Saturday, 13 July 2019

The ontology of minimalism

Our biology teacher, Mrs Coleman, had two little Griffon dogs who lived during the day in the stock room behind the biology lab. Occasionally she allowed us to see them, and at lunchtime she took them for a walk. Mrs Coleman was tall and gaunt, with black wavy hair and an imposing aristocratic nose but a gentle and hesitant manner. She taught us about caddisfly larvae.

The caddisfly is one of those creatures with two distinct parts to its life. The adult is terrestrial, but the larvae are aquatic. In the water, these larvae get busy making themselves cases in which to pupate, out of whatever gritty little bits and pieces come to hand on the wetlands floor, wrapped up and bound together with silk.

So if (as Mrs Coleman did) you house caddisfly larvae in an aquarium in your biology lab, and provide them with a liberal sprinkling of interesting and colourful stone grit (turquoise, carnelian, anything pretty or sparkly), the caddisfly will go to work on its architectural project and provide itself with a coat of many colours as good as anything Joseph ever wore.

Then, is the case part of the caddisfly? Or is the caddisfly merely inside the case? Who is a caddisfly really?

Something similar applies to hermit crabs. They seek out shells in which to shelter — and is the shell part of the crab or a separate thing? 

What is mine and what is me and where is the boundary line? 

If you see me, I will be dressed (I hope). 


(Google definition)

(Merriam Webster)

You can dress an altar — another term for the same thing is "adorn" the altar. 

We see one another adorned. When you see me, you see my choices, my opinion, my evaluation, of myself and of my situation. 

I used to have different outfits for different occasions — to fulfil other people's expectations and preferences. I wore different clothes for home and for church, for visiting my mother or for conducting worship. I became unsure who I was — less myself and more them, maybe. I lost something of my inner self into the circumstance, as I took on who they were — not like a caddisfly, not like a hermit crab; like a chameleon.

I thought about it hard. If I own almost nothing, I am left alone with myself; and in that solitude I encounter God (and demons, like Jesus in the desert). I wanted that, and I wanted the sense of freedom and flexibility, of slipping through the world like a mouse through grass, leaving nothing, not even a footprint, behind. But at the same time, I didn't want to give offence. And sometimes the way I dress has given offence; the offended have told me so. I didn't want to attract attention to myself. I wanted, as Sally Wainwright said of the Brontës, "to walk invisible".

I realised dark clothing would be the way to go. Even the contours of one's body blur in the shadows of dark. Dark clothing does not call the attention of other people. It works for formal wear. It doesn't show stains (much). So that's what I chose. It allowed me to slip in and out of as many contexts as I wanted without causing offence, drawing attention or increasing the number of clothes I had.

I realise minimalism is about more than clothes, but mine isn't, because I no longer have very much else of my very own. A few books and just a tiny few personal treasures. Anything else I use is shared with other people and co-owned.

I find that ownership extends and complicates, and to some extent confuses, one's sense of self. A person comes to self-definition through any number of realities about which one can say "my" — my job, my home, my family, my heritage, my culture, my personal style, my achievements, my education, my personal history, my marriage, my status, my investments.

If minimalism is embraced not as a style but as a slow divestment of all that, oneself becomes slowly more apparent. I have no job and consequently no status, I live in someone else's home, my achievements ran into the dust and evaporated. I have one investment, a rental cottage that supplies my income; and I find that if there's just one thing, it has its own clarity distinct from oneself. If you see what I mean. I am not likely to define myself as "a landlord" by virtue of owning one small cottage I let out, am I? It's just that thing, its own self, separate from me — and isn't even my own but co-owned; I'm just allowed to use the money to live on (and maintain the house itself, of course; I have to share the income with the house, as well as to pay my own rent, etc).

As for my education, that didn't really stick. My inner being is sufficiently anarchic that I passed unscathed through the entire process of education, emerging knowing very little more than I knew when I entered it.

My culture, my heritage, is an odd rag-bag of upward mobility and social pretension. I come from servants and labourers who worked hard and made good and acquired airs and thought more of themselves as a result. I'm not sure what I am there — and in any case writers, like artists, sit in the margins of social culture, somewhat separate from it.

Then there's personal history. I've spent two or three years detoxifying my body of that — its traumas and disappointments. Have you read Carlos Castañeda's books about Don Juan? What he says about erasing personal history? I find it a really intriguing thought.

In Journey to Ixtian, he says this:
"I have no routines or personal history. One day I found out that they were no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped them. One must have the desire to drop them and then one must proceed harmoniously to chop them off, little by little. If you have no personal history, no explanations are needed; nobody is angry or disillusioned with your acts. And above all no one pins you down with their thoughts. It is best to erase all personal history because that makes us free from the encumbering thoughts of other people. I have, little by little, created a fog around me and my life. And now nobody knows for sure who I am or what I do. Not even I. How can I know who I am, when I am all this?"

Curiously, I find that slowly leaving behind my personal history, rendering it unnecessary, doesn't (for me) create fog but clarity. The definitions imposed upon me by other people's choices and decisions and the things that happened to me as a result — including the schools they sent me to, the jobs they gave me, the certifications and statuses they bestowed on me, the opinions they expressed about me — swirled like a dust storm around me. I find that if you walk quietly away, and keep on walking, and refuse what they give you and pin onto you, then gradually you come clear, are born again. Then there is just you and God and in that company you know who you are.

You do still have to get dressed in the morning, because you are a being in the world and besides you'd get cold or sunburnt if you didn't. But, espousing minimalism, at least you don't get dressed into a persona (my preaching outfit, my formalwear, my sportswear, my leisure gear, my gardening clothes); you just put on your clothes and there you are.

What I want, when you meet me, is that you will find yourself with a simple being, so that it will almost feel as though you are alone. You will know who you are because you are with me. And if you have undertaken a similar journey, I will know who I am because I am with you. And this ontological clarity comes from the simplicity of living without defence or pretence in the presence of God, like Jesus in the desert. It is peace, it is shalom. The details of circumstance become immaterial, like the petals of cherry blossom shaken free from the tree in the wind.

That's what I want. That's where I'm headed. 

Like the thing it says about seeing in the first letter of John.

If we take everything out of the way, perhaps we shall really see one another. What do you think?

Friday, 12 July 2019

Things and self

I like to be able to see my things, preferably all of them in one place together. Otherwise I forget who I am, and get lost in my belongings — I get confused between their personalities and my own identity. So for me, the best way of all would be one-bag living; I think that's what I'd most enjoy. The less I own, the more present and concentrated I feel.

One of the areas of confusion for me has been about location. I had my little room in the big house, and I also had Komorebi. I thought I'd like being based in Komorebi — sleeping and living there, but I didn't. I felt lonely for the sense of presence of the other people whose home I share, especially at night. Komorebi is a lovely place to sleep, very calm and peaceful — but I find the auric mingling with my family very sustaining and beneficial (a blessing), so I also wanted to be with them.

Having pared down my belongings again, I found it possible to address this, making my life more of one thing in a way. I'll show you.

This is my husband's room. He used to be in the attic, but after he had pneumonia a while back, we thought maybe wiser to be less on the edge of things.

He made those bookshelves and his wardrobe. His desk is in the window.

On his bed is the big crocheted blanket my daughters made for me. We love it. Because it's his bed and my blanket that makes us feel part of one another.

He has a chest of drawers as a bedside table, that he originally bought for me (from a charity shop) but it fits just right here, and all the little drawers are good for compartmentalising belongings.

That's his winter coat hanging on the door, with a scarf woven by the nuns of Stanbrook Abbey.

There's a chest of drawers we got on eBay on the side of the bed I sleep. In the top two drawers we keep our spare bedding.

The bottom drawer is where I have my jeans (3 pairs in total now) and t-shirts. I have about 5; the number changes — for example, I had another one but got bleach on the front and spoilt it, so I repurposed it as a PJ top. Anyway, I have a few and I keep them here.

Under the chest of drawers is a box that had strawberries in, from the supermarket, just the right size to store my toiletries.

Then the bed frame is just a bit bigger than the mattress, which cunningly allows me to keep my canvas bag, my electronic bits, the bag with my comb and scissors etc, my chilly bottle for cool water at night, and my supplements, all where I can get them but they are still out of the way.

Under the bed there's a drawer on wheels I can pull out, just the right size for the rest of my clothes. 

That little white box you can see is special and precious. I keep my earrings in it, but it has something else inside too. It was sent to me by Diana Lorence of Innermost House, and inside it has a locket that contains ashes from the fire on the hearth of Innermost House. What a wonderful thing to have. It is a treasure.

So that's where I sleep at night and where I've put my clothes. The box on the bed that I use as a computer desk has my night things in during the day and my day clothes ready for the morning at night.

There's a space for my books on the top shelf of the bookcase.

Mine stop just before that short orange thing.

But then, come with me down the garden and have a look at Komorebi now.

So here are some photos of the inside.

As you can see, it has electricity now. It makes it more practical. There's a hotplate tucked away under the bed, which can be used for cooking or making tea or just for an electric fire.

I moved my altar things on to the windowsill there (along with the altar things that always belong in Komorebi). On the shelf underneath is an old ice-cream carton with grains of rice in, to soak up any moisture in the air, and alongside it my sewing box (an ex-frankincense-packaging-box) and my first aid box (an ex-sock-box)

We have a set of mugs and some cooking things so we can make a barbecue kind of meal sometimes.

The rest of my books are there.

There's no internet connection in Komorebi, but it's a good thinking and praying and talking and just being, place. I write there, but have to mark any references etc to chase up, and do them when I come back to the house.

The little bedroom I had in the big house has been re-purposed for our member of the household who mainly lives somewhere else, because it makes a cosy nook for someone just holing up here for a few days, which is what she does.


If you read online about Paypal and eBay refunds, you'll find a lot of rumbling discontent about the length of time they take to process and how when the date they fall due arrives the money still doesn't come in.

Recently I bought a flowery dress on eBay (I shouldn't have. I never keep them. But I did). The seller was right on the case and posted it off directly, and the parsley (that's what you call the postie who brings parcels, right?) dropped off the package at my house in no time at all. All good except that it contained a set of rather garish lycra sportswear for men. So I sent it back and asked for a refund (relief: I knew I'd never wear that dress, probably not even once). Made me smile though; I'd love to have seen the face of that body-building man when he opened the package containing his flowery knee-length dress.

The seller refunded me right away, and I got a message from eBay saying she'd refunded by e-cheque. Having never heard of this, I mentioned it to her just out of interest, and she was as surprised as I was — she'd never heard of e-cheques either, just pressed the refund button.

As you and I might guess, an e-cheque travels as fast as the offspring of a snail and a sloth. They thought the refund would take about ten days to reach me, so I waited patiently until their appointed day drew near. It still didn't arrive. I messaged Paypal and politely asked them to expedite this payment, and it appeared right away in my account.

Then this last week I bought a pair of jeans, again on eBay. I paid the money for them and all seemed okay. Then the seller messaged me to say eBay had blocked her email address so the sale couldn't be processed and she had therefore refunded my money (right away, at the moment of aborted sale). The only thing she could do, as the item had already been sold, was re-list it. She said if I would put in an offer again, we could re-do the transaction. Unfortunately, my funds being chronically dinky, I had to explain to her that even though the jeans cost only £10.50, until the refund came into my account I would not be in a position to put in an offer until her refund came back into my account. This happened on July 6th. My Paypal account estimates the refund will come back into my Paypal account on July 16th. They haven't even bothered with running some line about e-cheques this time; just slow. That means I have to wait patiently until next Tuesday and then message them again if it doesn't turn up, asking them to put the money into my account. I think that's a bit steep given that the transaction could not even be processed. Meanwhile the woman has lost her sale and had to go to all the bother of re-listing and changing the email address.

Perhaps I am cynical, but it does occur to me that if a bank can slow down the refund process to a significant degree, given the number of people who use eBay and Paypal, that must tot up to one heck of a lot of money making interest for the banking institution. 

I am not impressed. 

Monday, 8 July 2019

Dodging gurus

Articles on zero waste and minimalism naturally drift my way. 

Every day I see such headings as:
  • How to save money through minimalism
  • Zero waste: 7 things to stop buying 
  • 10 things I no longer own as a minimalist
  • 8 things a minimalist no longer buys
  • How to declutter your closet
  • How to declutter your kitchen
  • What not to buy in your zero waste life
  • How many clothes do you truly need?
  • What a minimalist bathroom looks like
  • How to buy less
  • How to throw things away without feeling guilty
  • How to tell if you are a minimalist
  • 15 things I won't be buying this year
  • 30 things to throw away
  • 9 reasons to stop over-spending
  • 10 ways to own less
  • How to create a capsule wardrobe

I mean . . . seriously? Are these things not just . . . common sense?

I am very interested indeed in reading about people's different paths into a discipline of simplicity — what motivates them, what they found difficult, how and where they live, the freedoms they have won and the habits that sustain them. But telling me I should throw out expired meds, dead ball-points, odd socks and DVDs I don't watch is redundant information. 

Furthermore, something I find intriguingly counter-intuitive is how  very many of these self-styled minimalist gurus anxious to instruct me on clutter-free living seek to do so via blogs flashing with pop-ups and littered with advertisements and bristling with links out to consumer products. And it goes without saying there's a course to sign up for and a book to buy — last chance for this year and a bargain at thirty-six dollars.

You get a few, of course, who are the real deal. Daniel Suelo comes to mind, and Dee Williams, and Rob Greenfield. People from whom it's possible to learn substantial life lessons. But they are few and far between and rarely surface. 

Commercialised 'minimalism' reduced to a money-spinning stunt or a hastily cobbled together faux lesson on supposed simplicity has to be the living definition of pathetic.

The things you can't bear to lose

Some things are so precious you will never let them go.

I have very few items in this category, but I have a box of old letters that mean a lot to me — mostly from my children, but also from friends and people who have written to say something I wrote made a difference.

So I've embarked on the long, slow job of digitising them all. 

I began this morning, and I'll do a few every day until I have them all safely tucked away in an electronic folder.

I think I'll do the same with all correspondence from now on. 

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Living as if we were on holiday

When my twins, who are now nearly thirty-six, were just a few months old, our family went to Spring Harvest. We were Grandma and Granddad, Rosie who was four, Buzzfloyd who was two-and-a-half, me, and their Dad. 

Unlike many big Christian gatherings, Spring Harvest is neither in a hotel nor under canvas. It happens at a Butlins camp, where people stay in chalets like this.

Or this.

The grassy spaces between the chalets are open and safe for kiddies to play, and though there are roads, cars only creep through slowly and occasionally. There's an adventure playground and a swimming pool, a grocery store and places to eat.

Inside, the chalets might be this kind of layout:

— with bedroom decor maybe something like this:

— and the family room and kitchen areas being this sort of thing:

Simple, comfortable, basic and unpretentious. The kitchens have a fridge, cooker, kettle, probably a microwave these days, and some saucepans, utensils, crockery, cutlery etc.

Spring Harvest lasts for five days. After we'd been there three or four days, I began to wonder why we had all the clobber we did, back at home. The chalet wasn't big, and should have been cramped for space, but it was fine because we'd only brought what would fit in the car. We didn't have as many implements in the kitchen as we had at home — but that didn't matter, we got along perfectly well without them.

I felt a deep, powerful, groundswell of longing to get rid of all our bits and pieces and live just the same as in the chalet, after we went home.

Back then, I assumed I was just being silly, and suppressed the idea. But it never quite went away.

Because England is definitely a four-season country, I have more clothes than I could fit in a suitcase. We also have some kitchen items — a juicer and a water distiller, for example — that were very expensive and we do use them. Then there are things like paint brushes and garden tools that we need, because we are our own grounds staff.

So — for the moment — it doesn't seem realistic to pare down to having as little as we had in the chalet. 

But I am slowly, little by little, inching in that direction. And the electronic revolution is a big help. In the 1980s when we went to Spring Harvest, the record player we left at home looked similar to this (we had that same gas fire, too):

On the record player, we played large vinyl discs:

We had lots and lots of books:

And a phone that plugged into the wall —

— plus a phone directory to remind us of our friends' numbers.

We needed a wall calendar:

And I enjoyed taking photos with our camera:

We had a radio with an integral cassette player:

— a calculator:

— a torch:

— an alarm clock

Some people had watches, but I never did. I can't wear rings or bracelets or necklaces or watches because of their forcefield. I stop watches.

Now, all these things — music, torch, camera, calendar and diary etc, and the reminders that once had to be left prominently displayed on bits of paper — are in my phone, my books are for the most part in my Kindle, and I can watch TV on my MacBook (without disturbing anyone else). I enjoy Sudoku and playing cards and crosswords: but I can do these electronically. The stack of books I used to have beside me to write a book or a sermon has greatly increased, because I have access to so many more. But they're all invisible, open inside my computer. And as the day ends, I don't have to turn the light on to go on reading, and chase away the beautiful shadows of evening. I have a bedside lamp, because it's nice to have a glow of warm ambient light, but really I only need one, because it charges with a USB jack, so I can carry it to where I need it to be. I do also have a powerful angled light for seeing difficult things — sewing, maybe — because my eyes are getting old. But that folds down and sits neatly in a corner, and charges from a USB jack so I can use it anywhere.

All these inventions are helping me patiently stalk chalet-life, the simple, basic, bare essentials kit of someone who is on holiday. Every day I discover something else I no longer need.

There's a song about this. 

I'm glad I wake up early . . .

. . . enough

to see the glory

of the rising sun.

Friday, 5 July 2019

The places I've lived

You know I said here that I've lived in 21 different homes? 

These were the places.
  1. Our home when I was a baby, in North London.
  2. We moved from there when I was still a baby, to Kingwell Avenue, still in North London.
  3. When I was three we moved to Regency Close in the country market town of Bishops Stortford in Hertfordshire.
  4. We sold that house, and my mother had designed a new one and commissioned a builder, who didn't finish it by the time we had to move out of Regency Close. So we rented a house in Galloway Road in Bishops Stortford. I was six at the time. I learned to ride a bike in Galloway road — quiet, unmade surface. For a long while, every time I turned the corner I fell off. But I kept trying. There's a sermon in that.
  5. The new build was still not ready when the lease expired, so the builder lent us his own house to live in. I have no idea where he went, I was only seven and didn't ask. The house was a big country place in a village, but I can't remember the name of it. The builder intrigued me. He had bad breath and looked, I thought, like a badger, or a pig.
  6. Finally the new place was finished, and we moved into Elm House in the village of Much Hadham when I was eight. It had a quarter of an acre of garden, and there we had a big veggie patch and started to keep hens. We stayed there a while. It was named for the row of mature elms screening it from the road. They got Dutch elm disease and died — very sad.
  7. When I was fourteen, we moved to Grooms Cottage, part of the rambling converted 13th century palace (plus outbuildings) of the Bishop of London. This was where Katherine de Valois took refuge with Owen Tudor, their marriage being strongly disapproved by her family. There we had an orchard, sheep, a wood, a stretch of river, a veggie garden in the medieval stable yard, a barn and other outbuildings; in all, five acres that went with the house. The summer I turned eighteen, I left home. My mother (initially with my father, later alone) moved house 6 times after that.
  8. I went to live in Devon with some monks, and there my home was a caravan in a vegetable garden at the back of the Post Office. This was where, sitting in the silence and sunlight in their tiny chapel one morning, I read in their Rule of Life, "The priory should reflect the peace and order of heaven." That has been my rule of thumb for housekeeping ever since. Monastics have a Rule of Life, I have a rule of thumb; works well for me, there is room for both pathways. In Devon I learned to milk a cow from a Spanish priest who spoke no English. I observed that God looks after his own — Brother Jonathan wanted the Methodist chapel that stood on the access road to our farm. The  Methodist Circuit steward said "Over my dead body will that monk get our chapel." He died, and Jonathan got the chapel.
  9. Then I moved on, to live with some nuns for a while. My home there was in the nurses' accommodation. There I learned nobody has to answer a phone. Sister Carmel said I looked more like a tramp than anyone else around the place. She meant "hobo" not "prostitute". It surprised me, but pleased me at the same time — it was probably also true of St Francis and Jesus.
  10. After that, I moved to York university and lived in student accommodation for a year. I didn't move out in the holidays, just kept renting the room while I worked as a waitress or cleaner. I wanted to learn Old English, but the professor was such a tedious and boring lecturer he lost all his audience but six die-hards of which I was not one. Word had it that he got lost on the North York Moors taking a posse of students to see some archeological site. They found a policeman (Seriously? How?) who asked if he had a map. He did, but only of Britain in the Dark Ages.
  11. While still an undergraduate at York, I became part of an interdenominational intentional Christian community, blessed beyond measure to have Ampleforth's Father Fabian Cowper as our chaplain. I wish you had known him. I did love that man. The light of Christ shone through him. Our little community set up home together in a Victorian house let to us by a gaggle of whisky priests in York. It took our menfolk a wild night of drinking to secure the tenancy. The house stood in St Martins Lane, overlooking the church yard; this was just off Micklegate within the city walls in York, a wonderful place to be. I lived there for about a year.
  12. Then I got married to another community member. We bought a caravan and went to live by the track at the edge of a field of cabbages in a dairy farm out at Acaster Selby. We had a crazy dog called Mischief who used to leap through the cabbages like a kangaroo. We got our milk straight from the cow.
  13. We lived there for a year, but then got the chance to rent the ground floor of the vicarage, built against the church wall of St Mary's Bishophill, just round the corner from St Martins Lane where the rest of the community was housed. Some of them later moved in upstairs. We staged a hilarious incident involving Victor Lewis Smith and a 1950s polka-dot nightie belonging to my mother, but perhaps that's an anecdote for another day. 
  14. When I graduated, we had no money to pay rent. My mother said we could live in a barn that was part of the outbuildings of my parents' home. So we lived there for a summer, bought a gipsy vardo to renovate, added a couple of motherless kittens to our two dogs. I was expecting my first child and had a threatened miscarriage, so had to quit my job as a postman. My husband was working as a milkman. Our only vehicle was the milk delivery lorry. He got into trouble with his customers because the milk went off because he used to stop off his round to play the organ at the parish church on Sundays. Our life was a little bit dysfunctional. My father-in-law managed my husband into getting a job as a teacher down on the south coast at Seaford. So we sold the vardo and for a few months moved in with my husband's parents, but that doesn't count because it was their home, unlike the barn which was temporarily ours.
  15. The week our first child was born we moved into our first owner-occupied home with a mortgage, a two-bedroomed end of terrace Victorian workers' cottage on the Battle Road in Hastings (at Hollington). Handily, it had a large brick-built shed attached, allowing us to keep goats and chickens (there was a long garden too, for fruit and veggies, and the next door neighbour was a hair salon, so they didn't use their garden and let us tether our goats there). On Sundays, one of our neighbours used to set out kitchen stools along their path so their grandchildren could watch the crazy Wilcocks with their animals.
  16. Once we had four children, we decided we needed an extra bedroom. So all the high-schoolers from a Plain-dressing Hutterite community out at Robertsbridge came in their community lorry and helped us move half a mile up the hill to Oban Road. I wanted somewhere on the same side of the street as a school entrance in the same road, so that I could wave my eldest child off to school in the morning and watch for her coming home, without having to get her toddler sister and baby twin sisters dressed for outdoors to accompany her back and forth at the beginning and end of the day and every lunch time. We lived in that house for about fourteen years. My youngest child was born there, and it offered refuge to many broken people as well as being a place where ideas were born, books written, preachers were tutored, house groups met . . . I was a hospice chaplain while we lived there, we were involved in prison chaplaincy during those years, I became a Methodist minister and pastored a church from there.
  17. Then changes in the Methodist Circuit prompted a change. We (me, my husband, our five children and two dogs) sold our house and moved to the minister's accommodation at a Methodist school, where I became the chaplain for one short and terrible year full of stürm und drang and upset. I, along with one of the governors, resigned my post to block some of what was going on.  
  18. The church found me a new posting in north Kent, where we moved into the manse and I presumed we'd be there for years. Not so. An internal family bombshell I am not at liberty to share, because it involves other people's secrets, left me with no marriage, no family home, no job, no income, no pension and five children. 
  19. I moved into what I could afford — a one-bedroomed apartment, which over the next few years became home to different combinations of me and my children as we shuttled about trying to make life work. My husband moved in and out and finally left. My children lived in another apartment we temporarily bought and a third one bought by their grandfather. This continued for a few years. The apartment was lovely — huge Edwardian windows, and came with a garage and hardstanding that I converted into a studio for my artist daughters and a pot-garden. Complete with compost heap. This home was in Combermere Road in St Leonards, and we called it Gezellig.
  20. Then I got married again, to Bernard, and moved out to Beckley (near Rye) in East Sussex, in a quiet country lane on the edge of Flatropers Wood.  I was a pastor again by then, of two churches, with a planned increase to pastoring four more. My pastorate went from two churches to six the day after Bernard died of a short savage illness. I moved out, back to Gezellig, where I worked all hours to care for church congregations, preach, and manage in addition the oddly huge number of funerals that came my way because previous work had given me a specialism in that area of pastoral care.
  21. Then I married Tony, my publisher of 20 years and dear friend, and we moved to Tindal Road in Aylesbury, to be near his work in Oxford. We called that house Hagia Sofia. To generate an income for myself there, we took in lodgers and I started writing full time. Down in Hastings (St Leonards) I sold Gezellig and we bought a house in Burry Road — Godsblessing House — big enough for us to have a room there when we were visiting, and for my three youngest daughters to live in. Nowadays, they share a house with Tony and me, and Buzzfloyd lives in Godsblessing House.
  22. Then I kind of fell apart and came out of the Methodist ministry, worshipped with the Quakers a couple of years, needed to be quiet and by the sea and back with my family in Hastings. So we sold Hagia Sofia, and moved into the multiple occupancy rental house we had on the Bedgrove estate in Aylesbury while we searched for a suitable place down in Hastings. 
  23. We eventually found the place where we now live, in Beaufort Road in St Leonards (Hastings). We kept the Bedgrove house a few years for Tony to live in during the working week, until he was able to transition to working from home and be in Hastings full time, at which point our Aylesbury connection came to an end. The other three then moved in to the Beaufort Road house.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Minimal wardrobe benefits

I was born in the late 1950s, when women had far fewer clothes in their wardrobes than they do nowadays. At that time, there was also a more narrowly prescriptive dress code for women.

For the summer, my mother had a knee length stone-coloured skirt and two green blouses (different shades). She had two summer dresses, both green and white — one dark-green-ivy-leaf on white floral type, the other a lime green diamond shape pattern on white. V-neck, sleeveless, full skirt with integral cotton underskirt (typical 1950s).  She had a pair of what we then called "slacks", stone-coloured casual trousers of some kind. She had a green cardigan. Like every other woman of the time, she had a stone-coloured knee-length raincoat.

For the winter, she had a brown knee-length tweed skirt and a strong/bright/deep pink knitted collared top. The green blouses from summer-time still applied, with the green cardigan on top. I think she must have had some winter trousers, but I can't remember them. She had a suede jacket and a warm tweed knee-length coat.

She had some walking shoes for winter, and I can't remember what she wore on her feet in summer, whether sandals or a lighter colour of walking shoes or just the same ones as in the winter.
She had a large green wide-brimmed straw hat for special occasions. All that green. She must have done it on purpose.

For the occasional party or formal evening event, she had a full-length evening dress, plus a knee-length black velvet skirt with a knitted black sweater top that had large gold sequins all over it. She had one pair of strappy black sandals with a medium heel.

She had a couple of nightdresses and a dressing gown, and a few pairs of stockings and some changes of underwear and a full length slip (petticoat) in a chest of drawers.

That was it. Her clothes hung up in her wardrobe with gaps between them. We had very little money, it's true, but I think she was not unusual. Nowadays, at 92, she has two wardrobes so stuffed with clothes you can't wedge them apart, each hanger with more than one garment on, two chests of drawers jam-packed with garments, and a tumbling mountain of shoes, plus a further assortment of shoes standing round her room. 

My father spent most of his life travelling, and usually kept his clothes packed up ready to go. He didn't have much, ever, right to the end of his life — very few possessions of any kind, and only a modest wardrobe of clothes.

During my childhood we moved house seven times. My mother was the daughter of a farmer and the granddaughter of a couple who started the village shop where they lived. Working for yourself rather than being employed by someone else was natural to her. Throughout my childhood, my father's income was small and my mother's efforts directed at making money through the property boom (buying and selling our family homes in a gradual move up the property ladder) and maximising the productive potential of our garden. At her zenith, she had five acres, an orchard, a vegetable garden, sheep, hens, and three rental houses.

My adult life, waymarked by a series of massive disasters including divorce and being widowed, and encompassing a decade in the Methodist ministry, also involved several house moves — typically into shared space where my best contribution was to own as near nothing as I could manage. At times, because the accommodation was too small for the ambitions of the inhabitants, I've slept in a shed or on improvised boards laid on the attic joists, shinning up and down on a rickety stepladder. We also had lodgers, ex-prisoners and other people with nowhere to go sharing our homes from time to time.

The house in which I presently live has been my 23rd home (if you include two caravans and a barn), and is shared with other people, of whom 3 are always here. 

On more than one occasion (for instance when my husband, who owned the house we were living in, died leaving that house to his son) I've had to move out immediately, with all my belongings at very short notice.

The value of owning the smallest possible number of possessions has been clear to me in the circumstances in which I've lived. I am the only member of our present household who could realistically contemplate being the occupant of my room. The bulkiest of my belongings is the stack of box files of tax records I have to keep for the Inland Revenue. You have to keep each year's records for seven years — and since the simplifying of my life has extended also to my occupation and income, those 7-year-records are slimmer with every passing year. I ritually burn a thick file and create a breathtakingly slender one, each year.

For me, the greatest benefit of having so little stuff is the flexibility — to be able to get up and go, fit in anywhere, ask next to nothing, live on very little, and maximise freedom. I think the moves of my childhood and my father's constant travelling gave me something of a gipsy soul, while my mother's passion for consolidation, establishment and security has made me the world's most cautious person; and my own life has left me ever prepped for the next disaster to strike.

There's also the issue that if you keep your shoes forever and live between a shed and a damp old Victorian house, they go mouldy unless you wear all of them a lot, so not having many makes sense.

But then, this week, another magnificent benefit of a minimal wardrobe came home to me. Since last summer, working hard on chasing off health issues, I lost weight. Eventually my clothes didn't fit properly and I had to replace them. As I'm still subsiding weight-wise, the number of tops I own is subject to fluctuation. I've just gone down another couple of sizes. I expect it'll stop soon. But in general, I have 3 pairs of trousers, one skirt, about 4 or 5 long-sleeved tees, 4 sweaters, three jackets, a gilet, a coatigan, a hat and a scarf. A shoe box of underwear and another with PJs in. A wooly dressing gown. Six pairs of shoes (of which I've put 2 up for sale on eBay). And my earrings. Because my shoulders aren't going to get smaller, the jackets and coatigans are always going to be okay ("fitted" and "tailored" are not really words that apply in my sartorial world). So are the shoes, the scarf, the hat and the earrings. Sweaters will always look okay when a bit too big — it's the ones that get too tight that cause trouble. Ditto underpants. Nightclothes can be as baggy as you like. So, look: the most I will ever have to replace are 3 pairs of trousers, a few tees and my 3 bras. And partly because of my hyper mobility, I am very gentle on clothes. I don't wear them out, more the other way round. Part of my journey of giving things up has included giving up most household chemicals, so bleach — with its genius for making dark clothes look like a Jackson Pollock canvas — is making its way out of my life. We have a little left and won't replace it. Since all my clothes now go with each other and I have given up the whole dresses thing, minimising out of every wardrobe complication I hitherto embraced, there's hardly anything left to replace even if I need to. Though I am on the hunt for a comfortable (dark grey) 30-ltr rucksack for grocery shopping instead of the shoulder bag I currently use. More versatile, leaves your hands free, better for travelling. 

Anyway, how cool is that? That there's so little ever needing to be replaced, I mean, not that I want a rucksack. At least — I think so: I realise it may seem tragic to the point of mental illness to some people, but I think it's brilliant.

Sorry, that was very longwinded, wasn't it? When I was a teenager, my maths teacher used to write SHOW YOUR WORKING in the margins of my books, but I couldn't because I only thought in conclusions — either I had no idea or the answer was instantly apparent to me, but I never knew why. Anyway, showing my working has lodged in my mind as a desirable thing, which has left me compelled to explain exactly how I got to where I am. As I expect you've noticed by now.

Monday, 1 July 2019

The iron spring

One of many blessings in living where we do (a carefully chosen location) is being just up the hill from a chalybeate spring.

Halfway down the hill is an area set aside for allotments (veggie gardens), and of course some gardeners use chemical pesticides and fertilisers. So we are meticulously careful to put all our spring water through a Berkey filter, to make sure it is good to drink.

We collect some every few days. If you put your sound on, you can hear the loveliness of the running water.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

It would make your hair curl

Now here's an odd thing — at least, I think it is.

When I was a young woman, I had long, straight(ish) hair. Allowed to dry naturally, it had a very slight wave in it. That's how it was.

My life went along being itself right up to 1998, at which point a season of radical change began.

From the winter of 1998 I entered an increasingly turbulent time, not within myself but in my circumstances. It gathered force, until by the winter of 2001 I had lost my job, my marriage and my family home, while still bearing responsibility for a family on the verge of fledging.

In 2003 I remarried — to Bernard, who developed an auto-immune disease that destroyed the mucus membranes of his gullet and mouth and trachea. I (and my daughter Hebe) looked after him at home until he died at the end of August in 2004. Bernard was a tempestuous man, who before me had been married to the love of his life, Anne. When I moved in to his cottage, it was still furnished for the two of them; he was willing to make available for me one cupboard and two drawers. This was a useful stage in my journey into minimalism, but not especially easy. His illness was terrifying. At the same time I had returned to working as a minister, and bore increasing pastoral responsibility over a widespread rural area — long hours, a lot of driving; It was very tiring.

During these years I was often at my wits' end, exhausted, drained, bewildered, just keeping on keeping on.

About a year and a half after Bernard died, in the winter of 2005, I entered the life partnership I am still in, with Tony. We married in 2006. Though this brought me joy, life remained  . . . terrifying. I met immense hostility from my new step family, my family of origin, (never easy) was in melt-down, and my new marriage meant a move hundreds of miles from the last shreds of continuity and stability my life still held. I was happy in my marriage, but otherwise immensely lonely and continually attacked and rejected by new and old family members. I was too wrecked to work.

Around 2002 I wrote a book called The Clear Light of Day, and in 2007 somebody interviewed me in connection with that novel. They wanted a bio photo for the article. Here's the one I provided —

It's how I looked when I left my hair to dry naturally.

In 2008, I decided enough was enough and it was time to rebuild and heal my life.

We moved back to be near my family (my children). I left the Methodist ministry. I withdrew from social contact with almost everyone. And since then, over the last decade, I have travelled deeper into minimalism, making my schedule, connections, income and possessions smaller . . . smaller . . . smaller . . . modelling my life on the hazelnut Jesus holds in the palm of his hand in Julian of Norwich's vision. I've also chosen to minimise the time I spend with people who have made it clear they don't like me, and with people whose energy is so turbulent they overwhelm me.

At some point along the way I saw a Body Talk therapist. It proved to be a very short session because, she said, my body didn't want to tell her anything except that it had horror in its bones. I'd say that was about right.

I've spent the last few years cleansing, healing, restoring, and making myself well again.

Here's a photo of me today —

My hair has stopped curling. It's gone back to the straight-with-a-slight-wave it used to have when I was a young woman.

Now, I have known since childhood the expression "It would make your hair curl!" to describe something horrific or terrifying. I always assumed it was just a saying that didn't really mean anything, but apparently not. It's actually something that can happen. Straight hair that changes to curly is mostly caused by hormonal change or by drug intervention (chemotherapy). Evidently stress can do it as well.

Who knew? I found that interesting, and a good way to evaluate the effectiveness of the healing journey I've undertaken.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Are you in the mood for looking at clothes?

If you are, I got a bit worn out with writing so I spent a while playing around making a Pinterest board of my clothes.

Actually, making that board caused me to reconsider what I have all over again, which was interesting. Making a photo board of one's things feels a little exhibitionist, but is in fact helpfully illuminating for questioning "Do I really want that?"  

It helped me identify which things I hardly ever wear even though I liked them, and so edit what I have one more time. I first called the board "My 10-hanger wardrobe, which it was, but by the time I finished, it turned out I only needed 4 hangers after all. I'm happy with everything now.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Rob Greenfield

Inspiring man — lots of food for thought and interesting daily-life detail in this video — fusion of minimalism and simplicity (not always synonymous) with frugality, humilis, willingness to share and abstain from ownership, radical minimisation of waste, re-use and re-cycling, maintaining focus, acceptance of the loneliness of his disciplined path — this is such a complex achievement, I take my hat off to him!

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Writing purdah

Okay, here I go into writing purdah for a little while, because I'm having trouble getting my mind into the level of focus it needs to concentrate properly on the book I'm writing. It's all planned out and I've made a good beginning, but I need to immerse myself in it for a while. Happily I have no preaching appointments in the calendar, I've written my magazine article for this month, and I have only one speaking engagement of significance in the near future.

So I'm going to hole up and write.

I'm still here if you want to get in touch — your emails or comments here on the blog will still find me. 

But other than that you'll know a looooong silence doesn't mean I've finally been murdered and fed to the cats by my long-suffering family, I'm just buried in text entirely of my own volition.

Lonnie Donegan! How does he even do it?!

Here he is live in 1961 — one of my favourites.

But that naughty train driver! I bet they never let him through again. He should have kept quiet about his pig iron.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Quietly during the night

I generally wake around five o'clock. Every other day I get up then for a bath before the rest of the household is stirring, and the alternate day I stay peacefully in bed and watch the morning rise.

Yesterday, I woke at a quarter to four. 

Around 2007, a time of considerable struggle for me, after a battery of medical tests I had a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. It doesn't bother me much these days because I keep a strict discipline of life and diet. But if something very stressful crops up, I do get a flare-up.

Recently, after a few turbulent months that have prompted me to make some changes and tighten up my practice, I've come out of a patch of illness and started to feel much better. I've felt peaceful and (for me) relatively energised, with improved stamina and focus. 

So I was surprised when I woke at a quarter to four to notice familiar signs of inflammation in my neck and hands and feet and limbs generally. What could this be? Was it an infection, a cleansing reaction, or what? I hadn't eaten any of the food that could set it off, I'd been very careful. I suppose I got tired preaching at the weekend, but that was two days before. I felt momentarily puzzled, and drifted back into sleep. And when I woke up properly an hour later, I felt fine.

Over breakfast I mentioned this to Hebe and Alice. It turned out they both sometimes experience the same thing. One of them said she occasionally wakes up in the (too) early morning with painful tonsils and a general sense of inflammation in her throat. She knows if she goes back to sleep then when she wakes up properly for the day the problem will have gone. The other one has rumbling auto-immune issues, that make her joints flare up and swell from time to time. She likewise said she sometimes wakes early to find her joints hurting and inflamed, then drifts off to sleep again and finds they are better once morning has come.

We concluded this is part of the body's repair work during sleep, that we had inadvertently surprised by waking before it was done. The toxins of stress or diet, or just part of our rhythm of nutrition and disposal, the healing of wear and tear and investigation of incipient problems — these are dealt with in all our body systems by our inner repair angel, our own personal Rafäel, as  we lie deep in sleep. Waking too early, we can find ourselves walking in on a surgical operation of sorts — "You aren't expected back yet, please go away." So our astral selves clear off again and leave the angel to the patient healing work. And in the morning, "All done! House is ready for you. It's okay to come back in again now."

Does this happen to you?