FOW2 – It’s National Poetry Day

Me –  I hate poetry

FOW 2 – You don’t hate poetry. No one hates poetry.

Me – I do. Life’s too short. All that wondering what people are reeely saying or meaning. Blah.

Didn’t you do poetry at school?

Yup. John Betjeman. De da. De Dum. De Dah. About my limit. Although I never did give a monkeys about Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. Then there were the War Poets. Just so depressing. Eleven years old and at the end of English I was trying to do myself a damage with a milk straw.

Not a lot of laughs, I’ll give you that. Maybe you were too young? What about nonsense verse or limericks?

Ha ha. “The boy stood on the burning deck, picking his nose like mad. He rolled it into a great big ball and threw it at his dad.”

Ugh. That’s one of grandad’s and it’s disgusting. What about open verse?

Ok. I like “There was a young girl from Dundee, who was stung on her leg by a wasp. When asked “Did it hurt?” She said “No not a lot. He can do it again if he likes.”

That is NOT open verse

Everyone is an expert. 

(Leaving room and going upstairs) People who don’t like poetry have no soul. 

(Shouted upstairs) Well that’s me then. Oh and by the way I always thought “They TUCK you up your Mum and Dad” would have been a better line actually.

Wanders into kitchen harrumphing. Stops. Gets out old King James Bible. Thumbs  through and finds

Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, Isaiah 64

And…Preserve me, God, for in you do I take refuge.
My soul, you have said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord.
    Apart from you I have no good thing.” (Psalm 16)

And..By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, Psalm 137

I have been reading and loving these things all my life. I am, in fact, a very deep and spiritual person with a strong and poetic soul. So there. 

Happy Poetry day

On Thursday night I sat down to blog but unfortunately, I also had the Judge Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing on live in the background as well. (Does anyone else watch Beyond 100 Days on BBC4? I prefer it to the ordinary news). Anyway, the hearing took all my attention and then it was 9pm and all sensible thoughts had left my head.

I’m not going to go on about who was telling the truth because we don’t know. I know what I think, but that’s not much use to anyone without evidence. What struck me most of all was the desperate need of people to be heard. Because they haven’t been. Men and women but I suppose mostly women have been subject to assault, (sexual and otherwise) bullying and generally not being allowed to have an opinion. These may be strange times where a man can declare he is a woman, where what may have been an unintended slight is jumped on from a great height and where what seems like the most innocuos of statements can bring the un-holy might of social media down on your head. 

I think one of the reasons that this is happening is because people are sensing that, maybe for the first time, they will be heard. In the past, those who were assaulted, would rarely speak out  – especially if the person doing the assaulting was powerful – they didn’t expect to be heard. A person who was stalked either in real life or on social media would back off and bow down, because they felt that what was happening was not important enough to be listened to. But now, it seems that a door has been opened. Now all sorts of “interesting” people are walking through the door and some horrible voices are being heard but the lost and those who have felt disenfranchised are also taking their chance to speak.

People are sensing a moment. That is why a woman felt empowered enough to chase Senator Flake into a lift, begging him to listen. They feel the time is now. Of course, this is leading to some frankly ridiculous situations where “political correctness” may well have gone mad. (Can I just say though that a female Doctor Who is not political correctness. She is a good actor. She plays an alien. The sex is irrelevant. Why should it be a woman? Well why shouldn’t it? Have to say though. She isn’t Eccleston but that’s not her fault). And it does seem that sometimes  you are not allowed to say “Sorry – I don’t quite agree with that.”  The fact that no dissenting voices seem to be allowed cannot surely be right. I even agreed with Theresa May (sentence I thought I would never say klaxon) when she said at the United Nations that although she didn’t like a lot of what the British Press said about her, she defended to the hilt their right to say it. So disenting voices are important but to disagree, you need to hear both sides, and many weak, marginalised and just plain rolled over feel that this has never happened before. 

We need to learn to hear, to hear properly, to listen. And when we have listened, we should supprt what is right, what is kind, things that shore people up not roll over them. One of the best things anyone ever pointed out to me was that God listens to me.  When I was younger, I used to squint at clouds wondering how my whinging – in public refered to as a “Prayer Request” was being heard all that way up. (Listen, you have been here long enough, you know how I am with sound theology. And I was very young) But that’s what it says. There are loads of verses that say so

And how bold and free we then become in his presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he’s listening. 1 John 5

Aged Parent used to have a lot of old Gospel Albums. There was one by The Big Ole Spirit Of The Living God Singers (They weren’t called that. I have no idea) and they used to sing verses from The King James and one was 

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.

You see? Listened to. Heard. 

And, if God is our example, then we should listen too and make it our business to do something about what we hear – for good. Like the story of the sparrow (Many thanks to Anne Lamott for this)

A work horse comes across a sparrow in the street – lying on its back with its little spindly feet sticking straight in the air.

“What are you doing?” asks the carthorse

“I am holding back the darkness.” says the sparrow.

“Ha!” laughs the horse. “Look at the size of that sky! Look at everything that is happening there – it is infinitite! And look at tiny little you. Those little feet can’t possibly make a difference.”

“One does what one can.” replied the sparrow with a determined smile.

I have been working on a list – an Autumn bucket list, which, as I think I may have discussed earlier, is not because I am dying, although we all are in a way etc. etc. but because I would like to get to Christmas being able to look back on the last three months thinking that I had achieved something rather than sailing into Christmas with my usual pathetic level of hopelessness.

I keep starting the list and then putting it away because I am embarrassed about what is on it. It is not the vast sweep of difficult questions that make me squirm. There’s nothing on there about solving Brexit negotiations because obviously the finest minds in Europe are struggling with that. (On a side note, I voted Remain but am I the only one who would raise a teeny tiny smile if Mrs May smacked Mr Macron across his smug face? I know – it’s childish and I am not proud of myself).  I need to be more of an adult about other things as well. I mean, look at the things I am struggling with and trying to aviod putting on my list – they include…

  • Phoning the dentist for an appointment (Difficult since they forgot to book me in last time and although it wasn’t my fault, the Lithuanian girl on Reception dismissed me by a raising an overplucked eyebrow and announcing imperiously “You’re not in”. I complained to the manager – I never complain to the manager but there you are. I’m not looking forward to going back.)
  • Ring the mortgage company. Am thinking that they may purse their lips at my profligacy and mis-management. I have no evidence at all for this.
  • Resoving to drive to work once a week. I would much rather walk to work. It wakes me up, I listen to podcasts. Ces’t excellent. However it’s the carrying home that is the problem. So, in order not to have to carry home fruit, veg, dog chews, a coat from H&M and other bits and pieces I have to shop for once a week I should drive. It’s only once a week. No big deal. (If HOH reads this I have no idea why I wrote that bit about the coat. Who needs a coat? Certainly not me.)

All these bit and pieces of flotsam have been annoying me and worrying me in equal measure. It has been driving me mad.

Then I saw this

And next to it it said

“Me – stressing about things I can totally do.”

And it really struck a chord. Why do stupid things fill my thoughts so much?

When I was young Aged Parent used to have an LP (For t’was that long ago) and it was called called “Slim Whitman’s Gospel”. (It proabably wasn’t called that. It was a long time ago. She played it all the time and I use to fantasise about riding my bike over it). It was full of lots of songs she loved. His “I Come to the Garden Alone” was a particular favourite. There was also the one about taking it to the Lord in prayer – which is true of course – many things are beyond me and need God to get involved. But, the fact is, I can pick up the phone, I can get in the car and drive it, I can explain to Aged Parent that the police will not be giving her a day in court re the road accident. These things might be difficult for me and for others they may be a genuine big deal for lots of reasons. But, deep breaths aside, sometimes I need to just stop stressing and get on with it. These are not real problems and I think I dishonour those who really suffer like Rohingha Muslims or people with real mental health issues when I carry on like this. I should stop letting the little things become big things. Because there are plenty of really big things and sufficient unto the day are the big things thereof. Which Jesus never said. Because he was the Son of God and had a proper sense of perspective. Which I am glad about.

And finally……

You may not know but Aged Parent’s lift in her housing unit has not been working for two months which is a complete disgrace and don’t get me going. They have a set of stairlifts in now which, to be frank are worse than useless, except for providing me and HOH with hours of fun trying to get the dog to go on them. Anyway, she was explaining to me…

AP           I saw Fred coming up those stairs on his knees. Not having a lift is awful.

Me          That’s terrible. 

AP          Yes, and he had scraped all his knees and there was blood on his trousers.

Me          No. That’s awful.

AP           Yes and then he fell backwards down six stairs.

Me          This is a disgrace. Why did he fall? His sore knees I suppose?

AP          No. He was really drunk.

Me          Oh.

Have a great week.

I have just read a couple of books which could not possibly be further apart.  (Well, that’s not strictly true. I’m saying it for effect really. It’s a bad habit). Please ignore Morecambe. He crashed this photo because there is a Biblical storm brewing outside and he tends to like to be as close to us as possible when this sort of thing is happening.

The first book is The Diary of a (Trying to be holy) Mum by Fiona Lloyd. And it is indeed the diary of a mum who is trying to be holy, which is a relief. Now I am a mum – of children – but one was round here last night watching football, polishing off a humongous pizza and talking career choices, gaming and tatoos. (By the way. Am quite tempted by tiny tatoo. Any thoughts? Only comment if it isn’t negative. Will break my heart if anyone calls me a silly old fool) The other child is dressing shop windows in GAP, studying film at university and sharing a flat in impoverished circumstances. So, my children are no longer the children that Fiona is writing about in this book. But they definitely were.  Her children throw up on parents’ date night, they play “Happy Birthday” on recorder first thing in the morning. They are typical young kids. The author’s, I think, only slightly fictional diary of mum Becky Hudson is warm, realistic and full of the shortcomings that most mums feel. Especially Christian Mums. There is always that question of “Am I doing well enough” and always the perfect Christian Mum that makes you think you are not. She is actually much more gracious to these paragons of virtue than I ever was. I spent half my life being intimidated by them and half fantasizing about running behind them and pushing them over. Oh and another half (I know, I know) feeling sorry for being such a ratbag (a bit). It rattles along well and is a lovely read. It’s all very recognisable very comforting and, if Becky seems a lot more popular with more friends in church then I ever had, then I think that probably says a lot more about me than it does about Becky. 

The second book is a chicken of a completely different feather. “In the Days of Rain.” by Rebecca Stott is a Costa Book Award winner from 2017. Sometimes award winning books can blather on a bit, let’s be honest but this is something else. It tells the story of a daughter spending some time with her father in his final days. As she does so, they go through his old papers and memories and she looks into their shared past in the closed Christian Bretheren. I had a small brush with the Bretheren myself when I was a child. Aged Parent (male version) had some involvment in a Bretheren fellowship and took me along to a few meetings. They all seemed very nice and lots of them gave me sweets. However, when some other Bretheren arrived and suggested that Aged Parent (male version) should maybe not be sharing the dinner table with his non-Christian wife, he backed off. (Although it does occur to me that what with the crying, long silences and spoon throwing that sometimes attended the dinner table in our house, the idea wasn’t entirely without merit.) The sect, and I think we do have to call it that, that the author writes about was a completely closed community, banning books, tv and radio. Members were forbidden from joining professional organisations and lost their jobs as a result. They were to come out completely from the world. Any disobedience was dealt with by shunnings and shamings. The results were shattered familes, breakdowns and suicides. When the inner workings cracked open, it was no surprise to find the leadership wasn’t quite what it seemed to be.

This is so well written. It has a moodiness and a heavy atmosphere about it. Her father leaves the Bretheren and loses his faith. He gambles, drinks and has affairs at full speed as if he is trying to reclaim something he missed. The book is strangely hopeful and is packed with her love for her father.  There are some heavy warnings about the way we can take the most benign and graceful message and turn it into something disgusting, yet when she writes about the closeness and support the community gave, you get a kind of shadow of how it was supposed to be and how they missed it. It has stayed with me for a long time. If you get the chance to read it, please do.

Before we start, I have to warn you that I am feeling a bit – you know – ragged, so I am not razor sharp. (Not that I ever am) Hopefully you will stick with it. We have begun to thin possessions out a bit, partly to make the place look decent for potential viewers and partly as a reaction to the offspring leaving home. I have worked very hard on my stiff upper lip and only sobbed briefly over FOW1’s school art book. Anyway, this soon changed from a snotty nose to a snorty nose while we laughed about how his teacher had tried to let him down gently with comments like “I can see how hard you have tried here.” or “I don’t think that this comes easily to you and I appreciate the effort.” (I think there was a light layer of sarcasm there to be honest)

The more I declutter, the more I understand the appeal of minimalism or, at least, having a certain order about things. I’m not bad, I can usually find the gas bill or the dog’s lead (or indeed the dog) but I live in total admiration of those who can immediately lay their hands on the credit card payment they made in June 2008. Then there’s the cleaning. I have never poisoned anyone in the kitchen (well nothing that couldn’t be passed off as a bug that was going round if necessary) but I am not a super clean whizz. This week I was having a conversation with someone about cleaning (yep, you read that right) and she was telling me that some people never clean the pipe that connects the toilet to the wall. I went very quiet at this point and nodded sagely because I couldn’t remember the last time I had done it. (I know the  lady who I was talking to will probably be reading this. I am hanging my head in shame!) Anyway, I have just done a panicked check and all is well. Well done HOH!

I don’t know how into Instagram you are but a veritable cleaning phenomenon is happening there at the moment. The account Mrs Hinch Home has just reached 389,000 followers, in about two weeks. So what does she do? She cleans. That’s it. I mean she is a very engaging personality but we don’t see much of her. We just see her cleaning. There are lots of tips and ideas. She is very keen on pine and Zoflora and wipes. I don’t suppose she’s that popular at Friends of the Earth HQ. But people love it and there is, I think,  a pattern emerging in the followers’ stories.  Lots of people with mental health and self-esteem issues are loving this and finding something really helpful in cleaning and tidying. There is something immensely satisfying about cleaning and shining a sink, but it seems that there is more. First of all, people enjoy the exercise and just getting up and moving. Second, apparently, there is the sense of having something you can control and then achieve something with – even if it is a shiny grill-pan.

I’m not sure about it though. I mean, I’m glad it works and people who are struggling get so much out of it. But what if you are disabled, or old or don’t have the kind of set up where Shake and Vac is an option? (I’m thinking of Bed and Breakfast or a hostel I suppose) Is it a shame that people who have lost their sense of worth find it in possessing a beautifully shiny kitchen?

As usual, I would like to state loudly that I am not talking here about all mental health problems. What on earth would I know? Believe me, there is no judgement here. I’m talking about a general malaise – of epidemic proportions. I have had times, like most people, when lost and lonely, I have wondered if I was worth it. I have had people treat me in a way that has made me feel less of a person. I have felt weak and powerless when people have been aggressive (even when this may be to cover up their own insecurities) At these times, it is good to walk the dog, or bake a cake or put bicarb down the the sink. Because it takes me out of my head and because I can. But when I am too overwhelmed, I go down deeper to promises and assurances. 

For even if the mountains walk away
    and the hills fall to pieces,
My love won’t walk away from you,
    my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart. Isaiah 54

People don’t feel heard, they don’t feel listened to and they don’t feel secure. It seems a small thing to wash the dog basket but it gives you a sense of place. I get that. I’m not saying I have this promise malarkey sorted completely. I have to fight hard to grab this but I do fight hard because it says something more about me. It says I am worth something – no matter what – no matter how I feel. People don’t get the right to roll all over me –  I am important. No matter how underachieving or useless I am. Because it’s not about me. I don’t achieve it. I just get to have it. For a self confessed lazy apeth it is a huge relief and a rock to stand on.