Monday, 26 July 2010


I had some wonderful birthday gifts (yesterday was my fifty-third birthday) and cards. I especially wanted to shown you this beautiful wooden pebble. Hebe, who is a calligrapher and letter-cutter has gilded onto it the word 'gesaelig'.

It's a favourite word in our household.

We first came across it when our Dutch friend Carien said our home was 'gezellig'. That's a Dutch word meaning cosy and comfortable and homely, but in a sacred space kind of way - a sanctuary, a kind of retreat. I loved to think that our home might be described like that, so I made it the name of our home: Gezellig.

Then we moved house, and our next home was Godsblessing House. We moved again, and our present house hasn't a name yet, because we haven't agreed on one.

Meanwhile the word gezellig travelled with us - and when Carien saw Godsblessing House, she said that was gezellig too. Next week she will visit the home we live in now for the first time - I'm waiting to see what she says!

Some of us in our tribe feel a sense of identity with the people who lived in England a long time ago - the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons. Their spirituality and culture speaks to us, and we have made a few vague attempts at learning Old English.

While we were doing that, we found some words that interested us especialy. One was the Old English greeting 'Waes hael' - more comfortably rendered 'Wes hal'. It means 'Be thou whole/well'. The greeting 'Hello' or 'Hallo' derives from it. The words hallowed and holy grow from the same root. The ancient songs and customs of 'Wassail' arise from this greeting which is also a blessing.

For Christmas last year, Hebe gave me a beautiful grey stone into which she had carved the words waes hael. Right now it sits on top of a cupboard in our bedroom, but once Mikey (aged fourteen months and showing every sign of being an Obelix in the making) has stopped hurling rocks, it can safely sit on the stone hearth in the living room, to bless and greet everyone who comes here.

And it was Hebe who found that gesaelig was an Old English word. The central part of the word is 'sael', which you can see at once is really the same as 'soul'. The 'ig' ending is like the German '-ich' (as in lieblich, freundlich, etc) so correlates with the modern English ending '-y' (e.g. friendly, groovy, messy). The 'ge-' beginning indicates an activity of modification, and perhaps best correlates to the modern beginning 'en-'. So gesaelig means something like 'ensouled-ish', or 'made holy'. The g at the beginning and end are not hard. The one at the beginning sounds like a 'y', and the '-ig' at the end sludges like the German '-ich' or the Dutch '-ig'. I know there are proper terms for all these things (prefix and suffix and whatnot) but I can never remember them.

By the time Old English had morphed into Middle English, the word saelig had become 'silly'; meaning 'innocent'. People of simple mind were described as 'silly' because they were seen as God's innocents, not to be held guilty of sin because they lacked the capacity for moral discernment. 'Silly' continued to alter over the years until it simply meant 'foolish', or 'of no account': but once it had meant holy and innocent. To develop from 'holy' to 'innocemt' means that for the Anglo-Saxon people, holiness had a strong flavour of purity - being unsullied. The best expression of this particular sense of purity I know is in Ben Jonson's poem The Triumph Of Charis:
Have you seen but a bright lily grow
Before rude hands have touched it?
Have you marked but the fall o' the snow
Before the soil hath smutched it?

So the word gesaelig is an adjective to describe something that has been infused with a quality of soul that is shining and innocent and bright and pure and clean, at the same time humble and lowly and ordinary. The casual presence of all of God in the world of everyday.

Can you see why I was so pleased with the gift of that beautiful pebble?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

When I wake up in the morning...

... this is the face I see.

I love this face.

I love this man.

I wish you could know him too.

He is a person of great humility and generosity. He is cheerful and kind, and willing to serve others. When things go wrong, he is always the first to say sorry and make amends, and to look for where the responsibility has been his rather than blaming it on others.

He loves the Earth, loves its beauty and wonder and variety. He likes nothing better than to go out into our garden and see how the vegetables he planted are coming along.

He is friendly and shy both at the same time; interested in people and loving to hear about their lives and what makes them tick; but sometimes overwhelmed and needing privacy and solitude. No day is complete without spending an hour or two with his nose in a book to restore his soul.

He makes me happy. I trust him completely. When he is beside me I can feel my soul drawing strength from his.

When he blows his nose it sounds like an elephant trumpeting. It is really impressive. He can do woodwork with proper joints so the things don't fall apart.

He is very frugal and careful with money, but he is the first to help others along and share everything he has with them; the frugality stops with himself - with everyone else he is so generous.

He is funny and gentle and loving and hardworking. He's sensitive and practical and responsible.

He is the kind of man other people turn to when they are in trouble. He is full of enthusiasm and encouragement, quick to celebrate the achievements of other people and enjoy their success.

My life is blessed by his companionship. Everything is easier and happier because we are together.

I bless the day he married me. I am so proud of him, so happy with him; I love him so very much.

Friday, 16 July 2010


I am enjoying my holiday from writing so much!

On a normal day I either start with chores and correspondence or start straight in to writing, finally getting out of bed about half-past eight, half-past nine, half-past ten – ish – to have a bowl of muesli and a cup of herb tea. Then I think and write and think and write and, if I’m working hard, by four in the afternoon I feel like a used-up husk, slightly querulous and impossible to please, over-tired and stuck for a way to wind down. I eat whatever’s in the house those days – brown bread, maybe hummus or tinned fish, salad, whatever. It’s a happy life but very focused on output. When the evening comes I water the vegetable garden, chill out with the rest of the household, chatting and watching TV, cooking supper – maybe vegetable bean sludge and cous-cous or pasta with courgettes and snow peas and herbs from the garden.

But today I am on holiday. Pause for a smile.

We waited in until the organic veggie box from Riverford had been delivered, then it was time for Hebe to go down to the stonemasonry and earn her living for the day, so I walked along with her. First we took some stuff into Silverhill to the charity shop – we’ve been thinning out possessions again – then wandered down the hill towards the sea.

We parted at the pedestrian crossing amid the complicated jumble of shops just up from the shore: there are not many upmarket or large shops in Hastings and St Leonards, because we are not rich enough to buy their wares, so instead we have any number of odd little eateries and greengrocers, butchers and bakers and pharmacists and flea markets and hardware shops, places you can get keys cut or buy rugs or jewellery or second-hand furniture. Down by the sea where Hebe’s and my ways parted quite a number of the shops belong to Muslims now, because the mosque is located there in Mercatoria and it has developed slowly into a quarter favoured by the Arabs and Africans and Eastern Europeans who belong to the Islamic faith. I stopped at a greengrocer for a big bag of Kent cherries – they’re late this year, only just now in the shops where usually they are ready in June. We’ve had a long, cold Spring.

As I walked to the bottom of the hill, the wind was whipping my hair all over the place so I could hardly see. I stopped by an alleyway to sort it out, causing consternation to a seagull trying to fly along between the houses in a wind tunnel – pausing so as not to crash into me, the air currents flung him everywhere and it took all his strength to hover and stay on course.

Tucking my hair firmly into my T-shirt to anchor it, I carried on down to the sea road, where Plenty is just round the corner. They stock all the hippy foods. Wholemeal bread and proper sea-salt, marinated tofu and locally grown vegetables, muesli and nuts and brown rice and herb teas in packets that that describe the contents not as teabags but tea temples! The lady who runs Plenty wants to make it like the provisions stores of the Wild West – a place you can find all you need in one small shop.

I bought some of the bright white sea-salt that always stays slightly damp – it has more minerals and trace elements in – and some pot-scourers made from recycled plastics, some Marigold bouillon mix, a birthday card to give Alison on Sunday, and a small punnet of fresh raspberries – they are delicious just now.

When I came out of Plenty I had to cross the road. That’s hard in the wind. Traffic seems to come from everywhere and my hair kept blowing across my eyes, and the pounding surf and the wind’s own sound made it difficult to hear the cars. Drivers are typically impatient and arrogant, with an unquestioning belief that they are more important than pedestrians. I personally see the sense in taking responsibility for my own safety, but I wish they did not drive so fast and were not so quick on the horn. Crossing the road leaves me feeling ruffled and harassed and slightly afraid.

Once over I could walk all the way along the edge of the sea to where I was headed next: the little fish stalls with the local catch down at The Stade, among the net huts opposite the Tamarisk Steps at Rock-a-Nore. Two or three miles’ walk alongside the pounding waves of a Quaker-grey sea skeined with lacy white spume and flinging spray beige with stirred-up sand. Mischievous and wild the wind played the long ropes against the metal flagpoles like a musical instrument, while the red hazard flags flapped and fluttered frantically hoisted up high.

There are building works down at the Angling Club, generating in me a faint sense of foreboding: please no more concrete, no more amusements, no more buildings to separate the people from the sea. Our souls need the sparkle of the sunlight on the ocean, they do not need one-armed bandits or fruit machines giving prizes of shudderous nylon stuffed animals in improbable colours; garish hellholes full of blasting music with no windows to let in the light and the air.

On the small island in the middle of the lake for the pleasure boats, its own choppy little sea today, seagulls huddled together sleeping out the rough weather.

At the fishmarket I looked for dressed crab… found some at £7.25 each (no thanks)… and some at £4.25 each (yes, okay); then went to catch the bus home. I just missed the 100 but arrived at the bus stop at the same time as the 20a, bought a day ticket and rode to the station where I transferred onto the No 26, which noses its way through the muddle of badly parked delivery vehicles up the hill from the sea, then detours round by St Johns on its way to Silverhill. As we pass its red-brick Byzantine style turrets and semi-tended garden, I like the novelty of feeling: ‘That’s our church!’ It’s lovely being a church member instead of a pastor.

When I got home, I picked some broad beans, lemon balm and a sprig of rosemary from the garden, and steamed the beans just a minute or two to have with the crab… followed by the raspberries… followed by a cup of rosemary and lemon balm tea – light and fragrant and aromatic; good for the heart and the circulation generally. While the tea brewed I nipped back into the garden to take a photograph of the Compassion rose growing by the wall, to show you.

Such a scrumptious lunch. Such a happy morning.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Maternal Memory

They do say that when you give birth to your first baby, your brain descends into your bottom and you never get it back. I have to admit the evidence for this observation is compelling.

I am finding a certain go-with-the-flow approach is useful in prompting my middle-aged forgettory. I can rarely remember the right words for anything, but I can usually retrieve something with the right number of syllables – the same shape and sound of word – so I go for that and it generally gets me there in the end. Or somewhere approximately near.

For instance, on the Cambridge train from London which I take to visit my mother (getting off at Audley End because she lives in Saffron Walden – aren’t English place names lovely?) coming out of London you can pick up the train at… er… now, what is it called? Something that sounds like Lavender Hole… Lavenham High… Damn… it’s on the Victoria line … er… oh, the first one past Liverpool Street… um – Aha! Tottenham Hale! D’you know I did actually have to google a tube map to track that down.

And right now the cat needs to go to the vet, just for her routine thingummies. I hate taking cats to the vet basically because they don’t want to go, but I did get as far as buying a cat-carrier. Now I’m finding excuses until it just happens to be Tony the Badger’s holiday and hoping he won’t mind taking her – it’s only at the end of our road. But my nephew is a vet, and he told me that you can get one of those drop-stuff-on-the-back-of-its-neck medications and it will fix worms as well as fleas – neat! So I want that stuff; but it can be got only on prescription, so we have to take her in to the vet. My nephew said there are two kinds and I must get one and not the other. One is called Strontium 90 or something, and the other one is called something like Firm Line or Tight Grip or Stranglehold or Tough Stand – but I can’t remember exactly what or which one it is I’m supposed to be getting. But I do remember you definitely must get one and not the other.

I thought this was all because I am growing old. I shall be 53 next week and that’s old, right? But I took heart last Sunday.

I go (now) to a very liturgical kind of church – incense and robes and signs of the cross and statues of the saints – fab! My daughter Grace usually attends chapel in the little village of Pett some miles from her home (because that’s where we all used to go), but sometimes she comes with me to St John the Evangelist which is only at the end of her road and is such a loving and welcoming church community. She came to St John’s last Sunday, bringing my grandson fully armed with snacks and Very Quiet Toys. Her best friend Donna came too, bringing her two little girls. We had a good time. When it came to the Gospel procession I abducted my grandson and took him down to the back where he could watch them process down with the golden cross shining in the morning sunlight and the candles and robes, and the thurible swinging sending the fragrant smoke curling up through the sunbeams, the red and gold book of the gospel held high by the priest with her long grey hair and her green and golden robes, everything so full of beauty and wonder and mystery.

Well my grandson (his first birthday was at the end of May) thought this was cool but then he wanted to play. I’ve not been going to St Johns all that long, so this was the first time I discovered that the Frogs have a niche tucked away in the corner behind the pillars there, with books and toys and drawing things, a statue of St Joseph with the baby Jesus, and pictures of Jesus with animals, and beanbags and child size chairs. So we went there.

This kept my grandson happy for a little while, but then he wanted to explore and headed off crawling fast towards the congregation. Uh-oh!

I headed him off at the pass and took him back to where the massive stone font is. It has its own little place up some steps, and the paschal candle is there, colourful stained glass windows and a painted roof: a lot to look at. My grandson was interested in the steps, because he is practicing, always practicing, climbing the stairs right now, and remembering ‘feet first!’ on the way down – head first is not so good on a flight of stairs, and we have managed to persuade him of this.

So we did that for a while, then Grace came over bringing her friend’s little girl, and we went back to the Frogs’ corner, which is where we were when they all returned from the Swamp. They go there taking a special children’s Bible after the first bit of the liturgy, leaving a candle burning on the altar to remind us in Big Church that though some of us may be worshipping out of sight down in the Swamp, they are still part of us.

The Frogs had not met my grandson or Donna’s little girls before, and as they looked a bit shocked to find their corner invaded, I felt introductions were in order. ‘This is Minnie,’ I said, ‘and this is Grace: and do you know, Grace is my little girl! Can you believe it?’

The Frog in question looked interested but not incredulous. So I gestured to my grandson and continued: ‘And this is –’

And do you think I could remember his name?

Fortunately Grace thought this was hilarious. Just like his mother and his aunts before him, my grandson Mikey is not the world’s most assiduous sleeper, and wakes up many times in the night for a cuddle and a feed. Grace said that the night before, after the third time she got up to feed him, she could no longer remember if he was a boy or a girl.

So it isn’t just me, is it?

"Baraka" - the most wonderful film

It's late now, gone midnight. Earlier during the evening those of our household who were home went along to my daughter and son-in-law's place to celebrate his birthday.

We had such a lovely evening, with delicious food from the superlative Gurkha Palace.

And my son-in-law had been wanting to show us the film Baraka. The word 'baraka' means 'blessing' or 'breath/essence of life'. It's a Sufi word.

The film is breath-taking - so beautiful, profound, spell-binding, sometimes very sad, sometimes uplifting, enchanting. It's like God wandering round the Earth to see what's happening and what human beings have made of it.

An amazing film.

There are lots and lots of clips of it on YouTube, but though they can give you a taster they don't really do it justice on my little netbook and are not as good quality as the proper film. I wish I'd seen it on a big screen at the cinema.


Tuesday, 6 July 2010

She has settled in well

We are used to each other now, and have all learned to say 'Miaoowwww' in a creaky, querulous tone: none of us can match her when it comes to purring.

Monday, 5 July 2010

And finally (in case you thought you would never get rid of me today)

... what I want to know is this:

Why is it that you can be bursting for a pee - I mean really desperate for the loo - and when you get there, sometimes you pee a magnificent humungous on-and-on-and-on kind of pee, and sometimes not very much really - but still the same amount of desperate?

What is it?

Have they put different sizes of jugs inside there or something?

What? Why? I don't know...

Later on

After I dozed off to sleep again, and then Tony the Badger brought me a lovely cup of herb tea - spearmint from our garden - and I drifted off to sleep again... and kept trying to wake up to drink the tea... and finally did... by which time it was cool, but that doesn't matter with mint tea, it was still delicious... then I looked up at the sky... and they seemed to have taken it away! Where the sky had been were these regular gathered folds of cloud, as if we had been encased in a giant wedding marquee while we were sleeping. All the sky had gone! So I watched and waited a while longer... and the clouds tore and wandered and drifted and dispersed and teased apart... teasing cotton wool to make swabs was something my mother had to do in her nurse training as a young woman and she must have got on a bit of a roll with it I think because she used to make me do it too when I was a child. Why? Why make swabs - in a normal home, I mean? She must have missed that hospital a lot. Anyway, that's what the clouds looked like this morning; teasing cotton wool... or carding really clean fleece ready for spinning.

When I lie in bed, and turn my head a few degrees to the left, the view is as this picture here. Now, I call that blessed.

Blessed in sky, blessed in sunrise, blessed in clouds, blessed in breezes, blessed in summer warmth, blessed in sleep, blessed in waking, blessed in garden herbs, blessed in someone who loves me enough to make me a cup of tea, blessed in the sounds of summer and the song of birds, blessed in simplicity which has brought me the gift of not having too much to do, blessed in blue... I am blessed in blue...I love blue... thank you God for this day.

when I woke up this morning

I saw the sun rising

across the roof tops and the chimneys

Sunday, 4 July 2010

How very odd life is

Sometimes I ask google things. Instead of searching with what I think might be tags that will effect a desired result, I just ask Google a real question and see what comes up.

Today I typed in the question "Where will I find rest?"

I have no idea what I was expecting, but I was still surprised by the page of answers I turned up. They were:

1) Probate Court How To Probate A Decedent's Estate Ah. Eternal rest!

2)Frequently Asked Questions - FIU College Of Business Administration. I was intrigued to contemplate that "Where will I find rest?" might be a frequently asked question in a College of Business Administration!

3) Building and running a successful research business: a guide for the... Google Books Result. Hmmm. Well, one man's rest is another man's hectic nightmare I guess.

4) Virus Information | OIT Website. Er... "rest"... OK whatever

5) Welcome to the State of California Department of Transportation. What? Where can I find a list of rest areas along California freeways. oh, right!

6) Where will I get my Glastonbury tickets from? Glastonbury. Well, yes: outside the festival it could possibly be quite restful at Glastonbury.

7) How do I find out my Network Security Key? Uh oh. Definitely a quest for peace of mind!

8) FAQ What if I am an ex-offender? What indeed...

9) Where do I find the rest of the Blood Dragon armor? Crumbs. Let me not stand in your way!

10) Confused about IRS rebate checks? Get your answers here.

So where can I find rest? Obviously they don't know. Just now I don't know.

But fortunately...

... I know a Man who does.

Come unto Me all you who travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless til they rest in Thee.