Yesterday I returned from a fabulous holiday with my family, now almost a clan, and here I am reflecting on the joys of the second half of life.
All that I will 'achieve' in the worldly sense is now behind me. I have more 'stuff' than I know what to do with, and no desire to engage in the duallist ding-dongs of the days when I believed it was better to be right than happy.
It feels like my ship of state is sailing over the horizon, but the journey holds no fear. I have found real and lasting things to love: precious time with my family, the pleasure of a country walk the fun of playing silly games with my grandchildren …
There was a point rounding a headland on the beautiful Somerset coast where I just stopped, drew a deep breath and allowed simple gratitude to well up. To Whom, I'm not sure, but for what? Well, at sixty-four, still being able to bump down the stairs on my behind in a race with my three-year old granddaughter that I didn't even want ro win.
The thing is, I love to write. There is something so therapeutic about the gentle ‘pudd-pudd’ of my fingertips skipping across the virtual keypad in front of me. Today’s challenge, writer’s block. I’m fed up with God, the poet’s run out of inspiration, and my daily round is too mundane to mention. I will mention it though, just for fun:
Think About Getting Up
Listen to Radio
Writing a List always does it for me. Here I go again:
Aowl and I had great fun the other day trying to get the microphone to type for us.. Its potential for the literary aspirations of a one-year old are pretty staggering I think, but what was typed up made no sense. What does? (Broad smile: Maybe something: Maybe sometimes.)
(A feature of an ipad. You talk to it, and it talks back. It is a Two on the Enneagram. It lives to serve.)
Microphone Man, Let’s call him Cyril, when asked to write something for me, was very helpful. ‘ I don’t know what you mean by, ‘Write something for me. How about a web search for it?’ I admit to being impressed. Technology is so cute. No sense of the ironic, doesn’t know when it’s leg is being pulled, just cute.
Having time on my hands, I actually took Cyril up on his offer, and a whole new world has opened up for me!
I was taken to a website wherein I can register to write papers for students with deficiencies in the honesty department. Nobody’s perfect. The paper I wrote on the ferns growing in Prince of Wales Park in Bingley, in order to escape the local College with a Certification in Education, owed much of it’s content to,’ The Observer Book of Ferns’. I’m in no position to judge.
Why in heaven’s name, did I choose to write a paper on the ferns in The Prince of Wales Park? I don’t remember, though I do recall my horror at finding just the one variety when I made my foray into the damper regions of this particular pleasure garden. Though the park was a mere five minutes walk from my digs, I did not, in the end, have to leave my bedroom to complete the assignment.
If the University of Leeds wishes to strip me of my Certificate in Education (Mary Cook, 1972) I invite it to be my guest. I wouldn’t return to teaching for a pension. Oh! Wait!
Saturday: Old School Reunion. Carol drags me along to these and I go very grumpily because I hold this huge grudge against the school for deliberately underestimating and failing to nuture the talents of those of us who were not from the professional classes. I tell my story, for the umpteenth time, about being the only girl from Ribston Hall NOT to be accepted by Rolle College, Exmouth, because Mort didn’t like me, and Carol, who left the place sixteen and pregnant, and had to live in the real world, rolls her eyes and changes the subject.
‘I remember you did really well in your O Levels,’ Cheryl says, ‘And we all gasped when you turned up to collect your prize with your hair cut short and dressed in a Mary Quant black and white number that stole the show.’ This I do not remember AT ALL, and though I nod graciously, I am convinced she mistakes me for someone else.
When the topic moves on to sport, I hold back on the story of me and Jim over the wall at the Regatta of ’69, and recall instead, the doughnuts Carol and I scoffed on the way back from Denny’s, via which ever back garden we’d socked the tennis ball into. ( Ah, if only we’d used the skill it took to whack the thing over the court and into No 32, to actually play tennis, we’d have won the French Open in ’73. Doubles. ) Everyone feigns shock. Even I now begin to realise why Mort hadn’t liked me.
I find myself in the old photos — Gladys second maid from the left, ‘The Admirable Crichton’ 1966. ‘Fishwife’ ‘Pygmalion’ 1969. ‘Oh Look! Is that Angela Parsons? I wonder what happened to her? Do you remember when we were in Lower Sixth and we tried to find out how many chairs we could hang round her neck and Mort walked in? ‘ I am distraught that the famous ‘ Regatta’ photo is missing. I resolve to go to the Citizen Office and buy one and donate it. I find myself sitting in the front row of the 1963 School Photograph, but nowhere to be seen in the 1996 one … ‘I expect you were away,’ Carol muses. ‘You were always away.’
They have Year 12 now. I ask you! Says everything you need to know about the decline and fall of the education system today.
Carol, almost certainly resolving never to bring me again, hauls me off shortly after the raffle. I had muttered, ‘What about the Matson girls?’ during the head’s speech, not quite under my breath, and had drawn some disapproving glances. “Well,” I defend myself, “We’re here aren’t we? Don’t we deserve a bit of recognition? Our families made real sacrifices to send us to this dump.”
As Carol departs to catch her bus to Stroud, I head off for a nostalgic walk in Cranham Woods.
The day is warm, hot even, and still. The woods are as I remember them as a child. Green, cool, mysterious, an invitation to daydream.
It would be fanciful to imagine that I found the actual beech tree under which I officially lost my virginity: I appoint one in the general vicinity to the honour, and pat it with nostalgic affection. William the Bastard dumped me five years later, in my early twenties, and when I met him again a few years ago I was glad to discover that he he is now fat and bald, shorter than I remembered and his face heavily lined from smoking and the sun.
Moving swiftly on – Here’s the tree under which I had buried the shreds of the musician’s love letters, and I seek out the tree stumps on which we had climbed to play, ‘I’m the King of The Castle’ a game that he insisted that he always won. Ha! I scramble up a large relic and yell, ‘I WIN!’ at the top of my voice. Not a good idea in retrospect, because what I was about, was best not advertised. I bloody well hope he heard me though.
I walk for an hour, enjoying the cool greenwood that has been a place of refuge since I was old enough to walk the four miles from my home in the valley below.
Saturday evening. Pressing buttons 1,2, 1, 1, 2, 1, and listening, involuntarily, to The William Tell Overture for twenty minutes to get through to a technician in India to get the Broadband sorted. Didn’t. These call centres test my mettle. You really discover what sort of person you are after twenty minutes of William Tell. Not nice.
Sunday: Mass, Sunday lunch, Book Club. A curse on whomsoever chose ‘The Confessions of St Augustine’ of which I read as far as the stealing pears incident before giving up. I stole pears. It was expected of everyone, under the age of 14, who lived near an orchard, when I was a lass. Even when they were cider pears hard, sour and inedible.
I crib something from the internet during which I pick up a working knowledge of Neoplatoism and the Manichees. Both of which I find considerably more interesting that St Augustine. I think he should have sexed his Confessions up a bit – and I totally disapprove of him dumping his concubine. I want to read her side of the story. A point that roused mild interest and general approval at the Book Club. We’re doing poetry next time. I foolishly announce that I will write some.
Tom, who feeds the hungry and doesn’t attend committee meetings, has me in fits describing how the book might have read if Augustine had been a window cleaner. As a student of history, for three weeks, before switching to American Studies, I point out this was not a viable occupation in Three Hundred and Whatever, but it certainly works as a scenario for attaching oneself to a concubine.
Monday: Feeding The Hungry. It’s a cosmic balance thing. If I get off my arse to do some good, I might get remission for the other stuff… (NO, I don’t really think like that!) Chat at length to Kevin who lives in a tent by the river with the connivance of the farmer. I listen and listen and learn a lot.
Legion of Mary: We agree to move to Tuesday am and I take on Alpha and visiting Mary Coombe in the home for the elderly next door to my cottage. Later, arrange to meet Wendy in Cheltenham on Tuesday morning. Damn.
Walking In The Light Prayer Group: Well, as a denizen of the semi-darkness, I didn’t have a lot to say. Gail who gets it all first hand from God, and passes it on, dominates. Fr Aidan announced that Mary C wasn’t coming any more as she has bigger fish to fry and bewails the loss of the most spiritual woman in the parish, and hopes we can get on without her. I am caught between laughter and tears. ‘ Gotta go at Eight,’ I announce – so I can only walk in the light till then. ‘ You must pray before you go,’ says Gail , so I stand up, bang on the table, and lift my hands, ‘Father you know exactly what you want to do, so please go ahead and do it! Love you! I blow a kiss to my dear deity and leave. Everyone else pleads and begs for ages. I mean… What’s the point?
Dinner with the Heads: Frances and Lynda have been friends of mine since the first jolly to South Africa in 2001. I haven’t, because of being away, ill, praying, etc. been for months. I am late because I had difficulty in throwing Margareta out of the car in Newent. Worse, I have left my credit card at home and notice that a significant part of the money I have brought to pay for dinner willl have to get me back because the tank’s running on empty. Nobody is surprised. I buy coffe and join the group. There’s a lot to get through … I’ve been to South Africa and the USA, fought off malaria, celebrated Christmas, and gained a granddaughter … Lynda takes me aside to talk about the terrible doings at Pauntley. Everybody knew the place would fall apart if I left, except the governors. Well, it has, and I am sad. Lynda works for the Head Teacher Support Service, so she has the low-down. Home for 10:30pm. Ravenous.
Tuesday. Mass am followed by coffee with Margareta who is 81 and off to Switzerland tomorrow. She is a native of Zurich. We unpick the doings in the parish. She is worried because I wasn’t too happy about our sojourn ‘In The Light’ the previous evening. ‘I remind her that a night has passed, perspective has dawned, and I and He are laughing about it.
Wednesday. AM: Walking the streets. This is my second week, and I’m on first names terms with the Big Issue sellers and the alcoholics (A second team go to the drug users). I ask Simon about his girlfriend and flat. Both gone. I stand and nod while he unfolds the story. Dennis can’t get a license to sell his prints on the streets. His twin brother David died of an overdose at the very minute that Dennis was being baptised. I can’t make sense of it either. I give him a sausage roll. ‘ Look out for my graffiti, I always do a banana,’ he says. I promise I will, and am delighted to find one on wall nearby. Dazzer sits with his dog, his plate and his ghetto blaster in an alley behind Argos. He reads Sci Fi and does tattoes. He as a fresh one – the emblem of the SS. ‘That’s powerful,’ I say, tactfully. He tells me he has everything he needs, right here. I am speechless.
Evening: Alpha supper where I failed to recalll any of the above….
Thursday. All day at The Mill gardening and turning over with Mary and Stephen the difficulties I’m experiencing with parish life. ‘
“Don’t do anything that doesn’t bring you joy. We don’t get involved in parish work because it either fills you with guilt or wears you out. It encourages the view that church is a building …”
Right. No more walking in the light then! Hallelujah. Perhaps they don’t get Catholicism either. Found figwort growing in the old mill race and point out to Mary the bird she is admiring is a gull, not a kite. Advise she looks for a forked tail.
Friday: Recover from gardening. Reply via Facebook to a post by Darlene with intimate details of Kate’s recovery from the Barry, without realising it went on my ‘ wal’ and not simply to Darlene. Eldest daughter quickly ‘phoned to advise me of the blunder. Fortunately Kate hasn’t seen it. Jen was great because she didn’t have a go about a comment I’d made, in the same post, about Hannah and I taking bets that ‘Abigail’ would be ‘Abby’ by Christmas. Could have been worse, but new parents are a bit touchy.
Bloody typical. Signed up to the PostA Day Challenge which started YESTERDAY, and I forgot tiddley ot ot ot ot. Stream of consciousness. Take a word, a thought, or idea and run it into the ground chasing as many rabbits as possible along the way. Rabbits! No, no, it’s OK, June doesn’t have an R in it! Did you do that when you were a kid? It was deadly not to get there first with ‘A pinch and a punch for the first of the month and no returns!’ Which I THINK came irrespective of the spelling.
Rabbits nibble practically everything I plant, little bastards. Cuddlier than slugs though, who try to get there first.
Builders are in! Replacing the windows, courtesy of a considerate landlord.
Lord! Our GOD HELP US UKIP MEP is a Lord. William Earl of Dartmouth. I wrote to him asking how many debates he’d attended, how he’d participated and whether he’d voted. No reply. May be a Lord, but no gentleman, and no representative of mine. Didn’t vote for him. I expect his ancestors came over with William the Conqueror and stole England. Now he’s scared shipless the Bulgarians want to follow his example!
What else is occupying my fervent little mind? Richard Dawkins. Started following him on Twitter. He’s a bit sneerish for my taste, but really, you’ve got to hand it to him, he’s a man with a mission, and he does/should make people THINK.
Think it’s time to STOP… !
I had to have two goes at it: this is because I am not prone to giving up. This stubborn adherence to the unlikely, the improbable and the hard to swallow is my one weakness. (Ho ho ho)
The ‘it’ to which I refer in my opening shot, is a book: ” The New Earth: Create a Better Life” by spiritual teacher and winner of my Peter Pan look-alike award, Ekhart Tolle.
The first time round, I found myself, after just a few paragraphs, in ‘hard to swallow’ mode. I am not THAT sceptical, in fact just the opposite: it’s scarily easy to lead me on and catch me out investing trust in the most outlandish propositions. I’ll believe anything, and usually do.
I once gave myself a migraine ranting in full-on indignation at the television set over an EU regulation specifying the length and breadth of carrots, the piece coming complete with the presenter holding the mould into which carrot seeds were to be sowed, in order to ensure compliance. It was a hoax. it was All Fools Day, and I came top.
I’m not stupid, however, so I have to believe that intelligence and gullibility are not mutually incompatible. I like being a trusting softie, it keeps me smiling, and out of as much trouble as it gets me into.
Yes, I’m rambling. Let me take a sip of my tea and…
In the back of my mind sits ‘Number 45′ in my ’99 Things To Do Between Here And Heaven’ book: ‘Write A Statement of Faith’.
I have been a Christian since the date of my baptism which was in November 1950, and as I was only six weeks old at the time, I like to think some kind of pre-bap agreement had me covered even earlier.
I believed nothing at six weeks, of course, and in the course of the following fifty years or so, I came to believe A LOT. Sometimes, I even acted on my beliefs, with a startling caveat. I never really swallowed hell. Or punishment of any kind. I nodded in the direction of it, and never wasted my breath opposing it, I just knew at a deeper level that a God who spends your whole life telling you he loves you, then throws you into a fiery pit because he caught you out doing something you didn’t ought to have done, which he allowed you to do, didn’t add up.
I don’t know that the insights into the incomprehensible world of the Spirt that I gained from Ekhart are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, I don’t even know if ‘right or wrong’ works with the unknowable. I guess you just have to go with the intangible, but ever-present inner witness, that whispers a silent, ‘Yes!’ and warms your heart. You may not be comfortable with that concept, but you know it’s there. Recognising its Presence is the beginning of awareness of your spiritual evolution that has nothing to do with hell, and everything to do with truly knowing who you are, and what your purpose is.
Ekhart writes that your purpose is to bring consciousness into the world. To walk through your day fully aware, totally present, not harking back to the past, or concerning yourself with the future. There’s more, lots more, but that, I think, is enough.
Is he onto something really big? I don’t know. How could I? I do know that a lot of what I believed for more than fifty years served no useful purpose whatsoever. So my Statement of Faith, when I get around to writing it, isn’t going to be very long.
I spent a magical afternoon yesterday with a significant proportion of my family, enjoying myself.
There was food, wine, Harry Potter, putting the world to rights, (‘The government has no money, mum’, ‘Oh, OK, we’ll let them all starve then, shall we?’), The Ashes, (Cricket match against Australia, Darlene. You know, three days long, with breaks for tea. We’re winning.) and there was play.
LOTS of it. Hide-and -seek in a garden with only two places to hide, provided a bit of a challenge, but I’m a seasoned grandmother, and I rose to it. Rosie and I conspired together not to see one another, and Abigail did the counting.
A few days ago, I was rooting about in my ‘office’ when I came across this:
I’ve had it for more than thirty years. For thirteen years, it was posted in a prominent place in my school, and it was the most significant document in my possession. ‘This is how we do it here.’ It said, and we meant it.
That was then, and this is now. I glanced down the list, and it dawned on me that this stuff isn’t just for kids! I think that grown-ups could transform their relationships, or form new and exciting ones, by taking a few of these on board:
27. Invite them over for juice.
28. Suggest better behaviours when they act out (Well, perhaps not THIS one… .)
30. Hide surprises for them to find.
44. Tell them how terrific they are.
45. Create a tradition together and keep it.
50. Find a common interest.
51. Hold hands during a walk.
58. Point out what you like about them.
96. Delight in their uniqueness.
120. Write a chalk message on their sidewalk. (A personal favourite… .)
124. Encourage them to help others.
147. Be spontaneous.
150. LOVE THEM NO MATTER WHAT.
The point I’m trying to make, is: When did you stop having fun? Good, serious, bare feet in the park, giggling in the sea, FUN.
I rarely boast of my achievements, but here’s one I’m proud of.
I never have. Stopped. You know it.
God knows how. It’s a mystery.
I expect you think I’m being metaphorical on the pendulum question. Poets have the write. But no. This post is not a plea for politicians to behave themselves, or family values to go this way or that. It’s about a remarkable timepiece.
Three years ago I bought a rather kitschy clock in Aberystwyth. It’s a glass-fronted pretty little thing with flowers and songbirds etched around its face. I gave it to Kate as a house-warming present, but somehow in her going from here to there and back again, the clock, still boxed, ended up in the spare room with a rich collection of my daughters’ left overs.
Well, I like it. So I deboxed it, and hung it on the wall in my bedroom.
It’s a stupid clock in some ways. It has birds and flowers, but no numerals, so timing is never quite exact, and the pendulum is purely decorative. Or has been. For two years the pendulum has hung stubbornly and uselessly down. In the beginning, I tapped, pulled, adjusted, swore, tinkered and, in desperation, bashed, to no avail. The pendulum moved not a twitch. I gave up.
This is hard for me. I don’t usually give up, and, believe me, this is not always a good thing. Eventually I allowed the pendulum BE a metaphor:
There are some fights you can’t win.
Some things you just can’t fix.
There’s room in my life for the purely decorative
I reconciled myself to a clock with a pendulum that wasn’t going to work.
And then – a window opened, and the sun shone in, and the pendulum began to swing.
Early morning sunshine struck the silver disc and reflected a shiny penny of light, which oscillated gently – left, right, left, right, on the wall to my right, . It was this movement that first caught my eye. It took me less than a second to look up and to the left and discover the clock proudly presenting me with a fully functioning pendulum. Left-right, left- right. Tick, tock, tick tock. (Poetic licence. Battery-driven clocks don’t tick, or tock, sadly)
That was twenty minutes ago. It’s still going. I am thinking perhaps the slight breeze coming in through the open window is the cause. I don’t know, I’m afraid to touch it in case it stops. Instead, I shall revisit my metaphors:
Never write anything off
Sometimes broken things fix themselves
There’s still room in my life for the purely decorative.
Time to get up.
Oh! By the way, Kate – if you read this – you’re not getting your clock back.
I walked slowly home from babysitting Abigail this morning.
When the weather’s good, and the ground underfoot, dry, I walk the green lane. It is an extension, in it’s way, of Bury Barr Lane out of Newent. It was, a century or so ago, I suspect, the cattle-rutted Drovers’ Road to Gloucester. It’s now beleaguered and set about on all sides by the new housing developments, whose faux-rural names I have mercifully forgotten.
Rubbish is frequently tipped over into this cool green tunnel – garden waste, knackered lawn mowers and non-functioning kitchen appliances – by the sort of people who would do that sort of thing. All of which is regularly ‘disappeared’ by the sort of people who wouldn’t.
Yes, a cool, green, tunnel. A hundred yards of retreat. A multi-sensory experience of the wildwood fringe, that would be difficult to recreate today.
The sun is finally warm. I think of my hat, hanging, forlorn, in the cupboard under the stairs, and wish it wasn’t. I stop to chat to a twittering grey squirrel and again, to let the birds have their say too. I note where the bluebells will burst open next week, and admire the golden riot of lesser celandine, reflecting,in their blowsy way, the glory of the sun-shining . (Even when it’s not.) By mid-May, St. Anne’s lace will be waste high and peppering the air with a pale cream scent from it’s flamboyant parasols.
I’m savouring this. I let all that I see, and hear, and smell and feel, coalesce into a memory of a beautiful morning, in late Spring. One that I will recall over and over again when memory is all I have left.
I don’t walk alone.
Flash died today. I wrote of Flash last year (Http://quodlibetter.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/bumping-into-flash.html) That guy could spin a yarn so incredible that you might think that no-one would believe it but me. His scrapes with the law, which he held in contempt, featured the longest chases, the most spectacular escapes, the most unlikely outcomes… . No one DID believe them but me.
Dirty heroin? Vodka and pills? The streets are rife with rumour. It hardly matters. He was careless, and now he’s dead.
I walked the green lane with Flash this morning. A hundred yards of retreat.
Have you ever made a grand plan that started out as a good idea, and that’s pretty well where it ended up?
I have. I write poetry as a means of keeping my haphazard and over-heated imagination in some semblance of disorder. Whether you think it good or bad depends on whether you’re the victim of my muse-ings, I guess – and besides, that’s not the point.
I often have to rely on my subconscious to bale me out of a sticky situation, and such was the case when my creative writing teacher invited me to let him in on what my project would be for my final assessment. Until the words came spilling out of my mouth, I hadn’t the faintest idea,
‘I am going to combine my interest in quantum physics with my penchant for Arabian Dance, and I’m going to write 80 lines, and I’m going to call the piece ‘Dancing Across The Cosmos.’
No sooner said than undone. I cursed myself for a fool. ‘Quantum Physics’???? ‘Arabian Dance??? ‘ ‘Both???’ I wish I had been drinking and could have used inebriation as an excuse, but no. My subconscious had dropped me in it, and was laughing its head off. ‘Take that!’ It whispered, as if getting its own back for some deep, and as yet unresolved, conflict of interest.
My tutor was quite excited. We stopped talking final assessments, whilst I explained that I was very interested in the fact that most of the universe appears to be missing, and I would rather like to go and find it. After all, I explained, I had read, and find it to be true enough, that physicists resort to metaphor to explain themselves, and I reckon if they have the temerity to stray onto my territory, than I am in my rights to push back.
‘Dancing Across The Cosmos’ remains a castle in the air. My Apprentice Piece was 100 lines ranging over Love Lost, Love Found, Spring, and Growing Old, just like everybody else’s. I raised my mark for originality to 4/5 by including a poem called, ‘Death and Emily Dickinson’. I reckon it was Emily that did it for me, though, not Death. We poets have to stick together.
Death And Emily Dickinson
Pale, this lover climbs the stairs.
Cold, -expectant, –
She pulls back the coverlet,-
And turns her face
To a chill embrace.
Death covers her moans with a kiss, – to the lips, –
From icy fingertips.
Suddenly ,– as he comes, –