Saturday, 20 June 2015

Shopping without glasses

Half of me thinks I shouldn’t really be eating cereal for breakfast. Sugars and starches trigger your fat-storing hormones and, geez, hasn’t life got enough problems already without that?    

But there is, on the other hand, more to living than the constant losing battle against the bulge. For one thing, carbs eaten sensibly (whole grains, I mean, not white sugar) keep me cheerful and help stave off the Black Dog. And then there’s that other matter – wheat bran helping to, as it were, smooth the way of the otherwise stony path.

So I do eat cereal for breakfast; but we are not talking pop-tarts. I have a bowl with two kinds of cereal in: the sort that has bran flakes with dried fruit and dried coconut (similar, for intestinal purposes, to eating steel wool); and the other sort that old ladies buy. Do you have it in the States? Here it is sold as All Bran:

Well, on Friday, Hebe and I went to get the groceries as usual, diverging and converging on our hunter-gathering expedition round the supermarket, and I went into the cereal aisle and picked up a box of All Bran.

This morning I opened it for breakfast.

You know that story from John’s gospel, how Jesus went to the wedding at Cana-in-Galilee, and changed the water into wine? Well, I thought he must have been interfering with my All Bran in the night. Because – oh, glory hallelujah! – when I opened it, I realised this was chocolate cereal! Oh, man – I love chocolate cereal! I never buy it because it’s sugary and isn’t good for you.

I’d bought this:

I’m going shopping without my glasses again!

Waking up early

I love the early morning.

One of the blessings of growing older is that I almost always see the sunrise.

It is so beautiful.

It makes me happy.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

This surprised me.

When I was a girl, I went to church in an English country parish. An old, flint-built church with stained glass windows, lovingly polished pews, set in a big churchyard where roses grew among the lichened headstones.

We worshipped according to the Book of Common Prayer. Almighty God, unto who all hearts be open and from whom no secrets are hid . . . and Lighten our darkness we beseech thee, O Lord . . . and O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy. . .

The worship was quiet, and had about it a quality of ordinariness that fed my soul. It was, if you see what I mean, no big deal. Nothing was done to make it Fun or to Attract The Young. There were no sound systems, worship bands, brightly coloured banners, news sheets, greeters, videos . . . There was the smell of stone and beeswax, the quietness, the strong stone pillars and the tiled floor, the deep warm brown of the old wood, with the colours of stained glass flowing over as the sun moved round. And the peaceful, hidden gladness of the Mystery.

I loved it, and I think it formed my soul.

My faith journey has wandered a twisting trail since then. I’ve been a Roman Catholic and then a Methodist, been in ordained ministry (Methodist) both as a pastor and a chaplain in school and hospice – and briefly in hospital.

I’ve worshipped with Quakers in silence full of light, and with the highest possible high church Anglicans, with the incense rising through the airy spaces up from among the candles and coloured vestments into the nostrils of God.

I’ve loved it all, but in the last few years I’ve had this longing to come home.

I miss the humble, earthy homeliness of Cranmer’s prayers. I miss the peaceful understatedness of the worship when I was a girl.

What has surprised me, is that the nearest thing to it (for me) is not in the Church of England. Even in Cathedral worship, I feel the tug towards innovation among clergy let loose on the intercessions, and a certain self-conscious almost-snobbishness about The Way We Do Things Here. So much to get right, so much to get wrong, so many rules and permissions, such a thick crust of hierarchy and obstinate tradition. Bit chewy.

But just across the valley from me – the nearest church in fact to my kitchen – a Methodist church (I was once its minister), where by some means (and you can’t do this by trying, it happens all by itself) that humble, earthy homeliness is still there. They sing the old songs, and the Local Preachers who lead worship speak with unaffected homely reverence to a God they obviously believe in.

What surprises me is that in this backwater town the Methodist worship is what captures the humility of Cranmer.

Graft in our hearts the love of thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same . . .

Dust in the sunlight.


Tuesday, 9 June 2015


So we were away for the weekend at Emmaus house for St Johns parish weekend. I bunked off the scheduled sessions – writing writing (I’ve started another novel) – but made it to prayers in the calm, dim chapel full of peace. TaizĂ© chants, strangely brisk with their electronic accompaniment, but welcome in their beauty and familiarity. A few surprising moments (human beings are odd, aren’t they?) and some delicious meals. Sunshine. A rose garden. A view of a green patchwork of fields and trees, with horses and a traversing afternoon fox.

One of us looked sober and thoughtful but was probably reading Poldark.

One of us was primarily chilling out.

It was good, but I missed this place.

It was nice to come home.

Last night, in the deep dusk of my fox-watch, the two badgers had so vigorous a rough-and-tumble on the verandah that they inadvertently turned the snick on the door and locked me in! I became their captive audience. I wish I could photograph them for you, but it almost dark when they visit, and my laptop is my only camera now. Still, you can see the Audacious Seagull on the roof of Komorebi in the outside photo above. He stands on the waterbutt outside Alice and Hebe's studio, rapping on the window for his tea. We are discouraging him because the Roof Community is shocked and offended that we feed him; they feel betrayed - he is an Interloper. So he comes down to Komorebi and steals the fox's food instead. I keep watch to protect it; he stands on the far side of the pitched roof of the Badger's woodwork shed (my Badger, not the real ones), his baleful eye just visible above the apex of the roof. 

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Writing fiction

Writing fiction cannot be done without the co-operation of the sub-conscious mind. That’s the dreaming mind, the childlike primitive mind whose native territory is the imagination.

Put to it, I could write an article, a sermon, or a section for a non-fiction book under almost any circumstances. Ideally, there is time to think, to prepare, to get in the zone. Sometimes there isn’t. Every now and then arises a fluke situation where 1-2-3-GO! applies. May not be my best work ever, but it’s not far off, and passes muster.

Fiction is different, though. The planning, executing, grown-up mind has no choice but to wait on the tricksy wildness of the sub-conscious mind, inhabit its landscape – basically, do what it wants.

In my own experience (yours may be different) this is why routine and discipline are essential to writing fiction: because the subconscious mind is another term for the inner child. Just as routine and discipline get the best results out of children, so do they from the inner child the writer has to lure forth to write fiction.

And I have found there is a contract that mustn’t be broken. So I can say to the subconscious mind, ‘I expect you there at 5.30 sharp the next morning, and we have 2,000 words to do. You can have breakfast and a cup of tea, then you must push through to 1,000 before you do anything else. After that, you can do physical, active things until lunch-time. Then I expect you back here for the 2nd thousand words. After that, you are free to play. You can watch telly or read or go for a walk, or chat to the people you like. After your 2,000 words are done, you don’t have to do any more work until tomorrow.’

And my subconscious mind listens intently, takes it all in, says, ‘Okay!’ And that’s what we do. Everything goes fine. It’s happy, I’m happy. All is well.

But woe betide me if I break the contract.

This can happen in two ways, both common enough.

One is that I get interrupted.  

I have made three attempts at describing here what might constitute such an interruption, and deleted them all. Best I not identify the typical sources of interruption! Suffice it to say, sometimes they are personal, sometimes professional.

If I am interrupted, my subconscious self / inner child goes nuts. Furious, despairing, wringing its hands, beside itself with rage – ‘BUT YOU PROMISED WE COULD WRITE THE STORY! YOU SAID WE COULD!’

At such times I am hardly accountable for what I might say to those who interrupt me. There’s a reason people who write novels incarcerate themselves in rented villas on faraway islands.

The second thing that can happen is my conscious mind tries to take advantage of a Good Thing. It sees the subconscious mind is out, all singing and dancing, doing what was asked of it, spinning stories like candyfloss made of light. And the conscious mind makes the mistake of saying, ‘Oh, right! How about 4,000 words, then today?’

It’s the old fairy tale (Rumpelstiltskin) of the miller’s daughter, locked in with a heap of straw and a spinning wheel – ‘Spin that straw into gold before morning,’ says the Prince. And she does! She does! Is he pleased? Sort of. He locks her into a bigger room with even more straw in it and says, ‘Okay. Now this one.’


Shocked, duped, betrayed, the subconscious mind stands gaping. ‘Four thousand words? Two. You said two – then you said we could play! You said after two, no more until tomorrow. You promised.’

I find, it doesn’t work if I break the contract. But with discipline, routine and no interruptions, the work moves with joy like the rhythm of the sea.

Novelists, take time to play. Move far away from Porlock.