Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Hopeless Causes

So St Jude has made the headlines, riding the coat-tails of Sunday's storm. Now everyone knows that my Birthday Saint has hopeless causes in his care. I am tickled pink by this.

I respect the views of my fellow-Catholics on the efficacy of appealing  to saints for their intercession, though it's not a practice I adhere to, BUT I have a remarkable tale to tell. 

Two years ago, Sunderland Football Club had an abysmal run of eighteen losses on the trot. It was almost unbelievable ... After the sixth successive defeat, I stopped offering sympathy, and holding out hope for victory 'next time'. After the seventeenth defeat I mentioned that it might be time to call upon St Jude... .

Sunderland won the following match, then sufficient in number to avoid relegation from the Premier Division, which ought to be counted a miracle. I was just as amazed as the Football Fan in the household, which shouldn't surprise you. Oddly enough, a brief mention to the hallowed gentleman this weekend  seems to have pulled off a last minute goal against arch-rivals Newcastle United.  This was definitely a mixed blessing, as I support Newcastle, when I remember to do so: though not seriously since the charming Rud Gullit was given the push, many moons ago. 

Prayer seems so arbitrary to me. The queen appears to be long reigning over us, which might prove something, but death, disease and misfortune seem to be impervious to entreaty. Yet, I persist, because it helps. Which is to say, it helps ME. At least, in the face of the inevitable and sad, I feel as if I've done something.

Perhaps St Jude feels the same way.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


I am thinking about cups. As an avid reader of Regency Romantic Fiction (in my TEENS) I learned that to be 'in his cups' meant the would-be ravisher was drunk. Cups is a suit in the Tarot deck, which is an ancient and rather guilty memory, because to have dabbled in Tarot Reading  is a stoneable offence in the Old Testament. which I was once commanded to swallow whole, but now do not. On the grounds that if I couldn't do terrible things to people, God, who is Love, wasn't about to do them either. I brush my Tarot dabbling aside along with the Regency Romantic Fiction, as something left behind in my teens, and about as meaningful. 

There's that lovely phrase from the 23rd Psalm, 'My cup runneth over.' My youngest self, that spent hours working with words, interpreting them as pictures, imagined  something like a flood in a chalice, and wonder what it was running over.... The literalism of young children is delightful, but something to be occasionally wary of... 

I should be working, but I am patently not. The house must be fit for habitation by Thursday at 7pm when Ray and I arrive home with Ursula, our house guest for six weeks. Ursula is a friend of my friend Ruth, with whom I spent a lovely vacation in Zurich and Locarno the year before last. The Icelandic Poppy seeds I bought in the Botanical Gardens in the middle of Lake Locarno bloomed magnificently this summer. I may have a photo to post, because I'm sure, if you're still reading this, you'd like to see it. (Aside)

Cups. I was actually thinking about the half-full cliche that defines an optimist. What was I going to say?

Oh yes! Half-full and still filling.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Beforelife

Two weeks ago I met with like-minded people to explore death. It's a queer thing, death. We don't much want to talk about it, which is hardly surprising, because contemplation of our demise isn't terribly cheerful. It's not the topic, when otherwise lost for words, that one would usually raise, when one has 'football', or 'Coronation Street' to fall back on.

One of the would-be participants in the Death Weekend obliged by dying the week before the meet. This is not so dramatically spooky, as she was over eighty (an achievement that is an ambition of mine) but her appointment with her maker did mean the Death Group could attend her funeral. A worthy and wonderful woman emerged from the Event. We Deathers later eulogised over what a marvellous woman she was;how special; though we never met her, we knew we would  have been friends... . 

"That's precisely BECAUSE,"  I remarked, sagely, "You never knew her. Nobody discusses the tough stuff at funerals." A trend I fully intend to have perpetuated when  I pass on. 

I died once. I was much too young to remember where my consciousness went in the process, but I returned as I am today, totally unphased by the prospect of extinction. Wherever I went, I was pleased to be there. Pretty pleased to come back too, accepting with a child's surrender to what is, that whatever will be will be. 

The point of this weekend hosted by Grim Reaper Elves, was to get death out of our systems. To tell death stories, thus removing the trauma from them. To look forward to what remains of life, and to drink tea and eat cake. I intended to plan my funeral too, but never got round to it. I will, I will, - stop nagging! 

Last Wednesday, I visited my friend Margareta. We talk about death a lot, because she's very, very ill, and we know her time is short. She's worried about leaving her only son behind, but otherwise rather looking forward to the Afterlife. Neither of us speculates much about what it entails. We are Catholics. We are trained to live with mystery. 

Bearing in mind that she's so sick, I really shouldn't have quarrelled with her about Hell. "You don't want to believe in it, because it's too hard," says Margareta. "Not at all, " I retort, "I don't want to believe in it because it's an obscenity!" 

An obscenity. For there to be a hell, there must be no love. And God is Love, or a waste of space. 

"If people I love have to go to hell. then I choose to go with them. In protest. Suck THAT up God!" 

Oh dear! That's torn it. 

Meandering on to a conclusion:

Speculation about what happens when we die is intellectually stimulating, if rather pointless. We are practically pure energy, as is all matter, and energy can neither be created or destroyed, so survival is guaranteed in some form by a Universal Constant... . There's food for thought... 

The Afterlife can, and will, wait. It's the Beforelife that concerns me now. Whatever comes next for me won't be a physical entity like this one, no matter what. So I am going to make the most of what I experience now. Even the sad and bad bits. Everything is amazing.

I would like to leave you with something uplifting after this rather gloomy piece of introspection, so I'm going to end  with Garrison Keillor's postscript to his 'Writer's Almanac' Podcast:

"Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."



Friday, 11 October 2013

More! (There's More?)

Not to be flippant, but I thought Aspasia was memory lapse. Not at all. She was a Philosopher. She lived about 400 BC. 

It's not what she thought about that caught my attention, but what she did. ' A courtesan and a brothel-keeper.' Her marble bust is in. The Vatican Collection. Lots of food for thought here. I may take up Philosophy after all. 

Not Quite Ready

"I have achieved little in the field of soul-enhancement this week. No programme of self improvement has been embarked upon, and no improving books have been read. "

... In the normal run of things, this unpromising opening  would not have blossomed into a blog post. BUT - something extraordinary happened as I placed a tentative full stop at the end of that sentence - Twitter notified me with it's quaint little 'ding' that I have a new Follower. Well, golly, this is a remarkable event! My Followers are few and precious (I expect you know I was traumatised by being Unfollowed by Cheltenham... .) so to gain one is ridiculously gratifying. 

My new Follower is a Philosopher. My first Philospher! I am clutching my hands to my breast and fluttering my eyelids - metaphorically, of course, except for the fluttering eyelids - I am overcome with pride and gratitude. A Philosopher!

How do I know Simon is a Philosopher? He says so on his Twitter profile. And he writes books and has a philosophically-leaning website. I checked, of course. Why would I be puddling about HERE when I have a Follower to look into? 

Then I get to thinking. How do you become a Philosopher? What IS a Philosopher? What does a Philosopher actually DO?

I am off to Find Out.  I shall ask my ipad. 

Philosophers, I am informed, study Philosophy. Which I THINK boils down to explaining the world, and you have to be very clever to do it and very few are women. 

"A belief or system of beliefs accepted by a group or school." 

I have a system of beliefs! Summed up in the One Great Truth, the of which you are all familiar now: 

"You can believe what you like and get away with it." 

So I am off this instant to find a woman philosopher to see if I can pick up a few tips, because by now I am anxious to become one.

My voice recognition searchy-thing got the wrong end of the stick when I requested he 'Find women philosophers' and he came up with: "Here are a list of dating sites in your area." I have a hunch women Philosophers would not be amused. I was. Which probably means I'm not quite ready to be a Philosopher just yet. 

  • Philosophers, for the most part, are constitutionally timid, and dislike the unexpected. Few of them would be genuinely happy as pirates or burglars." -- Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, Chapter IV, Part iii, p. 74.
I find myself hereby disqualified on three counts. Four if you include being a woman. Would I be genuinely happy as a pirate or burglar though? I shall have to think about that one. 

    Wednesday, 9 October 2013

    Ministering Angel (Halo Slippage Alert... .)

    I do try very hard to be the heart and soul of compassion when I do my impression  of Mercy personified on a Wednesday morning.  I let the side down today. It's Rodney. He's a underhand, rude, grasping, slimy, bastard and today when he told me to "Fuck off' because I wouldn't give him a second sausage roll, I saw red. Seeing red isn't in the Ministering Angel Handbook, and I see a trip to the confessional coming out of this. ( With a sense of relief, actually, at having achieved something I am going to feel able to confess to. I am seriously selective.)

    He came back after a few minutes for a chocolate bar. Jamie pointed out a second sausage roll sticking out of Rodney's pocket. I repatriated it, and handed it to someone else.

    We then had a verbal battle where I turned into a schoolmarm and let everyone know, shrilly,  that I am "Not inclined to give anything to ANYONE who tells me to fuck off!" Iowyn later gave him a Pot Noodle, but I reckoned that was OK, because he'd apologised, and besides, it wasn't her he'd sworn at. 

    I think I'll stay away from the Vaughn Centre for a while.

    Rodney's behaviour is untypical. The vast majority of men and women I meet are embarrassingly grateful. I wish I'd held my temper for their sakes, but I didn't. 

    Working with Gloucester City Mission has it's lighter moments. That I was a little acerbic today, is a different kind of sharing, I admit, but the reason I do this work is to show solidarity with the poor, and when I let rip, I guess the favour is returned. We are all just muddling through.

    Thankfully, our population is transient. Many of the recepients of the pies and chocolates eventually get it together and move on, some even   join the Mission Team, and make the best workers, because they are the best witnesses to how change  is possible. 

    Sometimes we just have to laugh. I encourage the group to be politically active, though I NEVER (truly!) advise them how to vote, just to refrain from moaning to me about the Council or the Coalition if they didn't. Karla, a transgender woman had us all in stitches a couple of weeks ago.

    "I voted National Front last time." she said. "Karla!" I laughed, "Do you KNOW what skinheads would do to you if they knew your history?" 

    Karla was unmoved. "Well, " she said, "At least they'd do something about all the foreigners that come over here and ..." You can guess the rest.

    The Town Team found a guy today who sleeps rough in the entrance to Debenhams. Tom advised him to sleep round the back where he was less likely to be disturbed.

    "Oh no!" the guy replied, "You can't pick up the WIFI  round there!"

    You live and learn.

    Sunday, 6 October 2013

    Having A Moan

    I happen to believe that if you are capable of working, you should. I wonder if there is ANYTHING at all controversial about that? I am thinking long and hard about the tone of the speeches from the Tory Party Conference, which  I know are about rallying  the troops, and taking a swipe at the unemployed is an easy way to get the faithful cheering: it's just that I don't think some people really know what life is like for the poorest amongst us. I'd sum up in one word what I see most of: despair. 

    I am a bit of a left-winger,  though with age, a little more likely to stand in the Centre and wonder at it all. My work with the people who use feeding centres and food banks in my locality is giving me pause for thought. George, Sandy, Andrew, Lisa, Alice, Marta, .... These men and women don't strike me as feckless, scrounging, or lazy - not coping well, not particularly intelligent (some, perhaps), brought low by circumstances... Sick. 

    Compulsory working, or compulsory hanging about in job centres, doesn't seem too tough an obligation to me: somewhere warm and safe to stay from 9-5 would be a good thing for some of our people, but you know what? I'd rather like to see compulsory 'going along and meeting these people you're doing this to' as well. 

    You get it. I expect if I say any more I'll lose it. 

    Tuesday, 1 October 2013

    To America With Love

    I knew, at the back of my mind, that the US Government was shutting down today, but it didn't hit home until I checked out Twitter to discover that 'NASA' and 'Curiosity Rover' are both mothballed for the duration. 

    Imagine this!  The one and only extra-terrestrial motor vehicle in the audible universe, is on vacation because of a spat over a paltry trillion bucks in Washington DC.

    Curiosity will speak to me again soon, of this I have no doubt, and in the meantime I WILL spare a thought for all US citizens seriously affected by this robust lesson in the separation of powers away 'over the pond'. ( Yes, I HAVE studied US governance, and it HAS proved of more use than knowing the means of execution of several of Henry VIII 's six wives, if a little less riveting.)

    SO. There's my starting point. Here's the rest:-

    This is what I am doing, as the Leader of The Free World plays hooky:

    I have attempted to bottom out the riches of my access to the OU online resource library, so have read neuroscience in 'Nature' (and learned that rowers in Oxford are better motivated when training as a team. Oh! YES!)  I have visited the National Gallery and made 'Avignon From The South West' my screensaver.  

    Bored with academia, I flew to Washington State, via Google Earth, to find the theatre in Issaquah where I saw a musical, but still couldn't remember the name of either, so I sat for a while with Darlene in Redmond where 40th NE meets the Bel-Red Rd right in front of the Chinese Temple.  Then, what the hell, it's a free ride, I checked out the terrain at Giant's Castle, in The Drakensburg Mountains, RSA,  where I spent a magical dawn, walking alone, on my fifty-sixth birthday.

    I then recalled I should be researching, so  I found Philip Larkin on Spotify and persuaded him, with just one click, to read 'The Less Deceived'.  I had forgotten how perfect 'Churchgoing ' is and why 'No Road' always brings smiles and tears in about equal measure.

    Time for something new, so after Coleridge on meter, I discovered THIS.  And I invite you to appreciate it too. I reproduce it with deep love, and gratitude, to all my American friends:


     After you flew across the country we
     got in bed, laid our bodies
     delicately together, like maps laid
     face to face, East to West, my
     San Francisco against your New York, your
     Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
     New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
     bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
     burning against your Kansas your Kansas
     burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
     Standard Time pressing into my
     Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
     beating against your Central Time, your
     sun rising swiftly from the right my
     sun rising swiftly from the left your
     moon rising slowly from the left my
     moon rising slowly from the right until
     all four bodies of the sky
     burn above us, sealing us together,
     all our cities twin cities,
     all our states united, one
     nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    -- Sharon Olds