Tuesday, 30 April 2013


Every so often I get this absolutely unbearable feeling – desperation, aching desolation, yearning, longing – like I would go out of my mind.  And then that’s exactly what I need to do – escape down the wormhole into the other world where my characters live; a place where life makes sense and kindness always wins, where people are understood and faith is the common language.

When I was fifteen, my best friend Henbug wrote in her journal: ‘I want to go home.  Not where I live, but home.’

That’s how I feel too, and it’s why I write fiction.  It’s a way of bringing into the here and now the elusive, rare, half-forgotten, native air of home.

Here we have no abiding city.

Too right.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Mountain Moving

I spent the last two days sorting out all the accumulated garden chaos left to fend for itself through the winter.

One of the wormeries had a blocked outlet – which means no surviving worms and silage not compost.  The silage had to be rehoused to rot down, and the wormery scrubbed thoroughtly, and the outlet ingeniously unblocked with a twig.

The two big plastic boxes (originally Uttlesford Council recycling boxes that my beautiful mama’s zealous removal firm relocated to Sussex with her by mistake) had been housing compost now wanted to sprinkle over grass seed to stop it drying out, then they needed scrubbing down to await future designation.  The flower-pot stack that grows all by itself needed sorting.

The main wormery was ready to have the trays shuffled, the bottom one now being ready for emptying and scrubbing down.  

We relocated a water butt and brought up the (homemade from gash timber) bench from down by the shed up to the play area we decided to make by the house.  A new grand-baby will be with us in two months, and the idea is that Buzzfloyd will have a cool, shady room looking down the garden where she can sit with her feet up and where Sardine can be put to sleep, while the Wretched Wretch can be kept occupied with a sandpit (on order as of yesterday) in the newly constructed play area outside. 

The play area is to be created in the little yard just behind the house, next to the log store.  I’d dug over the earth there ready to make a veggie bed, but it occurred to me it is just the right place, exactly adjacent to the house there, sheltered from view and from the worst of the wind, for a play space.  Also, when my beautiful mama gets too old to live alone, the room that opens on to that bit of garden will be her roost – and something tells me she’d prefer a view of grass and flowers than of water butts and stacked flower pots and Uttlesford Council recycling boxes and whatnot.

So a lot of digging, raking, seeding, sweeping, tidying, chucking and ferrying to and fro went on.

The compost that had the evil vine weevils in had to be hoofed out and the pots scrubbed and filled with new compost, freshly made from last year’s kitchen scraps now rich and fertile in the Ageing Compost bin.  I’ve no money for plants just now, but I dug up a big clump of pot marjoram flourishing in the latterly ex-herb garden, now ex-veggie garden, soon to be play area, and that looks very nice in the pot.

When the grass comes through and it’s all looking pretty, I’ll take a photo to show you.

But while I was ferrying and sorting and chucking, it did concentrate my mind on householding – the ebb and flow of accumulation.

Then this morning over breakfast Hebe and I watched a few minutes of Fake Britain on the telly (before it got too depressing and we turned it off).  It’s about consumers who are ripped off by fakes.  This morning had stories about fake watches, fake Viagra and fake puppies.

The watches and the puppies were real (I don’t know what was in the ‘Viagra’ pills!!), but they weren’t what the purchasers had been led to believe.  They thought they had fabulous designer watches, for which they were prepared to part with (hold onto your hat!) £4,000 – that’s U.S. $6,200, whereas in fact they had normal watches that just looked like the special ones, in copy boxes and with cleverly faked certificates.  I must say, if the watches worked, the problem with what they had escaped me, but never mind that.  Meanwhile the puppies were not super-duper pedigree puppies, just regular puppies smuggled in from Lithuania.

And it occurred to me that preoccupation with image (why else would you want a £4,000 watch?) made one very vulnerable to being duped.

And we saw the policemen tipping box after box of these fake commodities out to be trashed.

And the whole thing made me thing about stuff – stuff we acquire, stuff we have to clean and organise and get rid of, lock our houses to keep it safe – buy bigger houses even, just to store it all. 

Hebe and I talked about that for a while, and she remarked on how consuming of time and energy it is to dispose of unwanted stuff responsibly.

For example – say you have a good quality winter coat you no longer want.  You decide to sell it on eBay.  You have to get it all cleaned up and spiffy, then photograph it from multiple angles in a good light against a white background, photo-shop the pics so they represent its exact appearance, upload them, measure it, write a good description including all the measurements, then list it.  Then wait a week for the auction, meanwhile answering all the questions of people who haven’t bothered to read what you wrote about it.  Then it sells for a pittance, but you still have to create a nice receipt, pack it up, take it to the post office (where the mailing cost is more than you thought and uses up most of what you sold it for), then wait some more to track it and check it arrives okay.  Then remember to keep some money aside to pay the listing fee.  Criminy!  All to get rid of one coat!!

And I thought – stuff, it’s like a great big mountain you have to climb, and it’s as hard coming down as it is going up.  Like this:

“Problems arise when things accumulate” (Toinette Lippe). 


They do.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

I never knew that

After my post on Ephesians 5, I’ve had some correspondence with Jenna who reads and comments here.  I was so excited by what she wrote to me that I asked her permission to present an edited version here – stitching together paragraphs from different emails and removing personal touches meant only for private correspondence.  If you haven’t read the post and ensuing comment thread on Ephesians 5, it might help you to go back and look at it first – depends how much time you have on your hands.  Oh, go on; make a nice cup of tea and get into this interesting subject!

I think you – like me – will find Jenna’s thoughts illuminating and inspiring.  It has come from her Hebrew studies.  Thank you so much, Jenna, for sharing with us these fruits of the time and trouble you have taken to learn about the scriptures.

Here’s Jenna

And here’s what she wrote to me.
"I have in the last 6-8 months been studying what is termed “The Messianic Movement” which term I hate but “Hebraic Roots” is nearly as bad. I call myself a Messianic Believer. That’s where I ended up studying the ancient Hebrew aleph-beit which stutters you also quoted from me. It turns out that these meanings, combined with the Hebrew (which only means “cross over ones”) culture has completely transformed the Bible for me, as well as my faith. If I had to say, I think in these latter times Yeshua (Jesus is his Greek nickname) is gently calling his sheep from every corner of the world and, oh my, His voice is so sweet. 
(I’ll try to explain in my kindergarten understanding’s worth) The “Jewish” tradition holds 4 layers of meaning to the Scriptures—summarized by the obvious, the parable, the deeper earthly meaning and then the heavenly truth. In terms of Bride and Bridegroom, we learn, then, that the bride has been put away for her many adulteries. According to the Torah, the divorced woman who marries another may NEVER return to her first husband. The only way she is out from under the “law” is if her husband dies. Here we learn that Yeshua came to die for his Bride, in order that she may return to her first Love. 
I was also delighted to learn about how Jesus functioned as the Bridegroom along the same pattern as ancient Hebrew betrothal, down to the very words he said. For example, “Behold I stand at the door and knock” and following refers to the potential groom and his father coming over to the bride’s house to ask for her hand and negotiate the ketubah (which is our Bible!). The bride-to-be waits by the door and can either open it, to confirm her willingness to consider this suitor, or she can leave the door shut, in which case father and son leave, never to bother her again. Once inside, they sip a cup of wine together. The document is drawn which includes the family histories, how the two met, the bride-price, and each one’s responsibilities during the betrothal period and after marriage.
When he says “I go to prepare a place for you….” he’s referring to the Hebrew betrothed groom leaving for an unspecified amount of time to actually build a room onto his father’s house, save money for the honeymoon period of a year, and in other ways prepare for his bride—whom he will probably not see during that time.
Once this “covenant” has been made by sipping from the same cup of wine, they are considered married—if he were to die, for example, she would receive his inheritance. Only his father will determine when that time is (“No one knows the day or hour”), but when it’s nearly time, hints are leaked to the bride’s father so that her preparations, including her bridal mikveh—immersion bath—will be completed. Then one night the trumpets of the groomsmen sound, and the waiting bride and her ladies need to be awake. The ladies all leave to light the way of the bridegroom to her home (and so is a disaster if they haven’t filled their lamps!). If she has placed a light in her window, he knows the marriage will take place. He whisks her away in the  middle of the night and a wedding feast is made.  They drink one more cup together to seal the marriage—that cup which Christ said he would not drink again until he drinks it with us new in the coming kingdom. Makes my goosebumps fairly tingle!!!! 
And when you understand the Lord’s Feasts as described in the Torah as our “clock” (and wedding rehearsal) and that Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets, is the next feast in line for Christ’s fulfillment—it’s just so EXCITING!!!! 
When we see that husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved his church, that takes on a whole new depth of importance. When you remove it from an academic or even Bible-scholarly conversation, the idea that a man would look upon his adulterous wife and die just in case she wanted to come back to him, is just unfathomable. Today, I have no shortage of my children’s friends who have excommunicated their wives or husbands for far milder crimes, with healthy portions of bitterness and resentment on the side. Die for that person? They’d be pressed to be riding the same bus. And the sad thing is that they might consider reconciliation, but what would their friends think?
I love how you said there are higher things than to be right; one of those higher things is obedience. I think women are more prone to that whole “right” thing—it is evidence of their sin nature as much as a certain given-ness to lust over legs or cleavage is even the most devoted man’s weakness. It is that which must be laid at Christ’s feet while we reach out for his tzitzitot (mistakenly translated “hem”)  from which to gain healing. We have been sold a bill of goods—someone started saying women were getting a bad shake from men and it’s been repeated into truth ever since. And the “Greek” modern “Church” hasn’t helped matters any. Doesn’t make it true, though. Even though it doesn’t happen in my house, the practice of the Shabbat candle lighting where the woman plays a starring role, and receives a blessing from her husband as he recites Prov 31 over her is profound, as he has also been blessed by her."

I then asked Jenna about the "tzitzitot", and she kindly explained:

"Here’s an article about tzitzit (the “ot” at the end is for the plural).  Basically it’s a little knotted tassel that has a blue thread which is to remind of us the sapphire floor of the Throne Room. As much as anything else, they can be overdone with colors, fancy knotting, and even some almost clannish affixations (much like tartans). In Bible times, they would hang from a kesut, a poncho-like tabard over one’s jalobea or long tunic.
You would sleep on/wrapped in your kesut so when if you borrowed someone’s “coat” you had to give it back before nightfall.  I’m going to make my tzitzitot just white and blue with the knots of the numbers of the letters Y-H-W-H (10, 5, 6, 5). And I’ll have to probably make some type of belt for them when I have on a dress instead of my usual skirt/top combo. I like when it says to use our eyes and heart for learning and obedience instead of going about using them to stray. How many times have we heard the admonition to follow your heart! All the way to hell, I think, really. Educated in the Western church that almost disavows the Torah, I never even knew this command existed."

Thank you SO MUCH Jenna!  I hope as you study more you will share what you have learned with us here.  I find this really mind-expanding! 

Your comments, friends, please!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Thoughts on Ephesians 5

Jenna left a comment on my post “Podwig” that really caught my attention.  I’ve been meaning to come back to it.

She said:
Love the podvig and the podwig. As to the whole submission thing, I have been studying about the Hebrew language/letters. (If you've not studied even the alphabet – well, aleph-beit in Hebrew – you're so missing out!) One word for man/husband is ish – aleph, yod, shin – which imply the strong leader of God's power. Isha, for woman or wife, is aleph, shin, heh – the strong leader's power revealed. So I'm picturing the CEO who is the face and responsibility of the organization and the COO who makes it all happen. 

I have never studied Hebrew, but I do love to understand the linguistic roots of any word or idea, so I found that really fascinating.

I was also particularly interested because of the relationship of this model – CEO (Chief Executive Officer) and COO (Chief Operating Officer) – to my own understanding of gender roles.

Jenna describes the CEO/man/husband as “the face and responsibility of the organisation, and sees the COO/woman/wife as the director of operations, the one responsible for the daily running of operations.  There’s a good article about these two roles (CEO/COO) on Wikipedia.

When my children were little, I read as much as I could get my hands on of A.S. Neill’s writing – he who founded and ran the free school Summerhill in 1960s England.

In his school, children were free to be just whoever they were, and gender stereotypes were not imposed upon them – see something of the ethos of Summerhill in this excellent article.

In John Walmsley’s pictorial study Neill & Summerhill, A Man And His Work, he includes the following observation from Leila Berg:
What strikes you immediately, coming from the world outside and talking to the kids at Summerhill, is that you can’t tell the boys from the girls.  This is important.  It’s not just hair styles and jeans.  The girls are so self-reliant and the boys so concerned, the girls so calmly tough and the boys so gentle.  No boy’s voice has that conditioned flick of off-handedness that says, ‘I am male.’  They are interested voices, friendly and lightly generous, and their bodies are not tautly aggressive but trusting.  You are startled when you hear their names.  You begin to wonder how early children are warped in the world outside, dumped straight from the cradle on to one side of the line they must never step over, separated from one another and from their complete selves, permanently angered.  Neill once said, at a progressive school conference, listening to them talk about how to keep the boys from the girls and pressed for his opinion, ‘Why don’t you put up barbed wire?’

On one occasion when Neill was speaking about his pioneering work, he was asked what differences he noted between boys and girls (I think it is in his book Summerhill School that he describes this).  I no longer have the book in front of me to quote exactly, but I certainly remember what he said.  He referred to the summer camps on which all the children were taken each year – a chance to live out in the open under canvas – and he said that the girls tended to stay near the tents whereas the boys were inclined to roam further afield.

This coincides exactly with my own personal experience of life. In our family – my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, in-laws – there is a tradition of strong and capable women, working alongside their menfolk as equal partners.  Take for example my great-grandmother who was up at 4.30 to make the baked goods for the village shop she and her husband started and ran together.  She was its book-keeper, as was my grandmother for her husband’s farm (a successful enterprise started from one rented field of peas).  Those women were a force to be reckoned with.  You could not call them the weaker partner.  This was also true of my mother and father.  She stayed at home buying and selling property through the long boom, creating the wealth of the family, growing fruit and vegetable and keeping hens and sheep, while he travelled abroad and later within the UK on his own business affairs. 

The difference between the men and women was neither of strength nor ability, but of what you might call public and private face: the man was the Foreign Secretary and the woman the Home Secretary, to use UK parliamentary terms.  In my own marriage, the Badger and I see ourselves as adult equals.  There is no such thing between us as a ‘casting vote’ or ‘final say’.  Where we are in disagreement over any issue, we talk and wait, wait and talk, until we come to a common mind.  Neither of us is happy with something unless the other is happy with it too.  But he is definitely the public face of us as a couple.  He goes first into the room, he is the one you are more likely to know, he is the one who will make or take the phone call.

As to matters of submission, it’s all laid out in Ephesians 5, and my book The Breath of Peace that I have been trying for so long to get published is an in-depth study in fiction of this whole question. 

Here’s an excerpt from The Breath of Peace, ©Penelope Wilcock, all rights reserved.  In this passage, the abbot is in conversation with his sister.

“I’m thinking about the fifth chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians.  The bridge from our life here in community to your life at home with William is in the verse that tells us to humbly give way to one another – submit to one another – in the fear of Christ.  Subiecti invicem in timore Christi.  Sister, I’m sure you must realise, that doesn’t mean anything like ‘knuckle under because you’re frightened of Christ.’  It means that because we aspire to holiness and want to make our whole lives into a reverential space, cultivate a reverential mind, practicing recollection, we maintain an attitude of humility.  Are you with me?”

Madeleine understood him perfectly, but she wondered where in the passing of time the teasing urchin she had played with by the streams and on the moors had grown up into this. “Yes,” she said.  “Go on.”

He looked at her, his lips parted in uncertainty. “I’m listening, Adam,” she reassured him: “you don’t need to keep checking.”

He nodded, with a smile at the unintentional asperity.  “All right.  Then, this is where the apostle comes to teach about husbands and wives. He takes as the model for marriage the relationship between our Lord and the church – because we think of the church as the Bride of Christ.  Gazing on that relationship, he sees that our Lord has suffered and died for the church, stopped at nothing in the self-giving of his love.  And he sees that the church is the community of people who call him Lord, who give their lives in his service.  So the model is of a relationship in which neither party has held back anything; each has surrendered all they have to the other.  Each gives their whole life in order that they might be made one.  This is a picture of absolute trust and vulnerability; Christ pinned helpless to the cross in love of his Bride, and the church kneeling in submission to his lordship.  Do marriage like that, the apostle says.  Wives, love your husbands like the church loves Christ, offering your very lives in submission to your menfolk.  Husbands, love your wives like Christ loves the Church, holding back nothing, suffering everything, laying down all you have because you love her so much.

“Now then, this is a beautiful picture, we can all see that.  As a picture it works wonderfully.  Where it all comes unstuck is when real people really try to do it.  Then, without fail, the same old problem crops up: who’s going first?  Human beings are scared of being trampled.  When it comes to actual flesh-and-blood mortal beings, not one of us wants to put up our hand to take the risk of doing our part of the bargain until we’ve satisfied ourselves that the other half is on the table first.  So we never begin.  Do you see?

“Actually . . .  in your marriage to William – dear sister, don’t be hurt or take offence, bear with me – I can see him struggling to do his part, but I can’t see you doing yours as well as you might.  He’s a proud man, and used not only to absolute governance but also to admirable competence.  To set that aside and let himself look foolish and inept will be completely crucifying to a man like William de Bulmer; but he thinks you’re worth it.

“What he needs from you is what the brothers here in their charity and humility give me; obedience.  Not to him, I mean, but to Christ; just as in their vow of obedience to the abbot, the way the brothers here are taking is not obedience to me, John Hazell, but to Christ.  Sister, William needs you to trust him enough to submit to him, even when he isn’t doing all that well.  Even – indeed especially – when he’s said or done something stupid, he needs you to submit to him for the sake of divine order, out of reverence for Christ.”

John looked anxiously at his sister.  He could not imagine this going down well.  Madeleine could not have been described as meek in any imaginable circumstance.

“So… what does that mean in practical terms, in daily life?” She frowned.  Her tone of voice expressed the suspicious end of caution.  “It hasn’t got to be all ‘Yes, William’ and ‘No, William,’ ‘Of course, William’ and waiting on him hand and foot, has it?  Give me a few instances.”

John thought about that.

“Well…” he said slowly, “let’s say you were out at the market all day and when you got home it turned out he forgot to shut the hens in and as a result a fox had caused mayhem and you’d lost half the flock.  Might that happen?”

Astonished, his sister searched his face. “Has he spoken to you about that?”

John grinned.  “Oh.  I see.  It did happen.  No, he never told me so.  Still, it makes a good example, then!  Well, ‘in the flesh’ as the apostle would say, if a man did such a thing his wife would go beserk and think she had every good reason to do so.  She’d call him every name she could think of and pour indignation on his head until boiling pitch began to look like a merciful alternative.  She’d scold him until he felt completely humiliated, and he’d go to bed scowled at and unkissed and lie awake in the moonlight trying in vain to think of some way of making amends.

“But the apostle is saying, that’s not how we do it under Christ.  That’s because Christ really sees us, with the insight of love.  Christ is quick to compassion, and knows full well the man is more ashamed of himself than he can bear already.  In marriage as the apostle imagines it, the wife offers not a word or look of reproach.  She accepts that accidents happen.  Her love is magnanimous and generous.  She hooks up the dead birds quietly, out of sight.  As she spins at the fireside that night, maybe she seems a wee bit quieter than usual – that would be because through gritted teeth she is silently praying: ‘O Fountain of Wisdom, Thou hast saddled me with this dolt, this nincompoop, this addle-brain: right then, give me the grace not to kill him!’ But she takes it to God and she leaves it with God.  She offers her husband no reproach, because she is submitted to him.

“But then, let’s suppose this is all too much for the wife. She comes home, she finds the hens dead and dying, and she lets rips like thunder and lightning.  What’s her husband to do?  Well, ‘in the flesh’ as St Paul has it, he might go on the defensive.  Where was she all day anyway?  What did she mean by coming home so late? Aren’t they her dratted poultry in the first place?  How much is it going to cost to replace them?  This will be the last time she goes to market if that’s where it’s all going to end up.  He might even hit her, if her scolding winds him up past what he can bear.

“But the scripture teaching says no, don’t do it like that.  Submit to one another.  Love her like Christ loves the church.  If she wants to hammer nails in, lie there and take it.  If she’s minded to jam a cap of thorns on your head, bite your lip and wipe the blood out of your eyes.  Keep your eyes fixed on one thing and one thing only: letting nothing – but nothing – sour the sweetness of love.  Let it hurt you, let it shame you, let it lacerate you; but don’t let it stop you loving her.

“Have I exhausted your patience? Have I said enough for now?”

Madeleine was sitting very still, her face brooding.  “Go on,” she answered him.

“Well, then: this thing has to be mutual, it has to be reciprocal to work properly, to get the result it’s meant to achieve.  If in our community here, the brothers are humble and submissive and the abbot is arrogant and self-serving and demanding, it all starts to unravel.  If the abbot is gentle and humble but the monks are proud and lazy and insubordinate, the whole thing collapses in an instant.  Same in a marriage.  If the woman serves her husband humbly and he thinks ‘Oh, good!’ and sits back self-satisfied, ‘Wife, get me this, get me that!’ then it isn’t what the apostle envisaged. If the man is forbearing and gentle and the woman takes it as her opportunity to get away with being a nag and a shrew, then it’s just hell on earth.  It takes two.

“How do you keep your hens from roaming too far afield and roosting in the trees, Madeleine?”

“What?” surprised by the sudden question, she turned her face to him. “You know what I do.  I clip their wings.”

“Oh.  And how do you do that?”

“What are you talking about?  You know perfectly well how to clip a hen’s wings.”

“Pretend I don’t.  What do I have to do?” 

“You just trim the tips of the flight feathers on one wing.  It unbalances them, so they can’t fly.”

“Exactly so.  That’s why the apostle urges that in marriage a man and a woman be not unequally yoked, but be both submitted to Christ; because it takes two to make this work.  Unbalanced, it can’t take off, it can’t fly.  One of you can start the ball rolling maybe, but in the end the thing takes two. The man must be as humble and vulnerable as Christ stripped naked with his arms opened wide on the cross.  The woman must be as gentle and submissive as the faithful people of God kneeling in simple humility before their Lord.  Madeleine, am I describing your marriage?”

No sound followed this question but the settling of slow-burning logs on the hearth as the smoke drifted peacefully up the chimney above their red glow.

“What do you think?” she asked at last, her voice low.

“I think it’s a hard lesson to learn and it asks a lot of anyone.  I think even when we’ve practiced for years it takes more than most of us have, to get it right.  And again and again I have to ask my brothers’ forgiveness when I forget myself and say something cutting or contemptuous or intolerant.  And I imagine it must be exactly the same in a marriage.  Except, in the silence of the night you are blessed with one extra way to put things right.”

She said nothing.  Then she moved uneasily, her face contorted in puzzlement.  “This sounds all very attractive, but… well, in real life I can’t always be stopping to think about William.  There’s work to be done, and only the two of us to get through it all.  That’s mainly where we fall out – there’s so much to do, and I get exasperated with him when he forgets things and he’s clumsy and slow.  It’s all very well for you, there’s a veritable army of men here to work together; at home it’s only me and William.”

John nodded. “I know what you mean.  Not all our men are equally skilled of course – if you’d ever stood and watched Brother Thomas trying to work alongside Brother Germanus you might think twice about saying it’s all very well for us; but I do know what you mean.

“I understand that the work has to be accomplished – the beasts fed and the place maintained and the crops sown – of course it does, but… shaping a life as God meant it to be involves paying attention to the way we do things.  The thing is, the journey determines the destination, if you see what I mean.  The way we take is what settles the place we will arrive at.  If you spend the next ten years bickering with your man and belittling him, you will be sowing the seeds for a harvest of misery in your old age.  He won’t leave you.  William would never leave you, of that I am sure.  He’s no slouch – he has the most phenomenal application and tenacity. But you could lose him in other ways.  He could become very bitter and withdrawn, and he is capable of great coldness.  He was a ruthless man, once. 

“I think, if you are willing to let things go sometimes, not have to have everything done right, that will help.  So what if the fox steals a hen or two?  Is that more serious than letting the devil steal your marriage?  Do you really want William dancing like a puppet while you pull the strings, afraid to offend you, frightened of what you’ll say if he makes a mistake?”

He observed her quietly.  “Is that… am I being too harsh?” he asked her gently.

She shook her head.  “I think you’ve put your finger on it,” she replied, her voice dull and defeated. “I’m not a very good wife at all.”

John’s hand moved in a gesture of protest. “You’re the right wife for William. It’s hard, in middle life, to make adjustments, is the only thing.  It’s the same here when older men who have been widowed feel a vocation to monastic life.  But never mind that.  Could you do it, do you think?  Might you be able to make the choice to be kind a higher priority than being right? Could you keep your mind’s eye on the way you’ve chosen and trust it will arrive at somewhere worthwhile?”

If, on reading this, you think you would enjoy to have the opportunity to read the whole book, please do leave a comment here, as it will be under consideration at a publishers' meeting tomorrow.

Also in the comments please continue and develop this conversation about the roles of men and women, on which Jenna shed a wonderful ray of light.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Several months later.

Back in August last year I posted here about eco-bathroom habits, including composting one's poo in bokashi bran (the process is all explained in the post I've linked to).

So I collected a summer's worth of poo and composted it as I'd learnt how to do, using the bokashi bran and then leaving it to age under a covering layer in a big enclosed compost bin.  The layer covering it was ashes from the woodfire and earth from the garden.

Fast forward to this week.

Spring has come here, and the garden is coming alive.

The tulips are out

and the forgetmenots

and drifts of celandines 

At the end of last summer, troubled about the many threats to bees and other pollinators, we decided to do our garden differently this year.  Last year we had raised beds and lots of veggies.  Then in the autumn the Badger took them up again and instead we planted trees - mainly fruit trees.  We sowed meadow grass seed and extra meadow flowers.  This way our garden will still grow food, but will also be a happy play space, and a kind of wilderness; and, most importantly, a haven for birds and bees and butterflies.

Our house is on the top of the hill that rises up from the sea, and though our garden is on the south facing side of the house and often very warm, sometimes the wind comes tearing up the hill and does a lot of damage to tender plants - as in, instant death.

Although it was a mega-wet winter here, the wind this last couple of months has been strong and frequent, drying out the surfaces of the earth where it is exposed in the places the raised beds used to be and the new seeds are only just sprouting.

The Badger said what we needed was a compost mulch to both protect and feed the new little plants from the seeds we'd sown.

So today was my Compost Day.  We had two seriously unsuccessful heaps that didn't know what they were - all kinds of sticks and leaves and roots and wodgy mats of grass chucked in together and frankly not looking good.  So I turned those over, took out the biggest fibrous chunky things and put them in the bin the council takes for composting on the municipal site, then amalgamated the remaining mess into one bin where it can just stay and rot down until Jesus comes again.  Though if he delays, we may get some use out of it eventually.

Thus we now have one empty composting receptacle, strictly for leafmould this time!

I left the current enclosed compost bin alone - it's going great guns, heaving with worms and full of veggie peelings etc.  No problems there and lots of space yet.

Then I thought I'd tackle the Ageing Compost bin - which contained in the top half a summerful of poo and bokashi bran layered with ash and earth.

Oh.  My.  Goodness!

You never saw such perfect compost!!


Look closer!

That is Hallelujah Compost and no mistake!  The best we ever made.

Once I dug down the bin to the level of the original ageing compost - kitchen veggie bits - I stopped digging it out.  We started our time at this house collecting the kitchen bits in compostable bags, but found they need exposure to light to break down - hence the compost was always full of raggy bits of bag; not a joy to behold.  I pulled some out and binned them, and I'll go back to the bin to dig it out completely at some point; but by this time I felt a bit tired and I had dug out two wheelbarrows full of the good stuff, enough to sprinkle a layer all over the badly cracked earth that is turning into orchard/meadow.  You're not meant to put it on veggies in case of pathogens etc - though why horse and chicken poo that you can buy should be any better I can't imagine.

That eco-venture turned out brilliantly, and saved the money for about four bags of compost (perhaps £20 [US $30.50] in all).   What interests me particularly is that of all the simple living earth-friendly things I have tried, composting one's own poo is the one where almost everyone to whom I've mentioned it draws the line - "Er - no thank you!"   And yet it's been a total success; odour-free, clean and simple, and is a better thing by far than flushing away beautiful fertiliser with gallons of water to a figment of my imagination called "Away".    I stopped doing it in the winter, just because I ran out of counter-culture oomph.  But we've already begun collecting pee for the plants, as they need feeding now the time of growth has begin, so I think collecting poo must be next on the agenda.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Ordinary People

TV.   Alienating.

I was late to bed last night – 3am – because I sat up transcribing a small out of print book I have borrowed from a friend.  It was published in the 1930s, there is no trace of a copy or even a mention of it online, so though it is precious she has lent it to me, and I am slogging through the slow process of typing it up so I can refer to its wisdom at leisure.

When I finally went to bed, I lay with a small, dim light still on, admiring my shelves.  They are beautifully tidy and calm.  After years of struggling in this direction I seem finally to have tamed my clothes.  I like everything I own, it is all comfortable and the shapes suit my body.  Everything I have is stretchy or (if woven not knitted) strung on elastic, so I can expand and shrink without fear of expense.  My shoes are all comfy and good for walking in.  I have warm clothes and cool clothes, snuggly and soft.  I have thick leggings and tights for winter, different undergarments to suit the seasons, everything is modest and everything, except nightdresses and some undergarments, is purple.  My stuff is mostly herded up in baskets and it all feels spacious and well-organised and this brings me peace and well-being.  I lay a long time looking at the shelves, occasionally getting out of bed to re-organise something that caught my eye, just to make it perfect.  And eventually I put out the light and drifted off to sleep.

Because I went to sleep so late, though I woke early as usual I dozed off again.  I finally came to about 9.20 and within five minutes my cellphone rang.  It was the Badger urgently needing details of his passport to book a flight to a Christian book conference.  We puzzled over the final detail being sought, which correlated with nothing on the passport page. In the end he asked if I could scan the page and send it to him.

We have a new printer, wireless.  It works fine, but I had never tried to print wirelessly, so I took my laptop downstairs – which is a bit of a performance because it has something wrong with its bios and the battery holds no charge so I have to rush it from socket to socket like a medical emergency.  And the socket by the printer is on the floor behind the sofa so I almost expired through crushing my internal organs (yes, gentle reader, I am too fat) hanging over the back of the sofa trying to plug it in.  Actually that’s not too bad because all you have to do is push – unplugging it is the challenge; you need powerful fingertips.

At first the scanner denied all knowledge of connection even though ‘Emberputa’ came up clear enough on its little screen.  It pretended the broadband was down or it wasn’t turned on or there was no computer.  Sigh.  I printed out a couple of notelets with violets on I designed yesterday evening just to try and jog its memory.  It liked the violets but refused to have anything to do with the passport.

Then I remembered that our Alice, who used to work at the library and has long and bitter experience of This Kind Of Thing, showed me how to establish connection through the computer control panel not through the scanner’s own computer.  So I did that.  The first PDF came out upside down and I don’t know how to rotate on a PDF so I made a second one and sent it off to the Badger, pointing out how ultra-cunning I had been in remembering to take his passport out of the scanner and put it back in the file so that when he tries to get the aeroplane we aren’t searching wildly through heaps of paper in the garret wondering where the heck his passport can be.

I made some delicious vegetable soup for lunch and while tidying out the pantry came upon some Nutty Knobbly Nougat in a carrier bag with something in a jar – chutney or whatever, I didn’t really look, I was fixating on the nougat which I love.  And though I certainly didn’t put it there I ripped it open and ate some even though I had dessert (sticky toffee pudding and HALF FAT crème fraiche – yes I do know I shouldn’t have) after my soup, with a cup of tea.  Sorry if it was earmarked for something else.

Then this afternoon I watched the episode of Broadchurch (gripping TV crime drama) because today I didn’t need to be here or there or even anywhere doing anything in particular - and I got the book I was writing finished and in to my editor as planned at the beginning of the week (hooray!) so I made an executive decision to award myself chillout space.

I corresponded a bit with one or two people about things going on with them, I felt guilty for not getting round to Morning Prayer and decided as it was by then 4pm it’ll have to be Evening Prayer today.

I typed up some more of the book and fetched in some wood for the stove and brought in the wheelie bin – and took out the trash that should have been in it when the bin lorry came round.

I photographed a bookcase and advertised it for sale on eBay as it seems to have no family takers.

I opened my mail and enjoyed reading news of a friend in the other (West) half of Sussex, and perusing a copy of Our Lady of the Lost and Found which arrived from Thrift Books late this afternoon.

And tonight the Badger hurtles back in from publishing Christian books in Oxford to drop panting to the floor for a short night before leaping into action again and rushing up to Tunbridge Wells to take three teenage girls (!) to Spring Harvest Christian Conference in search for further Christian authors to write books for his publishing programme.

So runs my life.

At the weekend a new historical (or should I say histrionic?) drama called The Village began on the telly.  I wanted to watch it despite its author telling us Life Was Hard in Those Days (oh no, not more of the harsh and gritty) but an hour before it started I discovered a (widespread as it turns out) problem with Google Blogger – a glitch whereby you can add a new gadget to the side pane in Layout, but not edit any of the existing ones.  By the time I’d tussled unsuccessfully to defeat this and finally settle on a ruse that satisfied me (if you start a new list but don’t give it a title it looks near enough like a continuation of an existing list on the page), The Village was in full swing.  I hurried down to join the Badger in watching it, but came into the living room just in time to get a large screenful of a young woman in a pretty dress undoing a man’s trousers (Oh, right.  That kind of hard).  This eventually necessitated the person in question putting down her dachshund which she left to Run Wild through the rough ground of the woodland where We All Knew What They Were Up To as soon as we saw the doggie wander off.   Apart from that we saw a farmer running amok in uncontrollable rage, swinging randomly through his wheatfield with a scythe that nearly saw off the cameraman’s head, never mind the heads of grain, while his young son looked on in surprise and disbelief, as I did myself.  I went back upstairs.

And in the episode of Broadchurch I saw this afternoon, we had prison and paedophilia, mobs, drugs, sinister types everywhere, adultery, murder, despair, anger, underage sex, rude teenagers, destructive journalism, lies, secrets, and hot competition to get into the knickers of the woman in the pub (the plumber was the first but by no means the last).  And why was the vicar so keen to be so helpful to all these women?

And I wondered, where are the ordinary people?  Why does my life bear no resemblance to the lives on the telly?  I wouldn’t dream of propositioning our plumber – never, not even when I was young and tolerably attractive.  My children have hardly ever been rude to me – I can think of two occasions between all five of them in their entire lives.  The strongest drug in our house is Kenco coffee.  Or Earl Grey tea.  Nobody would murder even a spider or a wasp.  And if I had responsibility for a dachshund, for sure I wouldn’t let it scamper off to leave me with both hands free for unfettering someone's genitalia on a chilly English day amid docks and thistles.  It isn’t practical.

Where is the quiet contentment of a skilled job well done?  Where is the profound wellbeing of fireside conversations with someone you have faithfully loved for years, as the evening draws on to night?  Do they never play Scrabble? Don’t they knit or bake cakes?  Aren’t there rooms to be swept and windows to wash?  Don’t they ever pray, or sing, or stand for a moment to look round and locate a singing robin up in the tree, in the middle of hanging out the laundry on a breezy morning?  Why are they so angry so much of the time, always lashing out at each other in bitter, contemptuous fashion?   Why is no young woman on TV, in any film whatever, capable of leaving a room without throwing some offensive and insulting smart-alec quip over her shoulder in parting – unless she’s left in a sobbing heap by her thug of a husband who’s just broken all her teeth.

In my opinion, my life has not been boring.  At times I’ve been poor, terrified, at my wits end, in love, full of hope, despairing, elated, troubled, tested.  I’ve sat up into the small hours talking theology with friends or working out ways and means with household accounts.  I’ve thrown myself onto the floor before the altar in an out-of-hours empty church, pleading with God for the wave of His Spirit to lift the beached life of a stubborn congregation.  I’ve worked till I felt sick with exhaustion, and I’ve stood on the beach and watched the sunrise over the sea, overflowing my soul with the glory.   I’ve sat with dying people in their last hours, I’ve grown a garden where I found only dust and concrete, I’ve sat up half waking in the dead of night feeding infants at my breast.  I think it’s fair to say I’ve lived.

Why doesn’t any of this seem to make it onto the TV? – just an endless weary procession of preoccupation with tits, bums and dicks (are the camera operators or directors going short of something at home?), all bathed in a predictable vinaigrette of lasciviousness with rage and jealousy and bitterness as the tedious side orders.  For heaven’s sake!  Seriously, it’s enough to drive you to Sudoku.

But ooh, look: