Saturday, 31 March 2012

Where I went today

 This morning Hebe and I caught the train up from Hastings to spend the afternoon in London’s Trafalgar Square, joining with several thousand other people of goodwill to sit for peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese peace activist and Buddhist monk, had brought his fellow monks and nuns from Plum Village, their community in France, to speak about sowing the seeds of peace in our daily lives.

An extraordinarily beautiful soul, he is now 86 years old, and it was a wonderful thing to have the opportunity to sit quietly with so many others who care about the wellbeing of the Earth and the human community, and be led in peaceful reflection on how the way we speak to one another may transform our relationships.

On the video, the song you hear is not just some random music dubbed over, but is a recording of the chant the monks and nuns sang and the people all round the square joined in.


365 366 Day 91 – Saturday March 31st   
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)  

Blige!  (Oh – family exclamation – hailing possibly from an archaic usage of “Oblige me!”)  How many of these darned things did we have?  Obviously we were feeling low and I thought we needed a lot of inspiration!  Well they worked; we were inspired, we did it – we’re OK now (for the time being anyway!).  So we sent them on their way to inspire another set of despairing people.  I think these cards might have come from our days of Maximum Intervention by builders, scaffolders and solar installation engineers.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Queen Wasp

 We had this queen wasp in our house.  She came in through the studio door that leads out onto the veranda, and had a good nose round.  Evidently she was in search of the perfect place to make a nest. 

The studio really appealed to her, full of nooks and crannies and nice little places that looked just right for a wasp.

Best of all – she came back to have another inspection today – she liked the look of the organ stop board that Hebe and Alice are painting on commission for someone with a home organ.  

Wasp heaven.


365 366 Day 90 – Friday March 30th 
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)  

Oh, these were a bit more cheery.  I liked these ones.  But hey, you get the hang of it after a while, if you know what I mean, and start to think, “All right, all right!”

Thursday, 29 March 2012

It's about time

I love our clock – well, Hebe’s clock really now.

It doesn’t so much tell the time as just kind of chat about it in a random, roundabout kind of way.  It’s not a very focussed clock, as such. 

Time is obviously its obsession and central purpose, but it has a more philosophical and questioning approach than most clocks, and is essentially committed to mystery.

It yearns toward the greater realm of eternity where time loses its meaning, and the quantum world where electrons can visit the past and the future at will.

All clocks (the old-fashioned ones, not the digital ones) like to tease with a little ambiguity of course; they let you decide for yourself if it’s midnight or noon, but being accurists at heart they don’t make the puzzle too hard.

Not our clock.  It’s the cryptic sort.  You wouldn’t be able to make any kind of deduction at all as to what the time is by looking at the numbers on its dial.  In the picture, for example, you can see it's talking about elevenses (maybe it's feeling peckish?) but that might have been at breakfast time, or some point in the afternoon.

If it told something other than the time, the days of the week for example, conversations might go like this:

Self: What day of the week is it today?

Clock: Yellow.

Self: What?  I mean, is it Thursday?

Clock: Fart! Hahahahaha!!!!

That is the approach it takes to telling the time.  It is the Timothy Leary of clocks, the R.D.Laing of timepieces, sent to liberate us from our mindless slavery to the crushing regime of schedules and timetables by which we become all too easily enthralled.

It may not tell the time exactly, but I think it is telling us something very important – only I’m not 100% certain what that is.

When Alice and Hebe were very small – maybe about three, I got them a teaching clock to learn to tell the time (Ha!  In my dreams!).  They really couldn’t get the hang of this system, no matter whatever which way I tried to explain it to them.  So I took John Holt’s tip of just leaving them to play with the clock, to follow the learning process of a child – which is assembling a vast amount of random data about an object and gradually refining and organising that into coherent usefulness.  The adult method of saying “It works like this” is apparently counter-productive.

Well I left them playing with this clock, and so came upon them one day, Hebe holding the clock and earnestly instructing Alice who was attending diligently.  Hebe had evidently taken in my useless didacticism “Now, the big hand is pointing to the 12 and the little hand is pointing to the 4 . . .” etc., and also internalised the question people always ask (“What’s the time?”), because she was moving the hands around and asking: “Now, Alice – what’s the point?”

You can tell it’s her clock.


365 366 Day 89 – Thursday March 29th 
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)  

Oh, these were cool – but just a wee bit bossy.  We kept the inner peace and said bye-bye to the cards.  

Wednesday, 28 March 2012


This morning I was woken early out of deep sleep, dragged by a sense of urgency, a voice in the distance calling “Help! Help! Help!”

“Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!”

Cripes!  What?

“Help! Help! Help! Hahahahahahahahaha Help! Help! Help! Hahaha”

Oh, right.  A seagull.


 I am more grateful than I can express for the Innermost House Facebook page coming into being.

I’m always alert for people who can help me learn, and the Innermost House conversations have inspired and interested me like nothing much else has in a long time.

The Innermost principle is so beautifully simple it’s more or less self-evident – one of those learning moments that allows you to appropriate what you knew anyway but could never quite find your way to, if you know what I mean.

The Innermost principle is that you start from the inside not the outside, in making any kind of decision or choice.

Looking at the wonderful pictures of Innermost House, oftentimes a wail of frustrated longing goes up from visitors to the Facebook page, along the lines of “But that won’t work where I live because the climate’s different / I have a family / we have too much stuff / I live in a town . . . etc.”

But that would be applying the conventional principle of starting from the outside not the inside.  The frustration comes from looking at the externals – this particular little wooden house in the North California woods – and trying to apply it to different people in a different context.

What makes it “Innermost” is not North Carolina, not the woods, not the lack of electricity, not the wooden structure – but that it expresses the innermost self of who lives in it.

So it cannot – repeat cannot – be copied.  That is to say, it is in the nature of the innermost principle that emulating it won’t work. 

The only way for me to arrive at the Innermost way of living is to start with who I am, not who Diana Lorence is or anyone else.  So every person’s Innermost House will be different. One person’s Innermost House may be large and airy with lofty ceilings and light streaming in through huge windows, someone else’s may be a squat little cob dwelling with a living roof and a goat browsing on it.  The Innermost House of a collector of antiquities would not look like Diana’s place.

The only way to make an Innermost House is to grow it out of one’s own imagination, deepest yearning and most private heart’s vision.

I have been helped immensely in an area of long-term struggle by applying this Innermost principle.

Over the years I have spent a horrendous amount of money on clothes.  I buy economically and seek out bargains – I’ve just bought a lot.  I don’t keep the clothes because they never really end up being what I want, so I never at any given time own a lot of clothes – I just buy a lot.  And a part of me has felt miserable and guilty for the longest time about this.

Applying the Innermost principle to this I can see what the problem has been.  Sometimes, in love with Gandhi’s way of simplicity, I’ve dressed in saris.  Sometimes, seeing the beauty of the Amish way, I’ve worn Plain Dress.  Sometimes, in love with the idea of being an English lady I’ve dressed as English ladies do, twinset and pearls. Sometimes, captivated by the Hutterites, I’ve dressed as they do.  Sometimes my mind hearkens back to Ina May Gaskin’s Caravan and the hippie revolution, and I go all cheesecloth and beads and Janis Joplin. Sometimes, loving the peace and dignity and serenity of Buddhist monks and nuns I try their look.  Or this. Or this. Sometimes, despairing because I look so effing weird I’ve turned to the advice of Trinny and Susannah and re-modelled myself accordingly.  In between I revert to hearing the internalised voice of my mother telling me how much better I’d look if only I wore this thing which oddly enough exactly reflects her own choices and preferences – and I try that.

And always I end up looking in the mirror wondering what went wrong.

I think two things went wrong.

The first was ever looking in the mirror at all.  Everything has been way better since we passed on the great big mirror that hung in the hallway downstairs.  It was supposed to introduce light but it had an agenda of its own and introduced tyranny as well.

The second thing was that every one of those looks I aspired to came from outside myself.  I was always trying to look like something or someone else.

If I apply the Innermost principle and start with my heart’s core, I find I can interview my soul, and begin a conversation that goes something like this:

Q: So, innermost self, what do you want to wear.

A: Well . . . I like blue.

Q: What?  You aren’t meant to wear blue!  You had your colours done!  Blue is not one of your colours – except midnight navy blue or teal blue.  Is that OK?

A: I do like midnight navy, but I like sea blues and grey blues too.  And I like a kind of soft gentle blue like the mother of Jesus.

Q: OK.  Blue.  Anything else?

A: I like grey too.

Q: Grey?  Brown is your colour, not grey.

A: I do like brown, but I still like grey though, because it’s a quiet colour.

Q: Oh dear.  What about shapes?

A: I like my things to be soft and comfy.  Not tight fitting at all, and stretchy.  I like everything to be stretchy.

Q: But your middle-aged figure needs some definition.  A tailored jacket nipped in at the waist would help – and a gored skirt and some high heels, and make-up.  Don’t you think?

A: I like my Birki sandals.  And my grey fleece hoodies.  And my old blue t-shirt.  And stretchy trousers with high waists.  And I don’t want to wear tights ever again.  And I tell you what else I hate so much they almost make me ill – nylon petticoats.

Q: But surely if you don’t wear nylon petticoats, in cold weather your skirts will stick to your leggings and start bunching up and make walking difficult- you wouldn’t like that, would you?

A:  Well, don’t make me wear skirts then.  Let me wear trousers.

Q: OK, sorry if this sounds cruel: you are a plump middle-aged lady with a bottom the size of a planet.  Do you know what you look like in trousers?

A: Yes.  But I don’t care.

And by thus interviewing my Innermost self I have come up with some answers about the clothes I can be happy in that walk a completely different path from all the advice (and elevated spiritual admonition) I have received.

My Innermost wardrobe can be small and simple, but equipped with things that I (not Gandhi, not the Amish, not the Hutterites, not Trinny & Susannah, not Buddhist nuns, not Gok Wan, not the Duchess of Kent, Gandalf or Beatrix Potter, Yoda, Ina May and not my mother) actually like to wear.

The same Innermost principle can be applied to food, lifestyle, occupation, faith-path – absolutely anything in life; including the thing that sparked it all off in the first place – the kind of house you put forth about you.

I know this all sounds a bit selfish – everyone following their bliss and grabbing for what suits ME while the world goes to hell in a handcart – but that’s not where the Innermost principle takes you.  You can trust your heart, your innermost heart, because that is the place where you are joined on to the Holy Spirit.  What that reaches out for is good.

I have found that following the Innermost principle has taken me back to a contentment and ease I last remember feeling when I was about three.  It has taken me also into decisions that look quite self-sacrificing – doing with less, living more simply – but actually are profoundly fulfilling.  It has given me breathing space and made me feel less harassed.


365 366 Day 88 – Wednesday March 28th
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)  

And there’s the henna powder to go with yesterday's shower cap! 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

As if he could never let it go

I think in the US you say “movie” for the thing that many of us in the UK would call a “film”.  In the UK we are so acculturated to US usage that everyone knows what a movie is (just as we are familiar with “stroller” and “sidewalk”).  But I find US friends usually haven’t had the chance to get to know UK English, and so can become bewildered if I talk about a pushchair or a pavement.  So in what follows, just in case it’s an unfamiliar term to you, “film” = “movie”.

Last Saturday the Wretched Wretch and his mummy came to our house to see a film.  At home he has the Disney Robin Hood, which is a great favourite, so I thought it might be time to start enjoying the Disney film of The Jungle Book.  In watching it, incidentally, I noticed that Disney have appropriated the title, crediting Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli Stories” as the inspiration for Disney’s “Jungle Book”.  Since Rudyard Kipling’s book was in fact called “The Jungle Book”, I feel that Disney have done something there that if anyone else had done it to they them would have sued them to hell and back – but, hey: that’s big corporation ethics for you. They do at least give a partial glimpse of Kipling's name flicking by on the title page of the book in the opening sequence.

So we got three bags of the right kind of popcorn – we know it was, because it said CINEMA POPCORN on the bag  and invited the Wretched Wretch over at a convenient slot when it wasn’t nap time, closed the curtains to make the front room a cinema, and enjoyed our film together as if we were the happiest people on earth.

And after that we had fun in the garden and got the sandpit out of its winter hiding place, and generally dug things up and scattered things around, and finished off the day with a bath in the kitchen sink.  Then the Wretched Wretch’s mummy reassembled him in his street clothes, which included a sunhat, sunglasses and wellies (gumboots), and it was time to go.

At some point we discussed what to do with the film.  There is some virtue in having a few things at our place that the Wretched Wretch can look forward to knowing will be there – his train set, the box of cars, the Cuisenaire rods, the Schleich animals etc – but some things like films and books a child often likes to see/read again and again, not have to wait.

So we asked him, and he nodded eagerly and said yes please, he’d like the film.  And when I gave it to him, he took it in a particular way that I recognise but find it hard to put into words.  With an enthusiasm that yet had a beat of pause in it, not for hesitation but for reverence – like this was something he really wanted.  And he took it in his hands but drew it close to his heart, as if he couldn’t bear to let it go.

In similar wise, there was a moment when he was taking his bath in the kitchen sink.  On his towel spread on the adjacent counter for some reason there was a big glass of water, and he thought he’d like to pour the water from it into his own little green plastic cup with the reindeer on that he had in the sink to play with.  He did it really carefully, putting the cup down and holding the glass with both hands just the way I showed him to do, but his hands were wet and the glass was heavy and slippery, and it almost slipped from his grasp. And I saw from his face how worried and aghast he was that he nearly let it drop – he understood the responsibility of being allowed to handle breakable things even though he is not yet three.

When I catch sight of these moments – how much things matter to a child, how deeply a child feels, how important everything is to him, it enters my heart in a way that is quite painful and unforgettable.

And I wonder how often a child (not this one!!) has been shouted at or scolded for something that went wrong despite the best efforts of a little one, or had something precious snatched away as unsuitable or not for him.

The responsibilities of caring for small children are terrifying, really.  Especially that of trying to stand between them and the hardship of being misunderstood, the adversities of learning.


365 366 Day 87 – Tuesday March 27th  
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)  


 Aha!  This was a freebie from a lovely hotel where the Badger and I stayed while visiting his family in Penzance.  I never wear a shower-cap, I just wash my hair, but I knew that at home I had a pack of henna powder waiting to be passed on to Buzz for the next time she redded up her hair :0)  so when I spotted the shower I thought “I know who needs that!  I’ll ’ave that*”.  I had it hanging around at home for a long time while I forgot to give it to her.  So today’s item is from the “I really must get round to that” pile.  The 365 project prompted me to actually do it.

*”I’’ll ’ave that”: my family will recognise that as a quotation from Burglar Bill, a most excellent book! 

Monday, 26 March 2012

My tree

Alice took this picture of my tree.  It grows in the park that stretches the length of St Leonards/Hastings where we live – a very beautiful park with everything from grassy spaces for family picnics to formal rose gardens to rare trees to wild spaces and a ghyll.

Every year I look for my tree blooming.  It is a huge magnolia.  This week, as you can see in the photo, it is breath-takingly beautiful.


365 366 Day 86 – Monday March 26th   
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)  

I loved this hat but found it impractical – too precarious, even with pins when my hair was long.  I have another big shady sunhat that has a big crown, so I kept that and sent this (along with a couple of other unusual hats) to a friend who is often engaged on theatre projects.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

New clothes

I have been thinking about old clothes, new clothes and smart clothes.

I was born in 1957.  At that time, mass production had not really got underway.  I mean, there were sewing machines and factories – but the market was not at that time flooded with cheap items.

My mother had clothes hanging in the wardrobe and shoes laid out on the floor underneath, and a chest of drawers with clothes in too.  And that was enough.  Her hanging clothes were not shoved in or bunched together, there remained plenty of room in between.

As a teenager I had two summer school uniform dresses, two winter school blouses, a school blazer and a school mac. For weekends and holidays I had a few garments fitting easily onto the hanging rail and three shelves of a single wardrobe.

We had Sunday best clothes, and expected to wear them every Sunday until they wore out or we outgrew them.

Shoes were polished carefully, coats brushed and hung up.  Many garments were not washable, and dry-cleaning we thought an extravagant luxury.  So items like my tweed trouser suit were never cleaned at all.  Coats were never cleaned.  We kept them clean, but that was all. 

I suppose everyone looked shabbier, but nobody really noticed because we were all the same.

Something I notice in present day life is that “smart” (UK – meaning tidy or elegant, not US meaning intelligent) clothes implies new clothes.

Waiting in line at the Post Office, looking idly at the other customers in the queue I am struck by the newness of their clothes.  They are often not very nice clothes – poor quality fabric, hurriedly made, in the garish colours of chemical dyes and synthetic fabric.  Being well-cut, well-made, elegant in design, made of good tweeds and fine linen – for this is substituted being new.  Of course you can still get the beautiful clothes, and on the high street too – but they are expensive as they always were.

The girl in front of me in the queue will probably be dressed in new clothes from head to foot – and be carrying a new handbag too.

More new clothes than I can count – and even more second-hand ones – have passed through my life in my adult years; loads and loads of garments.  And I don’t even like new things.  I feel much more at home with something a little worn, a bit faded.

Why do I buy new clothes?  Sometimes because of boredom, often because of dissatisfaction with myself, to bolster confidence, or because I have entered an alien persona of yet another ideological faction that made it clear that unless I looked like them my spirituality was inferior – ie join the tribe or be a loser.  That’s why I get new things – but I don’t keep them.  I hate being cluttered up with stuff, so they only pass through.  I try to dispose of them carefully, to a charity shop or somebody who wants them . . . but it is undeniably wasteful.

I would like very much to make the journey to be a person who is happy with what she has, and doesn’t need new things.  I wonder if I could do that? 


365 366 Day 85 – Sunday March 25th       
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)     

Oh, fair enough – yes I suppose I have got rid of a huge number of these in the last few months.  And the sequel, The Hour before Dawn, and the new edition of the original trilogy.

Saturday, 24 March 2012


While the ladies chill out in the kitchen

The men are hard at work in the garden

Then a well-earned bath once everything is dug up and the contents of the sandpit liberally scattered round the universe as we presently know it.


365 366 Day 84 – Saturday March 24th  
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)     

 Oh, this was just the lid.  The other half had already gone in the car.  A rhubarb forcer.  Very beautiful, and we liked it a lot – but nowadays rhubarb is too acidic for me and the amount of sugar it requires beyond what my system copes with easily – so it went with love to another member of the family who likes to grow rhubarb.

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Last Time

Today I read two things that affected me profoundly.

My “reading book” at the moment is Babylon’s Ark by Lawrence Anthony (with Graham Spence).

 Lawrence Anthony, who died very recently at the age of 61 was a conservationist of tremendous vision, founder of the Earth Organisation.  His wonderful book The Elephant Whisperer tells of the friendship he built with wild elephants at Thula Thula, the patch of Zululand he gave back to the animals.  He received the UN’s Earth Day award for his work in Baghdad (the subject of Babylon’s Ark), where he went into the chaos after the fall of that city to find and help the animals trapped there in the Baghdad Zoo.

When he arrived he found that anything not nailed to the ground (and a great deal that was) fell prey to systematic looting in the lawlessness of a theatre of war.

In describing the looting, he said:
“I watched all this with old, tired eyes. The symbolism was stark.  This wasn’t only about Baghdad; it wasn’t about Iraq.
It was about all of us.
It’s what we are doing to our planet.  Looting it.”


Then today also, I read an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh (revered Buddhist teacher and monk) about our relationship with the Earth.

The interview came in two parts.  Part One is here.  Part Two is here. I strongly recommend you read them both.

In the second part, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the attitudes we can bring to life and human community that can result in the healing and wellbeing of all creation and of human society.

In the first part, he addresses the stark fact that if we continue to follow our present choices, we probably have 100 years left on Earth.  100 years.

I would trust Thich Nhat Hanh.  He is intelligent, realistic, well-researched, capable of both empathy and objective thinking.  A wise, compassionate and supremely rational man. His spiritual training has served him well.  He lays before us the facts: that every day a hundred species go into extinction because of us – because of our merciless depredation of the rainforest.  About two hundred thousand species every year.

Every day I live on this beautiful Earth makes it clearer to me why I feel the desperate urgency I do to really live and really love; not to be distracted or preoccupied; to struggle free if I can from consumerism and the rat race; to have time to look at – really gaze upon and love – the azure sky, the sparkling ocean, the new green growth of Spring, intoxicating in overflowing life.  To love the Earth in all her weathers and moods, and keep coming back again and again to the task at which I repeatedly fail – to live faithfully in this task that God in ancient days entrusted to my race; the unbelievable honour of being the stewards of the Earth.

Our failure has been absolute.  There is not long left.  But even with all we have done to it – and with the coarse, selfish, blind greed of my species blaring from every political podium, every store, every television set, every magazine, every complacent assumption – I love this beautiful Earth that God made and gave us to love.  I love her so much.


365 366 Day 83 – Friday March 23rd 
 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here) 

This has made one small child after another most happy :0)  

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Coffee at the Randolph with Mary

So on Tuesday I went up to Oxford, which involved going down to the station in the sunshine – about twenty minutes along the same route Hebe walks to the masonry.  We strolled along together, and met Shelagh on the way and stopped for a chat; that was nice.  She had her shopping in a proper old-fashioned basket - hooray! Then the Charing Cross train up through East Sussex and Kent, looking at the woods and farms and streams through the windows, watching out for rabbits and deer, phoning my mama just before the train set out, so that ten minutes later she could look across the valley and see it chugging by and know I was in there spotting her little apartment away beyond the wheatfields.  Then crossing London, dropping some change in the buskers’ guitar cases, from Charing Cross via the Bakerloo line to Paddington, then the Oxford train.  No AMT stand anywhere – then oh joy! Turns out there’s one on Oxford station, so I got my Chai Steamer after all.  Loafed around the city for a while, then a No 2 bus across to the Lion Hudson offices, and caught a lift back to Aylesbury with the Badger – nice to have an extra night curled up together midweek.

Then Wednesday morning, up while the lark was still yawning and checking its watch, back to Oxford (sometimes the Badger shows startling devotion to the cause!) arriving at 8 o’clock and catching a bus to the city centre, dawdling about in the shops having fun until it was TIME! 

Time, that is, to walk along to the Randolph Hotel to meet up with Mary for coffee – it’s official; this is the furthest distances a friend and I have ever travelled for a coffee.  She came from Kansas City

OK confession – she didn’t only come to have coffee with me, she was visiting with her daughter Jessica who is studying in Oxford this year.

Mary got in touch with me a few years ago to let me know she teaches my Hawk and the Dove books with her high school students.  She’s made some curriculum materials especially, and every now and then she lets me know what she’s doing and how the students respond to the stories, which is encouraging and lovely and fun.

Mary and her family upped sticks from wherever they were living before and moved across America to settle in Kansas City for one reason only: they wanted to live there because it’s the home of the 24:7 prayer movement and the International House of Prayer, which sounds wonderful.  There is someone in the Prayer Room all the time, even through the night, praising God and praying for the world.

Mary teaches at the Daniel Academy which is just one branch of the I.H.O.P. ministry.

So she and I have corresponded quite a bit, but we never actually met until Wednesday, when she was in Oxford with her daughters Jessica and Emily, who are so beautiful, as lovely as their mother.

And we met at the Randolph Hotel, which is one of my favourite places ever, and talked and ate delectable pastries and shortbread, and shared hot drinks as if we were the happiest people in the world, for an hour and a half.  And then I went off to Hastings and Mary and Emily and Jessica off to Bath.  
Er . . . Bath is an English town.

You can see a photo of Mary here,(scroll down to the post entitled Thanksgiving recap" and the family group photo) with Jessica: Mary is third from the left, back row, wearing a black and white top, and Jessica is standing next along from her.  And Emily is in the front in a green t-shirt.  You can hear Mary here, at a meeting in the Daniel Academy.

I am so glad we met face-to-face at last; and I know, I just know, we will meet again some day.


365 366 Day 82 – Thursday March 22nd  
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here) 

 Oh, this is such a good book!  I recommend!  If you have a dragon of your own you will really enjoy this.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

When a writer marries her publisher . . .

Yesterday I travelled to Oxford to meet up with my friend Mary (I’ll tell you about that tomorrow), staying overnight with the Badger at his midweek roost in Aylesbury.  We chatted about life the universe and everything as we made the early morning journey to his office on the outskirts of Oxford – he works for Lion Hudson, a Christian publishing house.

He had evidently been mulling over some of my recent blog posts about my state of mind, and been observing it himself as well.  He concluded, as he told me he’d confided to his colleague Simon last week: “I think my wife is expecting a book!”

Shrewd.  Very shrewd!

365 366 Day 81 – Wednesday March 21st  
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Oh, this sweet little chest of drawers was the original house for my Japanese tea-set when we got it.   Then we kept packets of seeds in it for a while.  It made the perfect container for a sewing kit for two small fairies who live nearby.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

And not concentrating

After I had been thinking about concentrating yesterday, this morning I found myself not concentrating.

When I make my porridge in the morning I take one of the Japanese teacups down from the shelf for a measure.

In parenthesis: I am trying to avoid the word “use”.  I intensely dislike the idea of “using” anything.  I caught myself just now about to say “I use one of the Japanese teacups as a measure.”  And then again, when I stopped on the verge of saying “I don’t like using the word ‘use’.”
At his community in Plum Village, periodically in the course of the day a bell rings, and at the meeting for meditation it’s customary in the Buddhist way to start with the ring of a bell.  Thich Nhat Hanh describes this as “inviting the bell to sound”; I love that.  To regard even inanimate objects with respect, and encounter them as though they were living beings, is skilful means in my eyes.

Not “use”, then.

So anyway, I place into a milk-pan one cupful of rolled oats from Scotland, about a third of a small teaspoon of salt from our own sea here in St Leonards (hooray!), one cupful of soya milk, and two cupfuls (cupsful?) of Oatly (oat milk).  Then I cook them until they are porridge.

When we chucked out all our sugar a week or so back I ate the porridge without my customary sprinkling of sugar, and discovered to my surprise I really liked it without.  Then we all fell off the wagon (sigh: so soon!) and I went back to putting some sugar on my porridge.  But after two mornings of this I noticed something.  I didn’t actually want the sugar on my porridge at all, I was just having it because I could – defiance in the face of hardened oughteries – in spite of the fact I preferred it without.  This has to be a manifestation of insanity!  Because I noticed, I stopped.  Because I stopped, I didn’t feel the need for a cup of tea with my porridge.  Tea and sugar are evil twins in my life; always found together.  If I can’t have the tea I don’t want the sugar.  If I can’t have the sugar I don’t want the tea.  If I have them both I think they’re delicious, but they make me feel really . . . really . . . t i r e d . . .

Not what you want at breakfast time.

But I digress.

So anyway this morning I had to face the first challenge of the day: opening a new carton of Oatly and a new carton of soya milk.  “Oh, here we go – I hate this!” I was thinking to myself.  The Oatly has to be very well shaken up or it’s all strange and watery, and the soya milk has to be shaken too.  Neither can be shaken successfully before being opened, and when opened but full there’s a risk of spilling soya milk liberally everywhere when shaking it, if the fit on the little cap isn’t good.  Plus the sealing tabs are so darn fiddly to get off.  So I was grouching about this and muttering in my soul when suddenly I realised that in so doing I had stopped concentrating. 

If I concentrate, things aren’t a nuisance (well, all right, some things are but not opening new cartons of plant milk).

If I concentrate, I feel peaceful in my body in the task of opening the little tabs with care to make a successful job of it.  I enjoy the teacup in its beautifulness.  I shake up the carton thoroughly and enjoy the milk pouring out in the right consistency.  I enjoy being there and doing that thing.

Why it makes me cross is because I let my mind go galloping on to the next stage – cooking the porridge – and get impatient with the first stage of opening and shaking and measuring and pouring.  So I get scattered and the present task harasses me because I am actually somewhere else in the future cooking porridge and don’t want to be distracted from that by the inconvenient present.

Because I noticed this, I remembered to come back to now – where else is there to be, really, after all?  And then I enjoyed it all, in a happy contented sort of way.  And because I had noticed I didn’t actually want any sugar (yes – how could that be?), I didn’t want any tea either, and none of that was a struggle and I didn’t have to cope with that dragging weariness end-of-the-world or at least end-of-my-life feeling that follows on the heels of ingesting the evil combination of tea and sugar.

In case you should conclude I am reaching a pinnacle of rarified dietary purism, let me tell you that I did have a cup of tea and a cinnamon biscuity thing that has sugar on it this afternoon.

But this was not meant to be about tea and sugar really, but about concentrating and not concentrating, so let’s not dwell on the evil twins more than absolutely necessary.


365 366 Day 80 – Tuesday March 20th   
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)   

Oh, boots!  I have two flat sturdy pairs of boots for striding about in, and two more ladylike pairs with low heels (one black pair, one brown) for when I have a momentary Aspiration To Elegance.  That seemed enough, really.  Because I have massive feet it’s hard to get shoes, so I tend to clutch compulsively onto any that seem to fit.  These did, so I bought them.  They simply duplicated another category already supplied.  I hope they managed to find some other lady with massive feet to wear them.