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.

I don’t think I thought Autumn was ever going to come this year. Once Summer kicked in it seemed very settled didn’t it? However, when my alarm went off at 6am on Monday after two weeks of late(er) get ups, suddenly all the signs were there that time had been moving on. It was pitch black all of a sudden and I couldn’t find my slippers under the bed which was a bit of a pain because there was a distinct chill in the air.

So the nights draw in, the leaves are in freefall and I’m off to Primark to buy tights. (The heat will not be going on until strictly necessary though. We are paid up members of the “Put another jumper on!” club). And I start to get that September feeling. It would be too strong a statement to say that September is a mental health issue for me – and it certainly would be an insult to those who have proper seasonal based depression. But I do have to watch myself this time of year. Because, September for me, is the living embodiment of the idea that time is passing quicker and quicker and maybe even getting away from me a little. And it’s not as if the Bible contradicts me on this..

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4

Quite.

This year I am trying to embrace September and Autumn generally a little more positively. Because there are nice things. I was reading this week about a lady who said that September is her January. Partly, it is because her children start a new school year and it seems more sensible to re-boot everything then. But she said that September has a feel about it – a change of gear and she uses this to sort herself out a bit.

Soooo, I am thinking of doing an Autumn Bucket List, it will have all the things I would like to do/achieve in Autumn this year. Not just “Lose a stone” (although, to be frank, some attention in that area is certainly overdue) but also, places I would like to go, things I would like to watch/read and low key preparations for an event that I think happens towards the end of December. I want to make sure that we get out of the house (wrapped up well obviously) and don’t just lie face down on the settee every evening until bedtime. So I am going to make a list and try not to spend more time trying to find a pretty list on Instagram than I do actually writing it.

All of this though runs alongside our looking into selling the house. We have been skirting around the outside of the idea and a couple have gone up for sale on our road and sold really quickly so we are probably going to try and strike while the iron is hot. I am aware that this is one of the most stressful things a person can do (apart from death and divorce which I can easily see following on from trying to move home)  and stressful September may not be the best time to do this but we are giving it a pop. It’s not urgent but we both think that we are ready to downsize into a flat that doesn’t mean spending weekends hanging off Victorian feature corniches trying to paint them. So I have been attempting to “style” the offsprings’ bedrooms. With little success really. You are supposed to make your home look like somewhere people would like to live, like an Instagram photo. The girly’s bedroom isn’t so bad (see wardrobe above – realistic ha?) but the boy’s is different because he has taken his bed and it is a bit difficult to make a bedroom look appealing without a..er.. Bed.

How are you lot with Autumn – all happy with mists and fruitfulness and Strictly?  Probably just me then. Anyway. So that’s the plan Mes Braves. Planning is the thing! Yes!

We may make our plans, but God has the last word.   Proverbs 16

Oh.

…on our holidays. The short answer is “as little as possible” but before we get into that, the people down the road have put their washing out today and it includes a bright red fitted bottom sheet. Do you ever feel you are missing out on the kind of life that other people are living? Unfortunately, here at Martha Towers we wil never be the kind of racy people who have red sheets.  Apart from a weekend in London, the rest of our time off work has had a distinctly, non-red old biddy feel to it.

We went to the pictures four times! Yup four times – just colour me happy. We are having a spanking brand new Imax built in Plymouth and, in a bid to drum up a bit more interest, before everybody wanders off to the new attraction, Vue Cinemas are charging £4.99 a ticket for every film. THIS IS FANTASTIC. It means we go to see lots of stuff that normally we would decide against because we are not convinced that it is worth the money. Anyway, among our  haul was Black Klansman – a true-ish story about a black man managing to infiltrate the Klan. (mainly over the phone in case you were wondering) It’s really funny as well. Also Mission Impossible 65 or whatever – v good value for money. And Ant Man and the Wasp which is more Marvel I know but a flippin’ good laugh.

We managed to spemd a couple of days with FOW1 and FOW2 in their new incarnations as responsible people who live independently and work and study for their livings. All seems to be well and, as any parent of people who have moved into their own abodes can tell you, the transformation into people who can work the washer and switch on the vacuum cleaner has been nothing short of miraculous. 

What else? Oh yes – we visited a couple of Devon hotspots – if that isn’t a contradiction. We went to Ashburton – but I think that was shut – unless you wanted to buy antique silver, a mini wheelbarrow with dahlias in or a cottage loaf made of spelt flour and quinoa. These places are murder if all you really fancy is a packet of Cheese and Onion crisps. 

Also Aged Parent was due her return to the physiotherapist and was very put-out because everything is going spankingly well. However, if the young man at the hospital thought he was going to get away with “Well everything seems to be healing well.” then he was in for a huge disappointment. By the time we had been through the accident again (in real time I think), the possibility that the driver had been drinking, (he hadn’t) and the fact that she is struggling to do the excercises 30 times a day, (the finest medical minds in Plymouth have failed to explain sucessfully that it is 10 repetitions, three times a day), I noticed that the physio was rubbing the top of his nose between his thumb and forefinger a lot. Welcome to my world sweetie. 

At the moment people in AP’s sheltered housing are struggling a bit because the lift has been broken for about a month. Efforts to track down the part that is needed to mend it appear to be resembling a quest at the same sort of level as Indiana Jones trying to find the Holy Grail. In the mean time, the residents have been provided with stair lifts to support them on the stairs. It’s not ideal but hopefully will tide them over until they can get the lift sorted. Apparently though, this is not going to suit everybody.

Me           How is the stairlift going?

AP            It’s ok. It’s no good for him next door though.

Me           Why not?

AP            Well – look at him he’s HUUUGE! He’d break it. And I told him. Don’t get on it Joe! You’re miles too fat for it.

Me            That seems a bit harsh. Did you say that to his face.

AP           He knows he’s fat. That’s why he’s in here. That and the depression and the low self esteem issues.  He lacks confidence apparently.

I’m sure finding himself in a flat next to AP is doing him the world of good. Anyway, off back to work. Hope you are all well.

Too much time on the phone, scrolling. That’s my problem. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – all that malarky. (Not Snapchat – that’s where the young people ply their trade. Apparently all posts disappear after a few minutes so, by the time I have found my glasses, the messages will have gone). As a general rule I would say that I like a lot of Social Media. It can be life affirming to watch a daschund walking on a melon and I think we can all relate to that. The Internet too is a useful thing. Just look at my previous five searches

  • Is Frank Ifield dead?
  • What do silverfish look like?
  • £1 Chef’s Butternut Squash Risotto
  • How much is Man United’s new pink shirt?
  • Can cold rice poison you?

You see! 100% useful. This week I read something on the Internet from a young couple.  I don’t know them – they are friends of friends – but because the vast majority of the people I know can’t tell you the first thing about privacy settings – we all end up seeing lots of riveting posts about each other. She had written a post about how blessed she was to have a man like him and he had written how blessed he was that his wife had sacrificed so much to stay at home and look after their children, thus making their offspring “winners at life” and “preparing them to push on for God in an awesome way” and “growing leaders for the future.” This is all very nice and I am glad it is all working out so splendidly. Looking after your children is an honourable and important job. But – not so fast. I think I just need to say something.

  • It’s lovely if you have a partner that makes you happy. Hurrah! Not everyone does though. Some people are with people who are not all that really and may be going through some stuff. Some people are alone and don’t want to be. Some people are alone and DO want to be. People are not living second division lives because they don’t have what you have. 
  • If I leave aside the unavaoidable fact that “winning” usually means that there is a loser, I am nothing but happy at the all round victorious nature of your children. Sometimes though, children are sad, they are bullied and lonely and they mess up. Sometimes, they are complete pains in the backside. They are no less precious, complete and adored by the Father. 
  • Not every family has the luxury of being able to leave one parent at home. You can sacrifice until you are blue in the face but if you are wrestling with a zero hours contract, unpaid bills and a ruck of uniform to buy – no baliff will accept the excuse that you are home because you are growing winners. And…
  • In my humble opinion, a working parent is just as capable of providing love, care, security and all the other necessary things as anyone else. (And, should you so desire, you can help them to be their absolute best and push through as leaders as well – always remembering though that God deeply loves them even when falling miles short of their absolute best or discovering that they would rather not be pushing on in the leadership department, thank you).

I am all for a “can-do” approach. Because I do believe that God “can-do”. Jesus makes me optimistic about what I can achieve certainly but I’m not sure how comfortable I am with people using God to say how fantastic and correct their set-up is and therefore suggesting that anyone not experiencing their life is not as good/important/spiritual as they are. I’m sure people don’t mean to do that but sometimes a “hurrah for this person” can make someone else think that they are somehow inferior. My impression of Jesus is that, despite who he was, whenever he walked into a room, he always to sought to associate himself with the weakest, most troubled person in there. (See, the sick, the tortured, the outsiders, the dishonest etc etc). It is my total joy that Jesus entered into a room in my life and, despite seeing immediately that I was most certainly not winning at anything, still pulled up a chair next to me and made it obvious that I was the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen. I expect many of you could say the same thing and if you can’t you should – because it’s true. And, in all the time I have known him, I have never felt that Jesus has raised a holy pointy finger to someone and said “See him? Isn’t he terrific? You should be more like him.” 

I’m ranting now so I should go but I wanted to say – don’t be disturbed by Social Media bragging or “rejoicing” as some people might like to call it. Look at it. Thank “That’s nice.” then maybe ask “Is that something?” Then probably say to yourself “Nah – tain’t nothing.” Move on. You are very precious. Where you are now. Very.

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.[a]30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10