Monday, 26 July 2021

730 things — Day 127 of 365

I just found a new video by Jon Jandai. 

I think this man is so wise. I loved his TED talk, Life is easy

Please permit me to ask something of you. If you watch the video above, and a script starts up in your head, along the lines of: 
"That's all very well, but in our country you can't just go and build a house, you have to have money to buy the land and then you need planning permission which you have to pay for, and they won't let you live in any old shelter, you need proper building materials to create something compliant with building regulations, and besides that in our country it gets cold and rains a lot so a shelter made of branches wouldn't cut it, you'd need central heating, and building codes mean you have to be hooked up to mains sewage and pay water charges, and some of us live in high rise flats and aren't lucky enough to have a garden. It's all very well for him — " 
— would you indulge me? Could I be so bold as to ask you to put that script on pause?

Nothing proceeds fuelled by objections. Arguments just keep people trapped where they are. "It's all right for you lot . . ." was never a recipe for achievement.

If you watch the video, I respectfully request of you that you listen to him and learn from him. Don't argue with him, allow him to reframe your outlook. At the very least, be open to considering what he's saying. Better still, apply it in at least one small area of your life, your day, your approach. 

What he's proposing is a kind of magic. I recommend it. By all means pronounce it useless, but only after you've tried it for a decade or two.

Leaving my house today (I know this is not very impressive, but still), two packets of everything you need to attach the bookcase you are making to a wall so it won't fall over. If that's what you want to do. Clearly we didn't. My guess is we contented ourselves with our usual solution of wedging little wads of cardboard under the two front corners, and then discouraging our children from attempting to scale bookcases as if they were the north face of the Eiger.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

730 things — Day 126 of 365

 I like tiny houses and caravans. I would dearly love to live in one; but I have come to accept that that will not now ever be so. In our time the cost of accommodation has risen so very steeply, while the level of wages has not, that it has absorbed such money as I had in the service of helping my admittedly large family house itself.

In my heart of hearts I am not in favour of second homes, and am quite certain my marriage partner would be appalled to actually live in a caravan or a tiny home. Though I love them, I love him more, so I have reconciled myself to the reality that this preference of mine will remain a dream only.

To be fair, I have, twice, lived in a caravan. Once when I was eighteen and had just left school, living with monks in North Devon. I lived in a caravan in a cabbage patch behind the Post Office (the monks ran it) and adjacent to their little whitewashed chapel (in what was intended, I suppose, to be the garage). North Devon is hilly. The lane passed the front of the Post Office and the hedge fringing the cabbage patch, then cut round in a hairpin bend, going back on itself onto a much higher level. So at the back of the caravan was a bank stabilised by plants, and above it the road.

That caravan was definitely vintage, and had that prized item — a solid fuel stove. Most modern caravans are deficient in that (unlike tiny houses) they overlook this crucial necessity of life. Without a fire to sit by, what's the point?

Later, at university in York (I met my children's father in the first year of my degree course and married him at the end of the second) I lived with my husband in a twelve-foot touring caravan — oddly, in another field of cabbages — at Acaster Selby, a village on the outskirts of York. We had one of those ex-GPO vans, a Morris Minor overpainted a dull green, to get in to lectures and seminars. It was old and rusty, we could see the surface of the road passing by beneath our feet, and on frosty mornings one of us had to turn the engine with a crank shaft to get it going. The ignition key was so very worn with age it could be pulled out as we were going along, which it amused us to do. That van wouldn't go over fifty-five miles an hour, as we discovered on the one occasion we had a long journey down a motorway to the Midlands. My husband, a musician, was booked to play the organ for a friend's wedding, and courtesy of the slowness of our van, we arrived only just in time to stop outside the church, my husband scrambling into his wedding clothes on the lane alongside the van, then legging it up the church path and flinging himself onto the organ bench. No time to verify with the clergyman exactly how things would go. So he hadn't realised what an eternity they'd be signing the register , and ended up having to play the whole of Widor's very difficult toccata for the recessional, instead of just the first page as planned. With no one to turn the pages.

After York, we lived in a barn on my parents' land for while. We sold everything we had to buy a gypsy vardo, affordable by virtue of being in parlous condition and painted all over with pale yellow emulsion (why?) but we were too fainthearted and inexperienced to do any more than begin the painstaking work of stripping it all back. Plus we had a baby on the way and threatening to miscarry, and all our cooking to do over an open fire and needed to earn money somehow, so we never did get to live in the vardo.

Since then I've lived in all sorts of places, all of them shared — even the one-bedroomed apartment — but never a tiny house or a caravan.

In the house we live in now, my husband (not the one I first thought of, he took off long ago and the second one died) made me a dear little tiny house at the bottom of the garden, and I was meant to be living in that but found to my surprise that outside the comforting aura of the people I live with, I was terribly lonely. I hadn't expected that.

So I live in my little room which is 9ft by just under 7ft.

When I was a student at York in the 1970s, I had a small single room in college. I was reclusive even then, and for the first three days I didn't emerge from my room at all except to go to the lavatory (handily next door). I ate muesli and stayed where I was. 

My mother visited me there on one occasion, and glancing round she started to laugh. She said most people just have their room as a bedroom, but I seemed to have got an entire house in my narrow accommodation, cooking stuff and everything. This was true. I always had this yen to live quiet and tiny and retired.

And so here inside this shared Victorian villa up the hill from the sea, I experiment with tiny house possibilities in my little room.

Here's its present state of incarnation.

My store cupboard is under the bed.

I have a dining room of sorts — or sometimes it is a study; my little table can be a desk as well as somewhere to eat.

Tony made the little table for me. It can be a seat as well, when visitors come to my little room, more than will fit on the bed — which Tony made for me too, at sofa height at my request.

Next to the bed is my kitchen and bathroom which run seamlessly into one another (and my chapel above). 

Under the unit there is my washbowl and small box of bokashi bran. In the main body of it is where I keep my china when not in use, and my thermal bottles for chilled water and surplus heated water from making my cup of tea (handy to wash in on summer days when I've had no hot water bottle the night before). If you have eagle eyes and a long memory, you may observe one of the water bottles (the green one you can just see behind the orange one) is a thing I posted as being sent away. I changed my mind and swapped something else out for it and kept it. This is why you should always practise a pause, unless you are a hoarder, in which case don't, just hire a skip.

The Berkey filter is good for either rain or water from the spring down the hill. The little stove takes those biofuel blocks made from vegetable waste that burn without making toxic chemicals.

Next to my loo, under the wardrobe (that Tony also built for me) is my laundry system — two buckets and a large bowl.

I wash my clothes every two or three days, and only use the machine when I do my bedding — which I confess is not often.

Inside my wardrobe I have my filing archive, my clothes, my toiletries and my supplements.

I was keeping my clothes in packing cubes, but released them because they said they felt squashed and couldn't breathe.

I did buy some dresses this summer (yes, I swapped out other belongings in exchange), which I am very pleased with and hang on the door next to my wardrobe so they don't get creased.

This is my favourite.

I also hang my (USB rechargeable) lantern on the bamboo pole that suspends the curtain in front of my wardrobe. I lift it down and have it on the floor by my bed at night.

Then the only other thing is a bookcase. Fi, who lives in the attic when she's here, was using it, but got rid of some stuff so it became surplus to her requirements. So I have it in my room now, to house the Cauldron Makers Guild, and my books.

When evening falls, the Cauldron Makers gather in the shadows to plan the revolution. 

So that's as near as I can get to a tiny house. I think it works okay. The only other thing I'd have is a fridge. I do have one, but it's down in the main house kitchen, which is more convenient for the way I live — but I could fit it in my room if I wanted to. It is silent and small.

Meanwhile, leaving my life today are . . . er . . . Oh, yes — two — what are these? Wrenches?

Adjustable spanners? I don't know. They will be in the DIY tool kit I'm making for Freegle.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

730 things — Days 124 & 125 of 365

Yesterday's things to go are these two craft knives.

At one point in my life I would have used them for cutting card or vinyl flooring — they're useful for all sorts, as you know. But my life isn't really like that now. They'll go in the DIY box I'm making to freegle.


Today's thing's to go are examples of the things we hoard that are almost nothing, but aggregate to fill up the boxes we call our homes. A length of string and the stopper from a long ago defunct hot water bottle — you know, "just in case".

I find it is actually worth keeping such things for a little while, because every now and then they do come in handy, and if you operate a minimalist system then it's almost certain over time you will end up purchasing again some things you move on — not least because we travel through life in spirals, not in a straight line. But periodically it's important to do a cull or, before you know it, there you are in your own personal mini landfill site.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

730 things — Day 123 of 365

 I'm thinking aloud here, conscious that this isn't as considered or carefully thought through as it should be — but at the present time I'm finding that I'm changing, rapidly and surprisingly, so my thoughts are evolving, are in a state of flux. But a comment about socialism and capitalism on a post from a few days ago has set me thinking, asking myself what do I really think and believe about political organisation.

I'm not really a broad-brush thinker; I live small and I work with detail. The bigger picture is not always apparent to me. My preoccupation is usually with the individual.

All my life my vote has been socialist — and I intend it remain so, for the sake of lifting up and protecting those who have fallen on hard times, or are inherently fragile, who will always need our help. I like tribes that travel together, and to achieve that you have to go at the pace of the slowest and carry in your arms the ones who get tired.

I do not admire hard-drinking idiots, or shiftless sneering shirkers, or sly opportunists who work the system to take advantage of others, or freeloaders of any kind. Of course I don't. It irritates me no end to see the people who go straight from the benefits office to the pub. I hate to see beggars whining for handouts from passersby to finance their drug habits. And I have had first-hand, up close and personal interaction with enough of such people to be very aware of what they are.

But still I vote for the kind of society that will pick them up and carry them, because otherwise what will they do? I cannot say hand on heart that I love them, but I firmly believe God does — so I vote in service of his love and his mercy that never fails.

This obligation, to vote for whichever system aligns most closely with the mercy and grace and kindness of God, is a non-negotiable and foundational principle of my life.

Now comes the "but". Yes.

But I am also aware that the one-size-fits all tendency of socialism is inadequate. 

I was married a long time to a teacher who was the son of teachers, and all of them worked in the state education sector, in which I also was educated. All my children went to state schools, except for the brief year when I was chaplain in a Methodist school — a private school, therefore. Now that brought me some interesting and unexpected insights.

When we moved to a different Methodist Circuit, and had to find new schools for the children, I realised something I'd never noticed before. In the Methodist school, the private school, the front-and-centre priority was the interest of the child. The teachers, the school, the whole thing, was for the children

This was not true in the state sector. There — this was spelled out for me very clearly — the priority was the interest of the school. This was also true in higher education. The children were for the school, not the school for the children. In the state sector I encountered a lot of intimidating and semi-threatening communications about the responsibility of the child to the school — attendance, homework, uniforms, all that sort of thing — and never (not once) any expression of the responsibility of the school to the child. Diametric opposite of my private sector experience.

So though, politically, free education for all is a socialist aim, nonetheless the expression of quickly becomes distorted in the social machinery as it plays out. 

The same with health care. Because of the National Health Service, which offers free health care for all, I have had access to doctors all my life, and maternity services and free screening, all that sort of thing. But some of the advice I received was very poor, some simply inaccurate, and I have received more help from the alternative therapies I paid for than from the mainstream options that came free. I am tempted to digress into examples here, but that will take us a long circuitous route so maybe not. Suffice it to say it was not always clear to me if the doctors were there for the patients or the patients for the doctors.

And then, in politically organised social provision, to get any kind of help you need to jump through all the hoops. You need to be able to tick the boxes. Especially if you are neurologically atypical, this can leave you out in the cold, excluded from provision you need but cannot access because your doctor thinks s/he knows all about wellness and disability but in fact does not.

Plus, there are those people who simply don't fit the available categories. There are the poets who will become ill if you make them work in a factory, the people who just need to dance to their own music, live their own way. I am acutely aware of this because I am one of them. Non-standard people can suffer terribly within a standardised system, and standardisation is what socialism is all about.

I am in favour of freedom, and of responsibility — and looking back in time, I think those values were what the much reviled Margaret Thatcher prized as well. When asked by John Humphrys in a radio interview what she, as a practising Christian, saw as the essence of her faith, she responded, "Choice." Apart from anything else, to come back with so ready an answer tells me she must have done some heart-searching on the topic.

So, my values are conflicted. On the one hand I want education freely available for every child, on the other hand I think you get a better result teaching your own at home. I want health care available for all, but I think iatrogenic illness is a serious problem; and in my my own case, for the most part I've preferred the unorthodox solutions I've discovered for myself, over the options offered me by doctors. I believe in paying my way and choosing freely and walking my own path and finding my own solutions; but my vote is cast for those who can't or won't, because God cares about them.

One more thing and then I'm done.

Margery (she died in 2004), who was my prayer partner and halfway between my mother's age and my grandmother's (she was born in 1914) lived very frugally and gave with lavish generosity. Back in the days of South African apartheid she wired as much money as she could to black pastors and their congregations. She gave to the church, she gave to charities — but she also advocated keeping an eye out for people whose need fits no categories. Perhaps a young couple moving into an apartment of their own, stretched to the max to make their mortgage payments, but eligible for no relief; perhaps a woman recently divorced, who had been a wife at home, unqualified and unused to the workplace; perhaps a loner who finds society difficult and chooses to live in the wilds in a van — people for whom the normal provisions simply don't fit. She had a budget for them, the ones who slot into no recognised category of need. She would pray for guidance, and remark that the Lord had told her to send them £250, or maybe a thousand — Margery served a very generous and understanding God.

And I can't help but notice that those are the very people that both socialism and capitalism let down. They fall through the gaps. But as the Tao Te Ching says (Chapter 73), "The net of heaven is very wide. Though its mesh is coarse, nothing slips through." The way of Christ works with our reality. It starts with the child, not the school, with the person not the system. It meets our human need.

And the arena in which all this plays out is, of course, the Earth. In the end our wellbeing arises from a delicate interweaving of God's love from heaven and the health of the living Earth.

Why I vote Green, these days.

Margery was a very refined and educated lady, an artist and the daughter of a senior London tax inspector. At first glance people would assume her to be a natural Conservative. Indeed, during the run-up to a general election one time, the Conservatives out canvassing came knocking at her door, asking, "And can we count upon your vote?"

(This conversation took place in the very best cut-glass Downton Abbey English accents.)

"No," said Margery, "you can't."

Somewhat taken aback, they asked her why not.

"Because," she said, "I think you have encouraged us all to be very selfish."

*       *       *       *

So leaving my life today — a reel of fishing twine and a carefully hoarded battery. I have nothing to say to or about them except "Goodbye."

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

730 things — Day 121 & 122 of 365

I'm so enjoying these little videos of Victorian recipes from Audley End. I love that the lady looks credibly like a Victorian person, and doesn't wear make up, and her hair looks natural and not sprayed. Makes me happy. And I like seeing all the bits and pieces of furniture and kitchen equipment and stationery and everything. It's lovely.

Audley End is on the outskirts of Saffron Walden, which is where my mother used to live before she moved to Battle to be closer to us after my father died. 

Late in life, after almost fifty years of marriage, my father separated from my mother (though they remained good friends and he stayed in close touch and they did not divorce) and after that I used to travel to Saffron Walden once a month or so, to spend a couple of days with her. The road wound round the edge of the Audley End estate, which was bounded (impressively) by a very long wall following the contours of the boundary. The way went over a pretty stone bridge and passed the decorative iron gates of the estate, and there was a good view of the house which is indeed lovely. So I have never actually been there, but passed it and looked at it many times in all seasons of the year. It's interesting with these videos to glimpse inside. Yet another imaginative and constructive response to the pandemic restrictions upon visiting such places.

didn't post yesterday, so I have two day's worth of two items to go.

For yesterday, these two pairs of pliers — rather rusty, I'm sorry to say — that I'll add in to the DIY box I'm collecting for Freegle.

And for the same destination, this Stanley knife and a tape measure.

I don't know when pliers were first made, but the ones I'm giving away look as if they'd be right at home in the videos of Victorian life!

Monday, 19 July 2021

730 things — Day 120 of 365

 It turns out that our water company — Southern Water — which supplies our tap water and manages the disposal of whatever flows out of our house via the drains and the sewage pipes, has been pumping massive amounts of raw sewage into the sea.

Our last Prime Minister but one, David Cameron, changed things so that water companies were their own regulatory body. I should judge that to be a cynical move because you surely couldn't get to be Prime Minister and be that stupidly naive. As anyone one might guess, in terms of realistic regulation it has not been effective, but in terms of corners cut and happy shareholders I should think it's just the ticket.

A lengthy legal case has unfolded over this, that has concluded with Southern Water being fined £90m pounds. The judge asked them how much it would cost to put it right. Southern Water's response? They said, oh, billions of pounds — it wouldn't be worth it — they just accept a big fine now and then as part of their company costs.

This is a perfect example of why the UK political left thinks privatisation is a bad idea.

I cannot begin to convey how upset I feel about this. Southern Water has made us pay to destroy delicate eco-systems in the ocean and make our coastlines unsafe for people to swim and surf and play. They have absolutely betrayed our trust — and they know it and they don't care. Shrug their shoulders — absorb the fine as a business cost — whatever.

I am not the kind of activist who organises. I don't often write letters and I never go on marches or protests any more, but I do conform my life and choices to my ethical principles, for the most part; not perfectly, being human, but I try quite hard.

I'm not entirely sure I can eliminate the services of Southern Water from my life altogether — my own, personal life; each individual in our household makes his or her own choices and responses about such things — but I am quite certain I can radically decrease the extent of the custom I give them.

They are no friend to life, God, truth, humanity, trustworthiness or creation — everything in fact that makes life worth living. What they do care about is money. I'm going to make very sure I give them a great deal less.

Meanwhile, on their way out of my life today — a screwdriver and a spirit level.

I rarely use a spirit level — and I think in reality 'rarely' has moved on to 'never' by now — but I often have cause to look for a screwdriver. Fortunately I have several others, both crosshead and flat.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

730 things — Day 119 of 365

I want to see how far I get with thinning out surplus belongings — because I wasn't sure I'd even get this far and it surprises me to see how I keep generating stuff, especially bearing in mind that during this time I have also acquired things and swapped something out in exchange each time (or just not kept them if they didn't work out), so more things have left my life than I have recorded.   

Today I am saying goodbye to a couple of spanners.

I notice in myself a farewell to self-image going on. In years past I liked to make things out of scrap wood. I took down the garden fence and made a bed frame from it. Later I added tall legs to it so our puppies had somewhere for their bed underneath. There was still a bit of wood from the fence so I made a set of shelves from it. Someone gave me left over planks and I made them into a cradle for my children — I used a coat hanger as a template to make the rockers. Later, when they no longer needed it, I re-purposed it into a shallow set of shelves, which Grace still has to store spices in her kitchen. I remember her waking up from sleep and looking at me with her beady eyes from that cradle when she was tiny.

And I used to make clothes, and curtains and put hooks into the walls for pictures, and crocket blankets and knit hats and shawls. But now everything is folding down and I no longer make things. I can move on the accumulated useful hardware because I won't be needing it any more. It involves, I think, giving a part of myself away, but I don't feel sad about it. It's like watching the leaves on a tree turn rusty brown and begin to fall in the autumn.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

730 things — Day 118 of 365

This is the feast day of the Holy Royal Martyrs of Russia — Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, Crown Prince Alexis, and the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia — as well as those martyred with them. They were shot and bayoneted to death by Bolshevik revolutionaries, and taken to the Koptyaki Forest where their bodies were stripped and mutilated and buried in unmarked graves.

Tomorrow is the feast of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, another of Russia's new martyrs.

Elizabeth was married to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, whose policies were very conservative, even reactionary. Grand Duke Sergei was responsible for the expulsion of Moscow's 20,000 Jews; not a great start to his tenure to say the least.

He was assassinated by a terrorist bomb in 1905. His wife Elizabeth rushed to the scene of the explosion, and knelt in the snow to gather up the scattered remains of his body and his scattered medals, so he could be borne away with dignity.

Elizabeth then made some changes to her life. She became vegetarian, sold her jewellery and began to live as a religious. She opened (and became abbess of) a convent dedicated to the saints Martha and Mary, from where she dedicated herself to helping the sick and poor in Moscow.

In 1918 Lenin ordered her arrest, and she was taken first to Perm then Yekaterinburg where she was housed in a school. She spent her days there planting vegetables in the garden and living out the observance of her faith.

But in the summer of that year she and her companions were taken out to a disused mine 20 metres deep, blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs. The journey, in horse-drawn carts, took two hours; Elizabeth and her companions sang hymns. When they reached the pit, first Elizabeth was throw in, then the others. There was water at the bottom, and the intention was that they would drown, but some — including Elizabeth — caught on the projections at the side of the pit. She could be heard talking to the person thrown in after her. The Bolsheviks then threw in hand grenades, but still not everyone died. After the explosions, they could still hear people singing. So they stuffed the pit with wood and set fire to it.

A few months later when the bodies were uncovered, they were still in relatively good condition, so it is thought they may have died of starvation.

Elizabeth's sister Alix and her family were murdered on the previous day.

Grand Duchess Elizabeth was canonised in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and in 1992 by the Moscow Patriarchate. Today is her holy feast.

Her last words are said to have been, "O Lord forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I grew up in a politically Conservative family. My father and mother and sister (and I think my sister's children too) have all been staunch Conservatives. But ever since I reached voting age, mine has been a  socialist vote. I have changed to a Green vote, but that is also socialist. Most of the people I know cast their votes to advance the political interests of themselves and others like them — the workers vote for those who will advance the cause of the workers, the landowners vote for those who will protect their rights, and so on. But I think when we vote it is meant to be not for 'me' but for 'us'. I am a resourceful person, and I hope I will always be able to figure out some kind of solution under any government. There is nothing to take from me, nothing to defend, because I live very simply and own little. So when I vote, I look for administrations I hope will lift up the poor and broken, who will help those members of society (and their families) who either cannot or will not help themselves. My vote is for the common good, an expression of my belief that we're all in this together.

In recent years, watching with horror the development of the political landscape in my country under the Conservative government — I am especially ashamed of its treatment of refugees, its corruption and its progressive decimation of the health service — I have been completely bewildered by Christians voting Conservative. 

Especially when Jeremy Corbyn, whose politics are almost a perfect match with the New Testament and the Old Testament prophets, was vilified by Christian people and undermined by his own party, I felt so grieved, heartbroken even.

I have lived since then with pain and bewilderment I didn't know how to process. I felt so bitterly disappointed in my Christian brothers and sisters voting for these people who want to turn their backs on the poor and let desperate people fleeing torture drown in the sea.

But the stories of Grand Duchess Elizabeth's death have given me some understanding and insight, and that has brought comfort. She was a gentle and most courageous woman of profound faith, devoted to prayer and helping the poor, and she was put to death in the most horrific manner — by socialists.

In my own life, it's also the case that the most vile man I ever met was married to one of my aunts; and he was a trades union rep, a staunch and active socialist. He was also opportunistic and cruel.

I have reached a temporary working conclusion that it doesn't matter one jot what your politics are — the country could be run equally successfully on socialist or Conservative lines. In fact, on balance and in general, I think I favour the Conservative approach.

But what brings a country down is greed and corruption, indifference to the wellbeing of creation, cruelty and callousness, merciless indifference to the poor and sick, the homeless and the refugee.

And almost any political system could be turned to political advantage if good people operated it — if those in hard times were lifted up, if nature was protected and regenerated, if kindness and restraint and honesty and simplicity and humility were the determinants of our way of life.

I am ashamed to the depths of my soul when I see Priti Patel working to have refugees left to drown at sea and turn the gypsies off their stopping places and deport people born overseas who work and live here in peace. But if the alternative is throwing bound people down a mine, then when that doesn't kill them chucking down hand grenades, then when that doesn't finish them off stuffing the outlet with wood and setting it on fire, then leaving the survivors to starve — well, I don't think much of that either.

I have come to believe that humanity is neither saved nor guided by politics — it has to be the other way round. We can learn from such leaders as the Dalai Lama, and Jigme Khesal Namygyel Wangchuck (the present Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan). 

If things do not change radically and quickly, we shall succeed in poisoning and suffocating the entire planet — our greed, our myopic consumerism, our selfishness; these all have to stop.

All I know to do is live quietly and simply, and let change begin with me.

Today's things to go from my accumulation of bits and pieces are a collection of hooks to hang things from the picture rails in Victorian houses. 

Our house is Victorian and has picture rails, but we prefer pictures hung lower and don't like looking at the string, so we tend to put a screw in the wall when we want to put up a picture.

Friday, 16 July 2021

730 things — Day 117 of 365

Goodness me, how I admire this couple!

Perhaps because my own journey into simplicity was too slow, too self-determined — I never found my tribe, and it is the tribe that carries you forward — I know I will never live like this; it will remain only a dream for me.

I also had too many other lives to patch and uphold besides my own; it took all my resources and ingenuity just to protect the ordinary, rather 1950s English type of simplicity which is the way we follow. I never mustered the audacity and confidence to strike out deeper into the forest. But I take my hat off to the ones who do.

In my small and stubborn way, then, I continue to trudge along my hedgerow track of small-scale persistent relinquishment. Today, leaving my life are a collection of safety pins and a collection of screws. 

Both of these are very useful. I'm sure they are.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

730 things — Day 116 of 365

I was thinking about our government here in England, recent changes and others in the pipeline, the attitude to refugees and people from overseas who want to visit or settle here, and the impact of Brexit on our farmers. 

This song came to mind.

My Uncle Bill and Auntie Jean farmed on the fertile land of the York plain — my cousin still runs the farm. 

When I was a child, among other things they grew potatoes and strawberries. At this time of year, when the strawberries were ripe, the gypsies would come for casual work as pickers. 

At home we had a children's book called The Little One's Own, a Christmas annual of a children's magazine, that had come to us from either my grandmother or great-grandmother (they both lived in the same village). It was an old book, Victorian, and full of moral stories and dire warnings to children. One that gripped my imagination was about little Nell who was stolen by the gypsies on her way home through the wood. I found it very alarming, and didn't know enough about gypsies to realise they were strongly family people and had quite enough children of their own — they didn't want anyone else's. 

So when I went with my mother and Uncle Bill to pick some strawberries, and we had to walk past the caravans drawn up at the edge of the fields, with gypsies sitting in their doorways watching us go by, I was frightened of them because I didn't know any better.

This spring in the UK, new laws have been passed by the government increasing the powers of police to harass travellers — to arrest them and impound their vehicles.

Another new law currently proposed in the nationality and borders bill threatens those who rescue asylum seekers at sea with life imprisonment.

Meanwhile the combination of coronavirus travel restrictions and Brexit (from the end of June people from overseas without pre-settled status could no longer work here) have left our fruit farms short of pickers — short by hundreds of thousands, not by just a few.

It's a depressing scenario.

It brought back to mind those days long gone when the gypsies came to Uncle Bill's farm for the strawberry picking.  

I hope the tide turns. I hope people learn to live together in peace, and work for the common good and the wellbeing of creation. Despite overwhelming signs to the contrary, I do believe that change will come; and I hope it will be in time, while the Earth can still be healed.

God bless the gypsy, the refugee, the people who help others when they are in trouble, the vagrants and the migrant workers, the people who barely survive. God bless them and give them their time in the sun.

Today, leaving our house are a little saw and . . . er . . . I think it's some kind of wrench. I have no idea. I've had it for decades but never used it once.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

730 things — Day 115 of 365

Today I was thinking about the intentions that radiate from us — like the light of a star or the perfume of a flower — and how they shape our daily reality.

Circumstances arise in our lives, threads of the fabric of events, and we must interweave with them as best we may. 

Sometimes the circumstances of our lives come as a direct result of our former patterns and choices — whether intended or unexpected and unforeseen — but sometimes they arrive in our lives through the actions and personalities of other people, or the governments of our countries, or war or disease or whatever.

But everything is ultimately connected and interdependent. Like pandemics arise from disturbing natural patterns and overriding natural boundaries, such things as mass-felling of forests or technological advance permitting global travel or keeping domestic animals caged in large groups. And we may not personally have engineered those things, but our choices may be contingent upon them, and the society of which we are part may have encouraged them — and so we travel along connected more intimately than we might have guessed.

This being the case, it is important in every detail of our lives to choose what seems to us to be gentle and constructive and kind and healing and peaceful. Even if we make some missteps, we shall still then be travelling in the right direction, and heading determinedly towards the creating of a better world.

It might seem advisable to be ambitious in our vision, and try for the most and the highest in our achievement; but in my own experience that usually leads to exhaustion and collapse. Like Icarus flying too close to the sun with his wings made of wax.

"Love your neighbour," Jesus said; a recommendation for starting small and dealing with what is close at hand.

If we do manage to heal ourselves and heal our world, it will surely be not by grand gestures and massive achievements, for the most part, but by an aggregate of love — small, persistent habits of kindness, a willingness to live simply, the humility to start again when we fail, and the stubborn faith that all in the end shall be well.


The things I want to send on their way today are some unused batteries and a sturdy stationery clip.

They'll go in with the other things into the DIY box I'm putting together.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

730 things — Day 114 of 365

So lovely. Humbling, wise.

It is men like this who are our teachers, the priests of heaven.

Today's things to go are a tape measure that came in a Christmas cracker and a wire thing for getting grunge out of the bath drain.

I do have a tape measure of more sensible length than this, but the cracker one was yet another example of "surely this useful thing must come in handy". The wire thing — well, we do face the challenge of hair in the bath drain that afflicts all households with long-haired residents. But though we tried using it for a while it never seemed very effective.

Monday, 12 July 2021

730 things — Day 113 of 365

Mozart's music is soul food like no other for me. In recent times I have gone back again and again to this aria.

A sublime performance of sublime music. 

I cannot imagine a world with no Mozart in it. Of all the music in all the world, his is my very favourite.

Apart from visiting my grandmothers in East and West Yorkshire respectively, from our home in Hertfordshire, my childhood had no holidays in it. My father's work, however, took him all over the world, and most of the time he was away travelling. In the 1970s we had some blazing hot summers, and during one of those he had to spend a week driving across France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. It was decided that my mother would go with him, and they said I could go too, because there was nowhere else for them to leave me. I think it must have been 1971, because I was either 13 or 14 at the time. 

We went in the midst of a heatwave, and spent most of the time in the car. To cross that distance and home again within a week involves a lot of driving. But I loved it — it felt like such an adventure. I loved going on the ferry, and travelling across the long arid stretches of French farmland. 

We arrived late at night at each destination, and my father would leave us in the car while he went in search of a hotel. Early in the morning he went off to seek out commercial deals to be made, leaving me to manage the French or German of whichever hotel we were in. 

Two special memories abide. We stopped at N├╝rnberg, where there was a castle or part of a medieval walled city or something — I remember it only vaguely, but there was a street market where I and my mother bought a bag of black cherries; and they were the biggest, sweetest cherries imaginable. My mother had the money and I had the language — it was my job to ask for the bread rolls and the fruit or whatever we were getting, and she paid. Good teamwork.

My other memory — and I have always treasured this — was the 24 hours we spend in Salzburg. We drove in late one evening, and my father found us rooms above a bakery in a narrow street. We dropped off our bags and went out for a walk in the town. It was very late, dark even in the middle of summer. On the pavements sat woodcarvers making statues and toys under the streetlamps. The windows of the houses were open in the hot weather, and as it happened we had arrived there right in the middle of the Mozart festival. From those open windows poured snatches of music, people practicing the violin or the flute or singing. In the middle of the town square water cascaded from an ornate fountain with sculptures of rearing horses in it.

My parents were chronically poor, but my mother wanted me to have the chance to go to a concert at the festival. So the next day, before my father went off selling, they took me to the Mozarteum to see if there would be a cheap standing ticket left over — just one, they couldn't afford more. And there was; so I had the chance to go to a concert in Salzburg at the Mozart festival. I cannot tell you how special and magical that felt — because I loved Mozart's music best of all the music in the world. At home we had two Mozart records — vinyl discs in those days — one with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and the other with four Mozart piano concertos; I listened to them over and over again.

We went into one of the shops where the carved wooden artefacts were sold, and my mother bought me something she could afford — a small and simple statue of Our Lady, very pure and sweet.

Before I left Salzburg, I whispered a promise to Mozart that I would come back. Like my mother, I have always prioritised family and housing over anything else, and never been rich, so I never have been back to Salzburg. It seems unlikely now that I ever will. 

But I formed a connection with Mozart, and made a link with him in that visit. We are eternal, you know. It is possible to reach across centuries and touch somebody, so that you both know.

Last weekend, in our house, we watched a Royal Opera House performance on Alice's DVD of The Marriage of Figaro. Watching it, I realised with a sudden shock that the music master in it is Mozart telling us about himself. That moment when he steps forward to talk about the persona he has assumed to protect his vulnerability in a harsh world — it's not just a character, it's Mozart. I don't think I'm just making that up, I suddenly saw it; I think it's true.

And today, for things to send on their way, I have these — nothing much, just a die and door furniture for a keyhole. They will go into the DIY box I'm putting together for Freegle.

I have no idea if these things will be of any use to anyone. I can't understand why I've kept them for so long.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

730 things — Days 121 and 122 of 365

 It's Sunday. What's happening in your neck of the woods about church? 

Where we are, the churches have opened up for worship again but you have to phone ahead and book to say you'll be there — they have restriction on numbers, no singing, restrictions around receiving the elements of the Eucharist, social distancing, and cautions around using the bathrooms.

From what I have read online, it seems to me that church congregations have been careful, determined and imaginative in their approach to re-opening.

It's been a long time, hasn't it? Online worship of one kind or another, the old routines suspended for so long that new patterns have begun to form.

Where are you with church now? Are you still attending — at all? a new church? online?

How do you feel about things now? What's changed in your heart, and in the patterns of your observance of faith?

I have begun the tedious task (this is nothing to do with church) of sorting out my boxes of DIY bits and pieces that have travelled with me over the years, periodically added to as I went along.

I didn't post yesterday, so today I have four things to go.

Yesterday's items are a very much the worse for wear muffin tin and some disposable gloves.

The tin is not really fit for baking — it's too burnt and scratched — but it is just possible someone might use it for sorting craft stuff or starting off seeds or something, so I'll give it a go on Freegle before putting it out for recycling.

The gloves — when we went into lockdown, some of us had to continue working because their place of work is an essential service, which put them at the front line for infection. So we provided ourselves with small just-in-case boxes of things, so that if we had to isolate we'd have everything we needed to barrier nurse etc. But we didn't get ill, and we never use latex gloves for anything else. I'll put them on Freegle — they were never opened.

Then the items for today — some lengths of stretchy cord for hanging net curtains. 

In the past I've used such things many times, but as I no longer live in my own house but am part of a shared house that doesn't belong to me, though my housemates always indulge my bright ideas I tend to restrict myself to my own room as a target for my feverish imagination. I no longer put things up on walls or make shelves, or anything like that any more.

Friday, 9 July 2021

730 things — Day 120 of 365

I have observed in other people, and finding the same in myself, that ageing goes down in steps. Something happens — a person's gall bladder packs up or a knee/hip joint fails, or they experience a prolapse or some such depressing thing — and it moves them on a step. Afterwards, things that were easy no longer are.

The Covid season must surely have done that for many of us — it has for me. I went into it with some long-term burn-out issues, but otherwise very well provided I ate advisedly. 

When lockdown came to England, for our exercise each evening the women in our household went for a good long walk in the park. It's beautiful, hillside paths winding round lakes with birds and fish, under a canopy of mature trees.

And then one evening while we were out for our walk we intercepted a mugging — a man brutally attacking a woman out walking her dog. We were able to drive him off and go to her aid, but it put us off walking in the park. After that we didn't feel like going there any more, and walked round the block instead — a much shorter and more level walk.

Then the winter came, dark and wet, and we often skipped our evening walk.

Gradually, through the year, I moved less and sat more, and ended up with a spectacular harvest of blood clots and widespread vein inflammation which have taken me a very long time to shift. In addition I have become gradually more reclusive, disinclined to go out.

During the year my mother died. Her last months and her passing were faithfully accompanied by the toxic stuff that has poisoned relationships within my family of origin, and caused relentless sorrow and disharmony.

And now, in the UK's third Covid wave but with everyone cautiously emerging, I find I am coming out of it different from how I went in.

The family stuff deepened the burnout, the lockdown deepened my natural reclusiveness, the vascular issues have slowed me up and made me tired — there's a lot of pain involved. And I still have to nurse my liver along like a wayward toddler.

Recently I heard a friend who lives near to me had fallen ill. I was so sorry, and concerned for her, but also dismayed to have to accept that I simply no longer have the push, the energy, to offer to be one of those rallying round to help. Once I would have offered without thinking, now I sometimes need to pray up the energy to fulfil the small and undemanding requirements of my own day.

Last night, when I went to bed I listened to the sounds of the household. In the room next door Tony was in a Zoom chat with friends from the Association of Christian Writers, and downstairs Alice and Hebe were making music with Grace. It made me happy to hear them as I drifted off to sleep.

It is disconcerting to grow old. I'm as slow as a Yodel delivery these days, and I attempt very little. But it cheers me to find I am even so entirely content. I love my home and my family, I love the wild creatures that live round about and visit our garden. 

There's a fox who lives nearby. In the spring he arrived in the garden and came every day, wanting to sit near us and to help hang out the washing and join in with whatever was happening. We were surprised. Then we found out there's a kind of mange that affects a fox's brain, one of the symptoms being that the fox becomes unusually friendly. 

Our fox did have mange — we had noticed it and already started treatment for it. So in due course once the treatment was complete and had taken effect, he got better and stopped being so sociable. But he did get to know us in that time, so when we see him out and about sometimes on an evening walk and call to him, he recognises us, and stops, and pings us a "Hello" thought.

And this year's crow baby is being trained by its parents to know us and learn the drill for coming to be fed.

The cherries are ripening on the trees that grew once we'd planted them in the garden from the pots they arrived in, along with our Rosie when she stayed with us for a year or two between homes of her own.

The garden is full of blackcurrants and herbs and baby apples and flowers — and small birds flittering from tree to tree.

There is so much joy in life. 

Even when I fall asleep at night or wake in the morning, the fresh air through the window and the song of birds, the morning light and sometimes the sound of rain — how could you not be happy?

Now, today I am moving on two books — and they are most interesting ones that I have enjoyed, but I'm ready to pass them on.

One is all about the art of Edward Hopper — it's a lovely book that Tony gave me as a birthday gift. 

The other is about Prince Charles's glorious garden at Highgrove.

Both of these are really good books that I felt inclined to keep long after I could have passed them on; but if something's really good, why not share it?

Thursday, 8 July 2021

730 things — Day 119 of 365

 Today the postman brought a letter that set off a wellspring of joy in my heart — word of a friend's forthcoming ordination as a deacon in the Orthodox Church, the next step in his slow and patient journey toward priesthood.

And this month another beloved friend was ordained deacon in the Church of England.

Their sense of purpose and vocation makes me happy, the feeling I see in them of someone who knows who they are and where they're headed. It makes me feel joyous and content, intrigued to see how their journey will unfold, hopeful for the world to have people of faith deepening and advancing their pilgrimage, their calling to love and to serve.

I call down God's blessing upon them, and the companionship of angels as they journey on.

Of more mundane matters, today I have set aside for the charity shop these two items — a spoon and a fork. They were bought (also from a charity shop) for camping and traveling, and as I no longer do either they are redundant now.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

730 things — Day 118 of 365

We try to be principled and conscientious in our household, and extent the reach of Christ into caring for animals and plants both wild and domestic, and our fellow human beings — but we are also precise about aesthetics.

To hand wash silk undies from yesterday, in Woolite, in a spotlessly clean enamel bowl that says le bain in a wreath of flowers on the side, and add specialist fabric conditioner to the final rinse, and hang them on the line — three pegs for extra security — to dry above the lavender in the wind from the sea; it makes me happy. It brings me a sense of orderly peace.

This I did after having my breakfast porridge and tea — on a tray, with loose tea made in a pot kept hot with the tea cosy Alice knitted in soft fawn alpaca yarn — from porcelain, albeit mismatched and bought second hand or handed down.

These things, they form a refuge from a difficult world, like the shells of caddisfly larvae pieced and patched from what is available.

It constructs a sort of corset for the soul. Religion does much the same — the rituals, the vessels of silver and crystal and gold, the bells to be rung at a certain point in a particular manner a specified number of times, the gilded angels and painted saints with their serious visages or tiny secret smiles, the embroidered vestments and fair linen, the hands of the priest held just so far apart and no further, over the wafers made by nuns from their lives of devotion inside their enclosures.

These things protect us against the howls of the void and the chaos of agony, the stalking predators of loss and grief and pain and destitution that prowl the perimeters of all we have tried to build. Or, we feel as though they do — protect us — and we don't force it to bear too much examination, we just make it a declaration of intent that life could be beautiful, and peaceful, and crafted with care.

I live with artists. Here is a glimpse of what they have been working on; just one small part of the decoration they have designed and gilded and painted onto some rather austere cabinetry.

Isn't that lovely? These are women who handle physical objects with reverence and care — who eat from silver because they hate the taste of steel, who have studio pots for some drinks and box china for others, who wear linen and cashmere and silk, who make their own jewellery (and mine) from Japanese pearls and Swarovski crystals, and spend their evenings making astonishing embroideries of knitting our clothes for the winter. They are not rich, not indulged — they are artists, they go without what other people take for granted to make their choices possible.

But even though things can be used to establish and build our rickety structures of orderly calm, we have also to keep a watchful eye and observe restraint. Because, as we know, they accumulate. Sometimes even the useful and the beautiful have their time to be blessed on their way.

Today I have ventured into the cupboard under the stairs and retrieved the first two items to put into a box of assorted DIY bits, for Freegle.

A door-stop (the sort that wraps round the door itself) and a box of wire nails I have had for about twenty-five years.

Yes, I have used a wire nail on one occasion or another in the course of that time. But I think my days of banging nails into things may in truth have run their course.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

730 things — Day 117 of 365

Yet another wild and blustery day. It's been a cold spring and summery in general here, with periodic wind storms that have brought down garden structures — this year our rose arch, and last year in similar weather patterns, our bean frames heavy with plants. Where I grew the beans last year I've gone over to low-growing plants because the wind funnels up from the sea through the gap between our home and our neighbour's, in that part of the garden — exacerbated by our other neighbour's insistence on cutting down the old ash tree that shields us from the wind; he likes maximum sun on his patch. Every time it grows back he cuts it down again. I think he must be one of those people who hate and fear trees, a phobia I don't really understand. Anyway, our garden is that much less protected from the wind since then, and we know the violent weathers will increase with climate change.

Deep in my heart I know that "All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well" — I know it for sure and my spirit witnesses to it and I hear it repeated on the spiritual currents of life all the time. But I do also know that the path of life passes through the cross, and sometimes it is one's own turn to be nailed to it, and that leaves in my soul a cold shadow of fear, for myself and for the people I love. Ageing and autistic burnout have left me less resilient, less able to care for others, more dependent on the reassurance and rhythm of quiet routine, the peace of familiarity and tradition. But all around the world, including in my own country, greedy nihilists have obtained power, and in these days when we have reached the ecological tipping point, I think that cannot bode well. We may be here only to help each other die. But if that is so, even still I hope we may do it with humility, compassion and grace. The times we live in are our calling and God's strange gift. We must weave them into a bag to carry hope, strong enough to bear the weight of peace. It is a serious responsibility, that rests entirely on our personal daily choices. There is no point in looking to government; heavens, we can see what they're like.

I was surprised by the two things I wanted to part with today. One is tiny and the other hardly counts as a thing, but let me show you.

Someone in our household passed on to my this little perfume roller. I like it, the perfume is nice, but in my cosmetics bag every single day its presence hinders me in finding my blusher brush which has similar colour, length and feel. This has begun to annoy me, so I am finishing up the little bottle with speed and determination so I can get it out of my bag and into the recycling.

And then for the last goodness knows how long I have been using these two stacked raspberry packaging boxes to hold my main bathroom things — dental hygiene stuff, leg cream, shampoo bar, etc — and today I decided I find the container so objectionably hideous I'd rather do without one at all than keep it. 

So that's gone out to the recycling, its natural home.