Thursday, 31 July 2014

Practise, Practise, Practise!

I have it in mind to write for thirty minutes every day. It's part of my Resilience Programme which I am following as a consequence of my recent completion of the EdX. Course, "Resilience The Science of Stress Management", of which I have written in previous posts. I'm doing pretty well, but have lapsed rather, owing to some significent family events. 

Kate's marriage to Darren last Friday was a wonderful occasion. Witnessing these two lovely people make their vows to one another was a privilege, they are so obviously in love. The weather was perfect, the castle magnificent, everything just great. 

Some writers are methodical, embracing timetables, structures and the work ethic. If you write for a living, I heartily recommend this as a practice, but I am done with all this, having been handed the gift of retirement, which I see as an opportunity to do what I damn well please until I can't do it anymore. 

I rely on inspiration, which is a frequent if unobserved visitor to this butterfly mind. 

Inspiration, I find, needs a bit of a helping hand from time to time, and I have been applying my curiosity to the teachings of The Buddha. Just dipping in is mind-blowing. How come I didn't know this? I exclaim, inwardly, and I have thrown myself into a crash course which has left me knowing a little, a very little, and a thirst for knowing more. 

I am not going to insult Buddhists  by attempting to give you a run-down. I am not even at the beginning of understanding the profound insights they attain through years of practice of yoga and meditation, but I am going to work with this sentence:

"What do you practise?" 

I think I am beginning to understand that you become what you practise, particularly if you do it intentionally. Most of the time I don't think much about what I'm doing. I hare through life making it up as I go along, often meaning well,  in an off-hand sort of way ... Sometimes even congratulating myself on my trivial and rather superficial "goodness". 

So, time to get down to it. Somewhere in the middle of 2009, I began to wake up. Here's the thing:

I went out on the streets with Susan last week and soon found myself wanting to hit her. But I didn't. I never would have EVER, I'm much too nice to do that, but for the very first time, I allowed the inner eye to open and I watched myself wanting to hit Susan. "Hey," I whispered, so quietly, I hardly heard myself, "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?" "I'm thinking this woman is getting on my nerves," I reply, rather shamefaced, because Susan is MUCH nicer than me. "Ha! You're envious. that's why you want to hit her... . " Sad, but true. 

This week I stayed in the Mission Room and spoke to Andrew, and Maxine and Graham and Maxine's friend, Jesus (Oh Yes, for real. More of HIM another day) I listened and I laughed I commiserated and hinted that what's wanted is a revolution, and I waited for Susan to return and I knew. Having caught myself out in envy, and named it, and laughed at it, I no longer felt it. It was like losing a sack of boulders. Susan returned my hug with great affection, thinking it was just the usual City Mission Hug. But it wasn't.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Kate's Marriage to Darren 25th July 2014

Mr and Mrs Darren J...

Eastnor Castle

Ray, me and two cheese souffles.

The Ceremony

Rosie, Me, Jen, Abigail and my sister Janette

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Hold On Lightly

Brian has found a full-time job.  I miss his tall gangly presemce and his easy conversation, to say nothing of his transforming work in the house and garden! 

"Sometimes it's good news" I wrote a while back, and this really is.  A young man who just needed a bit of  a break:  I feel really glad that.I was able to help, but as a Type Two on the Enneagram, I would say that wouldn't I? 

Tom's back from his European trip with Colette. He was the origin of my epiphany, "I don't do meetings anymore, I go to the Salvation Army and help serve lunch to the homeless." That must have been three years ago, and it's been an amazing source of wellbeing for ME: a sense of purpose, some continuity, a reason to get out of bed and feel worthwhile ... And I thought the purpose was to help others!

I have to watch the tendency to hold on to Brian, and this is hard. I remember when Ray supported a recovering alcoholic through his work with Emmaus, a long  time ago. Once Richard was dry and well enough to leave and pick up his old life, he vanished completely from ours. Ray was very philosophical about it, "He associates us with the worst time in his life. Why would he want to keep in touch?" 

'Holding on lightly' is for me allowing myself to feel deep gratitude for the men and women who walked alongside me for a while, then blessing them and letting them go, when it's time. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Family First

My current title, which I reckon I can reasonably hold until Kate and. Darren return from honeymoon in mid-August, is, you may remember, " Mother-Of-The-Bride".

I tell you, we are a ferocious breed, armed to the teeth with soothing comments, anxiety-relieving nostrums, Old Wives Tales and  Sound Advice. Foremost amongst which is, "Don't let me hit the gin before noon." 

Hannah's wedding on 20th June, was a dream. No-one fell imto the Mill Pond, or did themselves a mischief in the Adventure Playground. The Registrar was brilliant, the weather fantastic and Abigail, aged, three, co-operated way beyond expectations. (She being a free spirit and liable to proclain a firm and loud, "No" at the merest hint of, say, walking in the Bridal Procession.) My role, apart from staying sober enough to remain coherent throughout, was to cluck proudly over my chick, assist with the dressing (I tied the bow on the bridal gown) and do the flowers. 

My friend Gail kindly assisted, which was a godsend, and we had a wonderful time. It's rare that we have nearly £300 of flowers to play with, so we made the most of it. 

Somewhere mid-afternoon, I realised I'd cut all the ivory roses down ro four inches in length, having mislaid the part of my brain that knew half a dozen had to be saved for Hannah's bouquet. I remembered in good time and knew this was no occasion for panic. The MOB spirit had to pull this rabbit out of the hat and pronto. 

The local florist did not have a bouquet holder that would have made use of the shortened roses, which anyway were needed for No 3 Bridesmaid, but she did have six fully opened, beautiful ivory roses. Just six, just enough. Crisis over. There IS a God.

Now I'm gearing up for the Final Appearance. The Last Act - in the truly dramatic setting of Eastnor Castle. Which, as I discovered at the Wedding Fair I attended last summer is a REAL castle with all the correct attributes like moat, gate-house, a park  and turrets. Darren and Kate are tying the knot amongst very impressive portraits of someone else's ancestors, which, because they're in oils, is good enough for me. 

I am hosting a very important dinner on the evening of the Big Day, a 'Just Us' supper. Ray, myself and our three daughters. I have asked them what their favourite meals were when they were growing up ... Betty Crocker's Southern Fried Chicken with Bacon Wrapped Bananas and Tuna Plait, or Deep Dish Pizza came the fore. Though Kate, wary of suddenly growing out of her wedding gown, has asked only for a salad.

Lucy Hedgehog Cake for dessert, naturally.

It's not about the food, of course. It's a celebration of the beginning of a new era, a recognitiin that our family has grown and changed for ever. Our three lovely daughters have brought three fine sons into our lives, and it's AMAZING. The 'Last Supper' will have a sacremental quality to it too, a thanksgiving that we have somehow raised our children to be confident, caring young women, capable of taking on the world whilst at the same time making a safe haven for their own children in their turn. 


I went on a writers course last weekend. The importance of telling our stories and leaving them for our descendents was brought up.

"I communicate with my descendants every week," I ventured. "It's called 'Babysitting." 

(I thought that would make you smile! :) ) 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A Course In Miracles

Occasionally, I come over all-Newagey, which is to say, I return to 'A Course In Miracles'. I am light-hearted about it, and possibly even in denial, because to even BEGIN to see sense in a book dictated by Jesus to a psycotherapist, is to begin to unravel some fairly fundamental beliefs for a Catholic. Especially with regard to sin. 

Churches NEED sinners. I am just beginning to understand this. ' If you're not feeling guilty about something, then something's not right.'

Sitting here in the warm and bird-soaked sun of a gorgeous morning, it's not so easy to dwell on sin. So I shall say, quite starkly, I do not sin. I do screw up sometimes, and keep a few cupboards firmly locked, in the interests of integrity I have to say this. This isn't what I do, so much as who I am, though, and we're all the same - different screw-ups, other cupboards: it's how we are. 

I find an imperative within to straighten out some things, but on the whole, as I get older I see another imperative: that to live life in all it's fullness and joy, taking the rap for the mistakes, letting them go, moving on. I guess that's forgiveness for you.

Living as a former-sinner is quite exhilirating. I find I am not wasting my life in self-retrospection, self-hatred and self-denial. An occasional, "Yup, could have handled that better!" about covers it. 

A Course In Miracles Lesson of the Day


Only my condemnation injures me.

Only my own forgiveness sets me free.

Do not forget today that there can be no form of suffering that fails to hide an unforgiving thought. Nor can there be a form of pain forgiveness cannot heal.

I tell you, there are worse things you could be thinking today. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Slighted Wife

An uncommon joy for a writer is to be handed a story on a plate. So:

Once upon a time on the 678 bus from Gloucester to Newent via Taynton. It's 1315 and the day threatens rain.

"He's fifty-one next month. I saw him at my father-in-law's funeral four months ago. I certainly wouldn't fancy him NOW."

This isn't the beginning of the story, of course it isn't, but it sets the scene, giving us a taste of what is to come, a detail, and an intimation that not all is well. Stories must have a touch of this. Too happy, and who cares? Other people's happiness is of little consequence, though we wish them well. Too sad - and we are left bereft. Come on people! Life can't be all bad!

Our chief protagonist holds centre-stage - the front left-hand seat on the Community Bus, that can take fourteen, according to the sign, but holds just eight of us, including me and Brian. (See'Life of Brian')

She is looking good for sixty- seven. "He was," She says, "Sixteen years younger than me." I did the maths. White hair neatly styled and shoulder length, casually but smartly dressed.

I am going to call him John, and that might even have been his name. His father owned the pub at Apperly where our lady, whose name I do not know, served behind the bar.

"He was twenty-one. I told him to get lost at first, but after a year we got together. He was drunk all the time. A right clown."

A divorcee with her own home and the attributes of a good barmaid. Not a total idiot then ...  

Why, we wonder, not unreasonably, would she take up with a drunk? We get the feeling that our friend is not going to make good decisions. It turns out that we are right.

So they married, and he was good to her boys, and then one day he crashed the car drunk, and he never drank again. At this point we had high hopes of a swift and happy ending, but it was not to be.

"I left him, and it was MY house. Never got a penny, I was too upset to get a lawyer."  The empathymonitor is now in the  red, and we all cluck in horror, except Brian. Who, has, I think, an entirely different take take on the story. The bus driver concentrates on the winding road. 

"How long were you married?" Asks Dot, anxious to get some closure before she has to alight in Tibberton.

"Twenty-three years." Gasps. My calculating mind puts the hapless rogue in his forties and things begin to fall into place. 

"His new wife is only twenty-three, the daughter of one of his father's customers. She's been after him since she was fourteen!"

We had all been fourteen once, and know the score. 

"His sister won't have anything to do with him because of the way he treated me!" Justice, it seems, has been served. 

"I had his youth though! And I wouldn't have him now. You should see how fat he is."

We won't, of course, but can imagine him. Balding, overweight, with builder's bum and shirt agape over a tight belly. We are all consoled by the fact that she had his youth, and sigh with relief.

 Not the happiest of endings, perhaps, but it'll do.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Beneath My Heart

I am thinking of you, whoever you are
And holding you lightly
Here- just under my heart - in the 
Place reserved for God.


I expect that comes as a surprise! 
But it shouldn't: daughter, cousin, friend,
Anyone, everyone,
You are all precious.

I guess what I am finding words to say
Are those we would - if we were wise -
Whisper, or shout,
Or  pass like salt over dinner: 

"You, whoever you are, are loved.
And held, quietly,
Beneath the heart of God
And here, if lightly,
In my hand."


Monday, 7 July 2014

Tornado In The Tetons

I'm having a clear-out as part  of my Happiness Programme. Goodness! My mood has taken a swing as I remember, and am trying SO hard not to sing, the eponymous Kenn Dodd song. Isn't it terrible when  you know you're not going to remember more than the opening lines, and, disliking incomplete information, your brain isn't going to let it go until it gets closure?

Pom-pom-POM, pom-pom-POM, the greatest POM  that I pom-pom ... 

Back to the point. In clearing out a dusty desk drawer, I find a few pages of a travelogue I wrote in August 1996. The girls were aged 16, 12, and 9, when their father and I decided to take them away on a humdinger of a holiday, to celebrate being family, before they were too old to want to go away with mum and dad.

First stop Bellevue, Washington, to renew our friendship with Dick and Darlean Hanner, then onwards in a Mega-Mobile-Home, to Redmond to say 'Hi' to the Pollards. The first notable event of the tour was discovering that the MMH was so big, we couldn't make a right onto the Bel-Red Road.  We had to find the Freeway by an exciting series of left turns. I say exciting... Memorable, certainly. 

We camped our way across the Olympic Penninsula, then down through Montana and a few other States taking in as many National Parks as we could en route. I bought a picnic basket at Yellowstone Natiinal Park, that had to be dismantled before it could be made airborne .. . It was THAT big. I turfed it out just now.  Minus handle and flaps. It now serves as a repository for my Banner-Making Fabrics. Been a while since I made a banner ... . We narrowly missed a tornado at the Tetons National Park. The Ranger said we'd be blown over for sure if it hit. 

You know that thing which happenss at railway stations when you think you're moving and you're really not, as another train passes you: it's an illusion? Well that happened to me at Yellowstone. I thought we were moving, so I ran the length of the van and hit the brake - releasing it, of course, because we were stationary, sending so many tons of mobile home and family sliding towards Old Faithful. No harm done, just another, "Mum can't be trusted in charge of a vehicle" moment. Scary, I tell you. 

6:30 am Tuesday 30th July

I don't know what the body clocks of my daughters are doing, but they clearly need stopping! Dick's on breakfast duty, and the girls sample French Toast and sweet cure bacon. 

"I've left the American bits and eaten the  English." Explains Jenny, separating the fat from the meat. Dick has made some of the toast with coloured egg white. He's watching his chloresterol level.

What DO you do with a wide-awake crew at 8:30am? Go shopping, of course! So we walked to the Crossroads Mall. I first shopped here in 1978, and it has changed beyond all recognition. The only familiar landmark was the Post Office. It has a comfortable community feel. There are pavements and a large open eating area, and a stage for free concerts. Ray's eyes light up at the giant chess set. Fanatics are playing already and it's only nine o'clock in the morning!   It doesn't surprise me. I spend a few dollars on a 13x9 inch cake pan and a set of measuring cups and spoons. I recall I want to buy an updated 'Betty Crocker' cookbook. But not today." 

The journal continues on Friday 13th August. Ray won the "Who wants to go flower- hunting with Mum or to Disneyland with me?!"  Competition, and I got a day off...

"I stick to my resolve to skip Disney and find plants. The $61 trip to Catalina Island provided some memorable snippets:

The 'Queen Mary' berthed at Longbeach. I recall that my brother Adrian had toured the great liner the year before with his daughter, Samantha.

Karl "Trust Me" the the German-American coach driver. Anaheim was settled by such as he, 150 years ago.

Bougainvillea, so many vibrant colours.

The hike from the boat to  the Wrigley Memorial Gardens : The Wrigleys made their fortune in chewing gum. I find gardens wherever I go. Stunning plants, stunning views. 

The youngster who sells me  lemonade for 50c a cup. "Are you from Scotland?" Not far out considering. "United Kingdom, certainly!" I reply. He looks puzzled. I should have said, "Och, Aye!" 

My first gekko - on the steps of the Wrigley Memorial.  

Alien beauty surrounds me: the beautiful, hardy plants of southern California, built to endure the stresses of the heat, the awkward trees that I can caress but cannot name - some are pines, others palms: both adapted to this climate. Later I sample another unknown country through a glass-bottomed boat, the kelp forests of the Pacific Ocean, the hunting ground for fantastic fish that  I will never see again: striped bass, calico perch, garibaldi fish...  My eyes were on stalks. So were those of some of the critters I saw. "

I tell you it was amazing! To step back into the past and reli-live, so vividly, a few short days when I was merely middle-aged, and my children were still children. I'm thinking of them now, beautiful, open-hearted, successful women and I am so proud of them.

As ever,when I begin to write. I never quite know where I'll end up. But here seems a good place to stop,  losing myself in a past adventure which brings home to me what a beautiful life I have led: the recipient of so much  good, everyday, amazing joy. My happiness seems quiite undeserved, and gratitude overwhelms me.  


Olympic Peninsula Washington State

The Grand Tetons National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Catalina Island

Thursday, 3 July 2014

What Am I?

My friend Alex, who featured a few posts ago, is starting an 'Outdoor Church' which means he is taking Holy Communion into Gloucester Park today, for Christians on the margins, who don't feel comfortable in buildings. 

There are a thousand -and - one Canon Laws he is breaking, I'm glad to say. (She who sees what Canon Law has turned the Body of Christ into, and thinks its time a few were broken.) He's going to be a priest one day, so I guess he needs to get this rule-breaking out of his system, though personally, I think he should stick with it. No good asking me to conform, I'm over sixty, on the last lap, and don't much care what I do these days, as long it's ... Well, no matter.

Anyway, Alex asked me to preach today at Outdoor Church. Going with my reckless tendency to say 'yes' to practically anything, I agreed. He's asked me to speak for five minutes on 'The Holy Spirit'. I laughed!

Then I wrote, and this is what appeared:

Alex, I should have said,
I am not a preacher-
I'm a poet!

My job is to creep in under your armour
Rip away at what you think you believe
And help you to find who you really are.


Where the Spirit of The Lord Is THERE IS FREEDOM
The Kingdom of God is not  over here or over there
But tucked away within you

And WHO is it who occupies your soul
Your, My,
Hope of Glory?

The Christ, of course, you whisper, into the silence.

Go then. To Him.

Take up your freedom
Lay down your wanting of empty things
Go dig within for the pearl you sold you land for!


Welling up from beneath your heart
Inviting you to dance or to weep

Calling you quietly
To your deepest Being
And your highest Self.

One hundred and forty-three words. One minute's worth of a lifetime's experience. It'll do. 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Quizzing at 'The Jolly Brew'

My friend Wendy and I know A LOT about much that would be of little interest to most people, and were confidant enough to put our knowledge to the test at the Monday Night Quiz at The Jolly Brewmaster, which is a nice little pub off the Bath Road in Cheltenham.  Sometimes we came first, usually when we'd managed to dredge up from somewhere the winner of the Belgian Grand Prix in 1985, or the identity of the current possessor-Continent of the Ryder Cup.

History and Literature we aced, Geography we were about as good as anyone else at, it was always Sport that proved our Achilles Heel. (Yes, we know our Greek Mythology too.) However, it was a lot of fun, and for a while there, we were the team to beat. (A very short while, I add, in the interests of veracity.)

Between sipping our wine, adressing the sartorial short-comings of our fellow drinkers, and putting the world to rights, Wendy and I would find a few minutes to be thankful.

I suppose being thankful is more usually considered to be an activity reserved for churches. Nevertheless, we made time for it because we were in the mood, and secular gratitude is as good for you as the sacred kind. I expect you are wondering what we were grateful FOR, and as you have borne patientky with me this far, I am going to get all serious on you and let you know. 

We were thankful that we live in a society where we, two women could walk safely in the streets at night, sit down in a pub and compete in an intellectual exercise on equal terms with men. We were grateful for the past struggles of others that meant that we had grown up without the fear of illness or hunger. We were indebted too, for safe childbirth and flushing toilets, and a thousand other things of greater or lesser importance in the wider scheme of things. 

We didn't always like the government, but appreciated the fact that it wasn't going to throw us into prison for what we thought. We are indifferently religious, on aggragate, and celebrated the fact that we didn't have to conform to anybody else's notions of right of wrong, and did not have someone else's beliefs and practises foisted on us if we chose to ignore them. 

I guess History (with a capital H) teaches us to take a longer view. Two hundred years ago, our lives would have been very different. After all, it's not so long ago that women were chattels, no more than wombs handed on from father to husband with an unthinking disregard for individual rights.

If I try to carry on, I shall get flustered, and lose sight of any point. I'm trying to make, which is anyway, made better by Stephen Pinker. Things were bad, and in many places still are, but there IS an evolution in human consciousness that is making them better. 

Commonplace injusticies of the past are unthinkable now.  At least here, in England, today. Our British history teaches that subject peoples who do not own even themselves can, with courage, tenacity and perseverance,  win through to freedom. The proof of it is here: two free, independent-minded, feisty women sitting in a pub with a glass of wine pitting their fading wits against others on equal terms, and, occasionally, winning. 

Stephen Pinker: