Ready or Not

A Pause in Advent December 2019

Spend any amount of time with anyone at the moment and sooner or later you will hear the phrase “I can’t believe it’s December already”, swiftly followed by “And I’ve done nothing about Christmas yet.” (Actually, thinking about it, that may just be my own internal monologue, playing desperately in my head. Apologies).

But December it is and, I think, if we give it due consideration, we will agree that it was always coming. It was a sure thing.

I was reading Matthew 1 this week. I don’t usually go to Matthew for my Nativity fix. I am a big fan of stables/donkeys/shepherds etc etc and Matthew is a bit short on that. However, what I noticed for the first time is the way that life was going on as normal until God broke in.

Now you could say that, if people had been paying attention and counting their way through David’s family tree, they may have noticed that it counted 14 generations to David, then 14 generations to the Babylonian exile and now it was 13 generations FROM the Babylonian exile. Was something going to happen in this 14th generation? Was there a sign there? Don’t ask Mary and Joseph and most of their peer group. They were too busy trying to earn enough to put food on the table, trying to not upset religious leaders and trying not to die horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans. In a land far, far away beardy, science types were studying stars and the universe and the like and they were closer to spotting stuff but Mary – she was pregnant and life had set itself on a course she had never predicted and also unpredicted was that God was breaking in.

Fortunately for all concerned Mary and Joseph may not have expected what was happening but a part of them was ready. Mary was a smart kind of girl – in touch enough with God and the possibility of miracles to be ale to take this on. And Joseph, when he found out about a pregnancy that he had nothing to do with, (The Message calls him “Chagrined but noble”), was the kind of bloke who chose to listen to weird but strangely vivid dreams telling him to stick by Mary.

So Love began its work and regardless of our circumstances He is working still and possibly the breakthrough or the break-in that we need may, unexpectedly, be almost here.

So, in the words of the great Elton John ask yourself “Are you ready? Are you ready for Love?”

This is part of A Pause in Advent and over the next few Sundays people will thinking about the coming of Christmas and er..Pausing in er..Advent. Please pop over to Ang at Tracing Rainbows (Mega blogger and all round good egg) to read some more.

Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas

Adam Kay

This is the follow up to Adam Kay’s “This is going to hurt” – his very (very) funny memoir about his time as a Junior Doctor. If you are one of the three people in the world and their cat who haven’t read the first book it is – to use the phrase – frank and funny – and I defy anyone reading it not to laugh out loud. There’s plenty of detail around people’s personal bits and pieces (his speciality was obstetrics) and it’s certainly an eye opener, especially about the kind of pressures that Junior Doctors work under every single day.

This book is the Christmas follow-up/cash-in (delete according to your mood and level of cynicism). It definitely suffers from the law of diminishing returns and it is a teeny-tiny bijou thing. However, it is really funny most of the time (there’s a joke about an anesthetist’s Christmas badge that I have been retelling myself all week and it is still making me laugh – I don’t get out much). Be warned though, as usual parts of it are devastating including one particular account about a late abortion.

Kay isn’t a doctor anymore; he says he couldn’t hack it but his books are a tribute to the NHS and an appeal to get it sorted out both for the patients and the staff – ASAP.

Moving Housegate (1)

AP I think I’m more or less ready to move. I think most things are done.

Me Really?

AP Yes. What else needs doing?

Me Well, arranging the removal van, sort water, electricity, phone, TV, painting your new flat, cleaning carpets, emptying old flat, cleaning old flat, Power of Attorney and, of course, PACKING!

AP I’ve sorted that. Well a lot of it.

Me How?

AP I’ve given all my trousers away

Me What?

AP I decided I didn’t suit them. I gave them all to (names random woman). She was really pleased.

Me I bet she was! Are you sure about the leggings thing?

AP (Very firmly now) I am! They are slimming.

Me (Gives in gracefully, being fully aware of when I am beaten and trying desperately to banish mental picture of Max Wall and Mrs Overall)

It’s all going very well.

This is my washing machine. Please note the holes. These holes had buttons in them this morning. Unfortunately, I seem to have taken the buttons by surprise today by insisting on pushing them to switch the washer on. Said buttons retaliated by falling back into the washer where they are now unreachable and therefore unpushable. All will be well. Apparently.

Our new neighbours have a wreath on their door. For a moment this morning, I thought they may have lost their marbles until I realised that it is November 24th and it will be December this week. (I still think it’s a bit early but I suppose they don’t have to ask my permission. Pity).

All my ideas about early online Christmas shopping came to naught and I have officially done absolutely nothing. Fortunately, we are not make your own Christmas cake types (although I live in fervent admiration for those who are) so there will be nothing that cannot be done at the last minute. However, before I can think of Christmas, there is an Aged Parent who needs to be moved into a new flat.

Social Services got in touch to say they had found a place for her to live. At least, I think it was Social Services. I have answered innumerable phone calls from people saying “Hello Lesley – it’s Janet/Debbie/Susan (delete as appropriate) and I have GOOD NEWS. They are working very hard and we are very grateful. The flat is in a large unit with carers on site and the idea is that she will have more support. The Social are convinced that she is not ready for any kind of retirement home. I am not similarly convinced. Even as a young luscious thing, she was never that struck on cooking and cleaning and I am quite sure that she would have been more than happy with the “loss of independence” a retirement home would bring. (I personally am quite looking forward to a retirement home – no cooking, I get my bed made, I can read all day and spend my evenings singing Daisy, Daisy and How Great Thou Art. Bring it on). Anyway, at least, we said, it will be a smaller flat – less cleaning etc and fewer places to accumulate stuff.

So it was, to say the least, a disappointment when the warden turned the key and opened the door to…a flat approximately twice the size of the one she has now. There was a nano-second of silence before AP shouted “Hurrah! I love it! It’s huge!” Before she miraculously ran into the living room, leaving her walker behind like she was playing Big Wind. HOH and I stood in the huge kitchen with our shoulders dropping further and further down as we mentally listed the jobs that would need doing in the next fortnight. Are we downhearted? Well a bit.

On the bright side, there’s a lot for her do do there. There’s a big communal room downstairs to play Bingo, knit, sing songs and read the papers. (Not all at the same time I am assuming). Also, she will have access to one good meal a day which is a step up from the two pieces of toast she is chalking up as a decent meal at the moment. We shall see.

Anyway, showing either a worrying lack of clarity about the way life is or a cheering level of faith depending on your point of view, I have asked Ang at Tracing Rainbows to include me in her Pause in Advent series this year so next Sunday I expect I will be regaling you with encouraging exposition type thoughts or possibly not.

Have a good week.

A Place of Greater Safety

I’m sure I’ve written about this before. Do you re-read books? More than once? I have a handful of books that I return to. All the Barbara Pyms, Cold Comfort Farm, Fever Pitch, The Screwtape Letters, Gaudy Night, Remember Me, Jane Eyre. (Best forget the word “Handful”)

I have just read A Place of Greater Safety by Hillary Mantel for the third time. (It’s a big ‘un) Nowadays she is up to her eyes in Booker Prizes because of The Wolf Hall series (which I like very much) but this is her great achievement as far as I am concerned. It’s a novel about the French Revolution, which was one of my subjects for History A Level and has been an abiding interest ever since. I think you need a certain amount of knowledge about The Terror etc. (You can only flick through to the Index so many times before you lose the will to live) but for a Revolution nerd like me it is top notch. Spoiler! French Revolution – not a happy ending for most people – sorry.

We have been out to the flicks to see “The Aeronauts.”. We saw it on our new IMAX screen, which is massive. I’ll be honest I’m not sure how much difference a huge screen made. The film is about an Edwardian scientist and a wealthy, widowed balloon pilot trying to break the record for going high in a balloon or something. There are some good bits when they are in peril and people have to hang off the balloon from a great height by their fingernails and tie ropes together using their teeth. However I found the rest is a bit boring – sorry. There is more deep soul searching than I feel would be helpful when you are high enough to have icicles on your eyebrows and the balloon is refusing point blank to come down. Apparently it is loosely based on fact (probably very loosely). Also I do struggle a bit with Eddie Redmayne who seems to act a lot with his teeth. I’m sure it’s just me. Why should he care?

Also we went to see the cinema version of Fleabag – the stand up. Now I would think that very few of the readers of this blog have seen Fleabag and quite right. It is very, very rude. I wouldn’t take my Maiden Aunt to see it. Actually, I wouldn’t take my Aunt to see it if she wasn’t a maiden. In fact, I wouldn’t take my Aunt to see it if she was the type of woman who could open beer bottles with her bellybutton.

It’s very well written – she is obviously very clever but a bit too fearless for me. Under all the bravado, I think the writer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is trying to paint a portrait of a lonely, frightened girl who sleeps with anyone with a pulse because of how scared of being alone she is. It’s a laudable aim (if a bit clichéd) but why she has to do it using jokes about body parts that would make a docker blush is a bit outside my field of expertise. Is this how the young people are? No wonder people like Prince Andrew are allowed to wander around unchecked. Young people – stop taking pictures of your bits and pieces and get involved with good worthwhile things! While you are young and energetic with all your own teeth!

By the way, did anyone catch War of the Worlds? Not sure what I think yet. I liked the Edwardian setting with lots of posh people on Town Hall steps spluttering “This is nothing to be concerned about” to the masses while big spidery Martian spaceships blasted everyone to smithereens. Not so sure about the feisty woman in a scorched landscape seemingly auditioning for Terminator or something. Still, too early to judge probably. Doesn’t usually stop me though.

Being Seen

Last year I bought a coat. I bought it from The British Heart Foundation Charity Website – which is a “good thing”. It is a stone coloured leather – fancy eh? (Please forgive lack of head. We did take a full photo but I was talking and pulling a face – am working on more Internet photos – honest) and it fits me – unusual but encouraging and as I was showing it to my daughter I remarked that I would probably never wear it. FOW2 is used to her mother most of the time but even she was surprised. “Why not?” and I replied “Because people will look at me.”

You are reading the blog of a woman who, many years ago, when discussing her upcoming wedding, when asked about what she was most worried about, replied “I’m not keen on people looking at me”. I’m not keen on being seen.

Many years ago, when I worked in a church, we had a moderately famous lady preacher who had a particular penchant for the old Gospel Appeal. You know the kind of thing -“If you would like to respond please raise your hand/come to the front/offer up your rabbits as a sacrifice” (not all of these are true). I was part of a team whose job it was to make sure that there were enough leaflets and information to give out to anyone who expressed any kind of interest in Christianity. Confident that we had everything under control, I bowed my head while the lady in the pulpit asked people to put their hands up if they were interested. To my horror I kept hearing her saying “I see you. I see you. I see you. ” Blimey! How many people were responding? Did we have enough leaflets? Arrrgh! Surreptitiously I opened one eye and pretending to scratch my chin on my shoulder, I had a sneaky look at the congregation. No-one was putting their hand up. Not a sausage. And yet she continued – as if everyone in the room was fighting to respond. I shot a panicked look at the leadership team – one of whom was giving her his celebrated “hard stare” but – other than that – they were doing a good job of covering their panic. Certainly better when than when we had the guest speaker who started telling the congregation that he had raised chickens from the dead.

Anyhow, after the meeting, the leaflet team stood at Reception waiting to give information out. A couple of people came forward. One man with mild learning difficulties who I knew had been a Christian for about 20 years and had felt a bit sorry for her. Another girl with ME who took a leaflet and then insisted on lying on the floor to read it – which, to be honest, I was fine with. I could have done with a lie down myself. But we certainly were not overwhelmed with demand.

When the Pastor asked her about these phantom responses she was unrepentant. “I am meeting people’s eye and I am seeing them. I am telling them that I am seeing them. They are seen. People need to be seen.”

I think most of us probably do want to be seen but only if we know that, in the seeing, there is understanding. We have been back to church this week and it has been a bit difficult. Not that people haven’t been lovely, they have. But, it’s difficult to be open with strangers – certainly more so the older I get. You have your friends and your family and they know and accept you, but it is harder to open yourself up to those you don’t know. At least I am finding it so. I mean, how disappointed might people be when they find out what I’m really like?

I have sackfuls of admiration then, for the Psalmist who wrote

Investigate my life, O God,
    find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
    get a clear picture of what I’m about

Is he mad? Why would you ask anyone to do something like that? But maybe it’s necessary. To allow yourself to be seen. To be vulnerable. To trust that people are themselves willing to be seen and not stand and laugh and point. I am, at heart, a fairly mediocre kind of person. (I’m not saying that is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t suppose everyone can be doing one armed press ups whilst writing the Great British Novel with your other hand). But, much of life is about relationship and opening up to each other – trusting that people will be happy to see you and be seen.