Thursday, 25 July 2019

For anyone overwhelmed by clutter

Most people who read here have been on the trail of minimising and simplifying for a long time, but I expect some of you struggle with a lot of stuff to deal with.

Today I found two posts I think are really good about tackling overwhelming piles of junk and clutter.

The first comes from Courtney Carver at Be More With Less and is about alternating slow small incremental change in the direction of simplicity and peace with short sharp bursts of intensive de-cluttering.

The second, from the visually very cluttered blog of Tracey Lynn, is about incorporating places and systems for the items in our home — reminds me of the Japanese composite word danshari (dan-sha-ri, meaning refuse-dispose-separate).

I think the methods recommended in both those posts look promisingly do-able. Good luck! Calm and harmony to your home! May your living space reflect the peace and order of heaven.

The mountain and the sea

On the morning my husband Bernard died, as I vigiled with him I also kept an eye on my inner viewer, where I could see a small sailboat slowly making its way out of a harbour to cross the bar and reach the open sea. Behind the boat I could see the dark headland of the sheltering hills, and I knew once he passed the end of the headland he'd be free. And so it turned out, and after his last breath I didn't see the white sail and the little boat any more.

But, it's not just in dying we put out to sea. I've also watched my mother (though I suppose that is also dying, just waaaaay more protracted) slowly putting out to sea in the last years; retreating into vagueness, declining responsibility for her actions, letting memory go. She doesn't do it on purpose, though to those of us still standing on the shore it can look like that. She's just drifting out to sea, leaving behind the commitments and engagements and responsibilities that make entanglement with this life what it is.

Then, as well as the open sea there's the high mountain. I wonder if you know Edward Burger's documentary about Zen hermits in China, Amongst White Clouds? Absorbing, fascinating, beautiful.

It gives expression to something I have never incarnationally experienced, but which is very real inside my spirit — how far up the mountain one lives.

In my early twenties I read Catherine de Hueck Doherty's book Poustinia, which made a deep impression on me. Her book Welcome Pilgrim I have never read, but it looks very interesting and I think I will. The poustiniki, about whom she wrote in Poustinia, were (are?) Russian hermits who lived alone up the mountain in small huts, in austere simplicity. They devoted their lives to prayer and studying the scriptures, but — and this is key — they also came down and helped in the village. They didn't just stay up the mountain doing their own thing, they offered useful practical help to people who needed it. But, on the other hand, they didn't become embroiled and enmeshed in the push and tug of life in the village. They had what a minister I once knew used to refer to as a hit-and-run ministry; they came, helped and left. Heheh — like Lynne Truss's book about grammar and punctuation, Eats Shoots And Leaves. Like anchorites, with one window into the sanctuary and one onto the marketplace; but higher up the mountain than that.

I've been intrigued by the identification, of other women in my age group, with my imperative, urgent, irresistible need for quiet, solitude and withdrawal. Several of you have written to me and told me of this. 

Earlier decades of my life were characterised by heavy involvement with people's lives — in hospice, in prison, in the church, and just socially. We never locked the door of our home because people were always finding their way to it, coming to find us, asking for refuge and help, somewhere to stay, someone to listen.

Over time — and, interestingly, not of my own doing or my own intention exactly — all this changed. Decisions have consequences and consequences have long tails. Choosing loyalty to marriage and family over career had profound and complicated consequences for me. Choosing to take seriously some insults and criticisms levelled at me, and receive them with humility, also had consequences — lasting years in the case of both those choices. Choosing to set up house with artists has had huge consequences; the portcullis was drawn up overnight! 

And in those movements of life, as I passed through them, travelling slowly on foot through the years, I did not really perceive the direction of travel. I just walked along the track life offered me, following the twists and turns as I came to them. But they took me higher up the mountain, and that came to be the place where I felt safe and peaceful and wanted to be.

Eventually, it came about that when anything especially vicious kicked off, my instinct started to be not to engage and talk it through and sort it out, as once I would have done, but to get out, to withdraw, to go higher up the mountain.

I find myself at a place where my soul flatly refuses the grief and struggle of engagement. There's a hymn (do you know it?) Sweetly the holy hymn, that includes the verse:

Upon the battlefield
Before the fight begins
We seek, O Lord, thy sheltering shield
To guard us from our sins 

I am conscious that, even somehow without my permission, my feet have walked off the battlefield and set off up the mountain. My boat has cut loose from the harbour and is drifting out to sea. I no longer have any fight in me. I no longer have the wisdom to pick sides advisedly. I hate the wounding and the casualties and the ruined lives, of ordinary everyday human warfare, in homes and in the church. I can't mend it, patch or heal it, but neither do I want to give my tacit consent to all the in-fighting and lacerations by staying there, silently watching while people get hurt. The only thing my inner wisdom tells me to do is walk away, go higher up the mountain. 

But I still want to help. I still want to be part of putting gentleness and kindness and healing balm into the world. The only thing I know to do is live more and more simply, and just be here for anyone who wants to find their way to me, and write books about simplicity and kindness. These are the only things I do that prove useful. If I get muddled up in the fray, nothing good comes of it. I think I am entering the "Sssssh" part of my life.

I think, from what you tell me, you feel the same. 

But — and this is important — because a lot of people read this blog without making themselves known in the comments, to you I want to say this: if the church has hurt you, if life has hurt you, if your family and the people who should have loved you have hurt and betrayed you, not listened to you, stopped your voice and ruined your work, I am so very sorry. Because I am part of the human race, I say to you on behalf of all of them lost in blundering human frailty, I love you, I am sorry, please forgive me, and thank you. 

Thank you for your song, your face, your unique and particular soul. Thank you for the hope in you that never dies and the tender, human reality with which you were born. Thank for being dear, loveable you. Just as you are, the mystery at the heart of life, the I Am That I Am, loves you, cares about you, sees you, hears you and is with you. Take comfort, brave soul. You are not alone. xxx

(I have linked the above picture so it is properly credited to its source. I love the picture but am not especially recommending the course or products on the other end of the link. It's just that the picture says exactly what I mean. The course, products etc might be excellent — I just don't know)

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Made us laugh.

In a nearby town, an advertised event:

Connecting Souls Coffee Morning
A coffee morning for like minded people

Monday, 22 July 2019


What is it about old ladies and handbags!?

At earlier points in my life, I've visited an old ladies in hospital, or taken an old lady there, and in every case she would clutch her handbag tight, get anxious if it got misplaced. The handbag was really important.

I have even, on one occasion, needed to check the contents of a handbag belonging to an old lady in hospital, and found in it only a mouldy peach. 

But now that I am also becoming an old lady, I understand. 

One of our household asked me at breakfast time, "Are you going out?" I wondered why for a moment, then realised it was because I had my handbag nearby. And, no, I wasn't going anywhere — I just needed the things in it, on and off throughout the day in all the different places I might be.

My handbag is smaller than the ones I used to have. When my children were little it had to contain wet-wipes and jelly-babies and a book to look at and a cotton muslin and so on.  Then, as life moved on, I needed a bag sizeable enough to contain an A5 writing pad, one pen and a spare, my Filofax, usually speaking notes and a folder relating to whatever I was going to, and a make-up pouch, as well as all the usual handbag things. So I used to have a shopping-bag sized handbag!

Now those days have gone, and I no longer need a large bag.

I like either leather or canvas bags, and of the two options I prefer leather, because I think it looks more suitable at a formal event (but is equally fine for everyday), and is easier to clean.

I prefer to buy bags second-hand, to (albeit minutely) slow down our pervasive problem of mass-production, and to obtain a nice item within budget, and to take my custom to a down-sizing woman at home making a little money. Also, I often change my mind a couple of months after a purchase, and want something different. If I paid £4 for my bag that doesn't matter very much; a very different story if I'd paid £400 or even £40 for it. I bought my current one on eBay for £15.00 in February.

My bag is very dark green. I really love green and red for bag colours, as they surprisingly go with almost everything — I have navy, grey, black, burgundy and green clothes, and I thought the dark green would look nice with any of them. Plus, I think dark green is beautiful.

I dislike a lot of accoutrements on bags — buckles and catches, tassels and tags, chains and zips and metal linking rings. I don't like long dangling straps, or those doubled-over straps that let you vary the length between a shoulder bag and a cross-body style. The muddly appearance irritates me.  

I also dislike grab bags — I have to wear my bag on my shoulder. I do like the appearance of grab bags, but my hyper-mobility means my blood tends to pool, and I get very uncomfortable if my hand is down by my side unsupported for any length of time (eg, holding a bag by its handles). If my bag is on my shoulder, I can tuck my thumb round the strap as I'm walking along, which helps my blood do its thing and stops my hands swelling up. 

I like to be able to clamp my bag firmly under my arm, for security. I am never easy with those back-packs where the small compartment for your purse, tickets, phone etc, sits on the outside, behind you where you can't see. I think those new backpacks where the access is on the inner side against your back are a wise security improvement — though it makes it harder to get at your stuff. For me, the ideal when travelling is the hands-free combo of a backpack with nothing in it worth stealing, and a small pack (bum bag, fanny pack, money belt, whatever) with my money and tickets, glasses and phone strapped onto my front.

So my current handbag looks like this —

Here's what it has inside (plus the phone I was using to take the photo) —

I got those two fold-up nylon shoppers at Sainsbury's, and they are excellent. For one thing they're capacious and take plenty of groceries, but also they have the good strong integral handles, not the thin stitched-on ones that cut into your hands when the bag is full.

I carry two pairs of glasses with me always, everywhere — one for just looking at things and one for inspecting small print on labels carefully.  

My bag is the perfect size for me. It slips down beside me in an armchair, and between my pillows and my husband's pillows if I'm sitting on our bed reading or writing. It's unobtrusive and the handle isn't the sort that trips people up if I put it on the floor by my chair. It isn't heavy, its design is simple and classic with no ornamentation, it's well-made and I find it attractive.

In some ways I like the idea of having a backpack for my main bag, but for two things — I don't like the way backpacks are infested with straps like an octopus's tentacles, dangling all over the place, and much of the time I want something small and neat rather than large and capacious. The great thing about a small, slim, flat shoulder bag is that the (also small, slim, flat) shopping bags can sit folded up inside all the while you don't actually need to use them.

So in my bag I carry my two pairs of glasses, the two nylon shoppers, a small coin purse, my phone, my rail card in its handy ticket wallet, my house and car keys, a pen, and my cards (a debit card, a emergency car rescue card for if we break down, my do-not-resuscitate card which also lets my organs be harvested, and my two store loyalty cards).

I find I need to use all these things very frequently (well — not the do-not-resuscitate card so far, but everything else), and hardly ever need anything more. So I keep my handbag by me wherever I am stationed indoors, and take it out with me wherever I go.

I do have one other, a canvas shoulder bag, which is handy for when I'm preaching — I can put my handbag inside it alongside the folder containing my notes and whatever I've brought for bored children to do.

What about you? I bet you have strong preferences for bags as well!

Friday, 19 July 2019

Japanese brooms

Are you familiar with Japanese brooms?

I think they are utterly marvellous.

We have two. The first I got from Japan (via either UK eBay or UK Amazon, I forget which). It was described enchantingly as a brush for passages and porches, called a hoki. Elsewhere I've seen them called a shuro.

Then we got a second one — to have either one in Komorebi and one in the main house, or one upstairs and one downstairs.

You can choose whether to pay a huge sum of money for a broom sourced from a Japanese family of artisan brush-makers — and, oh my goodness, do the Japanese not elevate this into an art form sublime! Or, if your purse is lean and moth-eaten, you can source such a broom from eBay at a very modest price indeed — usually from China. Search on "Japanese broom".

The handles of ours are made from bamboo, the bristles from some kind of plant. Softer and more pliable than straw brooms, and having the natural slim fan shape, they go behind radiators, under cupboards, alongside the kitchen machines, and get all the dust from corners and skirting boards. They are great for the bathroom — sweeping behind the wash basin and the toilet. The bristles are fine enough and the handle short enough also to use as a dusting broom.

Unless you have fitted carpet everywhere (in which case obviously a vacuum cleaner is your friend), a hoki/shuro broom would be — in my opinion — the only duster/brush you ever needed to keep your house clean. And not a plastic handle or nylon bristle in sight (the eBay listings for the Chinese ones say the bristles are nylon but they are not; look closely at the photos to check before buying), even the thread to stitch the bristles is compostable bio-degradable string, not something that will choke wild beasts for three million years.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019


Over time, the groceries I buy have gradually changed. They may change again, but I think are less likely to because I no longer buy randomly according to taste but for specific principles that won't change unless new information (eg on health) prompts a re-think.

My principles don't have an ascending/descending order of priority — they are all important to me.

These are the principles that now determine my grocery shopping:

  1. My health. I have spent a humungous amount of time reading and researching the impact of food on health. As our UK health service gets more fragile, and as I age, I feel a clear responsibility to build the best health I can through what I eat.
  2. The well-being of creation. For me, the work of Allan Savory has been a real eye-opener. It makes sense of what I've read elsewhere about farming and respect for the land. I want to do my very best to care for the Earth and to be sure the farm animals whose bodies or produce (eggs, dairy) I eat have been cared for and allowed as natural a life and as gentle a death as possible. I want my buying choices to work towards shalom.
  3. The local economy. I believe in supporting local businesses, because I think that is in every way more sustainable. It promotes accountability and reduces the pollution associated with big food miles. It means I can find out about the places and people who produce my food, making wise choices and allowing them to build up a customer list they can rely on. I also (vaguely, this is more instinctive than rational) believe in eating produce from the place where I live — local honey and butter and fruit and veggies.
  4. Cost. I have a low income, but I prioritise food quality above almost anything else in my purchasing. So I buy food that may seem expensive, but I eat relatively small amounts, and anyway that's the thing I choose to spend my money on. To be able to afford high quality food, I choose the cheaper items — cabbage rather than artichokes, mince rather than leg of lamb, for instance. Where I can, I get the items that are cheap and nutritious and compassionately and responsibly produced — of which the star example is that we buy our eggs from the farm gate right next door to our chapel. A dozen costs less than half a dozen in a supermarket. There are zero food miles because the hens live there and that's where we're going to chapel anyway. The hens are battery rescue hens. They are free range. Perfect.
So the food I buy now goes like this:
  1. I buy meat. I am very attracted to vegan diet as an ethos, but I don't do well on it personally and I have issues with some of the global impact of it. Having thought about this deeply, I have come to the view that our living and dying are always inextricably linked; for instance the combine harvesters for grain crops are bound to kill mice in the fields, and our car journeys to the shops are bound to kill insects — the windscreen after a motorway journey is covered with tiny dead bodies. The only reason farm animals have the opportunity to live is because they are farmed; if we did not eat them, there would be no more pigs, or beef cattle, bred. A wild animal (eg deer, goat, bird) often lives its whole life looking over its shoulder for predators, and its end is often violent and gruesome, and its condition pitiable in disease. Though a farm animal's life is short, if it is looked after kindly then it at least has a life, during which it is cared for and provided for. Animal welfare is very important to me. So I buy my meat from two or three places, chosen for animal welfare, organic farming methods (and pasture-raised animals), and/or freedom from plastic packaging. My meat products come from Primal Meats or Graig Farm. I used to buy from Eversfield Farm. They are very good, but I love the passionate animal welfare of Primal Meats, and the plastic-free packaging commitment of Graig Farm. I also buy bone broth from Osius. I don't know why it only has one s.
  2. I buy dairy products. I like Beurre d'Isigny butter, Graham's milk and Yeo Valley Greek Yoghourt, but I have just made a new discovery. Hook and Son farm is just a few miles away from us at Hailsham, and they will do a doorstep delivery to our postcode once a week. So I can get raw butter, raw cream and raw milk from them delivered! Yes!! They also will include in the delivery bio-live yoghourt from Court Lodge just down the road at Wartling.
  3. Apart from that, I buy fruit and vegetables. Mostly I get these from Sainsburys, Asda, less often Marks and Spencer — or from Trinity Wholefoods (a co-operative selling local produce, in our town). Sometimes I drive a few miles out to Great Park Farm. I also get my oil, nuts, salt, herbs, spices and cider vinegar from whichever of these shops I happen to be in when I need them. My cider vinegar is the organic sort with "the mother", and my salt is Cornish sea salt.
In addition, I have been trying to grow more of our own food. This year nearly all the cherries we had were from our own tree, and we have lots of greengages, plums, apples and pears coming. We pick blackberries wild. Each year I try to grow courgettes and pole beans, because one plant does a lot of food in each case. I started growing kale this year, and will grow that every year from now on.  I've grown some outdoor tomatoes, but only a few. We grow lots of herbs, which we use for teas and in cooking. The only other food I can think of that we buy is honey, and we get ours from Freddie's dad who keeps bees in the park down the hill from us. Oh — our water is from the spring at the foot of the hill.

I have stopped eating processed foods and ready meals, also sugar and grains, and I no longer drink any tea or coffee. I never drank much alcohol, but I now no longer drink it at all. I avoid additives and artificial sweeteners, preferring to just eat a simple "ingredient".

As the members of our household have birthdays coming soon, though, there has been discussion about whether or not to have birthday cake . . . And we might. Or not.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)Psalm 150: O praise God in his holi...

I love this Stanford setting of Psalm 150. I think it's the same one they sing as a recessional after Sunday morning eucharist at York Minster.

Garden surprises

In response to the church hierarchy's assertion that "Jesus never called women to be his disciples", in defence of an all-male priesthood, I once heard it said that was because the women came to join him without being called.

Our garden is a bit like that.

It has kale, which I planted:

— but nestling more cosily than it might wish among potatoes (which I did not plant) and some other thing that I can only guess might be foxgloves.

There is less kale than I intended because cats and foxes got busy in the spring and dug up most of my baby kale plants, but what remains keeps us in greens and struggles on valiantly despite being almost swamped by the potatoes —

— and by that thing on the left, which seen in full is this:

Yes. An absolutely massive fennel plant. We have good compost.

It's getting extremely difficult to walk round our vegetable garden. On one side the potatoes spill over the path, obscuring it completely. On the other side there's this climbing squash vine —

— which, again, I did not plant. It's travelled from the veggie patch right across to the house wall, wrapped itself lovingly round that (self-invited) fennel in a pot and is now heading back to the veggie patch. It's a bit of a challenge to pick my way across to the water butt, to give all these beings a drink in the evening.

I did plant these courgettes:

— but I've had to take off some of their enormous leaves that had covered some other, smaller plants entirely.

I suppose it's all good, and I've let them stay, but I'll be glad when the time comes to dig up the potatoes; and I tell you what, that fennel isn't coming back next year! 

Friday, 12 July 2019


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.

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.