How Did We Do?

Hello. Welcome one, welcome all. First of all, an apology. I forgot I was going on holiday last week and would be unable to blog. Sorry. I mean, it’s not as if we went very far. East Devon – Sidmouth, Seaton and Beer – that sort of thing. It was very nice – thanks for asking. Absolutely no Internet or phone signal though so if the Four Horsemen had come riding over the hill to signal the Apocalypse, the only warning we would have had was the whinnying. I am not saying this was a bad thing. We did four days with no phone calls and then, as we drove into Sidmouth, my mobile burst into life. Guess who?

“I’m just ringing to say ‘Have a lovely time and I’ve got no money.”

“Mum, we brought your money before we went. How have you spent it all?”

“No idea. I’ve played a lot of Bingo. A LOT. And I’ve won you lots of Maltesers.”

Before you get the idea that my Mum is the Doc Halliday of Maltester based gambling games, we went up this weekend and found that the money has gone because she has been hitting the charity table hard. (It’s not a price – it’s a donation!) A particularly striking lime green lace blouse which was three sizes too big has appeared. I’ve been told not to worry though because she intends to wear it as a nightie. That will be nice for the male carers – I said it was too big overall. I didn’t say it was very long.

Anyway – digressing. We stayed in an Airbnb. It was our first time. The place itself – a converted barn – was absolutely beautiful. It was beautifully appointed as they say, spotless and with better tableware etc. than we have at home. A bit heavy on the mosquitoes and other wildlife for my personal taste but nothing making HOH patrol with a flailing tea-towel couldn’t sort. It is the countryside I suppose and a few frankly terrifying members of God’s creation are to be expected. Could be worse. It could be Australia. HOH’s uncle emigrated to Australia on the £10 packages. Obviously, they have been there many years now and it is their home. I, however, struggle with the fact that, once a month, they have to get a specialist gardener in to spray the garden to keep the insects from coming into the house. This is because they are (a) very large and (b) sometimes LETHAL and therefore HOH lunging at them with a tea towel is not going to cut it. How lovely.

As I was saying, the Airbnb was a treat although I do find the process a bit high pressured. After the event, we had to do a review on the cottage and they had to do a review on us and how tidy we had left it and we weren’t allowed to see their review until we had done our review. Exhausting. Everyone seems to need a review these days. You order one thing and you get all these emails saying -“How was it?” “How did we do?” Sometimes it is quite difficult to wax lyrical when all you have bought online is that little plastic screen that you stick on the front of your mobile phone. I had to just leave the comment “It was fine” which is a bit underwhelming I know. I think they should comfort themselves with the thought that if I wasn’t happy, I would soon let them know.

Today in church was Harvest Festival time, which was great. I have been in churches where the Harvest Festival was considered a bit Roman or something so it would just get a mention as a sort of cough behind the Pastor’s hand before we moved onto something less idolatrous. So it was nice to be in a meeting that gave God a bit of credit for abundance (and there is abundance – we just can’t get it to the shops). However, we did not sing “We Plough the Fields and Scatter” which I think makes the whole Harvest service null and void. That is a disgrace. Top song. Did I ever tell you, I went to a wedding once for some workmates from the bank. They were not Christians but wanted a church wedding and were a bit thrown when the vicar informed them that songs from Carousel were not going to cut it. (The song was If I Loved You – which is very beautiful and I wouldn’t mind it at a wedding) Anyway- digressing. The only hymn they knew was We Plough the Fields and Scatter so we had that and it went down a storm.

Harvest Festivals have come on a bit since I was little. There’s none of this wrapping a cardboard box in foil while your mum searches through the cupboards for food to put in it and you keep finding her with her glasses on staring uncertainly at the date on the bottom of a tin of cling peaches. “Run down to Mrs Walker’s shop and get some big fruit to fill the box. I don’t know! BIG FRUIT!” Nowadays, it’s not going to pensioners who smile benignly and then chuck it all in the bin. It’s going to the Food Bank so it’s a serious business, unfortunately. Cash donations are accepted. Just to say again – we do have the abundance. We just don’t seem to be able to get it to the shelves in the kitchen cupboards of the poor. I think one of this government’s many problems is that they seem unable to zoom in on the individual life of the poor. So, all they see when they look at clawing back Universal Credit’s £20 uplift is the billions it will put back into the Treasury. They simply cannot recognise the difference that £20 makes to a family who is struggling when, to them, it is just the equivalent of a bottle of Merlot. A government has to make big decisions but they need to be able to know exactly what effect those big expansive decisions will have on the individuals. If you can’t do that, you are not governing.

The other thing the Harvest Festival is about these days is Climate Change. If we are going to use this land to feed us, we will need to look after it. I read this week that when World Leaders get together about Climate Change that many of them are making good decisions, then the advisors, the lobby groups and the mandarins start to whisper advice from outside interests and the whole thing falls apart. I guess the only way to take that sort of thing on is to make sure that your representative knows how you feel about this, then maybe they will be sure that you will be in touch again if they don’t listen and certainly making your feelings known through the ballot box. As I said before, everyone is after a review these days. Make sure your elected representatives know that you will be happy to provide one for them.

My heart was in my mouth watching protestors run into the road last week and I am not really sure that playing chicken is going to get people who are trying to get to work to listen to you. Be a nuisance though by all means. I read that people don’t get in touch with their MPs and Councillors enough. Email, write, establish contact.  The way you voted is not enough to tell them what you think about Climate Change. It is everyone’s responsibility. We need to give that nice Greta a week off. She looks to me like she could do with a rest and a couple of pies. Have a good week.

Here for you…

Hello. Welcome one, welcome all. I have had such an uneventful week, that I considered sending you a message saying that I was far too busy doing deep government things and making important government phone calls from my bedroom to send in a blog. But then I thought that there may be a lot of people out there who have seen me walking by the sea, reading books, having coffee with my family and, having at least half a brain cell on the go, they would realise that this would be a big fat lie and I would be found out almost immediately. Dominic Raab, I salute you for having such immense amounts of (admittedly misguided) confidence in yourself that you thought you might get away with this nonsense. Still, not to worry eh? No-one is going to ask you to resign or anything honourable like that. No-one resigns from this government. That’s how it works when the Prime Minister has appointed on loyalty rather than competence. You end up with a gang of no-hopers that cannot be shifted because they all have highly detailed maps of where all the bodies are buried and they hold signed promises of riches beyond their wildest dreams if they would just back the Blond Bombshell in his march to greatness.

Sorry, I’m not sure where that came from, I have had a niggly week. Do you have niggly weeks? I hesitate to even mention it because I am not from Afghanistan or Haiti or even Keyham in Plymouth but there it is.

I had a nice weekend. FOW2 came to visit so that was nice. As an act of outstanding generosity, I allowed her to watch Love Island. Well, there’s an eye-opener. I have never seen anything like it. I think FOW2 was aware of that because, at one point, without turning round, she said. “Close your mouth Mother. It’s not for you.” Which, of course it isn’t. Apart from the ritual humiliation, the pairing people up, the spending the whole day in bikinis, it’s the lips that I don’t get. I have old lady lips now. they appear to be disappearing back into my mouth like Kenneth Brannagh’s. But these young women have perfectly good, normal lips, then they inject things into them (I suppose they do, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert) until they look like Tom from Tom and Jerry used to look when he got his head stuck in a bees’ nest. (Can I just say that I will truck no criticism of Kenneth Brannagh who is wildly attractive for a man with no lips). What are we doing to the young people? It can be quite dispiriting. SO…reasons to be cheerful.

  1. Ruby Wax is back on the telly tonight. The documentaries are repeats but she is brilliant. Did I ever tell you that we saw he live once. Stand up. (Kids roll eyes and say “Yes, you did tell us”). She was very funny. And Alan Rickman was in the audience. What a way to live. Carrie Fisher is on it tonight. Roll on.
  2. It’s been a jolly nice day weather-wise and we made it down to the sea (approximately 15 minutes away) without it raining. Apparently, next week is going to be nice but I don’t know about you – I can smell Autumn in the air. I don’t mind that but there are a lot of people making people’s lives in Devon and Cornwall a misery because the weather is not up to the standard in Morocco. Pshaw! And, while we are at it. It is NOT a “Staycation” to have a holiday in the UK. That is what is known as a “holiday”. A staycation is when you have a week off work and paint a shelf or clean out the salad drawer or lie on the settee watching three Marvel movies a day. (I believe). And let’s not start on HOLIBOBS shall we?
  3. I have taped The Lady Vanishes (Margaret Lockwood version. Is there any other?) for my personal use, later on in the week when HOH is working late. Who says I lack ambition? STOP PRESS – apparently we don’t “tape” things now. There you go again, mixing me up with someone who is bothered.
  4. My Boob squeeze came back clear.

5. I read a book I really liked. It’s a murder mystery. Uncomplicated and easy to understand, that’s the kind of thing I am up for now. It’s harder to write than it looks I think.

So, see, I can do it when I want to – cheer up that is.

In the words of CS Lewis “We are what we believe we are.” So I’m going to believe that I am a cheerful person in the face of adversity – not mine – other people’s – which, I’ll be honest diminishes me a bit but that’s all I have today and, in the words of the Instagram influencers “I am enough”. (Which I am obviously not but God is and he likes me and is very much on my side for reasons that only he knows and that, I think, is more than enough).

Cultured

British Museum

Hello. Welcome One, welcome all. I had a week off social media. You have to sometimes don’t you? We watched a lot of Olympics. It has been a bit marvellous I feel – despite the sneaking suspicion that it possibly should not have been happening at all. You have to feel a bit sorry for Japan – all that work (and money) and not one ticket sold. Still, it has been a welcome dose of normality in the middle of these trying times and possibly will mark the time when we began to turn a corner towards the next stage of life – those of us fortunate enough to live in a country that can afford the vaccination and the healthcare.

We had a week off work. That was also jolly good. We went to London for the day. I have to say that London is a completely different kettle of fish now than it was when we went a month ago. Paddington station was packed as was the Tube and, it seemed to be people from many lands, not just English people. Did we raise all the restrictions early? We went to a couple of exhibitions at the British Museum and they were excellent – if busy. I spent more time than I had anticipated pressed up against Nero’s bust.

The exhibition itself was very interesting. It re-evaluated the reputation that Nero has in history and how much his reputation as a murderous killer of family, friends and anyone who got in his way was influenced by other people who took control of the narrative by having his statues altered and making Christopher Biggins play him in I Claudius. They made a very convincing argument, except for the fact that they didn’t mention the Christians at all. And if Christians over the years have had a bit of a go at Nero’s reputation maybe that had something to do with all the using them as bait in the arena, wholesale arrests and blaming them for the great fire. That kind of thing is apt to make you a bit down on a person. It was certainly interesting to see all the good he did and the modernising but I would have preferred a bit more of a balanced view.

While we were the we also saw the Thomas Beckett exhibition. Also highly recommended. I am still that person who oohs and aahs when she is told that the thing in front of her is from the year 1180. In the past I have not been the biggest fan of the story of Thomas Becket and there is one person to thank for that – TS Elliot. He was the poet/playwright that was forced on us at A Level. Our English teacher said “You will either get him or you don’t”. I didn’t. I went to see “Murder in the Cathedral” and it dragged on for so long that I nearly ran forward and finished him off myself.

BUT the story is fascinating. Thomas Becket and King Henry were best friends. Thomas was Chancellor and worked hard to make sure that Henry got his dues from the church. Henry then made Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury. There is no suggestion that religion played any part in this decision. Henry wanted his own man on the inside to deal with the Pope. (This is my own summation. Do not call Simon Schama to check).

Then, well who knows what. What would we call it today? A religious conversion? Getting God? Being born again? Whatever you would call it, Thomas began to take his responsibilities as a man of God much more seriously and started to make sure that he wasn’t in when Henry came round with a few demands that he felt both men had agreed to before Thomas’s “promotion”. As well as this, he got all preachy with Henry and there is nothing more annoying than the newly converted telling you your business. Especially, I would imagine, when you are King and very few people feel secure enough point out the error of your ways. This did not end well for Thomas after the King sort of accidentally on purpose wondered out loud who would help him deal with this man and four soldiers with really big swords stepped in to help.

A cult grew up around the dead Archbishop and lots of healings happened in his name including a particularly interesting one where a man who had his testicles cut off after picking a fight in a tavern (think twice before you have that fifth shandy) had them restored to him in full working order. Look – don’t blame me, there’s a stained glass window commemorating it. Not really what you would expect in Canterbury cathedral I suppose. There are lots of relics of Thomas. Enough I would say to put together and make two or three people. As HOH said, “there are bits and bobs of him all over the place”.

Being brought up in a sparse, pared back kind of Christianity, I don’t really know what to think about the relics but I have been quite thoughtful about what sort of encounter with God Thomas had to change him so radically. He left all the power and the influence behind. Sometimes, I feel don’t feel enough of God’s influence in my life to make me open a Bible – never mind mixing it with the King of England. And the level of faith for miracles that I display doesn’t help me believe for a fraction of the things I think I should do – and certainly not for attaching someone’s bit and pieces back onto his body in full working order. (This is not a ministry I am hoping to develop by the way).

It made me think a bit. About who God is and about a faith made for grown ups that is important and life changing and worth going after.

“Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.
    Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.
Don’t let the rich brag of their riches.
    If you brag, brag of this and this only:
That you understand and know me.
    I’m God, and I act in loyal love.
I do what’s right and set things right and fair,
    and delight in those who do the same things.
These are my trademarks.”

Jeremiah 9

What a week that was (not really)

Hello. Welcome one welcome all. I wish I could promise you something of value this week. It’s been too hot to do very much apart from go to work, come home, lie on the settee (preferably face down) and try and sleep through the night. We don’t have windows in the apartment – we have to leave the sliding doors open if we want any air, which I feel leaves us vulnerable to any passing serial killers. (HOH wisely points out that the serial killer would need to be a world class climber as we are two floors up). However, axe murderers not withstanding, we had to leave the doors open overnight. All went well until about 4.30 am, when the Dawn Chorus began. Except that, round here, our Dawn Chorus is provided by about one hundred seagulls who like to spend the early hours flying in circles above us, trying to outdo each other in the screaming department whilst trying to peck each other to death. It was like having one of the mass killing scenes from John Wick playing out over your head.

Not that I have ever seen John Wick obviously. Too much slashing with knives for my gentle sensibilities. We did watch a cartoon on the Disney Channel last night – Raya and the Last Dragon. Very good and about my limit at the moment. Mind you, Disney is a bit different these days. Apparently, they are about to show the entire Walking Dead series. It’s a far cry from the days when the nearest to violence Disney got was a cartoon King John pulling an arrow out of his hat. (Robin Hood – top movie).

AND on top of everything else, my feet have swelled up. I understand that, against everything else that is going on in the world at the moment, this is unlikely to even raise Ursula Von Der Leyen’s eyebrow but, it gets on my nerves. I can’t get shoes on and it’s unflattering. My grandma (I used to call her Big Gran – it was about her height rather that her wrestling name) had flaming red Rita Hayworth hair – I didn’t inherit that. She had startling green eyes – I didn’t get those. She had alabaster skin with tiny freckles – I didn’t get either of those. She had a propensity for ankles that swelled like tree trunks in the heat – guess what?

Or to use Aged Parent’s succinct summing up of the situation

You do remind me of your Big Gran but you got none of her good points did you? Just her rotten legs.

Quite.

Despite all my travails, we made it to church this morning. One of the leadership team was leaving – nothing I said I don’t think. She’s called Deacon Linda. Is it a Methodist thing to address people by their titles this way? If I’m completely honest I feel it sounds a bit Handmaid’s Tale but she probably worked hard to get the title so fair play really. Also, I’m never really that comfortable when senior members of the clergy say “Hey! Just call me Steve!” They never mean it.

Anyway, for Deacon Linda’s final sermon she spoke on the really famous passage from Jeremiah 29

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.

When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.

I think sometimes when a passage is really famous, we can just read it, nod our heads sagely and miss it a bit. We have had a few struggles here at Martha Towers. Aged Parent is moving to a different stage in the dementia journey and, though I had hoped that this might mean her standing in front of a full length mirror in a flapper dress, twirling round and generally being happy in her world, this does not seem to be the case. In reality, it involves paranoia, distress and lashing out – primarily at me. This can be all the more difficult because we have never been particularly close – she always preferred my brother and this makes for trying times. It was therefore a huge comfort to read famous – but no less true – promises about plans and security and a God who listens.

Have a good week. And thank you for listening too.

Com-moo-nion

Hello. Welcome one. Welcome all. Phew, it’s hot. I think it’s due to finish in about seven hours so, those of you who like this kind of thing (usually, younger people who haven’t macheted their way through the menopause) – you need to make the most of it.

It’s not even the school holidays yet,. although anecdotally, I believe at least 90% of the school population (pupils, teachers. dinner ladies, caretakers, people who sell drugs at the school gate) are all isolating at the moment so it feels like the holidays because there are young people everywhere. We live very close to the sea and, there are approximately 300 paddle boards, bobbing along nose to tail at any given moment. Bless them.

Today being Sunday we, as faithful, faith filled Christian types went to church. This morning was communion morning. I have spoken to HOH about this and have his full and cheery permission to talk about this, but HOH has more reason than most to dread communion. It’s not that he his battling inner demons (well not this week anyway) but HOH has a tremor – nothing sinister – it is a genetic thing. His mother had it, his sister has it and FOW1 has it. On a day to day basis, it has little effect on his life. I barely notice it – which can be problematic when he is waiting for me to carry a particularly full cup of coffee. But, when it comes to communion. he hates it.

His unfavourite way to take communion is in a very formal atmosphere. If he has to walk forward, kneel and take a small glass and drink from it, it can tip him over the edge. His big worry as he lifts the glass, is that we will all get bit. Also, when communion is given out by people who walk between the rows and thrust the tray at you for you to take your little glass – he often has to refuse. This leads to whoever is serving giving him a long hard stare because they think that there is some deep undeclared sin. (There is – you are really annoying me – by not taking that tray away after I said nicely NO THANK YOU).

We have had some problems with this in the past. We once drew a vicar’s attention to it because we weren’t sure how we could make it happen. His response was “I don’t think I have a solution really. We do tend to take communion kneeling at the front. We always have.”

The thing is, I sometimes wonder if we overdo it a bit. Obviously, it is a solemn and mature thing that should always be taken carefully and thoughtfully. But does that means that, we place lots of hedges around it to make sure it retains its mystery and solemnity?

When I was in the youth, people who served communion to the congregation were given instructions about what to do if they approached someone who didn’t know that there were there because they were deep in prayer/pretending to be deep in prayer/asleep. Servers were always trained to touch the person’s shoulder gently and say “The body/blood of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Lovely. except my friend’s grandad could never remember that so he would improvise. He would set off with his little tray and to get someone’s attention he would touch their shoulder and say,

“What about the Wanderers on Saturday eh”?

Or there was the time when an older child of Sunday school who was “working through a few things” (in other words – absolute nightmare – we all had to keep reminding ourselves that God loved him) told the rest of his class that he had heard what the server had said to gain someone’s attention. (The server was a man who was looking hard for a third wife and had the reputation of being a bit keen on the old jig-a-jig). The boy reckoned that the man had gained people’s attention by touching their shoulder and whispering a rude word that really make their eyes open quickly. Of course, it wasn’t true but it took us ages to close the rumour down.

This is the position that Communion has sometimes – anything that challenges the norm is sacrilegious.

Except one year on a youth camp. I went as one of the leaders. It was quite a long weekend, with a lot of back rubbing, tissue handing out, praying and explaining that the Second Coming may not be so imminent as to prevent you ever getting married. I wasn’t that sure that Jesus would hold off for weddings but it wasn’t my place to say. It was also the weekend where someone prayed for me and said the loveliest thing ever. ” Can I pray for you? I promise I won’t go mad.” See? Lovely.

Anyway, the leader decided that Communion would be taken in a field on the farm. We would take blackcurrant and bread and pray in the great outdoors. Except, he didn’t check the field first. The floor was full of cow pats, flies and, to our horror a couple of interested cows. The youth leader knew immediately that he had lost the room because people started laughing – despite trying not to. And he said, “It’s supposed to be a meal of remembrance, remembering love and joy and grace – and laughter and I can’t help but feel that God is fine with this”. And I have never forgot that morning.

As it turns out, during the pandemic, we have been using these little self sealed cups with bread and wine in them (see above). They are much easier for HOH to use and he can take communion along with everyone else. After the meeting, we asked the minister, with some trepidation if would be ok for him to continue – even though communion was going back to normal. We wondered if it would go against the grain a bit. His answer was an apology for not thinking about the problem and saying of course – he had a boxful of the things he was going to struggle to get rid of anyway. It was, in short, a relief.

You may feel different to me and that it is a solemn thing to always be done with great solemnity. I don’t have a problem with that – as long as it is done with bucketfuls of grace as well. Have a good week.