Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A happy day.

Things are going well!

I have finished off everything for The Road of Blessing now, and left it in the hands of my trusty editor who will do a good job at bringing it to birth; he always does.

I wrote my column for Woman Alive today, well ahead of time.

I worked on the cover copy and bio for the revised and expanded Spiritual Care of Bereaved and Dying People and sent that off. The two chapters outstanding on that book are all that now stand between me and a summer break - huzzah!!

The garden is lovely - the grass turns out to be full of clover, which is humming with bees in search of honey, and we have snow peas, chard and spinach enough for as many meals as we want and still some to give away. The tomatoes are coming on apace and I must pick the blackcurrants any day now.

And we have somebody new in our home. Shadow has come to live with us. I would not expect to change someone's name; our names bring continuity and familiarity. But for some inexplicable reason I can only think of her as Vesper. Perhaps that is her real name! Anyway, she is with us, and Vesper she has become. After an afternoon hiding behind the sofa she spent the evening purring happily and watching telly with the rest of us. Pics to follow - she is not quite confident enough yet.

This is a happy day!

Monday, 28 June 2010

The end of the day

It’s been a good day.

My good pal Julie Faraway emailed in to say she was praying, which was a blessing indeed as I was scrambling to get my funeral preparation done while a steady stream of phone calls created an under-hum of mayhem and the plumber wrestled with the repair of one leak and subsequent testing of the system setting off further leaks and minor floods in our ratchety old house.

Imagine my surprise when, as I sat on the bed in our attic bedroom (my usual work perch) typing away, a somewhat stressed looking plumber came tearing up the stairs, bounded in and looked round frantically, demanding immediate access to the roof space!

Turned out that having drained the system to fix the leak to the hot water cylinder, once he refilled it the inflow of water created unaccustomed activity in the ancient header tank, which resulted in the ball valve giving way and the overflow pipe falling off. Lordy! With no ball valve to control the inflow of water nor overflow pipe to discharge it, the tank then began to overflow lavishly into Hebe’s bedroom, down the light fittings onto the bed and down the mystery cracks we now realize had been caused by similar incidents, into the wardrobe. I must say Those Who Went Before Us did have a talent for neglect. The number of repairs we’ve achieved since we moved in last November!

That plumber was a star. While Julie prayed, he plumbed. Working at the speed of light he unscrewed the fiddly fastenings on the access hatch to the roof space (why did Joe construct the access door like that? What was he thinking of?), and crawled away at top speed into the strange little obstacle course leading to the cobwebby space where the header tank lives. Two hours later and a lot dustier, not only had he fixed it and drilled holes in Hebe’s ceiling to let the flood drain away, he polyfilla-ed up the holes when he’d done, carefully dried off the electricals, re-wired the dodgy light fitting that came loose while he was drying it, mopped up and repaired everything, and left everything ship-shape. How’s that for a plumber and an answer to prayer!

All went well with the funeral, and I got some writing done too.

This evening is peaceful and mellow, gulls crying on the roof, the late sunlight gentle on the garden.

Thank you for the day. Thank you for the sunshine. Thank you for praying friends and conscientious hard-working men who go beyond the call of duty to take care of us. Thank you for the love.

Oh. My friend who died leaves an old cat called Shadow with no home. Well? What d’you think?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Head down. Work to do.

I came home this afternoon from our church parish weekend away. A very successful weekend from the point of view of the church, a bit traumatic from mine. A series of small happenings, remarks, emphases, things said and not said that added up to a lot. Sigh.

In the morning I must be up early. Tomorrow afternoon I am responsible for the funeral of somebody I loved dearly, and I have to prepare. The whole world will be a little less rich and less bright without her. Fanciful self-indulgence spins fairy-stories that when we die we turn into stars. In her case it is probably true.

I also must call the plumber urgently because our water tank has sprung a leak and is gradually soaking the carpet and floorboards in Hebe's bedroom and seeping through to the studio underneath. Double sigh.

Last week I sent out an SOS to dear friends to read through double-quick the manuscript for my new book (to be published in January, The Road of Blessing. It's to follow the same format as In Celebration of Simplicity, so requires a question-and-answer section at the end. I wanted the questions to be real questions that real people really asked when they read it, not posers set by the publisher's editorial staff. What a brilliant team my readers made! They have come up with some cracking good questions. Just waiting for a few more to come in then I will get into the answers, and that will be that one put to bed.

Also oozing into the Urgent Pile is the revison and expansion of my
Spiritual Care of Dying and Bereaved People, again for the beginning of next year. The revision of the old text is now complete, and I have written one of the three new chapters which will be about the death of my previous husband Bernard, bereavement from causes other than death, and how to take a good funeral. Finished manuscript due in by the first week of August. Meanwhile I am determined that when my beloved takes his holiday this year (19th - 30th July) I shall not have my nose in a book manuscript working against the clock.

You will have cunningly detected that I have some brisk and sustained action to take.

If I come up for air I shall post here in the meantime - or I may just see y'all again in mid-July.

After that, things just about calm down again. I got my three-book contract with Crossway (hooray!!) for three new books following on from The Hawk & the Dove trilogy. The first is written and on their desk, the second three-quarters written, the third half-written. All to be done and dusted by the end of October. So that's my project from the end of July into the autumn.

Interspersed with that I hope I'll have enough space to work on my online Wabi-Sabi Jesus.

Waving to you my friends, then - see you intermittently as the summer goes on. To those of you who pray, let me say your prayers make an amazing difference to my output, in terms of quality, focus and protection from the constant and relentless interference of every conceivable variety (kind of crazy spiritual radio crackle) that sets up the minute I begin to write - you name it, it happens! I appreciate you have lives and needs of your own to attend to, but your prayer support is always, always most gratefully and deeply appreciated. (The Lord Jesus says 'Yeah, believe me - she needs it!')

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

"The water that bears the ship is the same that engulfs it." (Chinese proverb)

When I was a little girl, my mother gave me a book I really loved. It was very small, illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund, and entitled A Pocket Full Of Proverbs (It was the same book as the one in the link, but that is not my copy or my photo).

I loved both the pictures and the proverbs, and two of the sayings in the book stayed with me particularly. One, which I took very much to heart, said:

Of all the sayings in the world
The one to see you through
Is ‘Never trouble trouble
Until trouble troubles you!'

The other one I liked specially said:

One thing at a time
And that done well
Is a very good rule
As many can tell.

In some times and places, that has been accepted wisdom. Multi-tasking, of course, has been with us as long as there have been tasks that needed doing; but ‘One thing at a time' has offered a counterpoint.

For me, an important aspect of the journey into simplicity is my hearty desire to stay sane: and this is made easier if I am not overwhelmed.

My to-do list for tomorrow is quite long. It has several elements: ongoing writing and associated tasks (eg reviewing cover copy and biographical details for a book going through the publishing process); tasks to do with funerals I am conducting this week and next; family obligations and household admin tasks; contacting or visiting friends in trouble/distress; the usual daily tasks and commitments of housework, prayer, cooking etc.

And I am forced to admit that, having finally solved the last of our roof leaks, we now face a beetle problem – woodworm I suspect, having done a little online research.

The Beetle Crisis has brought home to me yet again the value of living simply. Because none of us ever knows from one day to the next what will hit us next: but 53 years on the planet has confirmed to me the reality that something will. We do ourselves a favour if whatever hits us next finds us calm and ready, not distracted and tied up with prior commitments

If our lives are uncluttered and simple, we can usually find the resources to respond to each life event as it occurs, doing whatever must be done to restore peace and order and wellbeing. If we are busy and harassed, things get left and get worse, problems protract and compound, new problems crashing into the back of old problems still lining up to be dealt with.

Simplicity doesn’t make our problems go away; it probably doesn’t even reduce the number of problems that will come our way: but it will allow damage limitation.

My life is not yet simple enough. At present, I am over-involved in the lives of others. My to-do list is made longer because I have inadvisedly allowed my life to become too entwined with lives where problems are not managed well and simplicity has not been an aspiration. So the beetles find me already dispirited and tired – and who will deal with the problem but me? Nobody.

It is a helpful lesson. I intend to simplify further, reducing my possessions and household stuff, reducing commitments and involvements, so that the ‘very good rule’ of ‘one thing at a time and that done well’ becomes no longer a mere aspiration but an actual feature of my daily life.

I think in 2011 I will write a Rule of Life for myself, and ‘one thing at a time’ will be an element within it.

William Penn said: Have but little to do, and do it thy self: And do to others as thou wouldest have them do to thee: So thou canst not fail of Temporal Felicity.

The Buddha said that those who are ‘skilled in goodness and who know the path of peace’ should be ‘…unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways; peaceful and calm…’

At a time in my life when I had many duties to fulfil – when I was pastor to six chapel congregations scattered over a wide rural area – I used to say to myself ‘Attempt less and achieve more.’ I think I need to focus on that as a present resolve.
To disentangle, withdraw from involvement, is very difficult – especially when you care about people, and you see them getting in a muddle because they have for one reason or another not chosen wisely. It is more difficult even than withdrawing from the addiction to possession and consumption: but it is part of the discipline of simplicity, essential to the Quiet Way.

Sometimes when I have been de-cluttering the house, I have taken one of two approaches: either to establish a principle that for each new thing coming into the house, two must leave; or just to get rid of two things, however small, each day. It is time to take the same approach and apply it to my commitments and relationships.

We have more de-cluttering to do, without a doubt: but I am becoming aware too that I shall never arrive at space and peace (which ministers to others as well as creating serenity in myself) unless I resign over-involvement and entanglement with the lives of those who live without discipline.

Another good saying, ‘Love them and let them be,’ applies here. This is not the detachment of indifference, but the wise non-attachment of the Quiet Way. Please don't misunderstand it as a callousness or apathy, an indifference to others. On the contrary, it is about staying loose and free and peaceful not only for myself but for every person that crosses my path needing peace and loving-kindness.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Slightly longer than mid-hip; ever so comfortable.

I do most of my shopping online. I prefer second-hand everything, and ethnic clothes, and the high street stores do not often sell the kind of things I like to wear.

When you buy clothes in a normal shop, you may be approached by a sales assistant, but otherwise you are left to make your own judgements and appraisals.

When you buy online, or from a catalogue, of course there has to be a blurb.

I am puzzled by how many advertisers describe their wares as ‘really comfortable’. This is often said about shoes. How can they possibly know? Surely it depends entirely on the shape of your foot. What is really comfortable for me, given that I have feet like a marsupial, will be agonizing for you if you take an extra wide fitting and have a high instep – even if your feet are also a UK9.

I also fail to understand why they describe their skirts as ‘calf-length’ and their jackets as ‘mid-hip length’. On whom? A woman of 5’2” with a short back ? A woman of 5’9” with short legs and a very long back? Not on both.

Measurements. That’s what we need, chums. Numbers!

Then there are the benighted individuals who tell you that the garment is really lovely and they bought it for their sister’s wedding only last year and have never worn it since. But you don’t care. All you need to know is the bust, nape to hem, the hips, the waist, the arms and across the back. The wedding is a matter of indifference.

But, darlings, if you really don’t want to sell me something, say this: Only reason for sale massive weight loss.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Moment of stunning simplicity perfectionism

Well I got it together to cook some supper.

You should know, I don't just absolutely loll about all day - we have had some serious looking after of people to do in recent times, but you know - it isn't always appropriate to take one's megaphone and inform the world at large of the inner workings of the household...

Anyway, eventually today I zonked out fast asleep rallying somewhat groggy around the time people get hungry.

So I cooked some supper, cautiously, determined not to burn anything.

We had chard and snow peas that we grew in our own garden (hooray!). We had mashed potato woth onion gravy - and a big bunch of herbs chopped in the gravy, also from our own garden; golden oregano, rosemary, pot marjoram, thyme, parsley. We had some kind of frozen vegan sausage roll from the health food store, just to keep one toe in the 21st century.

But my moment of elegant supremo simplcity was that when I made the mashed potato, I didn't throw the peelings away, not even in the compost bin. No. I fried them in olive oil until they were crispy and then ground pink salt from the Himalayas, which will probably make us live forever or something, on them; and we had them as a little savoury starter.

Now what kind of a pinnacle of achievement is that!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Administrative detritus - the insidious creep of the clutterbeast

It’s time for a different kind of pruning.

I’ve been through cupboards and drawers and shelves again, sorting and chucking; and wondered why I’m still left feeling encumbered and snagged on the brambles.

More and more lately I get this feeling, which is becoming irresistible.

Imagine if you were holding onto something, maybe heavy or awkward or slippery, and you knew you couldn’t hold it much longer. Imagine if you called out to the people for whom you were holding it: ‘Look, I can’t hang onto this, I’m going to drop it! I’m going to let it fall!’ But they were on the phone or in the toilet or on their hands and knees looking for a spanner in the cupboard under the stairs and all you got back was a muffled: ‘Just a minute…’

Or imagine if your boat was drifting away from the mooring place, and the people on the quay wanted to tell you something before you went, but they were finishing off the washing up, or just putting the last touches to their email before shutting their computer down, or hadn’t quite ended the interesting story they were telling their friend: and you sympathise, you really do. Their washing up, their email their story – these are important and worthwhile and should have every moment they deserve: but your boat is drifting and soon it will be gone.

And that’s how I feel.

I have been a mother for thirty years now. My children have grown into responsible, intelligent, creative, talented people. They are wise and good and I admire them immensely. By a curious sequence of blessed events that still slightly takes my breath away I have come to be in this marriage that is the right person at the right time so that we groove along together in the most satisfying contented happiness: lovers, partners, friends. I love these relationships. I love these people. I love sharing my thoughts and their thoughts. I love their company. I love their undeniable dottiness.

But. This is it: the lurking but.

There is in my hands, and slipping out of them fast, an accompanying bundle of administrative detritus. My boat is drifting away from that shore however ready or not.

What I am here to do is primarily to write. Secondarily is to listen and heal and pray. Thirdarily (good word, eh?) is to provide an hospitable space.

I believe that living humbly and simply means things like doing your own chores and growing your own food where you have the chance to - but I feel able to support only the most minimalist and low-tech approach to that. All I have to do in the garden is water it in the evenings, but I can't keep my mind to it. Tonight I didn't do it :0( I felt all used up by the time the evening came. And I haven't done any weeding here at all.

I think it might have been a mistake to lay fitted carpets. They are comfy and look peaceful, but you have to persevere at vacuum cleaning and I can't keep my mind to it. I stick it on but it falls off. Any other bits of floor that need carpet replacement ministry should have wood floor boards laid (1970s chipboard at present I’m sorry to report) so they can be swept: because I don’t mind sweeping. Sweeping is natural and its fur lies the same way as my soul. Vacuum cleaners are inherently demonic: you can tell by the sound, and that’s just the start of it. I am happy to pass through the house tidying once each morning or evening – whichever – so it is calmed: but that has to be easy. No gradual bristling of ornaments growing through. No scattering of magazines and documents and music and half-finished nameless where-the-hell-am-I-meant-to-put-that junk on the kitchen counters – er.. babywipes ladles phonedirectory useful boxes reuseable plastic icelollymiddles rubber bands trays biscuits-we-all-hate pointless baskets and all that crap. My vocation is not always clear to me but it is clear to me I didn’t come here to be a minder for the flotsam and jetsam of 21st century over-production.

I have spent a lot of time on the builders and stove-installers and piano-movers and hearth-layers and wall-menders and electricians and TV aerial engineers this last winter: and that’s it now. They can stay at home. It has slipped out of my hands. My boat has drifted right out of the harbor. Bye-bye.

Here is what I have in mind.

A house with almost no possessions and no ornaments. Kitchen gadgetry to be pruned savagely. Food little and simple, enough for today or so, with space around it on the shelves. Enough plates/cups/bowls/glasses/cutlery for the people who live here and, say, four guests. Floors you can sweep. A garden with grass and fruit-trees and hedges. A hedge man to trim the hedges once a year and the trees once every two years.

Meanwhile, for the plastic flowerpots, atrophied rubber hose, mouldering shed junk, mounds of dead shrubbage, hacked up crazy paving, abandoned sacks of builder plaster, carpet remnants, never-used-in-fifteen-years cunning vacuum-cleaner fittings, the small vacuum cleaner that’s fine unless you have bits on the floor, the split bucket, the old fire surround leaning on the fence – A SKIP!!!

Four saucepans are enough. One set of glasses is enough. Two large glass jugs is two too many. And why have we got an entire drawer of kitchen foil and compost bags and whatever else is in there?

I have to, with profuse apologies, reclaim my days now. I have to write. It’s what I came here to do. Tonight we had a vegan take-away meal from the indian restaurant. I did cook last night but it was awful. I made myself do it but my attention wasn't in it, and I burnt the rice and the curry was seriously rubbish. And if the chores aren't always done; if friends who love me haven't had the attention they deserve; if the fireplace in the back room doesn’t get altered and the French windows aren’t built because no-one was here to see to the builders or make it happen: if the phone rings and nobody answers it, then I am very, very sorry (really) and I will feel very very guilty.

But I have stories going over-ripe inside me. I have to do what I came here to do: and the rest is slipping through my fingers. The season is here for a cull of the time-bandits. The discipline of simplicity needs to ratchet up another notch. Otherwise I shall join the ranks of the people who like to tell me: ‘Oh yes, I’ve always thought I should write a book. Everyone says I should. They say everyone’s got a book inside them don’t they? It’s only a matter of sitting down and writing it… when there always seems to be so much to do… it always gets pushed to one side… I’m just a bit busy right now… but one day I’m sure I’ll write that book…’

(Subtext. Nah. You won’t. Not unless, at some point, you put it first).

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


I love the music of Miten and Deva Premal.

I bought this CD of theirs just because I liked the picture on the front so much. I love the music as much as the picture. My favourite songs on it are Connection and Second Chance, but they are all fab.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Groovy Simplicity People & own simplicity update

I subscribe to Karol Gajda's fab blog called Ridiculously Extraordinary. Some of it is excellent but irrelevant to me, like his recent How To Work Anywhere project (irrelevant only because I've sorted that for myself already), but I had an update in my email inbox this morning with some tips for travelling light, that I thought was exceptionally good.

While checking this out and reading around, I discovered that Rowdy Kittens is doing a series of interviews with people who are blogging about living simply and minimalist living. This interview with Naomi Seldin is excellent, and the page has lots of links too. I like the interview about minimalist cooking with Jules Clancy too, here. Again, lots of further excellent links.


In my own simplicity frolic, this is where I have got to.

For my work and general use I have a Samsung NC10 Netbook, which is so light and portable I can work anywhere. One drawback with it is that it has no slot for DVDs/CDs, and I rather than watching telly to relax I like to watch favourite Films, mainly Into Great Silence, which is a peace-fix/life-fix for me.

So I was thinking about having a laptop again instead of my little netbook. However Tony had a desktop computer he no longer uses now he has a laptop from work, and it seemed wasteful to ditch that and ditch my netbook and fork out £300 for a new laptop. Instead we created a snug study corner in our bedroom, where I can curl up and watch a film at the end of the day. There is a telly in the house, but I like to be private in my nest to chill out.

The house now functions as follows.

On the ground floor we have two good-sized rooms, laid out for groups - the front room has three sofas, the back room has four chairs and a piano, and we have a moveable herd of 4 beanbags to enlarge the seating capacity of either room. This is because primarily the house is designed as communal space: for meetings, retreats, family gatherings etc - this hasn't all got going yet as we've lived here only 6 months and been creating links with a church, settling in and getting the first wave of building repairs done. But we do have a regular group for bible study, prayer, fellowship & discussion up and running, and we can accommodate any tribal gatherings of our family.

The front living room has a woodstove, so will the back one when we get the money and energy to sort that out. Both rooms have televisions, the front room has a DVD player too. So they are chillout meeting spaces for household and groups. The back living room also has a Bose CD player - excellent for minimalist living - you can carry it in one hand and it makes enough sound to comfortably fill a large church. Bass packs a punch: special technology. So it's great for retreats and funerals, leading worship etc too. Take it anywhere there's a socket to plug it in.

Besides those rooms we have a normal kitchen. We like to be simple in terms of equipment and gadgetry. There is a built-in cooker and hob that is very old: the cooker is a bit dodgy and we may replace that some day, but it does actually cook things if you turn it up high. The hob's fine. We have an electric kettle. We have an energy conserving fridge-freezer, with the special feature that the fridge is cooled by redirected cold air from the freezer rather than a cold back-panel, so veggies etc can be packed in without fear of getting frozen by the back panel. This in turn means we can manage with one normal size fridge for the whole household even though fresh food that needs to be refrigerated to make it last is the main thing we eat.
We have an automatic washing machine, with a large drum, a very economic and sturdy model. We have a handheld electric whisk, and we have this excellent thing for making smoothies and soup; and a juicer. That's it for electric gadgets.

We have quite a number of glasses (more than we need, but that subject needs gently broaching with the one whose glasses they are) and a good few mugs, because we often have quite a number visiting at one time. We have quite a lot of plates for the same reason (when I say a lot, I mean we have about 8-10 dinner plates, 8-10 dessert plates - not 20 or 30)

Having put 2 households into one, we had quite a few duplicates, and some of us are fond of the stuff we brought, so we got rid of what felt painless, and have just this week done another cull of stuff we were now ready to let go. The pruning and winnowing are ongoing.

We have several (5) chopping boards in various shapes & sizes, but that's because if several of us are preparing the meal together, using the boards as heatproof mats as well as for chopping, they come in handy.

I can still identify surplus baggage in our kitchen cupboards - some pretty china, a few too many grungy baking tins, duplicate rolls of tin foil etc it's taking ages to work through, way too many teaspoons, a couple of saucepans we don't really use - but we can get everything in the cupboards without creating avalanches, and we are pruning without acquiring. We kept the fridge-freezer when we combined households, selling on the big larder fridge and separate freezer, we sold one microwave and gave the other away - so I'm satisfied we're moving in the right direction there.

Something else we have that I keep forgetting to use, but is important, is our thermos gear. We have a big thermos jug, which means we can have hot water for drinks without repeatedly firing up the kettle. We have a big thermos stewpot which will cook up a pot of stew/curry/whatever with only 10 mins initial hob time. And we have a 2-tier thermos tiffin stack that will keep a meal hot without resorting to a microwave or keeping a pan of water hot under a plate. Memo to self: actually use these. Generally if I find I am not using something I just get rid of it, but in the case of thermal technology environmental and economic good sense imperatives apply.

A recent expensive acquisition was our pressure cooker. Excellent, and cuts down on packaging because I can cook the soaked dried pulses with a satisfactory result.

On the back of the kitchen is the studio, which needs some work to pull it into shape. We gave away our dining chairs and are using the dining table as a workbench, but it's not heavy enough for stained glass work, because stretching the lead is vigorous: it's not sturdy enough for woodwork and ceramics really either, so we've ordered a heavy-duty workbench and will freecycle the dining table when that comes. We also need a banker constructing for letter-cutting in stone, and that's been put in hand.
The ceramics kiln is a big item to work round, but when we re-design the room we'll get everything fitting in sweetly. And it's not a big room: maybe 8' x 9' working space.
There's a toilet off the studio, and one can wash hands in the studio sink, so that works OK.
From the front door to the kitchen a passage runs alongside the living rooms, also accommodating the stairs. There are two understairs cupboards. The tall one carries most of our tools, including the stepladder and the lawnmower, all the picnic gear, all garden and household chemicals, car wash and cleaning gear, spare multi-sockets,shoe-cleaning stuff & all that jazz. The smaller cupboard has the meters & fuse boxes, the tool box, wellies, the iron, the stairgate for baby invasions and stuff on its way out of the house to the tip. These are really important cupboards1

So that's downstairs.

On the first floor three of us have a bedroom each - so simple I am proud of them! Each room is plain and spacious, stuff kept to a minimum! In Fiona's room she has kindly accommodated my 2 robes and winter cloak for funerals and ceremonies, because I need those to not be creased by folding so I look presentable when I conduct a funeral; and I have no hanging space in my room. Also on the first floor Tony has his study, and outside it he has a Residual Junk unit, for his occasional use gear like his fishing bag and backpack. I will post pics of all this so you can see how we live.

Up another flight of stairs and you come to two attic rooms. On the way you pass by Secret Shame - an area where I have a fairly useless display unit displaying useless stuff that I just like. But hey - I will shed it in time.

The first attic room is our grandson's nursery: maybe 5' x 7'?

The second one is Tony's and my room.

Apart from the aforementioned Secret Shame, all my belongings are in here. We have a bed. Tony has a chest of drawers for his clothes and a child-size wardrobe (we tuck under the eaves so tall furniture is out) for his work suits. He has an antique chair he loves that doubles as a clothes horse. Under the bed we keep a folding clothes airer for when the weather is no good for drying outside.

I have a chest of drawers for my clothes: fancy clothes for parties and church, travelling bags, winter sweaters and shawls in the bottom drawer, everyday trousers (and cold-weather leggings to go under them) and tops in the middle drawer, underwear in the top righthand drawer, nightdresses and washbag in the top left drawer. My shoes live under the bed in a drawer.

I have two small bookcases for all my books and papers, and the computer is tucked into the corner as described. I rarely listen to music - I love music but prefer silence - but the computer is our music machine too.

I have a comfy chair and side table too. Mainly I sit on the bed to work and read and pray, but the chair is handy for when anyone comes upstairs for a chat, or for watching a film on the computer. One of the beanbags lives up with us in the attic, in either room.

We have a third chest of drawers. Bottom drawer for bedlinen. Middle drawer for temporary stuff - eg to tidy away wools and fabrics for sewing projects, or store items to be taken to another part of the tribe - top right drawer for items salted away for people's Christmas and birthday gifts, top left drawer for items waiting to go to charity shops.

Living like this enables 5 adults to live together in such a way that a medium-sized semi-detached house offers enough space for the household, for the occasional guest and an overnight baby, for gatherings; and feels very spacious indeed.

We all regard cleaning and tidying as essential but not absorbing or attractive as a pastime, and we have other things we want to be getting on with; hence we like to keep stuff to a minimum so that cleaning and tidying are quick and easy.

So that's us. I'll stop in case you're bored and post some pics in due course.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


We were talking about the trees, and dreaming about planting our own little wood some day, and I said: 'What I would really really like is to grow an oak tree'.

So later on I was pottering about getting on with this and that and I heard the thunder of delicate ladylike footsteps on the stairs and excited voices saying 'Come and see! Come and look!'

'What?' said I. 'What have you done? Trapped a badger? Strung up a property speculator?'

'Come and see! Come and see!' was all they would say. So I did.

In our garden you first come to some flower beds and grassy bits where we chill out and play with the Smallest Relative and eat lunch. Then there are the veggie beds (doing very nicely thank you, despite startling extremes of temperature this spring). Then there is the dell, or the meadow, or whatever it is - a little bit of garden at the end, left to be wild, Hebe's domain, where we are making something like a kind of woodland glade with ferns and hawthorn and whatnot. We've transplanted some random bushes that were planted here and there, to make a little hedgerow separating off the meadow from the rest of the garden (I'm making this sound massive - you should know, our garden probably doesn't make it to 100ft long - we pack in a lot, OK?).

And there, at the bottom of the garden beyond the 'hedgerow', just within our little meadow, there is the darlingest little oak tree, newly starting to grow. It came all by itself as a gift from the trees, because they knew we loved them.

And in the flower bed by the wall, a tiny yew tree starting as well.

Now, how cool is that!

I should have taken a photo for you to see - I'll go and take one in the morning, and add it in.

Monday, 7 June 2010

A small triumph

Ooh this was a busy morning.

Because of the bursitis and frozen shoulder problems I have been given strict instructions to rest from computer operation as both arms have gone on strike!

So I am limiting myself to two hours on the computer every day, working in the early morning when there are fewest disturbances and the time counts the most. I was up at five or six sort of time working on the current book, and had just finished the tranche of work for today, was thinking about getting in the bath, when I heard a chainsaw, followed after a while by that terrible crack that means only one thing: a main bough of a great tree has been severed. I shot out of bed to see.

Beyond the end of our garden is a stretch of land belonging to a developer. He had planning permission to build on it back in the 1960s, and despite that permission having been rescinded he is determined to go ahead and build, and has begun to clear the land.

Part of this clearing was to include the felling of two great ash trees just beyound our garden wall, and a little pear tree growing between them.

I got dressed at top speed, and in general disarray and various states of dress, Hebe, Alice and I went tearing down the garden to see.

One great stem of the tree was down, but that was all.

After many phone calls and much negotiation, the morning ended with the man who owns the land coming over to talk to us, a knot of earnest neighbours with the paperwork to show there is no permission to clear the land, an apparent willingness to consider selling the land to us in lots as it adjoins our gardens, and the ash trees preserved, for now at least, from any further damage at all.

We managed this kindly and courteously, everyone softly spoken, with no raised voices, willing to hear each other's point of view. The tree surgeons who at first were mainly interested in whether they got paid and otherwise took a neutral ground, were speaking for the trees by the end.

It took a couple of hours and we felt a bit mad with adrenalin by the end, but the trees were saved! :0)

Saturday, 5 June 2010


“He made the first grains of the world’s dust.” (The Book of Proverbs)

Dust. Silken, shifting… brown-grey… mouseback grey… Dust… Brother Dustyfeet padding along the pavements in the heat of the day… Dust gathering in silence… Stardust forming radiance…

Dust I am and to dust I shall return.

My house is dusty too. Dust on the surfaces, dust accumulating in the quiet corners, dust falling noiselessly: the dust of the earth, created by God as a primal resource to make people from.

Dust becomes my enemy sometimes. I keep it prisoner. I have a vacuum-cleaner bag full of it: it cannot breathe in there – nothing could. I wage war on dust, and it never fights back: dust is peaceful and recognises me – ‘Dust thou art,’ it says, ‘and to dust shalt thou return’. Dust knows that it was created by God and that I too am made from the dust of the earth; only by an illusion do I appear to be anything else. And dust can wait; in time I shall be reinstated. So dust does not fight me, but resigns itself to evading me; rolling in small drifts out of sight, moving unobtrusively alongside the skirting boards. Lowly dust.

Jesus drew in the dust and nobody except the dust knew what he drew. I know what he drew because I am dust, so his drawing is in me too: when I return to dust I shall find what he has etched in me. So will you. It was something about understanding, and forgiveness. Something about humility.

In these days of summer the roads are all dusty… but my feet are hot, sticky with sweat, rubbing on my sandals and making blisters on my toes. So I have put a dusting of talc in my sandals, and that makes everything better, soothing and comforting. Healing dust. Dust I am and to dust I shall return. I would like to be healing dust. I am halfway there.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Sacred Heart

I have never liked statues of the Sacred Heart before I saw this one.

It’s really tiny, as you can see.

What is it that I like about it?

Well, other statues of the Sacred Heart I have seen have struck me as religious kitsch gone mad. Lurid colours, and Jesus with a challenging glare, pointing uncompromisingly to the in-your-face Post-Office-Red exposed heart with its golden crown on his breast.

When I looked at them, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be seeing. An accusation? A reproach? It looked a bit Frankenstein to me, and I didn’t like it.

I didn’t know what (in meditation) I was meant to do with it.

And then I saw this tiny statue.

I liked his face, beautiful, quite grave and serious, with that sort of little frown that people get when something is difficult for them to say: he looked shy.

He has some rather complicated robes on, and it seemed like he had drawn them aside so I could see, and said: ‘Look’. Like he was showing me his heart, and it was something that was not easy to do; needing trust, because our hearts are vulnerable. And that reassures me that hidden under all the complications and obfuscation of the details of daily living and the overweight ecclesiology of the Church, is his heartbeat of love; and if I will take the time to stop and look, he will draw it all aside so I can see the invitation to be with him.

And then, the statue is so small: and I always think of Jesus as powerful and strong. But because the statue is small, and the demeanour of the figure looks so shy and vulnerable, it makes me see Jesus differently.

Like I should slow down, and approach him gently, draw near him quietly, because he has quiet things to say himself.

And the look on his face tells me that this gift of his heart, it’s a costly thing. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a kind of flaming billboard, it’s a tender, sensitive thing; and it’s a privilege to be given the opportunity to approach the heart of someone who loves so much, and who gave so much. It’s also a privilege that after someone was tortured to death, he should come back not to condemn or complain or take revenge, but with enough softness to offer his heart like that, and let me see – see that it was wounded, that it was hurt, that he suffered so much; but that he still loves me.

There’s something else I love about this statue. To take the photograph, I held it in one hand (because obviously I needed the other hand to hold the camera): but normally when I look at it to think about Jesus, I cup one hand around the other, and make a kind of nest for it, cradle it in both my hands. Now, it’s made of bronze I think, and when I hold it in my hands like that, the natural thing is that my thumb curls round and tends to rub against where the knee of the statue is. But that part – where my thumb rubs – is worn shiny. Someone else has held this tiny figure in just the same way, and cradled him in their hands, and looked at him as I do. I wonder who? Someone else has loved him very much, and looked intently, and asked his permission to take refuge in the loving-kindness of his vulnerable Sacred Heart.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: such a private thing, a meeting between just him and me; and yet knowing that same intimate time of revelation and confession, learning to love, learning to see, happens with people who love him everywhere, until his knees are rubbed quite shiny by their thumbs!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Rosary Cross

Here’s the little cross from my rosary.

When I chose a rosary, its form was not a matter of indifference to me. It has dark red wooden beads which I think are very beautiful, and I like the feeling of them in my fingers. The rosary medal that acts as the bead for the first Our Father, on my rosary is for Our Lady of The Rosary - ie our Lady of Fatima - which I don't live with very comfortably because the story of the Fatima apparitions is not really my idiom and does my head in a bit.

But most of all what I chose it for was the cross.

Rosary crosses vary immensely of course. Some are very plain and simple: just a wooden cross. Some are intricate and ornate, very pretty. I am not comfortable with the pretty ones; it seems a bit inappropriate to try to make a cross pretty!

Many rosary crosses are crucifixes, as mine is. Some crucifixes show a resurrection Jesus (we have a wall cross like that in the corridor downstairs – I’ll tell you about that one day) while others have the usual crucified Jesus. Some crucified Jesuses (Jesi?) are arranged with taste and elegance on their crosses, looking more like rather doleful sunbathers, and I’m not quite comfortable with those either.

I love mine because it looks a bit extreme; and in particular because the figure of Jesus does not look tastefully arranged but hangs without dignity, utterly spent.

Dignity and resourcefulness are very important in the family in which I grew up. To be right, to be restrained, understated, capable, knowledgeable, well-behaved and dignified; these attributes were valued. Not to break or spill anything; not to speak out of turn or behave incorrectly; to use correct grammatical forms and the vocabulary of the upper middle class – these were our aspirations. Decorum, unobtrusiveness and dignity were what we were aiming for. Sit nicely, don’t rock the boat, and all of that.

The Jesus on my rosary cross has forfeited all that baggage. He can’t have anything like that. Beyond trying or caring or maintaining appearances he hangs in agony, his joints dislocated, from the nails on his cross.

When I was a teenager I went to a Good Friday Stations of the Cross at a Catholic church in the market town near our village: they were using the prayers written by, I think, Cardinal Newman.

Each meditation, on each station of the cross, started with the phrase: ‘Ah, my darling Jesus…’

In the home where I grew up, nobody kissed or cuddled anyone – or even touched them. Nobody ever said ‘I love you’ to anyone. Very Northern types: reserved, understated and aloof.

So it came as a shock to me to hear ‘my darling Jesus’ said of the Lord I always heard referred to as ‘Jesus Christ’, in a distinctly formal manner (if at all); or ‘Christ’ in my Religious Knowledge A level course at school (more formal yet, the ‘Jesus’ part vanished from view); or as ‘The Lord’ in the sermons of Arthur Blessit on vinyl disc that I insisted on listening to despite the strong reaction of distaste these occasioned in my mother and sister. I think they didn’t like the things he said along the lines of:
Why don’t people get excited about the Lord like they do about football? Then every time someone got saved they’d ride down the aisle on the preacher’s shoulders shouting “Go! Go! Go!”.
I was required to stop playing this record: but too late! The story had sunk into my heart, and is still there almost forty years later!

But ‘ah, my darling Jesus…’ was in another bracket altogether, because it is the language of love. Without the distance and formality of a title; tender, adoring, without restraint. ‘Ah, my darling Jesus…’ Yes. That was what I wanted to say.

When people pray the rosary, each bead marks the saying of a prayer. You hold the bead between finger and thumb as you say that prayer. Each rosary has on it five ‘decades’ (sets of ten beads) which are used to pray into the mystery of aspects of the life of Jesus and the faith story of the Bible. These are referred to as the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Joyful Mysteries, the Glorious Mysteries and the Luminous Mysteries. I love those names but I can never hold in my head the list of biblical events I’m meant to be remembering. That’s my problem with religion: it’s full of complicated data and I ain’t really that kinda gal. But if you are, or if you’re just curious, you can read about it here. Anyhow apart from the five decades of beads that go round the loop of the rosary, there’s that little tail on it that has five beads for prayers, and the cross. The rosary prayers kick off on the cross, with the recital of the Apostles Creed.

So I fall at the first hurdle because I can never remember the creed – well, I remember the gist of it, what it actually says; but not the exact words. It’s too long for me. Even a shopping list is too long if it has more than four items on it. Unless someone sets it to music and turns it into a hymn, I can’t remember it. I mean I can manage Firmly I believe and truly (here - run Windows media to hear the tune), which is probably in fact longer than the Apostles Creed, but that’s because it’s metrical and has a tune. So I when I pray with the rosary I don’t say the Apostles Creed when I start with (and often never get beyond) the cross. I just pray my own prayer. I look at that tortured figure who has lost all dignity; and I say ‘ah, my darling Jesus…’ and I thank him for what he has done for me (for all of us), and I adore him in his suffering and the agony of his redeeming love.

I bring him my pain and the pain of the world. I bring him the tears of my friends who are strung up in situations they cannot escape; who are facing circumstances beyond what they can bear, but cannot control. And I bring him those who have lost their dignity… whose families malign and deride them… who have lost their job and livelihood and home… who have been caught out and exposed in wrongdoing… who are persecuted and terrorized and rejected because of their sexuality… who are reduced to a quivering mess by bullying and rejection… who are tortured and tormented… who are refugees, frightened, alienated, without hope… who are afraid and left alone… ‘Ah, my darling Jesus…’

And my creed is that no matter what our circumstances, if we can somehow find our way to creep into the company of that man dying naked and without dignity such an unthinkably cruel death, we shall have reached the touchstone of transformation; for his cross is at the heart of creation and is the wellspring of the new creation. By his death and passion, he has redeemed the world.

‘Ah, my darling Jesus…’ And I kiss the cross. And that’s my creed.