Monday, 30 April 2012

Polly Flinders

Sweeping the grate clear of ashes this morning brought back to mind a nursery rhyme:

Little Polly Flinders
Sat among the cinders,
Warming her pretty little toes.
Her mother came and caught her,
And whipped her little daughter,
For spoiling her nice new clothes.


How depressing.

When my children were little, like most children they were given books of nursery rhymes by me and by other relatives.  I think I was drawn to them because I had them as a child myself, and without any significant reflection reached out for them for my own children. 

If the time came round again, I think I would not choose them as reading material for a child now.  Nursery rhymes exhibit a kind of pathological callousness and liking for the macabre that makes my flesh crawl a little:

Jack and Jill
Went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.


Three blind mice, see how they run; (x 2)
They all run after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did ever you see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice?

And so on – no doubt you know them.

The Polly Flinders one was particularly baffling to my children.  Convinced that, to flourish, children needed interaction with the elements – fire, air, earth and water – I set about ensuring this would be a possibility.  They were encouraged to play in mud, with garden herbs, in rock pools by the sea, in the tall summer grass, in the fallen leaves of woodland.  We spent hours on the beach, and from their earliest days they were taken outside to be among the leaves and flowers and birds.  And, we always had an open fire.  Rather than separate or protect them from it, I taught them how to respect and interact with it – the dragon in the house, the living being that breathes and eats and flickers and dances.  They traced their fingers through the soft fallen ashes, we cooked sweet chestnuts on the bars of the grate, and winter days and evenings were always warmed by fires of scavenged and donated wood.

So it came about that the first half of the nursery rhyme made perfect sense: my little girls also liked to sit right up close to the fire, enjoying its warmth and the fascination of its beauty, poking it and feeding it and generally enjoying its company.  What they couldn’t understand was the nursery rhymes calm acceptance that this pastime should provoke maternal violence.  It caused a certain hiatus every time.  A pause of uncertainty.  Poor Polly Flinders.


365 366 Day 120 – Sunday April 29th  

A zandana.  I accumulated a considerable number of headcoverings. I kept 3 scarves that I can wind in a kind of turban style (I think it’s called a “crown” style) and a three plain dark hats in soft materials that don’t hurt for being stuffed in a bag/drawer.

365 366 Day 121 – Monday April 30th  

This book is not just itself but represents a category: “Things I must give back.”  I don’t see many people, and don’t keep many things.  This being the case I am constantly amazed by how many items manage to find their way into our home.  One on its way, then!  :0)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The tiniest house of them all

We have a lot of tiny houses in England that are just normal dwelling places, but I thought you might like to see the picture of the tiniest regular brick-built house I have ever seen. 

Smuggler’s Cottage is a real house that someone once lived in, not a playhouse for a child.  It was built in the 18th century and was someone’s home during the 19th century.  In fact it is said that a family of five lived there (!) and it was one of the hiding places for smugglers connected by a web of secret passages.

It’s a few miles along the road from us just near Great Dixter, in the village of Northiam, in England’s East Sussex.  


 365 366 Day 118 – Friday April 27th 
 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here) 

In Palmers Lane in Bishops Stortford (just round the corner from here), the town on the border of Hertfordshire where I grew up and went to school, is a wonderful shop called Bears.  It opened when I was about 16, and I used to go there to buy joss sticks.  I think it was in that shop that I first came across Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.  As the years went by Bears grew gradually more sophisticated and now sells Lagenlook clothes by Flax and other wonderful makers of flowing garments in natural fibres.

Back in the mid-70s, I went there with the lad who became my first husband when we had come down from York to spend the summer in Hertfordshire with my family, working on the farm (him) and in the home for people with epilepsy (me) in the university vacation.  He bought a ring at Bears – a silver ring from Tibet at the time when their beautiful artefacts had come into the market as the Chinese took them over. 

Later on in the 90s, still loving to call in at Bears on the occasions I went to visit with my family, I bought this bag – beautiful, sturdy, well-made. 

Another example of how, if you don’t want to disappear under the Avalanche of Stuff, there are choices to be made and priorities to be set – and sometimes that involves saying goodbye even to treasured and beautiful possessions that have a history to them.

365 366 Day 119 – Saturday April 28th   

 I crocheted this blanket from a mixture of odds and ends – some of my own homespun (the fudge-coloured squares, spun from the fleece of one of my cousin Kathryn's alpacas) and all sorts of other bits I had lying around.  I gave it to a craftsman who lives out at Crowhurst in a caravan – he has a woodstove but his walls are thin and poorly insulated; it was very cold this winter, and he needed an extra blanket for his bed.  He was really pleased with it :0)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Love - U R doin it wrong

I have been thinking about a song.

This came about because our Fi was belting it out at full volume in her bedroom (singing it I mean, not playing an electronic recording) at the time I wandered upstairs to retire for the night.

I am very nervous of quoting songs on the internet, because poets and singers, musicians and even some novelists, once they reach celebrity status, enter some kind of samsara state of mind where it seems reasonable to them to employ legal firms to comb the internet for copyright infringements for which they can sue people to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

This sufficiently alarms and horrifies me that I have no plans to trip all unawares into that bear-pit.

A few years ago one could expect to quote two lines of a song or poem without seeking permission.  Now the rule of thumb is, “Don’t bother.”

Even so I did want to say something about the song Fi was singing.   It is called River Deep, Mountain High, and was performed by Tina Turner.   I remember listening to it on the school bus, because we always begged the driver to let us listen to Radio One (the pop station) on the journey home, and it was in the charts when I was a teenager.

At that time, the lyrics seemed reasonable – and plausible – to me.  Yes, I could remember what it felt like to have a favourite doll (or perhaps my stuffed plush fox would fit the bill) to whom I had given my heart and in whom I saw great charm and worthiness.  At that age, making the transition from childhood to adulthood, I could both remember the emotional attachment I felt to my toys and feel vividly the power and intensity of falling in love with boys, and the similarity to which the song drew attention had my ready acquiescence – yes; I love you just the way I loved that stuffed fox but with extra ampage.

Listening to Fi singing this evening, forty years down the road, I found myself wondering, what was Phil Spector (who wrote the lyrics) thinking of?  I mean, could you imagine the response of the beloved mentioned in the song?

Conceive if you can, of a young man in the 16-22 age group being informed by some dewy-eyed bird that she had a rag doll she really really really (to the power of 40 and climbing) loved – and she now is ready to reveal that she loved him just like she loved her Raggedy Ann, only more so. 

“Er . . . gee . . . thanks . . .”

I mean the relationship is doomed, innit?    


 365 366 Day 117 – Thursday April 26th 
 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)  

 Ah – happy memory!  The first year I went to the Big Green Gathering, a huge and glorious Permaculture event in England’s west country (a Google image search on "Big Green Gathering" will give you an idea, though I never did see those ladies clad only in mud), I bought this bag for 50p.  It served me well for more than a decade, and was getting a bit decrepit – but came in handy for bagging up items of clothing for the charity shop.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Tiny houses - fab video

 In the world right now, I have three heroes – they are Vandana Shiva, Thich Nhat Hanh and Jay Shafer.   I feel proud and honoured to be breathing the air, walking the earth, in the same generation as these luminous souls.

Jay Shafer began the Tiny House movement (though of course people did live in tiny houses all over the world since forever).  I am so grateful to Kirsten Dirksen for the wonderful videos of Tiny Houses that she has posted on YouTube as she charted her exploration through this inspiring territory.

The video embedded here today is not a short one – it lasts for just over an hour and twenty minutes, so you need a time when you can hole up with a hot drink and a cookie and settle into enjoying this absolute smörgåsbord of gloriful tiny houseness.

365 366 Day 113 – Sunday April 22nd     

This was my diary at the beginning of the year, but it was too big.  The Badger had a much smaller one for Christmas, but as he uses his Filofax (that’s a kind of diary made from pastry), the gift was surplus to his requirements.  So I snaffled it and the one in the picture here became kindling.  I felt on reflection I was not cut out for world domination.

365 366 Day 114 – Monday April 23rd   

This tube contained a cosmetic product for turning my hair into barbed wire, just as it says on the pack.  I purchased it in a moment of blind inexcusable folly.  This year, one of the things I have worked on is simplifying right down the toiletries in my daily routine.  This is the resulting list:

I have 2 shampoo bars on the go from Lush (one in the shower, one in the Garret).  These are veggie, earth-friendly, zero-packaging and smell fab.  They work for soap as well as hair, and I wash my clothes with them too.  I have worked out some new life routines to keep things simple and earth-friendly, and I’ll post about those another day.  Alice and I share a big bottle of Lush Veganese hair conditioner, and I add a little to rinsing water as fabric conditioner too.

I have some essential oils – rosemary, rose maroc, frankincense, lavender and patchouli.  I put on the lavender under my arms as a deodorant.  For moisturiser (face and body) I buy a big pot of aqueous cream for £1.99 from the local chemist, and fragrance it with the essential oils.

I brush my teeth with Lush Toothytabs – saves on packaging, water, dodgy chemicals and money.  Very travel-friendly.

I have no other cosmetic products except a small stash of make-up that I rarely wear (a few lipsticks, 2 blushers).  I do still dry my hair with a (small, travel, folding) hairdryer.  We export to the national Grid way more electricity than we get through ourselves, so it’s a luxury I allow myself, and it means my hair looks the way I like it.  The barbed-wire look did not add much, I felt.

365 366 Day 115 – Tuesday April 24th   

This was a fun mirror I had as a gift – absolutely loved it and enjoyed it so much.  I passed it on as a gift myself, to extend the joy


Saturday, 21 April 2012


In response to my post about favourite songs the other day, Julie drew my attention to this beautiful song I’d never heard before, Come thou fount of every blessing.  I love it.

What spoke to me most vividly from the song is this verse:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

Indeed and Amen.

I have a tattoo on my arm (I wrote about it here a year ago).  I had it done in the darkest and most difficult time of my life.  It has the opening words from St Patrick’s Breastplate, “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity,” written around a simple image of a cross within a circle, which represents the cross that stands while the earth revolves and is also the ancient Celtic glyph for the Sacred Earth.

The tattoo – I had it done on St Patrick’s day – was meant to be a luggage label ("Please look after this bear").  If I could have had it tattooed deeper in than my body, going right through to my innermost soul, I would have done.  They always tell you not to have tattoos in case you regret it later, because they are so hard to remove; but the whole point for me was exactly that – that it could not be removed, whatever my regrets and vacillations, whatever my doubts and unfaithfulness – I am the property of Jesus Christ, and I wish to be returned to Him.  I’m His baggage!

Sheep have ink marks on their fleece to show which shepherd owns them.  A monk I worked with at one time had his flock all marked with a big red J – no, not for Jesus, for Jonathan, which was his name.   My tattoo is the ink mark on my fleece, to make it clear whose sheep I am.

I have trouble with any idea of salvation resting upon my own fidelity.  That verse in the gospels where Jesus says those who stand firm to the end shall be saved, just makes me think “Drat!  Bummer!” 

I can’t even stand firm to the end of a diet, I think the chances of my 'faith' withstanding threats of torture and burning alive would be very slender.

I know that in the course of life I might lose my mind, lose my uncertain faith, become senile and wandering and vague.  I might forget who I am and where I live and who the Prime Minister is.  I might drift out of touch with the church and forget the words of the Bible.  Without even waiting for that, I let my Lord down – I am inconsistent and unfaithful and a dodgy witness. 

But my tattoo expresses what I am hoping, that even in spite of who I am the Lord Jesus will say “this one is mine” and take me home to his side.  I don’t want to do anything in particular there.   I like a good hymn, but I don’t want a crown or anything like that.  I certainly don’t want to stand in a large crowd stuck in some interminable act of corporate worship.  I just want to be near Him.  Near enough to be able to see His toenails, and the fastening of His sandals, and the stitching in the hem of His robe, and to be able to hold that hem between my fingers to make sure He can’t get away if I fall asleep.  I would like to trust and believe that this will be so, but at the moment I am just hoping.  And that’s why I had the tattoo.


365 366 Day 112 – Saturday April 21st    

“For everyone”; except me.  Jolly good book.  Never used it.   

Friday, 20 April 2012


I am 55 this year.  For most of the last forty years, religion has attracted and fascinated me – the path of faith in all its manifestations. 

I have loved watching Buddhist nuns sitting immobile, utterly still, in their early meditation, as the night gave way to dawn and then the rising sun slowly illuminated the room, morning light fusing with peace inseparably.  Incense smoke.  Inviting the bell to sound.  Chanting quietly beginning.

Participating in the hospitality of the langar at Sikh gurdwaras, leaving my sandals at the door, covering my head, taking my place with the chanting women in the prayer hall, felt like such a wonder and a privilege.

Sitting in the stone chapel of a Catholic monastery, watching the matter-of-fact tread of sandalled feet and hearing the muffled ripple of moving robes as the community made its way in to prayer, fed my soul.

Attending a full immersion baptism in a Baptist chapel, hearing the testimonies; singing, for the first time ever, “To God be the Glory” filled my heart with joy.

Feeling the evening fold around me in the great spaces of York Minster; the candles, the mounting intricacies of carven wood, the water-clear beauty of the choir measuring the even paces of the psalm chant, this spoke peace to me.

Preaching at little Methodist chapels out in the English countryside, kept open in every place by a handful of ancient faithful souls who, while they could, bore witness – this humbled and moved me.

Poring over photographs and tales of the Amish, the Shakers, the early Quakers – how strongly the peculiar people of God stirred my heart and called me; “You too!”

Religion in the many faces of its reverence and numinous awe has been my preoccupation for decades.

And it no longer is.

A while ago the patient Badger asked me tentatively, “What have you done with your Holy Spirit picture?”  For I loved this picture – when I first saw it I fell head over heels in love with it, capturing as it did the rapture and wonder of prayer when the Spirit comes.  The Badger is wisely cautious.  He waited some weeks after its disappearance to ask the question.

“I gave it to Paul,” I said.

He paused.  I can’t remember if he asked the question aloud, because we can hear each other’s thoughts and do not always need to speak; but he wanted to know, “Why did you do that?”

So I explained, “Because I had seen it enough.”

It was a beautiful picture, an astonishing picture:  I had looked at it every day for months, and now I knew it by heart, and it had slipped into the DNA of my soul.  So I didn’t need it any more.

I am finding this with my books.  Old books, loved books, firm favourites – I feel as though I have read them now, and am ready to let them go.   Even, dare I say it, with dear friends.  I love them as much as I ever have, but I no longer need to see them; they are already in my heart.  I enjoy their company when we meet, but I no longer feel the need I once did to set up times to get together.  Our friendship is understood; it is a given.

And this last year I am finding it is the same with religion.  We talk about faith – that a person “has a faith”.  I don’t know if I “have a faith”.  I think I might not.  If I had a faith I would be a better person, I would be driven by conviction.

I know that I have met the risen Jesus, and that He is beside me in every hour of every day.   I know that God is the context in which all life rests and moves, arises and dies.  I know that the Holy Spirit breathes through me and the whole of creation – every rock, every flower, every shining drop of water.  I don’t need any faith at all for this.  I know it.

Of those three knowings, the most vividly and tangibly real to me is the presence of Jesus.  I could not deny that I have met Him, that He is alive, that He is real.  I know this.

In pursuing their religions, people sometimes ask me what happens when we die and what the future will hold.  I don’t know and I am not curious about it.  I am sure that whatever tomorrow holds will have roots growing from the seed we sowed today.  All that is necessary is to live with love and humility, with simplicity and kindness today, and the future will take care of itself.

I still go to church, because I want the track my feet make to say “Jesus matters,” but what we do there no longer finds a foothold in my soul.

We have the eucharist in bread and wine – but I think the eucharist is also there in someone tenderly and patiently helping a frail, blind old woman drink her cup of tea.  I think communion happens in the hand-holding-hand I observe when I watch a beloved grandad walk slowly down the road with a child who trusts him.

At the funeral I attended this afternoon, I sat with my father-in-law from my first marriage, in the front pew of the side block, just a yard away from where my first husband was playing the electric piano for the service.

And I explained to my father-in-law how, when my first husband (his son) had left me, I had decided to waste no time – I resolved straight away that if he could no longer be my husband, he could at any rate be my brother, and so it has been.  The love has continued, like convolvulus roots underground; we belong to one another, we are one family in Christ – and this is indestructible, it cannot be taken from us.  “Yes,” he said: “I know.”

I don’t mean that I wish I had my first husband back; I do not, I am most happy in my marriage to the Badger, and my first husband is content in his marriage to the Fairy Princess.  I just mean that Christ is in God reconciling all things to Himself, and because of this we (all of us) belong to each other forever, and this is a blessing.

The outer forms of religion – the beautiful temples, the old stone churches, the chanting and incense smoke and prayers and rosaries and robes – I love them, and they are in my heart, but they feel like a beautiful picture I have seen enough and would like to pass on now.

“He has shewed thee, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?”

I would like to learn to do that now.  I have lost interest in the other things – the things they have the wars about.


365 366 Day 111 – Friday April 20th   

This is the one-hundred-and-eleventh day this year.  Do you know when to hyphenate?  I ask because many people do not.  But the principle is simple. “This is the one hundred,” is a stand-alone sentence.  “ ‘This is the one hundred,' is a stand,” is also a stand-alone sentence; though obviously they would both be very puzzling.

“This is the eleventh day this year” is also a stand-alone sentence. 

If I write “This is the one hundred and eleventh day this year, technically nothing but your common sense (which I cannot necessarily rely upon) and intuition leads you to realise that I mean “This is the one-hundred-and-eleventh day this year.”  Linking them into a train like that helps you see it’s meant as a one-thing package.

Maybe the necessity is not obvious from this example.

But what if I said: “She was a maiden and a half sister to the viceroy” (Lord only knows where that sentence came from!)

Is the meaning obvious?  Maybe.

“She was a maiden-and-a-half, sister to the viceroy.”

“She was a maiden and a half-sister to the viceroy.”

See?  The hyphenation makes clarifying links assisting access to the intended meaning.

“John kept up his see Venice and die running commentary going all afternoon.”

“John kept up his see-Venice-and-die running commentary going all afternoon.”

Don’t worry about this if it bores you.

Today’s Lost Object was a fine book of beautiful drawings and very good poetry.  I enjoyed it, but realised that brief admiration felt a better fit than permanent attachment.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Happiness Music

I love this so much. N'Kosi Sikelel' iAfrika is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.

For those wishing to sing along: 
(Xhosa) Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo.
(Zulu) Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo . . .

And this, Stand By Me, is my total favourite of the Song Around the World Playing For Change songs.

In terms of performances, Sung-bong Choi singing on Korea's Got Talent is unforgettable.

There is something about the music of William Byrd that speaks peace to my soul.  I can't find the Agnus Dei from his Mass for three voices (my favourite) online, but here it is from the Mass for four voices - haunting and beautiful.

As to hymns - this never fails to lift my soul - the Gaither Gospel Ensemble singing Revive Us Again

And this!  Christ receiveth sinful men - oh, that is such a fab hymn!  Oh - shame!  They sing only three verses :0(  Well, never mind, here's us singing it at home.

It goes like this if you want to sing along:

1. Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall!

2. Come, and He will give you rest;
Trust Him, for His word is plain;
He will take the sinfulest;
Christ receiveth sinful men.

3. Now my heart condemns me not,
Pure before the law I stand;
He who cleansed me from all spot,
Satisfied its last demand.

4. Christ receiveth sinful men,
Even me with all my sin;
Purged from every spot and stain,
Heaven with Him I enter in.

Sing it o'er and o'er again;
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain:
Christ receiveth sinful men.

I love this too - love it love it - our family sang this at the Badger's and my wedding: Lean On Me.

And this, that I linked you to the other day - if it were humanly possible to have a song actually permanently tattooed on my neural pathways, I'd have this one - No Wait from Plum Village Songs for the Practice

I guess my choices are kind of obvious, but I do love this recording of Time To Say Goodbye.

And, just in case these choices are a little exalted for you, one of my favourites of all time has to be The Dubliners singing The Rare Old Mountain Dew, and another is the extraordinary harpist Joanna Newsom singing This Side of the Blue (I have even preached on this!). 

And Bob Marley - how did I live 32 years before I heard of Bob Marley?  What were my parents thinking of when I was growing up??  This song - Don't Worry - was one I used to listen to often in the really traumatic days when our lives were falling apart.  And it always cheered me up.

Ah.  Happy sigh . . . I could go on all day.

So finally - one for the road - Enjoy Yourself!

But - how about you?  What are your favourites?


365 366 Day 110 – Thursday April 19th 
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)   

A boring but useful little item, if you like arranging flowers (you may remember I had brief churchy aspirations to this).   It’s a dark green painted wooden small trough, with a rigid waterproof line of the right size to take a brick of floral foam.  And it is no longer mine.  Oh, good!

We no longer have the table it was standing on, either. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Thank you Mr Postman

 What a week! I came home from Spring Harvest with the ominous pricklings of a sore throat beginning.  Thursday I had to officiate at two funerals, and by then the sore throat was developing and I felt kinda low.  Obviously unless you have actually been hit by a truck or something, you can’t back out of taking a funeral on the day – having written the eulogies and deceased-specific prayers etc etc.  So I continued as per normal, but during the first funeral my temperature plummeted until I thought I was going to pass out or throw up or something.  I gritted my teeth and f o c u s ed and we got through.

At our crematorium there is no place for clergy to hole up between funerals – they took our room away and gave it to the bearers.  But in the corner of the crem attendant’s office by some coat pegs they had a chair where they let me sit.  Opposite a mirror.  Fascinating.  I texted Hebe to tell her I looked like a ded Bodhi.  All in black too.  Wish you’d seen me.  Yellowish white with not even red eyes and shaking violently.  I sent a message for the Badger to come and get me the minute the second funeral was through, and at home they all prayed for me which was most necessary and effective – I still felt like a small glacier in Funeral 2 but not like I would fall over or be sick.

Once home I had to get into my PJs and into bed.  The tribe had put two hot water bottles in my bed ready, plus some flowers and snacks and a glass of water on the nightstand.  Sweethearts!  I got undressed, saying to myself over and over “You can do this.  You can do this.”  Then I collapsed into bed and my whole body shook like it was being electrocuted for a little while, and the hot water bottles began to thaw me out.  I relied on them for a bit until my temperature went up . . . and up . . . and up . . .   I floated about on hot clouds for a bit that day and night, and by the morning I was betterish.  Since then I’ve felt just kind of . . . ill.  My throat got very sore – then better.  I got tired and breathless – then improved.  Then by yesterday I’d got this mother of all coughs that sends me into turbo-super-powered hacking spasms with tears pouring down my face every now and then just for a fun surprise.  And it’s raining and blowing a hooley and as cold as an Alaskan popsicle with added liquid nitrogen.

All this week (part of not feeling very well, I think) I’d been feeling fed up and depressed about the state of the world, the church and humankind, and a bit lost in the fog and generally pointless and like giving up.

So by this morning I'd gotten to feeling kinda sorry for myself.

Until the mail came.

There were two really nice letters from the next of kin from the two funerals saying how pleased they’d been with them and how just right they were.  That was lovely.

But best of all, a letter from Sister Mary of St Joseph of the Notting Hill Carmelites to whom I’d sent a bundle of books earlier in the spring.  She’d written when she got them, to say thank you, and I thought that was nice and didn’t expect to hear from her again.

But it turns out their correspondence was on short rations for Lent, and she had more to say.  She said she really loved the Hawk & Dove books and thought they should be compulsory reading for every novice (you have no idea how pleased I feel that she said that).  And best of all, she sent me (as well as a book about the Carmelite tradition of prayer) a DVD that I’d really wanted to see but I couldn’t obtain anywhere – a tribute made by their community to one of their sisters (Sister Patricia Mary of Jesus) who died two years ago of pancreatic cancer. 

And this DVD is called “Never Lose Hope,”  which is something Sister Patricia Mary said to her sisters after a very difficult evening just four days before she died.

The community the DVD comes from is the one in the wonderful No Greater Love, so I feel as though I almost know them just through watching that film.

I’m going to make myself a hot drink, then curl up and watch this DVD right now!

Oh, God bless Sister Mary of St Joseph – that’s cheered me up so much!

Yes, I know – there are not many women who would seize a homemade film about a nun dying of pancreatic cancer and shriek “Oh, wow! That’s the film I’ve been looking for.”  Just a special select few on a tiny planet orbiting round a question mark at a suitably safe distance from the earth.

By heck, it’s cold today!  I need a doughnut!

365 366 Day 108 – Tuesday April 17th   

Ditching the ironing board!  Yeah, man! You better believe it!  Hahahaha – hooray! Yes, there are still some items we occasionally need to iron, but we have kept our kitchen table so that’s OK.

365 366 Day 109 – Wednesday April 18th   

Cranks Cookbook.  Let me tell you, when in 2002 I moved in with Bernard to his cottage all kitted out with the belongings of his previous wife Anne (that was how I knew him – we met when someone recommended me to him to take Anne’s funeral back in 1997), I was delighted to find a copy of the Cranks Cookbook, because I’d been in their Covent Garden restaurant often before it curled up and died, and loved their food. "Go, Annie!" I thought, "Fab choice!"  I never actually cooked anything from it, but when Bernard died a couple of years later and I moved out again, it was the one thing that wasn’t mine I took with me.  That was in 2004.  It stayed with me in my tiny apartment in St Leonards for a couple more years, during which time I never even opened it.  However it was Cranks Cookbook, so I carefully packed it up with the rest of my stuff and took it up to Aylesbury when I married the Badger and moved north to be with him in 2006.  It stayed on a shelf there with the rest of the cookery books, and because it was the cherished and hallowed Cranks Cookbook it escaped the cull of further downsizing when we moved back to Hastings at the end of 2009. 

This is 2012.  I have never, not once in ten years, consulted that book for any recipe whatever.  When I cook, I just make it up as I go along.  Fiction cooking.  I sent it off to the Oxfam bookshop so the non-fiction cooks could have a go.


Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Spoiling the whole effect.

A small conversation I had with the Badger about shirts and about four years ago so surprised me that it stuck in my mind as a little shard of something different that didn’t really belong there.

I had ironed the said shirts and hung them up in his wardrobe, but at some point he expressed a wistful desire to have the top button done up as well when I put the shirt on the hanger.  This hopeful suggestion was not especially well received.  At a later point we had a conversation about the conversation (as we do), in which he explained to me that the problem was, if you don’t do up the button to make the shirt look all smart and tidy, “it spoils the whole effect”.

It’s interesting being married to someone from a different planet.  On more than one occasion, when I have been prattling on easily, clambering around in my thought systems and commenting on the view, the Badger has remarked that though he understands the prose sense of all the words I have been using and is familiar with the vocabulary and listening carefully, he has been completely unable to extract any meaning out of what I have just said to him. 

In similar wise, I still have stuck in my mind this bright blue (or is it red?) thought-shard stuck in my head – “It spoils the whole effect”.

The thing is, nothing in my upbringing, as far as I remember, was ever done for effect.  Nothing.  Achieving an effect was not on anyone’s agenda.   We did things like taking the bucket of steaming layers’ mash across the river on a winter morning and bringing back the eggs from the nest-boxes.  Or wrestling a sheep to the ground because we’d spotted a blow-fly attack and needed to lift back the flap of fleece and clean the wound mighty quick, pouring in Jeyes-fluid-and-water until all the fat maggots came boiling out and stopped eating the poor animal alive.  Or mixing concrete to make a new floor for the barn, or picking gooseberries in the hot sun – a spiky and backbreaking task.  Or walking down the lane to Evensong when the day was done, or standing in the ford watching the water rippling over my feet and the amber weeds waving on the submerged road.  Nothing, but nothing, was ever for effect. 

Even when at fourteen I stitched a moon and stars onto the swirling black cloak someone had filched from a theatrical department for me, and went everywhere with a silver-topped cane, and a copy of the complete works of Shelley stuffed into a nosebag and slung over my shoulder, that wasn’t for effect.  Why would anyone ever look at me?  I was being and imagining, not looking like.

And when one time at about the same age, while roaming our sleepy market town one Saturday morning I fell in with a group of lads and one of them was so beautiful I had to kiss him – just had to – it wasn’t for effect, it was for pure necessity.  He didn’t mind.  I never saw him before that moment or ever again, but I remember him.

The notion stopped me in my tracks and the surprise is ever-new: the concept of doing things for effect.

And this is the nub of my most serious problem with the church.

It’s a funny thing  being married to a publisher of Christian books.

Some of the authors have had magnificent adventures, with stories to tell that would make your hair stand on end, like Andrew White and Simon Guillebaud.  Some have such heroic souls that their stories should be told, like Michael Wenham.  Some have great status as preachers, or a wonderful pastoral ministry or have achieved marvels as street pastors or in gangland or whatever it might be.  Some have been archbishops or explorers or scientists or apologists or missionaries or undergone spectacular conversions.

The authors of these stories can in some cases put a manuscript together with impressive ability, but not every one can write well.  Styles vary very much of course, and skill likewise – because the point is, a publisher of Christian books will go for an amazing story even if it doesn’t come from an amazing writer.  There are jobbing writers who can tidy up and fill out and generally titivate and bring up to scratch any manuscripts that need it.

But though they aren’t all splendid writers, they are all supposed to be Christians of great integrity – they are meant to be living the Gospel story they are telling.   Their preaching, their teaching, their forth-telling is not meant to be just for the effect.

The Badger is a bit of a workaholic, and his authors all have his phone number, so “work” tends to flow over into “holiday” more often than not.  One year, holiday got a bit cramped because he just had to take on someone else’s work as well as his own, since three authors had so badly overrun their deadlines that the publishing schedules became impossible for the staff whose task they were.  And on another occasion, an author sold hundreds and hundreds of books at some Christian festival, then threw all the toys out of the pram and subjected the Badger to a series of semi-abusive messages because on the last day of a very long festival the bookshop (who had judged the required quantity almost perfectly) had sold the last 50 books in stock and run out. 

We never know who we’re speaking to, do we?

That famous Christian speaker with the famous Christian book and famous Christian ministry (who I am entirely sure will never read this very unimportant and unfamous blog) will never know that whoever else watched and listened to the marvellous sermons and read the marvellous book, I was here watching and listening to the preacher’s life behind the scenes.  A ministry exercised, it appeared, for effect.  And it did indeed have an effect on me.  That writer’s ministry was one more pair of hands pushing me to the very edge of church so that I have to grit my teeth and cling on – I will keep going . . . I will keep going . . .  Jesus deserves that much from me . . . He is my Lord.

“ESSE QUAM VIDERI” A quotation from Cicero’s essay on Friendship, adopted as North Carolina’s state motto. 

Esse quam videri is what’s wanted in a writer of Christian books.  Anything less will always be found out.  There is always someone like me tucked away unnoticed, watching . . . listening . . . that much more encouraged or more disillusioned by what we see and hear.

I watched my Badger get more and more distressed over two days arrogant bullying from this wonderful preacher.  I don’t care if that Christian celebrity can talk the moon down out of the sky, I shan’t ever be interested to hear, not now I’ve looked underneath and seen how the engine works.  Doesn’t matter.   Shan’t be missed.  Who am I?  No influence, not one of the in-crowd, a nonentity.  But I do see.  It's a minority, God be thanked, but not that tiny a minority.

As I turned it over and turned it over in my mind, it brought to light that thought-shard from four years ago, lodged in my head from a neighbouring planet: “It spoils the whole effect!”  Yes.  It does rather.  And it shows up that “an effect” is all it ever was.  Just a buttoned-up shirt on a hanger.   Give me a bucket of layers’ mash and a can of Jeyes fluid any day.  I can do more with it than with some of those sermons.

In the heart of the Forest of Bowland stands the Hark To Bounty inn - I remember it from my childhood, and I understand it's still there.  The inn sign swinging high on the wall outside has two pictures - one of a preacher sounding forth and one of a dog that won't stop barking.  Very expressive.


365 366 Day 107 – Monday April 16th   

This was a handy wooden box a bit shabby inside but good for storing shed things in etc.  As with so many things one owns, it was so useful.

I am finding it helpful to disregard if things are a) useful b) beautiful c) I like them.  Those are not the criteria I apply any more.  I try to consider if it is necessary for the journey I am making rather than if it is attractive or has intrinsic virtue – because if it didn’t I’d not have got it in the first place and therefore would be inclined always to keep everything forever.