Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Yesterday, paint and wood.

The kitchen is progressing.  Joe insulated the floor.

He boarded it too, but that took longer than expected.  He discussed with us carefully whether to use tongue and groove boarding to get a tight fit between the boards – we don’t want crumbs to be feeding rodents out of sight!  He thought plain boards would do the job, and they cost half the money, so we went for that.  He said the only difference would be you can see the nail places in straight boarding, even after they’ve been filled.  I don’t mind that.  I’m a Christian.  Nail marks have a special place in my heart.

Then Nick got in on the conversation later in the day and said straight boards wouldn’t do, they’d shrink.  The novelists among you should pay attention to this.  The opportunity to observe interactions such as this is the source of colour and texture in fictional narrative.  All novelists benefit from travelling by public transport, eating in caf├ęs and sitting in hospital waiting rooms, eavesdropping shamelessly.  Anyway, Joe stood there with a section of tongue-and-groove in his hand, looking a bit uncertain, reluctant to commit us to an extra two hundred pounds (that’s $315 right now), but we bowed to Nick’s absolute certainty (Nick is absolutely certain about everything) and went for the tongue-and-groove.  As Joe had all the timber on his van by this time, he had to go back and change it.  When he got the tongue-and-groove back to our place and began to lay it, it came to light that about a third of what they’d given him was sub-standard, so he had to sort through carefully, keeping this and setting aside that to take back.  Plus he wanted to use full lengths where he could for a pleasing finish, but use cut lengths where it didn’t show too much, to save money.  So this wasn’t quick and easy.  But by last night the floor was down.

Kevin said we needed some more paint, and showed me on the wall while Joe was fetching the replacement timber, how undercoat was grinning through.  Hebe and I mutter amongst ourselves that this is because they insist on painting with a roller. Using a brush and determination Hebe got two coats on the chimney breast with just a sample pot.  Anyway I said I’d go to Tunbridge Wells (where the shop is) for yet more mega-bucks Fired Earth paint.  I’d promised to visit my beautiful mama in the afternoon, 3 o’clock, usual time.  So I slogged over to Tun Wells, got the paint, stopped for a sandwich in the lovely Nutmeg Tree where all is comforting English tradition with fragrant teas and waitresses in frilly hats and aprons, then got back with the paint by twenty to three.  I had to get a new network card (for rail travel discounts) which cost me £28 ($44) ouch!  The ticket to Tun Wells was £12 ($18).  The lowest qualifying price for the discount turned out to be £13 ($20).  Sigh.  The paint was £29 ($46 nearly).  So I spent about £100 ($157) today!!!  Double-sigh!  Thank heaven for editing work tiding me over while I wait on the publisher frowning over the sales of present books before making a decision to publish (or not!) my next novel.

When I got back four hours later I took the paint to the kitchen.  Joe glanced at it.  Kevin had gone – he drives the bus for the old people in the afternoon. “Thanks,” says Joe. “I think we had enough in the tin, but that’ll probably come in handy.”  He’s lucky he didn’t die right then.

By the time I left the house I was just early and late enough to reach the end of the road with a clear view of the 304 bus sailing by on its way to Mama’s village out in the country.  The No 5 was due in 15 minutes, but it didn’t turn up.  In a hurry, I hadn’t stopped for my coat, and as the day grew toward dusk it was beginning to freeze.  I could see my breath like a dragon.  I waited ages for the bus, but no luck.  The Badger had to go back up to Oxford, but he is kind to me.  Before he went, he took me out to Battle in his car, took Mama’s car and put gas in it for her (the pumps defeat her), shared a cup of tea with us, and took me home – this adding 45 minutes driving around to his already 3 hour drive back to Aylesbury.  My Badger is a sweetheart.

It was a full day, we were tired, Hebe had been cutting granite all day at the masonry, the night was cold – but we enjoyed a big plate of baked beans, cabbage and carrots, and (forbidden dairy, what the hey) macaroni cheese for supper by the fireside, the happiest people on earth.

Today?  Perhaps I’ll tell you about today tomorrow.  It includes getting that tiny toolbox in the post to you, Deborah, because I didn’t manage to fit that in yesterday.  xxx


365 Day 31 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Every month I write a column in this magazine, so they send me a freebie copy.  The deadline for April’s is tomorrow as it happens, so I’ll be writing an Easter article today.  It’s only a little column, 290 words, on living in Gospel simplicity.  The reason I included the magazine in my 365 throw-out is really to do with disposing of things mindfully.  Because when I’ve read it I don’t put it out with the recycling bin – ooh, that reminds me, dustbin collection today!  Any magazines I have, including this one, I keep in good condition, reading them quickly so I can pass them on before they are out-of-date for someone else to read.  If I can’t think of anyone who would like them, I give them to the surgery waiting room.  This magazine, Woman Alive, I usually put through my next door neighbour’s door, as she is also a Christian.

And that’s January gone!  

Monday, 30 January 2012

But only

St Johns (our church) is, as we say in England, rather high up the candle. Though it is part of the Church of England rather than Roman Catholic, it describes itself as British (or English) Catholic – ie it models itself on pre-Reformation thinking.  Personally I wish we could go back even further to pre Council of Whitby and join up with our Celtic roots, but that’s another matter.  Anyway we have a lots of robes and incense and candles and all that jazz, and as part of our preparation for the Eucharist we include, as Roman Catholics also do, the congregational prayer based on Luke 7:7 or Matthew 8:8: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

As I prayed this prayer yesterday, I noticed its ambiguity. “But only” could mean two similar but different things.  It could mean: I am not worthy to receive you, yet/even so/however simply speak the word and I shall be healed.  Or it could mean: I am not worthy to receive you, just simply speak the word and I shall be healed.

The first meaning suggests a certain inner distress or turmoil to be overcome, ie I am dismayed and embarrassed to find myself in a condition unfit to receive you – HOWEVER if you will say the word, I shall be healed.  The second meaning suggests a more tranquil seeing, accepting of one’s inner state, ie As I am clearly unfit to receive you I rely on your transformative grace, all you have to do is say the word and I shall be healed.  See?  There’s a difference.

This ‘but only’ is there in the translations of the Bible we read, and in effect we are all reading different Bibles because we are all constantly making assumptions about what we hear/read, not always realising that others are reading/hearing it quite differently.

A good example of this is the text where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life; no-one comes to the Father but by me”.
Most preachers I have heard speak on this interpret it to mean in effect “I am the bottle-neck of Heaven.  If you don’t subscribe to the Christian creeds, you won’t get in”. 
Personally, I think it means something different.  I think it means “I personify everything that is good, everything that is true, and what it is to be fully human.  All people committed to goodness and truth, all who are open to life and love, are travelling my way and part of my family”.

Then there is the story of the Prodigal Son, the bit at the end where the older son is jealous and the father says he could have a party any time he wanted to.  No-one seems to preach on this, but I think it’s a story about the two ways we fall off the tightrope of walking in Providence.  Some people err in being too profligate and wasteful – much as the human race has taken the precious gift of the earth and squandered it in filthy over-industrialisation and commercial greed, like the Prodigal Son with his orgies and prostitutes until he is reduced to the unimaginably unclean (to a Jew) state of sharing his home with pigs and envying their table.  But some people err in the other direction, by failing to see the abundance inherent in their situation, failing to trust the providence of the Father, living their lives in parsimony and scarcity when it was meant to be a party.

I wonder even if there is a need for us to quarrel as we tend to do, over biblical interpretations.  They seem to me inherently ambiguous, and I wonder if that isn’t part of the Bible’s nature as a living book.  It’s as we engage with it, look deeply into it, that we see depth upon depth, catch a glimpse of jewels winking in a new shaft of light when we had never noticed them before.

What I think is theologically dangerous is when people actually tweak the text to make it fit the preconception. I once saw this actually, literally, set in stone.  I lived for a while in Aylesbury, and as I was still then a Methodist minister I preached on the Aylesbury Circuit every Sunday.  This included occasionally taking a service out at a designed village.  A farmer had leased all his land for building (but kept the ground rents; good move!) houses.  So a large estate had been built, with a centre including shops, a doctor’s surgery and a church to be shared by all the denominations.  On the outside wall of the church a large circle of stone was to display a biblical text.  The text they went for – brilliant, inspirational, if only they’d actually done it, was based on 1 John 4, verse 7 – Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God and verse 16 – God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God.  It’s the Ubi caritas (Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est) But, worried about losing the monopoly on soul-health, they twisted it round so that it said not Where love is, there is God, but Where God is, there is love.  They switched the biblical wording around to make it say what the Bible does not say but many (most, even) Christians believe (and think it ought to say), that salvation is a commodity to be obtained by acquiescing and adhering to our formalised doctrines.  This is not what Jesus said.  According to Him, you can say “Lord, Lord” till you’re blue in the face  (Matthew 7:22, Luke 6:46) – it’s if your life is characterised by kindness and compassion that is the mark of your allegiance. “By this” (nothing else) “shall everyone know that you are my disciples; that you love one another.” (John 13:35)


365 Day 30 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

I used to be a Methodist minister, pastor of (simultaneously) six churches.  I had a terror of arriving somewhere to preach or take a funeral/wedding only to find I’d left my glasses at home.  So I had innumerable pairs of cheap non-prescription reading glasses scattered about – in pulpits, in my bags, in the car, in the pocket of my robes – so that this could NEVER HAPPEN. And I don’t need them anymore.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


I have read more about the Theology of Hair than I might have expected to.

St Paul started it of course.  I have read what he has to say, and read with careful attention a considerable number of dissertations on the subject by faithful sisters looking deeply into the scriptures to shed light on the Way.  I love the Bible, and I find in it the guiding light of God’s truth, but I don’t read it in the way that allows it to be interpreted as straightforward instructions for daily living lifted wholesale into the present day.

That is to say, when I read in Scripture a general statement like “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love is from God,” (1 John:4.7) I perceive that to have a universal application.

But what Paul had to say about hair and clothing I believe to be of specific and particular application.  That there are many who disagree with me passionately I know already and I understand why.  It’s not that I don’t get it; I do, but I disagree.

I walked a while, as some of you know, along a Plain path.  I found it illuminating, spiritually nourishing, but a bit complicating – Plain but not all that plain if you see what I mean.  I found it distracted me from the focus of Gospel simplicity which I think I came here to find and follow.

At the present time my focus is on seeing what I can do to address the amount of packaging I bring home when I purchase food and household goods.  The other thing I’m considering at the moment is how to reduce the amount of water I use.

Today I didn’t do so well in either regard.  It wasn’t such a good day.  I woke up still tired from yesterday, with a lot to do.   I’d figured out during the week that if I wash my clothes when I shower (letting the water accumulate by putting the plug in the bath) then I can use the one lot of water for both purposes.  Our dish-drying cloths had been soaking in a bowl in the bathtub since the day before yesterday.  The sun was shining today, and the day breezy, so I thought I’d better quickly rinse them through and hang them out on the line.  In a hurry, because I had to be somewhere else by 10.30 and needed to shower, I washed the cloths through to get them out of the bathtub.  I forgot a) that I was meant to be washing them in the shower water and b) that the same applied to the clothes I’d taken off last night and left in a heap on the bedroom floor.  So instead of one lot of water, I required three – the dish-drying-cloths, the clothes and the shower.

Then I remembered that as this was the day the Badger planned to rotovate the back-yard for re-sowing, magically transforming all of it to a ploughed field and digging up the socket for the washing line (this sort) in the process, I had nowhere to hang out washing anyway.

Cursing and muttering I headed off to town and did my various errands there.  Hungry, tired, and knowing I would return to find four other hungry souls waiting at home, I decided “Oh, blow it!”  I went into Marks and Spencer and got some packs of ready-made sandwiches, some supper ingredients in sturdy plastic packs, a drink in a plastic bottle (on offer with the sandwiches), and a lemon meringue pie in a foil dish and cardboard box.  Not an outstanding success on the packaging and water fronts, then.

But, why I was going into Hastings was to get my hair cut.  Why I decided to cut it again was to do with packaging.  I want to use Lush shampoo because it’s Earth-friendly, animal-friendly and comes in zero packaging.  The conditioner that goes with it comes in a bottle you take back to the store to be re-filled.  The only snag is, Lush shampoo can make my hair a bit lank when said hair is long.  So I thought I’d cut it off.  Short.

You know what?  I so totally wish I could write to St Paul and say: “Now, here’s the thing.  In our society today hairstyles do not have the cultural connotations they did back in AD 70.  But what we do have today is a problem with mass-production and industrialisation that is threatening to take down the whole planet, via an ugly path of destruction involving water wars, deforestation, and unimaginable suffering in the lives of the world’s poor. I humbly ask permission, this being the case, as part of my path of simplicity, to keep my hair short and use Lush shampoo.”

If he wrote back, I’d show you the letter, I promise.

Honest and humble apologies for disappointing friends who feel God’s truth in the Bible requires ladies to wear their hair long.

365 Day 29 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

2 pairs of shoe-laces.  Something I have learned about clutter is the insidious power of Small Things.  I tuck them away in a drawer or on a shelf waiting for them to Come In Handy – them and all their aunts and cousins and distant relations.  They rarely do, but they gradually accumulate into a drifting shoal comfortably insulated by dust, occupying entire drawers and obscuring actually useful object from view.  They sit on shelves competing for attention, reducing genuinely beautiful and useful object to One More Piece Of Stuff.  Let them go, say I!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Packaging and water

Quiet, soft early morning of low cloud, the light growing cautiously, the rain spattering hypnotically on the roof windows up here in the garret.

This is a good day.  Susanna is coming around midday bringing a jar of raw honey from Redcoat Farm.  Alice is on half-day at the library, so she’ll be home in the afternoon.  It’s Thursday so the Badger comes home from Oxford for the weekend.

But first I must get up and have a shower and wash my clothes.  Nothing dries this weather, they’ll just have to hang over the bath, drip . . . drip . . . drip . . .

In our household, some of us have been thinking about water – how much we use, how much we waste – and packaging; what a lot of it there is and how hard it is to avoid, and discovering ways to wriggle out from under the mountain of packaging in which evil Mammon is burying our society.

Over many years I have thought long and carefully about ethical shopping, fair trade, compassionate farming, organics, animal welfare, and social justice.  I have thought about the impact of animal husbandry, and noticed that farm animals compete with the poor for water and land, and eat 35lbs of grain for every pound of flesh they yield.  I have pondered the journey of each pound coin, noticing that if I spend them in large chain stores they roll out of my community and into the pockets of rich shareholders far away, impoverishing the suppliers as they roll; but if I spend them in a small local family business the beneficiaries spend them within the community again, and so blessing accrues in the place where I live.  I have thought about Gandhi’s “Think globally and act locally,” and tried to buy goods where I knew who produced them and how – well, sometimes; oftentimes I just bought what was cheap and asked no questions, like everyone else.  But all this thinking filled my head up and I have never looked properly at water use and packaging.  Well – I went to showers more than baths and didn’t leave the tap running too long, but that was about all.  I chose paper bags over plastic when offered the choice and conscientiously took my own shopping bag so as not to need a plastic carrier, but not much more than that.  Now I have taken a deep breath and resolved to tackle the issues of water use and packaging.  One of my strategies involves a leaf-mould heap and a designated wormery.  Another strategy is purchasing toiletries from Lush.

Lush (check out the Our Values section on the website) is a brilliant firm.  They use natural ingredients, vegetarian, often vegan.  They don’t test on animals.  They have a fine environmental track record.
And here are two of their shampoos that I just bought: Ultimate Shine and Squeaky Green.

No packaging at all.  That's it.  That’s how they come.  And no water making up half the product.  Several of us in our household have Lush toiletries, so we got together to make up an order to save on postage.  The (recycled cardboard) box they came in was packaging of course, and the biodegradable packaging peanuts, but I didn’t waste them.  I used them to pack up some of the 365 items that I was Freecycling – three boxes of kitchen items for a young woman with three children moving out of bed-and-breakfast accommodation into her own home.

OK off I go - heading for the shower!

365 Day 26 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

You might think this hardly counts as an item.  The image is lifesize!  I wanted to include it because it stands as an example of the kind of pointless things I am inclined to hang onto.  That pretty little scrap of fabric . . . those dear little pegs. . . multiply that enough times and you need a drawer.  Go on multiplying and you have a problem.  In Goscinny and Uderzo’s glorious series Asterix the Gaul, in which the characters’ name are all jokes – Obelix the strong man, Cacophonix the Bard, Asterix the small man, Geriatrix the old man, Dogmatix (a dog, of course), Getafix the druid, inventor of magic potions; you can see them all here – the wife of the village chief (he was called Vitalstatistix) bore the shrewd appellation “Impedimenta”.  I can think of more than one woman who could have been christened Impedimenta with good cause.  Even though she was the best cook in the village, I have no aspirations to be “Impedimenta”, but I see it coming in the accumulation of nonsense like today’s item.  I didn’t throw it away.  It went into one of the craft kits (for children) I made up and Freecycled.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


 Fingers are so clever.

Yesterday I had to clean out the candle stub from the spring-loaded inner mechanism of the candle lantern.  And I made lemon curd, which involves grating lemon zest.  And as usual I had porridge for breakfast and of course washed out the pan.

What I notice is how amazing my fingers are for getting things clean.  When bits of porridge adhere to the saucepan base, a thumbnail is both better at scratching it loose and better at leaving the metal unscratched – same with cleaning candle-wax off the lantern.  Fingers clean the little fiddly lemon zest cling-ons of the grater, and then are easy to wiggle clean in the washing up water.  If I use a brush to clean, the zest/porridge simply sticks to the brush.  If I use a knife to prise loose the candle wax, it scratches the lantern.  Fingers and finger-nails are an extraordinary combination of gentle/soft and strong.

They also have the advantage of being able to feel so acutely, and are therefore most sensitively responsive; the world’s most fine-tuned tools, dexterous and clever beyond description.

I remember reading an article about a child whose arms we blew off in the Iraq war.  He was given prosthetic arms and hands with the most complicated mechanisms that gave them a truly impressive range of capabilities.  For the person looking at him, they seemed to make everything right again.  Bingo!  Arms and hands!  But . . . but he couldn’t feel anything with them.   The ones God made him with were better than the clever prosthetics we fitted him with after our cleverly manufactured clever bombs blew them off in the first place.


365 Day 25  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

I loved this and sent it as a special gift to somebody I love.  In pursuing simplicity, some things are easy to part with, and others much harder.  I find it easier to part with things I want to cling to if I think they will bring joy to someone who in turn brings joy to my heart.  Inside the beautiful gold and red drawstring bag is a Buddhist mala – that’s a string of prayer beads.  I had it for praying for people when I was travelling on the bus; to hold in my hands as a prayer focus, moving it along through my fingers feeling each bead as a prayer for each individual I held up into the Light.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

New book

 Hey, look at the pic my friend Julie just sent me!  

It's out stateside then!  And my copies haven't even made it across the Atlantic yet!  Well - just the one has, but that's been snapped up quick by my family!

Hope you like it Julie!  

She's read it actually.  I run all my manuscripts past Julie - not that you'd call her my severest critic; more my encourager cheering me on  :0)

This book has been dedicated to Julie and to Jehane, whose prayers and kindness make a life raft at times.  Thank you, ladies!


365 Day 24 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Cripes.  A handbag.  Bought in a delusional attempt to be an elegant lady in a moment of eBay madness.  It sat underneath the clothes rail for a while then I hope made some other woman who browses in charity shops very happy.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Day 23

 365 Day 23 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Oh, this picture represents a number of things.  I have sorted through my tool-box where useful items like wire nails and rawl plugs had multiplied beyond the call of duty: but the fruits of those labours really belong to a later day in the 365 chuck-out.  This photo logs a preliminary review of the tool box and a synthesis achieved between that and my Collection of Useful Containers.  I had stored some of the tool-box items (eg panel pins and picture hooks) in stout little home-made envelopes, but over time those had begun to show signs of wear and become less reliable as containers.  However I did also have some dear little tins and also some packaging items (like houmous pots) that I felt bad about throwing away.  It seems so awful that for a few mouthfuls of food we create a throw-away container of such lasting and substantial material.  Even where they can be recycled, long transport distances are involved – and when I say ‘long’ I don’t mean as in Sussex to Kent, I mean more like UK to China.  And the recycling, though an improvement on landfill sites, is still industrial process.  The optimum would be to create no packaging – but re-use is one better than re-cycling for such packaging as we do have.  So I kept some of the houmous pots hoping we might re-use them.  The envelope holders being in a terminal state, I added them to the kindling pile and drafted in the stashed houmous tubs – later, when I free-cycled many of the tool-box contents, I used up most of the saved food containers – some plastic boxes from take-out suppers, a yoghourt jar, etc – so that all the categories of nails and hooks were separately stored.
This picture of the two little envelopes is the record of a tranch of disposable (but not bio-degradable)containers that were saved, responsibly re-used and (crucially) left the house in the course of the 365 project.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Weather watching

If I pad along a track that tries to stay close to the Earth’s heartbeat, I see everything differently.

The weather – sunny . . . windy . . . rainy . . . frosty – it all makes a very immediate difference if daily life works in rhythm with what is natural. 

Having no washing machine because of building works meant washing clothes in the bath, as I used to do.  Nothing has been straightforward.  Some of the time the water had to be turned off and the hot water tank drained down; much of the time the electricity was off . . . on again . . . off again . . . Sometimes I would be boiling a kettle and the electricity suddenly cut –

So, as it’s been cold and rainy outside I cleaned out the grate of the luxury fire and set up the storm kettle indoors so we could boil water to fill up the thermos and thus have hot drinks and water to wash self, crocks etc.  The water is fetched by a bucket from either outside or the bathroom upstairs.

I planned to have a bath then wash my clothes in the bath water to save wasting water, and a day came when the wind blew, the rain held off, and I needed a bath/shower!  But on that very morning our neighbours builders set to work with their angle grinder just the other side of the garden wall (we did our side in the autumn).   Cement dust blew across the garden with every gust of wind!   Not a day for hanging out washing, then!  After that it rained again.  I gave up and had a normal shower.

But yesterday I got self and my clothes bathed – no builder, no rain, sunshine, brisk wind, dry breezy night, sunshine and wind still this morning. 

Since we had the solar panels on our roof, we don’t run the furnace for heating or hot water very often – we rely on the sunshine in the summer and autumn, and in the winter just occasionally turn on the water heater for showers, and even more occasionally the central heating if it’s raining out and someone has a lot of washing to dry in time for a trip away or has completely run out of trouser to wear for work or some such emergency.  So, though this has been an exceptionally mild winter, we have got in the habit of dressing very warmly indoors rather than relying on central heating.  We have the woodstove in the evening, and it lifts the cold and damp throughout the house, but our bedrooms can be chilly!  I sit in bed to work, and I wear fleece trousers, a vest (UK – US peeps I mean underwear not waistcoat), a high-necked fleece, and a big thick fleece hoodie over the top.  And two pairs of socks.  And at night, flannel pyjamas.

Thus my washing in its waterlogged state is challengingly thick and heavy!  But that brisk wind had it almost dry, and now it’s festooned on the airers I have rigged up around the garret finishing off.

The result of all this is that weather now means so much more to me than ‘nice day’, ‘dull day’ etc.  It makes all the difference to the management of the veggie garden and the wormeries (worms can’t cope with too much cold or heat), to the choice to do the laundry or not, whether to walk or take the bus or just give up and stay at home, whether to sit out on the step and boil up for tea in the storm kettle or clear the grate instead, whether there is rainwater collected for watering plants and soaking dishes or everything has to come from the tap.  I notice more and am more tuned in to the turning of the year.  It feels good.

I am also, incidentally, filled with admiration for Diana Lorence’s hearth management.

She has beautifully sculpted ash, artistically arranged anthracite and firewood, and a modest stash of evenly cut size-graduated fuel waiting out on the porch.  This does her for all her cooking and water-heating.

To appreciate how impressive this is, you should look at our hearth, 

and bear in mind that we have the back-up of a solar-augmented electric mini-oven, hotplate and kettle – and Diana doesn’t!  Go, girl!  Life, you are doing it well!!

(Image of Diana Lorence's fireplace at Innermost House taken from the album on the Innermost House Facebook page; also here on the main website.)


365 Day 22 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Another statue of the BVM.  I like it.  I like her.  So what?  I salute her in my mind.  Don’t need this statue.  I feel the same about family photos: I love my family so very much, but I have no photos of them up around the house – they are sewn into my heart, and that is where the pictures of them are.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Trees where you sit

I have no idea how this photo came to be on my camera.  I was uploading some pics to go on Photobucket to go with my Freecycle posts so wannabe junk acquisitors could see what they were letting themselves in for, when to my surprise I found this photo smuggled in too.  Trees, jostling together to peer into our back room.

Made me laugh, and reminded me of a recording I had of Aled Jones when he was a child, singing most beautifully Where’er You Walk, Handel’s setting of this snatch of Alexander Pope’s poem Summer:
Where-e'er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade,  Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade,  Where-e'er you tread, the blushing flow'rs shall rise,  And all things flourish where you turn your eyes.

It went on his album called (I think) The Best of Aled Jones or something, that travelled with me in cassette form until cassette machines dropped off the edge of the world.   So it came to pass that I had this tape with me when I moved in to Bernard’s cottage on the edge of Flatroper’s Wood, and often used to play it because he liked it especially.

After he had listened carefully to Where’er You Walk several times, he ventured to ask (this must have been something to do with Aled Jones’s Welsh intonation) why all those trees wanted to crowd into a shed when the lady sat down.

And it became a standing joke with us, about trees crowding into the shed.  Bernard came through from the bathroom one morning with a funny kind of grin on his face.  He’d found a leafy little twig on the bathroom floor – must have drifted through the window, we always had them open and there were trees and hedges all round the cottage.  But Bernard’s theory was that, not content with crowding into the shed, they were on their way in through the bathroom window when our backs were turned.

Bernard used to say the trees waving was what caused the wind – obviously really, once you notice the wind only arises when the trees are waving . . .  When he spent that long month in hospital before he came home to end his life in the peace of his own cottage, for part of the time he had a bed near the window looking across a parking lot ringed of the further side with trees.  He told me once when I came in for my daily visit (that is to say, he wrote it down; he couldn’t speak because of his tracheostomy) that a tree across the car park had recognised him at last.  He said the tree hadn’t known him at first but that morning it had waved to him  :0)

Bernard . . . When we went on our long rambles through the woods, every time we came to a bridge or log crossing a stream, we had to walk over it without speaking lest we rouse the troll living underneath it.  He didn’t discuss this.  Just put his finger to his lips with a warning look as we approached the stream – and we crossed in perfect silence, like the sages in Chapter 15 of the Tao.

The photo must have been taken by someone when  was out – our hapless builder maybe – showing a moment when the trees of Silverhill took a leaf out of the book of the trees of Flatroper’s Wood, and took it into their heads to see if they could crowd into the shed here.


365 Day 21 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Ah – Kindle instruction leaflets.  It is not very hard to work a Kindle.  This picture is an example of a type of thing I have cleared out.  I was carefully keeping a number of instruction leaflets for things I could work perfectly well, or brochures that came with things I bought, “just in case”.  Well, I’ve thrown them away.

Friday, 20 January 2012


White lace-edged waves on a pewter sea, languid light seeping across the azure spread of sky behind a panorama of storm grey cloud.  So beautiful.  I am grateful right to the middle of me that I live close by the ocean.


365 Day 20 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

A pair of trousers.  They are nice and I like them.  I have quite a few things I like that need to go.  Sometimes friends with cluttered homes explain to me that they like their things, and the lack of storage space means that their homes have to be cluttered.  Yes, I see what they mean.  I like things, but I like space better.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dust, dirt, dogs and donkeys.

Hindu religious law sets in place a caste system allocating a place to every person born within that household of faith.  But there are some people in its community born so lowly that they are out-caste – sub-human.  They call themselves ‘dalits, from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘oppressed’ or ‘broken’.  If this is unfamiliar to you, to understand their situation better you might be interested to read this essay that explains more fully.

The dalits, sometimes called ‘untouchables’, have this pronounced upon them in the Law of Manu, based on the Rig Veda, a foundational text of the Hindu religion:
Their wealth shall be dogs and donkeys; their dress shall be garments of the dead. They shall eat their food in broken dishes, and black iron shall be their ornaments. They must wander from place to place, and they shall not sleep in villages and towns at nights.

Their work comprises all the dirty things that nobody wants to do – shovelling away excrement and bearing away the dead, for example.

Jesus of course was Jewish, not Hindu; but there was much in His life that I think might speak peace and comfort to the dalits of India.

Consider these words of Scripture:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”    (Mark 10:42-45 NIV UK)

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

Jesus said “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)

This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Matthew 21:4-5)

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.   “You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

As for being ‘untouchable’: A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, If you are willing, you can make me clean. Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. (Mark 1:40-41)

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is— that she is a sinner. . . Then [Jesus] turned towards the woman and said to Simon, Do you see this woman? (Luke 7:39 . . .)

And Jesus died the death of the disgraced, the unclean, outside the city wall.  And the Christian faith reminds us in our Ash Wednesday liturgy at the beginning of Lent: Dust you are, and to dust you shall return - and that's all of us, dust of Adam.

I wonder if you know about this company, Dalit Candles?  The dalits of India must drink from special separate cups, to be dashed to the ground and broken after use, so that nobody else runs the risk of sharing with them.  Dalit Candles have taken the little cups the dalits use, and made something beautiful to treasure from them, filling them with candles made of beeswax from the mountainous region of Kashmir.  They are handmade by dalit people, and the profits from their sale go to take care of dalit orphans.

The dalits are supposed to dress in clothes the colour of dust, and they have a special place in my heart because they remind me of St Francis who chose to dress in garments the colour of dust as an expression of humility, and of the dusty feet of Jesus, the servant of all, who came to His own but His own received Him not, and who had nowhere to lay His head.


365 Day 19  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Thinking of candles today, one of the ways I have chosen to lower clutter at home is by using things up rather than passing them on.    This beeswax candle had been in my drawer smelling divine for some time.  I made a point of actually burning the candle, enjoying its lovely perfume, its clean and refreshing flame.  One thing less.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Simplicity facilitates change

Everybody knows how hard it is to change habits.  Eating habits are terribly difficult to change.

A while ago my mother remarked to me about something akin to the frog-in-a-pot-of-water syndrome.  She had been looking for out-of-season peaches at the supermarket (peaches don’t grow in the UK much anyway, even in summer), and suddenly recalled her (and my) childhood when people ate peaches, but canned ones.  She reflected on how much cheaper that worked out, because the logistics of transport, protection of easily bruised fruit and keeping produce fresh simply vanished.  This caused her to see for a moment very clearly how our lives have changed by tiny increments, each gradual small change increasing our expectations until we reached the ‘consumer society’ of today with its midwinter lettuce and strawberries and green beans from Kenya in January.  This in turn caused her to ask herself whether we had not made ourselves increasingly vulnerable to the effects of economic recession because we had a long way back to travel from the expectations we’d reached to the simplicity needed to weather times of austerity.

One way and another I have been thinking about simplicity since I came across Francis of Assisi when I was 15.  But my journey towards simplicity has been like a yo-yo dieter trying to get thin, and that’s primarily because of the difficulty of swimming against the current of habits entrenched in myself and the wider society that is my context.

But recently I have noticed that if I can achieve a certain level of plain-ness/de-clutter/simplicity in my environment and daily schedule, something happens: I can think.  With enough space and emptiness built into my life I begin to be able to notice things, I can make more intentional choices, I can hold in mind principles that I meant to remember – fair-trade, social justice, compassion in farming, environmental sustainability etc etc – that get easily lost in the muddle of things to be attended to if I take on too much or simply have too much stuff around me in my visual field.

Things that seem like too much effort – walking or bussing down to the wholefood co-op for bread, going to the fishermen’s huts for fish, remembering to heat water for the thermos while the woodstove is burning instead of turning on the gas furnace in the morning – start to feel possible when I have space to think.  Once they feel possible, I do them.  Once I do them, I create a new habit (fragile at first but strengthening with repetition).  It is the energy of a habit that forms the forcefield safeguarding a conscious choice.  Conscious choice is assisted by simplicity.

Thinking these things over early this morning just before dawn, I checked out my email to find in my inbox two messages that reinforced these thoughts very clearly.

At Zen Habits (blacked out today because of the SOPA protest, but hopefully a live link soon) Leo Babauta is writing about the discipline of sitting in silence in an empty room, to allow ourselves to calm down, to be content with stillness.  At Pilgrim’s Moon Tess is talking about positive passivity, the receptivity that comes with responding to the need to make a decision by sitting quietly, waiting, allowing the right choice to emerge within the stilled soul.

And at Innermost House, as always, is inspiration for life measured by heartbeats and human voices, lived according to the turning of the earth in the light of the sun and moon, comforted by the sighing of great trees and the song of birds.  These are signposts on the way of wisdom.


365 Day 18 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

A coin of the realm – a “crown” commemorating the Queen’s silver jubilee as our sovereign in 1977.  My sister was born in 1952, the year of the coronation, and I was married in 1977, the year of the Jubilee – I lived in York at the time, in a terraced house in St Martin’s Lane off Micklegate, overlooking St Martin’s churchyard.  The Queen passed through in a car one summer day and, though not very tuned into civic dignitaries and events of national importance in those days, I did manage to get myself along to the end of the lane to stand with the crowds and see her drive by.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

More on candle light

 I posted a few days ago about candlelight

I really love candlelight, but (especially living in the garret of this tall Victorian house, from which escape in the event of fire would be difficult to say the least) I am uber-safety-conscious.

It might be fair to say I have something of a disaster mentality.  In our supermarkets here there’s often a security sign at checkouts saying “This till is alarmed”, and I think I must have been born with an invisible notice on me saying something similar.  As a consequence, though daily life is a matter of constant apprehension, I am prepared for almost any event.

Just now, apparently in slow-mo, we are having our kitchen ripped out and replaced.  So we are several weeks with no stove to cook on or in – but, no problem!  We have provided ourselves with a mini-oven and free-range electric hotplate, plus the top of the woodstove will take a casserole.   We converted our back sitting room to a temporary kitchen and continued in there while Joe ripped out units and gouged holes out of the walls for new cable tracks.  Then all went quiet while he went off to fix our Rosie’s roof while the weather was dry.  Yesterday he was back with Nick, who will seal off the gas and remove the pipes that fed the hob and grill (we have solar panels now so it makes sense to go to all electric), take out the sink ready for the new unit with a butler sink Martin is making for us out of reclaimed floor joists (the unit not the sink), and re-route the cabling for where the cooker will stand.  This involved turning off the water and draining down the system.  No problem!  Not knowing which day he would come, every day we have been ready with a huge 1.5 ltr pump thermos (which we happen to have) full of boiling water, and a bucket of cold water standing by.  We also have an enamel kettle that we can heat on the woodstove in the evening to fill the thermos ready for the morning.  For a while Nick also had to turn off the electricity.  No problem!  It was daylight so we didn’t need the many candles we always have, but we wanted a cup of tea so I went out to the shed and fetched the storm kettle, which we can run on the back doorstep on the shredded cardboard packaging we keep in a basket by the hearth to fuel the luxury fire when we sit down for a teabreak.

So well-defended are we against Hard Times (which we have seen aplenty) that Normal Times look to us like the treacherous surface of a sucking bog whereon all appears grassy and safe to walk on until you try to cross it.  Thus we like to be prepared for all eventualities.  As Lilian Beckwith expressed it in her wonderful series of stories about her life in the Outer Hebrides, “A Rope – In Case”.

So in my love of candle-light, I want not just candles in general, but candles that won’t fall over by themselves, ignite a tea-towel that accidentally fell on them, or get knocked over by the cat that jumped on the table when I wasn’t looking.  When my mother was a child, the farmhouse being in those days lit by oil lamps, her sister managed to start a house fire by tugging out from under the oil lamp the piece of paper she wanted that it was standing on, not anticipating that this would cause the lamp to tip.  I am wary of naked flames.

So I like my candles encased in glass, preferably with a lid, preferably hanging not standing.  I take note of the comment Buzz left on my previous post about candles, recalling an occasion in her childhood when she had a candle in a jam jar and the heat from the flame caused a demi-lune section to shear off and fly across the room.  Lawks!  So though I do occasionally have candles in (large) jam jars, that’s just out in the porch or preferably right outside on the step as a “welcome” light.

In the bedroom I (briefly) had this beautiful lantern.  It is a fair-trade item made by a firm using recycled  and Earth-friendly materials,  When I got it, I explained that I would be hanging it from a hook, and the shop lady and I spend some time peering into its chimney to be sure the metal fastenings that hooked the ring to the lid were sturdy.   Happily the glass did not break when the heat from the candle melted the solder that was, surprisingly, the only thing adhering the lid to the chimney and the whole thing fell down with an impressive crash.

Then I discovered the UCO candle-lantern (cheapest in the UK are on e-Bay) and since then, friends, I have never looked back.  Safe, effective, compact, it folds down for travelling, the candles burn 9 hours and they make a beeswax alternative to the standard paraffin ones.



365 day 17 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

A beautiful, handmade statue of Our Lady of Grace.  Went to Barnados.