Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Personal Log Stardate 3.722 (billion)

"If you want to make apple pie from scratch, first you have to create the universe."

This is a popular quote from the cosmologist Carl Sagan. I like it, it takes me from the everyday to the ultimate: a profound leap for one that takes just a moment to make. 

Thing are looking bleak at present, so much so that I am tempted to batten down the hatches, stick my head in the sand and hibernate for a decade.

What perturbs me is that it is fashionable to embrace lies to gain power, to encourage mistrust to hold on to it, to turn  a blind eye to the effects of greed and selfishness on those who cannot shield themselves from it: the poor, the unprotected, the marginalised. 

How can this be right?

It isn't.  All I can hope for now, is that one day the appeals to the worst in us will run it's course, and the liars, cheats, war-makers and fear-mongers will be vanquished. I am usually optimistic, but am struggling to remain so. I want the world to be a better place, but what I am seeing right now is pretty much an end-game. 

Such a pity. Because, to end with another Sagan quote:

"Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious."

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Sick of Politics? Here's Some Religion ...

This liturgical year draws to a close this week, Advent and the beautiful season of Christmas is approaching fast. 

Advent is a season of abstinence, I guess once upon a time it pretty much had to be, as there didn't use to be an abundance of food around here in December. I am reflecting on it. A period of abstinence will make the feast of Christ Mass so much more appreciated, Reflection ends with the thought that I shall start out with good intentions that will keep me going for a week. Tops. 

Now that our family have families of their own, Christmas is different. Last couple of years Ray and I have volunteered with the worthy folk, this year we might just pull in a waif and do good to them. Last time we tried this, the waif ensured he was too blotto to come to be done good to, which was almost a relief. I have put out feelers at the Salvation Army, but it might well be that my regulars have re-connected with their people, or heard that Friends at Christmas are doing a meal with all the trimmings at the Mission, an occasion which I know will be livelier than dinner-on-your-best -behaviour here. 

There's a growing thing about Big Name Christmas Adverts. I mention this as a matter of interest, do not ask me why, or, indeed, what. I am sticking to Netflix and the Beeb until New Year's Day. 

Television advertising brings out the Scrooge in me. 

I did see a funny posted by my friend Patsy,  who is, like me, both a Labour Party Member AND a Roman Catholic 👍🏻😘✝ So a shared idea of what's amusing might be expected. I will source the photo and post it,  eventually, but here's the gist: Dilliard's  Department Store scrimped on proofreading their Christmas ad this year, and have invited Satan into their Christmas Grotto ... 

Last Sunday was the feast of Christ the King. I love this one, A timely reminder just before the babe pops back into the manger,  that the Eternal One doesn't stay there all year. 

(Being a rather unorthodox Roman Catholic, the Eternal One embraces for me a universal concept of the Cosmos not a tiny God-in-a-box exclusive one.  If you are a person of faith this will mean something, if you're not, skip this bit.) 

Where was I? Momentarily distracted by a bright yellow helicopter hovering, very noisily, over my back garden. A quick examination of conscience turns up nothing actionable. 

I ought to get moving. The grandchildren are due soon and there are things to be done. 

Before I quit, as the great Dave Allen used to say, 

"May your God  go with you ... " 

Friday, 18 November 2016

I Wish I Could Write Like Alan Bennett

My husband and I have been very busy doing this and that. He plays chess and volunteers with the Samaritans, and I work with two charities that do practical things for other people who need them done. We both help out, with no arm-twisted needed, with our five grandchildren. Sometimes, we remember we ought to, so we go out on a date. 

Last week, I hauled him off to the Wildlife and Wetlands Centre at Slimbridge, about 30 miles from home. This week was his choice, so he booked tickets for 'A Live Interview with Alan Bennett' at the Guldhall Arts Centre in Gloucester. We had listened to Bennett's 'Diaries' read by himself over the wireless (definitely a word he uses) watched 'The History Boys' when it came on the telly, and taken ourselves off to the pictures to see, The Lady In A Van':pretty much a true account of a vagrant that parked outside his house and stayed there for years. To say that she enlivened his existence is an understatement.

The interview was prefaced by a documentary showing this affable introvert in a raincoat, shuffle his way apologetically through his extraordinary life, after which he was probed and prodded, In a verbal sense, by a respectable Sue McGregor, then the thousands of us watching the event in cultural centres across the UK tweeted questions, which Mr Bennett answered. 

It was charming. 

Alan Bennett picks up his material by standing next to people in queues and listening to them. I think you get a lot of material that way. 

"Tomorrow's my ninetieth birthday, It's disgusting," 

You can hear her saying it, can't you? Imagine a quiet, educated Yorkshire voice repeating it, and you're there.


Monday, 14 November 2016

Road Ahead Closed

Started out as an ordinary day, that is until the bus driver, as we do, you know it, refused to believe the 'Road Ahead Closed' sign and had to resort to a problematic three-point-turn in a busy but narrow high street. People on the bus immediately became best buddies, and began talking to each other, offering words of consolation and advice to the bus driver who was rapidly  coming to terms with what had all the makings of a very bad day.

I use the bus on principle. The first principle being that it's free because I was lucky enough to be born in 1950, the second, it's good for me and the environment because I get to walk a bit and the atmosphere is spared 20 minutes of toxic emissions. We are both chuffed. 

The walk through Gloucester from Worcester Street, past  the Cross, up Eastgate St to the Salvation Army Citadel was troubling. I counted five rough sleepers. I can't remember a time when the problem was so visible. 

I stayed at the SA long enough to make sandwiches, get the tea table set up and prepare the helpers' lunch. I'm easing back in slowly, after a granny break. Usually I stay to serve the tea and reconnect with the people who need a meal they don't need to pay for, or haven't the facilities to cook themselves. Next week, perhaps. 

I read the New Scientist on the bus home.  I don't read newspapers any more, because I am too old to find other people's opinions and celebrity gossip other than tiresome. It would help if I followed football, but I don't, so it's New Scientist for me. Excellent article on why Americans don't listen to one another any more, and a study of small scale projects here and there working to pull people back together. (It IS possible) This is more interesting to me than bad stats and worse commentary on why the President-Elect managed a win on a platform of, "I know nothing about how to run the country, and I'm gonna get rid of those that do ... " I am awash with anticipation as to how THAT'S going to work. 

Rest assured American readers, I am not picking on your country.  I am at least as cynical about politics here in the UK, only more so, because I have to live here. 

The walk up the hill from the bus stop took me last an amazing burning bush. I stopped to drink in the beauty of the Autumn colours, I picked some leaves to play with when I got home. There will be pictures. 

Now the day draws to a close. I have gazed at the Supermoon, watched Planet Earth ll on my iPad, and, in the bath, listened to Garrison Keiller's 'Writer's Almanac'. It's a treasure, people: a daily reminder of everything I love about the USA.  It's here:

Check out this cool episode: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/writers-almanac-garrison-keillorthe/id136642066?mt=2&i=377815749

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch. 


I made a collage under glass for my dressing table:

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Poppy Day

We always called it Poppy Day. My earliest memories are of grainy black and white TV pictures of hundreds of veterans marching to the Cenaph. The pictures changed from greyscale to HD and the veterans grew old, no longer marched, but were pushed in wheelchairs, and finally the British Expeditionary Force faded away ...


My Aunty's lodger was called Poppy ... He had been gassed in WW1, invalided out, and was too old to fight in WW2. He was billeted on Aunty: an evacuee from the blitz in London. He never returned home.


He was part of my childhood, he died when I was ten. I loved him, I mourned him. I never questioned him. I wished I had, but I was too young to ask. He was the first person I loved to die.


He never spoke of it. . The trenches, the shelling, the gas attack that bought him his passage home to Blighty, Not a word. I know only from the testimony of others.


My Aunty. She was a young and very beautiful widow during the war. I have only whispers of her conquests, but I know of her one true love. His name was Bill, he was in the parachute regiment. They were to marry, but he was killed. I don't think Aunty would have mentioned him, except for a peculiar piece of my own history.


Years after the war, I was about to marry a fellow student. It was 1971, we were young and in love, and of the options on offer, we chose the quirky one:we decided to get married. We had NO money, but I had a reasonable grant that bought the Paisley mini-dress from Marks and Spencer's, my husband-to-be borrowed the license money from my brother Adrian, and we were going to buy 7/6d brass circlet from Woolworth to do us for the wedding ring.


Before the big day, Aunty took me to one side and told me a story about a young airman whom she had loved, and whom she was going to marry the next time he was home on leave. But he never came home. He was killed in action. They had a ring ... Aunty gave me that ring, and Bill's 'wings'.


Both are dead now. Aunty never remarried, and I often wondered why. I do not know Bill's other name, but today, as I look down to the third finger on my left hand, I remember him.


Thursday, 10 November 2016


It's rewarding work, turning up at the Mission, serving food to vulnerable adults who don't mind listening to a few minutes of religion in exchange for a sausage roll, a bowl of soup, and some nice people to talk to for an hour or so.


I am full of existential guilt about it, because doing good makes me feel good, but I am reconciled to this since learning (EdX course 'Science of Happiness') that we are genetically programmed this way, and it helps species survival rates. So that's OK then.


It was my turn to give the talk. It's a tough gig. Most of the audience are appreciative, but I am very ambivalent about doing it. Anyway, I said I would, so I did.


Unfortunately, I spoke without notes, and close to the beginning of my 'put your trust not in men' homily, I accidentally called the President-Elect of the United States of America a narcissistic sociopath.


Michael got up and quietly informed me that if I was going to talk about Trump he was leaving. I kinda got the hint, and also the strong feeling that calling ANYONE a narcissistic sociopath wasn't exactly Christlike, so I rowed back and galloped to the finish, sitting down absolutely determined never, ever, to do the talk again.


Michael hadn't left, but I could see he was upset so I went over to him and let him tell me what a hypocrite I am ( I am, I am, it's true.) and then to give me his reasons for supporting Trump. I listened and I listened good.


Trump offers hope to people like him. Michael feels his voice is finally being heard. After I sincerely apologised for upsetting him, we had a real conversation. At the end of it I was both enlightened and chastened.


Michael was given up for adoption at birth, but his mother changed her mind, and struggled on for two years before giving him up for good. A string of foster homes followed, then a boarding school. Then prison ...


Michael, in his forties, is good-looking, and intelligent. As his story unfolded I offer up absolute respect for him: for having a completely shit life and not being totally crushed by it.


Yes, Michael gets that mysogyny and the racism don't look good, but he believes that's media hype, " The media lies. He's a good man with a family who wants to change the way the world is run ... "


Michael is sitting in a room with some very unhappy people with a food voucher in his hand looking for a job that's being done by someone in China and he wants the world to change in a way that would give him a life more like mine.


I wouldn't vote for Donald Trump in a million years, but after my conversation with Michael, I understand why people did.


I don't think my little homilies ever achieve much, and I sweat blood over them, but today mine achieved something. I made a monumental error of judgement, but as a result, I made a real connection with a young man whose opinions I really needed to hear.




Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Staying Up Late!

Following the US Presidential election. I'm not going to alienate anyone by expressing a preference for a candidate: I am just going to enjoy the buzz of watching democracy in action!