Friday, 29 May 2009

Thank you.

For several reasons I will not be writing this blog again.

I would like to thank the many people who have shown interest and left kind comments. I will be reading your blogs, but not commenting under this name.

I send you all my very best wishes.
I have enjoyed meeting you.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Look at it Like This........

You cannot see what I see.

You cannot feel the emotional weight of this room, or know the significance of that cushion, made by a friend and stuffed with secrets.
You do not know the impact of that brocade throw, treasured by my mother and trashed by the dog in in a fit of pique which apparently involved a biscuit.
You do not know where the Christmas presents and Easter eggs have been hidden year after year, and you cannot know who spilled what on the carpet and what the consequences were. You don't know which pictures are mine, which my husband's, which my father's. Where did that desk-set come from? You haven't a clue. (Correction - if you have, you're one of the family or a very close friend!)

The view is distorted, not only by the convex mirror, but mainly by the emotional content.
Emotional content distorts all our views, much of the time. Sadness, anger, joy, guilt, depression, contentment; the whole gamut may act like this convex mirror, changing the shape, emphasising some aspects, pulling things into different places.

For many years I have been trained as a listener: first by 'Samaritans' and now by 'Cruse'.
Listening, real listening, is a huge privilege. Sometimes you are invited through the mirror, like Alice, to enter the distorted world beyond. Sometimes, quite often, it is not right to do this. Sometimes, more often, it is wiser to stay side by side, looking into the mirror and trying to understand the distortions.

Being listened to is wonderful. It frees the mind and the heart, and opens possibilities. People do not want advice. (Correction again: if they do, they generally know where to go to find it.) They want to be heard.
One of the more frustrating experiences of Samaritans (who are very carefully and specifically trained not to give advice) is to be thanked by a caller for all the advice. People advise themselves when they are truly heard. They are given the time and attention to talk through the emotions and the distortions and to clarify their thoughts. They may want to keep their distortions, and that is their privilege, too. Some distortions may be more comfortable to keep than to try and change, but it's good when being heard helps you to see that you're doing just that.

Listening is both wonderful and exhausting, which is why organisations like Cruse and counselling services, generally only offer it by the hour. It doesn't have to take an hour, though. Sometimes ten minutes is enough to help someone out of a bad patch and to slightly improve the view.
The other day I was moved to hear a friend simply and eloquently describe her listening skills as ' to listen to the story, to feel the pain, to see it through'.

We all have stories.
We all have pain.
We can look into one another's distorting mirrors and try to see.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Mothers' Day

No one ever tells you how hard it is to be a mother, and if they tried you would probably not believe it.

The hardest part is the letting go, and I know that some of my blogging friends are experiencing this.

It's tough when they go to school, even to playgroup or nursery. You have known their every breath, every nose-wipe - and even more intimate details. Then, suddenly, they are in this grey uniform with laced-up leather shoes and a manly, knotted tie (which you have sewn on to a strip of elastic).
"What did you do today?"
"Did you have a good time? Were you happy? Was everyone kind to you?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"What do you mean, you suppose so? Did anything bad happen? Is there any sort of problem? You must tell me straight away..."
"I need food!"

Then, seemingly only a few minutes later:
"Have you done that course-work?"
"Have you really done that course-work? This is such an important year. Your whole future depends on these exam results. Are you taking this seriously?"

Another few moments pass:
"You can't go to university until you can iron a shirt."
"Mum, no one, but no one wears shirts these days. And if they do they never, ever iron them."

And then, quite soon:
"Mum, if you need help with the gardening you only have to say. I will even pay for someone to come and remove cobwebs if you need help."
"Thank you, but I like cobwebs. This is an ecologically balanced house."
"Now don't be difficult, Mum."

The bouquet arrived today, from both my sons, and in the background is the statue their father regarded as a guardian of our home: St. Joseph, who had the toughest parenting role of all.
I don't see much of my sons, these days. They are busy. They have Significant Others in their lives. Mothering is on the shelf, with St. Joseph, but it's always there, quietly in the background now.

I tread a delicate tightrope between expressions of love and care, the balance of independence and support.
When you set people completely free there is a risk that they may not realise just how much you care. Giving this freedom is probably the hardest part of love, the hardest part of parenting.

I hope they know.
I believe they know.

And this one came later....From Russia, With Love!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Heaps of Passion.

It's been a long, hard, dark, cold winter here in Middle England. It's felt sterile and unproductive, with frozen ground and frozen air, and the sort of North winds that cut through all the layers of clothing.
Suddenly, last weekend, there was power in the sunlight. I sat in the summer-house, although it was hardly summer. The sap was visibly rising, the vine dripping where it had been pruned last autumn; daffodils, snowdrops, crocus, pulmonaria, hellebore stretching out to greet the warmth. Just as the dog and I were doing.
I needed to get soil beneath my finger-nails again, and so did the dog. She began digging, too, in her secret location behind the dustbin. Knowing it to be illicit, or at least generally disapproved of, she was at it furtively, with many backward glances in my direction.

I could be more positive. I got out the mower and cut the grass. Then I became thoroughly motivated. Grass cuttings! My compost heap could grow again.
One thing that stirs deep passions in my admittedly matronly bosom is my compost heap. Well, both compost heaps, for one is a work in progress, maturing, while the other is being built.

A glance at the contents of my compost-in-progress will show you that hardly anything is wasted in this small plot. All the vegetable parings, garden refuse, dead house-plants and floral arrangements are chopped and added, and now they can be layered with grass-cuttings. Within a few months they will be reduced and reformed to the consistency of something more appetising and much healthier than chocolate fudge cake. This rich, dark, crumbly goodness is then fed back. The bamboos will be enjoying the remains of my birthday bouquet, the day-lilies will thrive on vegetable peel.

To anyone who doesn't garden it is really hard to convey this sort of passion. To anyone who does...well, it's familiar territory.
The satisfaction to be gained from recycling the unwanted into something valuable is immense, and seems to grow with age.

In widowhood I have had to learn to garden in a different way. I have had to find ways of doing heavy tasks, like compost-turning, branch-cutting, heavy pruning, patio-grouting. The secret seems to be to take it slowly; to break really hard tasks into smaller units, and to know when to stop, which is at the point when the pain begins, rather than wait until it becomes really bad.

This now seems to be a good way to approach life in older age; to recognise the limits and to accept them, while at the same time trying to find a way around them. It encourages lateral thinking skills.
Slow maturing, just like the compost heap.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Meanwhile, in another forest......

Inspirational 'pohanginapete', who obviously makes lots of other people (as well as me) think for themselves, has just triggered great thought-trains about forests.
This is his photograph of forest in New Zealand.

It's interesting, and I could see that I'd really like to be there and have a look around....but does it contain any of the elements that make Northern European forests so very important to Northern Europeans? Yet, interestingly, the photographs on the above link to his photographic blog do have that effect.

European forests are where people go for restoration and transformation. They lie deep and impenetrable in the European psyche, fuelled by traditional stories, and deeper, darker myths and legends, not to mention the depths of psycho-analysis.

Small children are abandoned in the forest by jealous and wicked adults, often step-mothers. There they learn to fend for themselves and to overcome evil (Babes in the Wood, Hansel and Gretel, Snow-White). Young girls face unspeakably awful dangers when they go off alone into the deep dark forests,( Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks - and what was Goldilocks up to anyway? She had no reason at all to be there, all alone. Perhaps it was plain willfulness. At least Little Red Riding Hood was sent there, to look after Grandma).

Northern European children emerge triumphant from these ordeals. They overcome the wicked adults, and the evil forces. They unite with the gentle influences; the small furry animals, the plants that protect them, the social outcasts, like the dwarves and gnomes.
Dangerous animals, bears and wolves, are outwitted or tamed, or frightened into submission. A spell of time in the forest, the experience of being lost, frightened, alone, seems to be an essential rite of passage in childhood fantasy. Facing the darkness, facing the wolves, conquering the ill-intentioned adults and emerging wiser, prettier, stronger and more handsome seems an essential element in European childhood.
Russian children face even more terrifying dangers, probably because the forests were, and still are, limitless. There are witches behind every tree, and their appallingly ill-constructed houses can run about on chicken legs. There is even more magic, more transformation, to enable the children to return to Babushka and the bubbling samovar. Yet still the children triumph. Even if they die in the forest their little fragile bones will emit a silver glow which leads to the downfall of the greedy and the powerful who abandoned them there in the first place.

We tell our children these stories from their babyhood onwards. My older son used to say, 'Babes in the Wood!' as a form of explitive when he was three years old. I wonder now why I did it; why I fed them such terrifying images.
They loved it, that's why! The books, pictures and stories were so ubiquitous I could not have avoided them. Even at such an early age they knew that goodness and kindness could keep the darkness in its place, and that by the end of the story the forest would be within manageable proportions.

We go into the forest with suitable caution. It supplies our needs. It gives food and shelter. It may provide companionship. Every week there are programmes on television showing survival techniques. Even 'extreme' survival techniques, which involve falling into frozen ponds and eating things scraped off dead logs. It's important to know. Just in case.....
The forest is never far away.

This antipodean forest is very far away. It looks as if it might be warm and friendly, full of curious creatures that bumble about harmlessly in a Disneyish way.
Is it full of magic and mystery? I really hope so. I hope it's a truly terrifyingly magical place.

Friday, 6 February 2009

The White Stuff

Some white stuff swirls out of a leaden sky, and our little lives change.

To be fair, we haven't seen so much white stuff for over twenty years, so we are excited, frightened, anxious, angry, delighted, appalled and enchanted.

Schools close, public transport systems collapse. There is panic buying of bread, milk, loo rolls, and anything else that might possibly be in short supply. The airports are closed.....there will be no more strawberries from Morocco for several days. How will we manage?

We managed initially by panicking as soon as the severe weather warnings were heard. I called in at the largest local supermarket on Wednesday, and thought I was having a really Senior Moment and that it must be Christmas Eve. The massive car-park was full, and people were staggering around with trollies full of milk containers by the gallon. Every cash desk had a queue of at least ten people.
Then we managed by chatting to each other in the queues. We were all shocked but amused by everyone else's trolley-load. We, of course, were just buying a few essentials which we had planned to buy anyway. We'd just added a few extra items to be on the safe side.

Overnight the snow came, just as we had been told it would. But it still took us all by surprise.
It was quiet.
It was light.
It was beautiful.
Those of us who ventured out smiled at each other, and wished each other well, admiring our mutual bravery. Children, even adolescents, who had never experienced snow were having a wonderful time, playing, like children used to do.
The dog tried to eat it.

Now we have relaxed into our Nordic life-style. We have found the ski-poles and the toboggans and tipped the spiders out of the snow-boots.
We are being really nice to one another, united in this rare experience; thinking of one another, being kind.

By tomorrow the white stuff will be khaki slush and we'll all be moaning again. Only a few more days and we'll be eating Moroccan strawberries.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Mighty Shogun

Here he is, the mighty Shogun. No, he's not mine, and no, he's not ET's little brother. He's a 'Chinese Crested dog' and he belongs to my Polish friend, Ewa, who took this beautiful portrait of him.

I've been thinking of Shogun, with the realisation that his name may have the ring of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Japanese Shogun was a Commander of the Armies, a person of tremendous power and influence. However, the title also implied that the office was temporary. The name also meant, 'office in a tent'. Temporary. Could be removed or even collapse in an instant.
Thus it has been for Shogun.

When I first met him, last summer, he was making free around his Polish estate. Extensive grounds, large country house, a pack of other dogs to boss around. Shogun was leader of the pack, even if some of the pack members were considerably larger. Shogun could shriek for Poland if anyone or anything threatened him - and he did so, frequently.
He ruled his estate with authority - first through the dog-flap, first pick of the food. He had a choice of homes to visit, with a meal in every one. He kept his figure trim though, by burning up so much energy in the control of the rest of the pack, human and animal.

Shogun's tent collapsed.
With no warning or consultation he was put in a travel crate and taken to live in America.
He encountered a skunk.
He has only one home to control, one meal-dish to sample (unless he's stealing the cat's food, which he probably is). His pack is drastically reduced, his power likewise.

The no-longer-mighty Shogun.
Life will never be the same again.
Be careful what you call your dog!

Monday, 19 January 2009

In My Small Corner

'Isabelle' has just taken a short tour around her neighbourhood, and I enjoyed it - so here is mine!

There are so many regional names for alleyways like this - alleys, snickets, gangways? Then there are different names for them when they are between buildings. What ever they are called, where I live they either go down....

...or up. This one goes up to the churchyard, and is lit by gas-lamps. Other lamp-posts are useful for supporting notices forbidding the drinking of alcohol, the feeding of pigeons and the allowing of one's dog to relieve itself. And rightly so in a venerable town like this!

The playground is empty on a cold Monday morning. By evening the youngsters banned from drinking alcohol in the churchyard will be at it here....

....and probably tossing the empties in here. In the day time toddlers feed ducks and a kingfisher darts about, regardless of the passing humans (who rarely seem to notice it) and the bobbing lager cans.

The dragons just keep a consistent watch.

Underneath another bridge, nearer home, a variety of small ferns enjoy life in the dribbles of rainwater.

Back to the garden. There are snowdrops, daffodil spears, hellebores and some wonderfully noisy birds. The sap is rising!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Not so Retiring.....

The door is open again. Well, perhaps ajar rather than open, but enough. Enough to see that there is still a foothold out there in the world of work.
'Zhoen' whose wonderfully diverse blog appears most days, has just commented on my 'Nom de Blog'. The retiring is indeed relative at several levels.

I first retired from the day-job when I was 66, then went back to work again at the age of 67. I retired again when I was 68 and now I've been given the chance to return to a small amount of work at the age of 69.
I am aware of shades of Emily Pankhurst, crying, 'Votes for Women'. I feel a distinct call to respond to 'Work for the Oldies', because with the work-role comes a great deal more in the way of identity than I had ever appreciated when I was slogging along full-time.

In a diverse society, where ethnic variations, sexual preferences and religious observances have to be regarded so carefully it is sometimes the Oldies who have to absorb the intolerances.
As my hair went (quite quickly and quite early) pure white I became invisible in places like theatre bars, garages and shops selling anything with the word 'digital' attached. Young, apparently 15 years old, male assistants in computer shops approached me with caution and with a special sort of smile.
Shopping around in working hours identifies the retired. Apparently sensible sales staff assumed I would not be able to insert my debit card into their little machines, and if I could do that I would probably have forgotten my PIN number. I am offered help in putting three small items into a bag. 'Can you manage?' has become a key question, kindly meant, caringly spoken - but uncomfortable all the same.
Sometimes there are very specific problems with my white-haired invisibility. I have been forced off pavements by groups of animatedly-talking young men who simply did not see me. I have been elbowed aside in shops by men in a hurry, and what happens in bars is much more specific. No one means to be rude. It's just that white-haired old women on their own are of little consequence.

So now I'm going back for a while, to a situation where it is assumed, not only that I can manage, but that I will meet targets and tick boxes and fulfill expectations, just as I have been able to throughout my working life. No one will ask me if I can manage. They know they'll get a clip round the ear if they do!
I am the same person. It is the role that changes, and the perceptions with it.

At work you are defined by what you can do. In retirement there is a risk of being defined by what you can't, or don't wish to do, or by others' assumptions of what you can't do.
Positive and negative. This is why I am so very fortunate to be relatively retired.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Art of Boredom.

The candles have burned down, the table is bare. Beloved visitors have left. The dog snores loudly, and the fine ash falls gently in the grate. Silence and ice are just outside the door, tapping on the window, fingering their way in through the keyhole.
Winter holds the garden in a tight, white grip; darkness comes early and leaves late. It is too cold to garden, too cold to walk with any sense of enjoyment. The washing up is done, the excess food is in the freezer. Now is the time for the fine art of boredom, a repetition of small events; feeding the stove, feeding the birds and the dog, feeding my mind. Above all - feeding my mind.

A close friend has just had eye-surgery and is unable to read. She never watches television, and her situation (she's a nun) means that she does not usually have access to radio or recorded music.
We had a long and paradoxically animated discussion about boredom. I think we concluded that it was both other people, and the lack of other people. A lack of the right people, and too much of the other kind. Then we had to decide which were the other kind. We laughed so much at our descriptions of boring people that we had to stop, as it was not good for her, post-surgically.

The more we thought about boredom, the better it became. Eventually the attempts at describing the state became impossible. Boring meetings become entertaining in the telling, and even just in the mental recall. Boring people become endearing, boring situations are laced with possibility.

So what is boredom? Perhaps the dog, today, demonstrates its finer qualities (incidentally, she wraps herself in that duvet, sometimes completely). Perhaps it is the skill of mental disengagement, a freedom to wander along the paths of semi-consciousness while engaged in repetitious tasks - or engaged in nothing at all?