introspection, so I'm going to end  with Garrison Keillor's postscript to his 'Writer's Almanac' Podcast:

"Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."



Friday, 11 October 2013

More! (There's More?)

Not to be flippant, but I thought Aspasia was memory lapse. Not at all. She was a Philosopher. She lived about 400 BC. 

It's not what she thought about that caught my attention, but what she did. ' A courtesan and a brothel-keeper.' Her marble bust is in. The Vatican Collection. Lots of food for thought here. I may take up Philosophy after all. 

Not Quite Ready

"I have achieved little in the field of soul-enhancement this week. No programme of self improvement has been embarked upon, and no improving books have been read. "

... In the normal run of things, this unpromising opening  would not have blossomed into a blog post. BUT - something extraordinary happened as I placed a tentative full stop at the end of that sentence - Twitter notified me with it's quaint little 'ding' that I have a new Follower. Well, golly, this is a remarkable event! My Followers are few and precious (I expect you know I was traumatised by being Unfollowed by Cheltenham... .) so to gain one is ridiculously gratifying. 

My new Follower is a Philosopher. My first Philospher! I am clutching my hands to my breast and fluttering my eyelids - metaphorically, of course, except for the fluttering eyelids - I am overcome with pride and gratitude. A Philosopher!

How do I know Simon is a Philosopher? He says so on his Twitter profile. And he writes books and has a philosophically-leaning website. I checked, of course. Why would I be puddling about HERE when I have a Follower to look into? 

Then I get to thinking. How do you become a Philosopher? What IS a Philosopher? What does a Philosopher actually DO?

I am off to Find Out.  I shall ask my ipad. 

Philosophers, I am informed, study Philosophy. Which I THINK boils down to explaining the world, and you have to be very clever to do it and very few are women. 

"A belief or system of beliefs accepted by a group or school." 

I have a system of beliefs! Summed up in the One Great Truth, the of which you are all familiar now: 

"You can believe what you like and get away with it." 

So I am off this instant to find a woman philosopher to see if I can pick up a few tips, because by now I am anxious to become one.

My voice recognition searchy-thing got the wrong end of the stick when I requested he 'Find women philosophers' and he came up with: "Here are a list of dating sites in your area." I have a hunch women Philosophers would not be amused. I was. Which probably means I'm not quite ready to be a Philosopher just yet. 

  • Philosophers, for the most part, are constitutionally timid, and dislike the unexpected. Few of them would be genuinely happy as pirates or burglars." -- Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, Chapter IV, Part iii, p. 74.
I find myself hereby disqualified on three counts. Four if you include being a woman. Would I be genuinely happy as a pirate or burglar though? I shall have to think about that one. 

    Wednesday, 9 October 2013

    Ministering Angel (Halo Slippage Alert... .)

    I do try very hard to be the heart and soul of compassion when I do my impression  of Mercy personified on a Wednesday morning.  I let the side down today. It's Rodney. He's a underhand, rude, grasping, slimy, bastard and today when he told me to "Fuck off' because I wouldn't give him a second sausage roll, I saw red. Seeing red isn't in the Ministering Angel Handbook, and I see a trip to the confessional coming out of this. ( With a sense of relief, actually, at having achieved something I am going to feel able to confess to. I am seriously selective.)

    He came back after a few minutes for a chocolate bar. Jamie pointed out a second sausage roll sticking out of Rodney's pocket. I repatriated it, and handed it to someone else.

    We then had a verbal battle where I turned into a schoolmarm and let everyone know, shrilly,  that I am "Not inclined to give anything to ANYONE who tells me to fuck off!" Iowyn later gave him a Pot Noodle, but I reckoned that was OK, because he'd apologised, and besides, it wasn't her he'd sworn at. 

    I think I'll stay away from the Vaughn Centre for a while.

    Rodney's behaviour is untypical. The vast majority of men and women I meet are embarrassingly grateful. I wish I'd held my temper for their sakes, but I didn't. 

    Working with Gloucester City Mission has it's lighter moments. That I was a little acerbic today, is a different kind of sharing, I admit, but the reason I do this work is to show solidarity with the poor, and when I let rip, I guess the favour is returned. We are all just muddling through.

    Thankfully, our population is transient. Many of the recepients of the pies and chocolates eventually get it together and move on, some even   join the Mission Team, and make the best workers, because they are the best witnesses to how change  is possible. 

    Sometimes we just have to laugh. I encourage the group to be politically active, though I NEVER (truly!) advise them how to vote, just to refrain from moaning to me about the Council or the Coalition if they didn't. Karla, a transgender woman had us all in stitches a couple of weeks ago.

    "I voted National Front last time." she said. "Karla!" I laughed, "Do you KNOW what skinheads would do to you if they knew your history?" 

    Karla was unmoved. "Well, " she said, "At least they'd do something about all the foreigners that come over here and ..." You can guess the rest.

    The Town Team found a guy today who sleeps rough in the entrance to Debenhams. Tom advised him to sleep round the back where he was less likely to be disturbed.

    "Oh no!" the guy replied, "You can't pick up the WIFI  round there!"

    You live and learn.

    Sunday, 6 October 2013

    Having A Moan

    I happen to believe that if you are capable of working, you should. I wonder if there is ANYTHING at all controversial about that? I am thinking long and hard about the tone of the speeches from the Tory Party Conference, which  I know are about rallying  the troops, and taking a swipe at the unemployed is an easy way to get the faithful cheering: it's just that I don't think some people really know what life is like for the poorest amongst us. I'd sum up in one word what I see most of: despair. 

    I am a bit of a left-winger,  though with age, a little more likely to stand in the Centre and wonder at it all. My work with the people who use feeding centres and food banks in my locality is giving me pause for thought. George, Sandy, Andrew, Lisa, Alice, Marta, .... These men and women don't strike me as feckless, scrounging, or lazy - not coping well, not particularly intelligent (some, perhaps), brought low by circumstances... Sick. 

    Compulsory working, or compulsory hanging about in job centres, doesn't seem too tough an obligation to me: somewhere warm and safe to stay from 9-5 would be a good thing for some of our people, but you know what? I'd rather like to see compulsory 'going along and meeting these people you're doing this to' as well. 

    You get it. I expect if I say any more I'll lose it. 

    Tuesday, 1 October 2013

    To America With Love

    I knew, at the back of my mind, that the US Government was shutting down today, but it didn't hit home until I checked out Twitter to discover that 'NASA' and 'Curiosity Rover' are both mothballed for the duration. 

    Imagine this!  The one and only extra-terrestrial motor vehicle in the audible universe, is on vacation because of a spat over a paltry trillion bucks in Washington DC.

    Curiosity will speak to me again soon, of this I have no doubt, and in the meantime I WILL spare a thought for all US citizens seriously affected by this robust lesson in the separation of powers away 'over the pond'. ( Yes, I HAVE studied US governance, and it HAS proved of more use than knowing the means of execution of several of Henry VIII 's six wives, if a little less riveting.)

    SO. There's my starting point. Here's the rest:-

    This is what I am doing, as the Leader of The Free World plays hooky:

    I have attempted to bottom out the riches of my access to the OU online resource library, so have read neuroscience in 'Nature' (and learned that rowers in Oxford are better motivated when training as a team. Oh! YES!)  I have visited the National Gallery and made 'Avignon From The South West' my screensaver.  

    Bored with academia, I flew to Washington State, via Google Earth, to find the theatre in Issaquah where I saw a musical, but still couldn't remember the name of either, so I sat for a while with Darlene in Redmond where 40th NE meets the Bel-Red Rd right in front of the Chinese Temple.  Then, what the hell, it's a free ride, I checked out the terrain at Giant's Castle, in The Drakensburg Mountains, RSA,  where I spent a magical dawn, walking alone, on my fifty-sixth birthday.

    I then recalled I should be researching, so  I found Philip Larkin on Spotify and persuaded him, with just one click, to read 'The Less Deceived'.  I had forgotten how perfect 'Churchgoing ' is and why 'No Road' always brings smiles and tears in about equal measure.

    Time for something new, so after Coleridge on meter, I discovered THIS.  And I invite you to appreciate it too. I reproduce it with deep love, and gratitude, to all my American friends:


     After you flew across the country we
     got in bed, laid our bodies
     delicately together, like maps laid
     face to face, East to West, my
     San Francisco against your New York, your
     Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
     New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
     bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
     burning against your Kansas your Kansas
     burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
     Standard Time pressing into my
     Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
     beating against your Central Time, your
     sun rising swiftly from the right my
     sun rising swiftly from the left your
     moon rising slowly from the left my
     moon rising slowly from the right until
     all four bodies of the sky
     burn above us, sealing us together,
     all our cities twin cities,
     all our states united, one
     nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    -- Sharon Olds 

    Monday, 30 September 2013

    As Tory As ...

    I am waiting for the 132 bus loaded down with really good cooking apples and a huge marrow, courtesy of the Salvation Army Harvest Festival, where everything does, indeed, seem to have been safely gathered in. 

    George was in a foul mood on account of a letter he has received from Gloucestershire County Council pointing out to him that he must pay the maximum for his adult social care because... Well I'm not sure why, but it boils down to George not cooperating with the assessment of his liability. I tell George he can stay on his high Zimmer Frame and be invoiced every month ( which he won't pay) or he can eat humble pie and play nice. 

    Which made him madder, from which he obtained some relief. 

    George insists he isn't getting any care, and I believe him. That doesn't mean that he won't be invoiced for it, however. They won't play nice either.

    Interesting ... I learn from reading from George's summons to be reasonable, that  Gloucestershire has 'partnered with' '' to provide services for George and his ilk. I guess 'carers'' weren't awarded the contract! Laugh, I nearly wet myself. 

    My rightward-leaning friends might think me sloppily opposed to such a brash upfrontedness on the 'paymefirstlovemelater' front. But No! Far better to know that your care provider's first priority is to ensure that  they get paid for doing it,  than labour under the illusion that anyone gives a shit. 

    Clever people, like me, made sure that we got to this stage of our lives without assets. As 'The Anti- Social Revolution ' is happening all around us, I dare say the Treasury is on to us, and it will soon be mandatory to give nothing away, ever. I bet the Technology is already available... 

    You've spotted my darkest secret haven't you? When it comes to hanging on to what's mine, I'm as Tory as the rest of you!


    The 132 Bus

    Thursday, 26 September 2013

    A Story Goes With It

    There was this tipster see. And I think his name was Harry The Horse, or it might have been Spanish John, or perhaps, Nicely-Nicely Jones ... Well, anyway, were you so inclined, you could slip this character a couple  of bucks for which he would, in return, recommend for you the name of a horse on which you might then bet your life's savings and be certain to kiss them goodbye.  

    Naturally, you would only do this once, having only one set of life's savings, except that you would be drawn back again and again because,  as Damon Runyon (our author and creator the unsavoury crew named above) would have it, ' a story goes with it'. And what a story! One of such pathos and persuasion that it seemed the horse could not lose, and to fail to place a bet on it was a very foolish act indeed. You may read these stories for yourself. I recommend them.

    Horses, however, have never been my thing, though I did once win £35 on a mare, 'Chasing The Bride' on my 35th Wedding Anniversary. She hauled up from last place in the final furlong to the astonishment of all, especially me. No, horses have never been my thing, I'm more into cake.

    I love baking cakes, but because they sit on my waist and refuse to budge, I do not do so as often as I would wish. But when I do - they are spectacular. I specialise in cakes with names. Proper names with Capital Letters and if you eat cake with me, whether you wish it or no, you will learn the cake's name and history.

    I have another, what might safely be called 'conceit' in that if I'm making dessert for American friends, I leave Betty Crocker on the shelf and get stuck into a Victoria Sandwich, a Sally Lunn or an Eton Mess. If I have no story on hand, I will make one up. The one I am about to tell you, is, however, true.

    My uncle Bill was the last Banbury Pitt. He died having sired only daughters, so it being the way of things in those days, the title 'Banbury Pitt' died with him. I'm sad, because this bit of family history is likely to vanish, unless my daughters, on reading this, will think it worth the retelling. Uncle Bill was, as was every William Pitt before him ( we speak of artisan bakers here, not Prime Ministers, by the way) named after a pastry. 

    Once upon a time (I swear) a family of Romany Gypsies, by the name of Pitti, landed up in the town of Banbury, in Oxfordshire, on route to God knows where, but let's say, Gloucester, where they sold the recipe for a sweet and curranty delight which is today known as a Banbury Cake. The Pittis became Pitts and settled down in Tredworth, In Gloucester. Where they continued to ply their trade as bakers, until bankrupted during a smallpox epidemic in the mid nineteenth century. That much at least is true. The Pitt Baker Ancestor hung himself in his shop, I have read the report in the Gloucester Citizen. I don't usually tell the bit about the suicide, because, I don't know what you think, but I reckon it rather dampens the spirits and makes cake- eating seem a little inappropriate, somehow. I include it here, for the record.

    That's the Americans sorted. My English friends and cake aficionados will be treated to the mighty Williamsburg Orange Cake, the delicate Lady Baltimore Cake, fruity Johnny Appleseed cake, or, my personal favourite, the grand Waldorf Astoria Red Cake. 

    I paid two dollars for the recipe for the Waldorf Astoria Red Cake back in 1971. I was a student teacher at the Elementary School on the US Army Base at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire. This is, I admit, a very long way from the prestigious and eponymous New York hotel, but that, I think. serves to make this cake story even more interesting. 

    My 'Master Teacher' Ann Bamburger, told me the history of the cake: I have googled it and found it to be true. Her aunt, who could obviously afford to do so, took tea at The Waldorf Astoria, where she sampled The Cake. She was so impressed, that she sent a note down to the kitchens complimenting the chef, and requesting the recipe, which duly arrived with a bill  for $200.  Ann's aunt paid up, and  subsequently sold the recipe on, for a dollar or two, to anyone who wanted it, giving the proceeds to charity.

    (Ann was a respectable and serious-minded woman, who would not have made the cake-eating aunt up. She is, I believe, the real source of the Legend of the Red Cake!) 

    Tuesday, 24 September 2013

    Taking Tea With Death

    I am listening to Garrison Keiller's, ' Writer's Almanac', a daily podcast that is a small delight, which  I recommend to you. From today's programme, I learn that it's F Scott Fitzgerald's birthday. Or would be, if he weren't dead. I think about being dead sometimes. I allow the delicious abstraction of non-existence to grapple with distaste at the prospect. I find non-striving rather an attractive idea, but can't stand the thought of not being able to interfere in other people's lives any more. 

    Heaven might be interesting, if it turns up as advertised, but I rather fancy a spell in an ante-room so that I can listen-in on what people are saying about me in my absence. I'm sure the technology is possible for a spell of other-worldly eavesdropping. I am thinking there is a huge entrepreneurial opportunity for dragging tapping tables and ouija boards into the twenty-first century. The big problem with these communication systems from the viewpoint of the deceased, is the expectation that they, the deceased, should want to speak to the seekers after post-life enlightenment. No. I, as a prospective post-lifer, am far more interested in hearing what the living have to say about me.

    I admit it, I am indecently egotistical. 

    I remember an episode of 'Friends' when news of Ross' death was posted by Chandlar as a joke, and Ross, as egotistical as me, organised a wake just to see who turned up. He hid in the bathroom to hear what the mourners said about him. Brilliant! He lost the girl, of course, because he always did. 

    I am not about to go to that extreme... . 

    I enjoy my life far more than I have a right to expect: I believe my occasional death-conscious moments are life-enhancing. I am not against doing the mundane and ordinary stuff that keeps body, soul and society together,  not at all - but I do encourage you all to remember, once in a while, to duck beneath the radar, take your shoes off and run barefoot in the grass... Just because you can. While you can. 

    DEATH Cafe

    Face down death over tea and cake and plan your exit event so that those you love aren't left puzzling over you whether you wanted Bach or The Beatles... 

    This Saturday 28th September. to book ... 

    I'll be there. In the flesh. 

    Monday, 16 September 2013

    Must Try Harder!

    I met Dave two years ago, when I first started volunteering for the Salvation Army Lunch Programme. 

    Dave is a success story, he turned his life around, and now volunteers alongside me. Today. He was pretty upset. His Jobseekers Allowance has been stopped because it's been decided that he isn't trying hard enough to find work.

    He's done everything asked of him. He's attending a computer course to learn how to fill in the Application Forms, which is just as it should be, but he's stuck, because he can't access the email account he was given, and he hasn't the literacy skills necessary to fill the forms in. 

    You'd have thought someone would have taken these two things into account before leaving him penniless. Wouldn't you? To compound the problem, Dave has coeliac's disease, and the kind of food you can scrounge when you have no money to buy any, is going to make him sick.

    Then there's the anxiety. He's off his head with worry. 

    Think of it - insufficient literacy skills to apply for a job. Poisoned by foods his body can't tolerate, driven into depression by a system that has taken no account of his personal circumstances ... 
    What chance of Dave getting a job with these burdens to carry? 

    Who, I wonder, 'Isn't trying hard enough?' 

    I tell you, I'm getting pretty mad. I hope that this makes you uncomfortable too. It's not enough though. On Wednesday I'm taking down Dave's story, gathering the evidence on his behalf, and arranging to take  him to see his MP. I think I might ask a journalist to come with us. You never know.

    Using hunger and anxiety as 'nudges' to try to make the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society conform to standards they can't meet, is inhumane. Those in power need to see how the policies they pursue impact on the lives of good people like Dave. I still have sufficient faith in our democracy to think it might make a difference.