Thursday, 31 October 2019

Levels of woolly

Here in England there's significant variation of wet/dry and hot/warm/cold, even over a single day. In the spring and autumn, we have times when our south-facing back garden has an entirely different temperature from our north-of-the-house wind tunnel street. You would need a cardigan to walk down the street but not to sit in the garden.

In early October, if I walk up the road for groceries I might be warm enough with a sleeveless cardigan (waistcoat, tank top, vest), but in our old Victorian house I'd need a cardigan as well if I'm holed up writing all day.

Now we're coming into November, I'm wearing a cotton shirt, with a merino vest (waistcoat not underwear), and over that a cashmere cardigan. I'm warm enough. But if I go out later, I'll swap the cashmere cardigan (which is warm but relatively light) for a sturdier lambswool knitted jacket.

What I'm calling a cashmere cardigan I bought as a "cashmere shirt". It's very versatile because it can function either as a middle layer or a top layer.

In January on the coldest days, I'll probably wear a cotton long-sleeved tee, under one of the "cashmere shirts", under my most heavy duty rare-breed-sheep-wool vest, with a lambswool jacket on top. And a hat and mittens. I have merino tights and a knitted wool skirt.

All of which means I don't need to run the central heating. If it's really cold I stay nice and toasty under the duvet with a hot water bottle.

I prefer heating the person over heating the space. I am not a believer in central heating, though I do like fires. A fire is beautiful, fragrant, cheerful, promotes air circulation, and is alive. Not so central heating; and I feel a deep suspicion of all these wires and tubes and pipes connecting me to a central grid that might be run by Mammon . . . you never know, do you, when it all just comes from "away"?

I enjoy looking at people's capsule wardrobes online, but I consider these Texan types with their short-sleeved tees and mini dresses in utter perplexity, wondering, "But . . . where are your layers?"

I've even known it snow in June in England, and there is also what our weathermen call "the wind chill factor". You set out on a lovely sunny day to sit by the sea, and when you get down onto the ocean shore it can be frrrrreezing. Or else it can be normal inland and then down by the sea in town where there's a wind  blowing and no trees at all, just buildings and then the shore, the heat can be bouncing off everything creating a kind of oven in the summer — if you don't want to burn you need a hat.

And talking of hats, we lose a lot of heat through our heads because the body prioritises keeping the temperature of the brain stable over keeping limbs warm. Also, we lose heat at places where large blood vessels run near the surface (ankles, wrists, neck). So during in-between seasons where it's cold to sit on a train station but you warm up once you're walking, a hat and gloves and scarf are the first go-to, before a jacket or cardigan. If you keep your head and wrists and neck warm, you might not need a coat. Shirts and tees with collars or polo/turtle necks are handy for that. I don't have any polo-neck tops, but I do have shirts and cardigans with collars, and a couple of Indian cotton scarfs — soft and light, tuck in round my neck.

And of course — for managing temperature variation — cotton, linen, bamboo, silk and wool are your friends. Acrylic and micro-fleece are not adequately responsive to changes in heat and cold, and I can think of no useful purpose for Mademoiselle Polly Esther whatsoever.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019


It's the end of the school day.

I'm keeping an ear out for the Amazon delivery guy, who's bringing the garden tray I have on order, for standing the de-humidifier in. That's in case the duct gets blocked and it overflows, a small but significant malfunction that can ruin a floor even worse than damp can ruin the plaster on the wall.

I've been cold and a bit dizzy today because I've been fasting — an excellent way to improve the health of just about every bit of you. I meant to do one more day and make it three, but I got woozy and cold and couldn't concentrate, so I packed it in after 48 hours.

I've had some nuts and seaweed and bone broth, and I have some fish de-frosting for my supper. I stole some of Tony's milk and made myself a cup of Earl Grey tea, and now I feel contented and more present and able to think straight again. I feel good.

I'm sitting on my comfy bed, and I put the central heating on for an hour because the days are chill now. I have this really snuggly duvet in a bright multicoloured cover that I love. It's cosy here.

Because of listening out for the Amazon delivery I paid more attention than sometimes to the sounds of the street. So I noticed my neighbour coming home in her car, bringing her kids in from school. I saw them come in, heard the door slam behind them, heard them going up the stairs to their rooms.

All that came together in my mind, and I thought — we have so much to be grateful for. Just in this moment —

  • Excellent information about health and selfcare on the internet, all for free.
  • Really nutritious food.
  • The chance to get warm and stay dry.
  • A home to go to at the end of the day.
  • Family to come and fetch us, and a car to bring us home.
  • Mail order for items the shops near us don't stock.
  • A cup of tea — if you are English this is a life essential.
  • A bed to curl up in.
  • A computer to communicate with friends all over the world.
Very soon it'll be the end of the work day, and the next door I hear open and shut will be our own, as this household begins to come home one by one.

We can watch the quiz programmes together on the telly, and catch up on the programme about the RNLI that we missed on Tuesday because we were watching the Bake Off. It'll feel friendly and cheerful, because it always does.

In a world where there are people living in war zones and tents, on doorsteps and in back alleys, people enslaved to a drug habit that's killing them, people trafficked into slavery and taken from their homes, people who are miserable and lonely and afraid — I am so very, very blessed. My heart gives thanks for the peace and contentment of my life, for the chance to live the way I want to and pass my days in peace. I have so much, and I am so grateful.

And there's the front door now. My family coming home.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Lovely Youheum talking about her clothes

Noble Silence

Noble Silence is a Buddhist term said to derive from the buddha's responses to unanswerable questions. Thich Nhat Hanh writes about the practice of Noble Silence at Plum Village here.

Although Noble Silence can imply being externally or physically quiet in the usual sense of refraining from speech, like the (Catholic, Benedictine) monastic Great Silence of the night hours, it doesn't necessarily have implications about speech.

Noble Silence comes about when a person's being, body mind and soul, is fully integrated, when inner turbulence is brought to harmony by a practice and discipline of peace. When that happens, a person's entire life becomes a yoga of peace; their words and actions follow the flow of grace.

I think it would not follow that they cease to be a source of irritation or antagonism — Jesus, prince of peace, was crucified after all. Evidently he irritated and antagonised somebody. He didn't flow unseen through the world. Where the interests of Mammon held sway, he was a sign of contradiction, as his followers will also inevitably be. Persecution always results from this — though we should be cautious, when we are in the majority and the mainstream, of identifying every instance we don't get our own way as intolerable persecution by the insolent Other.

Silence, solitude, simplicity and slowness are the watchwords of spiritual path. They belong to it and characterise it. They are habits of mind and life, a marinade of our whole being. We practice them until they permeate every aspect of who we are. It takes a whole lifetime. 

They are not in truth four things but one, facets of the single jewel of faithful discipline. They are found inside. A person can search for them everywhere and never find them, because they are not externally located — ever. Like the Pearl of Great Price in the parable Jesus told, the merchant, the one who deals and trades in such things, has to sell everything to buy the pearl. That is to say, the seeker comes to a point of refraining from trade with the world and its ten thousand things, finds instead the One — integrates, unifies, concentrates, refrains, harmonises, consolidates. This is Christ's work of reconciliation, the realisation of the pearl of great price, which forms over time in the practice of what is natural, Noble Silence clothing every irritation. Noble Silence irridesces around the grit that arises within our being or enters from outside, to make of it a jewel of patience and peace.

External silence, solitude, simplicity and slowness significantly help the development of Noble Silence. Everywhere you find teachers advising that when Jesus said you must give up everything, basically he meant of course you can own things so long as they don't own you. This is and isn't true. 

If you practise accumulation you will develop complication and various sorts of noise; then problems will occur. If Noble Silence and the pearl of great price are what you are seeking, owning little and travelling very light helps your endeavour. 

If you practice involvement and socialise a lot, it is in theory possible to preserve Noble Silence inside; but you certainly make it harder for yourself. 

If you do everything in a hurry and exclude Ma from your life and try to multi-task, there is no inherent reason why this cannot co-exist with Noble Silence, except that you would have to be a master practitioner first; you couldn't develop a silence of the heart through busyness. Well; I don't think so, anyway.

Have you ever read Herman Hesse's book Siddhartha? It is full of insight and wisdom. In response to the merchant's questions, "What do you have to give now? What have you learned? What can you do?" the central character says, "I can think. I can wait. I can fast." 

This is the practice of solitude, silence, simplicity and slowness; infinitely versatile, it maximises life's potential, and to some degree respects the uncarved block that allows the possibility in every situation, even though the unfolding of personality and occupation erode it.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

So lovely!

And, oh my goodness — abandoned houses!? What are we waiting for?

When the music stops

Did you ever play Pass The Parcel when you were little?

It was a popular party game in my childhood. I didn't go to many parties through a perfect combination of opportunity and my own preference, but I did go to a small number, and Pass The Parcel featured in each of them.

In case you missed it somehow when you were growing up, the game is that children sit down in a ring, and pass a parcel from one to the other while music plays. Round and round, passing it on, passing it on. Then suddenly the music stops. The child holding the parcel at that moment gets to open the top layer. It's a composite parcel with a wrapped gift at the centre, then layers of further wrappings each hiding a gift. So when the music stops you take off one layer of paper, revealing and receiving one gift. No one ever knows when the music will stop. It happens randomly, under the control of a hidden adult.

Just now my life feels like that game, as though the parcel has been passed round and round and now — suddenly! — the music has stopped.

For a long time I've been working on personal change. This has involved researching, reading, experimenting, accumulating, discarding — then finding the changes I'd set in motion required another (then yet another) cycle of exploration and amendment to adjust to the new circumstances I'd created. Ongoing music, round and round. This has all been to do with journeying into minimalism and simplicity, with implications for relationships, belongings, clothing, health, money, eating habits, how I allocate my time, what I read and watch on TV, how I fit in to the church — so many aspects, all in a condition of flux and change, each new configuration triggering a further phase of the same journey. Round and round; like the Children of Israel walking for forty years round and round an area of desert they could have crossed in half a day in a bus.

And suddenly, for the moment, even though there are situations still very much in process and unresolved, everything has gone disconcertingly and eerily quiet inside me. I've completed a round of what I was doing, for the moment everything's in place just as I wanted it and working as it should, all present and correct and resourced and effective. The music has stopped.  

You'd think, would you not, that when such moments come they bring elation and a sense of triumph. Made it! Done it Got it! 

But I find it doesn't work like that. My spirit, restless and questing by nature and habit, is thrown into a feeling of intense boredom, a "Now what?" of the soul.  

Happily for me, I have a book to write with a deadline falling in mid-January, so I can get on with that for the time being. And no doubt the music will start up again and the game of life will continue, new endeavours to tackle and new puzzles to solve. 

But just at this moment it's all gone quiet, as a whole series of interrelated projects have fallen into place. Those things still in process are endings, not beginnings. I have no sense at all of what the new will be, in my own life. 

I wonder what will happen next. Managing decline is all well and good as a necessary responsibility, but right up to the last breath there has to be an adventure, surely. Something to fire the imagination and inspire the soul and captivate the heart, and companions to share the vision and the journey. Duty, as a motivation, is a sullen fuel; and while I find routine soothing, it still leaves me wondering, "Is this all there is, and then the end?"

Saturday, 19 October 2019


Where I stand just now feels like Aughra in The Dark Crystal, standing looking at her orrery, watching the unfolding of change in small exterior forms.

In my own life, in the lives of others close to me, in the life of the church to which I belong, I am watching the reluctant turning of rusted cogs unfamiliar with movement, the binding to old forms and the blind questing into the new. 

I see new configurations, and in my own path I choose simplicity, generosity, kindness, respect and faith. I choose the shelter of the Lord Jesus, his company and guidance, his Name and the protective shield it offers. As change comes and new patterns emerge, may I steadily offer simplicity and peace, the fruitful choice of relinquishment and barefoot spirituality. May what I put into the world be for nourishment, kindness and authenticity.

Just now, around me and in three places that have powerfully nurtured me, I am watching death arriving. May nothing impede its approach and may all be accomplished in peace for the birth of the new and the emergence of life.

I suppose these are private things I am writing here, but it is a kind of prayer that I need to speak before the heavenlies so that it may be accomplished, and who knows — perhaps it has resonance in your life for the present time as well. This is a moment to cast off from the shore, to act without fear. This is a time for acceptance and trust, for taking the next step, for being unfraid to leave behind what is comforting and familiar. In this world or the world of light, there will always be another chance, new forms, fresh expressions. The new and living way stands open for all of us to walk on without limitation or hesitation. The way is clear and only awaits our footfall. This is not a matter of insecurity but of joy. 

Go forth. Don't be afraid. Take the tide. The boat is ready.

That's the word that comes to me today. May Jesus bless it to your understanding and bring it safely to pass: peace to you and safe crossing into the new.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Currency, asthma, and the second book

You know what happens in an asthma attack, right? The problem is that the person keeps breathing in . . . in . . . in . . . and can't manage to breathe out. And of course that's really serious and if it's bad enough they can die of it. You can also die of constipation, which is a similar problem but in your gut. Breathing in and also breathing out, consuming and eliminating — you need both halves of the dynamic, because balance is what wellness is. Yin and Yang. We walk a tightrope through this world.

It is a sort of currency, a flow. Human society also runs on this — yes, "runs" is the right word, a flow. We harvest, we sow; we receive, we give; we gather, we scatter. That's the way of nature, which was created by God, so it's also the way of grace, the way of blessing.

I am very interested in lowliness, humility and simplicity. I find rich veins of spiritual power in the small hidden tracks and the little places under the hedge. The springs in the Valley of Baca that Psalm 84 talks about, the house martin under the eaves, the sparrow in the attic of the house of God. Frugality is an aspect of this, and it belongs to the way I have chosen. If you give away a considerable amount of what comes to you, it stands to reason you don't have a big lot left, so you have to know how to make it stretch and make it last. 

John Wesley wrote about this, in a glorious sentence in either his journal or a sermon (I forget which). he said, "I endeavour to wind my bottom round the year, " which made me stop and say, what?

In Wesley's day, of course, bottom meant something different from how we use it now. It derives in translation from the Latin word, dignitas, also translating as "substance". It meant, what you had, your substance, what you'd got behind you — which is how it came to mean how we use it now. My bottom is what I have behind me. 

Wesley earned a fair bit from his writing, but he gave away a lot and also begged in the street in support of the poor — he was one of the original chuggers, I suppose. He kept things low on purpose, living on a small amount himself for the sake of sharing and generosity. He breathed in, but he also breathed out, he kept his spirit healthy. "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can," was Wesley's maxim. 

By "save all you can", he meant not "hoard" but "refrain from spending"; and this is where I take issue with him. Because, how can one person earn all they can if another person is saving all they can? It isn't logical. 

This winter I wanted a good hat, a warm tweedy one, with a snug fit so the coastal winds don't blow it away when I'm walking down the street. I also wanted a rain hat with the same snug fit. Happily for me, a woman has just opened a hat shop in Hastings Old Town, so I was able to purchase both. And very expensive they are too, by my standards. But, look, they're both made in the UK, and the firms (Proppa Toppa and Peak & Brim) who make them sell them online for no more than the woman in Hastings has them in her shop. I guess she gets a discount as a retailer making a bulk purchase from the maker, but she's not adding on much of a margin in what she charges her customers — and she has all her overheads in running a shop to cover before she even starts to pay her electricity bill at home and put food on the table in one of the most expensive countries in the world.

If I followed Wesley's maxim, saving all I can, I'd certainly not have bought a hat from that woman. So then what? If nobody buys her hats, the woman goes out of business, the shop closes, the women making the hats go out of business, and we have a whole new set of women living in poverty for Wesley to support by begging on the street for money for the relief of the poor. And who's going to give him the money to relieve the poor if everyone's gone out of business because nobody will buy what they make and sell? Including Wesley himself. How can he relieve the poor if everyone's virtuously following his maxim and decides to save money by not buying his writing?

As a writer myself, I know this dynamic firsthand. My fellow Christians often say to me, "I've read all your books. I got them from the library / borrowed them from a friend. I couldn't get the last one so I had to buy that myself." I don't comment, but can they not see the implication of what they are saying? It dams the flow, stops the currency, quite literally.

About twenty years ago, I wrote a book called The Clear Light of Day, which a lot of people have enjoyed. Lion Hudson first published it in the UK, then David C. Cook bought the UK rights as well as US rights to publish it internationally — and they paid me the best royalty advance I ever had as well as giving me the most amount of free copies to give away of any publisher I ever worked with. Sing "hey" for David C. Cook! 

They wanted a sequel, and asked me to write a piece about it to go in the end of the book, which I did.

From then and right up to the present day I've had people writing to me asking, "Where can I get the sequel? I want to read it."

Here's why you can't: not enough copies of Book 1 sold. Simple as that. Unless Book 1 sells, there will never be a Book 2. Publishing is a numbers game and the books have to balance, and no publisher on earth will place a bet on what they know won't sell.

Christians who only read what they borrow from friends and the library are ensuring beyond all doubt that there is no money in writing Christian books, that the Christian bookshops vanish from the high street (they have) that Christian publishers go out of business (many have), and that Christian writers can't make a living. Many authors of Christian books aren't writers. In fact a goodly proportion of them are seriously bad writers who need a lot of help in creating a publishable text. What they do have is a large public ministry as speakers or ministers, or else they are in some way prominent as public figures who happen to be Christian and have an interesting story to tell. Some publishers won't publish anyone unless they promise to buy 500 copies of their own book; they won't take the risk. The writer has to support the publisher as well as herself. Very, very few people can make a living out of being a Christian writer per se, because of the culture of frugality in the church. If Wesley were alive today, we'd have to beg in the street to support him, if he was trying to do what he did then and live by writing his pamphlets.

So that's why the sequel to my novel never itself saw the clear light of day.

There has to be a flow. Charity and giving are an important part of our discipleship, but so are earning and spending. Earning money is a lot more dignified (that word again: dignitas, "bottom") than being the recipient of handouts, and whatever else charity and welfare benefits do, they certainly ensure you stay poor. Society flourishes on currency, on earning and spending, on goods and services both provided and bought. 

Part of the health of this dynamic lies in choosing to pay for people rather than things. In my lifetime I've seen a steady rise of folk choosing the inanimate over the living. The bread-making machine instead of the baker, the vacuum cleaner instead of the char; cutting out the services provider and the middle man – with the same object in view as Wesley had, to save money.

I like to learn from videos on YouTube about living frugally, because as a Christian writer it's a skill I need to grasp firmly! I find it disappointing that they all seem to rely on others giving to them ("buy my t-shirts, give to my Patreon account"), so they can accumulate wealth without giving to anyone else. That's fiscal constipation. They want to dam the currency to create their own enormous pool. It does create a pool, just as they hoped, but what they don't seem to understand is it also creates a desert. A stream is better than a pool. If you keep the flow going, then everyone benefits, not just yourself.

Life is richer, more joyously textured, when we pay people for what they do well. When the writer is paid for writing and the dressmaker for clothes, the milliner for hats, the baker for bread, when people eat out in restaurants and hire a gardener, then the money goes round and society doesn't expire through spiritual asthma. That's the way of blessing.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Laziness, minimalism and intentional space

It's hard to imagine minimalism seen from the outside and think how it appears to people who haven't practiced it, but it occurred to me today that it may seem severe and look like hard work.

All the videos about journeying towards minimalism involve sorting and clearing, tidying and organising, cleaning and being vigilant, making choices and decisions, and saying "no". I can see that might look exhausting.

Now, my life doesn't even appear especially minimalist from the outside because there are four of us living here permanently and we also guard a space for a fifth (her belongings are here but she's nomadic). We have two freelance artists and a publisher who is also a woodworker, so they all need space for the things associated with their occupations, and all the people who are not me are also music-makers so they have many musical instruments between them.

So our house is not empty like the minimalists in Japan wiping clean their bare floors with disposable wipes. 

However, each person curates their own stuff, and then there are the common areas that we all keep clean and tidy — and this is where the minimalism comes in, because not one of us enjoys housework very much.

It would be inaccurate to say we don't like housework at all. There is a pleasing satisfaction in making a bathroom look as spotless and calm as a spa hotel. There is a peaceful, romantically monastic feeling about sweeping an empty corridor with a Japanese broom.

But if there were loads of things standing about and areas hard to get at, and piles of stuff in the way, I guarantee you every member of this household would lose the urge to clean anything, ever.

I like my home and belongings clean and tidy, but I am also fairly lazy. I prefer to spend my time thinking and writing and conversing and reading and learning and preparing for things I have to do. Added to that, I like my surroundings harmonious and although I don't in principle object to cleaning and tidying, I don't want to do much of it or very often. 

This is why I practice minimalism. Not because I love cleaning and tidying, but because I don't. If there's a clear, plain surface or floor, then yes, I'll wipe it down. If it's got load of things in the way, I won't clean either the things themselves or the surface they're on. Everyone in our household feels the same (about that). So because we want to get on with life, we simply eliminate everything we think we can possibly manage without. Then we can live in a clean, tidy, harmonious space with minimal effort. The only belongings I really have are my clothes, which all pack away easily, without cramming, into a normal clothes storage space — a small wardrobe or chest of drawers or couple of underbed drawers depending what location I'm based in at any given time — and a few odds and ends of toiletries and stationery. I have a shelf of books but mostly my library's electronic.

I devote a little bit of time each day to sweeping, dusting, wiping or washing things, but not much, because I quickly get irritated with it. And we maintain and repair and paint bits of our house on an ongoing basis as necessary, but none of us works very hard at any of this for very long.

All this means we actually enjoy our lives and our home. It always looks pretty and smells nice, and we don't have to work very hard.

It's important to us that the place we live is a hospitable space. Not many people come here, but we do — every day — and we want our home to reflect the peace and order of heaven and welcome us and anyone else who comes in as if we and they were utterly loved and treasured special guests.

A lot of our things are shabby and second hand and home made, basic models of kitchen equipment, nothing expensive. Our ornaments tend to be things like fir cones or apples from the garden or a jam jar of flowers. It still looks lovely in a homely kind of way. We light a fire, which is always welcoming and aromatic, and the art work of our household members is displayed around the place. We have a couple of holy statues. And so the space becomes not only clean and tidy but also intentional. Houses speak, and we want ours to speak welcome and peace. We want a house that's cleaned its teeth, not one with bad breath.

Years ago a lovely healer called Gillian looked after all our therapeutic needs — she could fix anything from bad backs to unhappiness, and she kept us well. When we went to visit her, she'd give us a glass of water or cup of herb tea, and leave us sitting in her (clean, tidy, peaceful) living room while she went upstairs to prepare the space. When it was ready she'd come to fetch us. And always there were small candle lanterns lighting the way, soft music playing, and an essential oil diffuser fragrancing the healing room. Her house was healing by itself, before she even did anything. I do believe creating and maintaining intentional space is one part of what keeps us well. And it's not hard to do if there are not too many things.

Part of what contributes to intentional space is have fewer items in it than there's really room for — having spaces around things; breathing room. Another aspect of it is that the things you can see speak to you about why you're there. 

In some churches, when you arrive and sit down your gaze rests on flowers and candles and stained glass, on the Bible waiting open on the lectern, on an altar and dignified architecture — maybe the curve of pillars and arches and simple stone or white walls. In other churches your eye rests on a snarling tangle of electronic equipment and training cables, with filing cabinets and stacked cleaning equipment, piles of spare chairs, and cheerful but awful art by toddlers or women's craft groups.  Each to her own, I suppose — and perhaps you find the second category of church is what leads you into worship.

It is possible, in a muddled space, to keep working and working and working on tidying and organising, reclaiming little patches of land from the incoming tide of manufactured items. But it is certainly very tiring and dispiriting. You work so hard and achieve so little. If you are lazy and self-indulgent like me, then I heartily recommend minimalism, which allows you to maintain your home as a restful intentional space, in which cleaning becomes easy and you never have to do very much housework ever again. It is so, so worth it. Well, I think so, anyway. And I don't think it even needs to be hard work to get it that way. What ever you're doing, every time you get up to make a hot drink, pick something up and throw it in the bin. Every day. If it belongs to someone else, hide it under the other rubbish. Then when the wail goes up — where's my plastic doo-hicky? — you won't know, will you? It'll be miles away in landfill, no more lost than it is in landfill right here in your own home. 

How will you manage without corkscrews and crown top openers? Stop drinking wine and beer. How will you manage without a toaster? Stop eating bread. How will you manage without an electric kettle? There's a stove top somewhere under that pile of pans waiting to be washed. How will you manage without a machine to make water sparkly? Make it a treat you enjoy at a cafĂ©. How could you ever part from the movies in your DVD film library? Don't. Stream them. What will you read? eBooks. 

The world has too much stuff in it now. It's more than time humanity slowed down. There's no need to deny ourselves anything, it's all there in the public space. Don't get a paddling pool, go to the beach. Don't get a swing set, go to the park. 

And in writing this, I have had an epiphany. I have three mugs. Three. But only one mouth. But I still love the beautiful pottery one and the one with owls on that my daughter gave me. Ha! I know! I will keep them but re-allocate them for visitors, dispensing instead with the set of faceless boring guest mugs. Then we'll be six items down, not two. Excellent idea. For my own use I will keep the bamboo cup with the silicone lid that gets me 25% off at Costa when I remember to take it with me on a train journey. And if it's the one I use every day, I will remember to take it with me, won't I? Not like the last time when I forgot I even owned it, and left it at home and didn't get 25% off.

Right then, time to get on with the day.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Jeanine De Bique in rehearsal

This kept coming back to my mind today — Jeanine de Bique rehearsing Rejoice Greatly from Handel's Messiah. She sang it at the BBC Proms too — here — which is amazing, though they took the beginning a tad too fast IMO. 

But this snippet of her rehearsing is, I think, the best of all. Just glorious. 

I can't remember if I've ever posted it before — excuse me if so. What a phenomenal gift she has, eh?

Thursday, 3 October 2019

A memory

Posting earlier today about dancing and singing brought back a memory from nearly thirty years ago, during the time I was training for ordination.

Some deep and dear friendships arose from that training course; they call it "formation for ministry", and rightly so. It's powerful and rigorous, and turns you inside out at times. Your companions on the journey are witness to the depths of your soul.

I no longer see any of them, ever, but they are still kept securely in my heart; neither they, nor the love that lay between us, is ever forgotten. I keep track of their lives through the public media.

In those days, I loved to dance. My friend Paul was in the year above me, and he told me there was a night club in London called Heaven. I had never been to a night club, but as soon as I heard the name of it I wanted to go. So he volunteered to take me on a visit to this club. He lived in a small, shared house in Brixton. It was his own house, but he only had one room inside it, so after we had been to the club we would go back there together and I would sleep on the floor like he did.

Night clubs aren't all that special really, if you aren't on the pull and don't want to get drunk or do drugs. It was okay, but I never felt inclined to go back. Afterwards, staying over at Paul's house, I was wide, wide awake from all the stimuli of an unfamiliar experience. While Paul slept, I listened to the lone Brixton sparrow outside his window, saying "Chirp. . .  Chirp. . .  Chirp," as the dawn gave on to the sunrise. In the morning, we walked into Brockwell Park and sat in the rose garden there, where whole flocks of sparrows gathered and hopped about around our feet.

It was a happy visit. Paul was a dear and treasured friend, always very kind to me, a profound and honest thinker, and a man of great courage and integrity. I think he must have made a wonderful priest.

But what I took away from it, and tucked into the jewel box I keep in my innermost heart, was the knowledge that — for one night only — I had spent the entire night dancing in Heaven.

I hope that will be my eternity one day. Only that it will be the real thing, not a vaguely grubby night club under the London arches, but the place where all the light comes from.


When I was a young woman, I loved to dance. I sang a lot, walked a lot, swam quite a bit, and movement was part of my life. 

Gradually all of these things have got less and less. The only time I sing is in church on a Sunday morning, I never go swimming because I don't like wearing a swimming costume in a public setting, I don't walk very far or very often because I have no reason to go anywhere and Hastings is very hilly, and I've stopped dancing because I live in a shared house where one is rarely alone.

Recently, I thought "I have to get a grip on this."

Like a nut stuck tight on a rusty screw, I have the feeling my joints need oiling. It's a question of getting started. I think I need to sing more and dance more. So I will wait patiently until one of the rare occasions when everyone else finally goes out at the same time as each other, and then I will sing and I will dance.

There are some songs that always make me want to get up and dance. This is one of them (I have it on the "dancing" playlist on my phone) —

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Sister Act — Hail Holy Queen — never gets old

Yes, please. My kind of church.

Mental and Physical Elves

I have to safeguard my Mental Elf* and my Physical Elf very carefully, as they both easily get out of control! In particularly I have to be cautious about anxiety and fibromyalgia. 

I had taken on the responsibility for ordering theatre tickets for our household for two shows, and I did that online this morning. 

I found it so stressful — just ordering two sets of theatre tickets — that straight away it made my tonsils hurt as my immune system went into freefall; then, once the order was complete and I was calming myself down playing Solitaire, both my shoulders went into inflamed mode, sending pain all the way down my arms into my hands. For goodness sake! 

Because I keep a very strict discipline in how I eat and what I allow into my life, I will come back from this without difficulty; just a calm morning will sort things out. But it's a good thing no one's asking me to run the country, is it not! I do my very best to appear normal, reasonable and stable, with wildly varying levels of success.

Two things happened recently — one I said no, the other I said yes. The first was my mother's birthday. She is now very fragile, but my best beloved wanted to take her out for a birthday treat. She was keen to do this, and wanted to check that I would be coming too. When I explained it would be just my beloved and her carer, because I simply cannot cope with the stress of all the complexities of taking her out (transport, wheelchair, malfunctioning stair lift, her own unique personality, going out into the world at all, interacting with different sets of people, etc etc) she found this impossible to understand, and concluded it was because I don't like looking at her in a wheelchair. Noooooo!!! Fortunately she has since decided all by herself that it's too much, and a normal social birthday visit I can easily cope with.

But the thing I said yes to almost did my head in. I was prevailed upon by simple need to offer to tutor Local Preachers for our Methodist Circuit. I used to do this years ago, but that was before my Mental and Physical Elves became so insistent and demanding, and before the training course was savaged by out-of-touch technophiles into something we peasants have the utmost difficulty driving. Having agreed to do this relatively simple task for which I am eminently qualified, I have been quaking and wringing my hands in terror and a conviction of utter inadequacy. Only because my beloved keeps telling me I can do it and if not me then who, and because I have flaked out of so many things under pressure of bullying by my Mental Elf in particular, have I not got in touch to say actually I can't do this.

But gee, anxiety is a spectacular companion every minute of every day of every week! Those of you who also walk close with the black dog and its friends will understand immediately what I mean. By living the most disciplined life and sticking rigidly to the diet that optimises my health, I can keep writing and preaching. Then that's it. No socialising, no other useful contribution to family or wider society. Nothing else. That keeps my Elves tolerably in line.

How about you? Do you also live with Elves? How do you make it work?

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*If English is not your first language, I should explain that I'm using Elf as a play on words for the English word "health". And the black dog is an expression used in UK English for depression.