Guest post from Mr T

It wasn’t just me:

Being like William

What’s it like to see people on horses for the first time, to be on a windy hill and see cows scattered throughout for the first time?

Picking up pebbles and examining each one large or very, very small as if for the first time.  Stamping in puddles, moving from one to the next and splashing in each one as if it was the first one.

Spending an hour on Firle Beacon not managing to be more than a five minute walk from the car because there are so many pebbles to pick up, puddles to splash in and a lot of grass to pluck and watch the wind carry away, while we the oldies also watch the grass and sense his future before him.

Bliss

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive but to be young was very heaven.”

But alas I am no longer young. Sunrise lights up chin hair vibrant with life, glistening with promise.

One quick snip and those telltale whiskers are gone. For now.

Note to self, make an appointment for wax/thread/electrolysis in New Year.

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This was the view form our hotel window last Friday. It overlooked the golf course and the grass was crisp with frost.

I could have stayed and watched it melt for many minutes but I didn’t, I ate a tepid hot breakfast and went to look after William.

I’ll not bore you with the detail, but it was the first rainfree day for about a month we took him to the top of Firle Beacon and intended to go for a walk. He had other plans.

Begin by identifying every living creature in sight.

Moo. Baa. Clip clop noise. Caw.

Move onto inanimate stuff. Brrm.

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Test wellies in every puddle. Turn over stones large and small. Poke sticks in to mud. Stroke grass with cold bare hands. Try to climb the wire fence despite Granny pointing out the sharp hurty bits. Allow yourself to be lured away with snaffled hotel biscuits.

IMG_3141We were up there for an hour and didn’t leave the car park.  It was a particularly well placed car park for spectacle, but his absorption in each and every detail was contagious. It was all there for him but he didn’t possess it. And Time, that familiar tyrant, became irrelevant. We left because his trousers were drenched. The wellies held up though.

Back to Wordsworth. His was the quote at the top. He didn’t just do daffodils.

Another favourite poem – this came on the Camino with me.

The World Is Too Much With Us

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174833

I have so much to learn and unlearn.

But he’s a patient teacher.

More not knowing

I don’t want people to think that theology is not important. It is and I enjoy hearing intelligent people talk about it. It’s just not that important to me. I can’t, and never could, get my head round many clever ideas and feel foxed by each cogent opinion I hear expressed on subjects like evolution and euthanasia. I am too easily led. I have tried to engage in debate with people on these subjects, but not recently.

And to a degree I don’t care enough to press my point home even when I have one. My experience is that those who persist in point pressing forget who they’re pressing it into, and who they may be wounding on the way. And that’s my point, that some of us find it much easier to relate to an idea than we do to a person. Jesus was pretty hot on that score and it didn’t go down well for him.

In the past I lived very much in my head, thinking and analysing, shaping my thoughts in to something I felt I could trust and stand by. The problem is once you stand your clever idea up and show it off to the world, someone else comes along and knocks it over with equal cleverness and gleeful panache. And if your identity is too closely bound up with your ideas, your whole sense of self takes a battering.  That’s why the notion of ‘playing with ideas’ is useful. The mind is important but we are so much more than our minds – for a start we have bodies which we can feel and listen to to judge our well being.

Every day on the Camino Helen and I did a body check for aches and pains – it began as a bit of fun, neatly sidestepping any moans either of us might have indulged in – but it helped us to become aware of the parts we needed to look after. Feet mostly. Sometimes hips and knees. It was a very useful exercise for me who would be inclined to carry on ignoring all the signs that I was weary. I became aware of the simple miracle of my body healing in my sleep, ( if sleep didn’t happen then being horizontal), and ibuprofen.

Sometimes your body reacts with anxiety and sleeplessness over a decision. It’s as well to know the difference between excitement and anxiety, but both are a sign to you that something is going on and you should LISTEN. Much of Christianity has not held the physical world in high regard, the world is ‘fallen’ therefore untrustworthy, but my sense is that things are changing.

We also have a wise part of our being. You might call it spirit or intuition or just ‘knowing it in your knower’. It is a deep seated place within, beyond logic and beyond words.You can get it when you meet someone and you can trust them. You get it when you meet someone, and you can’t. It doesn’t matter how charming or winning they are, you just know. And this place, this faculty is like a muscle: the more you use it, it grows, becomes stronger and more dependable.

So these days I value a less cerebral approach, more experiential perhaps. Intellectual certainty is less important to me: I am learning that I can trust every part of my (God-given) being to speak wisdom to me. In fact my mind with its tired old prejudices and predictable patterns of thought does not always serve me best. There is so much more than I ever thought or imagined.

PS Just read this for the first time in years – the end of Ephesians 3. 🙂

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 

15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 

16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 

17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 

18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– 

19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 

21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ok not knowing

Mr thompsononthehill was not impressed with my last post. He said it read more like a diary entry and that there were things I could have written about, but hadn’t.  He was right. I wrote about something safe and the words stayed flat on the page.

I began writing about ‘the dark side’ a frivolous term I used to use for supernatural phenomena which disturbed me. As a charismatic evangelical Christian I had a firm, if not rigid set of beliefs and while I purported to walk in freedom ( It was for freedom that Christ has set us free) I lived in a lot of fear. Now fear comes in through many doors and not just through religious dogma, and I was anxious throughout my formative years. But until I was forty – ish I could never have countenanced a close friendship with someone who enjoyed anything like yoga, Tai Chi, or homeopathy – even herbalism and osteopathy were a bit dodgy.  Ouija and seances were ‘straight from the pit’ and forbidden in the bible, but anything remotely New Age was OUT.  Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of supernatural manifestations, psychologically speaking why was I so afraid of people reaching out and asking questions about why we are here and the power that sustains us?  By keeping my world straitjacketed in theology it felt safer. It was under my control. But it was small.

The breakthrough began about ten years ago when I heard Guy Chevreau – the calm and friendly face of Toronto City Airport Church, itself then a hotbed of spiritual phenomena – speak at a conference. He began speaking of books by Frank Peretti on demonic kingdoms which were all the rage in the early 90s. These books were terrifying. Powers of good and evil fought for domination over towns and cities. Heavenly angels ultimately won but not without a hard fight and human casualties. Many of the human protagonists were deceived by New Age practices and even children were drawn in by attachment to toys with special powers. Scary stuff. No doubt these books were intended to inspire faith and courage in their readers and to motivate them to prayer for the nation, but the memories I have of them are very dark and writhing with menace. Intercession became important to me: and I steered clear of American cartoon merchandise. It was all lumped together as evil. There was some gradation, obviously aromatherapy was less harmful than Ouija but I would have made a negative and fearfilled judgement about it all.

But Guy, bless him, in his understated Canadian way said, “You know, the earth is the Lord’s and everything – and everyone – in it.” And there was the beginning of my freedom.

While there are practices I would still not take part in, (seances and Ouija being way up there), I now feel no need to have an opinion on for example hypnosis or healing. Our world is complex and throbbing with life, as humans we are fearfully and wonderfully made and who am I to judge how God might reveal himself? Recently I heard on Radio 4 Start the Week that that which we call ‘space’ is not empty, indeed that too is buzzing with energy.

Since those days my circle of friends has widened and includes all sorts of women who enjoy a spiritual life quite different from the one I grew up in. By not being so quick to judge and allowing myseIf to be curious I have learned a lot and experienced more widely the goodness of God.

Which brings me to the events on Saturday. I had invited two friends to lunch, both called Clare. Not convenient when you’re telling an anecdote.  One is very into crystals and Tai Chi, the other more conventional: I taught with her for many years. She suffers terrific migraines and has been having acupuncture. I had welcomed them,  taken their coats and was stirring the soup. My back was turned but I could hear their conversation, which went along the lines of:

Sit down and I’ll see what I can feel.

Ok, are you going to touch me?

No. I don’t touch you.

Ok.

I turned round and and there she was, Crystal Clare doing Reiki healing in my kitchen.

We (the non healers) became very quiet, respectful.  She, doing the healing, holding her hands over the other Clare’s head said, “You can talk you know.” Very matter of fact and pop went the pseudo-religious atmosphere and we began talking dogs and carpet. The healing sanctuary became my kitchen again. With soup and cake on the side.

I don’t know what happened, releasing blockages of energy and suchlike but Migraine Clare felt better. They then did some pendulum swinging with a necklace of mine. It doesn’t have to be a chain, it can be a needle on a string, I am told. Crystal Clare knows which way it swings for her for a yes, side to side, and which way for a no, back and forth. She began asking about food allergies. Wheat? Dairy?

I was intrigued.

Who are you asking? I asked.

She gave me a look. I helped her out.

The Universe? The higher power?        Oh my word. (Inside voice).

Who was she asking? It looked like she was getting replies from someone/thing/where, namely Migraine Clare should limit her wheat intake.

I don’t know and I am ok not knowing. It didn’t feel evil or even uncomfortable, I was happy they were expressing their friendship and support for each other. You might call it sisterly love. (By their fruits you shall know them?) God is bigger than I can possibly imagine and can show himself in any way he chooses. S/He is certainly not bound by any theology I may adhere to. By not reacting from fear or suspicion, not needing to be in control, by being curious and trusting the spirit/Spirit inside me, I know more, feel more, enjoy more of the goodness of God in the land of the living. That calls for an Hallelujah, doesn’t it?

October 7th

I know, I know, two posts in a day!

Another day snatched from winter. I was going to the bank in Hythe, had finished my chores and then drove along the sea front, saw a woman, emerging Ursula Andress-like from the waves. The sun was shining and I was jealous.

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So home I went, got my swimmers and in I plunged. I did the same yesterday and the identical programme, The Food Programme,  was playing on Radio 4 on both occasions. It was celebrating the slow cooker and pressure cooker which both suffer from an image problem. They’re thought of as seventies, brown, orange and frumpy. But how wrong can we be? Slow cooking is right on trend in this frugal age, making the most of those cheaper cuts. And a charming professor of physics made a very good case for parboiling potatoes in a pressure cooker before roasting. It breaks down the starch most effectively making for a fluffy outside. Ok, I’ll dig it out.

The weather was predicted to be 18* and the water not much cooler. It was still marvellous and I made pedestrians and cyclists jealous, of that I am certain.

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Yet another snap of sunny Hythe. Aren’t I lucky? Now I know when I enjoy something I can become evangelical to the point of forced conversions, but…

What I’ve learned this summer from so much swimming:

Be prepared. Take your kit with you. All of it, all the time and rinse it out when you’re home ie look after yourself in the same way you looked after the kids.

Once you decide to go in, don’t hang about. Don’t overthink. There’s always a reason not to do it.

Put to bed the childish fear of ‘being out of my depth’. The beach shelves so steeply that if I had to stay in the shallows, I’d be scraping my tummy on the pebbles. Of course I am out of my depth but I don’t let that dominate my thoughts. If I relax and swim gently, the tide will swoosh me back to shore. Everything is metaphor.

And swimming takes me out of my head. Not being expert I have to concentrate on what I am doing, you can’t do that and worry.

So what shall I do when the sun goes in?

Max, and being uncritical

This is Max who is staying with us for a week. Let’s get acquainted. Max is not the handsomest dog in the world: he looks like something created from the game of Misfits. His skin is black, his hair is white.  His legs are too short for his sturdy body and his ears are just plain silly.

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Furthermore Max is not intelligent. He can’t read Billy-Old-Dog’s signals of “ I am not interested. Just p*** off you young whipper-snapper!” He startles at many things. He nudges his bowl with his nose and jumps back as if bitten.

On our walks we pass a fallen tree, and as we approach his pace gets slower and he stops and looks intently at it as if he can discern something I can’t. Admittedly it’s a large one, but let’s face it, it doesn’t move. (We once had a dog who used to stare over my shoulder when I was watching tv which was unnerving, especially if it was Dr Who, or Morse).

The same feeling arises in me when Max goes all still and alert in the woods. As a child I read constantly in Readers Digests about dogs’ instinct for danger and their selfless and heroic acts, well, all I can say is I wouldn’t rely on Max to save me from marauders or bears, neither of which have I come across in West Wood. Fortunately.

(I have met some rather overdone partying campers who couldn’t find their way back the car park and I regularly meet a guy who resembles the chief zombie from I am Legend. He looks frightening but is a gentle soul who walks from before dawn well into the day to deal with some unspecified pain he endures. Bless him).

Max prefers another dog’s food. He ignores his own bowl and lurks meaningfully beside Bill and waits till he pauses and rushes in to devour what’s left. He is like the annoying kid who hangs about, plays no real part in the game, even sabotages it from time to time, just makes up the numbers.

But, and you knew it was coming, didn’t you, there is not an ounce of harm in Max. He doesn’t whine or meither. He is unfailingly cheerful and accepts Niamh (a committed dog botherer) putting him on a lead, walking him up and down the garden and tying him up to a rail, untying him, attaching him to another rail, teaching enforced agility over shaky boxes and sticks, instructions delivered with the sternest of voices. She has no time for dog whispering. Dog barking more like.

(I’ve just had the scariest, hairiest man come to the door with a parcel for me. This man was half bear and wore dark glasses and bad hat. He also stood too close with his little electronic ‘sign here’ thing. And did Max growl or bark at him? Did he heck? And did my senile Billydog who can’t even cock his leg to pee anymore? Yes he did. Pause for applause).

Back to Max’s array of small virtues. We have just been for a run. He is ever alert to the possibility of going out, nipping past me into the porch at every opportunity. He leaps into the back of the Land Rover despite his shortness of leg. It never looks as though the move comes easily for him, as if he might fall  back at the last moment with a frenzy of scrabbling. Sits nicely on the old carpet in the back, not panting in my ear. When we arrive he leaps out and waits for me. He has no idea he could just run off and lark about in the woods on his own, making doggy friends and sending up pheasants. We set off at a plod and run through the woods for about half an hour: it wasn’t fast or athletic. He’s got short legs and I am 54. But he scampered about and pee’ed every chance he could. He watched and followed me and thoroughly enjoyed the exercise, up and down tracks and trails and he didn’t run off (although other dogs tempted him), nor did he judge my running which was like stodgy potato. When we found our way back to the car, he jumped in and lay down, even though he could have kept going for another hour or so.

When you run in a group, or with just one other person, there is often an element of competition. Unspoken mostly but it’s there. Even when I run with John and I have no chance EVER of catching him or keeping up with him (unless he has flu or something), I am aware of making comparisons between his ability and mine. Pointless I know but I am being honest here. But when you run with a dog, he’s just pleased to be there. A dog doesn’t make you reflect on your style or pace or personal best. You just do it. Together.

George Eliot wrote:

We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment.

Yes please, more of that. Maybe without the dog?

(He’s now snoring gently in his basket.)

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Scottish Holiday take two

Yay! I did it! I bagged my first Munro. Admittedly it was one with a nice clear path up and down and only a bit of nasty scrambling in places.

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How about this for an itinerary? Up before 5 in Gatwick Travelodge, having had our curry the night before, (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it). Then the tasty BA omelette at 7.45am. Still good. Arrive, pick up car and be climbing the long steep path up Ben Lomond by 11. At Glasgow we saw some hardcore,
somewhat wild looking and hairy climbers with stacks of gear at the airport which (I think)made John feel wistful for what might have been.

Instead there he is plodding up what is really a very long stumbly hill with his wife, who at the top, sensibly refused the adventure of coming down a different route. Because it was another time when you couldn’t see the path more than three steps ahead and the guidebook said the path was for the sure footed.

Great. Not me then.

Yet.

Fantastic view from half way back down.

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Last swim?

September 18th and we swam at lunchtime, and yes it was cold, look at those clouds. They swallowed up the sunshine as soon as we entered the water.Image Image You could paint this picture with just greys!

Is this the end of summer? My wellies are out. The heating is on. The winter duvet is on. I’ve made my first crumble: plum and apple with amaretti in the topping which kept it light. Baked Dorset apple cake, and got half a sack of potatoes in for the winter.

I’ve also made Hugh Fearnley’s mushroom risoniotto, very easy, comforting and not too creamy. While I was stirring the mix I watched Julie and Julia again and resolved again to cook more varied food. But in the winter I want stodge, some food ballast to take me through these next few months. Much as I love fruit and salads, it’s nursery food I crave in winter. And I stick to my old faves. Macaroni cheese, leeks and bacon appears often. Fish pie. Hefty soups with spicy beans and sausage. And I would love more puddings. With custard.

IMG_2901I bought this book for 20p at my local library and while I don’t think I suffer from full blown SAD, I want as many tools as possible to combat the almost inevitable loss of energy and motivation and joie de vivre I feel in the the darker seasons. I’ve not read it all but light boxes are recommended in the first chapter. Mmm, nah, not yet, for now I think go with the flow and follow nature’s direction. Sleep when it’s dark, accept the few extra pounds that accumulate, cook, read, meet friends and family and eat together. Make fires, walk a lot when it’s fine. Walk wrapped up warm when it’s not. Nothing radical.

I have learned to put a few events in place over the winter to prevent me becoming a hermit. Some trips to the cinema or theatre. A trip  to see Helen in Holland perhaps?

Winter tv is often good but I have the attention span of a gnat, and come to things late.  I watched Luther and loved it from behind the sofa cushions. I saw the first two episodes of Game of Thrones and although it was rather bloody and graphjc I really enjoyed it. There’s Strictly waiting in the wings of course. And this year I have got in to the Great British Bake Off, several years after everyone else. Another plan I have is to try some bread-making … watch this space. I may need blue contact lenses for the full effect. Photos to follow, depending on results.

But this evening the sun is shining. All good.  P1000244

One of the things we learned on the Camino was to ask for help when we needed it, so those of you who read this blog: how do you cope with the winter blues?

Suggestions please.

September 11th

P1020171It is my birthday, on what must be one of the most famous, or infamous, dates of the year. I’ve always liked my birthdate: I like odd numbers. Coincidentally all our houses have had odd numbers, both children have odd dates for birthdays as does John. It feels like a nice chunky number and for me September is a beautiful month, half summer, half autumn and intensely poignant with the dying of the light.  I loved school and didn’t really mind going back, but when my children were small I found their return to uniform and closed in shoes all too metaphorical. I missed their summer freedom and (guilty pause) when we took them away during term time, the words “It’s only school” were heard to pass my lips. I don’t regret it. School is important but family and making memories is more so.

I know several other people with the same birthday. A rather gorgeous leggy teenager called Lucy G and a poet called Sarah Salway. I know DH Lawrence was born on September 11th 1885. Apparently Johnny Vegas and someone called Moby also share my birthday. I looked them up. President Allende of Chile was deposed and shot himself forty years ago today plunging Chile into years of dictatorship and oppression. I heard that on Radio 4 last week. Mary Oliver my favourite poet was born on September 10th. She got that wrong.

However most people will associate September 11th with the attack on the Twin Towers. Our media saturated world means that story will run and run. No one could deny the pain of those who lost family and friends and it’s important to remember those lives and their loss. However when I began thinking about this post I was thinking of all the babies who were actually born that day and how so many more wonderful events occurred than could ever be reported. Can that equation be made? Not on paper but it’s my blog and my head and my birthday and I am making it.

I came across a website http://www.birthdayspirit.org/ to help those of us blessed with this birthdate celebrate in a new way. Apparently some people feel unable to mark their birthday on The Day. Others got married on 11/9/2001 and now feel eclipsed – wrong word – but that they got off on a wrong footing. Bless them.

Some of it is all too American for me, baking cakes for firefighters, having an extra candle on your cake for those lost, but one of the themes that struck home to me was a call, not only to remember the many dead, but the determined heroism of those who saved so many more lives that day.

“Tomorrow is the 12th Anniversary of the largest and most successful rescue effort in history. It is estimated that anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 people were successfully rescued and removed from the World Trade Center Towers prior to their catastrophic collapse. The collapse of the twin towers killed 2,977 innocent people, including 343 firefighters, 23 Police Officers, 37 Port Authority, who went in the buildings to rescue more people and to put out the fires. Please take a moment to remember each of those 2,977 innocent lives that were lost, especially the firefighters, Police Officers, Paramedics and Port Authority . But also take a moment to rejoice the 10,00 to 14,000 lives that were saved by fire and police officers that responded to the attacks 12 years ago.”    Yes, I will.

I heard Lee Evans the stand up comedian talk about his acting career and his achievements. He said despite playing to 20,000 + people at Wembley Arena, he is a very shy person who struggles to believe his luck. He writes and paints and lives his life to the full. He said ” At least I don’t kill people – I make them laugh.” He adds to the joy of the world. It’s all a question of balance and where we give our attention.

Now, where’s my cake?

Managing expectations

I had coffee with two old friends the other day, one of whom I hadn’t seen in seven years. She is headteacher of a successful, indeed outstanding, school in Kent and despite this she looked great. She had just returned from three weeks in Spain with her partner – another teacher- staying a week in paradors (I know what they are now) and two weeks in a villa. They had done a lot of walking, (not as much as me ;)), and felt replenished. It had taken the best part of five weeks holiday to reset to zero so to speak, such was their commitment to the job.

Much heated debate could now incur about teachers and their timetables and their whingeing and ‘proper jobs’ etc but the bottom line is they do it and we don’t and we don’t want to, otherwise we would. It’s a pretty thankless task facing thirty kids, their parents, the demands of an ever-changing National Curriculum and so on. But that’s not my point. My point is, and I’ll be brief, this couples’ children, slightly younger than mine but still adults, are nothing like their parents. Furthermore they are nothing like the parents expected them to be. The parents are ambitious and fit and dedicated. Their kids are content to mosey along in dead end jobs so long as they have enough to pay the rent and buy beer. One is very overweight and the other represented his college at poker. He never lost but that’s not the point. In our day (yawn) poker playing was not a legitimate leisure activity and had I not known the family personally I would have formed a negative impression of the children.

This is all about me and my prejudices. My expectations. The last time I saw these kids they were fresh faced and in short trousers. Not quite, but they still did what their parents told them – lots of healthy outdoor pursuits and homework handed in on time. I expected them to carry on in the same vein and be mini versions of their uber successful parents. They aren’t.

If we are lucky enough to have children we (many of us, OK, I did) place an enormous burden of expectation on them. The only time we want them to be normal is as the emerge form the womb. From then on we are watching to see that they reach their milestones and achieve the required level in literacy, pass their GCSEs, driving test etc etc And their personal lives are subject to scrutiny as well. We want them to be happy and many of us know they should be happy in their own way but we have an idea how to make that happen – our way, the way we did things.

I read that expectations are ‘resentments under cultivation’. John, the wise old bunny, calls them ‘disappointment waiting to happen’.

My mum is a fine friend to many people and walks the extra mile for them. She is thoughtful and considerate and can’t understand when some other people don’t behave in like fashion. They don’t and it is hurtful. How do you deal with that? By being true to your self and not expecting quid pro quo? It’s tough. But wise. I find it takes constant monitoring of my expectations to allow people and events to unfold and take their own shape. Letting go of my shoulds-template for how things ‘should’ be. Then I am free and so are they.

Another swimming photo. That little dot of flesh is John, yes he’s crazy for sea swimming too now. For some reason I can’t make the picture bigger!