The Kiddie Roundabout and …

A busker playing at Pike Place Market in June 2008

Yesterday in my town it was the Frost Fair.  Not that it was frosty – in fact it was sunny and unseasonably mild, so that the street performer singing beautiful carols seemed less in tune with the event than the guitarist doing a cover of the Kink’s Lazy Sunday Afternoon. (He was singing ‘sunny’ instead, given that it was a Saturday.)

At the top of the town were the children’s rides.  There was a small kiddie merry-go-round with Thomas the Tank Engine, motor bikes, horses and so forth.  One lone toddler was riding on this as we passed, clearly finding its modest speed and motion quite exciting enough at her tender age.

The other ride was one of those hand-cranked affairs where children sit on swing seats attached by chains which swing out as the handle is turned – a scaled-down version of the one shown here.  This one was filled with excited little people.
“FasTER! FasTER! FasTER!” they were chanting.
The operator obediently turned his handle for all he was worth and the children squealed with delight as they flew out over the watching families and friends.  Not for them the safe, slow roundabout.  They wanted danger and excitement.  One or two though, looked less certain.  Their eyes were wild and the smiles were fixed into grimaces.  Maybe they were having second thoughts …

I used this idea once to help a young girl who was experiencing some difficult times in her life.
“When we select the Life we want to live this time around,” I told her, “most of us (our eternal, soul selves) avoid the unadventurous kiddie roundabout and opt for the white-knuckle ride. That way there’s more experience, more challenge, more fun.”

The trouble is, when we’re actually taking part in the Life we’d so recklessly chosen for ourselves, the ride doesn’t always feel like fun.  The metal bars dig into us.  Our stomachs are heaving.  We feel sick and dizzy.  There are times when we’d quite like to slow down.  Too late for that, though; it’s careering out of control and we just have to hang on grimly and wait for the ride to stop.

Quite a few of my friends, including a few of my fellow WordPress bloggers, are currently going through some difficult, painful and frightening parts of their lives.  They are – all of them – wise and brave souls who understand the growth and experience the current problems are giving them, but that doesn’t make it easier to cope with, so I’m sending love and care to each of them, and to anyone else who shouted ‘fasTER, fasTER’ but is regretting it right at the moment.

The ride will slow down again in time, and you’ll be proud that you sat it out.

Living Here

Glastonbury, Somerset, UK seen from the nearby...

“Can you tell us a little about the area where you live?” I was asked by somebody based on the Northwest coast of the United States recently.

So I did, and as I described this place, I was reminded how impossibly lucky I am to live where I do.

“Probably luck had little to do with you ending up there,” a friend remarked, and yes – she’s absolutely right.

From my perspective of belief, it’s the result of a heady combination of manifestation, agonising choices, hard work and the benevolence of an abundant Universe.

I’ve spent many years in, let’s say, less beautiful places.  I had, back in those days, security and comfort.  They came at a price.  I dare say that’s true of all of us.  The job paid well, but as politicians forced my profession down routes I didn’t want to follow, I became rebellious, dissatisfied and disillusioned.  My marriage had its good points, many of them, but here too, there were compromises I wasn’t happy with and the general feeling was far from good.  I told myself I was needed there – by my kids, by those I taught and mentored.  It was only when I found that someone else in my life needed me a whole lot more that the tipping point was reached.

My two youngest were off at university.  My oldest had her own home and life.  As for the school kids, well there would always be more, wherever I was.

Mum was frightened.  She and her encroaching dementia lived alone.  She was usually lucid and bright but there were the confusing times; the times when the ‘other lady’ – the sad, terrified person she tried to comfort, but who wouldn’t talk back or accept any help – would stare at her from the mirror at the top of the stairs.  She could not accept that this person was a facet of herself.  The ‘other lady’ made toast for breakfast seven or eight times a day, but left other food rotting in the fridge.  The ‘other lady’ went for bus rides at two in the morning, to destinations she couldn’t remember and was gone for hours at a time.

That was the tipping point.  I burned my bridges, turned my back on all my comfort and security and moved in with Mum and her other lady.  It was not an easy choice to make.  It was not an easy life to live.

The time came when Mum had all but morphed into her other self.  I wasn’t able to manage the 24/7 care she needed alone and the next choice came.  No point in going back or staying where I was.  It was time to move on again.

“You’re in freefall!” someone commented at that time.  “Where you land is entirely up to you.  What a gift.”

It didn’t feel that way to me, but looking back, I can see that she was completely right.  I followed my heart, came to the place I loved the most and risked all to own LIME Cottage.

So this is where I am:

English: Cutting for silage A farmer cuts gras...

The view from the back of my cottage is to the beautiful Polden Hills.  Usually, as I look out on misty autumn mornings, there is a second, ghostly, grey-purple ridge of hills rising behind them, built of clouds.

The beautiful  near-perfect hemisphere of Chalice Hill rises just behind the cottages across the road from me at the front.

Turn left, and it’s a ten minute walk past the ruins of the abbey to the centre of this quirky, bustling little town, filled with exciting indie shops and larger-than-life characters.

English: Glastonbury Tor from Chalice Well The...

Turn right and within a minute or two you come to a steep, tiny lane, where the waters of Glastonbury’s two famous sacred springs rise.  The white spring to the right and the red spring – supposedly stained that colour by the blood of Christ from the Holy Grail buried beneath it – in the beautiful Chalice Well Gardens to the left.

These two watercourses once ran openly along my road, feeding the abbey and town with fresh water.  Now their waters are piped below the pavement and our drinking water comes from elsewhere, but we’re free to collect bottles of the original supply from the pipes in the lane.

Above all this towers the famous Glastonbury Tor, capped by the tower of St Michael. This brilliant video will show you just how fortunate I am to be here, even if it isn’t down to luck:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burnt Norton

Drawing of T. S. Eliot by Simon Fieldhouse. De...

I borrowed Eliot’s title – first of Four Quartets – to herald its first three lines.  Those lines have mesmerised me since I first encountered them, aged around 17, because they validated a truth I’d always known but never dared to voice:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

Since becoming the custodian of LIME Cottage, earlier this year, times present, past and future have become inextricably linked in my life.

It is a building of two halves.  The front portion, built of rubble stone in (probably) Jacobean times is what the conservation team call ‘historically significant’.  Apart from the walls, the mullion windows and some grubby thatch beneath the roof, little remains to give clues to its three hundred and more years of history.  Perhaps the most striking symbol of the changes it has seen is the way in which the road outside has risen in the intervening years.  History is slowly burying the cottage, so that entering the heavy front door involves stepping down from pavement level to my doorstep.  Like archaeologists, my visitors must move down through the layers of history to walk into the building.

The other half of my home, though, is a far later addition.  This part was built during my lifetime.  (I should add here that I am now of an age where visits to folk museums are often punctuated with small yelps of recognition: “We had one exactly like that!”)

Some time around the middle of the last century two things of personal significance happened; I became the first-born child of Joyce and Oscar Anton (known as Tony for Anglicisation purposes) and someone – as yet unknown – decided to extend this cottage and provide it with its present layout.  Huge, cold, Crittall windows pierced the ancient stone, imbuing the cottage with a surprising airiness.  Doorways were punched through to a new kitchen, lobby, bathroom and coal store downstairs and another bedroom above.

The kitchen - time past.

The kitchen – time past.

Initially I was unimpressed with the alterations.  Not a fan of single-glazed, metal framed windows (still less, given their unalterable listed building status) or flush doors, I struggled to decide how best to decorate the ‘new’ part.  To me, having grown up in them, the fifties were a cold, dark, old-fashioned time of scrimping and making-do.  The cottage kitchen was a particularly ugly remnant of that era, with a rotting chipboard sink unit, a bulky stained worktop and ill-matched, broken wall shelves and cupboards.

“Fitted kitchen’ll be best,” my builder announced.  “I’ll get it measured up and let you have some designs.”

He did.

They were bland and dreary.  I binned them quietly and told him I’d have a think.

cupboard love

cupboard love

Putting out the expectation of a miracle – which has been my way of progressing here – I came upon a piece of furniture in a local vintage emporium and discovered the true meaning of ‘cupboard love’.  It was glorious and I knew I had to build my kitchen scheme around it.

I could move into a mundane account here of how every subsequent item of non-fitted furniture was discovered, painted in matching or toning shades and added to create my eclectic kitchen, but I’ll spare you that.

I simply want to focus on one moment in time – one evening when I sat, cutting decoupage fifties floral patterns to decorate the quirky little spice rack I’d inherited.

Suddenly I could smell almonds.  I was whisked back to a sunny kitchen table in post-war Ilford, where a diminutive me sat with my mother, carefully cutting out pictures just like these to mount in my scrap book.  Progress was slow but satisfaction was deep.  The delicious almond scent came from Gripfix – the paste we used to stick the pictures in.  (See left.)  I think I could have been the original glue sniffer…

The spice rackEverything felt wonderful.  I remembered delightful things about the fifties – the embroidered tablecloths with crinoline-robed ladies and wild flowers, the delicate painted butterfly wall decorations, the bone china cups and knitted tea-cosies.  I felt safe, warm and cherished.  Something of time past had drifted through the decades to remind me that childhood wasn’t all harshness and criticism.  There had been golden, happy, beautiful moments too.

The transformation of the kitchen will extend into time future.  More vintage clutter will no doubt grace it’s corners and crannies, and every piece will allow both the ‘new’ part of the cottage and its ageing owner to relive our youth in time present.

 

 

The g** word

Stained glass of the west window in the north ...

 

When I was five and a half, I had a huge crush on Paul Bancroft, a boy about my age who lived down the road.  That is why, when Mum – tied to the house with the new baby – asked me whether I’d like to go to Sunday school with the Bancrofts each week, I accepted eagerly.

 

Did I know what I was letting myself in for?  Absolutely not.

 

Each Sunday morning I’d squeeze into the Bancrofts’ car – next to Paul, obviously – and go with them to Sung Eucharist; ours was the highest of Anglican churches.  I grew to adore the heady mix of coloured light filtering through Victorian stained glass, misted by the smoke of incense, the thundering of the organ music, the men in heavily embroidered robes processing, bowing and scraping at the front and the chanting of incomprehensible texts.  The reason for all this escaped me completely, but the theatricality was utterly enchanting.

 

Part way through the service, we children were led out to the little hall next door by a young lady with fair hair called Miss Steel.  We coloured pictures of Biblical scenes and listened to stories about Jesus.  Miss Steel didn’t like questions, I soon discovered, especially those that started ‘But why did…?’  She liked us to listen quietly and colour neatly, so that’s what I did.

 

The G** word rarely came up.  We heard a lot about Our Father, who was, apparently, no relation of the one reading the Sunday paper at home.  We heard a lot about Jesus, too.  We were told he was perfect – a fact I accepted cheerfully enough until we heard the tale of how he destroyed a fig tree, just because he was feeling peckish and it didn’t happen to be fruiting at the time.  Then there was the time he cast out some devils and sent them into a herd of pigs, who promptly ran, lemming-like, over the nearest cliff and perished.

 

“Miss Steel, are you sure these stories are right?” I ventured.
“The Bible is the Word of God,” she responded, curtly.
And that was the end of the discussion.

 

 

By the time I was approaching my teens, we had a new vicar – a man I disliked as thoroughly as I disliked anyone on the planet.  He had raised my hackles by walking into my little brother’s infant class at school one day, asking children who had been Christened to raise their hands and then calmly telling the rest of the class that, should they die, they would go to Hell.  He brought a whole new dimension to the concept of cold calling to tout for business.  Goodness knows what trail of devastation he left in his wake as he swept out in his crow-black robe, leaving the class teacher to comfort terrified and snivelling seven-year-olds.

 

My mother, fearing I was moving to the dark side, enrolled me in the vicar’s Bible study class.  I lasted about three weeks before being asked to leave.  The other kids sniggered into their Bibles as I locked antlers with the hated vicar, and asked all the questions that had been simmering throughout those years of Sunday school and church.

I was told repeatedly that I just needed to have Faith.  His face changed from pink to white to puce with amazing rapidity as I asked what sort of loving god would condemn little kids to eternal torment just because their parents hadn’t brought them to be daubed with a bit of water by a priest, and where it said that in the Bible anyway.  I asked about that fig tree.  It was still bothering me.  I asked what happened to devout Hindus and Muslims when they died.  I asked whether, hand on heart, he could be quite sure that this Bible he had so much faith in had been translated right, because there were some rather serious contradictions.  I asked about that bit where Jesus says that each of us is capable of doing any of the miracles he did, and then some.  The vicar particularly disliked that question, I noticed.

 

Here ended my ecclesiastical experience.  Much to the distress of my mother and Mrs Bancroft (and probably the grim relief of the vicar) I pronounced myself an agnostic and set about discovering my own set of beliefs.  I wasn’t turning my back on Jesus, merely suspecting that he’d been seriously misquoted.  As for God… the jury stayed out for many decades.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

When I finally got around to writing the book of my own thoughts on Life’s big questions, I approached a publishing house I’d long admired.

They initially expressed a keen interest.  However, they asked, would I mind removing the g** word from the book and finding some other way of expressing the concept?

I thought long and hard about whether I was prepared to do that.  I talked to my editor.  I talked to my closest friend.  Both said I should hold firm, so I did.

I self-published the book, complete with g** word.

It includes – to the horror of certain members of my family – the words:

I am God.  Don’t get jealous – so are you.

Interestingly, though, just about all the channelled material coming through now backs up the idea that, through accident and design, the New Testament is incomplete, to say the least and that – as I’d long ago suspected, the message was intended to be one of self-empowerment and self-knowledge.

You may, for example, want to check this recent post on Ask Higgins.