Monday, 29 June 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Losing A Stone

I quite enjoy thinking of intriguing titles for my blog posts, and this one is a teaser. My British friends will immediately think I've finally found a diet I could stick to, and shed fourteen pounds (6kg) and my American ones will, well, take it literally and hit a home run.

This is the story:

Yesterday I drove for an hour over the border into the Principality of Wales to go on a retreat. Twelve woman together giving our souls a makeover. More specifically, working our way through the topic of forgiveness.

One of the practical activities we undertook was to give the name of our unforgiveness, be there such a beast, to a stone, and hold it in our hand all day, until we were ready let it go.

There were a fair selection of stones to choose from. Mine was small, round and smooth, retrieved from a river where, I fancy, it had lain incognito for a few hundreds of thousands of years, awaiting its name and it's day in the limelight.

To be honest, I hadn't given much thought to the content of the day when I booked the retreat, I just went with a vague feeling that it would be nice to get away. I should have paid attention. Try as I might, I couldn't find any unforgiveness in my heart to name. " What?" I thought, running over a few likely areas, "Not even a tiny bit of lingering resentment?"

No. Nothing. I did have a go at Ray recently for putting the garden hose away when I thought I'd made it clear I wanted it left out, but even the most cursory of glances over the garden wall reveals that HE was more entitled to be unforgiving than I was, and besides 'husband not reading my mind and anticipating my wishes in this matter' hardly seems worth naming a stone after. Besides, as a name, it lacks brevity.

The stone was grey and gritty. Not very large as stones go. It did in fact, lack personality. Catherine's stone, for example, was actually a piece of cuttlefish, and it floated. Eleanor's stone had a smaller pebble embedded within it. Mine neither glittered, floated, or displayed any evidence of geological excitement, it just sat in the palm of my hand, waiting ... .

The whole exercise reminded my of my daughter's PHSE class. It became the thing to give the girls ( it was an all-girls school) a bag of flour to take everywhere for a week in order to teach them responsibility and to put them off having babies. Intrigued, I watched my sixteen year old pay my ten year old to look after her bag of flour. Which then sat on top of the television for a week. I don't think it put anybody off having babies, but it did earn my youngest a bit of extra pocket money.

After lunch, for which I had provided my famous smoked-salmon-quiche-without-the-pastry-case (which is universally admired, and deserves a proper name), I set off for a walking meditation during which I distracted myself by racking my brains to think of someone who had wronged me and who therefore condemned themselves to an eternity of enmity. Usually it was plain, as in the case of the garden hose, that I held at least equal responsibility for whatever rancour remained, which was about none in every case.

There were the people who were responsible for me losing my job. Wow! That WAS a biggie at the time, but now I could kiss their collective feet, as their idiotic behaviour earned me six years remission from hard labour and a settlement.

I spent a few minutes marvelling at how free from any kind of pain that was now, and how, after a bit of a spat, I'd managed to square things with my husband over the garden hose. There fell upon me a sense of smug satisfaction that probably wasn't good for my soul at all.

Then I realised with a jolt that my stone no longer rested in the palm of my right hand. Oh Lord, I had to report back on my spiritual progress, and I was decidedly lacking in any, AND admit to losing my stone!

I backtracked through the garden, felt around the gooseberry bush, looked under the garden seat, investigated the path through the hay meadow, and cheated. I picked up another stone. Nobody would know, Even though it was a different shape and texture, I couldn't imagine that anyone else would have studied my inert friend long enough to take in particulars.

Anyway, if they found out. they'd have to forgive me, wouldn't they? Stands to reason.

Actually, Clarisse, was sitting where I left her on the arm of my chair.











Tuesday, 23 June 2015

#MicroblogMondays: A Change Of Mind

I wish I could draw cartoons. I'd have a go at one of those of a bearded guy in a long robe and sandals carrying a placard that reads, "REPENT! THE END IS NIGH!" He'd have a smug look on his face that says, 'I told you so!'

Yes, I've been reading Pope Francis' Encyclical, 'Laudato Si' which speaks powerfully of the globalised industrial machine, powered by greed, turning our planet into 'a pile of filth'. And in doing so, destroying the biosphere. Mass extinction, irreversible climate change, inhuman exploitation of the poor, to whom he acknowledges an 'ecological debt' ... Here's a Bishop of Rome who won't fiddle while the world burns. Perhaps by giving strong moral leadership he will have an impact. At least 1.3 billion Catholics no longer have the option of denying both the reality of man-made climate change, and a responsibility towards the people losing their homes and livelihoods because of it. Will it make a difference? We shall see.

I discovered recently that 'Repent' is a translation of the Greek word 'metanoia', which has nothing to do with sackcloth and ashes. It means to 'change your mind'. Pope Francis calls those who deny responsibility for the catastrophe we may not even be able to avoid, to do just that. While there's still a chance to salvage something habitable.






Friday, 19 June 2015

One Year On

I wrote this a year ago following Hannah and Luke's wedding. A lot has happened since then, but the memory of so perfect a day makes me smile ....

I first became a mother in May 1980. I remember it well, because it was after a three-day labour, which as you women will know, is not unusual for a first baby. May 24th 1980, the day my life changed forever.

I held this amazing little scrap of humanity in my arms and experienced a tidal wave of emotion which was like God saying, "Now you know how much I love you." I guess it's moments like this one that prevent me from becoming an atheist, though I do have sympathies in that direction, I have to admit. I certainly have no belief whatsoever in a hell-fire and damnation deity, and this might prove to be my eternal undoing, who kmows?

I remember saying to my husband as I lay exhausted on the delivery bed, "They say you forget how painful labour is, but believe me, I NEVER WILL!" He wisely chose not to comment. You do though, forget, it's strange, I read somewhere that there is a bio-chemical reason for this forgetting, which is anomalous, because usually one is programmed to remember pain in order to avoid repeating the experience. Evolution will out, I guess. 

Two more daughters arrived in due course, all three equally and uniquely loved. I vastly enjoyed growing them up. I thought of the process as one of having lit the blue touch paper, then standing back to watch the fireworks. And sometimes there were. 

Ray and I have been reprising some of the highlights as we marry off the spinsters in our midst. Hannah, last Friday, Kate in a few week's time ...

'Hedgehog land', Kate's paper round, Hannah''s Kick-boxing, Jen's perpetual inability to ride a bike - and the wealth of embarrassing stories ( though not for me) that will be brought out for the grandchildren in due course, but which I can't write here, because there  would be repercussions ...  

I am not a perfect mother, I would feel I had failed if I'd tried to be, I used to worry, perhaps I will again, from time to time, that I'd been too lax, or too strict... . 

I watched in amazement and admiration, as one mother of my acquaintaince, Mrs Hilda Gamston, who had RUlLES, check off her kids' tv-watching on a tick-list. They were allowed one soap each, and each chose a different one, so had to shepherded in and out of the sitting-room. I doubt it lasted, but bully for her for trying. 

I don't think we had rules as such. We just had values. 'This is how we do it in this family, we are kind and respectful to one another and to others.' That was about it, really. One daughter skivved off a games lesson once, and got found out. Floods of tears followed her father just saying, "I'm very disappointed." That was all. 

I skivved off school at every opportunity, which seemed the most appropriate response to it, so I kept quiet on this one. 

Mother-Of-The-Bride! You wait ten years then two come along at once ...  What fun, for me, at least,whose  only obligation was to turn up and look happy. No problem there. Darren, Kate's intended made sure my glass was never empty, and I breezed through the day in a cheerful if slightly inebriated haze of affability. You can tell by looking at me, I'm having a wonderful time. 

One of the unforseen consequences of having three daughters, is that you end up with three sons of whom  you were spared the expense and anxiety of raising. I have to hand it to my girls, they chose well: I'd have expected nothing less. I had to cross my fingers a couple of times along the way, grimly determined to love 'em no matter what, but it all turned out well in the end.  

Then there are the granchildren! Well, what poppets! And the delightful prospect of more to come (One due two days after Kate's wedding, which adds an extra layer of excitement to the proceedings,) i had better stop there because if I start on the grandchildren, you'll be here all day. 

Mr and Mrs Luke S-J

          Jen    Hannah

Mary Joe

Hannah and Ray

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Death Statistics

Oh! The curse of a liberal conscience!

It used to be quite trendy to claim a working class background and then rage against the iniquities of the system that keep certain demographics: the wontenly unemployed, the undeserving poor, the fake sick, the so-called 'disabled', from making a lot of money and putting their children in the good schools. Now that we're ALL middle class, or discounted, it's not quite so fashionable, so I am coming down the chimney and out of the sweat-shop with some reluctance.

I have a working class background! There! I've said it.

I'm not sure this qualifies me more than, say, a celebrity, to have an opinion on the life of the not-so well-offs, but it does give me a perspective, if only because I've stayed in touch.

The poor die first. This should come as no surprise, but should perhaps give you pause for thought. Stress, poor diet, scant education, and the rest, weights the dice, even against the 'hard-working families' that is now politico-speak for 'the poor', bless them, and they snuff it some time before those of us with better options. And more clout, let's be honest.

The upcoming budget will slash welfare. Just wait and see. I have this on good authority from someone who knows, but Hey! With £12 billion of cuts to be made to salvage the economy, and higher taxes being against God, it doesn't take a prophet to see what's coming.

Every Monday and Wednesday I serve food to people who wouldn't otherwise eat that day. Stunning isn't it? 2015, and there are men and women on the streets of a city in one of the richest countries in the world, who are hungry. And housed in places we wouldn't be seen dead in.

Console yourself, if you can, with the thought they somehow must 'deserve' to starve, or just wave away the plight of the 'underclass' because it's all you know how to do, but don't be ignorant of it.

Iain Duncan Smith wants you ignorant. The Department of Work and Pensions has appealed an attempt by others with the curse of a liberal conscience to gain, under the Freedom of Information Act, the stats on how many people die after being placed under sanctions. That is, having their benefits stopped for six weeks. Frankly, I little care as to why their benefits are stopped. Nobody should die for missing an appointment, or being too thick to understand what's happening to them. Should they? They might not BE dying of course. If IDS has his way, you'll never know.

If people have to die so that the fortunate amongst us can continue living the good life, so be it. But in fairness to them, I think we should know of their sacrifice, don't you?


Ian Duncan Smith is attempting to block the publication of "death statistics" that will reveal how many people have died within six weeks of their benefits being stopped.

After a freedom of information request, The Information Commissioner’s Office has said that there is no reason not to publish these figures but Ian Duncan Smith's department - the Department of Work and Pensions - has launched an appeal to prevent the figures being made public.

I've started this petition to call on the Courts and Tribunal Service to dismiss this appeal and so prevent any further delay by the DWP in publishing these figures. Please support me.

For years there have been reports of people committing suicide or dying from ill-health soon after their benefits are stopped. As a partner of someone with a disability I have been through two benefit appeals and have also been a benefit tribunal representation - so I know from personal experience how stressful the system can be and the impact they have on families.

I believe the public needs to know the full impact of benefit changes.

In 2012 the Department of Work and Pensions published statistics which showed 10,600 people who had been receiving benefits died between January and November 2011. These figures caused an outcry, although many disabled campaigners disagreed over what the figures actually showed. Ministers then blocked publication of any updated figures.

Now, thanks to freelance journalist and carer, Mike Sivier, The Information Commissioner’s Office has admitted there is no reason not to publish them. This appeal is the last hurdle to overcome to get these figures out in the public.

Please support this petition to dismiss the appeal and publish the "death stats".

#MicroblogMondays: Scouring The Universe

God within you wants to know Herself in you.

Sometimes, whilst scourning the Universe looking for an answer to the unanswerable question, "What Is the meaning of life? " I hear something that opens a window, and all sorts of things make sense. I'm not talking about TRUTH mind, as in something fixed, and eternal, no, just a glimpse of a something that makes sense for now. Tomorrow? Who knows? Tomorrow holds the promise of taking care of itself, which might necessarily mean bringing a different truth. There are, as you know as you get older, very few absolutes.

There's the preamble. Here's the Amble:

I have just finished listening to a Dharma Talk (and I WILL write up my visit to Darlene's neighbours, the Buddhist Temple, soon, I promise... ) The teacher today quoted my opening gambit, which bears repeating: God within you, wants to know Himself in you.

When I was in Sunday School way back in 1955, Miss Fleet ( Thin, old, bun, bicycle, lovely... ) told me that God is everywhere. A five year old just nods. Very little is known about the ever-widening world, everything makes complete and wonderful sense, and I just accepted it. Of course I had no idea who God is, and that's perfectly OK, because I've hung around Her skirts for nearly sixty years now, and I still don't. I have learned that this is just fine with God, and also, to be a bit wary of people who tell me they do.

At Baptism, I was taught, God comes and lives in us. Don't know what for, exactly, though I have always hazarded a guess that S/he popped in with the general aim of making me a better person, and good luck to Him/Her: Frankly, I could use the help. However, I am struggling a bit to make sense of this, because if that were the reason, S/he doesn't aopear to be all that great at it. "God, "I might say, with real conviction, "You are pants at making us good."

I am, as I have said before, a reluctant Theist. I believe in a Great Something Other, but have no idea what the GSO is. So, hearing that this pre-existing Entity IS indeed everywhere, but maybe not quite as I expected, is, well, Quite Interesting. Getting to kmow Herself in me , eh? As if I were, as you are, and everything is, an expression of Her (Lord! Give English a gender-free pronoun, that isn't 'IT', PLEASE!) and He experiences who She is through every expression of Himself, which is the entire cosmos, of which I am grateful to be a teeny-weeny part.

As this is really too much for me to take in, I wrote a poem.

I invited God to tea. For If
(And I say IF) we are to become
We really ought to get to know one another better

It was a great success.

Though, unused to juggling a cup and a plate on
His lap, God,
Was a little awkward. Just at first -
Shy, even.
But the cake went down well.

And for the rest?
He left me with a smile and a promise
Of great times ahead -

And an invitation to tea,

For you.


This was first posted in October 2014. It came to my attention today because someone had googled 'Scour The Universe' and, possibly because no-one advertises the process, this Blog appeared in the search results. And I know this because Blogger tells me so... .  I am therefore prompted to re-post this because it makes me smile, and also to challenge myself to concoct OTHER blog titles that beat the 'pay-up-or-disappear' algorithm!


Monday, 8 June 2015

#MicroblogMondays:When Sorrow Comes

When sorrow comes, my daughter

Let it wash over you;

It will break your heart

But will not knock you down.


Let your tears come

Don't stem the tide:


Ebb and flow


Ebb and flow.


For this is how it is:

Your father and I made a house for you

And how glad we are that

YOU came to inhabit it!


But you inherited tears as well as laughter -

What more can we do, than bear

All THIS with you?


And yet, and yet -


When joy floats by on butterfly wings,

And brushes against you,


Welcome her.


Allow your healing

Allow happiness a new place.


Know that a heart that is broken

Mends softer, and



Saturday, 6 June 2015

Skipping To The End ...

Readers fall by nature into two categories: the dogged and the cheats.

I am a cheat. I need no excuse to run over the pages and skip to the end - of the paragraph, of the chapter - or if I am either so enraptured that I can longer bear the suspense, or so bored I am mindful to spend my time on more entertaining pursuits - to the very end of the book. It is my only weakness.

I cheat only myself in a sense: who knows what literary gems were lost to me because I refused to persevere? Who indeed.


My friends and family are appalled by my lack of staying power: I offer no excuses, I hang my head in shame.

I did, however, read a book this last week that held my attention from beginning to end."Flight Behaviour" by Barbara Kingsolver. Ecolology, entomology and the inhabitants of a fictional town in Tennessee - without heroes or villains, beautifully described. Words are failing me: If you enjoy a good read and want one that will hold your attention, this book will do it.

It wasn't a book that prompted me to this: I was watching Series Three of "Ripper Street". Halfway through episode two I just HAD to find out where the main protagonists ended up. I wasn't disappointed, so I may now return to episode three and catch up!

Monday, 1 June 2015

#MicroblogMondays:You Open Your Eyes ...

And you think, "Oh God!  Everybody else is looking so peaceful... ."

I am listening to a Dharma talk, as I am now in my Bhuddist phase. Actually, I shouldn't be doing ths - unmindfully writing to you whilst listening. And it's great listening:I want to write it down before I forget.

You have to yield, meet yourself and the cosmos with a kind heart. Hold yourself in love. Keep softening to the present.

Dunno if I'm ever going to get Enlightened, but those minutes I spend not putting myself and the rest of you to rights, are helping me to see better, feel more, laugh a lot ( at myself, mostly) and meet that which is hard, with a deep breath and an unlikely optimism.