Challenge Not Challenge

This is the Woman Alive Summer Reading Challenge. I am not entirely sure how I am supposed to find any more time to read just because it is Summer, but you know me and it is not in my nature to nit-pick so let’s assume that all my day to day commitments have disappeared because I have prickly heat. (For people who don’t know Woman Alive is a Christian magazine mainly for women although I don’t think anyone is particularly bothered who reads it. I like it a lot although I do get a teensy weensy tiny bit annoyed that the final “funny” page is written by a bloke. Can women not be funny? By the way – no problem with men writing for the magazine. They are usually very good and goodness knows that males can always do with the exposure. Rant over – nice and early this week)

This book challenge looks very interesting. The timing couldn’t be worse though because I am skint. Moving house is very expensive. We keep getting emails from solicitors saying things like

“Please find enclosed our bank details. Please transfer £240 into our account at your earliest convenience.”

Er. Thank you for your email. Not to be too inquisitive but why?

“Following on from our discussion it is for services rendered/Land Registry Fees/Staff Christmas Party” (Delete according to your level of disbelief)

So this is no time to run amok in Waterstones, is it? What with the list above plus all the Josephine Tey recommendations in the comments last week, (thanks very much all by the way) I might be looking to see if I can do at least some of it on the cheap. I have already been on the library website and ordered a book and I might have a look in charity shops. I’ll be ignoring the “Challenge” word. Like most people I am finding life challenging enough – why would I want to turn it into some kind of race? It’s just some interesting ideas.

Also this week, I discovered the Libby App. It’s an app on my phone and I can download audiobooks from the library as well as e-books. Last week I listened to Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide while I was walking to work, which was excellent. There are plenty of books to choose from but at my library, there are quite a few that you have to wait to borrow. I’ve just downloaded a very gossipy one about Prince Charles. I’m not proud of myself.

To the cinema, this week to see Toy Story 4 and to cry like a baby. It may be the stress of the move but there is a bit at the end where one toy hugs another toy (sorry, trying not to spoil) and I could barely get control of myself. I am known to be a bit of a movie cry baby. ET left me so devastated and snotty that small children were pointing at me and laughing as they left the cinema. Anyway, it’s highly recommended. Borrow a small person to go with if you think you need to. I didn’t bother.

Anyway, back to sorting out my Tupperware cupboard and getting rid of all the old ice cream tubs with no lids. I expect it’s very much like this at Harry and Megan’s house on a Saturday afternoon. After all, he’s said that they are very much “Private Citizens” now. Right. That boy thinks that we are idiots.

Have a great week.

The Daughter of Time

Josephine Tey

I understand that I am the last person in the Universe to read this book. Published in 1951 it tells the story of a fictional detective, Inspector Alan Grant. Inspector Grant is recovering in hospital from a fall down an open trap door believe it or not and, because he is bored, he begins to investigate the story of the murder of “The Princes in the Tower” – as you do. Thinking about it, it’s not a bad way to spend prolonged time in hospital. When my brother was in Bolton Royal, after being run over on a zebra crossing, it fell to me to play endless games of Connect Four to keep a bored schoolboy entertained. I have never really been able to look that game in the eye ever since.

Inspector Grant is a far deeper kind of person, fascinated by a portrait of Richard III and he thinks that he doesn’t look like the kind of person who would arrange for the murder of two young boys – which is a big assertion to make based on one portrait but that’s Inspector Grant for you. So he begins to investigate, undeterred by the fact that he is forced to lie down all the time and perhaps an even bigger obstacle, the fact that the crime happened almost 500 years earlier. I am not sure if this kind of detective story has been done before Josephine Tey wrote this book. I remember that Inspector Morse once solved a very old case from his hospital bed but that was fictional and therefore cheating a bit. I also remember, I think, a TV programme in the 70s where two detectives from Z cars pretended to look into old unsolved cases like Jack the Ripper and the Lindberg Killing. Was it Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor?

Anyway, this is a cracking book. You will not be surprised to learn that Grant is unimpressed by the accounts of the time that suggested that Richard was responsible and he comes up with someone else that he thinks is much more likely. (No spoilers but it is the usual person whose name always comes up as a suspect). I was glad that I do have a smattering of English history under my belt because there’s an awful lot of Henrys and their wives and offspring knocking about so you have to keep track. I enjoyed it and I agree with Alan that there is more to this than meets the eye.

Also interesting was the part played by Thomas More who wrote the definitive history of Richard III during the life of Henry VIII. For long complicated reasons of succession that I am too tired and undereducated to go into now, it went down very well with Henry VIII that Richard was portrayed as a wicked child murderer and a hunchback and, to no one’s surprise, More was happy to supply this narrative and we have more or less accepted that as the truth ever since.

I don’t think I would bet the farm on the possibility that Richard didn’t do it. Yet, in these times of fake news when we struggle to find the truth about politicians, leaders and plenty of others who want to be the boss of us, it is interesting to speculate on the narrative that we are being fed and who benefits from what we believe. We are assured that it shouldn’t make any difference what our leaders do in their private lives – so long as they get the trains running on time. I say – not so fast sweetheart! These are weird times. It falls to us to hold our leaders to account and, as much as we can, to make sure that we are hearing and judging by the truth even if that’s not always what people want us to hear.

What if?

It’s that time of year. The air is heavy with festivals and Christian conferences – especially Christian ladies’ conferences. I have no problems with these events. I’ve enjoyed lots of them and even spoken at one or two. I have never attracted the level of excitement of a Joyce Meyer or a Beth Moore but no one ever asked for their money back or anything.

I find the names of these events a bit off-putting. I quite like “Cherish” but that’s mainly because there was a nice girl at my school called Cherish and now I always have the association. (There was also a girl at my Primary School called Denise who kept pinching my earlobe so I am always a bit wary round Denises now). There is one in Manchester called “Luminous” and one in Plymouth called “Stilettos”. It’s titles like this that make me think these events are not really for the likes of me. If it was called “Comfy Trainers”, I might pay a bit more attention. I suppose it’s mainly to attract the young people because that’s what we need. Young people to prove that we are relevant.

I love young people. In fact, I believe the children are our future. (Sorry, I am going through a bit of a George Benson phase at the moment). Young people are under horrendous pressure, mental health problems are rife and young people – who with the advent of Social Media are seen and heard more than ever before are more lost and lonely than ever before. Do I believe that God is the answer for them? Most certainly I do. I just sometimes worry that church can chase the young people like bright shiny baubles so that no one will think that your church is just made up of old codgers like me.

Also, the thing is – I’m not sure I’m finished yet and you might well not be either. Maybe, as the great Tony Bennett often sings, “The Best is Yet to Come.” I thought about that this week when I was reading in John about the Wedding in Cana when I read the bit above. We expect all the achievements to happen when we are young and luscious. We are full of energy and ambition, families and dependants are maybe not with us yet and sickness and loss are rarer.

I think that our achievements may be measured differently because I think we have been around long enough to have realised that the things we used to pursue like a kitten with a pom-pom were not all they were cracked up to be.

We can understand better the satisfaction of caring for a loved one, without the fear of missing out on being where the action is. We are freer of the rush to possess as we have found out long ago that satisfaction does not lie in owning seventeen handbags. We like to watch what we eat but not so that we can squeeze into a size zero because, in the end, we understand the value of a pineapple cake to the health of our souls. We have discovered that it is entirely possible to go to Aldi without make-up. And, perhaps most importantly, we understand the value of a little nap.

Possibly as well, this is the time to write that book, to lead that group, to mentor the learners, to make ourselves available for the lost and the lonely – even those who may not look that cool on the church Instagram feed, to find forgiveness in our hearts for those who nearly broke us and teach others how to do the same.

We may be slower, we may be more tired, our race may be more of a determined walk with plenty of stop-offs for a nice cup of tea but we are still in the race and there may be more to come than we have imagined.

Ordinary

This has been a very ordinary week Mes Braves but I will share it with you because – well because you can’t stop me really. Onward.

I am back from a conference on Community Transport in London. I didn’t really see much of London – it’s not a sightseeing tour you know but the actual conference was very worthwhile. I’m not very good at events that have the word “Networking” in the timetable. In fact, if you do enjoy networking then I feel you have something seriously wrong in your wiring. Someone told me once that the way to enjoy this kind of thing is to forget about yourself and be very interested in the other person. That has never worked for me. First of all, I have to go up to someone and introduce myself before I get the chance to be all chummy and interested. Often, I find that I have fallen at the first hurdle. Also, it can be very hard to feign rapt attention when someone is explaining their devotion to crankshafts in minute detail. (I’m in Community Transport because of passion for the vulnerable rather than the buses they chug along in). This time, however, three charming people from Darwen took me under their wing and the fact that one of them had a guide dog called Eddie was more blessing than I could have hoped for.

I’m usually quite happy to go to stuff on my own but this time I may have overdone the “Let’s find the cheapest place possible to stay in to save money for the charity” sentiment. It was definitely a murder hotel. The photo above is the view from my window. Not exactly St Pauls is it? Also, the corridors (of which there were many – with no windows) did that thing where the light only comes on as you walk down the corridor and then switches off as you move on. So you are walking into darkness and plunging back into it behind you. If Jack Nicolson had come running around the corner with an axe, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. It’s a long time since I have wedged a chair behind the door before I went to bed. In fact, I have NEVER done that before. Breakfast was delicious though so maybe swings and roundabouts eh?

We went to the pictures a couple of times last week. Once to see a new print of Kind Hearts and Coronets. I had forgotten how funny it was. (Of course, I had. I haven’t seen it for thirty years and most days I struggle to remember to put milk on my muesli). Anyway, Alec Guinness, in drag in a hot air balloon trying to look serene is a top comedy moment. Tell your friends. We also saw “Woman at War” which is a small film about an Icelandic lady who is a choirmaster by day and an eco-terrorist at the weekends. No, don’t make that face – it is an excellent film, a bit off centre, I’ll give you that, but we loved it. Beautifully filmed, very funny and with a great twist that HOH saw coming and I didn’t. (I’m not sure I’ll ever hear the end of that).

All this is happening while HOH is putting most of the contents of our home onto Facebook Marketplace to sell. I understand that we have to do it – that’s what downsizing is all about obviously but it is a bit disconcerting to see half your life up for grabs for a lot of people who are haggling trying to knock 50p off a brass coal scuttle. Meanwhile, Aged Parent is also doing a bit of sorting out. Usually, this just means moving shoes that don’t fit from one carrier bag to another. (I’m not getting rid of them – they’re Marks and Spencer’s!) However, this time she assures me that she had had a trip to the charity shop to get rid of some.

“Yes, my friend and I delivered three bags to the Al Qaeda Mission.”

“Mum! The Shekinah Mission!”

“Whatever. “

Old

We have tentatively begun to sell off a few of our possessions with the idea of moving towards downsizing. It’s supposed to make me feel cleansed I think. It’s making me feel old – and not just because some of our furniture was bought by an actual MUSEUM. I just keep coming across things and realising how long we have had them and how quickly the time has passed. I am assured by everyone that has ever done this that I am perfectly normal and lots of people have felt this way. However, when you think of me when reading this, feel free to imagine me in a garishly printed crimplene dress with American-tan tights and very comfy shoes. For I have turned into that lady in the church who was always unhappy with the length of my skirts and I hate everything.

I am feeling more and more out of step with the “Modern World” (RANT KLAXON). These are the things that are making me ratty at the moment. I warn you – there be politics here and possibly some feminism.

One. The state of our leaders. Putting aside political affiliations – what on earth is going on? The favourite to be the next Prime Minister has made openly racist statements, been caught out multiple times having not done his homework for his job and has lied about things when challenged. This is before we get to his ever so slightly laissez-faire attitude to marriage, children, women – that kind of thing. He is refusing to answer any questions about this – well about anything really but his friends (For “Friends” read “People he has promised big jobs to”) have said things like “People shouldn’t be snowflakes.” What happened to leadership? What about just trying a bit to be the classiest person in the room? Because you ARE the boss of us.

Meanwhile, in the Red Corner, men who have shall we say “reacted unfavourably” when rebuffed by ladies who work for them have been severely disciplined by their leaders. Just joking! They have been told off in a very loud voice and asked not to do it again – if they don’t mind. Or, at least try not to do it fifty times or “top” people will be very cross. This is before we begin to look at the mentality of people who look at the Holocaust with a quizzical eye – wondering if it was really as bad as people say. Is this a race to the bottom? Does anyone need a spade to dig a bit lower?

HOH has been very excited by the return of Killing Eve. He will bow to no-one in his appreciation of the central performance by Jodie Comer. However, we had a discussion this morning while I was putting my socks on and he has come to a place where he has agreed with me (always wise in the long run) about my problems with programmes like this. The writing is brilliant, the performances are great and everyone in it is beautiful. It’s one of the coolest programmes on the telly. My concern is that stuff like this is normalising cruelty and violence. We watch this beautiful, interesting woman in expensive clothes do things that would, in the past, never have been seen outside a film with a warning. I’m concerned that our judgement glasses are getting fuzzy and, as it takes more to shock us, we are less able to recognise when something just isn’t good enough.

HOWEVER. If you have ten minutes, please have a look at this and be really comforted that someone has seen something that is wrong and is leading the charge against it. New York’s First Responders at 9/11 are paying a terrible price with serious health problems and Jon Stewart is not happy with the Government’s response. You could watch it and then sing several verses of Jerusalem if you want. Sing it on the bus if you want.

Say no to wrong.
    Learn to do good.
Work for justice.

Isaiah 1 17