Friday, 18 December 2009

First class recorded and Gawd 'elp yer

The British postal service, so people are fond of saying, is the best in the world. If that’s the case, heaven help you if you live in the rest of the world!

This year has seen a series of postal strikes, half-cocked and intermittent: I am not sure what they resolved, if anything, but perhaps they made somebody feel better.

Meanwhile naturally, the delivery service was (as planned) seriously disrupted – though to be fair it was not always that easy to tell.

Back in May my daughter Grace planned a home birth at the little house where her sisters live in St Leonards-on-Sea. Accordingly, since the birth was to take place in my bed there, I sent for two spare sheets, a waterproof terry-towelling mattress protector, and a set of similar protectors for the six pillows. They did not arrive. The ebay vendor from whom I had purchased them, a philosophical type well-acquainted with the British postal service (the best in the world), expressed no surprise, and dispatched a second set with good success, by private courier.

In the anxious time awaiting the arrival of the original set, I quizzed the postie several times. They were, he said, all at sixes and sevens in the sorting office. The parcel might eventually get through. Or it might not. To my wondering aloud whether I should walk over to the sorting office and investigate, he responded with an emphatic negative: 'I wouldn't do that if I were you!'
That was a large parcel. What on earth did they do with it? I can understand delay and confusion – but even a sorting office is only a box, not a wormhole in the solar system. If they have a parcel there, surely at some point it must come to light? If they have a habit of absorbing non-delivered parcels, surely the building must eventually reach capacity? How odd.

More recently, one of my family at that same little house was approached by the postie while she was waiting at the bus stop. ‘There’s no-one in at home,’ he remarked: ‘I’ve put your parcel in the black bin to save time’. She had no idea what he meant. Afraid of appearing foolish, she nodded and smiled as one does, and assumed he had taken the parcel away and fed it into a separate section of the system. The following day, when emptying her rubbish, something caught her eye at the bottom of the dustbin. Only then did she realize that the postie had actually deposited her parcel in the rubbish bin, ‘to save time’! What?!?

The postie likes my girls. Just as well. He is meant to deliver only letters and packets, but the other day he brought round a parcel, explaining that it had been sitting on the shelf at the sorting office for a week, but the man who was supposed to bring it couldn’t be bothered, so he thought he’d pop it in his own bag and deliver it. To reiterate: heaven help the rest of the world!

This December I have bought a number of items from ebay. In the main they are trickling through eventually. Yesterday a parcel was brought to my door. I live in a typical English street, smallish houses in rows, odd numbers down one side of the street, even numbers down the other side. My house is number 18. The delivery man asked if I would take in a parcel for the lady next door. I did not have my glasses on or look at the label, but said I would. I asked which next door, and he spoke confirming his earlier jerk of the head – it was intended for Sylvia at No 20. She was surprised when I took it round later, as she had not been expecting a parcel. Inspection revealed it to be for No 21 – which is some way down the street on the other side. I took it over. The householder laughed. ‘I’ve got one for No 10,’ he said. The day before, I took in a parcel that I was assured was for me. It turned out to be destined for the old people's home.

Feeling nervous about my ebay packages, which are late arriving as might be expected in this pressured time of year approaching Christmas, I looked at the receipt for the most important of the parcels now several days delayed, and felt relieved to discover that a tracked delivery mode had been selected, and a tracking number provided.

I went to the Royal Mail website and entered the tracking number, hoping to be reassured that something was known about my parcel, and it was at least possible to verify its passage through the system. Nothing in my imagination could have prepared me for the (automatically generated) response to my tracking enquiry; which was that this particular category of tracked mail could be tracked only after it had already been safely delivered.

I say again; if the British postal system is the best in the world, Heaven help the rest of you.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Almost every year on the first Sunday in January, someone asks at church if we have made New Year resolutions and, if so, what they were.

Every year I think, ooh what a good idea – but haven’t made any resolutions, and then my mind goes blank; and apart from vague aspirations towards slimming, nothing occurs.

So I thought this year I’d think about it in advance, and accumulate a few resolutions for 2010. So far I have 3.

I read a thing once that Wayne Dyer said. He explained that psychologists assert that human beings are not capable of doing things they think are not good. They might do things they think would be bad if someone else did them, or think they do it only because they have no choice, or that the exceptional circumstances make it the right thing to do this time only – but they will always convince themselves that what they are doing is, at least on this one occasion, good. So Wayne Dyer said that people – even quite abhorrently awful people – are always doing the best they are capable of with the information they have at the present time, however deeply flawed their reasoning. People change by enlightenment, by embracing a different conceptualization. How the Bible puts it is: ‘Be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds’. So berating and accusing never works; only new understanding changes things, and people are always more open to new understanding when they feel safe and relaxed rather than defensive and under attack. My first resolution is to hold in mind that all people are always doing the best they know with the information they currently have. I hope this will help me to criticize less, blame less, and go my way in a more peaceful manner.

Trees are vital to human wellbeing and the future of Planet Earth. There’s a DiscWorld novel which involves a special book that is believed to be precious because through this Book people will be saved. I haven’t read this story, only had it recounted to me, but I understand that there comes a point in the narrative where two characters are stranded at night in the open, very cold. The only thing they can do to keep warm is burn the book. So it turns out their salvation was indeed in the book – but not in the way they think. I’m really interested in the Christian tradition of referring to the Cross as ‘the Tree’. It’s seen as a Tree of Life because of Jesus’ life-giving sacrifice. Crucifixes depict Christ’s passion & death, and so create a legacy of an image showing salvation as a man who stands for the whole human race pinned firmly to a saving Tree. And that’s oddly true for everyone without exception whether they believe in the Christian gospel or not. It’s still true that our future is pinned to the future of the tree: without trees, people have no hope. The Man and the Tree – in that union is salvation. So my second resolution is wherever I can to make choices that support the continuing existence and well-being of trees. I am going to make nut roasts a lot, and eat nuts for snacks. I’m going to choose fruit that grows on trees – apples, pears, cherries, plums, bananas, dates, figs. Some essential oils come from trees without harming the tree, I think; and same with maple syrup. So we can develop a tree-friendly home. We’re going to plant in our garden three apple trees and a pear tree, a silver birch and a walnut tree. There’s going to be a Michael tree too, for Grace’s child (my grandson). This was a thought of his father, Clay; to have a tree in a pot that would grow alongside the child, eventually to be planted out when they can afford their own place. Tony is going to start donating to tree-planting organizations because of the carbon emissions from his necessary car travel while he still works in Oxford. I will try to find out about firewood sources that come from coppiced woodland – there’s lots of it in Sussex, and though it involves cutting a tree down, it’s part of a managed cycle that protects the future of the woodlands. You can buy BBQ charcoal sourced in the same way, from local woodlands, here.

I have my usual general aim – to explore more deeply into simplicity. The last few years I was concentrating on cutting down my possessions and taking up less space; also on using less electricity and gas (thermos cooking etc). I did quite well. There were some BIG decisions, like moving to live in a shared home, and not running a car. Recently I bought an electric machine for making my tea in the morning while Tony is away. That didn’t fit the general programme! I’m not sure I’ll keep it over time, but I’m certainly appreciating it at the moment! But for my third resolution, this year I’d like to concentrate on developing a life that uses less and less money. My life here in Hastings is part of my response to the Word of the Spirit within me when I asked the question (repeatedly, over about 2-3 years) ‘What was I sent here to do?’ Though writing books fits in with what I was sent here to do, because I was sent to teach and guide and share the things I notice, I was also sent for a ministry of love and kindness, making a home where people are welcomed and sheltered, encouraged and healed. That’s a groovy ministry, but there’s not much money in it – so it’s important I now start to learn how to live with very little money. Up to now, though I’ve lived simply, I haven’t been especially careful with money – just earned more when I needed more. I don’t use up a lot of money by general modern standards, but there’s a lot of margin for shrinking that right down – so it will be an interesting experiment.

Well, those are my resolutions so far. Maybe I’ll think of some more, but real ones, not pointless ones just to make up a list.