Friday, 31 May 2013


I am a fan, unfortunately, of puns. I can't resist them. I drive my husband to distraction, especially as, before delivering a great big fat juicy pun, I collapse in a fit of uncontrollable, and in this context, inexplicable, laughter. By the time I've got it out,  it's lost all it's potential for humour. 

One of my more macabre and long-standing games that enliven an early morning lie-in a deux, is to muse on what I want put on my headstone. 

My favourite, for a couple of years now, is, 'She Made Herself Laugh.' Just that. The irony is, that  I have no intention of having a headstone, or any permanent memorial at all. I want my ashes scattered quietly and illicitly in Buckholt Woods near Cranham, where  some of my quietest and most illicit activities have taken place. (When I was a LOT younger, naturally. See, it's all a joke to me, even if it's only my ghost that will be laughing out loud. You hear me laughing now, don't you?) 

Reflection. I bet you thought I was about to engage in some deep though-provoking musings with life-changing potential. Didn't you? You may even have decided not to read this piece at all, as we all have had it up to here ^^^ with thought provoking musings with life changing potential, haven't we? 

Yes, Mary. 

I was looking in the mirror this morning ( At last!  And not even a good one: they rarely are, that's not the point... .) I was looking in the mirror this morning and an old lady stared back at me.  

"Why, hello!" I said, caught somewhat by surprise. "Where did YOU come from?"

There was no reply, naturally. I may be old, but I'm not delusional. Yet. 

It was a pivotal moment. I could have attempted to massage away the bags under my eyes, or tried to disguise the wrinkles with make-up ... (And I MAY! I reserve the right!) I might have began a rueful dialogue on the missed opportunities of a lost youth. I didn't do THAT, because I have  a habit of taking opportunities, and even making, them if there are none around... . 

After a pause, I continued the conversation with the old woman in the mirror:

"Let's not fight," I said, "You can come along for the ride, but you have to promise me that you'll laugh at my puns."

We both smiled, identical smiles, broadly. I'd go as far as to say, very broadly indeed. 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Head Full of Sky

I am living, for a spell. In a country at war. Coming from another country at war, I realised with a shock, though I  hardly ever think about it. Why don't I think about it? I wonder.

War is hateful. Hate starts war, fuels war and, so it seems, needs to spill an ocean of blood to exhaust itself through war. 

Why is it so easy, so necessary, for us-kind to find a reason to hate? Where does it originate? Why does it persist? 

I remember a Monty Python sketch of so long ago, where an upper-class twit and a lower-class slob were debating the ownership of property:

LCS:   Where did ya git yer Stately Home an' all this land from then?

UCT:   I inherited from my father.

LCS:    An' where did 'E git it from then?

UCT:    He inherited it from HIS father... 

Imagine  this conversation delving back into the mists of time ... . Until, ultimately:

LCS.  And where did HE get it from?

UCT: He fought for it

LCS (Raising his fists ) Alright then! Stick yer mitts up! I'LL fight YOU for it! 

And so,it goes on. And so it will I guess. I read cute things, I write cute things, but I'm not very optimistic. I toy with Eckhart Tolle's conviction that a new consciousness is evolving : a better human being is arising from the murk of who we are now -  but I see little sign of it beyond the bounds of the better-off and well-educated living in settled communities in secure countries. Please, someone, tell me I'm wrong.

There must be consolation.

I tend to bury my head in the sky, to let go of reality, to read someone else's news, to live and to love as if terrible stuff wasn't happening. No-one ever tried to teach me to hate. I am SO lucky that I found someone to despise all on my own. 

Yesterday was Memorial Day. I spent an hour or two in a cemetery near here. I observed, I am an outsider. I am British, my grief is rarely a public spectacle. I'm not saying that's a good thing. By no means. I was moved, profoundly moved,  by the sea of flags on Veteran's graves. I wept in the tent where a table was set for the men taken as prisoners of war, and who are not coming home. 

I couldn't go on. I need to stop, to see where hate gets us, in order to wonder ... Does it HAVE to be like this? 

Whom do YOU hate? Foreigners? Gay men and women? Criminals? Anyone? Do you call it something else to disguise your sin? I do. We all do. 

Can you stop? Do you want to? 

There must be consolation.

And there was.

A putting green. Complete with tee-off, putter, flag and sand trap. It was life-sized; it was splendid; it was built for the dead. 

I thought it quite, quite marvellous that some of us can be so untroubled by war, if not by grief, that we can be laid to rest in a quiet spot on a lovely day behind a marble plaque beside the 20th green.

I had to smile, and to be thankful.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Light My Fire

My Kindle got squashed a couple of months ago. I was saddened, because it was a gift from my family for my 60th birthday, and I think if I had, maybe, not carried it around with me and used it, it might still be with us. 


However ... My ipad and iPhone carry on where the defunct Kindle left off, and I can continue to plump up Amazon's profits with my regular, often impulsive, purchases from the one-click non-stop CloudStore.


I thought I would miss the heaviness of them. The joyful monotony of page-turning. The second-guessing of where I left off reading, from the crease in the spine. The occasional delight of throwing a particularly awful purchase across the room. I said I would. I made airy statements to family and friends vowing that my Kindle would NEVER replace REAL books... . I lied. I am not the paper-snob I thought I was.

Do you remember the first, the very first, book you ever read? Apart from your Infant School's Reading Scream, I mean? (I went 'Through The Rainbow' with 'The Happy Valley Readers', but it WAS the 1950's.) I do. It was a Noddy Book. I read it in hospital, where I taught myself to read, aged three. I was, and probably still am, a very clever bunny. 

Thankfully, Noddy Books were written with a very simple vocabulary, often repeated, and I was not allowed to do anything taxing because I was very very sick, so I picked up the book remembering what had  been read to me, and worked it out. I am convinced that ANY bored three year old with a modicum of intelligence and nothing else to do, could achieve a similar feat. Three-year olds are vastly underestimated, in my opinion. Most are geniuses. 

I digress, I frequently do, usually, as now, because I have no clear idea of where this is going. Pause for a cup of tea. 

My SECOND book was a Ladybird Book. ( Ladybird Books are maybe still around. They were sixpence when I read them: seventy-five pence when I bought them for my daughters...) 'Mick The Disobedient Puppy' a tale that taught me that, to be naughty, it was a good idea to be clever, because then you stood a chance of getting away with it. I frequently did, possibly still do. 

Hurriedly, before I lose my readership completely, returning to the present.

I do not read books sequentially. In pre-Kindle days, I would sit up in bed with a semi-circle of books spaced around me:

A Canticle For Leibowitz
Collected Poetry Of Rupert Brooke
The Times Educational Supplement
Alpine Flowers

I am a bee-reader. I sip nectar from tome to tome. Flighty, inconsistent: Authors really have to work hard to hold my attention. I skip to find out how a story ends, I leave out the boring bits, but I do, eventually finish them. I do persist. Some of you don't. I know this. 

My Kindle library makes book-hopping SO easy, and not QUITE as much fun, I must admit. I quite liked not knowing exactly where I'd got to, and maybe re-reading something by accident. I expect as I grow older and more forgetful, I won't even notice. I'd quite like to read Terry Pratchett's 'The Colour of Magic' again, as if for the first time. 

So now, I'm wallowing in, 'The QI Book of Amazing Facts','The Hollow Something' (Not 'Crown' - that is stretching my, 'I Persist' motto to breaking point) and 'Lanark'. 

My American third-grade students had to write book reports. The most interesting format I set them was a visual one ... Take a large piece of paper and fold the corners to the middle so there are four flaps. On the back write the title, on the outer flaps draw illustrations and under the flaps comment. I am going to do this. I think my Art Studio App could handle it. Or.. Hey! I might even do it USING PAPER. 


Tuesday, 21 May 2013


The Grand Canyon from space...  I saw it and I thought of You. 

Redmond Residence

Courtesy of Darlene and Steve. Many, many thanks!

My room... 

Darlene among the rhododendrons 


I hear that to avoid paying US income tax, Apple has set up three companies in Ireland. Ireland insists that Apple is still liable to pay US taxes, and the  lawyers are now taking issue through the courts here and there.

I can never tell which  bits of politically sensitive news that filter through my cloud of uncaring, are going to catch my fancy, so concern over Apple's buccaneer approach to social responsibility ( Not paying your taxes? You rascal!) has come as a bit of a surprise.

Then I get to thinking. In the same, 'drowsing through the night with the radio on' session that delivered Apple's chicanery to my consciousness, I also learned that only one percent of Americans have saved enough to allow them to retire. Now this IS serious. My cousins over here, I see, are  faced with the option of never retiring, or working till they're too sick to carry on. 

Yet the people who manage corporations that have stopped providing pension schemes, that don't pay living wages, that have out-sourced both jobs and tax liabilities, are serenely unbothered by any kind of kick-back.

They have entered the lottery that is the American Dream and have won the jackpot. The ninety-nine percent of the rest of you who have to work till you drop, can just suck it up.

I'm British, and I'm retired on a good pension what do I care? 

Besides, I daren't voice my opinions aloud for fear I might be accused of being a Socialist, and we all know how terrible THEY are. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Still, My Soul

My friend Wendy and I are utterly unalike. She is highly intelligent, militantly atheistic, acerbic in her opinions,  (especially of men) and a spendthrift. I am none of these things, so it's surprising, perhaps, that we get on so well.

We met through an advertisement in the Gloucestershire Echo fifteen years ago. Writing and posting advertisements is Wendy's hobby. I was the only person who replied to her appeal for a woman friend: we hit it off,  and have met fairly regularly ever since.

Wendy has very high expectations of the men she draws into her epistilatory net. She meets none of her hopefuls. She corresponds for a while until familiarity, poor spelling and grammar, or libido, breeds contempt. Time passes, then, the cycle begins all over again. She is currently awaiting replies to her adverts in ' Private Eye' and 'The London Review of Books' (where she used Latin, I believe.) 

'They all want SEX my dear!' Wendy shudders. I am surprised that she is surprised. I try to be kind to the victims of the sharp end of her tongue ... But it's a stretch sometimes. The gentleman who sent a  photograph of himself, in close proximity to a horse, in a river, naked, deserves all the derision he achieved. That's what I think, and I'm a softie. 

I squirm when Wendy confronts me over God. I know my viewpoint is irrational, I can't explain away the suffering in the world, I don't believe in hell, and ( because I am one of them) I know that religious people are among the biggest hypocrites on the face of the earth. I simply cannot be an atheist, and believe me, it's not for the want of trying. Whenever this impasse is reached, Wendy rolls her eyes and changes the subject.

Imagine my astonishment, therefore, when Wendy announced last month that she was attending a meditation class. 

 I didn't know what to expect when we met for lunch on Friday. When  I broached the subject, I wasn't too surprised to discover that the class she had been attending had proved unsatisfactory. 

"Thirty minutes! We had to sit in silence for thirty minutes! Then there was a video of a talk by a guru that didn't make any sense to me... . The final straw was being asked to bring a poem on a spiritual theme next time. I emailed to say, ' Thank you very much, but the word 'spiritual' doesn't mean ANYTHING to me.' 

That's not the end of the story, however. Wendy confided that she had found ten free meditations on the web, and she was working her way through them and quite enjoying them.  'Then you have to pay.' She sniffed. I guess she won't.

Wendy's story highlights a plight that is probably not that uncommon: an awareness of a need for soul food that isn't attached to religion. 

I discovered a meditation recently that I pass on to those who  have difficulty with the concept of God, but feel the need to let go of emotional pain:

'Don't retreat from the anguish. Acknowledge it as you breathe in. Feel it, accept it. Take the breath down below your heart. Hold it for a moment. On the out breath, let the feeling go, and replace it with gratitude. For what was good in the  relationship, the happiness that came before loss, for the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the day, the closeness of a friend... Something, anything, that reminds you that you are alive, and that life is a gift. '

It is. It really is.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Merry Men And Meter Maids

Ian Freeman  is a Robin Hooder. I listened to him being interviewed by Carol Orff via KUOW Seattle just now. 

It's all about a nice little freedom that the Twentieth Century saw the back of - that to park for nothing  in one's  own town. I'm not so troubled myself - I ought either to walk the ten minutes into Newent, or cough up the 20p to park in the Lakeside facility. But I do, on the whole, resent the imposition of parking fees. I just do. 

Here's the story:

The city of Keene, New Hampshire, filed a lawsuit against six citizens, who are part of a group that 'Robin Hoods' in downtown by filling expired meters

They give to the poor, and take from the rich, and that makes one New England city anything but merry.

The city of Keene, New Hampshire is suing a group that calls themselves "Robin Hood of Keene," alleging that the merry men have taken away much of the city's revenue by paying the expired parking meters of strangers.

I am tickled pink by the activities of the Robin Hooders, who follow the 'Meter Maids' (Yes, so they were called, or 'Parking Enforcers' by the PC interviewer. Give me 'Meter Maid' any day. Sorry.)  and beat them to the expired meters and rescue the would-be citizens-in -distress from the 'King's Ransom' (Yes... .) 

There are probably a million other far worthier libertarian causes to take up, it is all a bit silly, but then I sit up and take notice ... The Robin Hooders are being sued by the city of Keene for 'harassment'. I checked it out, it didn't look like harassment to me. 

Someone in the City of Keene's legal department is taking advice from the Sheriff of Nottingham. 

Come on Keene, let liberty be! 


Whilst following up on the link above, (it works),  I found this advertisement. I am struck by the word 'curates'. I am thinking of dobbing it in to the OED.
If you’re looking for a weekend retreat with one-of-a-kind accommodations, Spitbank Fort has you covered. With only eight rooms available, the hotel curates an exclusive, private island feel that’s truly tough to beat.

Each lavishly decorated bedroom showcases the fort’s original exposed brick interiors, armor-plated walls and fortress windows, along with modern-day fixtures and furnishings that are sure to make any design-lover drool.

If that’s not enough for you, each room boasts distinct sea views towards Portsmouth, the Solent or the Isle of Wight. Just try not to be too dissuaded by the hefty price tag, which can top $500 per night.

Sometimes I regret not having $500 to throw around. It's the 'armour-plated walls' that particularly attract. I have to make it clear though: I am too young to drool... . 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


Quotidian: Adjective
Of or occurring every day; daily.
Ordinary or everyday, esp. when mundane.

I LOVE words: especially, it would appear, words beginning with 'Q'. They are, as you can see, especially helpful when the urge to pudd-pudd across the iPad overtakes me when I have nothing remarkable to say.

M U N D A N E What a lovely word, almost onomatopoeic, it rolls off the tongue, it threatens to put you to sleep it sounds so beautifully, ecstatically O R D I N A R Y.

Yesterday was mundane. I tweeted on Sunday that it is more exciting to decide who you are going to be, than to decide what you're going to do. I like that thought. Let's ALL have a 'to be' list! On Monday I decided to be charitable, smiling and gracious. If you think I AM these things, you need to live with me for a while, then you would discover I AM indeed, but only sometimes... .


A tiny alarm beeps on my iPhone reminding me to take my tablets. I am already awake, listening to KUOW Seattle. I do this to help my blood pressure. Twenty years of arguing with the 'Today ' programme on Radio 4, did not do my blood pressure any good. You never have to yell at KUOW Seattle. Justine Willis-Tomms with her gentle, honeyed voice is interviewing a woman on being a woman and forgiving everyone. What's to yell at? See? Try it.

I have already decided which emails to read, (None.)what to Tweet, (Nothing. I may have overdone it on Sunday. Sorry, Followers.) and what to wear.(Kate's left-over aubergine jeans, a toning check shirt bought in a charity shop in Stroud for £2, over a white long-sleeved T-shirt on account of the weather.)

Bath. Search for Bus Pass, Spectacles, Keys, ( now missing for four days), Shoes. Pack smart Salvation Army tabard. Ready, unusually, to leave the house at time agreed. Driven to Gloucester. Check in at the Salvation Army.


Today is a good day to decide to be charitable, smiling and gracious because I am helping the Salvation Army serve lunches to the street community. Pie, mash and peas.

I tell you, I LOVE this work. I have been helping out for two years now, and the women I work with are beautiful, kindly, earthy, fantastic, saints. I play at being what they are, and they don't see it. That's part of the joy of being with them, they are giants upon the earth, and they don't know it.

So, Kathy. Jeanette, Sandra, Lynn and Major Iris, I take my hat off to you. You give without stinting, and I'm not talking about food. You make me laugh, and cry, you wrap me up in the warmth of your love, and I leave you feeling blessed.


Doors open and our people come in. I serve the tea, which is where the smiling comes in particularly handy.

My earlier optimism on Bob's bed proves to be unfounded. He hasn't got one.

'Bob, I CAN'T send the forms in unless you make your outgoings a LOT more than your benefits.'

Bob needs his benefits. He has Huntington's disease, he is going to die slowly and horribly and he needs a bed. His outgoings are inflated by the painkillers he buys to cope. We both know we can NOT put this on the form.

I HAVE to sort this out before I go on holiday next Sunday, for six weeks. I'm thinking of making a home visit.

Andrew gives me the thumbs-up. The weather has been warmer so his arthritis is improved. He is a retired librarian and an accomplished linguist. I hope he hasn't remembered that he taught me how to say , 'Hello, how are you? ' In ... Can't even remember which of the Slav languages ... .

Patricia's looking poorly.

Pauline won't catch my eye. She hasn't spoken to me since I asked her if she had anywhere where she could take a shower before going for an interview... . Months ago. I have been advised this tack, whilst well-meaning, was a mistake. I see it was. I was only Trying To Help.

John is helping me with the teas. We have a new urn, which presents some problems. The drip tray falls off, we run out of hot water, we discuss his future. Yes, I think he should train to be a minister. Baptist is as good as any denomination, as far as I know, practically the only one I haven't joined and left. Neither of us believe in hell. Would this pose a problem for Baptists? I have a horrible feeling it will.

Another John, an addict, looks better than the last time I saw him, but that's not saying much. Nobody speaks about Flash any more. He's been dead a month. Memories are mercifully short on the streets.

Many of our people are Eastern Europeans. They are so grateful, so polite. We notice four new people today, and make them especially welcome.

So do the regulars. New people are told where food can be found, most days, where vouchers for the food bank can be had, advised to go and ask the Major for a clothing voucher, when the doctor holds a clinic at the Day Centre...


Clear up. Off then to catch the 1327 bus to Newent and home.

I feel like the queen. Not because of my regal bearing, but because I'm not carrying any money. No paper money, anyway, and I need to buy onions. I have decided to make French Onion With Oxtail Soup. The oxtail is defrosting, and I know I have no onions.

There's Gail, coming out of the chemist's shop. She crosses the High Street to meet me, and we discuss the War Over The Flowers. I'm not going to write about this in detail, it's one of those 'I did, then she did, and he did, and we're all at loggerheads,' things, that is now, thankfully, resolved. I hug Gail and pop into the green grocer's shop for onions.

98p a kilo. Good grief. What does a kilo look like? I reckon an onion weighs about four ounces. Already my brain is shutting down. 'Maths! Maths!' It shouts at me, 'Run!' But I persevere... Four ounces is about one hundred grammes, so that would be ten onions to a kilo... I look down at the handful of change I have and calculate... Four onions. Biggish ones...

Yes!!! Four biggish onions come in at 78p. I have 96p, so I'm well in.


The afternoon and evening are spent propped up in front of the TV, and making soup, and cyber-loafing. A word I heard for the first time yesterday, and determined to use at least once! CYBER LOAFING. I said, 'At least... !'

The soup recipe I snitched from a pub called The Lazy Trout, Meerbrook, in Staffordshire. It's SO delicious that the chef who invented it deserves a plug. It's worth going to Staffordshire just for that soup. Or come here - I'll make it for you!

That's ALL I did.

Which is just as well, because this blog entry is already way too long. I will spare you the recipe for the soup. Sometimes I just can't help myself, and recipes pop up in the unlikeliest places, but not today.



Sunday, 12 May 2013

Pulling the Plug

Last Friday, I found Ann Pennyfeather.

I try not to collect people. It seems to me that we have a past for a reason: many and much needs to stay there... . It's an effort for me to accept this , as it means allowing some - even very dear - people, who need to, to leave my stage. But there it is.

It was a struggle sometimes to watch each of my three beautiful, amazing daughters, in turn, gently untie the apron strings and step confidently forward into her own future, but when I visit them in their own homes, and see for myself the lives they are building, I am perfectly content.

Eight weeks before I got married, I went on Teaching Practice to a top-secret US Army facility near Harrogate in Yorkshire. The intelligence gathering station at Menwith Hill. Diane and I weren't told what it was, of course: we kind of guessed it from the acres of radio masts in the vicinity. We were there to work in the US Army School that operated on the base. Ann Pennyfeather was my ' Master Teacher', a highly qualified and experienced 4/5 th Grade teacher who had volunteered to take me under her wing and let me loose on her class.

I have thought of Ann often in the years since we parted. She was a good teacher, and a great mentor, and she helped to shape the teacher I was to become. I have, occasionally, searched for her before, and tried again, without much hope of success. To to my delight, her name popped up, and I contacted her. So Ann and I have been reunited, if briefly, and I was able to tell her, what I have just told you.

I was getting married, so the many eligible single young US intelligence personnel on the base were of no interest to me. This was not the case for Diane, who now, I guess, resides in Maryland. Still, I hope, happily married to the guy she met back in '71.

It was her love-life that landed me in hot water, and ruined my reputation on the base. Let me explain.

We were given the status of 'Bachelor Officers' and billeted in a large and comfortable apartment in Bachelor Officer Quarters, where, naturally enough, we occasionally bumped into other Bachelor Officers. Not as often as you might think though, for the ghostly operations on the base meant that the men worked three shifts, and were not generally around when we were.

We met Chuck in the laundry. It was evident from the first that Di and he had hit it off, and within a day or so, Di had arranged to go on a date. Wary of a tete a tete, she asked me to make up a foursome with Chuck's friend Tom. Both men owned two-seater sports cars. Tom's was a Ford Mustang, I remember. The foursome therefore travelled as two twosomes, which is where the trouble started. Di and her beau left the pub where we ate supper, first, and by the time I returned to our apartment, Di had locked me out.

The only other person I knew on the base was Tom (Ann lived in Harrowgate) so I threw myself on his mercy.

Tom was the perfect gentleman. He made me a bed on his sofa, where I slept like a baby. The next morning, he offered to take me to the Commissary for breakfast. I was grateful for his generosity, a gratitude that was quickly dispelled when Diane later told me that Tom had slept with every woman on the base who would have him, and he displayed his conquests by ... Taking them to breakfast. He was sent home, so rumour has it, for attempting to seduce the Commander's wife.

I ought to explain that I was at Menwith Hill because I 'did' American Studies at College. Part of the course was the hands-on experience of the USA that its Air Force bases could provide. I volunteered for Menwith Hill, most of my fellow-students headed for the huge bases in Suffolk. Menwith Hill was unique - technically an army base, it's operatives were civilians and it was 'policed' not by soldiers, but by the Yorkshire Constabulary. This is no longer the case. These are harsher times.

Strict instructions were given by our tutors that we were not to ask the personnel ' What do you do?' Diane, to my horror, took no notice.

Chuck beckoned us closer, looking around to make sure he couldn't be overheard:

" You hear the cars drive by your windows at all hours?"

" Yes, " Eagerly, eyes like saucers.

"Well, " Continues Chuck, conspiratorially, " We drive deep, deep underground... "

Our breath comes faster... . We are hooked.

"Our destination is a huge cave a mile under the moor. A mile.."

Our tongues are hanging out.

"In the cave there is a huge lake. Biggest lake you ever did see...."

Diane and I exchange glances, enrapt.

"Five hundred of us sit all round the lake, in shifts. guarding it.' Chuck lowers his voice to the softest whisper.

"Guarding it, BECAUSE.. " ( a little louder) " in the middle of the lake is a giant plug, and if anyone pulled it out, England would sink below the waves!"

It took a good fifteen seconds before it dawned on us that we'd been had. But it's a good story, which is why I'm telling it to you now - and guess what? For all I know, it might even be true.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Say, 'Cheese.. !'

"Say Ommm to keep your genes healthy."

So advises an article that caught my eye in this week's 'New Scientist'.

I am a haphazard practitioner of the meditative arts, finding sitting still a rather difficult thing to do, but I have long since lost my scepticism over the value of it. This article makes me want to dash for the yoga mat. (No, I don't possess one, but two of my daughters did. They now take up space in my shed. I claim squatting rights over them.)

I am so amazed by the implications of this article for health and well-being, that I am going to plagiarise it for the common good.

' "it's not New Age nonsense," says Herbert Benson of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He and his colleagues analysed the whole genome of 26 volunteers - none of whom regularly meditates - before teaching them a relaxation routine lasting 10 to 20 minutes. It included reciting words, breathing exercises and emptying the mind.

After eight weeks of performing the routine daily, gene analysis was repeated. Clusters of beneficial genes had become more active and harmful ones less so.

The boosted genes had three main effects: improving cellular energy efficiency, upping insulin production ... And preventing the breakdown of caps on chromosomes that prevent cells wearing out and ageing... .' (PLoSOne,

What I find really interesting, is the possibility of changing my genes. I had thought them to be rather passive little critters, now resting serenely on their laurels having successfully been passed on to the next two generations. Job done, I thought.

But no! There they are, beavering away still working hard on my behalf, making me, at the cellular level, the wonderful creation that I am.... and helping me to continue to be... .

I get it, I really do. Ever wondered why those yogis one admires for there serenity, always appear to be at least one hundred years old? Now you know.

They are actively, if unconsciously, altering their genetic make -up. Stands to reason really. The negative effects of stress on life expectancy have been doing the rounds for years. How heartening to find that a positive outcome from de-stressing can have a similar powerful effect in the other direction.

Fifteen minutes a day of dropping everything and following your breath around your body. Not too difficult is it? And I suspect that any word that stills the mind from it's endless task of accusing you of your past mistakes (or worrying you to death about your future) would do... .

Friday, 10 May 2013

Geographically Challanged

I am going for a walk. This WILL be a challenge.

I have been a member of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust for a couple of decades (on and off) and have useful information to hand, like a Reserve to walk in, the name of the nearest pub and a Map Reference.

Five Acre Grove, The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars. SO791043.

Thank God for Google, I mutter, having learned from my Geography O Level (1967) how to ink in a coastline with a mapping pen, but not how to read a map.

Last year was not a good year for walking. It was too wet. I am a fair-weather hiker, I'm ashamed to say. The only Reserves I visited were Buckholt Woods and Swift's Hill. (Black Horse, Cranham, good pie, Woolpack Slad, no room. No room at the inn, just like Christmas.)

An adventure in prospect then. Better get going!

Photo: Swift's Hill, Slad

Below: Five Acre Grove


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Living In Idleness

The thing is, I love to write. There is something so therapeutic about the gentle 'pudd-pudd' of my fingertips skipping across the virtual keypad in front of me. Today's challenge, writer's block. I'm fed up with God, the poet's run out of inspiration, and my daily round is too mundane to mention. I will mention it though, just for fun:

Wake Up
Check Blog
Write email
Think About Getting Up
Listen to Radio

To Do:
Get Up
Art Class

Writing a List always does it for me. Here I go again:

Aowl and I had great fun the other day trying to get the microphone to type for us.. Its potential for the literary aspirations of a one-year old are pretty staggering I think, but what was typed up made no sense. What does? (Broad smile: Maybe something: Maybe sometimes.)

(A feature of an ipad. You talk to it, and it talks back. It is a Two on the Enneagram. It lives to serve.)

Microphone Man, Let's call him Cyril, when asked to write something for me, was very helpful. ' I don't know what you mean by, 'Write something for me. How about a web search for it?' I admit to being impressed. Technology is so cute. No sense of the ironic, doesn't know when it's leg is being pulled, just cute.

Having time on my hands, I actually took Cyril up on his offer, and a whole new world has opened up for me!

I was taken to a website wherein I can register to write papers for students with deficiencies in the honesty department. Nobody's perfect. The paper I wrote on the ferns growing in Prince of Wales Park in Bingley, in order to escape the local College with a Certification in Education, owed much of it's content to,' The Observer Book of Ferns'. I'm in no position to judge.

Why in heaven's name, did I choose to write a paper on the ferns in The Prince of Wales Park? I don't remember, though I do recall my horror at finding just the one variety when I made my foray into the damper regions of this particular pleasure garden. Though the park was a mere five minutes walk from my digs, I did not, in the end, have to leave my bedroom to complete the assignment.

If the University of Leeds wishes to strip me of my Certificate in Education (Mary Cook, 1972) I invite it to be my guest. I wouldn't return to teaching for a pension. Oh! Wait!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Fluffy God

I have to come clean. I don't believe in Fluffy-God.

I did. Once or twice, when the sky was cloudless and I didn't know very much. I was about ten, I think. Or thirty.

I have been following up on some of the inspirational people who Tweet at me. And I have come to believe in a Collective Unconsciousness.

I have found lovely mums with big hair and big hearts revelling in the Beatitudes who strive to be pure in heart and deserve to make it.

I have found skinny, bald prophets who have found emptiness through wanting nothing, and I am happy for them.

I describe, you understand, I do not criticise.

It makes me think: thinking does me good.

I started thinking when my friends began dying off. I was younger then, and embarrassingly selfish. How dare they leave me? Fluffy God got a good kicking, let me tell you. And when my family started dying off too - well, I ordered him to pack his bags and leave.

That's when I discovered another embarrassing thing about myself... . I'm not cut out To Be An Atheist. So what now?

I wish I knew. I'll have to think some more about THAT.

One chill day, fifty kilometres from Umtata, I watched a scrawny child fill a plastic bottle with filthy river water to sell by the roadside. I just watched. She haunts me sometimes, this little girl dressed in rags. I ask myself, 'Why didn't I try to do something? There are many things I could have tried to do, but I couldn't move.

I couldn't take it in. That's the truth of it.

This little one, wasn't part of my world, she didn't fit, she couldn't be happening. This is what Collective Unconsciousness does to religious people. Fluffy God doesn't allow this. IT CAN'T BE HAPPENING.

True God, I think, and I think there is one, opens our eyes to the suffering of others, and whispers, 'Go on, TRY...' He doesn't need religious institutions, or religious people. She just IS.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

My Work...

First Aid

I was about sixteen when I learned how to resurrect people - or at least ensure a sufficient flow of oxygen to the brain to hope for some kind of survival, in a recognisable form, until the paramedics arrive.

I expect the Youth Club and the Community Centre where I was trained with a revolting dummy, are both long gone, as neither are fashionable in these days of rugged austerity. But THIS is not about THAT. One day, when I'm mad enough... .

Here's a bleak bleak scene. Manchester. The Peak Forest Canal - 1974: An empty lock alongside a smut-caked factory building - vast, as factories were serious affairs when Victorians built them. The lock is not completely drained. In a few feet of water a child is dying. Desperate men are trying to lift him out. It's fifteen feet of slimy wall to the canal side above. A nine-year old brother shouts, 'My mum'll kill me.' I walk slowly forward, I want to help. I always want to help.

I'm the only person with CPR training. But I am twenty-two, and it was so long ago.

I try. I take this lifeless boy in my arms, I lay him down, and I try. He gurgles, but he is limp, his eyes are dead. I keep trying, I turn him over, I try to empty him of water. He is dead. I walk away.

I grew older and I grew up and I became a head teacher. One day, I went to a head teacher's conference in Harrogate. I am forty-eight now, and the tiny body, in my arms, is a distant memory. A man is about to drown beside me. I am in the hotel swimming pool doing some lengths in my black bra and pants, hoping no-one notices.

'He's going down!' I heard a shout from the side of the pool, I turn, the man beside me cries out and disappears beneath the water. He's a big man, and I'm in my underwear. He's drowning.

'Not this time you don't.' The thought comes so quickly, though time seems to stand still. He's a big man. He'll pull me down too - and he does. I instinctively bend my knees, so that when my feet hit the pool floor, I can spring up. I bunny-hop both of us in this absurd fashion, to the side of the pool. People haul us out.

'Thank you! ' the rescued one splutters.

'That's all right.' I reply, turning crimson, because I'm dressed in my underwear.

I bolt for the dressing room. I never see the man, who's life I may have saved, again. It doesn't matter. I am jubilant. Somehow, I can forgive myself for the little boy who's life I couldn't save, so long ago.

Aunty Ethel wasn't even dead.

It was my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary, so I am fifty-one, and I ruined it. My father never, so far as I can recall, was ever seriously angry with me until this day. I thought he had the right to be a bit upset, though I maintain it wasn't entirely my fault.

Aunty Ethel, in her eighties, collapsed in our dining room. I felt in vain for a pulse and couldn't find one. Dad was right behind me.

'I'm so sorry Dad, Aunty Ethel's collapsed - she's dead.'

Two things happened instantaneously. Dad groaned, and Aunty Ethel sat up. She was dead DRUNK and had toppled over in an alcohol-induced stupor.

'Mary Ellen!' My father roared, ' I wish you'd THINK sometimes!'

Everybody laughed about it afterwards. Except me. I am glad Ethel survived my diagnosis of death, of course I am, but imagine how I felt! My credibility as a first-aider was shot to pieces for ever.

Or was it?

The last time I renewed my First Aid Certificate the trainer, said, ' We don't look for a pulse in very elderly patients, because very often, one can't be found.. '

My colleagues were more than a little bemused when I punched the air and shouted,


Friday, 3 May 2013

Unsubstantial Walls

When a man (sic) has once broken through the paper walls of everyday circumstance, those unsubstantial walls that hold so many of us securely imprisoned from the cradle to the grave, he has made a discovery. If the world does not please you, you can change it. You may change it to something more sinister and angry, to something more appalling, but it may be you will change it to something brighter, something more agreeable, and at the worst something much more interesting.'

I have quoted this passage from HG Wells, 'The History of Mr Polly' before, because it raises a delightful prospect.

On the first Thursday of the month, I have a rendezvous with my soul. I have to drive to South Wales to make the date, and when it's wet and dark, it IS a bit of a trek, but It's worth the effort.

There are ten of us in our Contemplative Prayer group. We eat supper together, then we sit in silence for twenty minutes. We stop. Doing, thinking, striving, worrying, planning, hoping, praying, believing... Stopped.

It's not easy, not always possible, but something emerges - the simple knowledge that it IS possible to stop.

So what? For twenty, often very long minutes, I put myself on hold. Everything I think I am, I lay down to rest in liminal space - a particular place, on the edge of being, that is pure life without the wearisome effort of having to live it.

What Mr Polly, in his ponderous way, invites me to do, twenty-one minutes after the singing-bowl rings, is to consider very carefully what I take up again.

My life, like yours, is great, and terrible, is pleasure and pain, is truth and make-believe... . Would I like to change some things? I would, yes I would... Will I? Not necessarily. But when I emerge from the silence of my deepest self, I know I have taken up, even the hardest things, voluntarily.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


Aowl came to play on Tuesday. Aowl is my one-year old granddaughter. She's two next month.

This one has named herself. This is very typical. Aowl has a highly developed sense of self - a self she expresses firmly and with great delight.

For the first time this year, it was warm enough to play in the garden.

Jean Piaget, the great 20th century psychologist, who was instrumental in my formation as a grandmother, famously said, 'Play is the work of children.' I feel like going off on one about the neglect of brain-growing, real, physical, and imaginative play, in the experience of the modern child, but I won't, because this is about me and Aowl.

'Water peese granma,' Is the first command, accompanied by the presentation of a large bucket.

We water the ground. Aowl hasn't taken to watering the flowers yet, besides, she has a definite aim in mind. She makes a large puddle, then we have to jump in it. We both squeal with delight, me rather guiltily, as we both get soaked, and I'm old enough to know better.

Fortunately, a one-year old has a fairly short attention span, so we soon move on to playing games that involve throwing ourselves down onto the ground. I taught her 'Ring A Ring A Roses' to bring some structure into this particular activity.

I get away with about a dozen landings, noting, ruefully, that Aowl is up and ready for another round about ten times quicker than I am!

Fortunately, the toy-box beckons. This large, serviceable plastic tub is full of stuff. Soft toys, balls, books, dolls's house, tea set, flashcards, comics, wooden blocks... Over-stuffed with stuff to be truthful.

So I am made tea, regaled with a tinny version of the alphabet song, encouraged to count to ten... ' One, two, five, seven, three TEN!' and presented with a felt-pen to remove the top so that scribbling can be done.

At least I'm sitting down for this session.

Next, a walk. Look, touch, smell ... The wild area has a tiny pond, surrounded by a low wall and a bed of nettles. Aowl avoids them. We check out the robin's nest, and name together all the flowers. We pick daisies.

A lovely afternoon soon passes. I don't know about Aowl, but I certainly slept well that night.