Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Mind control

I could understand it if you privately wondered why I seem so obsessed by my clothing.

There are answers to that — yes, more than one!

The first is that my world is very small. My income is both modest and shared, so I rarely go anywhere because even a bus to the town is a £4.30 return. I walk round the block sometimes, and visit Buzzfloyd and her tribe, but apart from church and grocery shopping, that's what I do. My room is 6'9"x9', and my possessions and scope for activities are accordingly few. I can do handsewing, and crochet, and I have a folding up table. I like to make things. Recently, I needed some storage for underclothing. This is expensive to buy of course, but sticky-backed plastic is not much money, so I began to collect packaging boxes, and customise them to my own requirements.

This has my long-sleeved (underwear) vests and leggings:

This has my underwear bottoms:

This one has my socks and tights:

It has something on every surface:

"The pure land", btw, is like Buddhist terminology for the Kingdom of Heaven.

That box took quite a long time to do and I found it rather complicated. A bit of a tussle. I and my scissors got quite sticky. But I like it very much. As well as containing socks, it sits beside me on the bed as a mini-desk for my laptop, avoiding the unbearable sensation of electronic vibrations from having it on my actual lap.

There is always housework, of course, and laundry and weeding the garden and making lunch. And every now and then I write a book, and most weeks I have preaching or some kind of church meeting to prepare.

All of these things are interesting, of course, but you can see why deciding what to wear today might loom large in my life. There isn't a great deal of variety, and the main structure is both solitary and disciplined — which I like, but I enjoy thinking about what clothes to put on, especially as I like my clothes a lot. I like the colours and the flowery fabrics and soft, supple textures, and thinking about who make them. I like the pockets (and putting a newly ironed hanky in them) and the buttons.

But if the first reason I think about my clothes a lot is that there isn't much else to think about — other than the magnificence of the living Earth and the eternal realm of mystery, both of which I consider all the time — then the second reason is an oddity of my mind which I suspect proceeds from my undiagnosed oddities belonging to the autistic spectrum. 

Because each day, there are clothes that I want to wear — and once I identify them, I recognise with great joy and fierce passion that, yes, these (and only these) are the clothes I love. I want to wear them always. I never want to wear anything else. I want to get lots more like these — these colours, these fabrics. I want to dispose immediately of anything in my wardrobe that is not the same. I want everything in my wardrobe to be the same sort of thing — this (and only this) sort of thing. Anything that is not like this I don't want to own, see or think about. I don't want anything else in my house, anywhere, not even in the attic. I don't want to know anything different is in my wardrobe even if I can't see it. Throw it away, throw it away.

Then, by lunchtime, I feel unbearably oppressed by the clothes I'm wearing. Their colour vibrations are exhausting me, they feel heavy and thick and cumbersome, I have to wear something else. I never want to see these clothes again. I can't think why I ever thought I liked them. I no longer want to own them or think about them or have them anywhere in my house, not even in the attic . . . etc, etc.

I really am quite tiresome to live with — for myself, I mean. Well, probably for other people, too.

And, if I own many clothes I become exhausted by the confusion of their varied and competing personalities. I cannot have a variety of styles or I get bewildered and overwhelmed. My cotton jersey dress always quietly worries me — because the others are all woven and have different necklines. I have to have only one type of thing, and not too many. I have a certain number of hangers, and that number limits how many garments I own.

Thus, the simple matter of getting dressed in the morning is, for me, like trying to swim across a wide river in full flood — a struggle to resist the currents and undertow that constantly try to sweep me away, including the strong tug to immediately and permanently dispose of anything I don't want to wear at the moment.

That's why I think a lot about my clothes. That, and the language of clothes, which intrigues me.

I love the things I am wearing today.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Life improbable

You could not make it up. Life goes on surprising me, pouncing from unexpected angles and catching me unawares.

So I was pondering on what the heck to to with my hair until it grows long enough to tie back.

And I though about zandanas I used to have back in the day — around 2010. Maybe . . . I thought.

So I looked online to see what's happening in zandana-world nowadays.

And they have these chef's caps. 

And butcher's hats.

Also in black.

Or green.

Or even pink.

Now, in the UK, Amish = Seriously Weird. Nobody, anywhere, wears a prayer kapp. Even my auto-correct wants to alter "kapp" to "app". Even the women who live in Plain-Dressing intentional communities have fiddled about with their headgear to make it look more like a regular scarf. 

And yet, here we are — men wearing what is as near as dammit an Amish prayer kapp, and friends, that's just fine! Nobody turns a hair.

I don't know about prayer kapps being weird, I think that's weird. Not that the men have those hats, I mean, but that if you call them a durag/butcher's hat/biker's bandana/chemo hat, it's all perfectly acceptable, but you say it's a prayer kapp and everyone draws back a little and makes their witty little jokes and quips about you. 

I don't think I'll ever understand the human race.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Changing the clocks

Just a reminder to UK folks that we put the clocks back an hour tonight.

In case you are one of the many people who get confused every six months about what that means, I had an experience that has always helped me remember.

A couple of decades ago my life crashed big-time. At that point, what I called "normal" stopped abruptly, and nothing has ever been the same again. That doesn't mean my life has been unhappy, just different. The things that happened then have conditioned everything since, and go on making a difference. My job is to turn that persisting influence to joyous peace, and I have.

In the initial turmoil of the crash, as part of what happened — which took my job, my family home, my income and my marriage — I had to find work, any work, real quick. It was September.

A dear and lovely woman, faithful and wise, who ran a nursing home for dying and chronically sick people, made room for me to work night shifts.  These were 12-hour waking shifts. 

Chronically charged up with adrenalin by the frightening circumstances into which I'd been plunged, I started out okay. I was probably awake all night anyway a lot of the time! But then, stressed and worn out, I found it harder and harder to stay awake all night.

By the end of October, I was so weary, and I was working the night we changed the clocks. This meant that a whole extra hour insinuated itself into the night, so that when the morning finally came and it was time to go home, it actually wasn't — not for another hour. What made it worse was that we worked in pairs, either two care assistants or a care assistant and a qualified nurse, and the nursing home had a policy of regularly breaking up the teams to stop us settling into comfortable patterns (yes, I can't see why, either). I had been moved from an excellent situation with another care assistant where we'd got the work down to a smooth and effective operation, to work with a nurse who longed to be paired with a young, handsome, male care assistant who was just superb at his job. She bitterly resented being saddled with me, and refused to speak to me. All night. At all. Every night. It was the only year I watched the curling on the Winter Olympics, which they show through the night — it's on at 3 o'clock in the morning. And I read Eckhart Tolle's The Power Of Now (very good).

I tried to console myself with the reflection that when the spring came, if I was on duty for the night shift when the clocks changed again, I'd have a short night that time.

By the time Christmas arrived — and because I was new, I had to work Christmas Eve, Christmas Night, Boxing Day Night, then the nights of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, because the old hands had booked their leave long since — I was exhausted. I had begun to be ill but I couldn't stay at home because there weren't nurses available to work those nights. So I got through, and when my duty nights were over I collapsed in bed.

It was the first time (and the only time, it lasted a mere matter of weeks before everything changed again) in my life that I'd had a place of my own, a two-roomed apartment that I loved. On my bed I had a beautiful traditional Welsh wool blanket in grey-blue and deep Burgundy red and black. I loved it. And I'd bought a 4ft fibre-optic Christmas tree that I had in my bedroom. I lay in bed, lost in fever, so glad at last to rest, watching the beautiful changing lights on my tree, loving my wooly blanket, enjoying the frosty air and the ice-flowers on the windows.

And one night it snowed. We have very little snow here on England's south coast, so I thought it might be the only snow we'd see that year (it was). So at 6 in the morning, still pitch-dark, I got up and went down the street and rang the doorbell of the place Alice and Hebe were staying until I woke them up — because they, like me, love the snow. They eventually emerged, got dressed, and we walked down into the valley of parkland, exulting in the moonlight and starlight and gradual lightening of dawn, every tree and plant clothed in a light shawl of sparkling snow, so magical. 

And then I was too tired to walk back up the hill! I had to sit on a bench for a while, and just didn't know how I'd make it home, but I managed in the end.

Such a strange wild time, but blessed by colour, by light, by frost, by stars, by snowfall, by the love of family and the kindness of friends.

Come February I could no longer stay awake at night and had got overweight and too tired to think straight. I moved to day shifts for a bit, but was just too worn out to cope with staff dynamics (not all care assistants are nice people, and some can be a bit . . . primitive) as well as heavy and deeply stressful work. Dressing the wounds of a woman whose cancer was breaking through her abdomen until there was hardly anywhere left to stick the dressings down; helping a middle-aged man whose life had been destroyed by stroke paralysis come to terms with his new situation, sitting with dying people through the last quiet hours of their lives, watching the descent of a neat and reserved elderly lady into the drooling collapse of aggressive motor neurone disease, feeling her horror and fear at the involuntary groanings she made and at the advancing weakness robbing her of the ability even to point at the pictures of what she wanted on the little board. Terrifying to experience, terrible to watch. By the end of February I'd come to the end of myself, worn to a frayed thread, gave in my notice and left in March.

So I never did work that short night.

And that's how I've always remembered which way to change the clocks. In October, you get a longer night, an extra hour in bed. Tomorrow morning when it feels like 8 o'clock, it'll still be only 7 o'clock really.

As the old Indian said: "Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom of the blanket, and have a longer blanket." Ain't that the truth!

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Regarding clothing

Four words that have me scurrying fast in the opposite direction:




What Ted did next

Well, you may (not) remember me posting a whole year ago about Alice and Hebe making icons. These were the art works in question:


And you may also (not) remember me posting earlier this summer about Ted changing the Badger's computer password and locking him out of the office website.

Ha! Ted's been busy again.

Ted is not so great at catching mice, because he shows up against almost any background, and everybody can see him. But he has a brother, Miguel.

Here he is.

Shadow among the shadows, Miguel is very good at catching mice. 

Sometimes he eats them.

Sometimes he lays them out dead as a special gift.

And sometimes he lets them go in our living room.

We had a wood stove in our living room, that looked like this. 

The top got a crack in it, so we had to replace it. Despite the dire misgivings shared by me and our Alice, we gave in to the longings of other household members for a new one like this.

See the difference? See the shorter legs?

In case you were wondering about the misgivings, they were that Miguel would release a mouse into the living room and it would take refuge under that stove and we wouldn't be able to get it out.

Which is what happened.

With much combined effort and a lot of swearing, plus making crackly noises with bubble wrap and having a shopping bag on hand as a humane trap and a few bath towels as exit-blockers, Alice and Hebe did manage to capture said rodent and restore it to its wilderness home (our garden).

The upshot of that incident was we started to close up the living room at night. But we live in an old Victorian house which needs all the air circulation it can get, especially when it's damp and cold — like, at night.

So the icons went mouldy.

Icons, you see are made from natural ingredients including eggs, so they are somewhat foody — hence, vulnerable to mould.

Hebe discovered the problem and took them into the studio, wiped them down carefully and left them to dry in the sun. On the windowsill, next to the kiln. Where the cats like to sit.

Next time she came by, there was another problem.

This one was okay.

But Ted had discovered that nice foody icon all warm in the sun. And he began to eat it . . .


He succeeded in licking off quite a bit of that icon with his rough, determined little tongue.


Ted! Whatever next?

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Our Fiona playing and singing her songs on Instagram

# ofionamusic

Shot silk

 Do you know what I mean by the phrase "shot silk"?

I imagine most of you do. Friends who read here are mostly makers, and many of you have home sewing on the go as a matter of course. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, shot silk is fabric (silk, obviously) made with warp thread of one colour and weft thread of a different colour. There's a very good description and photo here.

It came to mind because of a book I'm reading, The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks.

I've had it here a little while, but only begun it recently because I was reading something else. So I'm not very far into it yet — only on page 9, to be precise. 

But already James Rebanks is presenting himself vividly to the imagination. To give you a flavour, here's an extract from his introduction to the book (entitled Hefted, a reference to the bonding of sheep with the geography of their home). He writes about his schooldays:
 There was an abyss of understanding between that teacher and us. The kids who gave a damn had departed the year before to our local grammar school, leaving the 'losers' to fester away the next three years in a place no one wanted to be. The result was something akin to a guerrilla war between largely disillusioned teachers and some of the most bored and aggressive kids imaginable. We played a 'game' as a class where the object was to smash the greatest value of school equipment in one lesson and pass it off as an 'accident'.  
  I was good at that kind of thing.  
  The floor was littered with broken microscopes, biological specimens, crippled stools and torn books. A long dead frog pickled in formaldehyde lay sprawled on the floor doing breaststroke. The gas taps were burning like an oil rig and a window was cracked. The teacher stared at us with tears streaming down her face — destroyed — as a lab technician tried to restore order.


I pause in my reading to look at the photograph of the author on the back cover of the book.

I look closer.

Gosh again.

I was interested to read this because I come from a family of Yorkshire farmers. This . . . is not what I was imagining.

Reading on past the initial accounts of James's schooldays, I come to his description of a day gathering sheep on the fells. It begins in the still dark early morning with him going outside to unchain his dogs.

Gosh again. I revisit that face. I stop to think.

I'll try again tonight.

Eating my lunch today, I was still pondering that life, that face, the calmly related accounts — coloured by neither triumph nor sorrow — of his schoolboy insubordination. 

What particularly interested me was something quite outside the book: the person who lent it to me — my friend Steph, source of many good books. Her son Ian finds them for her.

Steph, who worked as a health visitor before her retirement (and a very good one, I should think) is the widow of a Methodist minister, Alan. He died in 2013, having been a minister two years longer than the whole of my life. Open, gentle, enthusiastic, a man without guile, a Christian of humility and kindness. And Steph, compassionate, warm, intelligent, his perfect companion as they made their pilgrimage through life side by side. 

That was the warp thread.

But as I thought about them, about the years they spent living in Nigeria and in Shetland — not the most comfortable and domesticated of environments — and about how they took to darkest Hastings with ease, it occurred to me there was a weft thread of an entirely different colour. There was, in the soul of both of them, a wilderness spirit of daring and adventure, characterised by courage and freedom.

I thought some more about this as I ate my coleslaw and pickled beetroot and smoked fish. I searched back through my memory to other ministers I had known, and considered them.

When ministers are portrayed in film and TV drama, they are usually either vague, wispy, affable personages of gentle birth and upbringing, easily shocked, or self-satisfied portly idiots. More recently a third strand has emerged, of priests who are secretly tortured souls, their external lives devoted to Helping Other People, their inner world anguished and chronically desperate.

I drank some orange juice and thought about it some more.

And the more I turned it over in my mind, the more it seemed to me I was looking at shot silk. A warp thread of calm, self-deprecating (well — in some cases), unassuming men and women, quiet and hard-working. The strong framework laid down of the Kindly and costly quiet discipline of Christ's gospel. But shot through with this contrasting weft thread of fiery soul, their own wild and idiosyncratic humanity, finding here no abiding city, open to almost anything, inhabiting a striking and vivid inner world. 

Not as feral and uncompromising, I think, as the face on the back of that book, but certainly capable of understanding and accepting the tensions and potency and sheer voltage written there. 

There's thunder and lightning in them there hills; and, somewhat to my surprise, I see that nobody is better placed to recognise and embrace it than a minister's widow.

How very interesting.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Life so vivid and real

A dog barking on this cold night.

The year turns, and the evenings draw in dark.

The cherry tree in my neighbour's garden has changed from green to gold to vermilion and deepest crimson, indescribably beautiful. Where I used to sit here and marvel at its glorious umbels of blossom underlit by the street-lamp, in the spring, now I gaze on its fiery glory, drinking it in.

The moon tonight shines so white and clear, high in a cloudless sky, silent and serene. "There's Mars," I think, picking out the red planet, easy to spot. "There's Jupiter . . . there's Venus . . ." And I look for the constellations — for the Plough, for Cassiopeia that we call the Wilcock stars because they look like a W.

Downstairs, people are laughing and starting to practice Christmas songs — a carol of the Advent, the waltz from The Snowman. A trombone, a French horn, a flute, violins . . . At the end of each piece the playing disintegrates into excited chatter and happy laughter at the success of a tune played well.

Above the door in my room, the light from the passage illuminates the stained glass lamb Alice made.

Beauty, whether the enchantment of the seasons or the loveliness of the moon, the delight of music or the work of human hands, is restorative, feeds the soul. Convenience and beauty do not often occur on the same pathways; choosing beauty often means abandoning convenience. A fair trade, I say, well worth making. Out in the country, where our chapel is, they have no street lights. After an evening meeting in the winter, it's hard to find the path and not stumble. It isn't easy to walk even the short distance down the steps cut into the hillside and over the road to the car. If we had a bright bulkhead security light on the side of the building, it would be so much more convenient. But then we would lose the moon and the stars, the magic and the mystery, and be left with nothing but electric light. Let's keep it how it is.

This morning, in a day flooded with sunshine, I preached at our chapel, which meant I got to be in the privileged position of seeing all the faces looking back at me, the eyes full of intelligence and kindness, thoughtful and alive. Faces that I love and know so well. The faces of children I've known since they were born, of adults I've seen grow from youth into middle age, and now growing old.

That church community is so loving, so full of grace. Not many in number, but singing to raise the roof. 

It's been a lovely day.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Cost and values — the real and the unreal

Here's something Thomas Jefferson said in 1802:
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property and their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

Money, as I'm sure you know already, doesn't exist any more as an actual thing, but is a merely notional phenomenon. Every time someone needs a mortgage to buy a house, the lending institution verifies the borrower's capacity to pay, then authorises the loan. At that point, the money loaned does not as such exist; it comes into being only as figures on the balance sheet, and achieves reality only in the years of toil required to earn and repay it at substantial interest. So the lending institution offers only a number written down, but the borrower gives a portion of his or her life for those figures written in the column, plus a significant percentage in addition. The best that can be said of such a system is that at least the borrower obtains a piece of what we rightly call "real estate" — land, with a building on it. So the bank facilitates the exchange of labour — which is real — for land; which is also real.

There is a sense in which no one can own the land. How could anybody be so deluded as to think they in any sense can possibly own any part of creation, or to think that the living Earth can be parcelled up and sold, or to think they have the right to "own" what was made by God and given to us all — all species, all people? In that sense, everything owned is stolen, true enough. But at least real estate is truly real.

When I was about eleven years old, I went with my mother to visit my Auntie Jean and Uncle Bill, farmers in the West Riding of Yorkshire. While we were there, my uncle went outside and returned with a birthday gift for my mother — a sack of potatoes. It would last our family a long time, and be the basis of many meals. In thanking him, my mother said what an expensive gift he had given her. My uncle waved that away, and what he said to her has stayed with me all my life: "A bag of potatoes is worth a bag of potatoes." He evaluated the real by reality, not by some notional standard from the world of unreality. It was worth what you could eat, not what you could sell it for.

That's why land and buildings have real value and are real estate. The building can be a home or a place of business. Not only can you be safe there, but you can trade from there, take in others who have nowhere to go, you can store what you need for lean times or to make whatever you sell. And you can grow fruit and vegetables, herbs and flowers, mushrooms and nuts, on the land, or keep birds or animals there. You can grow firewood and compost human/animal/vegetable waste. Four bean plants and two courgette plants can give you most of the vegetables one person will need for a whole summer. With even a small plot of land and a modest dwelling, you can make life work. And if you have children, you can fulfil your responsibility in calling them into the world by leaving them the security of your little bit of real estate. 

The government tries to stop you doing this, of course. As house prices have leapt in giant strides while inheritance tax (at 40%) thresholds have tiptoed modestly forwards, it has become ever harder to provide for one's children; what took a lifetime of work to establish can be raked away at the moment of death by the great institutional claw.

In recent times, I've noticed two particular instances of people's failure to grasp how important is real estate. One is a popular bumper sticker that finds no resonance in my soul: "We're spending our children's inheritance." This is meant to be funny. Words fail me. Folly to make the mind boggle.

The other comes to me in advertisements in magazines and on the television — financial institutions urging homeowners to "release the equity" in their homes, tempted by the idea of cruise holidays and new cars, by comforts and conveniences, to trade in the real for the unreal, the lasting for the ephemeral, to hand in their real estate in exchange for money that is merely notional and will not last.

Ready cash is always useful, and there are times and circumstances where people have to sell their homes; of course I understand that. But the land has a real and lasting value that a holiday and a motor car do not. When we part with the inheritance of the land, we deliver ourselves and our children into the hands of those to whom we have sold it. There is a real sense in which freedom is bound up with the land.

And the Earth — the green herbs and living water, the trees and oceans and lakes — are also the cradle of wellbeing and healing.

I do not think of myself as owning any part of the Earth; to me that would be arrogant presumption. But I have used almost all the money that has come my way to buy real estate, to obtain the right to plant trees, to grow a garden, and to make a place of shelter, peace and belonging for the people God has given into the circle of my heart's care.

May the land be blessed, the hills and the forests, the waters and the living creatures. May the hand of God hold back the reach of money; for Mammon is insatiable, and gives nothing back.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Slow Sweet Day

Living here can be like a rather complex folk dance at times, as we weave round each other trying to do similar but different things in somewhat compact spaces.

Tuesday is special. It's the day when everyone else is out and I am Home Alone!

And I have had such a lovely day. Very ordinary really — dusting and cleaning floors, vacuuming carpets and stairs, polishing things, sorting and tidying, talking to the crows and cutting up dead wood for kindling. And reading, doing the puzzles in The Lady. Nothing special, but so relaxing, in the quietness of my own company. A very precious and happy few hours. 

It is the most beautiful autumnal weather — still and sunlit, warm and quiet.

And it's late afternoon, so one by one everybody is coming home, which is also a happy thing. Right now the kettle is on for a cup of tea, and the cats are sitting with me in our bedroom, one washing himself with conscientious care, the other one dozing peacefully.

It's not in great wealth or fame or achievement, not in status or beauty or prowess of any kind that happiness lies. It's in days like this.

NB — Of course, I could be completely wrong about the prowess and fame and wealth and whatnot — like, how would I know?!

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

A nun walking.


It's cold enough to wear cardigans (aye, and a vest). It'll be Christmas before we know it.

I've taken to doing all my photos in the bathroom because I love the honesty of the light. What you might call wrinkle-light; the camera that doesn't lie.

But that's not what I came here to say.

I've been thinking about the ways we influence others quite inadvertently. I know so many people who think "I'm not important. Nobody listens to me. No one pays attention to anything I do. I haven't really got any contribution to make." Not a pity-party — they really believe it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"Let your life preach," George Fox said; and, yes, he did say "preach", not "speak" as modern Quakers have rendered it to suit the creep of secularisation. Well, it does, doesn't it? Does preach, I mean, not does suit secularisation. Your life. Everybody's life preaches; the question is, what message?

And I was remembering a nun who influenced me massively.

I got my first job when I was fifteen, working on the checkouts in Sainsburys supermarket. Then, when I was sixteen I started working for some nuns who ran a home and school for people with epilepsy.

At one end it had a school, then the various accommodation units for the children, graded in ages, then the offices and the chapel and the stairs to the nuns' accommodation upstairs, then the kitchen and the units where the adult residents lived, then the nurses' home and the little farm with its cows and orchard and sheds and everything. The building was strung out in a long practical line, with a central corridor running the whole length of it — really, really loooooooooooooooong.

The nuns wore twentieth century clothing; I was going to say "modern" but that doesn't quite describe their gear. This was back in the 1970s. They wore, for the most part, either skirts and blouses or pinafore dresses (US "jumpers") in profoundly synthetic easy-care fabric. Navy blue and white, in various combinations. But though they'd eschewed their groovy habits of old, they kept their veils. Not the full wimple and whatnot, you understand, just this kind of thing, or this (but black). And they wore walking shoes or sandals.

Monastics have a particular walk. Doesn't matter if they're Buddhist, Catholic, whatever — they have the same walk; a quiet, deliberate, self-effacing, recollected tread.

One day I arrived for work, came in through the front door in the middle by the offices, and turned right to make my way along the corridor to the children's department. From about fifteen miles away down the far end of the corridor a nun was walking towards me, wearing sandals over her heavy-gauge tights, proceeding along with that quiet monastic tread. 

Above the big old 1930s radiator, on the window ledge, stood a telephone. Like this. It was ringing. I was merely a minion and only the nuns or the office staff could answer the phone. It rang and rang.

The phone rang and the nun walked. It kept ringing and she kept walking. Gaze recollected, head slightly bent, veil lifting a little in the breeze, tread, tread, tread, that nun walked right on by the ringing telephone, and she never even spared it a glance. She kept on walking and she didn't look back, and eventually it gave up and stopped.

That was forty-five years ago.

I hate telephones.

As the years have rolled by I've noticed most people are kind of compulsive about the phone. I remember one Methodist minister, a Circuit Superintendent, no less, old enough to be just coming up to retirement (and they don't let 'em go early), who used to run to answer his phone if it started ringing — no matter what he was doing or who he was talking to. Just couldn't stop himself. Intriguing.

And I count myself lucky to have learned so early that you don't have to answer the phone.

We do have one in our house, but not by my choice. It rings, every now and then. And when it does, in my head it sets off a kind of video of a nun walking. She starts at the end of a long, long corridor. On she comes, tread, tread, tread, never stopping, never lifting her eyes from the ground, her veil slightly lifting as she goes. Tread, tread, tread. On she goes. Right on past. And eventually the damn thing stops ringing.

Thank you, Sister Whoever-you-were. Sister Carmel, I think. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Tread. Tread. Tread.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Small and inconsequential breeds of fear

First I had simple ironing fear. Why is it so hard to get a double thickness of fabric flat and even, with the central fold straight and the selvedged edges together? Our actual iron can be a bit tricky all by itself; tends to blow the fuses.

I managed it, but chose to do the ironing on the landing so as not to alert the inhabitant of our bedroom (working away at publishing arcana on his computer) to the fact that I had started a sewing project, just in case I messed it all up and had to add to the misery by explaining. There wasn't really room on the landing and I managed to knock off the duvet cover someone had left drying on the banisters so it slid down to the passage below. That would have been all right if she hadn't taken the day off work to visit her grandmother, and so found her duvet cover lying abandoned in the hallway. So my ironing fear was compounded by laundry shame; or it might have been relative shame. Not relative to other shame, but shame induced by annoying one's relatives — happens to me constantly.

I got all five yards (I like a full skirt) of homespun ironed flat — no mean feat. I'd washed it first because it always shrinks, and there wasn't really room on the washing line for something five yards long, without it trailing on the courgette plants. Their leaves have an odd mould, so I was worried this would mark the fabric. It didn't, but I suppose that means the entire odyssey began with mould fear. But it ironed up nicely and I consulted the sewing instructions to see if everything was okay so far. Oh. No, it wasn't. They said you must iron with the wrong sides facing each other, which is sort of hard to tell with homespun, but on balance the lumps and loose bits of thread seemed more on the outside than the inside, so I had to iron it all over again. This was harder because the crease didn't want to go back the other way, and I had to get it exact because it's plaid/check. But I did it.

Then I got cutting out fear. You have no idea of the immensity of my homing instinct for making the wrong choice, or getting things the wrong way round or inside out. If there's a way to mess things up, be assured I will find it. You can't really get cotton homespun in England (well, only fat quarters for quilting). Cheap though it is from America, it ain't cheap once you've paid postage that costs more than the fabric, plus taxes on the fabric, plus taxes on the postage and anything else they can thing of to tax and then charged you to wrestle it off the raccoons and get it out of their shed. So I was afraid of cutting it out all wrong. But I followed the instructions carefully and I think I've done it okay.

It's all resting now until the morning, because our lights are dim and so is my eyesight and the combination is not conducive to getting a good result from sewing pumpkin coloured fabric with pumpkin coloured cotton — let's face it, I even need one of those gizmos to thread the needle.

This pause has gone on long enough for me now to have developed buttonhole fear. I've looked up online how to hand-sew buttonholes, and the advice is in unanimous agreement that you must practice lots first. The fiftieth one you do might come out all right. Well, they didn't look all that hard to me, and I hate practicing things so I doubt if I'll bother, but I'm afraid I may be all too wrong about that, and I'm scared of messing it up.

By the way, while I'm writing this, there is a brass band playing in the room underneath me — really jolly, cheerful tunes. I wish you could hear them. Its fab.

I think I might be getting ahead of myself with the buttonhole fear, because I know that once I get to sewing it all together there'll be wrong-order fear — matching the wrong sides together or doing one half inside out or upside down, Oh the possibilities are endless. 

Then there's the fear that once I've actually made the thing, inexplicably it won't fit me, or else it will and I'll get too thin/fat for it, or I will just look stupid in it and people will mock me.

Of course, it might just turn out okay. I mean, it's only a pinafore dress. Or, if you're American, a jumper.

I could have waited patiently and sidestepped all these besetting fears (as bad as John Donne*), because I have a kind relative (my daughter's mother-in-law) who said she'd sew the dress for me, but she has a pile of other projects to complete first, so couldn't get to it for a month or so. And I have this fear that either she or I will die before she sews it so I'll never get to wear it. Not that either of us is in danger of imminent death, but you never know, do you? Life is short.

They're playing the can-can now! 

*  "I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more." ~ John Donne, A Hymn To God The Father