Saturday, 27 December 2014

Finally - I get it!


Christmas Day At The Vaughn Centre:

The Vaughn Centre - a retreat for the rough sleepers, the lonely, the dispossessed - shuts its doors on January 3rd. Everybody I talk to knows this shouldn't be happening, but feels powerless to stop it.

An appeal went out on Radio Gloucestershire a few days ago for a wealthy patron to donate enough money to secure its future, and who know? Miracles do happen from time to time. "Write to The Prince of Wales" i advise Lucinda, "After all, he's a Gloucestershire resident ... and this IS the only facility for the seriously impoverished in the County." She might. I might, come to that. Writing to politicians hasn't proved that effective. Compassion in public life is a luxury we can't afford these days.

The atmosphere on Christmas Day was upbeat. A delicious meal, cooked by a local church and delivered onsite, is being enjoyed by thirty os so people. Tricia, dressed in her finest skin-tight sateen leggings and calf-length boots is happier than I've seen her for months. She's trans-gender: the group with a 40% suicide rate. If anyone tells you its 'just a lifestyle choice' tell them that.

At her lowest, she was told by a psychiatrist, "How come someone as ugly as you wants to be a woman?" How come he got away with it? That's a no-brainer. Tricia is poor and powerless, you can say what you like to people like her and get away with it. Believe me, all kinds of abuse are aimed at you if you can't, or don't know how to, stand up for yourself.

Andy and Mo are planning to marry next summer. They showed me the gifts they exchanged that morning. "We're buying our proper presents tomorrow, in the sales!" We all laugh.

Chris is very chatty today. Unusually polite. Oh well, it is Christmas! Bob, baptised just three weeks ago, is still coming to terms with his new-found faith. "It'll take a while," he confides. "It'll take FOREVER Bob!" I say. He gives his take-away supper to Candy who is late because the police came round to her place looking for someone. " I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't had two dinners already," he explains, ever so slightly embarrassed by his generosity.

Candy's dog attacks Chris's dog and we all pay attention to that until its over, and then the carols start. I'm in the choir. Nobody thought to bring any words, but fortunately Chris ("I used to be in the choir at St Peter's") has a Booklet he lifted from the Mission Carol Service the previous Wednesday, so we're all set.

Six of us cluster cosily around the lonely set of words and belt out all the old favourites.

"No crib for his bed." That's when I understood. The rich aren't here, where poverty, mental illness, and inability to cope with the complexities of modern life are to be found... Here are the poor, and the poor in spirit.

Here is the baby in the manger, born into poverty to be one with the poor.

Here, with the hungry, the abused, the lost and the lonely, is the Holy One, hanging on a cross.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

What are you doing today?

I'm going to be very busy. And I'm going to savour every last moment.

2014 has been a specatcular year. Two of my beautiful, incredible daughters married lovely men, and a baby, Sam, joiined the family through a third ... It's a privilege to hold so much joy, especially with the knowledge that many lives seem bleak and empty in comparison.

This was the year when I began to feel the creeping onslaught of old-age. Not so remarkably, I gradually became aware that my joints are stiffening and the lower back pain that I thought would go away, hasn't. I creak, and I groan as I go about my everyday business, and I laugh! Oh yes! Sounds stupid, but the intimations of my mortality actually make me laugh.

"Been expecting you!" I grin at the spectre of Christmas-Yet -To-Come, "Let's see what a tale we can spin together before I quit!" The challenges approaching decreptitude offer, are showing up as new ways to be creative, fresh excuses to skive off the boring stuff and get stuck into what I really want to do.

So today. Put candles and evergreens on the windows in the church, and invite a friend to arrange the flowers in the sanctuary because she'll do a great job. Make sweets with my granddaughters, turn out another Tuna Plait and Texas Millionaire Pie, read at The Christmas Vigil and celebrate the First Mass of Christmas with friends and fanily tonight.

Tomorrow I'll help out at the Vaughn Centre, and eat a quiet dinner with my husband. I shall collect my thoughts and give thanks. This is a wonderful life, I haven't deserved it, but I revel in it. I don't know what next year will bring, but whatever it has in store, I'm ready for it.

This week, this blog passed 10,000 hits. I am amazed. And delighted. Whether you are a regular visitor, or a casual passer-by, I have a poet's prayer for you this Christmas:

May you be surrounded by Love

Filled with Hope

Stilled by Peace

And may Joy unlooked for

Be your Gift: May you

Know, that you are loved!


Merry Christmas!




Monday, 22 December 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Free Gifts

I caught a piece on the radio today, it may have been The Ted Radio Hour ( which I'm delighted to hear is soon to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4) about Emotional Correctness. Political Correctness we know and probably love:It gets a bit silly sometimes, I know, but I'm not sorry to see the back of offensive sexist and homophobic jokes, and worse. Emotinal Correctness, I hear, is about making as socially and morally unacceptable, the grotesque online abuse by angry, ignorant people who vent their awfulness on social media in truly horrible ways. I hope it catches on.

In the meantime, let's practice a little Emotional Correctness this Christmas. Doesn't cost anything to be warm amd kind, to lay down prejudice and adopt instead a listening mind and a compassionate heart. Gifts that bless the giver and the receiver in equal measure.


Monday, 15 December 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Today

Before dawn, I walked to the top of Southend Lane to catch the 0715 number 678 Gloucester bus (via Tibberton) : the waning moon hung about, to the evident annoyance of the Phillips's cockerel impatient for the sun.

A bit early, so I sat in Starbucks, in Eastgate Street, wrote some Christmas Cards, read a portion of Cynthia Bourgeaut's "The Wisdom Jesus," downed a bucket of coffee and broke fast with a dry pastry.

The whole of the morning I spent helping the Salvation Army serve a Christmas lunch to the people who need to eat where they can: rough sleepers, those in poverty - I make the tea, pour the coffee and greet our guests. There's a wonderful atmosphere in the room. Major Adrian comments that three years ago we fed fifty, today it's one hundred.

Home, exhausted by the early start and hard work! Had a very long rest. Ordered a new duvet cover from John Lewis as Ray's failure to sort the washing has left the second best bedding an unattractive murky pink.

Made a mushroom risotto, which was not too bad ... Probably needed the wine, an essential ingredient I absent-mindedly drank yesterday.

Early to bed. Watched two documenteries on tv, one about darts, the other about the Dukes of Devonshire. I do not approve of having televisions in bedrooms, but a considerable rearrangement of furnishings has taken place, necessitated by the overhaul of the dining room, which needed to be emptied.

Drafted a poem:


I have lived many lives.

You know, I wonder at it. How, the

Grammar School boys on the bus,

The couple in a B and B who have no stove to cook on,

No money for McDonald's,

And Jeanette - over eighty, sprightlier than me,

Serving the gravy and the roast

With a smile a mile wide -

Can be here. Peering over my shoulder

Watching me write, reminding me:

Today, we lived each other's lives

In a nod, a laugh,

A serious moment

And a cup of tea.


Friday, 12 December 2014

Performance Indicators

I loathe and despise The Annual Review. Mine own were conducted by well-meaning examiners with no concept of the complexities of my role, which was great, because I agreed to stupid 'goals' that needed no particular effort to 'achieve'. This was easy for me, because I'm a very bright woman with an honest face.
My true performance indicator was to engage in (legit) projects with an element of travel to clock up as many miles as I could without spending a penny. I made 100,000 miles before my career ended. Of this, I am unjustifiably proud. ( You know I'm not a good person, don't you?)
My staff got PI's like:" You've got children, get yourself home on time and don't take work with you." This paid dividends in staff loyalty and excellence of performance that far outweighed the "gains" obtained by stressing them out with unrealistic numbers of Level 3's or whatever the current nonsense was. The pendulum will swing back my way, one day, you'll see.
I am so reminiscing because of Baroness Jenkin's weigh-in against The Poor and their lack of ability to cook. You know what your Baronessness, I know Poor who have nothing to cook ON, or WITH but she doesn't, so I guess I should be making allowances. (Thought about it: Naw, she's not excused.)
Sometimes, I am a born-again Christian. That is, until other born-again Christians engage in gay-bashing, or in other ways show themselves a lot more interested in other people's bedroom habits than is healthy for their souls. " I am not of you," I get to thinking, "So I guess I must be something else now. Don't know what, but there you are. "
Make no mistake, I still embrace and revel in the teachings of Jesus, especially when practised. I puzzled for ever over the enigmatic, "The Poor (whom he blessed by the way, it was the rich he sent away empty) will always be with you." Well, yes, so it seems, but why? I read of the Baroness's 'apology' - for saying that being hungry was The Poor's own fault because they were too something (Idle? Ignorant? Stupid?) to cook. Then I knew what the Bethlehem Babe meant: The poor will always be with us because the powerful will do anything to hang on to their riches. If Baroness Jenkin went out and talked to The Poor, and involved herself in their lives, she would become a whole, new, and much better person.
Have I lost the plot. This piece was about Performance Indicators wasn't it? Yes.
One day, and every day, I have to give account of my stewardship. The checklist doesn't have boxes for: Did you make a lot of money? Win any wars? Believe all the right doctrines? Belong to the right church? Get an enormous number of converts? Or even, God help us, Sleep with the right people? No. (I expect you've got where this is going...) I get rated on these criteria: Mary, tell me, did you: Feed the hungry? Comfort the afflicted? Visit those in prison? Clothe the naked?
Did I? Sometimes.
How about you? Find someone who's hungry and feed them this Christmas/Saturnalia/Sun Return ... ! It will make you both feel better. Yes, really, it will.


PS Only three vouchers are allowed for Food Banks. Just sayin'.

Monday, 8 December 2014

#MicroblogMondays: When Everything Falls Apart

What does wisdom look like? I don't know, but I think I'm finding out.
There's this young man, of no fixed abode, whom my husband and I have been helping out for about a year. He has many good qualities, yes, really, but yesteray he was arrested at my house, by two police officers whom I invited here for the purpose, because he's suspected of stealing from an elderly couple that I had introduced him to.
A sleepless night ensued, going over what he may have done, of my role in the unfolding tragedy, understanding that everything goes belly-up in the end, but wishing, and here you will know and understand that I am NOT a good person, oh yes, wishing, that it hadn't happened on my watch ... .
Now I am listening to a Dharma talk by Jack Kornfield and he's saying:
"I will not get caught up in your melodrama, but I will love you."

Monday, 1 December 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Graham

I am watching a miracle unfold.
I first met Graham, an unemployed labourer when he was optimistic. Funny, grounded, determined, and full of faith. He'd lost his job in the recession, but was certain he'd find another soon.
Three years passed. Despite attending all the courses available from the Job Centre, and applying for forty or more jobs a week, he was still unemployed. Rumours began to circulate about Graham having, "anger issues" he became cold, bitter, resentful, and yes, bloody angry. I daren't enquire about his faith...
Today he bounced into the Salvation Army lunch club full of excitement. The new Aldi store that employed him last month is opening next Thursday. Graham is laughing and joking, he is calm and present and alive once more.
I see so much depression, sadness and misery amongst the unemployed. When I hear the rich, the powerful, the ignorant rant about ' welfare scroungers', I want to weep. Yes, I really do.
But then there is a miracle ... Not the getting of a job, but the anazing transformation when belief and self-respect are gained once more.