Friday, 23 June 2017

Early morning

The newly risen sun is reflecting bright off the leaves of the greengage tree we planted so that I'd be able to see a tree when I looked out of the window in this urban street.

Ours is a quiet road - near the shops and a big intersection, but a cul-de-sac network of houses. We live near the end corner, so not so many vehicles come along here - except bus drivers looking for somewhere to park, because just across the way and a few yards along is the bus depot.

The air is fresh and there are no people about yet. But the buses start up early. Apart from a few random cars, their deep rumbling engines are the only sound in the early morning silence.

The sound of the bus engines is very like a recording I have of Buddhist monks chanting. Remarkably like it. 

We don't have geese (often) but we do have seagulls.

If I close my eyes I could think I was sitting by a monastery wall near a lake in Ladakh.

As Lao Tsu said, "Without going outside, you may know the whole world."

I suppose it does take a little imagination.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Why am I here?"

Lovely article from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation (Thay's calligraphy below is linkified.

Chameleon shotgun house blends modern/vernacular on a budget

So imaginative, frugal and creative!

A link to your blog?

In the side-bar are various lists with links out, including a list of links to blogs of friends who often come by here and comment. As time goes on, people stop blogging or change focus from one blog to another, so today I went through that list and deleted those where someone had stopped posting months or even years ago, or those where the link was no longer active.

If you are a regular reader here and your interests are in accord with what you read at Kindred of the Quiet Way, feel free to leave a comment letting me know about your blog, and if I think other readers will enjoy to explore it I'll add it to the link list.

This is an ad-free blog, so I don't post commercial links unless for an exceptional reason.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Generosity found in sufficiency

I liked this post by Roland on Handcrafted Travellers, writing about knowing when you have enough and keeping that in balance with everyone else having enough. It's an interesting idea, not least because the sense of 'enough' must surely vary according to context and circumstances. When Maximilian Kolbe offered to take the place of a stranger in the line to the gas chambers at the concentration camp, he had travelled far enough in his spirit, he had lived enough and seen enough to have enough love to give his life away. When billionaires rake in more money by starting wars and cutting disability benefits, I suppose something is always starving in them - they do not know when they have enough.

I liked this picture from Roland's post, and the picture is also linkified to what he said.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Rumi quote

Half of life is lost in charming others.

The other half is lost in going through anxieties caused by others. 

Leave this play, you have played enough!

~ Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī

Monday, 5 June 2017

Tale of a Teenage Herring Gull

Well, we had an interesting herring gull episode today.

As you know (if you read here often) our next door neighbours’ house hosts a seagull family on the flat extended section of its roof. Our houses are tall Victorian buildings, so that’s three floors’ worth of big airy rooms from the ground.

It turns out that seagulls are trainable, and wait politely on the shed roof or the woodstore roof to be fed. But in the last few weeks, as their babies have grown and got hungrier, breakfast time has become a matter of urgency (aye, and supper time) so the parent seagulls come and rap on the back door to let us know they’re starving out there.

Our Rosie lives in the back room downstairs, and has planted a vegetable garden (presently full of thriving potato plants) just outside her door into the yard. And this afternoon I glanced out of the kitchen window to see a young herring gull sitting on her doorstep tapping on the window. Evidently the youngster had made it down from the roof but couldn’t get back up, and knew this is where seagulls come for help. So we took it out a dish of fishy catfood, which was gratefully received, and watched to see what would happen.

Adult herring gulls have sardonic, aloof yellow eyes; but the youngsters have big black eyes a bit like the eyes of seals – very beautiful, very appealing.

The parent gull came down to see what could be done, and had no success in getting Junior up off the ground. So then Mama (or Papa?) came and banged on the window for help.

We went out to see what we could do, and Mama explained the situation to us and hung around anxiously, but their roof was a long way beyond what we could reach, and Junior had no plans for flying up there.

Our Fi went off to ask the vet what to do, while I googled seagull rescue advice (East Sussex knows about herring gulls, believe me).

The vet had no one on duty, but the rescue site advised getting the young bird up onto a low roof from which the parents could encourage it home – pointing out that seagulls are excellent parents (no word of a lie – they are).

Meanwhile Mama was doing her best in the garden. In the Bayeux Tapestry there’s a wonderful scene of “King Harold comforting his troops”, which redefines our understanding of comforting and therefore sheds fresh light on the role of the Holy Spirit. Harold is comforting them with the point of a spear.

Similarly was Mama Seagull comforting her errant offspring – pecking it vigorously to make it fly. Big mistake; just made it scream. But she hovered around anxiously, trying to get it up off the ground. Managed to get it onto the fallen log we sit on, managed to get it onto the garden wall – no further.

Around five, Foxy came to get her supper, and happily didn’t take the young gull for a supplementary snack, but we could see this was the next problem on the horizon.

Get the bird onto a low roof, the rescue site said – or ideally back onto the roof it calls home; but get the right roof or it’ll find a hostile reception from the resident birds.

And eventually we realized there was nothing else for it; we’d have to catch it and put it up on our roof, as no gulls nest there but the parents are only yards away next door. Even if it failed to make the crossing home, Mama and Papa would bring breakfast lunch and tea until it was properly ready to fly. Come to that, we could put out food and water, too.

So we took more catfood (its third bowlful!) and added it to its plate on the garden wall where it stood, Mama circling anxiously overhead. Completely unafraid of us right there alongside, the little bird scoffed off its grub with true herring gull voracity – and I took advantage of this preoccupation to grab it.

The young gull screamed blue bloody murder, and tried with its little webbed feet to make me let go. I took it into the house still yelling at the top of its voice, while a posse of seagulls swirled and swooped overhead – but they know us and didn’t bomb us; I was so impressed by their trust in us today.

As I carried the youngster upstairs, it registered its displeasure by threatening to bite my finger; but it didn’t do it hard, just let me know this was a possibility I might like to think about.

We climbed the stairs all the way up to the Badger’s attic and opened up the skylights. In a last demonstration of panic, the seagull was (annoyingly) sick on the carpet; then we had the window open and released Junior onto our roof. Before long Mama was in attendance with Junior up and walking along the ridge tiles.

Since then it’s been raining and misty, and we haven’t been able to see what the outcome has been. But I think they’ll figure it out from there. We’ll keep an eye out and continue to feed it if necessary. Safe from Foxy’s attentions at the very least.

Meanwhile we have left out in the garden the various plates the seagull snacked from, knowing that before morning Foxy will have licked them all clean as a whistle. Hey, how cool is that, to have wild animals show up to wash the dishes! Just call me Snow White.

Friday, 2 June 2017

As you consider which way to cast your vote.

I’ve never been a very good numbers person – not great on dates, and I’m the type who might tell you, “There’s been a terrible explosion! 350 people were killed! Or was it 3,500? Or 35? Er . . . not sure.”

But I am good at grasping principles, and at joined-up thinking, and at understanding human situations.

As I’ve watched and listened and read during these weeks running up to the UK election, I find it difficult to remember the exact data about the NHS, for example – just how many hours doctors have to work or how many nurses posts have been cut, or exactly what is the annual salary of the nurses who have had to resort to feeding their families from foodbanks.

And sometimes I don’t think quickly enough to answer someone’s point. For example, the man who was talking to me in the street about politics the other day. I was concentrating on staying calm and polite while he thrust his face about four inches away from mine and said he wouldn’t vote Labour because Jeremy Corbyn is a man of peace. “If someone comes at me with a knife,” he said, “I want a gun in my hand!” He extrapolated from this an international imperative of stockpiling nuclear weapons.

If I’d thought fast enough, I might have pointed out that the problem with his preferred system would be that the next time his attacker might have a gun in his hand – and then what? Surely what you want if a man comes at you with a knife in his hand is a robust police force, and maybe good negotiating skills and a well-resourced mental health provision. Our police force is in a desperate condition, defunded and cut back to the bone. Our mental health provision is evaporating.

I did manage to think quickly enough to point out to a man insisting that there was no point saving the NHS as its fundamental problem was old people aspiring to live to be 300, that since his wife is an occupational therapist she’ll probably lose her job if we have any more cuts.

But the main thing I’ve been struggling to communicate is the grave consequences of what’s being called the Dementia Tax.

This is that proposal to fund social care from the equity of the patient’s home, all bar £100k.

People arguing in favour of this make it sound very reasonable – social care is expensive, the money won’t be taken until the recipient’s death (so they won’t suffer or be made homeless), and £100k is a generous amount to have left over for a legacy.

But there’s a gaping hole in this. What if the person who needs social care is not the only one whose home it is?

Let me sketch out a couple of possible scenarios.

Suppose an elderly couple become increasingly infirm, but they have a son who is a minister in the church – someone who is on a very low income and has lived in occupational housing. Suppose that son, on retiring, didn’t take up the option to have a church retirement house because he moved in with his ageing parents to care for them. One of them is frail and needs to be taken to numerous medical appointments, he has to do all their shopping and cleaning (and his own) – but one of them develops dementia and cannot be left alone. Nobody can be everywhere at once doing everything. So the son has to have help with necessary social care. Then one of his parents dies. Perhaps at this point the house will remain the property of the surviving parent, if it was jointly owned. But what when the second parent dies? The son, now an elderly man, with very little in the way of savings because his occupation was not highly-paid, will have to sell the house to pay for the social care his parents had. In the area where I live, a small 2-bedroomed terrace house is now worth over £200k, and you couldn’t even get a one-bedroomed flat with no garden or separate kitchen for £100k. It would be too late for the man to generate earnings or take out a mortgage. In the rental sector there’s fierce competition for homes, private sector rents are very high (even for bed-sits), and there is very little social housing left. I think there’s a strong chance that man would become destitute.

Or imagine a scenario where a woman has two daughters, both born in the 1980s, both working as care assistants (valuable but low-paid work). During their adult years, property prices have risen faster than their ability to save for a deposit, and rented housing is beyond their ability to afford – but it’s okay, because they continue to live in the family home. They enjoy each other’s company, the mortgage is all paid off by an insurance pay-out when their father died, and their mother has left the house to them in her will. It won’t be subject to inheritance tax as her savings are very modest. Then she gets cancer. She suffers a long, slow deterioration. To pay the household bills and cover groceries etc, her daughters have to keep working. Their own care skills are a good support to her, but as her condition declines she needs the extra support of social care. After seven years, she dies. Because her daughters have undertaken much of her care, there is only £85k owing to the state. The house has to be sold to pay it, leaving £112k after estate agents’ and solicitors’ fees have been settled. This is a nice nest-egg, but unfortunately not enough to buy a house. Where once the sisters would have been able to manage comfortably, with both of them working and their home owed outright, now they will face big financial problems. Even with the two of them sharing, care assistants’ wages don’t go far (the hourly rate is £7.75).

The proposed Dementia Tax would have very far-reaching social consequences, stripping out the carefully accumulated security of families, transferring the assets of the middle classes into the pockets of the very rich – because social care, like the NHS, would be provided by private companies.

When you look carefully at what such proposals mean, the magnitude of the consequences becomes really shocking.

I am not an especially political animal, and I personally believe most political approaches work well if they are administered with goodness and compassion.

But our present UK government is a cynical administration with a cavalier approach to the concerns and sufferings of lower-income people. If they have another 5-year chance at government, the way of life we have enjoyed in Britain for so long will be irretrievably lost, and the desperation of grinding poverty will become a common phenomenon.

Please, even if you normally vote Conservative, Lib Dem or Green, vote Labour this time – unless you are voting tactically according to your neighbourhood. To save our NHS, to save our education system, to maintain the stability of our social fabric and infrastructure, we need a change of government. And in real terms this is a 2-horse race.  The only way forward this time is Labour.