Wednesday, 28 August 2019


Holistic land management bringing hope and renewal in an Australian farm.

See also here and here and here.

Half Tuck

This look — 

— shirt half tucked in, half hanging loose, is all the rage. 


It has become the way to wear any top you can think of, even sweaters.

You even get instructions online telling you how to go about tucking part of your shirt into your waistband. If the current population needs to have that explained to them, that's surely all the proof we need of cognitive decline.

For heaven's sake. Whatever half-wit half-tuck notion will they come up with next?

I do know this. You wouldn't catch Miss Marple with her shirt half-tucked, nor her Majesty the Queen. I'm sure of that.


Look — I have all these things to eat in a drawer in our room.

They have enigmatic names that are hard to get right, like DNA and CPR and properotters and Vitamin Why and diefoxyboxyribbonnuclear acid. I can't remember what they are all for now, which I gather is an Ominous Sign and Not To Be Taken Lightly. I think they will stop my joints getting creaky and my vision getting blurry and my brain packing up completely, or something. The brain part worries me a bit, if possibly not as much as it should do; but I feel I should make an effort. So all these bottles of capsules cost a lot of money but the things make me feel sick if I consume a whole bunch of them at one time. I haven't eaten any of them for days. 

If I'm honest I prefer the ones like these

and these

and these 

and these

that came out of the garden.

Oh look, there's a cat under that bench.

Monday, 26 August 2019


Waving to Beth of Living a Simple Life in this Interconnected World

I so enjoyed reading your post about the places you'd lived, but though I tried to comment, my words just fall off your blog like raindrops down a window-pane.

I wanted you to know I'd seen your post — I think the place you are living now is just perfect for you and Matt, but I also love the thought of living in the college dorm. I well remember those days from my own life, and the simplicity and anonymity strongly appeals to me now — plus being part of a campus community which is like a village but hardly anybody knows you. Fab. Only there'd have to be rainwater butts and compost heaps and at least a windowsill to grow some veggies.


Sartorial starting points

When you are shopping for clothes, where do you begin? What's your starting point?

I have a few important factors to take into consideration, but leading the fray by a country mile are my feet.

I have feet like Jeremy Fisher's —

— soft and bendy like all the rest of me, unresisting, easily blistered and immensely long and shallow.

It's no good buying footwear from regular retailers for people with big feet, because those shoes are about an inch deeper than my feet and have stiffening in the toecaps that bruises me. They rub my feet into sores and the back of the heel comes up well past where the corresponding bit on my foot runs out. Useless.

There are two firms I can rely on for shoes that fit me: Gabor and Vivobarefoot. 

Of the Gabors, I can only have the slides, and boots with no heels and a spatulate toe shape. If I wear heels — even 3cm — my foot just slides down and forms a squashed heap in the toe box. If I have a closed toe in a shoe I get bruises (wearing boots holds my feet in place provided there's no heel). If there are straps and buckles, I get blisters. Even the slides, in the softest of leathers, give me blisters, but at least that's only on the sides of my toes so I can stick plasters on.

Of the Vivos, I have to wear the men's — none of the ladies' come up long enough. I can't wear Vivo boots because my ankles aren't strong enough to fight back against the enclosing fabric of the boot. So I wear their lightest mesh running shoes, which are flexible enough to work with my feet. These —

That has to be my starting point.

So if I wear a dress, it must look believable with these shoes —  

(I know, I know, I shouldn't put outdoor shoes on the bed like that, but hey). 

A dress looks okay with slides — these are my Gabor slides —

but if I do that, either the dress has to be very long or look credible with leggings under it; because the same Jeremy Fisher oddities that determined my feet affect my whole vascular system, with the result that fluid pools in my ankles and I have a splendid network of varicose veins. In my childhood, no self-respecting woman stepped out of her front door with bare legs. Now it's the other way round, and wearing tights with sandals is utterly scorned. Awkward for me.

There's a certain Agatha Christie look one can achieve with a rather old-fashioned, retro-style summer dress or a tweed skirt ending just below the knee. 

One can go for an Amish style, but I can't face the incorporation of the inexorable southerly slide of the torsal appendages into this look, and I won't tolerate the kind of foundation wear that hurts your liver and alters your breathing. 

You surely see the problem. The disconcerting bolster effect, proving that it's possible to make an Empire line out of anything with a waist.

There's a flowing, arty look that used to be my stock-in-trade, but I've found that the more my own actual body becomes increasingly deconstructed with the passing years, the less becomingly a deconstructed dress droops from the concave chest and rounded shoulders. Like Auntie Vera of the 1960s Giles cartoons, for those of you with long memories.

So I mainly stick to trousers. I love dresses, so I do keep valiantly trying. I probably need Muriel Whitchurch and Miss Gossage from St Trinians as role models (that would be Margaret Rutherford and Joyce Grenfell). 

Or else that other, inimitable Vera (Stanhope) —

One of the lessons I have unfortunately taken all too much to heart from my religion, is that one should never, ever give up hope. Which, when it comes to dresses, can be expensive. Still, you never know do you?

I kept the disastrous beautiful dresses that were taken for dressing gowns btw. They make good nighties in the very hot weather, after all. And what's wrong with looking beautiful in the night?

Friday, 23 August 2019

Ten-item wardrobe scepticism

I know several of you who read here share my interest in keeping possessions few and experimenting with reducing the number of clothes you own to a workable minimum.

At present, I have:
4 pairs of trousers 
1 skirt 
2 linen shirts
6 long-sleeved tops
1 sweater
4 cardigans
1 warm knitted waistcoat (US 'vest')
3 jackets 
1 fleece gilet 
1 raincoat
1 winter coatigan
2 pr tights, 2 pr socks, underwear, 4 sets PJs, dressing gown
Various accessories (2 bags, 2 hats, 2 scarves, 2 pr gloves, snood)
4 pr earrings

I make that 25 garments without adding in the socks, tights, underwear, PJs and accessories. Oh, and I also have 6 pairs of shoes. 

I find that fairly minimal. Scanning the list, one might wonder "Why does she need 3 jackets?" Well, because they are different weights and different degrees of smartness. One is so light and thin (t-shirt material) it's hardly a jacket at all, but does provide a useful modesty layer or just add warmth to a top on one of those days that's not cold exactly, but not very warm either — 'wind chill factor'. One is my everyday jacket, and the third one is for formal occasions (eg public speaking or going to a wedding etc)

I don't need a raincoat at all when it isn't raining, but if I don't have one then when it rains I just have to stay at home. My gilet I wear day in day out through the winter months — it does as a coat but isn't ludicrous worn indoors, which is helpful because we don't put our heating on much.

There are some things I could lose, at a pinch and if I had to. I suppose I don't actually need a skirt (or the tights I keep to wear with it), but there just are some occasions when I'd feel inappropriately dressed in trousers. My skirt is wool (knitted); so if one of those occasions when I felt obliged to wear a skirt cropped up in summer, I would buy a lightweight one — but such events are rare enough that I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
And I don't really think I need that very lightweight jacket — on the other hand it is extremely useful and folds up as small as a t-shirt, so I keep it for now.

So, all in all I think my clothing kit is fairly basic; but I am always keen to hear from people who get by successfully with fewer items of clothing. I think if I were starting over, I might have fewer things than I do — for instance, I could manage with 2 cardigans instead of 4, and I don't really need a sweater at all because I could wear a buttoned up cardigan instead. However, the sweater and 3 of the cardigans are cashmere (the 4th cardigan is alpaca), so it could cost a lot of money to replace them. I bought them either in half-price sales or remarkably cheap on eBay, and there's no guarantee I'd find replacements for those prices in the right colour, fit and style. As having 4 extends the wear (only having 2 would mean they wear out quicker), I think hanging on to them is prudent not just an excuse to own more and more things. 

Anyway, in reading articles about people with minimalist and capsule wardrobes, I often come across posts on what is called 'The 10-Item Wardrobe'.

When I first saw this, I hurried along eagerly to find out about it, but found myself baffled by what I read.

Because the so-called 10-Item Wardrobe might be made up of:
1 pr trousers
2 pr jeans
2 dresses
1 skirt
4 blouses

Fair enough not to include underwear and night clothes in the list, and I even think it's reasonable not to add in accessories (hats, scarves, gloves, bags etc), jewellery and shoes.

But I thought, 'Jeepers, isn't she cold? No knitwear?'

Then, reading on, I discovered all was not what I'd thought at first. Because yes, she does have knitwear. Sweaters are not counted in the ten items. They, along with t-shirts, coats and jackets, special occasion wear, accessories, nightwear, sportswear, underwear, and jewellery — don't count! They're 'extras'.

What? No they aren't! A person's wardrobe is the clothes they have. How can you possibly say your jeans are part of your wardrobe but your sweaters aren't? That's just silly.

Not only that, but the people who write about the so-called 10-Item Wardrobe also invariably say that, hey, nobody's counting, it doesn't matter if you have 15 items or even 25 — whatever works for you.

With the result that you could have:
5 pairs jeans
3 skirts
6 blouses
4 dresses
16 T-shirts
30 pr shoes
12 sweaters
9 cardigans
8 jackets
4 coats
32 bags
6 hats
A whole drawer of nightwear
Another whole drawer of underwear and one for tights and socks
More jewellery than you could shake a stick at
and still say you had a 10-Item Wardrobe.

But even then that's not all: out-of-season clothes are all in store. So the person could not only have everything on that list above, but two more sets of clothes of equal magnitude for the other seasons of the year! And that would still count as a 10-Item Wardrobe.

Delusional or what?

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Accessibility and authenticity

Economy is a beautiful thing. When strands weave together effectively in achieving a common purpose, it is so pleasing. There is great wastefulness in the way the religious folk of the world have viewed each other's faiths as being in competition — to be defeated in a perpetual war. Wiser to practice faith economy and use every glimpse into wisdom and holiness we have. The Muslim can learn so much from the Jew, Shinto has so much to teach the Sufi — they are mutually enriching, they speak of divine being, they are all clear shining stars in the frosty night sky, one does not diminish another by being there.

Taoism is probably the religion/philosophy that has most enriched my own faith practice as a Christian. The Taoist way has a lot of vocabulary and perspective in common with the way of Jesus. In particular it has spoken to me of simplicity, humility and littleness as a source of spiritual wisdom and strength.

During the years I was a Methodist presbyter, much of my practice was informed by Taoist wisdom. That was in the days before the internet with its relentless self-exposure and self-promotion had gathered strength, but not before self-marketing and self-advertisement had received the stamp of social approval, travelling to England from America (I think).

So during the years I was a pastor the talk was all of how to attract people, how to increase footfall and build up church numbers and — the holy grail — how to entice men into our congregations. We had enough women, thank you very much. Men were all the thing.

Out of tune with the times, I was more interested in aspects of accessibility and authenticity than in advertisement and attraction. When I prepared couples for marriage, they would ask me resignedly, "How often do we have to come to church to qualify to get married there?" And I'd say, "What? Don't come at all if that's your attitude. Come because you want to, because you're seeking something, because your heart yearns for truth. Otherwise stay in bed and enjoy your Sunday. It's better if our worship of God comes from a true heart, uncluttered by people who are only there because they think they have to be. You are always welcome, but only because you want to be there. You can get married in our church because you really mean it, but you don't have to pay for it with something you don't really mean."

We had a lot of people living with profound disabilities in our congregation, and on a Sunday morning they were brought to church by their carers — who helpfully provided a sort of litmus test for preaching. Standing in the pulpit, I could assess the effectiveness of my preaching by watching for the moment the carers stopped eating sweets and reading their Friday Ad because their attention had been caught and held by what I was saying to them. I wanted them at least to become involved in the spiritual journey of the people they had brought to chapel — and, pleasingly, they did. They became their faith advocates; they didn't necessarily believe in God but they came to believe in being part of what we were doing; because it was real. People feel and respond to authenticity.

There's a kind of evangelism that almost makes me feel physically sick, that speaks about befriending people and inviting them to join in (with golf, with dinner parties, with outings to the cinema), not for the pleasure of their company but with the ulterior motive of trapping them in the ideological snare of one's own perspective. It has a close associate in the equally nauseating approach that uses an enjoyable activity like art or a meal together as a "hook" to draw in unsuspecting souls who thought they were valued for themselves and were pleased to have received an invitation.

I once fell prey to such a system. When I was new to our town as a young mother of a baby, my husband played the organ at an Anglo-Catholic church. One of the priests on the leadership team made friends with us. Because I knew hardly anyone in Hastings at that time, I looked forward to his visits to our home and was happy we had made a friend. Then I discovered from somebody's casual remark that the priest-in-charge had instructed this man to "make friends" with us because they valued my husband's input as a musician and wanted to consolidate the connection and keep him firmly attached to that church. The "friendship" ended right there and then. I am completely uninterested in duplicity and being the collateral of someone's strategic targeting.

So my own approach to ministry was different. One of our teachers in the Ashburnham Stable Family (an affiliation of East Sussex Christians) spoke to us about what he called "question evangelism", where the person you are and the life you live causes others to ask questions about your outlook and motivation — "How do you stay so patient? Why do you feel so peaceful? How did you find the strength to cope?" etc. When they ask, you tell them, as in 1 Peter 3.15: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." Our teacher suggested to us that if our life caused no one to ask any questions, we'd probably do better to keep quiet. No "hooks", no "befriending", no advertising, marketing or church growth strategy; just honest practice of a living faith — authenticity. I believed in that, in the Spirit who leads us into truth.

Then there was accessibility. As the pastor of a church with a high percentage of people living with disability, in Hastings which is a pocket of poverty in East Sussex which is a pocket of poverty in the south east of England, I certainly believed in accessibility. 

I wanted us to practice accessibility of worship, so planning and ordering what we did as to be as inclusive as we possibly could, making children and adults alike feel welcome. Our congregation was equally opening and welcoming to women and men, gay and straight, people of all races and social backgrounds. The alcoholic, the ex-prisoner, the MP, the head teacher, the little child — they were all there. I especially treasured the day an atheist who came to worship every week humbly asked me if it would be all right for him to receive the Eucharist. That converting and sanctifying ordinance, as John Wesley described it: yes, it certainly would.

I wanted us to have accessibility of lifestyle — living in such unassuming simplicity that nobody felt ashamed or shabby alongside us or visiting our homes. We were to be the poor alongside the poor in this town where many people lived in such poverty.

I wanted us to have accessibility in our socialising — events that no one had to pay to attend, and people of all ages and abilities could enjoy and join in at their own level. So we had our pantomime that we wrote and performed ourselves with the help of talented local musicians from our wonderful town in which music flourishes. We had our tea-dance, for which two ballroom dancers in the congregation taught those of us with two left feet to waltz; and those who were in wheelchairs or could only crawl came along for the live band and the strawberry tea. We had our treasure hunt through the countryside where those who had cars took those who did not, in pursuit of solving clues across East Sussex. Everything was for everyone — no hidden agendas, only honest welcome, inclusion, respect and humble love.

I wanted accessibility in our preaching — the gospel explained in such a way that it took fire in the imagination. What people believe is up to them, but what we believe should be accessible to them to make up their minds. Imagination is the doorway into spiritual understanding; why Jesus always taught the people in stories.

But I also wanted a particular kind of inaccessibility: the practice of littleness and hiddenness. It made me quietly happy that our church address did not, as such, exist. It was called "Park Road Church", and there was no "Park Road". Back then in pre-internet days, people relied on map books to look places up. In the map book for Hastings and St Leonards, there was Upper Park Road and Lower Park Road, but not Park Road as such. You had to look under U or L in the index, not P.  When I found a complete stranger in the road outside my house looking for me and wondering if this was the place, when a complete stranger turned up at Sunday morning worship who had been "looking for this church for ages", I knew we were on the right track. 

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matt.13.44-46 NIVUK)

The treasure is hidden, and it is real treasure. The pearl is hidden, and it really is a pearl of great price. The treasure is not cheap and tempting baubles displayed to entice people into mistakenly purchasing an acre of disappointing mud. It's not a string of glass beads advertised to look like something special. It's accessible — anyone can dig in the mud, anyone can go fishing — but it's hidden and, when you you find it, it's the real deal.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The cultivation of focus and peace

I'm interested in the sporting world phenomenon, "the quiet eye". It's the state that in some ways resembles rest but is in fact absolute focus — single, undiluted concentration.

It's a theological phenomenon too. You'll probably know the verse from the book of the Revelation, in which Jesus is said to address the church at Ephesus thus: "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."

The first love is, I think, something akin to the quiet eye. At Ephesus they're doing a lot of good work but they have taken their eye off the ball.

The practice of minimalism for spiritual purposes is for the cultivation of effective focus and peace — the quiet eye, the first love.

It has a number of components, whether skill sets or information sets or simply habits. There's a dietary aspect. There's the practice of household maintenance. There's the management of our schedule and relationships, and also of our time and our money. When it's correctly done, everything flows toward the same end, becomes contributory to the quiet eye, the first love.

When I closed my Facebook account, "pokes" had gone somewhat out of fashion but, in Facebook's earlier days, when I first had an account, "pokes" were all the thing — most days someone would "poke" you. Many people found it, as I did, irritating.

I've found that in daily (offline) life, there are also things that poke you. 

A diet based on the wrong foods leaves you no peace, your teeth get bored, you get hangry, you have cravings and fling between peaks and troughs. Eating correctly creates steadiness and calms the nervous system, gives you stability and tenacity and alertness and physical peace. 

Clutter and dirt and disorganisation poke you — the dust gets in your airways, the micro-organisms (as well as the larger ones like rats and insects) challenge your immune system and engage your energies. You lose things and have to hunt for them, trip over things, can't find anywhere to rest. Your gaze settles only on chaos.

Too much social involvement pokes you — the factions and feuds, the gossip and people's numerous issues. They unsettle and distract.

Too many duties and too crammed a schedule poke you incessantly, as you juggle and inadvertently drop responsibilities and commitments and flog your exhausted mind to turn from one event to the next and the next and the next, as they come at you like waves crashing onto the shingle as the tide rolls in.

I don't know if you read my post called Resistment a couple of days ago – about buying dresses — but I'm almighty glad I did resist them and that the two I succumbed to purchasing were startlingly cheap. Because when I wore one of these dresses on my regular visit to my mother, she looked up at me in astonished bewilderment as I came through her door, asking me in wonder, "Pen . . . why are you wearing a dressing gown?" Yes.

From that moment onwards I knew every time I wore one of those dresses there'd be an inner tugging of the sleeve, a whispering in my soul's ear, an incessant stream of pokes: "Does this look like a dressing gown to you? . . . Or to you? . . . Or to you?"

And right there what seemed like a treasure becomes a burden best left behind. Move it on. It undermines the quiet eye.

When I'm doing anything I want to be able to focus on that completely. I get thrown off if I have tight shoes that hurt my feet, or the kind of fringe that gets in my eyes, or the kind of bag that always slips off your shoulder, or the kind of dress that climbs up your tights as you walk down the street — or if I'm wearing a garment that people looking at me mistake for a dressing gown. Has to go.

Cultivating the level of focus to avoid distraction, rather than going back to eliminate it after the problem has occurred, is no doubt the next step. Though, in the realm of clothing, there's an issue I have never managed to resolve: for me, the ideal daily garments would be like the robes of a monk/nun, enveloping, simple, androgynous; yet the reality is these attract attention and comment and misinterpretation, they are eye-catching and invite comment, and so surrender the peace they promised, to distraction. The unobtrusive continues to be the better choice. 

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Origami bento bag

Half way through August is a good time, I think, to begin considering Christmas.

Sounds laughable, but I had five children and very little money.

I made a decision early on, never, no matter how much money I had at any give time, to attach an expensive gift like a bicycle, musical instrument or (later) electronic equipment to a birthday or Christmas. If I did that I'd be setting myself up for disappointing people on subsequent occasions.

It was important to me to treat my children both fairly and as individuals. In recent years I have stopped giving gifts (except for my aged mother and our grandchildren), but in the years of their childhood I used to give my children a Christmas 'stocking' brought magically in the night by Father Christmas, who I had explained to them was the story of Christmas. I let them know early that Father Christmas was only a story, as I wanted to make a distinction between that exciting childhood story and the real, true story of the baby Jesus, the infant Light of the world.

In their 'stocking' — actually a bag — I would put ten things:

Something to wear
Something to read
Something to eat
Something with a face (eg doll, teddy)
A toy or activity (eg skipping rope, jigsaw)
Something to make (eg art materials, science project)
Something pretty (eg necklace, earrings)
Something useful (eg underwear, bicycle pump)
Two other items specific to that child's interests and preferences

Each 'stocking' was unique (even the bag) and particular to that child. 

So I had fifty items to source by late December. This is why I started in August. Often I was on the look-out for second-hand items (especially clothing, which was more expensive relative to budget then), but I still wanted the gifts to be special and lovely, so I started looking early.

In these days when we are trying to inch towards generating less waste, perhaps especially less plastic waste, and when people are drowning in mass-produced objects, there's been a move towards re-thinking gifts. Many minimalists prefer to give experiences over physical items — which I agree is a good idea but likely to be very expensive.

I think something you have made yourself is usually welcome and makes the recipient feel special. I have in the past sometimes made little booklets — A5 size (being A4 folded), 4 or 6 sheets of heavy A5 paper, the outermost one being card, fixed once made using a long-arm stapler — with pictures and quotations and funnies suited to their interests and style.

Hebe and Alice (two of our household members) often bake or make sweets or roast and flavoured nuts. We save up attractive glass jars from our regular grocery shopping, both for general re-use and for home made food gifts. Coconut oil and sauerkraut both come in jars we prize — large, wide-necked.

I like the idea of fabric instead of paper for wrapping gifts. One more step towards reducing waste and disposability.

Today I saw a bag on Pinterest that struck me as a brilliant way of presenting a gift — because the bag itself is lovely, and would form part of the gift as well as wrapping it beautifully. It's described as an Origami Bento Bag.

There's a blog post with instructions for making it here.

You can alternatively buy a PDF tutorial (instant download) with a set-by-step guide and template for the bag, from Etsy, here.

On the Etsy shop (Indigo Bird Design) there are lots of sewing patterns for bags (and other things), and the Origami Bento Bag has the pleasing feature of being very easy to make as well as a very attractive design.

So if you still give Christmas gifts, but are trying to head towards the distant star of zero waste and homemade gifts rather than factory-made items, I thought you might like to do as I used to and start in mid-August. You have 134 days until Christmas, and may need every single one of them.

Thursday, 8 August 2019


This is my phone cover —

— inspired by Elizabeth Warren.

It is tremendously useful to me. Every time I am tempted to stop writing, stop preaching, stop going to church, stop living (all frequent and regular occurrences), I see my phone cover and I think, "Okay; not yet."

But just at this moment I am resisting rather than persisting. Specifically, I am resisting beautiful dresses. Let me tell you about them.

I am going to link the photographs, not as an act of advertisement but because the photos aren't mine so I should, and the links take you to see lots of pictures of the dresses, which are also on my Pinterest board called "Wearing Peace Flow".

I think these two dresses are the most beautiful I have ever seen.

I want these dresses with every fibre of my soul. But there are two problems which I am steadily bearing in mind.

The first is that they are one size and, as I am sure you are aware, one size fits none. The Chinese people who make these dresses thankfully provide, as many UK manufacturers do not, the measurement across the shoulders. The bust measurement of the dresses is, as you can see, both flexible and massive, because of the folds of fabric and the cross drape (a modest dresser's dream come true). But the shoulder measurement is, in the case of one, fifteen and three quarter inches, and in the other, sixteen inches. My shoulders are seventeen inches across and would remain so even if I lost every fat cell on my body. I just have the skeleton of an Amazon. Furthermore, my hypermobility means I slouch and flop and droop, and need wiggle room around the angles of my body as a result. So if I purchased either of these dresses I would bitterly regret it because they would be just that little bit too skimpy across the back. So, no. "No, no, no" — I tell myself.

Then there's another thing. About a million years ago when my children went to school out in the country village of Robertsbridge, I drove out from Hastings to take them and collect them every day. The school secretary, a sweet and delightful Danish lady with a candid and spontaneous approach to life, greeted me one day with her usual open, cheerful, loving kindness, saying with concern, "Oh! Are you unwell?"

"No," I said, puzzled; "I'm fine."

"Ah! I just thought you might have been because you're wearing your dressing gown."

That "dressing gown" was my very posh long line cardigan from East, that I thought the height of sartorial chic. I never wore it again.

Now, here in the UK we have a tradition of plaid dressing gowns, perhaps especially red tartan dressing gowns. Like this one.

I am in the morning of old age. I live in a town on the south coast which relies heavily on nursing homes to make its economy thrive.  I have been out in my car in the early morning and actually seen a wild-haired old lady hurrying along the street in her nightie and dressing gown and slippers, then twenty yards further along the road observed a nurse in uniform hurtling along in hot pursuit.

I know exactly what would happen if I went out in one of those beautiful dresses. I'd be apprehended and turned in at a nursing home, and I'm not quite ready for that.

Furthermore, in case I needed any concluding dissuasion, both those dresses cost a lot of money.

I got these ones instead —

— at a fraction of the price.

As these come in sizes, I was able to get a massive size to take account of my broad-beamed shoulders. I think the Chinese people have difficulty imaginatively encompassing the dimensions of Western people. In sizing these, they have as it were taken the corner and enlarged the whole thing. The size that fits my shoulders is consequently fifty-five inches long. Stilts required.

So far I own one of these dresses (the black one). In order to not actually walk on my own dress as I proceed through the world, I had to chop a length off the bottom (like the government changing in and out of British Summer Time — never were the initials BS so advisedly applied). But that isn't simple because the front dips, presumably to accommodate, in wearing, the humungously voluptuous frontal development the Chinese have assumed is an addition implicit in requiring an Asian size XXXL, but which I do not have. In my case, just the shoulders.

Dress 2 and 3 are on order, and I am girding up my loins for the daunting task of cutting a few inches off the bottom, but with the correct upward curve to result in a hem straight all round. I remember it well from last time, and I assure you it is not easy. Especially as the fabric which proclaims itself to be cotton — but I do not believe this and suspect it is rayon — is somewhat slippy with all the elusiveness going with that.

So, though I visit my Pinterest board wistfully and often, nevertheless I am resisting and resisting. I am not going to buy those beautiful dresses. I do not want to be captured by a nurse and taken away. At least, not just yet.

Fairy lights

It has to be borne in mind by anyone conversing with me that I am a novelist.

At our (lovely, relaxing, sublime even) hairdressing salon recently getting my hair cut, I casually remarked to the gentle and talented Vicky who takes care of all of us, that the reason my family's hair grows so almighty fast is that our brains are nothing but compost. She hesitated, scissors arrested in mid air. "Is that . . . true?" she said: "because I believe anything."

"No," I said.

It reminded me of an occasion when I was preparing a couple for marriage. We were at the chapel on the Thursday night, going through in exact and minute detail what would be happening at their wedding on the Saturday. At these rehearsals I required every person to attend who had an active part to play in the ceremony — congregations are active too, but you know what I mean. So we had our organist, our bride and groom, the best man and bridesmaids, the bride's father, and the ring-bearing page boy, who was about six years old I suppose, and stood patiently alongside his relatives staring at my feet while I explained every atom of what would take place.

I paused to ask if they had any questions. The page boy had. He pointed to my toe ring, and asked me why I was wearing it.

"Because," I said, "In my former incarnation I was married to a hedgehog."

He looked up at me with amazement. "Is that . . . true?" he asked.

"No," I said.

Bear that in mind when I tell you that in the bath this morning I finally got my head round what electrolytes are.

My grandparents lived in Scarborough, in East Yorkshire where the Vikings set up house and begat my family line.

Occasionally I used to stay with them as a child — my grandparents I mean, not the Vikings, though it came to pretty much the same thing. 

They took me to see a place that entirely spoke to my soul. Searching on the internet now, I can find no trace of it, so I don't know what it was called — it may have been the Valley Gardens or possibly the South Cliff Gardens, but it was in a deep valley/hillside (as most places are in coastal towns) lavishly illuminated with strings of coloured lights. You had to go there after dark, obviously, and we did. If you imagine something like a Christmas tree but huge and you could walk down in to it, and I think there was water with boats that also had coloured lanterns reflecting on the water. So magical, so pretty, so colourful. Enchanting. It was too long ago, I cannot put a name to it, but to me it was like fairyland. It took my breath away.

And I was thinking in the bath this morning, that must be what electrolytes are. They are the illuminations of the lumen of the gut. As you go down into the darkness of its labyrinthine valley, winding back and forth on itself as its pathway makes its downward descent, it is lit and make marvellously beautiful by the abundance of glorious electrolytes sparkling along the route, making a kind of fairy land of your insides. 

Those people who write about cleansing the gut producing startling ropes of mucus are mistaken; what they are finding is strings of electrolytes whose bulbs have gone, being put out with the trash. That's all it is.

Down there in your gut it looks something like this —

— entirely because of the electrolytes. I think that red one might be the way out, seen from within. It does appear to be some kind of sphincter.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

The darkness has never overwhelmed it.

There's that verse in the prologue of John's gospel, saying how the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness have never overwhelmed it.

That word I've given as "overwhelmed" can be translated as encompassed, swallowed up, extinguished, understood or put out. The darkness neither gets its head round the light nor subsumes it. You might say, the darkness never digests the light; it maintains its own integrity whatever its context or surroundings may be. This is why the light is a good metaphor of divine being — because it communicates the I Am That I Am, the Name of God. 

This came to my mind a couple of days ago when our cat Ted got into a fight and had an injury to his shoulder. Hebe and Alice took him to the vet, who pronounced that on this occasion he had sustained no infection from a bit, probably only a sprain, so should be kept indoors for three days. Hahaha. 

A litter tray and cat litter was accordingly sourced and set out, while Ted having returned from the vet sat brooding under Tony's bed, refusing to emerge. After three hours he came forth, and went to the back door asking to be let out. Hebe showed him the litter tray, which he looked at blankly, saying, "Yes, very nice; can I go out now, please?"

After some deliberation it was agreed the best plan would be to let him out as usual since confinement would only further stress him, but go with him. 

The difficult period of time would be the small hours of the morning when cats are still abroad and interacting but humans are fast asleep. This is when the fights happen.

Hebe found a solution — to sleep in Komorebi, where Ted loves to spend time, with the door open so he could come and go but she would be close to hand in case anything kicked off. So that's what she did.

At nightfall, just before I retired to bed, I went into Hebe's room at the back of the house and looked down through the trees to the window of Komorebi, illuminated by lamplight in the descending darkness.

I thought about family and home, the way we care for one another, travelling together through the world so that difficult times feel bearable and we keep each other safe. I thought about how life can be cheerful and meaningful, even when we are only ordinary people with not so many opportunities and not very much money. A place to return to, where love is found, where one's soul is seen and known and cherished. Not everybody's home is like that, I know — but ours is. 

And I thought the lantern-lit window through the trees, the light of home, might be the one that shines in the darkness, never properly understood, but never extinguished or defeated. To know one is loved, has a place to return to — to come home — is surely one of the most precious treasures human life affords.

Friday, 2 August 2019


Finished and sent in to trusty editor the book I've been writing through this summer — second book I've written this year, and another commissioned; hooray!

This one has not been commissioned by anyone, though, just my own bright idea, so no idea if it'll fly or not. Nonetheless it feels good to have completed it.