Thursday, 31 May 2012

Note to self

·         Begin and end each day with a prayer, 
·        Do not go out of your budget, save up for purchases.  Live as frugally as possible, leaving enough to be generous and to share, and see to it that there is a prudent margin then stop thinking about it.  Invest in property and do not leave sums on deposit in banks where it may be used for guns and bombs and sweatshops.  Keep your income low to avoid large sums going in taxation to the Inland Revenue where it will contribute towards war, vivisection and genetic mutation.  Keep your finances as uncomplicated and straightforward as possible: no credit card, no store cards, no complex investments, no tangle of insurances – just the basics.  Seek increasingly to reduce the role of money and the banking system in your life.
·        Be content with the provision of the household for food, adding only sparingly and a little of personal extras.
·        For cosmetics and toiletries be content with sodium bicarbonate, cider vinegar, aqueous cream, lavender and frankincense. Clean your teeth and hair with sodium bicarbonate and condition your hair with cider vinegar.
·        For medicines be provided with plasters, lavender oil, tea tree oil, propolis, hopi candles.
·        For keeping clean utensils and clothes, have good soap, borax, sodium bicarbonate, cider vinegar, lemons, lavender oil, tea tree, frankincense and myrrh.  Nothing else is necessary.
·        Let your food be simple and cheerful.  Enjoy wild food – blackberries, ramsons, mushrooms and elderberries, as well as home-grown vegetables and herbs.
·        For light and heat, be provided with seasoned wood and beeswax candles.  Every now and then go wooding for kindling sticks and fir-cones.
·        Limit computer use to writing your blog, professional commitments of editing and writing books and articles, preparing funerals, fulfilling the obligations of the church PCC secretary, archiving and recording, creating stationery, making financial spread-sheets etc, correspondence, researching (eg earth closets, gardening info, beekeeping etc) – and other creative work.  Spend no time on the internet socialising or idly cruising about looking at this and that and shopping.  If you need anything, look in the local stores or resource from plain and simple sites free of temptations (eg Dash or Landsend).  For the most part, strictly limit the time you spend using the computer to a couple of hours a day.
·        Shower once in three or four days, washing your clothes in the shower at the same time.  Eat a simple, low-fat, natural diet and avoid the stress of rush and tear and conflict, then your body will have no unpleasant odours.  Clean your teeth with bicarbonate of soda, wash your hair with bicarb and vinegar, adding borax and soap to the accumulated water to wash the clothes.  Rinse them in water saved from the roof or hot-water run-off.   Use family cloths or just water instead of toilet paper.
·        Save all water run off to get to the hot, store it in large jars and use for soaking pans, cooking vegetables, boiling for tea, watering plants, your bathroom needs and rinsing clothes.
·        Save as much rainwater as you have capacity for.  In rainy weather, harvest the water constantly to use instead of city water for watering indoor plants, soaking pans, rinsing clothes, steaming vegetables and house cleaning.  But do not drink the rainwater or incorporate it into cooking; use city water for that because of germs and parasites from birds.
·        Gather and dilute (from 1-in-3 to 1-in10) all urine and spread fresh on the garden at the end of the day once the dew falls.  It is full of nitrates and will make healthy plants.
·        Gather and compost in bokashi bran all nightsoil (free from urine).  Age the resulting compost in the big pile for the heat to neutralise pathogens before digging into the garden in the autumn.
·        Cook on the woodstove where practical in the winter, out of doors sometimes in the summer, and eat bread-based meals, fruit and salads often to avoid using electricity.  Use solar power for heating the water and running any electric appliances, remembering to work with the natural rhythms of light for any cooking with electricity, or ironing etc.  Save hot water in a thermos flask if you boil a kettle.  Stay with vegan or vegetarian food and fish for your own health, sustainable societies and compassion – let the animals go free.  Seek out honey from kind beekeepers who allow the bees to keep some of their honey for their own use.
·        Buy bread, cheese, butter, milk, fish, yoghourt, vegetables, grains and prepared foods from small local independent producers and retailers so far as your budget allows.  Remember that you bless and prosper only those you buy from, and are responsible for the society you have helped to shape thereby.  Check the social and environmental responsibility of your suppliers of clothing (and fabrics). Avoid packaging as much as possible, choosing shops that use paper bags which can be re-used for starting the fire.  Re-use what packaging you have attracted – for mailing packages, bagging trash (there shouldn’t be much of that), burning in the grate for a short fire (eg while you sit down for breakfast or a quick cup of tea but will be leaving the fireside soon).
·        Keep TV time to a minimum, watching only clean, intelligent and informative programmes, and uplifting well-crafted drama.
·        Every day: take abundant time in nature, walking and gardening; read and think and write; make things (bake, spin, knit, make stationery, prepare gifts for special occasions).
·        Give time to people who are lonely or vulnerable – little children and the old.  Identify a contribution to make to the work of the church, and do it faithfully.
·        Wherever possible, write letters not emails, do business personally with people not electronically or automatically with machines, deal in cash not plastic.
·        Go to live performances of music instead of relying on recorded music.
·        Live simply, kindly, justly and with immediacy – do not let the seeping isolation of automata and the electronic revolution saturate your life.  Avoid display of any kind; live quietly and retiredly.  Dress plainly and simply in quiet clothes that do not attract attention.
·        Be gentle with God’s creatures; give a home to a rescue animal, avoid killing, ensure that your choices look kindly on the habitat of wild creatures of every kind – leave a margin of wilderness in even the smallest garden, never travel with someone who drives too fast to stop for a running animal or startled bird.
·        Travel by public transport or walk. 
·        Take advantage of daylight and the morning hours.  Observe the rhythms of the seasons, work in natural light.  Every day take delight in the beauty and romance of light of all kinds – sunlight, starlight, firelight – sunrise and sunset; and remember to set time aside to watch the light on water – by lakes and canals, by streams and the ocean.  Walk in the woods and marvel at the dappling light in the trees.  Remember hearing and eyesight fade with age, muscles weaken and joints stiffen.  Do not miss the chance you have now to hear the birds sing, walk in the hills, and watch the glory of sunrise over the sea.
·        Work every day – keep your home clean, neat and clear of clutter, fulfil your responsibilities to family and society.  Work at what delights you, fulfilling the vocation of your inborn talents and abilities.  Play every day – reading, enjoying the company of friends, discussing and dreaming and creating.  If you work with the natural light and do not override the rhythms of the seasons by electricity, you will have the rest your body needs.
·        Do what you can for yourself, with your own hands.  Avoid automata, machinery you cannot maintain, sophisticated systems that mystify you and leave you at the mercy of people you do not know or trust.  Clean your own house, dig your own garden. Home-made clothes are the best, but be content with what you already have in your wardrobe, and avoid things that need ironing or add complication to your life. 
·        Don’t quarrel, speak kindly, think before you speak, never regard others with contempt, be patient and courteous.  Spend ample time in solitude and silence.  Always try to see the other person’s point of view.
·        Avoid clocks, mirrors, gadgetry, complication of every sort.  Consider the hidden dirt and risks, the moulds and leaks and health hazards of plumbing and electrification, the cost to the earth of white goods –  Be content with wet sand or water for cooling; take advantage of north-facing shady locations and the cool of the night; open and shut the windows and doors for a cooling breeze or passive solar heat; dry clothes on the line or over racks, doors and banisters.
·        Simplify wherever and whenever possible.  Live the simplest life your circumstances permit: and if your circumstances tend to complicate, look at how they can be changed.


365 366 Day 152 – Thursday May 31st
(if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here) 

 I liked this enamel mug because it said something along the lines of “Would you like a refill?” at the bottom on the inside – which made me smile.  Apart from that I thought it was pretty ugly really, but good for picnics etc.  However, I do have more than one other enamel mug and in reality I almost never go on picnics – the appeal of lugging heavy bags of food and utensils across rough terrain when you can eat in comfort at home or have a cup of tea in a café is largely lost on me.  So this particular enamel mug went to a charity shop.   

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Having devoted a substantial portion of this day to my beautiful mama, I have a fleeting half hour in which to water the garden before going out again.  The tiny tomato plants will perish in the combination of breeze and heat up on this hilltop if they are not watered every day.   

So I am just waving in passing as I flash by . . .

Hope you are well and happy, even if you have not always been good.


365 366 Day 151 – Wednesday May 30th  
 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

A chair.  Pretty.  Surplus to requirements.  Somehow, we acquired a lot of chairs.  Friends and relatives who have loads of stuff and don’t know what to do with it often give it to us.  Our best one ever was a married couple who called us to say “We are taking our vacuum cleaner to the dump because it just chucks out all the dust again instead of sucking it up properly – but we wondered if you’d like it?”  Strange, I know, but we said no thank you.  Anyway this was a nice chair but our home got a bit chair-ridden after a while.  It found a happy new home.

365 366 Day 150 – Tuesday May 29th 
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Orange plastic costume jewellery – honestly, why wait for dementia when you can make such silly choices now?   

Monday, 28 May 2012

Breadcrumbs Pebbles String

Hansel and Gretel found themselves deep in the forest, where they had been abandoned by their father at the urging of their wicked stepmother.  Stepmothers, incidentally, are always wicked.  Trust me, I know this.  I am a stepmother myself.

They (Hansel and Gretel, not the stepmothers) entertained suspicions of their unscrupulous parents plans – did they overhear a conversation?  I can’t remember; it’s years since I read this story – Grimm in every sense.  But they twigged.    Hansel rose to the occasion and dropped a series of small white pebbles as their father led them deeper and deeper into the forest.   The reflection of the moon on the surface of these stones enabled them to retrace their footsteps once their heartless relative had scarpered and left them to their fate.  So, much to their parents’ irritation, Handsel and Gretel were back on the doorstep before bedtime.

The very next day, on some flimsy pretext, out they were led once more with their indefatigable father determined to see them off.   Hansel tackled the problem yet again, this time trickling a trail of breadcrumbs to show the way home.  No explanation is given as to why they wanted to go home.  I guess the brothers Grimm assumed we all agree anything is better than nothing when faced with our human vulnerability.   Unfortunately, resourceful as he was, Hansel had nonetheless overlooked the likelihood of the breadcrumbs being eaten by birds: which they were.

So they were stuffed.  Left high and dry in the middle of a large forest where every path looked the same, they had no clear discernment of how they got there and not the first idea how to get back.

They found a most attractive destination composed entirely of sweets and cake, and made the serious mistake of trying to take refuge in confectionery; they were discouraged to discover this was a trap.

By this point in the story, I feel a considerable sense of identity with Hansel and Gretel.

I had too had a happy childhood.  I too fall for the error of taking refuge in confectionery.  And I too have got more than a little lost in the forest.

Perhaps I should unpack this a little.

My upbringing, in English country towns and villages, was peaceful, simple and plain.  We had little disposable income but comfortable homes (we moved incessantly).  Our mother was immensely resourceful and set herself the task of inching up the property ladder by the tightwad route.  Outings and treats were rare indeed, but we enjoyed home-grown vegetables and, in due course after several house moves, home-grown eggs and lamb and fruit too.

School, I loathed with a passion beyond my powers to describe; and so for the purpose of this post I delete that entire aspect of my childhood.  Let me remember the grass blowing back from green to silver in the summer breezes on the hill; the sheep chewing contently, resting in the noonday under great shady trees; the walk to church through green lanes and wooded slopes; quietness and solitude, mist in the ditches and fieldflowers banking up the sides of the winding lanes; hedgehogs in the night garden and the crooning of contented hens in the afternoon sunshine.

This was decades ago. 

I have asked myself recently, what has gone wrong?  What has stolen my life?  Why am I always tired and pressured, dogged by failure – why is everyone such a darned nuisance?

Where are the breadcrumbs, the pebbles?  Is there a ball of string lying unwound, so I might feel for the fraying ends and find my way back to so much that is lost?

By what means has the grip of Mammon made these inroads?

I am perceiving – you may think this sounds a little unbalanced – it is achieved electronically.

The out-of-control banking that has re-defined money as interest-bearing debt and created at a stroke a treadmill of scarcity and associated growth that must destroy every human community and suck the life out of the earth until it is a dead planet.    The living-by-numbers tyranny of PINs and security passwords, automated gates at stations and public toilets, automated self-service checkouts in grocery stores, bar codes and product data that defy the human right to use initiative and common sense.

In the world of publishing, onto which I have a grandstand view by virtue of being a writer married to a publisher, I have seen the tigers whirling faster and faster round the tree chasing each other’s tails until you couldn’t tell who was chasing and who being chased until they all melted down into tiger butter.  To understand this reference you do need to have read a certain now politically incorrect children’s story about a child whose brand new outfit was appropriated by tigers – but even if you are losing me I hope you still have a grip on the principle I am attempting to put across.  Faster and faster the publishers work, achieving more with fewer staff in a shorter space of time while struggling manfully to hang onto the tail of the runaway world of e-books.  Ha!  Did I say “books”?  I think it is more “products” now.  Somewhere in there, a desire for excellence and worthwhile content lingers on – but presentation, image and platform are greater gods and sit in the higher niches.

And the writers?  All on Facebook, dreaming up ever more ingenious ways to pretend to be asking an innocent question or pass on an artless nugget of homespun daily life, while contriving to drop into the conversation (smiling, always smiling) the giveaway, the launch, the blog tour, the new novel, the shortlist, the review, the Amazon statistic, the trophy, the accolade, the promotion, the Amazon video, the new contract, the signing session . . . “I’m so excited . . .”  Really?  Yawn . . .

Never in any century have so many people been so excited so much of the time about so little.


I got lost in this forest and found myself starving and lost in a heartless landscape under a glittering faraway moon, with nothing but the enticements of iced gingerbread to cheer me up.

This was my wake-up call:  I had started to see everyone I knew as nothing more than yet another tiresome call on my time.

So I’ve started to retrace my footsteps.  I’m going to find the way back. 

My chief suspects are everything to do with electricity and everything to do with money. 

I’m going to simplify, simplify, simplify, cutting back on every electronic gizmo, every electronic communication, every electronic method of interaction with the world.  I’ve deleted my eBay and Etsy accounts.   I’ve deleted my Facebook account and scrapped my Facebook author page.   I have taken down the requirements of my life so that I need almost no electrical gadgets – only the ones that the household think they need remain in my life.

The Kindle is given to Buzz, the electric toothbrush to the Wretched Wretch and the Bose to Hebe.  The bedside lamp is Freecycled and the electric fire given to a chilly mortal in a caravan.  The car is sold.

Firelight, candlelight, starlight, sunlight.  The woods, the lanes, the hills, the garden, the ocean. 

No more promoting, no more trying to “create a platform”, no more cutting off my heel to try to force my foot into a high-heeled glass slipper in the vain hope of snaring a prince.  No more panting along saying “Yes, I can, of course I can,” after the dangling carrot of money.

I’m going to find my way back.

Last week as I went out on the bus to see Pearl, this week when I walked through the park to see Carole – for the first time in – oh, years, not months! – I was looking forward to seeing them.

In every life there is suffering and sorrow.  All of us have to earn a living, of course we do.   But I think I was born to be happy.

Blogging.  Isn’t blogging electronic – part of the glowing web that has its tentacles everywhere?  Yep.  That’s right.  So it is.  I will see out this 365 year, see how we go with just this one bridge across to the world gone mad.    And maybe that will have to go too.  Meanwhile I'm going to reduce time online right down.

And the other thing that has to go is spending money – because that is the snare, the delusion.   I see and respect the realistic place that should be accorded to money – for food, for repairs, for sensible necessary equipment and provision.  But not this endless consumer carousel that has made “shopping” into “retail therapy” – an addiction and a pastime.  No more of that.  I am going to take as my frame of reference  my yardstick, my uh-oh meter  the memory of my teenage years.  In the early 1970s – what did I have? What was enough to content me?  What were my pastimes, my wardrobe, my expectations?

What a long, winding path that led out here to this lonely and complicated forest.  What a frightening world it is here, sitting surrounding by fierce eyes and hungry mouths, rapacious demands for more.  Never a day passes without communications from charities and church begging for more money, from advertisers of products of every kind imaginable that I might need to make myself glamorous, enviable, safe, comfortable, blissful, adventurous or fulfilled.  Opportunities held out enticingly, bags for the charity shops dropped through the door.

Well, I’m sick of it now.  I’m going home.  String or no string, pebbles or no pebbles, even if the consumers have had every morsel of bread along the way – by some means or other, I’m getting out of here.  I’m going home.


365 366 Day 149 – Monday May 28th  

I acquired this sweet bonnet in an attempt to be something I am not.  What a stupid waste of money.   

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Mr Bishop's garden

My children grew up in Oban Road.  At one end the street turned a 90o corner past the entrance to their school into Perth Road.  At the other end, a T-junction with Paynton Road.  Both Paynton Road and Perth Road led down onto the Battle Road.  Because Paynton Road offered a direct link between the A21 and the A2100, and turning into either Perth Road or Oban Road only detoured a longer route to the same destination, the through traffic all favoured Paynton Road, leaving Oban Road in peace and serenity except at 8.45 and 3.15 when it was absolute bedlam (school entrance).

Mr Bishop lived in Paynton Road, but in the corner house, so the whole side of his property ran along Oban Road though his house fronted onto Paynton Road. 

The houses in these three roads were small Victorian terraced villas with long narrow gardens at the back and tiny plots for a few flowers at the front.   Our garden (this was before we got the puppies!!) was a wonderful labour of love.  An access road running along the back had been closed off years ago by someone annexing a section of it for their own garden, and a wild apple tree grew in the remaining patch of no-mans-land it left at the end of our garden by the time we moved in.  The apple tree blew down in the hurricane of ’87 but kept on growing, wonderful for little children to scramble there and play.  We made our bonfires there too.  The actual garden, about 20ft wide and 120ft long, we subdivided into four square sections.  The idea was to allow our children to feel independent and adventurous while keeping them safe.  The first square, nearest the house, had their toys and Wendy House and sandpit, the next a bowl shape paved with stone and bordered with flowers – I wanted it to look like a ruined palace or a pavement in Katmandu.  The third section just had grass and hedges – a cool green space.  Past the shed and the compost heap, under the arching ceanothus we had trained over the path, the intrepid explorer came to the strawberry patch and the pond, edged with snowberry and flowering currant and home to a multitude of frogs.  The children had their Art Shed up there – a conservatory shed with a big window variously used for playing, painting and making, or just for storage at times. Then finally on to the bonfire patch and the apple tree.

A hedge surrounded the whole garden – but not an ordinary hedge.  We had very little money, so we hardly ever paid for plants – only a couple of new polyanthuses to add to the collection each spring.  Our hedge, all 240ft of it, was made up entirely of cuttings and plants we had been given by friends and family.  It had beech, forsythia, honeysuckle, conifer, hawthorn, blackberry, lavateria, box, hibiscus, privet, wild rose – everything you could possibly imagine.  Dotted about in the garden we had a tree grown from a hedging beech (so it crowned out early and didn’t get too big for its setting) in a small elevated bed encased by a curving stone wall in the Katmandu bit, two silver birches growing side by side flanked by low-growing box shrubs in the division between Katmandu and the Cool Green Space, and a plum tree.

As we worked on it over the fourteen years we lived there, it grew into the most magical, leafy paradise, dappled with shade, fragrant and soft.  I loved that garden.

In the last couple of years we lived there, as the children grew out of their Wendy House and sand pit, we built a deck and what I thought of as a Tea House, under the spreading bough of the beech tree, with a door towards the main house and a door towards the Katmandu section.  The doors were glazed and the roof had skylights, so the tea house caught and held the light as well as letting the breezes through and the scents of the grasses, the flowers and leaves.

It was all so beautiful.

Then, going towards Silverhill meant walking the length of Mr Bishop’s garden, and delighting in peeping over the wall.  His garden was like a microcosm of Old England.  He tended it lovingly but somehow managed to let it look left to be, a patch of peace.  Honeysuckle ran the length of his wall, spilling over the top to perfume the whole street.  Twisty, gnarled old apple trees bent their loving branches into a cool shade over the grass and bluebells, the Queen Anne’s Lace and primroses, the violets and roses that grew along the low wall (about 3ft high) that bordered the whole garden.  It was a breath of heaven.  In the twilight as the day came down to dusk, badgers and foxes wandered there – as they also did in our garden.

Well, Mr Bishop was very old, and when he died the house was sold to a young couple who had a family and a car.  They pulled up the plants and the apple trees to build a garage on the end third of the garden and cement in play structures and a barbeque on the two thirds close to the house, leaving a patch of cut grass and some small herbaceous plants in flower borders along the edge.

I was sad to see it go.  Then we moved away for me to become a school chaplain up in Kent.  The family who moved into our house grubbed out the entire hedge and kept their freezer in the tea house.  They tore up the Iceberg rose and the lavender from the front garden and all the little flowers, preferring shale and spiky palms.

But you start again, don’t you?  You can’t help being yourself, and you always just start again.

This morning I sat outside in the garden we have planted here – the roses and the honeysuckle, the apple trees and pear trees, the cherry tree.  I looked at the sage and the lavender, the ceanothus, the silver birches and the vegetable patch.  I wandered down to Hebe’s wilderness area sown with wildflowers, edged with hawthorn and Bridesblossom.   I looked at the scatterings of daisies and speedwell, the Creeping Jenny among the bean plants, the Self Heal and larger Plaintain, the Honesty that has established around the crab-apple tree, the borage and primroses that grow among the lush grass under the trees at the bottom of the garden near the leaf-mould heap and the bonfire.

And, taking in the cool green fragrance and the loveliness of herbs and trees, the wonder of the greening of England in the maytime, I remembered Mr Bishop and his garden that I had loved so very much, and I thought, you know it never really dies.  You think you’ve lost it and you grieve, your heart breaks.  But like a half-forgotten tune, a few lost notes here and there in the dawning, it starts up again. 

“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

 “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”


365 366 Day 148 – Sunday May 27th  

After long thought it has occurred to us that so long as we are still human-shaped, going in and out in all the right places, and the clothes that always did fit us do fit us still – well, we probably don’t need the bathroom scales. 

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Making a quiet space to hold someone in the Light

I’ve been thinking.  I was going to talk to you about it, but since I read Jackie’s comment on yesterday’s post, my mind has been filled with her sadness and pain, so I’ll leave the other things I’ve been thinking about for another day, and just sit with that for a while.

365 366 Day 147 – Saturday May 26th    
 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

A spork.  Simpler and neater than a collection of knife, fork and spoon but, in my opinion anyway, less effective.  The chances of my getting it together to take cutlery with me when I travel are slim in the extreme.  Thank the Lord for sandwiches, eh?

365 366 Day 146 – Friday May 25th

An army camp bed.  When I was young, slim, fit(ish) and went camping, I used to find these comfortable and useful. None of these applies any more.

Thursday, 24 May 2012


 There was a time in Hastings, mainly when my children were small, when I could hardly bear to go into the supermarket or the town centre because so many people were so vile to their children.

Now, you mustn’t misunderstand.  As a mother I was entirely capable of losing it completely, and yelling at my children or walloping their bottoms if all else seemed to have failed.   

But the unkindness and indifference many people showed their kids was more than depressing – it was really upsetting. 

Then about ten or fifteen years back, things seemed to be improving.  Now, I don’t know why – recession maybe?  People under too much pressure? – it’s back.   A couple of times I have walked out of stores because I just couldn’t bear the unkindness of parents to their children.

Yesterday, walking through the centre of Hastings towards me, came a man holding aloft a small child – small enough to be wearing reins.  The child was held awkwardly sideways in his father’s arms, crying desperately while his father yelled in his ear at the top of his voice “Walk!  Walk!”

Nobody took any notice.  Nobody ever does.  We have a system in England: turn a blind eye, wait til it’s too late, blame a social worker.

I was furious.  Absolutely adrenalin-drenched furious.  But not sure what to do.

So I just turned and watched the man and the child as they passed me in the street.  Stood and watched them.  People know when you’re watching them.  After a few steps the man turned back to look, and saw me just standing, and watching.  My turn to be yelled at.  “WHAT?”

I didn’t say anything.  I just continued to stand there and watch him.  He set the child down and they crossed the road, he from time to time glancing back to see if I was still watching him.  I was.  He reached his wife, the child’s mother, who was waiting nervously by Marks and Spencer.  The man crouched down and put his arm round the child.  I went on watching them.  He stood up and looked back to see if I was still watching.  Yes, I was.  He gestured at me, a twirl of his hand, that I should turn away and go.  I didn’t.  I carried on watching him.

Our curate from church came by.  “Hello,” she said; “what are you doing?  You look like a statue standing there so still.”

“I’m watching that man,” I told her, “who was shouting and screaming at his child.”

The child was now enjoying clambering along the edge of the railings while his parents walked alongside on the pavement (sidewalk).  He was okay now.  So I went on my way.

There are not many things one can do in these situations.  But I felt it had made a small difference to know someone was watching.  Made the man re-evaluate, maybe.


365 366 Day 145 – Thursday May 24th  

Flowerpots are like coathangers in that they do accumulate.  
And a vintage ceramic chamberpot.  With cracks in it . . . uh-oh . . .

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

"End of Diversion"

I am learning what you know and I know, that accumulation of possessions, like over-eating, is associated with loneliness and sadness.

Tonight, for example, I felt lonely.  I argued with myself a little while, pointing out to myself that conversations of length, especially in the evening, often spiral down through weariness, like a whirling bract, into treacherous and negative territory – complaining, picking holes, sifting through the faults of others.  I reminded myself that when those you miss are present, they are usually immersed in electronic pursuits – online or watching telly.  And most often, I have nothing to say; just a blind, dumb searching for companionship.  I just felt lonely.

So what did I do, brothers and sisters?  Call a friend? Visit a neighbour?  Flush out the other members of the household and instigate a game of cards?  No.  I almost bought a fountain pen.  WhatWhy?  No idea.  I have had a fountain pen before, a jolly good one.  I gave it away.   Evidence of incremental improvement lies in that crucial word “almost”.  Tonight I almost bought a fountain pen, because I was lonely.  For most of my life, I would have just done it.

So as I didn’t buy the fountain pen I thought I might have some cake.

I have eaten my supper.  I am not hungry.  But cake is cheerfulness, and if you ingest cheerfulness you become cheerful, according to my intuitive logic; no matter that the Buddha knows that if you take refuge in fat then, as sure as day follows night, fat will take refuge in you.

So having neither bought a fountain pen nor eaten any more cake, I am left feeling sad and lonely and a little insecure.

My whole life long I have bought things and eaten things to distract me from sadness and loneliness, but there comes a time to stop.

 And then I will be just a person, alive like the sparrows and the windflowers, singing my own song and turning my face to the sun while life lasts.

I have no previous experience to suggest what my alternatives to eating things and buying things, as distraction from unwelcome states of mind, might be.  Today I have done some gardening, filled the day with the usual household chores, walked by the sea and it the park, spent time with my family, read my book.  And having run out of these diversions as the evening comes down, there is only the sadness and loneliness left.

I expect I shall feel better in the morning.

Oh - incidentally - I have been pruning out the links and info in the right-hand side-bar here.  If you see that your blog has been amputated from the list by my over-zealous secateurs, emit a faint squawk and I'll put it back.

365 366 Day 144 – Wednesday May 23rd   

Just in case, we kept these cat collars from the vet.  But, as the Bible says, “Come, let us reason together.”
After all, what for?  We live in the same road as the vet, two minutes walk away. If the cat gets sick or injured, what will we do?  Take it to the vet.  If it needs a cat collar, what will the vet do?  Ask if we have one at home?  No.  Supply a new one. Result?  A steadily increasing hoard of used cat collars. 
So, let’s maybe allow these ones out of the house.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Thort bats

Living aloft in my skyship
Watching the blue from my star-gazy pie
Is it the clouds that are sailing along
Or am I?

I love living in the Garret.

I’ve been busy busy busy these last few days with no mind left over to blog, whirling around on a thinkabout concentrating ferociously.

A chance came to me.  It is not longing that reveals our heart’s desire, but opportunity.

Since forever I have yearned to live in a small hut in a quiet place, close to the living earth, with nature just outside the door.  No electricity, rainwater from the roof not city water from tubes.  No wires and connecting pipes winding round the unseen underneaths connecting it as tight as death to all the Mammon systems.  No TV.  No housephone.  Just rain and sun, fire and earth, the smell of the dust and the grass and the wildflowers, the sound of the wind and the birds.

And at the weekend the Badger said I could have his shed – his special shed where his carpentry things are and the garden tools.  The family said that would be OK.  Alice and Hebe would make room for his woodbench in their studio.  And I was overjoyed.  It was exactly what I have wanted.  For a day I walked in contentment.  And then reality set in.

It would make a little space between the Badger and me – a little lonely isolating space.  Not good in a marriage.  The Badger would come home to the Garret and the things that signal I am alive and well would not be there.  Even if when he is home I slept there at night with him, I would have my place and he would have his place – nowhere in the world would be our place any more. 

Two workbenches a stone-banker and a ceramics kiln would not fit into the studio comfortably even if you took all the tools and etceteras out and didn’t bother trying to go in there yourself.  Plus Alice and Hebe are the quietest take-up-the-smallest-space people on God’s earth, where the Badger is the noisiest person I have ever met.  He can play our silent spacious home like a kettle-drum.  Can you imagine them trying to work at the same time in the same small studio?  Yes?  Then you are born to write fiction: go ahead.

Alice’s work as a stained glass maker is taking off.  Does she need a carpenter airlifting down into the small world of her imaginative space?  Possibly not.

And the garden tools?  And the buckets and pots of things to kill slugs and things to paint walls and things to feed flowers?  They would go where exactly?  Racked onto the plain white walls of the studio? Stacked into the understairs cupboard with the vacuum cleaner and the ladder and the broom and the box of tools and the iron and everything else that fills it up already.  Nah-ah.

As an idea, as a generosity, this was a gift to me more welcome (by a long way) and more precious than a ring set with diamonds, rubies and pearls.  I have always loved my family.  I loved them extra for saying I could have this wonderful thing.  But I could also see it would chuck an asteroid into the little planet we have just spent three years establishing.  Way is not given, as the Quakers say. Or time is not yet.  I will carry on watching for the kairos.

But it set my mind in a whirl, a whole flight of question marks took off like bats at dusk from the hidden eaves of my thinkabout, which creaked and groaned and began to turn, going faster and faster until it nearly threw me off.

And through the blur I saw with clear sight that the answer is the same answer it always is.  Simplify.  Divest.  Keep pushing on. 

If I can become really simple – like St Francis, like Jesus, it will not matter where I am, the simplicity will gather about me like light and emanate from me like a fragrance.

Are there possessions I am still clinging to that I don’t need?  Sure there are.  Am I disciplined yet in what I eat?  I’m thinking about zero-packaging, local, organic, vegan, alkalising not acidizing, sugar-free, compassionate, earth-friendly, from small local shops?  Er . . . no.  Or more precisely – hahaha!  A long way to go and a history of scrapes and bruises from falling off the wagon every time we turn a corner.  Have I made the most space for silence and solitude? No.  Are my words always necessary, true and kind?  Sadly, not.  Am I faithful and conscientious in always using rainwater not citywater, in composting all body wastes?   Mostly but not 100%.   Have I applied the brakes to spending money?    W-e-e-e-l-l-l-l . . .  kinda.  I think I need new brake pads.  There are still minor clothes adjustments in establishing a plain and modest wardrobe that is not head-turning anachronistic re-enactment get-ups but a collection of invisibility suiting so I can move through the world as unseen as a rat along the foot of the wall in the shadows at dusk.  But at least, I have hurled overboard almost all cosmetics and toiletries.  Essential oils, cider vinegar and bicarb are my friends.

So you can see I have a ways to go before I am even at the foothills of the quiet mountain.

What I am lacking is not a hut but the tremendous gift of self-discipline.  What I wanted is to go where appliances and plumbing are not, so I don’t have to make the continual effort of making the choice, making the choice – the hard choice against the shortcuts that are shredding Mother Earth.  Renouncing was never my strong point.

But I glimpsed, as I whirled round on my thinkabout with my thoughtbats diving and dipping and fluttering madly through twilights and nights, that if I can build my poustinia in my heart, and clad it with habit energy, then I shall be solid as a mountain.  I shall have begun.

Keep walking, pilgrim.


365 366 Day 143 – Tuesday May 22nd  

Ah – what a good find was this!  A soft warm waterfall cardigan from East – reduced, ladies and gentlemen, from £85 to £20!  I bought it when I was freezing cold in freezing cold Oxford, meeting Mary at the Randolph for morning coffee.  I had come up from the much warmer South Coast in The Wrong Clothes (I cannot tell you how often this has happened to me).  I was mauve, I was goose-pimply, I was almost hypothermic – but this was the Randolph and I needed to look passing tidy if not as elegant as others (certainly not as elegant as Mary – being American, her sartorial chic reaches English  royal family standards – she is as beautiful and well-groomed as a model!) So I dived into East and rushed to the sale section at the back and dug out a merino tunic and WARM cardi.  Phew!  Much better!  I rolled up my thin top with the three-quarter sleeves and stowed it in my bag, making a mental note to keep it for the summer.  But this cardi is a goodbye as well as a good buy.  Once reunited with my usual snuggly warms, the need for it evaporated.

365 366 Day 142 – Monday May 21st  

This is representative of a herd of lipsticks cluttering up my life and now dispensed with.  Lest I hit a crisis of confidence I have retained one or two.  I did have, here in my 365 366 photo archive several days running with either a lipstick or a pot of bronzer/blusher; but reviewing the archive this struck me as boring in the extreme, and as the year has rolled on my chuck-out has not (as I feared it would) dwindled in material and run dry.  Not a bit of it, it’s got wilder and wilder and the things flung overboard have increased in size and number as time has gone on.  So I have deleted a few lipsticks and replaced with a greater variety of flung spume.

365 366 Day 141 – Sunday May 20th

 Like this, for example, which replaced in the archive a Bourjois lipgloss with a rather revolting toffee flavour.  I mean, I did chuck the lipgloss out, I just think you will have got the point from the lipstick.
Anyway, this was (clearly) my address book.  I still know your name and where you live (if I ever did), but you are stored electronically now.
Something strange happened to that photo.  Why is it in two sections?

365 366 Day 140 – Saturday May 19th

What’s this?  Oh, God bless you, a couple of Edwardian lace fichus I bought in desperation on eBay while still struggling with headcovering.  What a mistresspiece of dainty craftswomanship and how utterly, irritatingly un-simple and unnecessary.  A plain cap, a graceful tichel, fair enough – but away with the strings and the fringes, away with the lace!  For me personally, that is.  I mean, if you like lace, you have it!  Don't let the religious police snatch your ribbons or behead your statuettes!

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Night Watchmen

Writers generally have a lot of books.  If I spend any time on a writers' Facebook page, sooner or later there'll be talk about this - reference to yards and yards of book shelving and tottering floor stacks accumulating in the corners of the house.  This is my bookshelf:

Perhaps you can see that some of the "books" are in fact DVDs - a little set of Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple movies the Badger gave  me, Philip Gröning's Into Great Silence, No Greater Love from the Carmelites in Notting Hill, Little Buddha, Indian Hill Railways, Baraka, Chronos, Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi.  I have no idea how long I will keep these, but the only ones I am likely to keep "forever" are Into Great Silence, No Greater Love and Indian Hill Railways.  The others are intriguing "for now" movies.

You might also notice that a chunk of the books are my own (written by me, I mean).  Obviously I have electronic copies, but it can be important to have paper copies for reasons I can't think of at the moment - at the very least because in the back of each of them is my list of errata should we run to a new edition at some point.

It is immediately obvious, then, that I don't have many books!  I do read, but I keep only the ones I think are really, really good - ones I would not ever want to let go.  

Missing from my bookshelves at the moment are Thich Nhat Hanh's Being Peace and Peace Is Every Step - someone else in the household is reading them.

There's David Edwards' Free To Be Human - a superb political analysis of modern life from a Buddhist perspective.  There's Poetry Please and More Poetry Please - excellent anthologies.  I also have Tony Weston's book of poetry Snatching at Bubbles

Sister Felicity's Barefoot Journey about life as a Poor Clare has been with me since I was sixteen.  I shouldn't have that book.  I borrowed it and never gave it back.  It's original owner will be long dead, I'm sure - she was old then.  It's only just come back to me that's how I acquired it.  Shameful!  I'm so sorry.  I have Starr Daily's Love Can Open Prison Doors - and also, with too slender a spine to see, his brilliant little book Wellsprings of Immortality, shown here with another brilliant little book.

I have the big Quaker Faith and Practice too.

I have a bible and the New Testament in French.  I have Martin Palmer's The Jesus Sutras, about what the seventh century Taoist Chinese made of the Gospel when they were first evangelised.  

Bill Clarke's book Enough Room For Joy is a wonderful telling of his impressions of the L'Arche communities.  There's also The Little Flowers of St Francis, which has a special place in my heart.

Too big to be stored upright are two translations of the Tao, and also David Whiteland's astonishingly good Book of Pages.  It was remaindered - there is no justice. 

For fiction, I have Tove Jansson's Moomin books - all of them!  Marjorie Phillips' Annabel and Bryony (which you can't see because the spine has long dropped off).  One of my godmothers gave it to me when I was a child.  A wonderful book.  Also Rhoda Powell's Redcap Runs Away - a stunningly good children's novel of medieval England.  There's E.G. Speare's Blackbird Pond, Alf Prøysen's Mrs Pepperpot and the Magic Wood, and Tove Jansson's  The Summer Book.

Penny Armstrong's A Midwife's Story is there, about her work as a midwife with Amish families.  Sister Mary Mercedes' wonderful A Book of Courtesy.

I also have John Holt's How Children Fail - and I've just re-read Virginia Axline's unforgettable Dibs In Search of Self, which I now intend to give away.  Also John Walmsley's evocative pictorial study Neill and Summerhill - A Man and His Work.

As well as Dibs, I am parting with my Rule of St Benedict - because I can access it online.

I have Julia Faire's book Seven Silver Rings, stories from celibates in the Jesus Army, Leonard Koren's wonderful Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers.

I have Sue Bender's Plain and Simple about her time with the Amish, and Bill Coleman's collections of photos - The Gift of Friendship, Amish Odyssey and The Gift To Be Simple. 

I keep two books by Raymond Chandler for his unique and superb writing style.  I have Keith Foord's recent book about Battle Abbey, Dorothy Hartley's informative book Lost Country Life, and two books by Julia Bolton Holloway - The Pilgrim and the Book and a book about Julian of Norwich.  I have an excellent book on prayer in the Carmelite tradition, Upon This Mountain, by Mary McCormack.

I have a monastic directory, Gregory's Angels - very handy, three books of Steve Erspamer's clip-art for parish use, two wonderful art books of Rien Poortfliet's paintings (The Ark and He Was One Of Us) and a book about Shaker furniture.

That's about it part from some odd little tucked away things like this:

But one of my best books of all is Helen Cresswell's The Night Watchmen (also here and here), which I've just re-read.  

It is a jewel.  So well-written, so perfectly observed.  Everyone should read it, most of all those who aspire to write.

Oh!  And finally - I have C.E. Montague's A Writer's Notes On His Trade

By the time I have finished pruning and winnowing, I expect to have about half this lot.  Whatever the end result will be, I shall keep The Night Watchmen, Being PeaceBarefoot Journey, A Book of Pages, the Jerusalem Bible and the Tao Te Ching.  

Many other books have passed through my hands, appreciated and enjoyed.  I have learned the hard way, through many house moves and tiny allotments of space in sub-divided homes, to love them and let them go.


365 366 Day 139 – Friday May 18th
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Well, that was an easier decision than sometimes.  When we were still doing Christmas gifts, our Rosie gave us all the most heavenly cashmere socks from Brora.  So soft, they are just lovely; and beautiful, subtle colours.  This particular pair I wore and wore until I wore them right through.  A sad goodbye, but necessary.  I was tempted to keep them for dusters or polishing cloths as they are so soft and obviously useful for such a purpose: but one has to know oneself and face the truth, which is that frankly we do very little of either dusting or polishing in this house and the cloths we already have will comfortably see us out on the basis of our current track record.