Archive | Life

Toast

I must have been feeling hungry the other morning while I was lying half asleep in bed, as I was dreaming about my home-made bread and eating a slice of toast with honey or butter (but not both – one can’t be too self-indulgent!)

I make the toast in this house because my DBH (Dearly Beloved Husband) likes his cindered and I don’t. Our old toaster suffered from burnout, so we ditched it and acquired a new big toaster with four slots and a number of confusing dials – intended for use at big family weekends – but currently under-used, unfortunately.

The old toaster was simpler but in the end its whims and misdemeanours were almost as devious and unpredictable as the coronavirus. That got me thinking that toasters and viruses may have a lot in common.

It’s not an obvious connection I will admit. But strange as it seems, they have a number of shared characteristics. (I think you’ll find my argument persuasive.)

Firstly, both toasters and viruses have to be watched or they start to misbehave.  Humans think they have them under control – big mistake.

Secondly, they are unreliable and change over time: your brand-new efficient toaster turns into an exasperating and perverse appliance, and an emergent but identified coronavirus mutates into an unstable and relentless ‘chimera’ (fabled monster made up of parts of various animals).

Thirdly, their offspring (toast and illness) pop up when you least expect, either too soon or too late.

Fourthly, both toasters and coronaviruses produce extremes – toast comes out either pale and undone or black and burnt; and Covid-19 can be either relatively minor or extremely serious.

Finally, if you don’t have bread you can’t make toast, and if you don’t have big money you can’t defeat viruses or make vaccines.

I rest my case.

When an old toasters becomes too erratic and destructive, we get rid of it and buy a new model.  Coronavirus is a bit more devious, and to survive it turns itself into new variants, which we combat with new and better vaccines.

This is a fight to the death. Only one of us is going to win this battle – humans or viruses (I believe it will be us) – and the loser will be toast!

The Colours of Lockdown

In many cultures rainbows are a symbol of hope. They appear sometimes as perfect arcs, often during a rainstorm, when the sun shines onto water droplets, shattering its white light into an array of brilliant colours. Everyone loves a rainbow.  It produces that frisson of excitement and wonder which is not dissimilar to watching fireworks explode in the sky.  There are many superstitions connected with this phenomenon – the most common being that there is a pot of gold where the rainbow ends.  There have been popular songs such as:  “Somewhere over the rainbow” about the yearning for freedom such as that which bluebirds enjoy when they soar over the clouds.

The earliest story about a rainbow is the one in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 9: 13 – 17, when God, after causing a flood to wash away humanity’s corruption, put the rainbow in the sky  as the sign of his promise to Noah and his family with the animals in the ark that he would never again destroy the earth with flood. The rainbow became  a symbol of hope, a new day, and a divine promise. And so it has been viewed through the centuries.

However in the 20th century  the rainbow has been adopted by movements of social change. In the 1960s a rainbow flag was used at peace marches in Europe and also at demonstrations against nuclear weapons, symbolising a desire for peace. In the 1970s, Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag for the LGBT community, and the rainbow flag became a symbol of pride, with the different colours representing ‘diversity’ in the gay community. In the 1990s Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined the term ‘rainbow nation’ to describe South Africa, and this term was used by Nelson Mandela following the 1994 elections, when it became a symbol of reconciliation and unity.

Now in the 21st-century, with the world is living with the catastrophe and the suffering caused worldwide by coronavirus, in the UK we have reverted to using this age-old symbol once again.  Houses adorned with rainbows have become a common sight during lockdown, often in the form of children’s drawings put up in windows.  Rainbows have become a symbol of support for the NHS and public gratitude to all those who are working with the sick and the dying in our communities. It is aligned with the government exhortation to save the NHS.

During 2020 the rainbow with its arc of translucent colours has become once again a symbol of fervent hope that the pandemic will end. It won’t be tomorrow but it may be next year. It is almost inevitable that we will be entering another third lockdown in the new year. And no one knows how long it will last – but many of us suspect it will be some months before things improve with the rollout of the vaccine.

Our optimism is still in check. The future is uncertain. Let’s hope we can see the light and trust in the promise at the end of the rainbow, when the dark clouds finally disappear.

 

 

Say it Aloud

I am full of admiration for the fortitude of individuals who have been on their own this summer, confined to their homes and gardens.  Solitude can be a blessing if it is a choice, but enforced isolation is not congenial and causes problems and hardship.  I felt immensely sorry for people in Spain who were not even allowed to go outside during the hot months.  Thousands in this country have had to work from home or have been furloughed or lost their jobs. Coping with this pandemic calls for resilience and compassion.

I have been encouraged by the kindness I see all around me shown by those I know and those I don’t know. We have all made more of an effort to contact those we believe might be lonely and in need of cheering up. Communities and nations have come together to face the threat of the coronavirus, and the suffering and death it has caused. Clapping the NHS has been an example of this.

I hope that when the pandemic has finally run its course that this unity of purpose and energy can be channelled towards resolving the other vital issues which affects the future of our planet: climate change and military conflicts.  Life does not get better by chance – it gets better by change.  Humans need to be less selfish and less greedy and try to live in peace. There has to be a universal commitment to reduce global warming and to end fighting. It won’t happen unless we all want to make it happen.

We can’t control natural disasters – and we just have to deal with them as best we can when they happen. But so many people have died and have suffered from disease, poverty, hunger, and war, and these are all issues that can be addressed. As C.S. Lewis said: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Let’s act now.

CoronaSpring

Spring 2020. We are living in strange times. Coronavirus, more deadly than any terrorist, has attacked our world and is undermining hope. People feel threatened, frightened, challenged. Our physical horizons are dwindling but our mental horizons are expanding – people are more aware of what is going on in the world in relation to Corvid -19 than they ever were about many other things. This is a result of collective realisation that disasters aren’t always uncomfortable, sad things happening elsewhere in far off places, but real life calamities which can attack us in our own homes in our own country.

This realisation is caused by a deluge of daily updates of the scope of this dreadful disease. (I love alliteration!)  Two prevalent attitudes of mind result and they are polar opposites.  The first is selfishness, which results in panic buying, hoarding food, complaints against the government, ignoring the advice about social distancing, utter disbelief that the NHS can cope – and no doubt this will lead to despair, anger or depression.  Incidents of physical abuse – from been cooped up at home – are rising.

The second attitude is one of compassion and selflessness, which has caused:-

  1. over half a million people including retired nurses and doctors to volunteer, after a call from the government, to help the NHS, and undertake food deliveries, manning telephones, etc
  2. communities coming together to set up volunteer groups (there is one in our village) to do shopping for the elderly and isolated, collect prescriptions, or phone isolated single people
  3. positive and encouraging initiatives such as online choirs, prayer groups and church services; advice forums, befriending by telephone, and posting gift parcels to others
  4. a more friendly attitude to everyone – and we chat loudly across the regulatory 2 – 3 metres to the postmen, the food delivery van men, those we meet walking or outside supermarkets

Boris delivered a distinctly Churchillian speech a while back (before he got ill) about being at war against this disease, pulling together as a nation, and obeying all the governments decrees which are for our own good. He has said quite openly that many people are going to lose loved ones. It is quite chilling. It is not going to get better any time soon and it could be many months. “The times change they are a’changin”- sang Dylan in the sixties, and by the end of this year many things will have changed.

I feel very sorry for people living in big cities, perhaps on their own in a small flat, feeling isolated and worried.  Almost worse is a large family, all trying to share facilities and a bathroom, and getting on each other’s nerves. It’s going to be tough for a lot of people.  We must be compassionate and sympathetic and do what we can. I’ve taken to telephoning a member of my family and a friend every day – and I’m beginning to learn more about them because I listen to them. We’re growing lots of vegetables with surplus to give away.  We still have a few winter leeks and parsnips, and some apples and onions left from the autumn.  Spring rhubarb is just coming up. Dig for Britain!

Coronavirus is sobering and levelling. The numbers of cases and deaths are frightening and we are all coming to terms with a truth that we often avoid – which is that we might die sooner that we expected. But there may be some good things that will come out of this worldwide pandemic.  Many of us in lockdown have idleness enforced upon us, and have begun to realise that we do need more rest and relaxation in our rushed and overworked lives. Nature too may experience some healing. Many industrialised places and cities that have been shrouded in smog with terrible air quality have begun to see blue sky and experience clear air to breathe. In the quietness, with the lack of traffic, we hear birdsong.

For myself, no social life means a better reading life.  Though a writer, I am often deprived of enough time to write, but now I have all the time in the world. I’m going to do more painting, even though the local art group has temporally disbanded. I am managing to get done a few of those jobs I have been putting off for years. And I might even start to feel guilty because I am enjoying the peace whilst others are suffering.  When I turn from listening to the bad news and go outside to get some fresh air, within minutes, with the warm spring sun on my skin, I feel uplifted and there’s a smile on my face. I can’t help it. Hope is irrepressible.

I am reminded of a short poem by one of my favourite poets, Emily Dickinson:

‘Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.’

Grandmas Rule OK

In five weeks time, I’m going to be a grandmother for the third time. Its a role I love – and I’ve managed to get in plenty of training and practice with grandchildren numbers 1 and 2.

It’s grand to be ‘Gran’ – though my favourite people call me Grandma, not Granny, Gran, or Nan. I like to feel I’m an original grandma (don’t we all?). These days I read about amazing sporty grandmothers who do bungee jumps and climb Everest, or trendy yearning-to-remain-youthful grandmothers who wear lace hot-pants and drive Lamborghinis. More traditional grannies, cuddly with huge bosoms, bake cakes and knit bobble hats and there are ancient grans who can be spectre thin, dotty and forgetful, who wander round in mauve slippers.  I can fall about laughing at Catharine Tate’s ‘Nan’ on youtube, without in any way wanting to emulate her appallingly foul-mouthed character. I like to think that I’m an active grandma who laughs a lot with her grandchildren and reads them scintillating stories using a full range of vocal fireworks. I’ve no idea what they think of me – but I hope that they don’t find me dull!

My own grandmothers were very different from each other.  My maternal one was very beautiful, ran a gambling club in London but sadly died aged 46 on the day the war ended, May 8th1945 – a year before I was born. My paternal grandmother had a large family and lost her eldest son (my uncle) in 1916 on the Somme – he was 19.  Decades later my brothers and I used to go her house in Woking and play Mahjong. Diminutive but indomitable, she lived until she was 99.

Upon finding myself elected to grandmotherhood four years ago, I decided that I wouldn’t want to be a glamorous gran with sparkly jewellery or become a super-gran who ran marathons. But I am a grandma who can wear jeans without looking gross and who can swim like a fish. I wear glasses but not granny glasses. I do NOT and never will wear granny pants. I have been persuaded to carry a granny brag book – so I can at long last compete with all my friends who have been boring me rigid for years with endless photographs of their dear little Samantha, (a musical prodigy), gorgeous George (destined to become a celebrity actor/chef/game show host ) and Harry (who is clearly going to play football for England). With my sailing background, I never ever tie a granny-knot instead of a reef-knot, and now that I’ve swallowed the anchor and am into gardening, I know what a Granny’s Bonnet is – an Aquilegia Vulgaris, a very pretty flower in spite of its name.

There are memorable Granny icons: the witty and acerbic Dowager Countess of Grantham, the superb actress Maggie Smith herself,  Grandma Moses – the American folk painter, and the wonderful June Whitfield – the disapproving but tolerant grandmother in AbFab – who died last year aged 93. Famous glamorous grannies ‘Glam-mas’ include Jane Fonda, Jane Seymour and Sophia Loren. Recently a film came out entitled: “Bad Grannies” in which gun-toting grannies create mayhem. Perhaps this film was intended to be some sort of revenge for the victims of granny-bashing – the assault or abuse of elderly people.

I aim to a grandma who never runs out of hugs to give my grandchildren or stories to tell them.  I want to be able to play grandmother’s footsteps with them when we are all a bit older. I am currently a grandma who works for a property company, writes books, and plants trees. Perhaps I might one day earn the right to be given a button with ‘TGIF’ on it (‘This grandma is fabulous!’), which I will wear with pride.

My new book, a novel due out in the autumn, features an older protagonist – a grandmother. ‘Dear Magpies’ is the story of Josie who has been searching for ten years for her grandchildren, who have disappeared on the other side of the world. She is not at all like me, nor is she like any of the other grannies mentioned in this blog.  But, like all of them, she is completely original.

Green is Good for You

May has been glorious.  I love my garden at this time of the year – it’s so green, so overgrown, so soothing.  I am reminded of Andrew Marvell’s wonderful poem: ‘The Garden’.  Here is my favourite stanza which echos my own experience in nature when imagination and sensation collide and the result is a fresh and perfect thought. A blissful disconnect from the troubled world – a brief moment of simplicity. Green is good for you!

“Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.”

Teething Problems in Paradise

I have recently returned from a short holiday in ‘Paradise’ – or to be more accurate a tiny island in an isolated atoll in a wide ocean – or to be more precise: Fonimagoodhoo Island in Baa Atoll in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.  We spent a week on this delightful island, which measures approx 600m x 200m, encircled by a white sand beach and surrounded by a coral reefs dropping off into the deep blue ocean. The temperature was balmy, the sun beamed, the translucent water sparkled. Stunning! Attractive  restaurants and beach bars supplied delicious food and enticing cocktails and we walked everywhere in bare feet on tiny sandy paths beneath luxuriant green vegetation and trees. Glorious!

There was little else to do other than lie in the sun or retreat to the shade, doze, read books and swim. Bliss! In the clear water we found the way through to the edge of the reef where we snorkelled and watched the tropical fish as they swam around the coral. Wonderful!  I am a very competent swimmer and an enthusiastic watcher of fish.  I do not like to wear fins or wetsuits, and can swim happily for hours with just a snorkel and breathing tube.   There were three gaps through the inner reef which was shallow, which gave access to the outer reef edge where more and larger fish were to be found – including rays and reef sharks (Apparently they are harmless, although a few days before, I had seen one larger than myself swimming alongside me and my heart did beat a bit faster, but he lazily turned and meandered off.)

One morning, on our third day there, I was swimming along the outer reef from one end to the other in company with two others.  After about an hour, I was two thirds of the way along, when I suddenly had a sharp pain in my leg. I realised I’d been bitten when I saw blood clouding the clear water.   Then I saw this large yellow and grey fish (about 2½ft x 1ft in size) swim straight at me again, like an exocet, and this time he only managed a small bite, by which time I was flailing around and kicking trying to ward him off. Panic!  My fellow snorkeller watched it all happen and wisely kept clear. The big fish made three more runs at me, by which time I was swimming in the opposite direction towards the shore. Fear made me move fast. I soon saw that I was getting closer to the coral as the water became shallower (I had not come through the gap), so I had to slow down and swim carefully as the coral was a few inches below my body.

Back on the beach, I was taken to the doctor on the island, and he told me that the culprit was a giant triggerfish, which is known to be aggressive and occasionally bites swimmers. Usually they just nibble away at coral with their sharp teeth.  Mine was the worse bite he’d seen for a year, he cheerfully told me, as he stitched the wound. Painful! No more swimming, he said, and I should go onto antibiotics immediately. So no more alcohol either. Dismal!  But he was kind and changed the dressing each day.  I didn’t let the incident spoil my holiday – I read lots of books and sampled every single non-alcoholic cocktail on the island!  The wound was sore and became infected, red and swollen. But its alright now and there’s an impressive scab!

I discovered that Titan Triggerfish are often more aggressive than sharks, especially when you swim into their ‘cone’ – the space above their ‘nest’.  They patrol it and when they see an intruder, they raise up their top fin (the ‘trigger’) and attack.  I found numbers of videos on YouTube of triggerfish attacking snorkellers and nipping their fins. But none showed a triggerfish sinking its sharp teeth into someone’s leg!  I’m told I must not blame the fish – it’s in their nature. Their nasty nature!

Needless to say, back in the UK, the staff at my doctors surgery found the idea of my being bitten by a giant fish hugely amusing. I’ve found it raises a few laughs (but little sympathy) in the local pub. Why should it be so dreadful when a dog bites someone, and so very entertaining when a fish does?  I’ve been snorkelling for years in many different places and successfully avoided stingrays, sharks, sea urchins, poisonous pufferfish and stinging coral.  I’d never before encountered big triggerfish with their pointed teeth, but I shall keep well clear of them the future!  I shall flaunt an elegant scar on my leg. Every scar tells a story. And I’m a storyteller.

Good Riddance to January

January 2018 is memorable (or rather unmemorable) for having the longest number of sunless days and hours of any January since records began, so I’m told.  It was a dark, dismal, dank month – and – to add adverbs (now very unfashionable) to adjectives – it was dolefully dreary, dreadfully dire and deeply depressing. But it’s over now! February has blasted in with cold clarity, clear skies and a stunning super blue moon.  I woke in the early hours when the full moon was low in the sky gleaming slyly through the jet black spidery branches of a tree and saw a carpet of white snowdrops glimmering beneath. The lunar phenomenon was ghostly enough to haunt the imagination.  Such things have been known to send one mad. As the moon sank lower into a pallid mist and I crept back to my snug bed, I realised with elation that January had fled and February had dawned. It will get colder before it gets warmer. But, as the poet, Shelley, says: “If winter comes can spring be far behind?”

25 Years on Borrowed Time

index plant of hope

A quarter of a century has passed since my reprieve. I was lying on my back under a searingly bright light, alone. I had been dreaming of freedom and fervently hoping that I would outwit my enemy and come through unscathed. Doubt suddenly dispelled and I knew in that moment that my foe was dead.

That’s what radiation does to cancer cells  – it kills them. It can also damage healthy cells, but I was unaware of that at the time, and have had to live ever since with the side-effects. But I have lived!  Three months before this moment of revelation, I had been told I had the dreaded big C, and needed a major operation without delay, where various internal organs had been cut out, and this was followed swiftly afterwards by a course of daily radiotherapy and further treatment.

The physical assault on my body was nothing compared to the mental anguish. My moods swung between despair and hope, between anger and acceptance, but predominant was anxiety about how my husband would cope if I did not make it, and grief that I might not see my two children grow up; they were then aged 6 and 4.  I loved them all so much and dearly wanted to live.

When I finally managed to get my galloping fears under control, I decided to find out as much as possible as I could about my situation. I learned that I had a 50% chance of surviving for 5 years.  I am an optimist and promptly decided I would be in the better half of this statistic.  I also resolved to hit the enemy hard with all the ammunition I had and resort to every defensive tactic.  In addition to conventional treatment – surgery etc – I deployed all the alternative medical options: meditation, visualization, exercise, high doses of vitamin C, homeopathy, and a diet designed to boost my immune system, which had taken a hammering.

infinite-hope-martin-luther-king-quotesAnd I came through, and with every passing year and all the subsequent check-ups, I became more confident and more thankful.  I have now survived not just 5 years but 5 times this.  I’m still alive and well (often managing to ignore the peripheral neuropathy – pins and needles – in my feet 24/7, a legacy of having my sciatic nerve irradiated).   Twenty-five years on, my children have grown up and I have two small grandchildren.  At the onset I thought motherhood might be cut short and I never expected to be a grandmother –  and what a blessing it is!

All those years ago, when confronted with my own mortality at a comparatively young age, I didn’t know God.  But He knew me and saved me.  Fourteen years later I encountered Him, and repentance with faith has changed my life.  Now I know that life is a temporary assignment and our home is in heaven.  Now I journey with the Lord at my side and the fear of dying is gone.  I am so thankful for the extra time granted to me – the ‘borrowed’ years have been sweet. Though we all know that human life is finite, the young feel they’ll live forever. Then as age creeps insidiously up on us, we stop deluding ourselves. Some people worry about their end, but not believers. I have recently witnessed the early death from lung cancer of a dear Christian friend, and she was completely at peace about it. No one need die alone – Our Lord is always with us and He is the way, the truth and the life. Dispel the doubts and grab hold of hope. With Him and in His love,  we can look forward to eternity with confidence and joy.