Saturday, 31 December 2016

Celebrity, sorrow and 2016

I don't really think much of the culture of celebrity that has grown over the last few decades and don't pay a lot of attention to it. It has been suggested that our obsession with celebrity is a kind of substitute for religion, allowing us to pay homage to our quasi-divinities, worship their fame and achievements and model ourselves on them. I don't know how much that is true, but certainly the reaction to the death of someone famous is interesting, the shrines and tributes which are set up, the media encouragement to join in the general adulation.
It isn't really surprising that over the last few weeks whenever the radio has chirped at me, "which death in 2016 broke your heart?" I've swiftly turned the thing off, however I have to say that the news of Debbie Reynolds' sudden death following the news of her daughter Carrie Fisher's death gave me a real  pang of sadness. This reaction was not because I was a particular fan of either actress but just because the story spoke to me about the way in which this world can be so cruel, irrespective of rank, age, wealth or status. The death of a child, at any age is a particularly cruel blow.
 My late mother in law lost both her husband and daughter. Her husband died of a heart attack at only 41 and her daughter, despite excellent general health, died on Boxing Day over twenty years later aged 35 after catching flu. Marion found the death of her husband devastating and for a time went to pieces. It was a particularly difficult time for Kev, who at sixteen had some of the responsibility to care for his younger brother and sister fall on his shoulders and  left school to help support the family. Yet Marion always said that, although she finally came to accept the death of a husband at such a young age, nothing could bring her to fully accept the loss of  her daughter because you do not expect to lose a child, it is not in the natural order of things. It made it more difficult that her daughter had been about to get married the following year, or perhaps it didn't, I'm not sure anything makes such a loss more difficult, it just exposes a fresh facet over which to grieve.
Anyhow, I sincerely hope that 2016 does not bring a final celebrity death, not least for the selfish reason that I don't want to hear about it. But we should reflect that for every celebrity heart break story,  many more similar, unheard stories are playing out across the country and world.  And maybe it is this that lies at the heart of our shock at celebrity death, the incredulity that it could happen to them, that they are not immortal or invulnerable despite the fact they possess this alchemy of fame. At the end of the day, in the face of death and pain none of us is invulnerable and all of us are equal.

To end this New Year's Eve reflection, I give you Margaret Atwood's The Sad Child which I think explores our modern day cult of self ,our petulant outrage when life give us things we do not welcome and the thought provoking conclusion of the poem that in the face of death or tragedy none of us is the favourite child- or else we all are.

The Sad Child

You're sad because you're sad.
It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
Or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.

All children are sad 
but some get over it.
Count your blessings.

Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.



Forget what?
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favorite child.


My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,
and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we are.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Journaling grief (2)

Well, Christmas was difficult but I got through it. I actually wasn't well at all having developed a heavy cold which was a kind of blessing as it meant I could quite legitimately go to bed for several hours in the afternoon and wipe out a whole chunk of the day. The hardest thing for me was sitting at the table and being very conscious of the empty space where Kev would be.The whole of Christmas was always a very meaningful time for us as both our sons have birthdays in the week before Christmas (timing not our strong suit) and the season always held memories of bringing them home as babies, of children's parties (some pretty stressful) and of milestones reached. My youngest son's twenty first birthday last week was very hard. Kev was so proud of him and it just seemed wrong that he couldn't be there.
 These last few weeks and months have made me reflect that when you lose someone very close to you,  it is stronger than that you  want them back, it is more that you still need that person in your life.  I've needed Kev ever since I met and fell in love with him; from then on I didn't just feel I wanted to be with him, more that I had to, it was hardly a matter of choice ; he just wasn't an optional extra. As a result, I am struggling to know how to go on with my life. I guess this is the same for everyone who has been bereaved.
Although I haven't had any more flashback dreams since breaking up, I have had two recurrent dreams. The first is based on the death of Princess Diana and the morning that I went to the Tesco in  Basildon where we then lived and saw the headlines in the newspaper. You might remember those newspapers with huge headlines saying "Diana dead."Only in this dream row upon row of headlines say "Kev is dead". In the dream it seems to me that there might be a mistake and I ask the shoppers around me if it is a misprint. They all shrug their shoulder and walk on, nobody is remotely interested. When I think about this dream the next day I imagine Kev at his most Essex would seriously take the piss;" I ain't bleeding Princess Diana."
 In the second dream I am standing next to a thin strip of wood over a chasm (think Niagara Falls!) There is a man in the dream who tells me I have to walk over it. I tell him I can't and he then says I must and he gives me a stick which he says will help me balance. He then says I  must do it blindfolded. Once blindfolded, I realise the stick is of no use as I can't see and so I put it on the ground, go down on my hands and knees and feel for the edge of the plank to crawl across. This is as far as the dream goes.You don't need to be a psychoanalyst to work out what these dreams mean, the first that I need to take in the big news and the second that I must find a way forward even if I can't see one.
I've got two invites in the next few days to New Year type events/ parties and don't feel in a party mood! I only seem to want to spend time with members of my immediate family at the moment, I can't be bothered to go out and make small talk, even with people who are/ were quite good friends. I will try to go to the first one as I don't want to end up completely isolated in the future, the invite for New Year's Eve itself I really can't face. I think that calls for an early night.
I know I have a few readers but I am closing comments on this post, as it says, it is just a writing out of grief and nobody has to find anything to say about my grumblings.
 However, I do wish you all the best for the coming year.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
 till men and nations were at peace.
came when the Heavens were unsteady,
 prisoners cried out for release.

 He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
 In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

 He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
 the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
 to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

 Madeleine L’Engle

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Kindness and exhaustion

Looking at my last two posts, the titles are all abstract noun doubles, loss and grief, love and hope, kindness and exhaustion. Well, I'm not trying to turn into some sort of blogging Jane Austen title generator, I just post what comes to mind!
The exhaustion in the title is what I am feeling at the moment. The term running up to Christmas is in general the worst in terms of being pretty full on and usually the holiday can't come too soon. For me this week has been particularly hard as I haven't been sleeping (I generally do suffer from insomnia.) Tuesday night was particularly bad; I had several flashback dreams around the memory of finding Kev on the day he died and only slept in snatches, possibly only two or three hours. It was  stupid of me to go into work the next day, but I was staying on late due to a visiting speaker who was giving a talk to the Lower Sixth and I couldn't see how I could ask anyone else to do it.
The kindness in the title refers to my wonderful colleagues who noticed what I looked like (apparently like I'd been punched in the face-..thanks Tom...) and bravely ventured down the Senior Management corridor to insist I got sent home. The result was that I left at 3.30 thus also missing the traffic build up that I would have led to an hour or more journey home that I often face.
My colleagues are not the only people who have been kind over the last few weeks, shortly after the funeral, life seemed to go very quiet and I didn't hear from anyone for some weeks. Yet these last few weeks  I've had several people contact me to offer meals, visits and trips out. Ironically, I can't take them up on this because I am shattered and just need peace and quiet. I do feel bad about this and I don't want to lose friends but I am just not up to socialising so I  hope and pray they will understand that it is a way of showing kindness to myself.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Love and peace

My youngest son phoned me last night to say he is coming home from university sometime this week and I am looking forward to his return. This might not sound so surprising but it is actually the first time I have consciously looked forward to something since Kev died. Driving home from work that day I was looking forward to the weekend which we had already planned together. Since then I haven’t really been able to anticipate anything with pleasure except perhaps sleep and even that can be marred by insomnia or distressing dreams. So the sensation of looking forward is a good one; I am looking forward just to seeing Matt, to a hug, to the chance to feed him, to talk, and to listen to him and his brother.  Although my sons are not very close they do increasingly talk to each other and will even have a laugh and joke sometimes– for the bantz- as they say!
It is a real blessing that I have my family and I was aware, even through the first shock and numbness, that I had two young people both to some extent dependent on me and so I had to keep going. It is one of the things that gets me out of bed at 6.15 on a freezing morning and into work and it is what will make it possible for me to keep some sort of a Christmas this year. Left to my own devices, I might just crawl back into bed but my wonderful, amazing sons deserve something better than that, and so I will make sure there is at least a welcoming home and some of our family traditions, even though the lynchpin of that family is no longer here.
I’ve been trying to think about Advent and what it means to me this year. Advent is often seen as a period of joyful waiting and watching but it is true to say that it is not wholly devoid of the bleakness of waiting, of waiting that seems to have no end. Surely we find such waiting in the long and doubtless grief-stricken barrenness of Elizabeth, in characters such as Simeon and the tradition of his increasing blindness which might be seen as a metaphor for the gradual extinguishing of hope, in the long exile of the Jews, and in all who wait for deliverance. Bonhoeffer described Advent as like, "a prison cell in which we wait and hope, the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside," while C.S.Lewis gives us Narnia where it is always winter and never Christmas and the hapless figures at Cair Paravel are paralysed, frozen in time.

I know that come Christmas day our family will still be paralysed with grief because grief has its own time and seasons and by its nature won’t and can’t be hurried on. But we will talk, laugh,  maybe cry. There may only be a little joy but I am hoping for peace,and I am sure there will be plenty of love.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Loss and grief (Journaling grief 1)

It is almost two months now since my husband died. I won’t go into the details of his death other than to say that it was sudden and completely unexpected; I said goodbye to him one morning when I set off for work and never spoke to him or saw him alive again.
 I suppose to say that the last eight weeks have been consumed by grief is obvious. The loss of a spouse is a huge blow because it is such a close relationship, you shared your life with that person and they knew you better than anyone ever did. Their loss brings a pain that is sometimes so excruciating that you feel it is unbearable; at other times it is less intense but still a huge blanketing sadness that sucks all the joy out of living. I don’t have a very clear memory now of the first few weeks but it gets worse, if that is possible, after the funeral has finished and ordinary life resumes, simply because it is not ordinary life anymore. Being bereaved is in emotional terms the equivalent of having limbs amputated, you may be the same person but you are also completely different, you can’t get on like you did before, you don’t feel whole and you can’t imagine that life will ever again be “normal.”

Grief is also terribly isolating; despite all the sympathy cards in which people say they will do anything and will always be there for you, most will not keep in touch because they do not know what to say or do and some will actively avoid you- possibly for the same reasons. There may be an expectation after a few weeks that you should be “getting over it” when in fact you are still processing the enormity of the gulf that has opened in your life. There are days when you feel not just that nobody understands but that nobody particularly cares. In this bleakness, the support of family is a real positive and an absolute life saver, and friends who regularly keep in touch after the sympathy cards have stopped arriving are to be cherished. Another source of help has been the memory of Kev: his love and acceptance of me which freed me to love and accept myself, his concern for others and their well being above his own, his lovely, crazy sense of humour, his zest for life and his love and pride in our sons. These are the things I try to hold onto during the very many days when I think I just can’t and don’t want to go on.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Can't the silliness stop?

You probably know by now that the Bishop of Grantham is being cited as the first openly gay Church of England bishop in a long term relationship and the predictable and very yawn-worthy responses are trickling out from the various suspects. This statement from Gafcon at first seems staggering in its accusations of "secrecy" and "undermining of biblical standards" and lack of confidence in "processes", until you consider that of course Gafcon actually wants to engineer division in the Anglican Communion for their own political ends, and then it all makes perfect sense. Meanwhile Stonewall has lauded Chamberlain as "brave" and that it is "incredibly important that he can talk about his sexuality"- but let's be frank, Chamberlain "came out" because he was on the brink of being outed rather than that  he is some kind of pioneer of gay rights. And why should he be? Not every gay person wants to be an activist, some people just want to go about their lives, doing a job, shopping,  walking the dog, pottering in the garden without cameras trained on their house or articles about them in every newspaper.You can't help feeling sorry for the poor bloke who will now be cast in a variety of roles with different factions trying to use him and manipulate for their own ends this revelation about his quite unremarkable situation. The unremarkable nature of that relationship is my final point. There are plenty of other gay bishops and clergy, male and female,in relationships celibate and otherwise in the Church of England as everyone knows.
It just gets sillier and sillier, doesn't it?

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Ascending and descending

If you, or anyone you know, has suffered the stress of waiting for exam results then I am sure you will feel for me when I say that I've been through more than twenty five "results days"! I can't claim that the anxiety is quite the same as waiting for your own A level results, or (worse) those of a son or daughter, but it is stressful and it is also true that you can multiply the situation many-fold. This year, if you include my tutor groups, I had over 120 students' results to worry about.
I am an inveterate worrier despite people always commenting that I seem so calm, and waiting for results doesn't seem to get any easy as I get older, usually occasioning at least one sleepless night. I worry about the marking, the coursework, the exam questions, the students with problems, the students with low expectations, the students with high expectations. Then after the results have come out I worry about any problems that have emerged, what I could have done or not done, said or not said.
I am happy to report that generally this year ran pretty smoothly although there are always some inevitable glitches. I got home late afternoon and I went on facebook to try and relax, then I went out for a walk to try to relax, then I had a glass of wine to try to relax. The wine was pretty effective and now I feel quite relaxed- at least until next week when the new intake come in to enrol, other students return, and it all starts over again...


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Pray for a kinder world

It was a friend I was visiting who told me the news of the murder of a French priest near Rouen and before she told me (she had just found out about it on the radio) she warned me to be ready for something "truly horrible".  Her reaction, looked at logically, is absurd, after all is the murder of an elderly man any more horrible than the mowing down of over eighty people, many of them children out enjoying an evening's entertainment? And yet, it is true that this latest atrocity is calculated to shock and outrage in so many of its details: the age of the victim, his office, the act taking place in front of an altar during mass and coming as it does to a nation still reeling from other recent atrocities. The mix of shock, distress, fear and anger this engenders is certainly dangerous,  France has said it is or feels "at war" and I cannot see how it can avoid increasingly wide spread demands for a radical response. Another friend of mine has recently moved back to France after many years in Britain and it depresses me to see on Facebook her blanket condemnation of all Muslims and her (very genuine) fears that there are thousands of jihadis just waiting for the right moment to "take over" France. Those have been her actual words and, although they seem extreme, the fear behind them is at least comprehensible given what France has faced since the Charlie Hebdo attack.

My facebook friend expressed her anger that "some people still defend Muslims" and yet it is clear, or at least it is to me, that it is right and proper to "defend" all innocent people who simply go about their business whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, of any faith or no faith. What worries me is that my friend's blanket condemnation reflects the prevailing attitudes in France, and that plays right into the hands of terrorists who wish to see political and social unrest and destabilisation which will lead to more radicalisation and more negative consequences for the country concerned. France has a long history of far right groups and activity and is a country very vulnerable in this respect.
Yesterday's atrocity certainly was "truly horrible" but what is also horrible is the repercussions of terrorism, the effect it has of creating fear and hatred in all of us and prompting us to be cruel rather than fair and equitable. I heard on the radio that recently Pere Hamel had written a parish newsletter about the recent terrorist attacks telling his parishioners to take time for themselves over the summer and to pray for a kinder world. I tried googling but I could not find that newsletter or any reference to it online. What my search  did return was a copy of the video presumably of the priest's murder as it contained a warning and an invitation to  sign up to receive newsletters from far right groups.
I think that says it all.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Maybe, maybe not

There has been some media interest in the fact that Theresa May is a vicar's daughter and, according to one source this "instilled in her the serious minded sense of duty she holds dear today." May herself has to some extent corroborated this, apparently saying that her father's work inspired her choice of a political career because, " you didn't think about yourself. The emphasis was on others."
It is an interesting idea, and there was a similar focus on Gordon Brown's history, to use the Scottish phrase, as a child of the manse  and Margaret Thatcher's upbringing as the daughter of a man who was a grocer but also a local preacher (albeit apparently with a dubious reputation.) In short, some people seem to suggest that the children of clergy tend to be more self-giving, disciplined, focused less on the material (although whether that describes politicians is debatable...), and that clergy children are primed to seek roles in later life that tend towards vocation or leadership.

There may be some truth in the idea, children after all often absorb and are influenced by the values of their parents and those around them; a friend of mine is a ballet teacher and her son is now a professional dancer, a friend is a consultant and his daughter is studying medicine. Overall though,  I am unconvinced by the argument that clergy children fall into some special category, after all we can find characters and lives as disparate of those of Jane Austen, Katy Perry and even Lucrezia Borgia among the daughters of the cloth, although it is only fair to point out that Lucrezia Borgia's father was a cardinal (later Pope Alexander VI) and that recent history regards her more a pawn than an agent in the political machinations that surrounded her.

It is also true that quite opposite stereotypes about vicars' children exist, namely the idea that those brought up with the constraints, expectations and public scrutiny that can accompany being a vicar's child often later rebel against this and go "off the rails." This phenomenon / stereotype (delete as applicable) is so entrenched that it has its own term- Preacher's kid syndrome. Again, I am not entirely convinced, other children rebel as well, maybe we just notice it more in certain cases, I think PK syndrome simply offers an alluring narrative, and who doesn't just love Dusty Springfield's Son of a preacher man in which a boy inherits his father's persuasive eloquence and puts it to use in very different ways.

As for Theresa May, the extent to which she will act in accordance with the Christian values of her upbringing remains to be seen. Her first Prime Ministerial speech dwelt on her desire to reach out and to serve, a few days later when asked if she would authorise a nuclear strike killing thousands of men, women and children, she did not hesitate to answer "yes". Well, politics is a tough and nasty business, Prime Ministers, perhaps female ones in particular, cannot afford to be weak or to be seen as weak; they rely on the reputation they create. And possibly that idea of reputation, that idea of brand image  lies as much as anything behind Theresa May (in common with Thatcher and Brown) pointing us to background as a reason for us to feel trust, respect or , almost bizarrely in this oh-so secular age, even reverence.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Feeling the heat

I've tried to get out in the garden today but at times the heat has driven me back in. I've had to put off quite a few jobs over the last few weeks, from weeding to washing just because it has been so wet and now it is too hot! I can't complain as I got out two lots of washing and also picked the first of the sweet peas, this year all the beaujolais seem to have flowered first. A few other colours are starting to bloom but only these were quite ready to pick and such a gorgeous colour that I didn't mind not having a mix. If you leave the sweet peas then the plant produces less blooms so I will try to keep picking them and  we should have plenty from now on.
I can't really say that the garden is flourishing that much though, I think the last few weeks of rain have left it feeling a bit dejected, the radishes have been distinctly puny although we have had a good crop of potatoes and the courgette plants have now started producing. Poor Mr M was at work today, however  he finished earlier than usual so that was a bonus. Son number one has been complaining of the heat and took himself off for a cold shower this afternoon. Son two in contrast went for a run at a local beauty spot, uphill all the way, and came back lathered in sweat. As for me, I skipped the gym this evening and am hoping tonight doesn't prove unbearably muggy. Still, let's make the most of it, there is always rain around the corner!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Britain, Brexit and a Bloody difficult woman



It is a little bit worrying when you discover that you actually feel relief at the thought of Theresa May as Prime Minister, yet relief I did feel in comparison to the others, although you have to consider just who the "others" are... Boris... Gove...Leadsom. 'Nuff said really. Yet I found myself thinking that it was a good speech from Theresa May, one which at times might almost have come from someone who wasn't a Conservative at all...she even said she was thinking of all those struggling to make ends meet. Nice that they are being thought about now I suppose after over six years of Tory power in some guise or other...better late than never as they say.
Despite my scepticism, it is clear that May is determined to at least attempt the well nigh impossible task of uniting the country, of reaching out to those who are disaffected and hostile, of offering some leadership and semblance of stability.  If she is a bloody difficult woman, that could be just as well as she is going to need cojones of steel for what lies ahead. When I begin to feel hope though, I wonder if it might just be a kind of political version of Stockholm syndrome, that place of despair where you begin to believe that those responsible for whatever horrific predicament you are in are all you have to cling to. And in truth, with the Labour party imploding before our eyes, there is no-one else around.
Just stop and digest that one for a moment; it is really bad news, good opposition is vital to democracy.
Of course, we don't know what tomorrow will bring, so at the moment it is a case of wait and see and hope against hope that words a politician speaks might bear some resemblance to the truth or to their real intentions, that the other side might get their act together, that there might be something, somehow, light at the end of the tunnel, a cunning plan...
Only time will tell and I am sure you will forgive me if I reserve judgement for now.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The first day of summer

College broke up to students over a week ago and then we had a fairly full on week of local schools taster days (yikes, thirteen year olds!)  and family fun days. We have now fully broken up at least a week earlier or so earlier than the schools, although it should be noted that we return much earlier too. Yesterday we began the holidays by driving to Shrewsbury to attend a friend's ordination to become a deacon in the Roman Catholic church.
I don't know about you but I am still reeling from the vote to leave, mainly because I think is likely to have very serious consequences for our country and its prospects and also because of what it tells me about the current state of people's lives and their attitudes. It has to be admitted that neither side has covered themselves with glory in the whole campaign and its aftermath and the recent row over Andrea Leadsom's ludicrous "motherhood" comments is truly depressing. Is this what political debate has descended to? Must we really resign ourselves to leaders who are either self serving, really stupid or frequently both?
This is why yesterday felt like a much needed balm to the soul. I could never be a Roman Catholic, on all sorts of levels it just does not appeal to me, however I have no doubts that the friend we saw ordained is one of those people who lives to serve others. The "only" reward that he gains from this service is the fulfillment that it brings and there is a joy and contentment in his life that just radiates from him. One of the things I am pretty sure about is that the recent events in Britain, the reasons why many people voted,and the reason why we have seen such a disastrous fall out,is because our actions are fuelled by fear or greed and not by trust, love or the desire to serve.
I found it heartening yesterday to remember that when life is hard, when our politicians let us down, our economy fails, our circumstances are difficult, and the human race fights and bickers,there are still those who look to see where need is and to serve. Where there is still the possibility of service to others and service to God then there is hope and purpose.

God our Father,
extend our horizons, widen our vision,
and remind us how inter-connected we all are.
Breathe your Spirit into us
that we may live more truly
as brothers and sisters of one another.
Amen. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit Britain

I really don't have time at the moment to do justice to my feelings of despair at the result of the referendum but this article from Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian reflects a lot of my concerns.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Goodbye May

I have managed not to post anything all during May, this is partly due to the fact that I've been busy, also that I have just rather let this blog slide of late. It might possibly be more accurate to say that I have let my online presence in general slip; I hardly ever comment or go on facebook, although I can't escape the dreaded email when at work. All in all, when I read estimates that we spend on average two to three hours online a day, I feel quite smug.
I haven't got high hopes for my blogging presence this June either as I am now embarking on exam marking (why, why?) so it may well be August, or I may possibly take a blog holiday for even longer. Meanwhile, any time I do have is likely to be spent a. in the garden b. reading c in the gym. You have to keep up your levels of fitness, I almost always have a book of some sort on the go, and it is that time of year when the garden starts to get interesting, not to  mention habitable (it rains most of the time where I live.) Currently, I am enjoying pottering and am cultivating potatoes, courgettes, radishes and salad veg, all incredibly easy to grow. I've bought most of my seeds this year from low end shops as I've found they seem to be just as good quality as anywhere else and  £1.99 in Tesco compared to 39 pence in the half price sale at Pound Stretcher for courgette seeds was a no brainer!
Potato plant (Charlotte) shop bought and planted late Feb.

Potato plant spotted as a "weed" from the compost and thriving now it has its own pot.
No idea which variety.

Lettuce growing fast in this weather

One courgette potted up outside, should soon take off and get big!

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Simple things

 It is a year and one day since we had to have our lovely little dog put down and I still really feel her loss. Mr M and I went for a walk down the canal this afternoon and, of course, there were dogs everywhere. We stopped to talk for a while to one of the real characters we have spoken to before down there. He lives on a pretty decrepit looking boat and once told me that he has no means to shower or bath but visits his daughter from time to time partly for this purpose. However he does have the most gorgeous, friendly little dog and was sitting out today on a fold out chair next to his boat, in the sunshine, with his dog by his side. We stopped and talked to him for a while then we left him sitting in the sun, looking like a happy man with his dog by his side.
Memories from last year
I have managed to have quite a nice holiday and feel quite heartened that things are starting to grow in the garden. The sweet peas have now been planted out and the potatoes, which I planted ages ago and had started to conclude must have died off, have suddenly put forth furls of dense green leaves. On Thursday I bought some trays of reduced price pansies from B and Q; once they were duly planted, dead headed and watered, they began flourishing as I thought they would, although I did have to swaddle everything against the frost these last few nights as temperatures plummeted. Still, the hint of sunny days is now here and that lifts my spirits. Fresh air, some sunshine, growing things, home life with my family and, hopefully one day another dog, seems to me a recipe for happiness.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter and change

A very cold and rainy day; we usually try to go for a walk of some sort on Easter Sunday but it was so showery that we decided to head out to Macclesfield's Treacle Market instead. Within ten minutes we got caught in a truly impressive hail storm, and after that most of the stall holders started to pack up their stalls- if they hadn't already been blown away- and set off home. We were quick to follow suit. Still back home and a cup of tea and hot cross bun tasted pretty good. It is lovely that we are all home this weekend and now looking forward to a roast dinner followed by home  made rhubarb crumble and custard.

I spent this morning thinking and praying about the weeks and months ahead as frankly I haven't always found things easy this past year or so. Struggling on can be discouraging and yet spending time with my family does bring home to me how rich my life is and how glad I am to have them. When there is love and faith there is always the potential for hope and joy in the midst of difficulty. Easter, which represents the power of love, faith, hope, offers to transform our grief, our fears, our doubts, our lives, ourselves if we only let it.
Wishing you all a blessed Easter.


Friday, 25 March 2016

I am

The "Je suis..." trend that began with the Charlie Hebdo attack can now be seen in Brussels on posters, scraps of paper next to flowers and candles, on T shirts and no doubt on facebook pages. It seems that in the face of atrocity, people feel that fierce need to associate strongly with those affected, to say that because it so easily could have been any of us, thus it touches all of us personally. To say you are  another is in some ways an audacious claim, and through its audacity expresses the strength of solidarity.
It made me think of all the I am statements Jesus is reported as making in John's gospel; on Good Friday the statement "I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep" particularly comes to mind. The concept God crucified, of God incarnate, is an audacious and shocking act of solidarity.  God is allied with the powerless, in effect saying...

I am the suffering
I am the terrorised
I am the victim

At the same time, we need to be careful to avoid a glib sentimentalising of powerlessness or victimhood, the assumption that the victimised group is good by nature of being victimised. It is wrong to murder others because they are human, not because they are somehow better or more moral. Perhaps this is why it seems to me particularly telling that Christ died, not just as the passive, suffering victim but also as the shamed, the criminalised, the deviant, the reactionary, the face not just of the good but the condemned.
If the crucified Christ blurs categories and definitions, the risen one defies them. As Rowan Williams writes, he is no longer a "fellow sufferer", he is victorious but the triumph of Easter Sunday, although golden and glorious is lent for a moment, not fully of this world. Today is Good Friday; we live in the moment of suffering, or in an indeterminate Saturday, coming to terms with the afermath when  nothing is easy to make sense of and suffering simply seems a source of pointlessness, anguish and pain.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Bringing it home


We've just spent a weekend in Oxford watching the 109th Varsity boxing match. I was  a nervous wreck, I am not that great at watching people hit each other in any case and this time I knew just how much was at stake for our younger son who is captain this year and wanted more than anything to see Oxford bring home the Truelove Bowl. Anyhow, they did it and the delight and relief was, and is, enormous. Congratulations to them as I know just how much hard work, blood, sweat and tears (literally) it has cost and how very deserved the win was:)

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Tea and toast has my vote!

A news item caught  my attention on the radio a few days ago, namely that the British are drinking less tea and eating less toast as well as less fish and chips and fewer green vegetables. What we have seen an increase in is processed food, ready meals, low calorie soft drinks (and possibly not so low calorie ones) as well as ready packs of stir fry veg. The trend leading to this sort of modern rubbish all started in the 70s apparently, though doubtless the rot really began in the 60s (darkly.) Well, all I can say  is that in the M household we are a lot more traditional. We might have foregone bread and dripping and frying in lard but green veg, tea and toast, and even the odd fish and chip blow out is definitely still in vogue.

I was thinking of this news item yesterday while planting out the seed potatoes and replenishing the compost heap.The act of planting veg always makes me come over a bit retro 1940s dig for victory and all that. I recalled the advice of the food writer M F K Fisher who in 1942 advised war weary Brits to fill up on toast. "You can be lavish", he wrote, "because the meal is frugal" which means that, in this age of austerity, we should by rights be embracing this type of fare. The result of these musings was a sudden and compelling urge for tea and toast.  Ten minutes later and I had a steaming mug and a heap of buttered (it isn't bad for you anymore, don't you know) toast and love-it-or-hate it marmite , which is virtually contraband in Denmark.

There are certainly more important issues in the news at home and abroad than our eating habits. The race for the White House is hotting up in the US, while David Cameron has just set the date for a referendum on the 23rd of June. Yet it occurs to me that there is a link. If we can't even make the right choices when it comes to little things like green vegetables and tea and toast, how can we be trusted when it comes to the bigger things?


Monday, 8 February 2016

When the rain is blowing in your face

I am well and truly sick and tired of the rain at the moment. I suppose I should be thankful I am not down South where apparently they have had it worse than us this time. I suppose I should also be glad I wasn't personally affected by the New Year floods - and yet,  I just want to see a tiny bit of sunshine.  I can't quite get used to them naming our storms, it makes me feel like I live in a hurricane zone. It also makes it easier to take the whole thing personally,we've got storm Imogen to thank for the current downpour, a name which always brought to mind a decidedly middle class girl but now says bad tempered hag. Roll on spring!
This evening a trip down the gym seemed the likeliest way to dispel the rainy day blues, and sure enough that old endorphin hit seemed to do the trick I headed back feeling warm despite being buffeted by the wind and rain. Now I am definitely hungry and looking forward to my evening meal which is pizza, something we rarely eat and not the healthiest but we are going to supplement it with salad, beans and hummus.
I am still taking time to appreciate my Christmas gifts and reflecting on the quality of the hand cream that ended up in my stocking, courtesy of FC, of course. In case any hand cream aficionados are reading this blog (improbable), I can recommend Aveeno and Kamill. Anyhow, here is a teensy present for everyone- to cheer you up when the rain is blowing in your face.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Weekend syndrome

February is here already and I barely noticed the ending of January having been preoccupied by marking the mocks (bleurgh...) I've also had two weekends in a row when I haven't been particularly well having been laid down with what I am coming to call "weekend syndrome". Weekend syndrome often seems to come after a particularly hectic week (or two or three) and it follows much the same pattern which is that I wake up on a Saturday morning with a headache , usually dull but sometimes acute or with migraine aura, feelings of nausea and acute lethargy. By about 10.30 I usually admit defeat and return to bed. I then sleep all day, usually waking up in the early  evening feeling slightly washed out but much brighter. I first started noticing weekend syndrome about four years ago. It is particularly annoying when I have a lot of work to do that particular weekend because it means I have to get up early on the Sunday and work right through the day.
However, slightly spookily, weekend syndrome does not usually afflict me on a "busy" weekend but tends to lie in wait biding its time until I've got most of my work out of the way and am thinking " I can relax a bit this weekend." That is when my body tends to take the chance to "relax" seriously and why I think  it is most likely stress related and haven't yet bothered to visit the doctor.For example it has never yet happened during the working week, in fact I haven't had a day off sick from work for the last two years, and it has never started on any day other than a Saturday. More worryingly though, the frequency of my "weekend syndrome" attacks has increased and last weekend I had an episode which extended over the whole weekend, both Saturday and most of Sunday. I had to get up on the Sunday to do a couple of hours work, but I felt pretty wretched. By Monday I was pretty much back to normal. Thanks a bunch, weekend syndrome!
Weekend syndrome, although it seems like an enemy is, I suspect, both a coping device and a message if I care to listen to it. It reinforces my conviction that I have simply got to rethink and restructure my life somehow and achieve more work-life balance, or perhaps just achieve more life. Until I've got the fricking time to do this I am just trying to take things a bit easier, to live a simpler life and take care of myself physically and emotionally. On the way into work this morning, feeling pretty good as ironically I often do after a weekend-syndrome weekend, I noticed a lot of daffodils in gardens and hedgerows, brought on no doubt by the mild weather this winter and early spring. When I got home this evening, I went to the shed and dug out the remaining seeds from last year: sweet peas, marigolds, green beans, courgettes and made some plans for what I need to buy- I want some purple sprouting broccoli and, of course, seed potatoes. You can't feel stressed when you are planting, growing, gardening.
Which made me think- it will soon be Lent.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Those resolutions

I may have said before that I never make New Year's resolutions and I haven't this year. I think that January is possibly the one time in the year when good intentions are most likely to fall by the wayside. After all it is cold, wet and cheerless with nothing on the immediate horizon to look forward to. January is just bleurgh and the only upside is that it means that the gym, which is heaving with newbies hogging all the machines in the early part of the month should return to normal by about mid-February.
However the government, perhaps mindful of events such as dry January, chose this month to issue new alcohol guidelines the first major update since 1995. The report/ advice, which many did decry as evidence of the nanny state, made pretty grim reading saying that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption and reducing the recommended limits for men to 14 units a week, the same as that for women. Now it is important to keep information in proportion, one website I looked at carried articles warning of potatoes increasing the risk of diabetes, hot drinks linked to cancer of the throat and so on, however in this case I am pretty sure the risks have not been exaggerated.
My usual  consumption consists of  a bottle of wine opened on a Friday night and it takes me two or three days to drink.  So far, so good. The problem is that Mr M is very prone, once the bottle is finished, to open another one on a weekday evening- and I don't usually complain, or I do but only feebly. But unbelievable though it may seem, two bottles of wine takes you into the region of 16-21 units, over the recommended levels.  I am not doing "dry January"( though interestingly loads of my colleagues are) but I am just making sure that once the bottle is gone, another one isn't opened until the next weekend. This usually gives me four or five alcohol days per week. It is not a resolution, or at least not a New Year's resolution, it is just how I think it ought to be.
On a plus note, I've  discovered that one glass of wine contains as many calories as a cornetto ice cream which sounds like an absolute result except that regular consumption no doubt increases your risk of a host of nasties by ridiculous percent...

Friday, 15 January 2016

Friday night

I wrote in a post last week about the likely feelings of Justin Welby facing the start of the Primates meeting last Monday and posted this little clip. I've been down the gym doing my Friday evening stint and seen Welby "apologising" to LGBT people. He doesn't look a happy man. Despite the fact schism has been avoided,  the archbish looked like someone who knows things just aren't good and, it may be my imagination, but he looked a little shrunken as though he felt that the church he leads looks that bit more shoddy and shabby than it even did before.  In spite of brave talk of no victors or vanquished, this was never a win-lose situation and always a lose-lose situation for so many people and most of all for the Church itself.
Sometimes Friday night feels worse than the dreariest Monday morning.


Monday, 11 January 2016

Socks

One of the items on my Christmas list this year was some Marks and Spencer's thermal socks. I wear them a lot in the winter- we don't put the heating on that much- and my old pairs were getting decidedly threadbare. However the extremely warm December made me wonder whether I would ever need a pair of thermal socks again! So this sudden cold, or at least colder, snap has had the benefit of allowing me to break into said socks and very warm and cosy they are. In line with the £20 pound Christmas present spending rule (which Mr M broke...), I  am taking the time to really appreciate everything I received for Christmas this year.
I know there possibly more important things going on in the world than my socks- news of David Bowie's death, possible schism in Anglicanism and so on, but where would we be without socks I ask myself? Makes you think, huh?


Sunday, 10 January 2016

Repentance

I heard this morning about an open letter signed by 105 church leaders, many of them senior, to Justin Welby and John Sentamu saying this is the time for repentance in the Church of its treatment of LGBTI people, its lack of duty of care and its inability to embrace and celebrate LGBTI people. In some ways I support this letter. The Church has hurt and continues to hurt LGBTI people in profound ways and its attitudes have, I believe, contributed to discrimination, hostility and violence. I  might go so  far as to say the Church has blood on its hands, for example in the instances of suicide and the violence, often murder of trans people caused by attitudes to which it may have contributed.
 My views on the issue of discrimination in the Church whether on the basis of gender or sexuality are the main reason I am not a member of the Church of England. So I don't have a problem with the idea of repentance, I just wonder how helpful it is, especially at this particular time? After all, the insurmountable problem is that many others, especially those in the African wing of the Communion also fervently believe that those who support LGBTI rights, and support gay marriage need to "repent" of what they see as non-adherence to scripture- and they could argue about that for a long time really, and in fact have done, and still not managed to agree, in many ways because of different cultural perspectives.

I think both sides have to understand that the likelihood that the "other side" is going to change their views and "repent" is slim or non-existent.I suspect that when people are told to repent, especially when they have made their mind up and believe they are in the right, it just pisses them off even more. It is also very important to remember that repentance is not just for other people but for all of us, and we all have lots and lots of things to repent of, starting with our inability to show love to each other especially when that is really difficult.

The Archbishop of Brazil, the Most Revd Francisco de Assis da Silva, said that he hoped the gathering would be, " a meeting between pastors and not a chess game", and that, "in Christ, every person is welcomed... and the exclusion of those who are liberals or conservatives is not a good start." He continues, " No one is the owner of God's will. Everyone needs to change their mind and spirit to become truly servants and address adequately those issues that our times challenges us with: the absence of love and the absence of justice."

 What will happen, will happen. In the greater scheme of things, it doesn't matter too much, but if you do have any lingering affection for the idea of a global Anglicanism, pray for a spirit of wisdom and love, echoing hopes of the Archibishop of Brazil and Justin Welby below.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Dragging on?

 You may or may not  have caught wind of the fact that the next big event in the Anglican Communion takes place this coming Monday at Canterbury in the form of a Primates' meeting. Nobody cares knows what will happen in this meeting. The press seem to fervently hope there will be a major punch up (metaphorically obviously), there are comments along the lines that the Anglican Communion is "at a crossroads" (again? still?) and some reports that Uganda will walk out or alternatively that there will be a good disagreement.
Like everyone else, I don't really care. If had a choice, I would always go for agreeing to disagree, if that's not possible then a parting of the ways seems fair enough to me, after all what could be more excruciating than things dragging on like this? If you are bothered, Mark Harris tries to explain why it matters. You might spare a thought for Justin Welby who possibly will be looking forward to Monday morning even less than the rest of us. I've no idea how long this Anglican shindig is planned to last- hopefully it will be over by Friday for his sake.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Simplicity

We attended the meeting house this afternoon for the first time in ages; we didn't make it during November or December despite good intentions. After a year or so meeting in a local church, we returned to the the little Unitarian chapel. It dates back to the 17th century and I much prefer it as a venue because it makes me feel a connection to the past and I just generally love its atmosphere.  Over the last few years, Christmas has had the effect of making me yearn more than ever for simplicity, I really am tired of all the emphasis on things. My resolution (one I've had for a while as I don't make resolutions at New Year) it is to downsize as much as I can this year in preparation for hopefully downsizing permanently in the future.
Possibly my favourite Christmas present was an original (1934) edition of Watkins' Last Expedition by Spencer Chapman. I've got a real thing about old books, one of my most treasured gifts from a class is a small 1903 copy of Measure for Measure which they all signed. My younger son this year bought me the above book and also an early Penguin edition of Jane Eyre.
I know Jane Eyre pretty well so thought I would give Watkins' Last Expedition a go and it is a truly fascinating read giving an account of a 1932 expedition in their boat, the Stella, to Angmagssalik  on the east coast of Greenland. Watkins had some funding from the Royal Geographical Society to do meteorological work. He was accompanied by ornithologist and photographer Freddie Spencer Chapman and two other men. Tragically, Watkins died in a kayaking accident fairly early in the expedition (hence Watkins' last expedition) and the book was written presumably both as an account of the trip and a tribute to him. It is full of details of journeys. sledging with dogs, hunting seals, the Eskimo way of life and some beautiful descriptions of the breathtaking scenery and power of the natural world. It reminds me a little of watching Frozen Planet and I didn't expect it to be quite so interesting.
A paragraph in the preface sums up the appeal, urging the reader to imagine a trip that would allow them to:
" know something of the life of that fantastic land, of its ascetic nakedness, of its strong weather, of its laughing people...To know more, throw away your job, your friends, your cares, beg a quarter of the money you will need and an eighth of the food you will eat, learn the language and go there not as a great white man to teach , but as an inferior to learn from these people something of their way of life,; how to get a living from their barren country, how  to share as they share, how to endure as they endure, to live for the day caring nothing for the morrow."

 There is something of the gospel and the zeal of a disciple in the approach taken here and I am sure you noticed some deliberate echoes of  Jesus's words, in particular in   the reference to caring nothing for the morrow.
Anyhow, whether you are embarking on momentous life changing events, or likely to follow the same old routine this year, I wish you well with all  your plans,hopes or priorities for 2016 and hope they bring you blessings and joy!