This will be a very different Christmas this year. Ray and I are spending the festival away from home for the first time! Christmas Day and Boxing Day with Hannah, Luke and one-year old bibliophile, Finley, followed by a few days with all the family at Kate's home with Darren, nearly two- year old Frank and Jen and family.
Since Jen, Kate and Hannah moved away to their own homes, the Christmas Holidays has been evolving.
I remember the childhood years, when everybody believed in Santa. Santa was allowed to show up whenever he liked, but the rule for the children was, “Play in your rooms until 8am, THEN get us up!” Santa had obligingly left stockings at the foot of beds for the purpose.
Having secured a bit of a lie-in, we the parents, then presided over the grand opening of the big presents around the tree at a reasonably decent hour. Dolls, bicycles, electronic toys and books gradually giving way over the years to scarves, different kinds of books, and beauty products … One constant though, was Santa's Little Helper, otherwise known as Dad, passing around the black plastic rubbish bag for immediate disposal of the discarded wrappings.
Preparation for big dinner always began during, Carols from Kings College, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve. I would return from Midnight Mass and peel, scrape chop and slice to the accompaniment of divine music from a heavenly choir.
The dinner menu was unvaried, capon, (or turkey in latter years) Betty Crocker's bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, sprouts and carrots with cranberry sauce and gravy. Pudding was always the same too – everybody got to choose. So for the week before the Big Day I would be baking: Sticky Toffee Pudding, Texas Millionaire Pie, Pecan Pie, and traditional Christmas Pudding with THICK custard (for Dad). I rarely made the Christmas Pudding, I admit, it was usually a bought one soused with extra booze.
Boxing Day was leftovers and Tuna Plait.
Wonderful, wonderful memories!
And now, our one family has become four families, and it's a delight to watch them make their own Christmas traditions, and wonderful to be able to share them.
I still get to do the puddings though.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
A.report published by the British Medical Journal exposes the sheer horror of the British Government's assault on the poor. Since 2010 there have been over 120,000 'unnecessary deaths' of sick, disabled and unemployed people.
Suicide. Starvation. Chronic diseases exacerbated by poverty. One hundred and twenty thousand.
A mother who can no longer care for her adult disabled son kills herself.
A former soldier dies because he can't keep his insulin at the correct temperature because his electricity has been cut off.
A woman dying of hypothermia in a home she can't afford to heat.
A homeless man freezing to death in a car park, because the night shelters have closed.
One hundred and twenty thousand.
Had these fellow-citizens died of influenza, it would be a public health emergency.
The Department of Work and Pensions, embarrassed by the statistics showing how many people have died within weeks of being declared, 'fit for work', no longer collects them.
Celebrities engaging in massive tax avoidance schemes go on television asking those of us without clever accountants to give to help children in need.
Does anyone believe this is right?
I tell you what gets me really, really, mad. The OUTRAGE by the right-wing media that Greggs the bakers replaced the infant Christ in a manger with a sausage roll. Not a WORD about the professor's report on the 'unnecessary deaths', mind you, forget them, here's a real issue …
This is what I think, and it might shock you:
If your 'Christ' doesn't compel you to feed the hungry, tend the sick, help the vulnerable and shelter the homeless, you might as well worship a sausage roll.
I hit myself on the ankle with the Paschal Candle, an extraordinary event that arises from Fr Aidan being on sick leave and myself, ever helpful, lending Fr Barnabas a hand (last Sunday) with a Baptism. (Welcome, young Charles David, to the fold.)
“Ouch, that hurts!”I protest, silently, as I process up the aisle with the Paschal Candle, which is considerably taller than me, and features a heavy brass base. Note the absence of profanity. A cause for pride.
The upshot of this minor injury is, yesterday, I stayed in the Mission Hall instead of doing my usual, which is roaming the streets of Gloucester with a trolley full of drinks and sandwiches for the 'Not Actually Managing At All' segment of the population. The drinkers, addicts, mentally ill and others with complex problems, that beg and borrow to keep their heads above water, and don't get much to eat or drink without the charitable efforts of the rest of us.
An eventful morning ensued. I have been away since early April, swanning across the USA, then catching up at home, doing this and that. Dave, Our Leader, greets me warmly. He used to be a Catholic, so he would understand my happening with the brass base of a very large candlestick. He now belongs to one of those independent churches that do so much good around the place. I like him. He hugs. Pope Benedict didn't approve of hugging, so we tend to shake hands now. Rather a pity, I think.
There are a few changes. Michael the community artist is absent. Cancer, I hear, not doing so well. Not coming back. He used to take a group for pottery, he will be missed. Some discussion about what to do with his materials. I am sad. I liked Michael's quiet unassuming presence, I admired his gentle refusal to get saved.
Cafe Guru are still providing a nourishing stew. Lots of organisations express interest in what we do. This small business actually does something. Week after week, year in, year out, the cafe sends in a hot meal for our sixty or so takers. They don't advertise the fact, they just do it. I tell everyone I know to go there.
It's a fraught morning. One young man thinks another young man is trying to take his stuff. Shouting and a punch-up, quickly resolved. Sam, with his underpants on the outside of his trousers, gives an impromptu sermon on the fact that all Christians are hypocrites and are going to hell: some good-hearted applause, including from the Christians. Then I chat to Maggie.
She speaks softly, I have to move closer to listen. We are friends. As her story draws to a close I'm in tears. It has taken her four years to open up and it's no wonder.
“I kept my daughter away from men, no father, no grandfather. No uncles, for fifteen years.” Oh my God! Fifteen years??? “She's married now, and has children.” Maggie beams with pride. Can you guess why I'm weeping?
“Don't cry, don't cry for me!” Maggie has not asked for sympathy, she has just asked for the right to tell her story.
No name, Maggie is not her name, no location, this did not happen here. Just her story:
“I wasn't put in the laundry, because of my chest. You know what that was like, you've seen the film. All that steam! I was in the orphanage until I was sixteen. We worked all day every day, from the time I was thirteen, and were given £13 a month.” …
“When our abusers became grandparents to girls – we went to the police. We couldn't let what happened to us happen to another child … ”
A ghastly story, Maggie didn't go into a lot of detail. She, her and her sister, won their case and received compensation. A lot of it. But:
“I couldn't let go of it, the compensation didn't help, not for years and years, not until I got cancer. Funny. I thought I was going to die, and I let go. Now, I'm free.”
“For years and years.”
The next time I hear another abuser gather his family around him and swear his innocence, I'll remember Maggie, and how HER innocence was stolen, her body used for the gratification of perverts employed to take care of her, her peace of mind destroyed, her mental health never fully recovered.
“I'm not crying for you, Maggie, but for the children still suffering from bastards like those.” I said, which was partly true.
So a piece that started with a light-hearted run-in with a large candle, ends sombrely. I think that's the point. In the middle of the ordinariness of my lovely quiet life, a brutal reality intrudes, and I weep.
I have one of my signature chest infections, and it's jolly inconvenient. At least it frees me up to blog.
Most of the Triduum will pass me by this year, I am not even sure that I will make the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, which is going to be a problem, because I am Flower Monitor and the flowers are placed in the church immediately before the Gloria and if I'm not there, WHO'S GOING TO ORGANISE IT?
I fetched the flowers from the wholesaler yesterday, and dropped them off at Gail's house. She is an artist, and what she does will be uplifting and amazing. I just put them in pots.
Gail is, like me, a convert to Catholicism, and the shine hasn't worn off. I often feel I need to apologise for being a Catholic, because everybody knows that since the Church become a corporate arm of the state in three-hundred- and-something, very bad things have happened. Still are, I expect, I make no excuses.
“Bad Day?” Gail was looking frazzled.
“My boss (An Evangelist) won't come tomorrow because we're idolaters.” Eye roll. So this Man of God had spent the day bending Gail's ear, with, basically, “Why You Shouldn't Be A Catholic For Dummies.” No wonder non-Christians laugh at us. What a plonker.
Not going to fall into the trap of passing any (other) judgement on him. I give Gail a hug, and leave to go to bed with paracetamol and a gallon of water.
It was my turn to preach at Outdoor Church on Tuesday. I say, “Preach” but it's a lot less grand than that really. Outdoor Church meets in Gloucester Park on Tuesday's, and is pretty much just that.
I'm nervous. The last time I preached it all ended in tears (mine). Our people are not pretty people, and sometimes the sheer hopelessness of their lives spills out as anger. I get it. Or, I got it, both barrels, and, 'fessing up, I deserved it.
So I'm sitting on the steps of the bandstand stilling my mind, quieting my heart ready for the service to start.
Kurt and Graham are letting off steam. Some Christian had told them they couldn't be friends with them because they're 'clients.' And they are angry. “They're fake.” Says Kurt. “Never met a true Christian!”
I don't intervene. If I had, I'd have said,
“We're ALL plonkers.”
There came a day when I was SO
That I felt in incumbent on me
To Be Word Perfect.
This led to .. Problems.
Honest but ordinary joys like
Smelling the flowers
Listening out for church bells
Holding the babies –
Those kind of things, were,
Well, just too mundane.
For A Poet Like Me!
I felt sure, given a moment
I could outdo Tennyson and give
Betjeman a run for his money
Wax lyrical on grand occasions
Make a mark in literary circles and even – You know –
I LIKE what I
Used to write before I was
It wasn't capital letter great, but it was me.
Flighty, Flirty a Little Bit Dirty …
Full of Spring and things that
Sprung to mind. Like say
Love and stuff.
So, now my fingers are flying across the keyboard again
The church bells are ringing in my head, The babies are asleep in my memory and the flowers are once more stimulating my olfactory nerve. We're off!
In an idle moment, I cast about for something to write about and hit on 1976. No reason.
I was 25 for most of 1976, a young teacher, trying to have babies, wondering what to do to take my mind off the failing. It was, I know, the Bi-Centennial year in the USA, and I, a former 'American Studies' student, took an interest. “Why American Studies?” My father asks, in 1970, aghast. He doesn't think a career could be carved out of American Studies. ” Because, dad, I don't understand why you don't like Americans and I need to learn!” I was SO naive .. My poor father, during the war, had to vie with monied GI's for my mother's attentions… He needs to be forgiven.
So I applied for the Fulbright Exchange Teacher Programme, and succeeded, but the doing of it came later in 1977, and is another story.
Harold Wilson was PM, at least until April, and I remember him: jovial, pipe-smoking, the first PM I voted for. His wife was a poet, I felt a connection. He reckoned that the, 'white heat of technology' would bring wealth to all, and shorter working hours. And it could have. Instead we have zero hours contracts and food banks, but hey! There's the Internet, so I guess it's not all bad. Steve Jobs founded Apple in a garage, and here I am tapping this out on an iPad.
John Curry danced himself to gold on ice, and I can still picture him. Dazzling, spectacular, amazing … There aren't enough words. But it was the 70's and there was no way to stave off AIDS: he died too young, and, right now, I feel tears welling-up, and not just for him.
“Save All Your Kisses For Me” won the Eurovision Song Contest. I loathe the Eurovision Song Contest with perfect loathing. If I'd have thought we would never have to enter it again I would have voted Brexit. But I know such dreams never come true, so I didn't. Brit James Hunt, once known as 'Hunt the Shunt' wins the F1 Championship, and Concorde begins is inaptly named 'commercial' service. As a teenager, at school in Gloucester, I watched open-mouthed in awe, as this sleek air-liner on a test flight veered round Robinswood Hill moments before it's “BOOM!!”
Yes, it could break the sound barrier then, but never over-land after coming into service.
I scour the lists of births and deaths. There are many of both in 1976. I am quite taken by the fact that I only recognise ONE of the celebrity births (Ross Noble) but go misty-eyed over the departures: L S Lowry,Sybil Thorndike, Agatha Christie, Benjamin Britten … They are still about in one way or another.
We were a country at war in 1976. Oh My God! Over fish. The Great Cod War, with Iceland. Then one day, someone woke up to how ludicrous it was, and we brought the gun boats home. For the record: Iceland won.
I guess we kind of were at war with the Irish, too. I have Irish ancestry, and kept my fingers crossed for peace, which came, in time.
It's comforting to know that wars end.
1976 was a hot year. Although as a Brit, the weather always plays a huge role in my life, there are two events that stand out. The Great Freeze of 1962/3 and The Heat Wave of 1976. We expect moderation in all things, and 97F in Cheltenham is just not on.
I congratulate myself on still being here, no small feat given the wars, plagues, extreme weather events and the stupidity of politicians. When I was 25 I didn't know what was to come, but now that it HAS come, and pretty well gone, I can sit back, contented. It's good. All good.
“Save All Your Kisses For Me”
Concorde Breaking The Sound Barrier
My friend Wendy sent me a link to a ten minute op-ed that about covers all I want to say about the title of this post.
On second thoughts, I'll summarise: A 1950's cult figure said that aliens were going to cause a great flood and that only her followers were going to be saved. So, when the flood failed to make it's appearance, the lady in the know said it was because she had asked the aliens not to do the flood thing, and the cult grew.
Listen anyway, the guy's good. He explains that this, 'adjusting reality to fit perception' model, is the reason why believing that Trump will be removed from office before his time is up, is also delusional. Even if desirable, I hasten to add.
Here's the link:
Wendy got me thinking. Then writing.
Very good listen!
I long ago came to the conclusion that: you can believe what you like and get away with it, and most people do ( religion);the prettiest person with the best lies will form a government ( politics);the person you've got now is worth holding on to, because the next stands a good chance of being worse ( relationships); there IS no concrete reality, we are made of light and energy, and what we perceive as real is an illusion created in a brain evolved to construct an environment where the propagation of the species is at least a possibility(science).
Trump will not be impeached because 80% of Republican voters still support him, they are emotionally invested in him and not likely to waiver. Flying Saucer Cult 102.
So, to keep sane, we too, have to construct our own reality. For me, a stubborn belief that the Universe is ultimately benign, that at least a part of me is eternal, and that, in the end, “all manner of things shall be well,” works. It's as likely to be 'right' as many much nastier alternatives. Whether or not it has any basis in what might be called 'truth' , is hardly relevant given that we are 99% energy in a universe that is 75% missing.
As Pilate so rightly asked, “What is truth?” A question that even the King of Kings couldn't answer!
It's rewarding work, turning up at the Mission, serving food to vulnerable adults who don't mind listening to a few minutes of religion in exchange for a sausage roll, a bowl of soup, and some nice people to talk to for an hour or so.
I am full of existential guilt about it, because doing good makes me feel good, but I am reconciled to this since learning (EdX course 'Science of Happiness') that we are genetically programmed this way, and it helps species survival rates. So that's OK then.
It was my turn to give the talk. It's a tough gig. Most of the audience are appreciative, but I am very ambivalent about doing it. Anyway, I said I would, so I did.
Unfortunately, I spoke without notes, and close to the beginning of my 'put your trust not in men' homily, I accidentally called the President-Elect of the United States of America a narcissistic sociopath.
Michael got up and quietly informed me that if I was going to talk about Trump he was leaving. I kinda got the hint, and also the strong feeling that calling ANYONE a narcissistic sociopath wasn't exactly Christlike, so I rowed back and galloped to the finish, sitting down absolutely determined never, ever, to do the talk again.
Michael hadn't left, but I could see he was upset so I went over to him and let him tell me what a hypocrite I am ( I am, I am, it's true.) and then to give me his reasons for supporting Trump. I listened and I listened good.
Trump offers hope to people like him. Michael feels his voice is finally being heard. After I sincerely apologised for upsetting him, we had a real conversation. At the end of it I was both enlightened and chastened.
Michael was given up for adoption at birth, but his mother changed her mind, and struggled on for two years before giving him up for good. A string of foster homes followed, then a boarding school. Then prison …
Michael, in his forties, is good-looking, and intelligent. As his story unfolded I offer up absolute respect for him: for having a completely shit life and not being totally crushed by it.
Yes, Michael gets that mysogyny and the racism don't look good, but he believes that's media hype, ” The media lies. He's a good man with a family who wants to change the way the world is run … ”
Michael is sitting in a room with some very unhappy people with a food voucher in his hand looking for a job that's being done by someone in China and he wants the world to change in a way that would give him a life more like mine.
I wouldn't vote for Donald Trump in a million years, but after my conversation with Michael, I understand why people did.
I don't think my little homilies ever achieve much, and I sweat blood over them, but today mine achieved something. I made a monumental error of judgement, but as a result, I made a real connection with a young man whose opinions I really needed to hear.
I read once that dreams help you to process experiences, and that you cannot dream about someone you don't know or haven't met. I can't say how true this is, but as I can't recall strangers in dreams it could be true.
I am scraping the barrel here. I have determined to write a blog post today, and my mind has gone blank, and a quick delve into my subconscious, has dragged up this really weird dream I had last night. Something must be going on, but what it is, I have no idea. I was back in a school that I worked in forty years ago, and I was incensed because I was the headteacher, but had just been ousted in a coup led by my good friend and all round lovely person, Angela.
A little background here. I was never the headteacher of Newtons School, nor did I aspire to be. Angela is the sweetest person I know, and Pauline, a complete nonentity that I didn't know I remembered.
I was mad! I reasoned, cajoled, threatened, but Angela was adamant, a decision had been made at a meeting of The Singing Group that I had to go, and that was that, Pauline was taking over, and would I like to see the Jobs Vacant list?
Being a dream, the job vacancies were on one of those rolling calendar ring-binder type of things that seemed to display only houses for sale. No-one thought this odd.
The situation was ludicrous, the plot incredible, but the FEELINGS! My, they were real! Anger, frustration, disappointment, futility, betrayal …
It was a relief to wake up.
Maybe there IS something I need to come to terms with here. Stuff I thought I'd dealt with …
Nope, not going there.
Happy Tuesday, everybody. See you in my dreams!
Grandchildren! What a delight!
When I, rather involuntarily, left work in 2009, one of my colleagues said, “Now you can spend more time with Rosie.” And a light came on. With almost total recall, all the things about being the headteacher of a very small school that I DIDN'T enjoy (teaching NOT being among them …) flashed before my eyes … Taking the temperature of the water and logging it, so that nobody died of Legionnaire's Disease, putting salt down on the playground on frosty mornings, explaining to an inspector who should have known better, that serious inferences cannot be drawn from cohorts of eight … And on and on …
Rosie is the eldest of my grandchildren: she was the only one, back then, but now there are five … And I adore them all. The latest addition to the clan was born a week ago today, and already it's as if he was always coming: we were just waiting for him to be here. He's the star in the photo below.
I have visited with them all this week. Here are the highlights:
Rosie, 9, now singing in her daddy's choir talking about the Christmas repertoire.
Abigail, 5, listening, wide-eyed through my dramatic re-telling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, then remarking, “You used LOTS of adjectives, grandma!”
Sam, 2, running away and hiding under the table in the middle of a nappy change, “Go away! I''m busy!”
Frank, 8 months, giving me his stellar smile before crawling off commando -style to investigate the vacuum cleaner.
And now, Finley, a lovely warm bundle, sleeping soundly through all the fuss as he meets and greets his extended family.
I'm proud of them all, and very thankful to my amazing daughters and sons-in-law, for allowing me to be part of their lives!
Finley, Auntie Kate and Mum, Hannah.