In through the nose..

..and out through the mouth. And breathe.

So listen. Its a week until my annual leave and when I look at my “to do before I go”  list at work it makes me come over all “fainting Victorian lady” but here I am anyway. Calming myself through the power of breathing and typing. This does not necessarily mean this will be particularly coherent so brace yourself.

Been a bit challenged on “kindness” this week. Those who know me at all know that I believe that kindness has a supernatural element in it. It’s a Fruit of the Spirit and I have always thought that being kind released God to make great things happen in situations. Indeed I have seen this for myself. However, I have found out that kindness is not always welcome and is sometimes taken as a sign of weakness leading people to treat you badly. This was a bit of a shock to me. (I know. I need to get out more) but, thinking about it, I still believe that this is God’s way – to be kind. So you have to just carry on with it, believing that it will make a difference in the end. Don’t know why I’m moaning. Very nice lady kindly bought me a bunch of flowers to cheer me up.

Have spent happy morning at a car boot sale. I do like rummaging. Offspring Two came with us but she is a bit wary because some of the people there have several teeth missing and look as if they have been the subject of a Crimewatch reconstruction. Still, she brought Fleetwood Mac on vinyl home so she was happy, as was Head of House who returned with Motown vinyl and something to stick under hall rugs to stop them slipping. (Breaking News for Head of House. You were robbed. Carpet is still migrating under door and tripping up all comers. Sorry.) I like china. (Not so much the county – more the crockery) and came home with some Blue and White (anything that doesn’t have people on it. I’m not so keen on Willow Pattern) for 20p. Bargain! I also got some old plates for BBQs on the beach. I hate paper plates on the beach. I keep dropping stuff and I think eating BBQed chicken off vintage plates is very civilised. (Fortunately for you, only I can hear everyone in the house laughing at me – so i will ignore them) I do like a bit of shabby chic which is one reason why people think our dog Lucy is called Cath Kidson. See photo above.

Spent some time reading a few blogs about diet. Some people are apparently re-thinking the macrobiotic approach as too extreme and are moving away from it. Now they are allowing themselves treats like hummus on brown bread etc. This may be a loosy-goosy approach to diets for these healthy people but it still makes my diet look like a wheelbarrow full of lard. How does anyone live without crisps and Cadbury’s Wholenut? I mean, I’m not a fool. Its weekends only (Unless it’s on offer at the Co-op) but surely everyone needs a treat? Working out what to eat and serve the family without killing them off is a nightmare. In case you didn’t see it among all the proper news, drinking eight glasses of water a day is not only not particularly good for your skin, weight, brain etc as was formerly thought but it can actually kill you! The time to drink is when you are er.. thirsty. Who knew? How do you get young people who can put up a convincing argument that mushrooms are of the devil to eat healthily? Beats me. Head of House is off to get weekend fish and chips.

Too much news this week. Horrible stuff. Always a bit shocked to see people saying Amy Winehouse brought it on herself. Well, I suppose so but surely, there but for the Grace of God go any of us? Given a different set of circumstances – how many of us can be totally sure we wouldn’t end up the same way?

PS Last week Fruit of Womb One spent approximately 15 seconds trying to set up Facebook page for me as a writer. Apparently, this is what people do and I can put stuff on there – writey sorts of things and maybe on Twitter. ( I am on Twitter but only to stalk Danny Baker and Steve Martin) Also if you “like” the page it is apparently easier to let you know about postings. (possibly) Anyway, he lost interest when “Have I Got Old News For You” came on but I don’t know whether its worth finishing. Describing myself as a writer seems a bit over the top. Any thoughts? Will think about it and get back to you. Promise this will be more coherent and indeed spiritually helpful next time. Almost certainly.

If you’ve never made a mistake..

..then you’ve never tried.

As so often happens Tom Jones was right when he said “Its not unusual” and indeed it isn’t unusual for me to have messed up. My motives were good. Time together as a family. So when free tickets were available for an evening out together, my interest was stirred as you can imagine. The event was “Cinema in the City” – a showing of Blade Runner outdoors at the Lido – Plymouth’s beautiful old outdoor pool. This evening would combine culture, supporting a local event and a flippin’ good film. What could possibly go wrong? Well quite a lot as it happens. Firstly the event was on the same night as a bbq the offspring wanted to attend. However, we weighed it up and as we spend at least three nights a week ferrying them to events all over Devon and as family evenings together may be more difficult to come by after October, we decided to issue a three line whip and insist that they come with us. This does mean, however, that the pressure is on to produce a fairly entertaining event, as they are missing something they would prefer to be at.
Things started to go wrong when the weather changed mid-week. “Changeable” was the phrase used by the man in the 1980s suit who does the weather. “Apocalyptic” may have been more accurate. Still, we wouldn’t let a little thing like the weather put us off. So, we wrapped up and off we went. 8.30 it said on the tickets and we turned up a little earlier than that because we are northern and that’s what people who have manners do. Trouble was, when we collected our blankets (maybe another ominous sign) the lady on the desk informed us that it would be kicking off at 9.30 (ish) Sorry? An hour and a half? Sitting a yard away from a not exactly mill pond like ocean? And it won’t start until 9.30? I enquired at reception about the reasons for this but was told that it was an experiment and they weren’t sure what time it would go dark enough to project. My feeling was that this is quite an exact science and the aforementioned weather man in 80’s suit may have been able to help them with that one.
Still, we sat there for a while. Waiting. Although I knew that fingers were getting numb and tempers were getting short. I also realised that if the film was the director’s cut – we could be there until the early hours. And then it started to rain. Reluctantly, I admitted that I had made a mistake and we left, returning home to warmth, a glass of wine and a Top of the Pops compilation.You can’t win them all.
But the truth is that if you don’t try, you will never know. If you don’t put yourself out there and have a go, you might as well just curl up and not bother. I have a natural tendency towards invisibility. I hate to draw attention to myself. Sometimes this blog is almost painful for me because my default mode is keeping my head below the parapet. But you do have to have a go. You have to take what you are given and push it a bit. It may or may not go horribly wrong – who can tell? Things just might need adjusting a little for them to work next time. In the case of the outdoor film – a reasonably accurate start time would have helped me. Just give or take an hour or two – I’m not unreasonable. Sometimes, you may need to keep trying and build a higher skill level to make things work. Sometimes you may have to give up and admit it was a mistake. Would that be so bad? Isn’t it worse to watch life slip away and never know how good it could have been?
Wiser people than me have said that life does not fall into your lap. It has to be lived. Jesus sometimes gets a bit of bad publicity for saying
 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. Seems quite harsh. But if you read the whole story, it is an observation rather than a curse. Those who risk may fail but those who don’t try never get the chance to succeed. Succeeding could be quite nice I think.

Sometimes failure brings its own joys too. Maybe not for Blake Bergstrom though but bless him for allowing it go out there.

We’ll have none of that

I hate the hairdressers. Not in a personal way just the fact of it. I hate having to try and make conversation so I end up feeling like an autistic savant who is auditioning for Rain Man as I occasionally bark out phrases like “The weatherman said it could rain by three o clock!” or even more bizarrely “I don’t think I’ve ever had my legs waxed!”. So I prefer companionable silence as I watch her cutting my hair and then blow dry it into a shape that makes me look like I am wearing X Men’s Magnito’s helmet. And, I suspect like many other women, I find myself thinking, “Never mind – I can do it how I like it when I get home.”
So then begins the game in my head which I have always played. Loosely titled – “We’ll have none of that in heaven”, it’s not a very interesting game. It’s just me making a list of the things I’ll be happy to see the back of when I get to heaven. This morning it was hairdressers. I’m not sure how it will work but I never get the feeling that there will be much hairdressing in heaven. Although in the children’s bibles I read a lot of the angels looked as if they had benefitted from a good body perm, I’m not really convinced that there will be much call for it. I would forgive you now if you were thinking about about that CS Lewis quote that says “if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them” (Mere Christianity). Quite right. As I was saying, it’s thinking about the things that will no longer exist in heaven like war, famine, the cult of Katie Price and cankles. It can be quite comforting.
The is another, more beneficial, game about heaven that I play sometimes. My friend Mary worked it out and I developed it a bit. In the Bible, where Jesus says “In my house there are many mansions, I go to prepare a place for you.” I also add mentally that my house will have a garden shed. And in that shed there will be a shelf. On that shelf I put in jars, all the things that have happened to me that I can’t understand why. Some are minor. Many are major. The most recent being the death of my brother. I know that I will never fully understand about that while I live on earth. I can then choose whether to allow this to affect me for the rest of my life and particularly affect the way I feel about God. Or, knowing what I know to be true about God in other things, I can put it in a jar, on a shelf in my heavenly shed, and get on with my life as best I can. I then know that one day, if I want to, that I will be able to take the jar down and ask a few probing questions along the lines of “what was that all about?”. In practice, I expect that I will be so caught up that I probably won’t bother. But I feel it’s ok to reserve the right to ask anyway.

Speaking of “What is that about?” I give you John Daker. I have no idea what is going on here but I demand that this man sings solo in our church this Sunday! Do not bother me again with your Tim Hughes and your Hillsong!

Recognising Your Joy Bits

I have to start this with an apology. I have had a week and a half. Nothing exciting – only work etc. Usually, I sit down with what I want to say on the blog and think about it and craft it into the finished product. (this may come a surprise to you but it is true.) So, if you will forgive me, this is a bit different this week. Like I said, a busy if mundane week and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and then remembered the things I had written about gratitude. But gratitude is really difficult if you don’t think you have anything to be grateful for and, I have to be honest, I’m not as good as I should be at summoning gratitude for the health of my nearest and dearest and the fact that I have a job and can eat etc. So I have looked at this average week and highlighted some of the bits of it that brought me joy, even though I may not have recognised it at the time.

In no particular order..

  • Saturday afternoon. One sprog camping overnight in Cornwall. One in town looking at shoes. Just me, the Women’s Wimbledon Final, and a Magnum I had hidden at the back of the freezer.

Friday. Head of House, me, bottle of red wine taken in the grounds of Hargreaves Towers in the early evening.

  • Friday afternoon around three pm. Realisation dawns that its nearly done for the week and a couple of days off is moving into view.

  • Saturday night. All week I have been telling myself to try that dress on because I haven’t worn it for ages and I don’t want to be on the last minute because I know we have to be at the ‘do’ at 8pm and I also know that I don’t have a Plan B as far as clothes for the evening go. But I never did try that dress on and now its 7:45, I am late as usual and I step into the dress in a state of dread and….it zips up perfectly!

A line of whites.

  • Sunday morning. The pastor says “and now the children and young people are going to leave us” and as I watch them file out, laughing, chatting and holding hands (mainly the girls that one), I am struck by two things. How glad I am that I am not a youth leader anymore and how brilliant it is to watch these amazing young people in here on a Sunday Morning.

  • Most nights of the week. Two adults. Two teens. Around the tea table. Laughing, sharing the day’s events and interesting if sometimes combative  (from Sprog One) conversation.

  • One beach. Two Jacks. Half a dead seagull. Let joy be unconfined!

Does it really get any better than the Charlie Brown clan dancing to Sly and the Family Stone?

And I find to my surprise that I could go on. Try it for yourself. (well you can if you want to) you don’t have to obviously. You may have had a better week than me!

The Comeback Kid

I have made it part of my mission this week to follow Head Gardener round on one of his tours of the grounds and impart my gardening wisdom and opinions, whether they are asked for or not. I have included this photo of one of our roses, not because it is the most beautiful, but because it is the most comforting. We only have three roses here at Hargreaves Towers. The other two are my Roy Castle Rose and a white one that was supposed to be a climber but has stubbornly remained at base camp despite verbal threats and Morecambe lifting his leg on a regular basis, which I would have thought would have encouraged it to grow upwards if only to get away from the smell. Anyway, the third one is the Comeback Kid. This is our Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree. If you don’t know the story of Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree you can look it up on YouTube or something. I also think that Friends shamelessly stole the story so you might be able to see it there. Anyway, the Head Gardener picked this up at some garden centre for 50p. (despite my best advice) It didn’t look very well at all. There was one tiny green bit on it and the rest looked like it was as dead as a dead thing in a half price dead sale. But this year – roses. Lots of them. Of course, I come from a religion, that thrives on comebacks and the longer I live, the more I see that makes me believe that anything can be recovered from. So I asked Head Gardener, who is pretty smug about his success to stop smirking and tell me what things he had put in place to ensure the Comeback Kid had the best chance of recovery.

  1. Put it in the right place. Try and keep it safe from pests including Morecambe (Lucy doesn’t wee-wee up things – it’s a genetic fact) In short, give it the best environment possible.
  2. Feed it well. This takes a bit of investment. (Rose feeder – Wilkinsons – £2.49 on offer – bargain!) but the time and the money is worth it.
  3. Keep things gentle for a while. Watch it in frosts or scorching sun. Don’t expect it to be able to take everything that is thrown at it straight away.
  4. Expect the first recovery roses to be a bit weedy but don’t lose heart. This rose probably wouldn’t win any awards but keep doing the right things and the next set will be stronger.
  5. In the end though, you put everything into place but it really is down to the rose. The right conditions are important but it has to actually do the recovery thing itself.

You are probably way ahead of me but these are good principles for anyone in recovery from any trauma – physical, mental or spiritual. Surround yourself with people you trust and know care for you and if you don’t know enough people to actually be surrounded by then ask your closest friends to do their best for a while. Watch what you are feeding yourself with. You know as a Christian, I know no better source than the Bible but as well as that, keep away from the stuff you know drags you down. Be gentle on yourself. If at first you don’t succeed and everything.. If the first signs of recovery are disappointing – it doesn’t matter. Keep going. But in the end it is up to you. People can support. God intervenes. But it will take your commitment and effort to get back into the sunshine.

On a less edifying note. Head Gardener has an anti social habit of getting rid of snails by picking them up and throwing them over the wall. This is anti – social both for the snail and any poor person walking past. Anyway, all his chickens came home to roost this week when one of his snail projectiles just missed a neighbour. He thought of trying to get out of it by playing innocent and pretending the snail had either jumped or been dropped by a passing seagull. In the end grovelling just about got him out of it. He’s too old for all this delinquent behaviour.

Challenging website of the week. This lady does the cleaning in 15 minutes a day. I do cleaning but could never get it done in that time. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t factor in stopping for a slice of lemon drizzle like normal people. Thats probably it.

On a personal note. My niece is now a bona fide holder of a degree. Congratulations Jessica.