Monday, 28 May 2018


I spend quite a bit of time on eBay in order to snag beautiful clothes at affordable prices — er, cheap; very cheap —  like this lovely (soft, heavy linen) skirt from East I got for 99p. 

Apart from anything else the typos, misspellings and autocorrect phenomena on eBay are a source of mirth.

"Warn once," a woman proclaims ominously of her skirt. And "Pulled threadworm" says another. What? Oh, I see. Drawn threadwork.

A source of frustration recurring with tedious frequency is the unwillingness of many vendors to add the measurements of the garments they are selling. "Ankle length on me." Really? So what? "My friend is a size 16 and it fits her perfectly." Sigh.

I like natural fabrics (I do not warm to the word "faux") — linen, cotton and cashmere for the most part; and my socks are alpaca and my winter tights are merino. I look out for Anokhi, Toast, Nila Rubia, East (who sadly stopped trading last year), or handmade things in soft linen and Indian cotton.

I used to have mostly greys and blues, all quiet colours, but recently I coloured my life in, to therapise my soul when something bad happened, so now my things are rather rainbowesque.

I wear very little jewellery, only earrings, and most of those are pearls.

Though I do have these beauties made by the cunning hands of our in-house craftswomen, God bless them.

And these made of coral and carnelian.

When I sold some work a little while ago, I achieved a long cherished ambition and bought silk underwear from Patra, and shirts from Chandni Chowk. I've bought their things on eBay before, but I wanted to buy something new, because they are handmade in India using traditional hand-block techniques and vegetable dyes, and fairly traded. Expensive, then (and very, very beautiful). Glorious.

But I'm getting sidetracked, because what I wanted to say to you is — why do people want their clothes to be crisp?

I keep seeing these garments, mostly blouses and nightdresses, advertised as "crisp cotton". As if that were a virtue. What? Crisp? Who the heck wants their blouse or nightie to feel crisp?

It might be a feature of my autistic tendencies, but I absolutely have to wear the softest, lightest, most pliable attire on God's earth. First thing I do when I buy a new top is take the label out (with extreme care), otherwise I can feel it and that drives me wild.

Recently I saw a Flax shirt for sale on eBay — very low price (£4.00) because the woman selling it said she had worn and washed it so often it had gone all floppy. I bought it immediately. She was quite right, and hallelujah. 

Imagine apologising because a shirt is no longer crisp! It does indeed take years to get them as lovely as this one is.

In case you were wondering, it's the colour in the photo of me wearing it, not the close-up.

But what about you? Do you go searching for crisp clothes? Aren't they uncomfortable? Or are you basically searching for fabric marshmallow, like me?

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Balm for the anxious mind

I recently permanently deleted my Facebook accounts — both the one I kept for closest friends and family, and the only slightly larger one that included a wider circle of acquaintance.

Facebook is a wonderful phenomenon; I love the friendships made there, the intriguing and informative articles, the humour, the pictures and so much more. But in the end the antagonism, the drama, the rudeness and the sense of too much information became a strain; unhealthy and destructive of peace.

I've found in recent years the anxiety that has dogged my life growing to problematic levels; stopping me working, snagging at every happiness, sapping vitality. Setting boundaries and pruning connections, observing the discipline of a plain diet and a quiet life have become essential; Facebook had to go.

But a few days ago I can across a book as welcome as a pint glass of chilled spring water in a hot desert.


I so recommend it to you.

I feel such admiration for the life out of which it was written — calm, sane, careful, disciplined, meticulous, kind, brave, adventurous, intelligent and compassionate.

It is about the imperative of establishing facts rather than succumbing to the allure of a dramatic world view.

It is informative and restorative. It re-establishes a sane perspective in a somewhat hysterical world. 

Written with humour, forbearance and humility, without blaming or attacking, with both gentleness and authority, Hans Rosling's beautiful book brings balm to the fevered mind. I am so glad he wrote it, the last — posthumously published —work of a life dedicated to clarity and compassion.

The picture of the cover above is linked to Amazon UK — so far the book is only on pre-order in paperback, but you can buy it in hard-back or read it on Kindle now.

US Amazon has a slightly different cover, but it appears to be the same book and out now in hardback and Kindle. I've linkified this image too.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Green pastures and still waters

The times we live in leave me struggling. 

The two aspects that most deeply disturb me are war and lies. Both of these spit in the face of God — and as George Herbert posted out, "Who spitteth against Heaven, it falls in his face." There is no just war. There are no justified lies. I see both war and lies proliferating, and I see the proliferation of war justified by a proliferation of lies, and it grieves not only me but the Spirit who dwells in me. I see the reach of Mammon growing exponentially, and I feel deep foreboding about it.

There is so little I can do. Only uproot the seeds of war from my own garden, and turn away from dishonesty, embrace authenticity, speak the truth. Though — heheh — sometimes speaking the truth can start a war, can it not!

Recently — in the last year — I've had a feeling of lagging further and further behind. It is as though the world no longer has a place for me. I've felt a kind of pervasive, spreading despair. Where can I be? Where do I belong? Where is peace?

When will you ever, Peace, wild wood dove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I'll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

We went out to Alfriston just before the hot weather came, at the end of the wild days of wind and rain, on a cold and breezy spring day of clear sunshine, to visit the clergy house by the village church. They have lots of photos of it here.

I hadn't been there for forty years or more, but it was vivid in my memory.

I loved it, and looked at it all over, then went out to sit in the garden. 

It is built just by the river, full from the spring rains so that the branches dip down to the water.

The last person who lived there was Harriet in the nineteenth century, and the vegetable garden is laid out as a traditional cottage vegetable patch would be. 

The formal garden nearer the house itself is created from clipped hedges and trees of box and yew, with beds of old English herbs — pinks and lavender and rosemary and so many more. Herbs that I have known from gardens I have loved my whole life long.

Do you know the song King Jesus hath a garden? The words of it are here, and here is the choir of Kings College Cambridge singing it. The garden at the Clergy House at Alfriston reminded me of that song.

What struck me particularly as I sat in that garden was its restraint — the green simplicity of it. The orderly vegetable beds and formal hedges, the herbs and old English plants.

It was full of peace. A retreat from the urgency and clamour of the modern world. A place where the spirit could thrive and be restored. It had such a strong feeling of happiness, as though it was a person as well as a place. If there is such a thing as happy ghosts, they were there. Somebody had dearly loved that place, and been happy there.

It showed me how to live, made a way in.

I am so glad it is there.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Glasses. For travelling.

My friend Margery died well over a decade ago, but I treasure her memory in all sorts of ways. She was my prayer partner, and times beyond counting we would travel out to the Thursday night meetings of the Stable Family at Ashburnham (the Stable Family was brought into being to work and pray for the revival of the church here in East Sussex). Margery's driving exhibited a number of curious phenomena, not least of which was that she needed to change specs when she hit 30 miles an hour.

As anyone who wears glasses can tell you, the challenges of adjusting vision to circumstances is a game that can easily distract for a lifetime.

I have several pairs of glasses.

I got my first pair sometime around 1999, much to my delight because glasses have always intrigued me and I found them a lot of fun. I chose ones the most like the specs Gandhi had that I could find. He bought his in London in the 1890s.

Gandhi's specs:

My first reading glasses (look at them carefully — because more about them in a minute):

As time went on my eyesight got worse, and I needed a stronger prescription. At first the second (new) pair felt way too strong and I only wore them for threading needles and reading the small print listing food ingredients on packets in the supermarket. But gradually I needed them more for regular work.

For a while, I found Pair 2 good for reading (and writing), but useless for public speaking — the people's faces were just blurs. Pair 1 became my go-to specs for public speaking (and preaching). I could read from my notes down on the lectern, and look across the room, and it all worked fine. They also became really good for travelling and shopping, because they sharpened up my vision for seeing things like train time digital displays and what type of nut butter was in the jars on the grocer's shelf; but then I needed to change glasses to my reading specs to check the ingredients list ad make sure nobody had smuggled palm oil or sugar into the nut butter. Much like Margery changing specs at 30 miles an hour. So I always took both pairs of glasses when I went out — and still do.

Then my vision got worse again, and I was prescribed a third pair of glasses — all three pairs being Gandhi-esque in appearance. Partly for Gandhi and partly for the Amish (and some conservative Quakers), who also wear similar specs to mine. 

As before, the newest set (Pair 3) proved way too strong initially, though in the last few months I notice they are becoming more frequently necessary. At the same time the optician prescribed Pair 3, he also recommended distance glasses for watching TV etc. So now I had four pairs of glasses. I only need take the first two pairs out and about, though. Unless I'm going to the cinema or theatre or a concert, in which case I take the distance glasses as well. 

This is the first pair, that I now only wear for looking for things in a shop (and for another purpose that I'll tell you about in a minute).

This is the second pair that I wear for all regular work and also for public speaking these days.

And these are my sunglasses. Did I mention those?

That makes 5 pairs.  I haven't photographed Pair 3 because . . . er . . . I couldn't be bothered.

But now, here's the thing. While out and about in the world, wearing Pair 1 to locate and identify things I couldn't otherwise see, I made a discovery. 

I don't really need to wear glasses at all just for walking about, but sometimes I keep Pair 1 on, to save putting them away and getting them out again. A situation where this applies is on the Tube (the London Underground trains). I don't need glasses for just getting about, but I do need them for reading the map/chart up high on the wall to check which stop is mine. So I'd keep them on.

And this was my discovery. When I am wearing these particular glasses, people treat me differently! They speak to me in a special, soft, kindly voice, and offer me their seat on the train!

If you wear Plain dress out and about in the world it has a similar effect on people, which I rather miss. Everyone used to treat me like their friend when I wore Plain dress. But the specs are somewhat different. Evidently when people look at me, they think not "Gandhi" but "Granny". It's brilliant.

I have a spec-effect-enhancer wheeze too. Last winter our Alice knitted me a hat. It's grey. And I find that if I wear the hat as well as the specs — like this:

— and especially if I slightly tilt my head to one side and maintain a half-smile like the Buddha, everyone is really kind to me, and they all speak to me in that special voice. The ticket collector comes by and I show him my ticket and my Senior Travel Card and he says "Thank you, dear" in a soft, quiet way.

Whether you need glasses or not, I recommend you buy a pair like Gandhi's, with a fluffy grey hat, and learn to smile like the Buddha; because suddenly the world becomes a kindlier, gentler sort of place.

Plus it's funny. It's rather touching, and highly amusing, and gives me hope for the human race. 

One day I expect I'll find I need a stick. Or an umbrella like Gandhi's.