Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Magic Faraway Tree

Enid Blyton was pretty much all there was when I was a nipper. It was, in fact, a 'Noddy' Book that taught me to read when I was three years old. I wish I knew how, but it was so far away in time, and I so young... . Our Enid led a very alternative lifestyle, impressivily raunchy for a respected children's author, which was so excellently portrayed by Helen Bohham-Carter in an eponymous TV series a few years back. But that's another story, for another day.

A long-time favourite of mine was, 'The Magic Faraway Tree'. It wasn't that well-written, or exciting: thankfully children's authors today have well-rounded characters and intriguing plots. Take it from me, 'The Magic Faraway Tree' has neither. It does, however, have a wonderful plot device. Periodically, there would appear amidst the cloud-strewn branches at the top of the tree, a completely new and exotic world. 'Topsey-Turveylamd' for example where you were expected to walk around on your head. Fantastic.

"What?" You may be asking, "Brings Topsey-Turveyland to mind?" I am about to tell you, so keep reading. There is, at the bar at the top of this page, a button to press labelled, 'Next Blog'. Occasionally! I spend a happy few minutes scolling through Blogland to get a taste of what's out there. I am perpetually astonished, until I hit an unrelentingly, say,  Portuguese, section,  which leaves me mystified and calls a halt to my surfing. 

At every fresh press, a new world opens, a new life revealed. 

I like to think that some of my far-flung readership hits upon this blog by accident, and then hangs around a while. You're welcome. Leave me a message and I'll come and visit you! 

What always pulls me up short, are the abandoned blogs. I see photos of new-borns who are now in kindergarten (or High School!) and I get interested in individuals who were blogcasting back in 2003, but have now  vanished without trace. I feel a little cheated. I am thankful when someone says, "I'm off.Goodbye and thanks for all the hits." The rest,  leave me a little saddened. Did Rollo die? Did Little Wumpkins and Soppy Sally  get divorced? We'll never know, and the voyeur in me feets cheated. 

I guess every blog has a sell-by date, and, inevitably, this one will end one day. But not today! Here are some photos to prove the point. I am on holiday in Washington State, where every trip out has been rather like visiting a new land at the top of The Faraway Tree. See for yourself:

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Extracting Meaning Is Like Pulling Teeth

No, it's not. I have told you before, somewhere, possibly on Twitter, that NOTHING is like pulling teeth, and I know this, having recently lost a wisdom tooth, and with it, no doubt a little wisdom. The HUGE needle ... No, it's too painful to recall, although, paradoxically, virtually painLESS these days. 

Whilst sitting here in Redmond pondering what'll happen to the Union Flag when we lose the blue bits, and how  UKIP might respond when, no longer holding the WHOLE island, we have to become 'Lesser Britain', I have been contemplating The Science of Happiness and the Meaning Of Life. Over a cup of tea. Darlene gets in British tea, which as eny fule no, is the sweepings off the floor in the Tea Room, but there you are, it came with cards when I was six, and I love it. 

Have I come to any conclusions? Well, yes. Life has no meaning, but that's never going to work, so we have to invent one. This is a glorious purpose and I am spending a lot of time doing it. 

I am spending almost as much time marvelling at the meanings my fellow inhabitants of this precious blue dot ascribe to their amazing  existance. I'm not going into any great detail because I am in a good mood today, and have no wish to offend, but really, if you're engaging in something that doesn't bring you SOME sort of satisfaction, you really ought to stop it. Or if you're hurting yourself, or someone else, you oght to stop that too. 

I have given serious thought to becoming a Bhuddist, but there are some serious obstacles. 'Steak' and 'not being able to sit still' being two that spring immediately to mind, unfortunately, as I can't see that either reflect well on my spirituality. But there you are, what you read is what you get. 

I am going to pass you on to Tim Minchin now, because he is funny and young, and deserves to be heard: I love him. ( Like a son, Ray. :) ) 

This isn't a live link, but .. . Go on, paste it! It's worth the effort: 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

How To Write A Poem

Gotcha! This blogpost is not about how to write a poem, because I don't know how. Poems just happen. This one, for example, isn't written yet . It's sitting in an ante-room, egging me on, "Come on!" It's saying, "You can do this!" 

It's just an image at the moment of a door. It's closed, it has the word, "KNOCK" deeply etched into it's surface, and it is surrounded on every side by a beautiful day. I was struck by this, when I first saw it, because you can walk all the way round the door and still be where you are. No walls, no ceilings, just a door in it's frame,  standing there, waiting. On the top of a hill. Say, Robinswood Hill. 

Now you can see what a cheat I am. As a poet I shouldn't have used the turgid and lengthy convention of prose to show you the door. You may assume that I did  because a description of the door matters, but not to the poem. Here goes:

OK God
Not sure about this.
This is seriously weird. I know
You know me, and the temptation to 
Is going to be irresistable. 

But first, I want to make something clear.
I am naked. 
I am not ashamed. 

I notice the serpent's keeping his distance:
"Don't mess with me mate,
I've got  your  number." 

No, God, Not You!

I know nothing  of YOU
If it's not love and all those things
Lovely things.

Here goes ... 

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Science Of Happiness

I am a phenomenally happy person. I knew this before I enrolled on this EdX course from Berkely. I guess I wanted to know WHY, as that's the way I am.

50% Genetics! My smiling and unflappable father springs immediately to mind. Thanks, Dad! 
10% Circumstances. Yup. I am comfortably off, and I am content.
40% Social Connection. I can do that! Though being an introvert, I have to work on it. The upside is, I don't need a LOT of people around me to MAKE  it work. 

What I'm really about here, is finding something to do with the ungodly hours I acquire, compliments of jetlag. It's 0630 here in the beautiful State of Washington, and I have been awake since four-fifteen. 

I completed Week One of the EdX course, took the quiz, which I did OK on, and wrote up my Three Good Things Happiness Exercise, which was to record in detail just that. Breakfast with Darlene and Carol, walking the dogs in Idylwood Park on the shore of Lake Sammamish, and the sense of achivement at getting my homework in on time, covered it for yesterday. I don't know what today will bring, but whatever it does,  I suspect I shall look upon all I have made, iand declare it GOOD. 

The Ice Cream Maker

Seven years ago, I thought, I MUST HAVE AN ICE-CREAM MAKER! I scoured the shop-sites for the best deal, and bought a shiny new Kenwood. I admired it, read the directions, invested in the cream and etc., and fired it off. Twice. 

It now sits at the back of a cupboard as a permanent reminder that the pleasure of acquisition is an extraordinarily fleeting one, and that Ben and Jerry offer much easier alternatives, frequently at half the price.  

I write this as a lesson to you on the futility of seeking pleasure in things, and an illustratiin as to why "Circumstances" - in this case having enough free money to spend on non-essentials- comes in at only 10%. 

Far more effective happy- generators are, gratitude, Random Acts of Kindness, the company of good friends, and the support of family. To my friends and family I have two things to say: (apart from soppy things, like, "I love you")

1. Don't  buy me any more stuff.
2. Want an ice-cream maker? 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Traveller's Tale

I am just returned from Poland! I have one Polish reader, to whom I write:

Pozdrowienia! mieszkasz w pięknym kraju.

I will attach some photographs, to prove the point. 

I am not good with languages, although I travel a lot, and am ashamed of myself. I confess I have largely given up on anything but the most basic attempt. I manage by smiling a lot, pointing and saying, 'Please'. Forgive me Poland, but I couldn't even manage 'please'. The trick is, I have decided, to learn only one word. Then you are in no danger of making a mistake. My brain, on underdrive, decided that, 'tak' (yes) was 'thank you' . Could have been worse I suppose. 

One thing that travel has taught me is, that there's no need to be shy. The Polish people were patient, and kind, and I had no worries about heading off to the supermarket alone to shop for little things for my grandchildren. There was this delightful 'OH!!! ' moment when I realised that I now have a BOY to buy for too. 

I had a very clever strategy for the checkout. I thought I'd listen very carefully to the shopper in front of me, and repeat what she said on being handed change. This could have worked. I am determined to give it another go. But I did come a little unstuck when I quickly become aware that what was going forward was a discussion about giving the right money. I surmised this by observing my fellow shopper, a little disgruntled, returning  to her purse and fishing about amongst the shrapnel to pull out a few coins whilst changing one denomination of zyloty for another. I knew I was in trouble. To make matters worse, there was no polite exchange of pleasantries to conclude the transaction, so I was stuck with, 'Tak'.

Well, yes, I was subjected to the same procedure. So I smiled my most winning smile, adopted Received Pronounciation and said,

"i'm terribly sorry, but I'm English, you'll have to write that down." Whatever good I thought writing it down in Polish would have done, didn't occur to me at the time, but nevertheless, the cashier gave in without a fight. "Doesn't matter." She muttered, taking my 100z note, to which I replied, 'Tak'.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Contemplative Mind

I am probably the least qualified to contemplate the contemplative: I plash about in the shallows with a grudging acknowledgement that I need to get a lot more serious about it  to make a real difference to my life. So I say, but I look back at that sentence and begin to laugh, because the striving to do better, get more, reach a goal - even that of becoming a saint - really isn't what it's all about. No, not at all. Nevertheless, I made an important point, I don't know a lot. So you won't find any great wisdom here, just chatter. 

I am thinking about non-dual thinking. A gem of the contemplative, and a key to unlocking imaginary prisons as well as taking down some serious barriers. I have been exposed to this teaching for about five years, coming in at the time I needed it most.( Long story, never mind. )

I once held very firmly to some ideas. I was staunchly left-wing. I was a particular brand of Evangelical Christian, I had strict views on how to do this, and accomplish that. I made a habit of making other people's causes my own. I jumped onto bandwagons (providing they were heading in the 'right' direction.)  I was, all-unknowing, schooled by my upbringing, to react in a certain way to certain stimuli. I knew who the bad guys were. My thinking mind was set to automatic , and my responses were of the knee-jerk variety. 

I am no longer a staunch Evangelical Christian. So quoting St Paul here is going to seem a little counter-intuitive, but I tell you, if you sift St Paul, and don't take everything he says as gospel, there's some thunderingly good stuff in there. "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." He writes, which is to say, find a practice that you are comfortable with ( and there are myriad to choose from) that stops you thinking the same old crap just because it's what you do. Wonderful. Then there's my signature verse, Paul's letter to the Galatians. Chapter 5 verse I: It is for freedom that Christ has set you free, so do not therefore subject yourselves once more to a yoke of slavery." 

Now leaving Christ out of it for a moment, no offence meant, but here is a great invitation to realise you CAN be free from thought patterns and behaviours that keep you miserable, and you  can also return to them if you don't stand guard over your heart and mind. 

For YEARS - and here's a prime example of pre-programmed-thinking - I didn't get the irony of evangelisation that promises 'freedom from sin and death ' and then immediately loaded the new convert down with a list of do's and don'ts longer than your arm. Some freedom.

I am letting my fingers tap away without me again. Non-dual thinking: no knee-jerks. Do you think in black and white? Well here's the thing, your brain isn't called 'grey matter' for nothing. Contemplatives don't judge or pre-judge. Everything is as it is.  the key question is never,"Is this position/person/point of view right?" Rather, "How much of this is right?" Hold the judgement. 

I haven't  put that well. Way back when Adam and Eve were living up in the garden, they were told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge."Right?  Well, no, they weren't. They were strongly advised not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There's a difference. The wisdom hidden in this myth, is: stay away from the battle-lines. Don't take sides. Don't judge. Stay whole, stay balanced.

I watched a guy on You-tube today rant for ten minutes on the illegitemacy of Obama's Presidency because of the persistent myth that he has a forged birth certificate. Rant rant rant ... This person's obsession, which was beyond hatred, fuelled by  his conviction of his 'rightness' had quite obviously poisoned  his life. I left him a message:

"Your behaviour is irrational. Stop trying to be right, start trying to be happy."

There! That's it. 


Monday, 1 September 2014


I find my last post very hard to follow. How can I just turn to the every-day musings iof a reluctant God-botherer after that? 

I have been thinkng deeply about what motivates the perpertrators of the kind of atrocities that have always been part of the worst of human conflict. There is no nation that has engaged in  warfare and kept it hands clean, before or since the Geneva convention, so this is not going to be a rant against 'the other side'. Not a about a state of war, then, but a state of mind. 

I can only approach this by reporting on what I see in the one individual I know who has been there and done it. 'Donegal' is not his real name. He is a sick and broken man on the streets of Gloucester who was once an activist in the IRA. He was radical, fanatically committed to his cause, and is still convinced he was in the right, and I'n not going to say, that he wasn't. Britain has nothing to be proud of in its treatment of Ireland and the Irish, and equally fervent 'warriors' on 'the other side'  did terrible things too. Like I said, taking sides isn't my point. 

My point is, once the testesterone fuelled blood-lust dies down, other human instincts, those of compassion, loving-kindness and empathy, which have been over-ridden and surpressed, begin to re-emerge. Allowing them, or even further surpressing them, takes it toll, or it does on Donegal. He never sleeps unless he is drugged because every night, every time he tries to close his eyes, he sees the people he tortured and killed. It is hard, very hard not to feel compassion for this man who is haunted moment   by moment by the evil he perpetuated thirty years ago, for a cause he believed in. I thought I wouldn't wish this kind of suffering on anyone, until I saw the photograph of that little girl. 

There is going to,be no saccharine-sweet ending to this piece. I hope with all my heart that who ever did THAT spends his old-age afraid to sleep because of it. And I wish him an old-age to suffer it.