Thursday, 22 June 2017

Early morning

The newly risen sun is reflecting bright off the leaves of the greengage tree we planted so that I'd be able to see a tree when I looked out of the window in this urban street.

Ours is a quiet road - near the shops and a big intersection, but a cul-de-sac network of houses. We live near the end corner, so not so many vehicles come along here - except bus drivers looking for somewhere to park, because just across the way and a few yards along is the bus depot.

The air is fresh and there are no people about yet. But the buses start up early. Apart from a few random cars, their deep rumbling engines are the only sound in the early morning silence.

The sound of the bus engines is very like a recording I have of Buddhist monks chanting. Remarkably like it. 

We don't have geese (often) but we do have seagulls.

If I close my eyes I could think I was sitting by a monastery wall near a lake in Ladakh.

As Lao Tsu said, "Without going outside, you may know the whole world."

I suppose it does take a little imagination.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Why am I here?"

Lovely article from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation (Thay's calligraphy below is linkified.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Chameleon shotgun house blends modern/vernacular on a budget

So imaginative, frugal and creative!

A link to your blog?

In the side-bar are various lists with links out, including a list of links to blogs of friends who often come by here and comment. As time goes on, people stop blogging or change focus from one blog to another, so today I went through that list and deleted those where someone had stopped posting months or even years ago, or those where the link was no longer active.

If you are a regular reader here and your interests are in accord with what you read at Kindred of the Quiet Way, feel free to leave a comment letting me know about your blog, and if I think other readers will enjoy to explore it I'll add it to the link list.

This is an ad-free blog, so I don't post commercial links unless for an exceptional reason.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Generosity found in sufficiency

I liked this post by Roland on Handcrafted Travellers, writing about knowing when you have enough and keeping that in balance with everyone else having enough. It's an interesting idea, not least because the sense of 'enough' must surely vary according to context and circumstances. When Maximilian Kolbe offered to take the place of a stranger in the line to the gas chambers at the concentration camp, he had travelled far enough in his spirit, he had lived enough and seen enough to have enough love to give his life away. When billionaires rake in more money by starting wars and cutting disability benefits, I suppose something is always starving in them - they do not know when they have enough.

I liked this picture from Roland's post, and the picture is also linkified to what he said.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Rumi quote

Half of life is lost in charming others.

The other half is lost in going through anxieties caused by others. 

Leave this play, you have played enough!

~ Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī

Monday, 5 June 2017

Tale of a Teenage Herring Gull

Well, we had an interesting herring gull episode today.

As you know (if you read here often) our next door neighbours’ house hosts a seagull family on the flat extended section of its roof. Our houses are tall Victorian buildings, so that’s three floors’ worth of big airy rooms from the ground.

It turns out that seagulls are trainable, and wait politely on the shed roof or the woodstore roof to be fed. But in the last few weeks, as their babies have grown and got hungrier, breakfast time has become a matter of urgency (aye, and supper time) so the parent seagulls come and rap on the back door to let us know they’re starving out there.

Our Rosie lives in the back room downstairs, and has planted a vegetable garden (presently full of thriving potato plants) just outside her door into the yard. And this afternoon I glanced out of the kitchen window to see a young herring gull sitting on her doorstep tapping on the window. Evidently the youngster had made it down from the roof but couldn’t get back up, and knew this is where seagulls come for help. So we took it out a dish of fishy catfood, which was gratefully received, and watched to see what would happen.

Adult herring gulls have sardonic, aloof yellow eyes; but the youngsters have big black eyes a bit like the eyes of seals – very beautiful, very appealing.

The parent gull came down to see what could be done, and had no success in getting Junior up off the ground. So then Mama (or Papa?) came and banged on the window for help.

We went out to see what we could do, and Mama explained the situation to us and hung around anxiously, but their roof was a long way beyond what we could reach, and Junior had no plans for flying up there.

Our Fi went off to ask the vet what to do, while I googled seagull rescue advice (East Sussex knows about herring gulls, believe me).

The vet had no one on duty, but the rescue site advised getting the young bird up onto a low roof from which the parents could encourage it home – pointing out that seagulls are excellent parents (no word of a lie – they are).

Meanwhile Mama was doing her best in the garden. In the Bayeux Tapestry there’s a wonderful scene of “King Harold comforting his troops”, which redefines our understanding of comforting and therefore sheds fresh light on the role of the Holy Spirit. Harold is comforting them with the point of a spear.

Similarly was Mama Seagull comforting her errant offspring – pecking it vigorously to make it fly. Big mistake; just made it scream. But she hovered around anxiously, trying to get it up off the ground. Managed to get it onto the fallen log we sit on, managed to get it onto the garden wall – no further.

Around five, Foxy came to get her supper, and happily didn’t take the young gull for a supplementary snack, but we could see this was the next problem on the horizon.

Get the bird onto a low roof, the rescue site said – or ideally back onto the roof it calls home; but get the right roof or it’ll find a hostile reception from the resident birds.

And eventually we realized there was nothing else for it; we’d have to catch it and put it up on our roof, as no gulls nest there but the parents are only yards away next door. Even if it failed to make the crossing home, Mama and Papa would bring breakfast lunch and tea until it was properly ready to fly. Come to that, we could put out food and water, too.

So we took more catfood (its third bowlful!) and added it to its plate on the garden wall where it stood, Mama circling anxiously overhead. Completely unafraid of us right there alongside, the little bird scoffed off its grub with true herring gull voracity – and I took advantage of this preoccupation to grab it.

The young gull screamed blue bloody murder, and tried with its little webbed feet to make me let go. I took it into the house still yelling at the top of its voice, while a posse of seagulls swirled and swooped overhead – but they know us and didn’t bomb us; I was so impressed by their trust in us today.

As I carried the youngster upstairs, it registered its displeasure by threatening to bite my finger; but it didn’t do it hard, just let me know this was a possibility I might like to think about.

We climbed the stairs all the way up to the Badger’s attic and opened up the skylights. In a last demonstration of panic, the seagull was (annoyingly) sick on the carpet; then we had the window open and released Junior onto our roof. Before long Mama was in attendance with Junior up and walking along the ridge tiles.

Since then it’s been raining and misty, and we haven’t been able to see what the outcome has been. But I think they’ll figure it out from there. We’ll keep an eye out and continue to feed it if necessary. Safe from Foxy’s attentions at the very least.

Meanwhile we have left out in the garden the various plates the seagull snacked from, knowing that before morning Foxy will have licked them all clean as a whistle. Hey, how cool is that, to have wild animals show up to wash the dishes! Just call me Snow White.

Friday, 2 June 2017

As you consider which way to cast your vote.

I’ve never been a very good numbers person – not great on dates, and I’m the type who might tell you, “There’s been a terrible explosion! 350 people were killed! Or was it 3,500? Or 35? Er . . . not sure.”

But I am good at grasping principles, and at joined-up thinking, and at understanding human situations.

As I’ve watched and listened and read during these weeks running up to the UK election, I find it difficult to remember the exact data about the NHS, for example – just how many hours doctors have to work or how many nurses posts have been cut, or exactly what is the annual salary of the nurses who have had to resort to feeding their families from foodbanks.

And sometimes I don’t think quickly enough to answer someone’s point. For example, the man who was talking to me in the street about politics the other day. I was concentrating on staying calm and polite while he thrust his face about four inches away from mine and said he wouldn’t vote Labour because Jeremy Corbyn is a man of peace. “If someone comes at me with a knife,” he said, “I want a gun in my hand!” He extrapolated from this an international imperative of stockpiling nuclear weapons.

If I’d thought fast enough, I might have pointed out that the problem with his preferred system would be that the next time his attacker might have a gun in his hand – and then what? Surely what you want if a man comes at you with a knife in his hand is a robust police force, and maybe good negotiating skills and a well-resourced mental health provision. Our police force is in a desperate condition, defunded and cut back to the bone. Our mental health provision is evaporating.

I did manage to think quickly enough to point out to a man insisting that there was no point saving the NHS as its fundamental problem was old people aspiring to live to be 300, that since his wife is an occupational therapist she’ll probably lose her job if we have any more cuts.

But the main thing I’ve been struggling to communicate is the grave consequences of what’s being called the Dementia Tax.

This is that proposal to fund social care from the equity of the patient’s home, all bar £100k.

People arguing in favour of this make it sound very reasonable – social care is expensive, the money won’t be taken until the recipient’s death (so they won’t suffer or be made homeless), and £100k is a generous amount to have left over for a legacy.

But there’s a gaping hole in this. What if the person who needs social care is not the only one whose home it is?

Let me sketch out a couple of possible scenarios.

Suppose an elderly couple become increasingly infirm, but they have a son who is a minister in the church – someone who is on a very low income and has lived in occupational housing. Suppose that son, on retiring, didn’t take up the option to have a church retirement house because he moved in with his ageing parents to care for them. One of them is frail and needs to be taken to numerous medical appointments, he has to do all their shopping and cleaning (and his own) – but one of them develops dementia and cannot be left alone. Nobody can be everywhere at once doing everything. So the son has to have help with necessary social care. Then one of his parents dies. Perhaps at this point the house will remain the property of the surviving parent, if it was jointly owned. But what when the second parent dies? The son, now an elderly man, with very little in the way of savings because his occupation was not highly-paid, will have to sell the house to pay for the social care his parents had. In the area where I live, a small 2-bedroomed terrace house is now worth over £200k, and you couldn’t even get a one-bedroomed flat with no garden or separate kitchen for £100k. It would be too late for the man to generate earnings or take out a mortgage. In the rental sector there’s fierce competition for homes, private sector rents are very high (even for bed-sits), and there is very little social housing left. I think there’s a strong chance that man would become destitute.

Or imagine a scenario where a woman has two daughters, both born in the 1980s, both working as care assistants (valuable but low-paid work). During their adult years, property prices have risen faster than their ability to save for a deposit, and rented housing is beyond their ability to afford – but it’s okay, because they continue to live in the family home. They enjoy each other’s company, the mortgage is all paid off by an insurance pay-out when their father died, and their mother has left the house to them in her will. It won’t be subject to inheritance tax as her savings are very modest. Then she gets cancer. She suffers a long, slow deterioration. To pay the household bills and cover groceries etc, her daughters have to keep working. Their own care skills are a good support to her, but as her condition declines she needs the extra support of social care. After seven years, she dies. Because her daughters have undertaken much of her care, there is only £85k owing to the state. The house has to be sold to pay it, leaving £112k after estate agents’ and solicitors’ fees have been settled. This is a nice nest-egg, but unfortunately not enough to buy a house. Where once the sisters would have been able to manage comfortably, with both of them working and their home owed outright, now they will face big financial problems. Even with the two of them sharing, care assistants’ wages don’t go far (the hourly rate is £7.75).

The proposed Dementia Tax would have very far-reaching social consequences, stripping out the carefully accumulated security of families, transferring the assets of the middle classes into the pockets of the very rich – because social care, like the NHS, would be provided by private companies.

When you look carefully at what such proposals mean, the magnitude of the consequences becomes really shocking.

I am not an especially political animal, and I personally believe most political approaches work well if they are administered with goodness and compassion.

But our present UK government is a cynical administration with a cavalier approach to the concerns and sufferings of lower-income people. If they have another 5-year chance at government, the way of life we have enjoyed in Britain for so long will be irretrievably lost, and the desperation of grinding poverty will become a common phenomenon.

Please, even if you normally vote Conservative, Lib Dem or Green, vote Labour this time – unless you are voting tactically according to your neighbourhood. To save our NHS, to save our education system, to maintain the stability of our social fabric and infrastructure, we need a change of government. And in real terms this is a 2-horse race.  The only way forward this time is Labour.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Does a minimalist need a coat?

I have a minimalist wardrobe question.

Does a person really need a coat?

As you know if you read here often, because I have hyper-mobility issues my body doesn’t fight back easily. If I have heavy or constricting clothes in woven not stretchy fabric, I quickly grow tired and uncomfortable. All my garments have to be light, soft and unconstricting.

I have a very small wardrobe too – as in the item of furniture, I mean, rather than the clothes in it. This is it. 

Coats tend to be bulky, and grab a generous percentage of space.

I get cold (like everyone) but if I get hot I can’t think, and feel suffocated. In general, I’d rather be too cold than too hot. In chilly weather, stores and churches and people’s homes usually have the heating on – we often don’t, we just layer up – so when I go indoors on a cold day I often feel stiflingly hot.

I can decide my own schedule. I don’t have to fit in with any kind of fixed timetable. So if it rains I can decide to go out later. I often take the car to pick up household members at their workplace at the end of the day if it’s raining – but I personally don’t get wet. It’s just a quick dash to the car parked at the roadside near our house. I keep an umbrella in the car in case it's pouring outside and I'm caught unawares – but you know, I never bother using it because here on the coast if it rains it's usually windy too, making a complete nightmare out of fighting an umbrella.

So I don’t see why I need a coat. If I have a warm woolly sweater, I can increase the layers under it, adding a scarf and mittens if it’s really cold.

I do have a cagoule, but I was thinking of getting rid of it because I hate it. I don’t like how it rustles and has tight grippy elasticated wrists. I don’t usually wear it even if it’s raining because frankly I’d rather get wet. But as it packs down very small it seems incautious to pass it on.

I tried looking at advice on the websites of other minimalists, and was rather surprised by what I read. One said “I have a ton of coats,” and went on to describe them. What? How is it minimalist to have a ton of anything, especially coats which are bulky and take up lots of room? All the ones I read thought a coat is absolutely imperative, but don’t really say why.

What do you think? Does a person really need a coat?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cutting of losses

There’s an aspect to minimalism I think doesn’t always sit easy with people committed to simplicity – the whole business of cutting your losses.

Say I’m looking for a jacket.

It must be the right weight. If it’s for occasions like officiating at funerals, preaching and public speaking, I’ll probably choose something less warm than I otherwise might, because public buildings are usually overheated and I find it harder to deal with being hot than cold.

It has to fit – and that includes being long enough to cover my derrière; because if, wearing trousers, I have to process in past people or go up to the sanctuary to fetch an offering plate, it’s always the rear view that takes people’s mind off the occasion and refocuses them onto contemplating the lamentable error of my sartorial choices.  So why not wear a skirt? Because then I either have to own two jackets (as shorter jackets suit skirts and longer  will suit trousers) or wear skirts all the time – then you get into tights and slips and the complications of shoes that don’t look tragic with skirts but are still good for walking, etc., etc..

It has to be black, as it’ll be worn at formal occasions including funerals.

And – now this is the spanner in the works – it has to be cheap. The way to get high quality clothes for very little money is to buy at auction from private sellers on eBay. And generally speaking private sellers don’t accept returns.

I ask for measurements and scrutinize photos. I stick to brands I know, because they are made for different imaginary women. For example, Per Una clothes are designed for women with short backs and small frames, so the larger sizes are for plump, busty women with short backs and small frames – but thin arms. More your Italian type of woman. I need clothes made for another kind of woman altogether – with broad shoulders, a long back, long arms, and altogether hefty. More your Germanic type of woman. So I don’t buy Per Una.

I make sure to buy in stretchy fabrics because woven (rather than knit) fabrics feel like straitjackets to me. And I don’t want to do any ironing. As in ‘ever’.

Even with all this thought and caution, the purchase often doesn’t work out. What might seem an obvious preferable alternative would be to save up for a high quality shop purchase so I could return it. Except that it usually takes me 2 or 3 months and several times of wearing a garment before I reluctantly conclude I don’t like it. So an expensive purchase would simply mean a bigger mistake.

It’s important to me to like my clothes. In my jacket I’ll be on public display, but not at an event which is about me (if you see what I mean). My work isn’t like a TV presenter or actor – it points beyond myself; I need to be effaced, and concentrating entirely on something else. I need to be able to forget myself utterly when I’m preaching, or leading a quiet day or a funeral. I’ve watched preachers who aren’t easy in their clothes, tugging at this and tweaking at that, watched them readjust in alarm as their bra straps emerge from their too-generous necklines – no no no; that’s not for me.
So if I take hours of care and thought and select a second-hand high quality jacket and it arrives and I think it’ll do fine, and I wear it a time or two but have to conclude it makes me look lumpy and frumpy and I feel miserable in it – then what?

Two options; soldier on or try again. If I try again – ie buy a different jacket – this is the point where the minimalism/simplicity conflict kicks in.

Simplicity is humble and lowly, thrifty and responsibly and not wasteful. Simplicity is satisfied with what it has and doesn’t throw things away.

Minimalism runs a tight ship and travels light, so throws things away very readily.

In my particular case, I’ve opted more for the minimalism. If something doesn’t work out, I pass it on. It goes to a charity shop and earns them good money.  I have noticed that with a minimalist wardrobe, what I like and what works becomes clearer to me. If I don’t have loads of clothes, I don’t get confused about what’s going on. The garments that aren’t working stand out very quickly.  If I have loads of clothes and none of them are all that great, I don’t easily notice what doesn’t work because I don’t feel all that good in any of them.

And other questions begin to emerge. For example, I keep one skirt (that I don’t especially like but it’s the best quality/style/weight/fit/length I could find) to wear on formal occasions when a skirt is expected. But I now find myself asking, why is it expected? Do I even want to be at occasions where dressing in skirts is more important than being the person I am? Do I really want to spend time at events where style outweighs substance? Where what I can offer is outweighed by what I’m wearing? Probably not.

But I don’t think those questions would ever have come up for me if I hadn’t been aiming for a minimalist wardrobe – I’d just have a pile of skirts and trousers and dresses and not stopped to ask myself, ‘why have I got this garment at all?’

And the thing is, once the minimalism has helped me identify the styles and fabrics and colours I really want to wear, then the simplicity comes into its own – because at that point I need make fewer and fewer purchases. I’m happy with what I have.