Monday, 30 May 2011

What's in a name?

Just a brief blog, bleat of protest.  My name is a pain.  There is nothing I can do about my name.  My name has caused me problems almost from the time I could pronounce it, but, it is not my fault!

Oddly enough I didn't name myself, that privilege belonged to my misguided parents.

This latest rant comes about because your name is how people recognise you or think they recognise you and they make assumptions accordingly.

At weekly intervals, or thereabouts, someone or other around the blogosphere refers to me as a male.

I am a female, have always been a female, never wanted to be anything else (until now, that is), but, but, my name is Ray.

My parents were Welsh, which might excuse them in some circles, and I was their firstborn so they were still of the impression that there was something wonderfull about little girls.  My mother when tackled about it said "we thought, ray of light, ray of sunshine".

Had they any idea how I would turn out they might have thought twice,  though 'thundercloud', 'miseria' or 'pain in the ....' might not have been acceptable in the wider world.

I am tired of explaining my name to the curious and wish to state once and for all I am a woman, there are those in the world who could should they be questioned closely testify to that statement, and I wish to be known henceforth as MADAM!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Screaming Boredom of Solitary Sundays

After a good sermon, good sung eucharist (well sung though I say it myself) returned home initially glad to be out of the cold strong wind and sitting with coffee and feet up.

That lasted all of 20 minutes and the next thought was what next?  Gardening? too cold and much too windy.
Housework? No it's Sunday, not today.  Decluttering?  Yes well it is going to take years and I've barely begun.

As previously posted, hundreds of photos going back 40 years have already bitten the dust.  Today they were joined by roughly another 300.  The bin is now half-full of palaces, castles, statues, views over rivers from all parts of Europe.  Some of them really rather good pictures but in the main, no longer identifiable.

Why oh why was all that time occupied photographing buildings which have been photo'd by half  the world and reproduced in magazines, books, catalogues and holiday brochures for donkeys' years?

Are we really so arrogant as to believe our version to be so much better than all the others or just too unimaginative to seek out things no-one else has bothered to photograph?

Having said before that few of ours (John's and mine) had people in them it seems peculiarly pointless to keep them now.  I did have for many years a 'thing' about rooftops and gables, and since we spent a lot of time in the Netherlands and Flanders there was quite a lot of fuelfor my obssession.

Today having seen at least seventy Dutch gables, Bruges rooftops and Copenhagen 'red' houses I thought how totally meaningless even the very best of these seem viewed at a distance of some years.  There is no-one to share them with, no-one to discuss which or where this or that one might have been, and no reason on earth that I can see why they were taken in the first place.

Surprisingly, despite having spent 4 hours on the task, and having half a bin-load almost no difference seems to have been made to the vast gallery of photos occupying the office.

Decluttering in theory clears space ( for what, remains to be seen), yet there doesn't appear to be any more room now than when I began.

Can't think what to tackle next.  Ideas welcome, though not necessarily acted on.

Thursday, 26 May 2011


Does anyone know what a Google looks like.  Has anyone ever seen one.  Where can I find one?  so that I can kill it slowly and painfully!

I have spent the better part of two days desperately trying to comment on other peoples' blogs, access my email and reply to comments on my own blogs.

Each time I try GOOGLE fails to recognise my username and my password.  When trying to post a comment on someone's blog I get as far as "publish comment" press it  and am faced with the offer of setting up a blog and 'choosing' a username and password.

No matter how many times I insert my own user and pass I am told they are incorrect.

What in heavens name else am I to do.

I flatly refuse to be someone else, it's hard enough being me.

This afternoon, for the first time for ages, I was suddenly able to comment on my own blog, but still not on anyone else's.

Does anyone know whether this problem is just specially designed to drive me even further up the wall or are other 'privileged' beings getting the same treatment?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

I Don't Do Beige!

Getting back in a force-forty gale from St M's this lunchtime, I picked up my 'mail' as I opened the door.
Nothing remarkable (except that for once there were no appeals), but the usual load of unwanted catalogues were in a heap behind the door.

I virtually never, buy from these, but often flick through them  before consigning them to the recycling baskets.

This batch were mainly womens' clothing for the 'older' woman. 

Now just where did they get that idea from?

Older woman indeed!  I don't admit to a day over ......well I don't anyway.

The thing that struck me most forcibly, apart from the exorbitant price of most of the stuff, was the assumption that any woman over 50 or so must conform to a regime of drab, shapeless garments, mainly in shades of grey or worse - much worse - beige.

Now I suppose there is nothing inherantly wrong with beige but I loath it.  Colour is very important to me and as I may have hinted before everything, including my moods are seen in terms of parts  of the spectrum.
Somehow or other my leanings are towards green, blues and violets and not to the reds yellows oranges and browns.  As for beige.  What is beige?

It's a non-colour, an absence of colour, the faded remnant of a once bright shade.  It is what happens when there is no natural light, in short, for me it is anathema.

There is a tendancy when hair's natural colour fades for what remains to become a sort of brindled grey or white (if you're lucky) and whatever the original once was.  Most of us sigh regretfully and live with it.  A few go determinedly blonde or red.  A few really sad specimens add the merest touch of heaven knows what colour to the pale original which then becomes......You've guessed it , beige!

Add to one nondescript head of hair, one fading skinned face a top and skirt of the dreaded non-colour and you have a premature ghost.

Why oh why do people (men too), not play to their strengths and emphasise what is worth emphasising rather than paint over the entire creation with a neutral wash.

I'm sure the good lord created colour to imrove life's perspective, why not meet him half-way?

Monday, 23 May 2011


I've lost count of the number of times I've heard that phrase.

Is it true?  No, I don't think so. 

Cameras can exaggerate, embroider,  select bits and neglect others - maybe they don't actually lie but they can very easily give a false impression.

So why do we keep photographs?  Is it so that we  can choose the best to give a particular emphasis to some incident or phase from our past.  Is it so we can impress someone by selecting a particular back-ground.  Is it to reinforce our own self-esteem?  Or simply as a record of an event we hope to look back upon with pride?

A good and wise friend asked me recently to fish out some old photos of myself and my past life and I found to my surprise that most of the hundreds of photos I've kept are largely unpeopled.

This as far as I personally am concerned is simply because I have always hated being photographed and when unavoidably 'caught' on camera have been so horrified by the resulting image that whenever possible I've destroyed them.  This however, is a different thing altogether from having a large collection of places buildings views etc, but almost none of people.

Taking it a stage further, I also realised that such few pictures as adorn my walls are in the main still lifes. These also are devoid of human figures.  While I like artists such as Lowrie, Hieronymus Bosch, Bruegel elder and younger the people in their paintings are quite unlike ordinary people.  Freud, think about that!

Since I am in process of decluttering, most of the photographs I have (taken in Nederlands, France, Prague Poland, Germany, Salzburg and many other places) will soon be in the recycling box, but asking myself why they are as they are and why they were taken in the first place has really made me wonder.

The person who asked me to sort out the photos drew his own conclusions, largely I think right, about the reasons for the lack of personal images and has helped me considerably to understand at least some of my attitudes myself and others.

Which is where we came in.

Friday, 20 May 2011


It is a regrettable fact that as we age we have less energy, less physical strength, less 'get up and go' than earlier in our lives.  This is an incontrovertible fact, but one which most of us try to deny, or at least ignore, for as long as possible.

Personally, I never admit a physical task is beyond my current abilities until it becomes self-evident.

This was brought home to me again this morning.  That's twice this week - first of all brass cleaning in church - and secondly today, attempting to cut down my poor dead Grevillea.  Oh what a mammoth task (which is of course, why I've put it off for so long) this has proved to be.

This once beautifull and comparatively rare shrub was my pride and joy, until this Winter's spitefull and relentless cold, followed by weeks of drought turned its green spines to a murky, rusty looking brown.

I waited in vain for enough rain to rescue it, and watered the one little green bit near the base for a week or two and finally had to admit defeat.  This being a day when I normally take it easy until evening's choir practice, seemed as good a time as any to tackle it.

An hour and a half later, back aching, thumbs and wrists painfull (I have arthritis in my hands), and with only about half of it cut down I had to stop.  I haven't even attempted to gather up the evil spines and bag them up for collection, so they are sitting in  the front garden like an early offering for fifth of November, and there they will remain until the next rush of energy arrives.

What is left to be cut is rather more like a miniature forest than the lower branches of a shrub so it is possible I may have to call on someone else to do the cutting.

Oh how I hate being beaten, but even my mostly abundant energy is flagging and I am reluctantly being forced to recognize that I am no longer 30 (or 40, or50 etc).  Galling but inescapeable.

Another step down the slippery slope or maybe just a blip.  Time will tell!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


A few days ago I was unwise enough to volunteer for another 'little' job at St. M's.  I'm not sure what kind of idiot that makes me since the most often repeated maxim when I was in the WRAC all those years ago was "never volunteer for anything".

At that time if you were in one of the armed forces, when volunteers were called for, the recommended practice was to keep your head down and play invisible.  This usually resulted in anyone daft enough to catch the officer's eye being 'volunteered' to perform some dreary or humiliating task from which there was no rescue.

Since retirement I have done a few things on a voluntary basis including two-and-a-half years as an Adult Literacy teacher, feeding and trapping feral acts to get them spayed/neutered, collecting with a tin for a number of different charities, and since John's death, putting in a few hours in the Parish office of St. M's.

All these things have given me some degree of satisfaction, but as time has passed, energy diminished and options become fewer, I have found the need for more social contact and something to occupy my hands.

Among the considerable list of jobs in the church for whom volunteers are being sought was that of brass cleaning.

Hmmm  I thought, doesn't sound too bad, and doesn't involve wet hands (I have eczema), I'll have a go at that.

I should say at this point that St. M's is blessed with some very fine looking candle-holders - I won't call them candlesticks, they're more like trees - and a truly wonderful lectern in the form of an eagle with spread wings.  He is a magnificent beast and is known affectionately as, the budgie.

Having turned up in scruffy jeans, knowing I'd be doing a bit of bending and stretching I thought I was all set for a pleasant morning.

"What a mistaka to maka".  First of all, he stands on a  large round base resting on three lion heads, then the stem has a series of posts and discs all quite large, this then leads up to a globe with ornamental leaves, possibly acanthus, I'm not sure, then the large claws of the budgie rest on this globe his highly decorative feathers start on his legs and are full of intricate detail culminating in his head with curved beak and fierce eyes.

Without piling on the agony further let me say I started at 9.30 and finished at around 11.30 hot sweaty exhausted and with - to my eyes anyway- an only marginally brighter cleaner bird than when I started.

Never again will I, even for one second describe this form of refined torture as a 'bit of brass cleaning' and as for the remainder of the brass - well, it will have to wait till I've re-caffeinated my system sufficiently to tackle the next round.

Someone suggested using a small soft toothbrush for the 'feathers'of the bird, but I fear this might scratch him. If anyone knows of a better way, please let me know.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater

Yesterday my accordian file huge, heavy and lockable finally capsized under the weight of its contents, so this morning I bought two new ones.  Smaller, lighter and carryable if need be.

I spent almost the entire day sorting through mountains of paper - all alphabetically filed - but going back several years, and deciding what might be discarded.

There is quite a volume of opinion that decluttering is good for the mind and the soul.  Only time will show whether there is any truth in that, but it is certainly good for letting in light and making space where there has been none for a long time.

The danger for we hoarders is that we just might throw out the baby with the bathwater, or discard something which ought to have been kept for legal or other good reasons.

Since I have the attention span of a tadpole (could never aspire to a goldfish), somehow it seems I never quite get round to reading the small print on insurance policies, financial papers or maintenance contracts.
So it is highly likely that the one piece of paper I needed to keep is the one out of 20 I decided to shred.

John was only too happy to do all that was necessary with paper-work of all kinds including the accounts.
Since his death I hve had to painfully slowly acquire skills never natural to me, and it took months after his death (and considerable help from one of my neighbours) to get used to keeping track of money.  As I have all the natural mathematical ability of the average five-year old this has been a bit of a shock to the system. 

On Friday last week I received a cheque from the Hospice Lottery Fund to whom I pay a regular amount by direct debit each month.  My winnnings were for the princely sum of £10 and I had no idea how to pay the cheque in to my bank account.  Yes, I know I have been on this planet a while but receiving cheques was a new experience for me.

Imagine my relief when the bank cashier told me all I had to do was use my bank debit card and it would be credited to my account.!

Magic, I thought.  The world has moved on slightly since the days when my salary was paid by cheque.

There are now two lovely alphabetically accurately filed loads of - more - or - less up to date papers, and two billowing sacks of shredded paper for recycling.

I feel so virtuous that there is a slight feeling of disappointment that there is no gold star on offer.  I just hope I haven't thrown out anything vital....Oh well, I'll just have to keep EVERYTHING from now on.

Friday, 13 May 2011


Picking up my post today I found that as usual there were several appeals for money from charities.  In fact most days these form the bulk of my post.

Ordinarily I look through them, put on one side those I might respond to and shred the remainder.  This is not as easy as it sounds, since there is always something which is guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings in every appeal.

About a year ago, I decided that if I didn't call a halt to my Pavlovian response to this 'fishing trip' type of mail I would wind up bankrupt.  As I pay by direct debit to at least a half dozen carefully chosen charities and give on an ad hoc basis to a dozen or so others, it has to stop somewhere.

The thing I find most difficult is to decide which of the organisations which deal with blindness, deafness, cancer etc., since there are at least a dozen for each of these conditions.

One organisation which has become one of my direct debits benefits children who can neither see nor hear. This seems to me one of the most awful of all deprivations;  one or the other would be bad enough, but both, what a truly unthinkable way to have to go through life.

My mother lost her sight late in life, and for the last twenty-five years of her life had no sight at all.  Then as she became older and older she lost most of her hearing despite having hearing aids of increasing strength (and expense) and by the time she died on Christmas Eve 2008 at the age of 103, she had almost no hearing at all.  My last conversation - I use the word advisedly - with her, four days before she died was in a public ward, in full sight of a half-dozen other patients, and was at the top stretch of my lungs.

Not the sort of farewell one would choose, but at least we did 'talk'.

She had a leaking heart valve, had arthritis and had broken her hip earlier that year, yet she never once uttered a word of complaint or self-pity.  She retained her sharp intelligence and sense of humour right up to the last few days when she was really too frail and ill to function at all normally.

Freda, who blogs under "What's the Story in Dalamory" asked in her most recent post, what we would most like to have asked a lost relative.  I would have loved to know where my mother got her stoicism and sheer guts from.  Just how did she cope with all her problems and stay such a sane balanced human-being?

Too late to ask now, and in any case she would have laughed at the idea that she was in any way remarkable but she was.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


A recurrent theme in my blogs, as you may have noticed, is the problem of mood-swings.  Today is a dark blue even a purple one.

Wednesday is a day when usually I change bed-linen, do washing (even under extreme pressure) a little ironing, and some cleaning.  So, not a day to rejoice in - correct me if I'm wrong!

This morning it is also raining.  Yes, we do need rain.  Yes the garden is benefitting immensely,  I, am not!

My gorgeous roses are displaying themselves in all their wanton loveliness, the perfume is superb and my tired-looking philladelphus is starting to open its small white flowers.  The birds are enjoying the rain and their singing is loud and cheerfull.  What then, you may ask is wrong with me that I cannot feel even the tiniest lift in spirit with all this going on.

That, my lovelies is what depression in all about.  I know constantly moaning about it is not doing me any favours.  I know no-one really wants to see yet another blog-space occupied by self-centred self-pitying lonely bloggers, and I don't enjoy being like  this am  just finding it very difficult to find anything enviable in spending most days, every night and apart from Sunday mornings every weekend alone.

Negativity is difficult to overcome when energy levels are low and social contact hard to come by.  If John's death has taught me nothing else, it has illustrated very clearly that human contact, speech, touch are the only things in life that we really cannot do without.

People say, "you own your house, have enough money to live on without worrying, you are reasonably well and have all your faculties, you are so much luckier than many people".  These are all true, but none of those things has real value against what is missing.

Yesterday in St. M's where I do a few minor odds and ends to help out, I offered to take on brass cleaning as a means of spending at least another few hours out of the house, and will try to do a decent job but energy is not boundless and there is a limit to the number of such time-fillers I can take on.

I can feel my horizons shrinking as I write and just wish I could think of something entirely different which would expand them again.

Realising what a miserable waffle this is I thought I might delete it, but since the idea of blogging for me was to think aloud warts and all, have decided to let it stand.

If it inspires any idea, please let me have them, and if it inspires disgust feel free to say what you will, sometimes someone elses perspective can act as a catalyst.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


Listening to NIcholas Owen on the News Programme today I heard him say "if you are watching with me, the time is..."., and I couldn't help wondering what the time would be if we were not watching with him.
Just as the Breakfast show is prone to comment "the time with us is". 

Does the media then operate on a different timescale from the rest of the world?

I know it is a different time here in the UK from for instance, the time in New Zealand, America or Japan but the concept of individual TV programmes having their own time-zones is a bit scary.

Time is we know, infinitely flexible.  There is lunch-time, tea time etc.   Then there is the "sorry, it's past my bed-time" way of getting rid of unwanted visitors.

There was of course, the famous "come up and see me some time" invitation, and there  is the "phone me and we must meet sometime".

Listening, as I was just this morning, to a good sermon, the time passed fairly fast just as a bad one can make time interminable.

Then there is the way of putting off something we don't want to do "I haven't got time now, but I'll get round to it when I have more time".

There are times of great unhappiness when the time seems endless, and fleeting moments of pure joy which go so fast they seem to have taken no time at all.

Reminiscing, we think back fondly of days, weeks, months when life was everything we could ask and the time flew, others when it dragged endlessly.

Waiting for something, someone, a letter, a phone-call can stretch time almost out of sight, but seeing a loved one off on a trip somewhere the precious hours fly.

Trying to put all the clocks in the house right when British Summertime begins can take an eternity as you wait for the pips on the 'talking clock' on the phone so you can be precise to the second.

Sometimes now, when I seldom have a schedule to keep to, and very few deadlines to meet it seems as though time is altogether too elastic and I long for the days when time was short.

It is difficult to believe that however varied our timescales appear, there are actually only 24 hours in each and every day.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Hallelujah, it's Raining M..............Well it's Raining

From the excessively jubilant tone of this piece you might be tempted to think I liked or even loved rain.

Not so.  Anyone who read my "Raindrops keep falling on my head" blog on 18th  March will know better.
Incidentally the 18th of March was the last time we had any rain worthy of the name, so last night's and this mornings deluge are long  overdue.

For the gardeners among us, particularly those with an environmental conscience, drought is a serious crisis of that conscience,  To use a hose, or not to that is the question.  Whether to suffer the loss of precious plants and shrubs or to ditch the conscience and water everything copiously.

But plantsmanship is above this politically correct sway, it is enthroned in the hearts of gardeners.  It is an attribute to God himself.

So far it looks as though I have lost one or two of my more treasured 'friends'.  Chief of which is a lovely
Grevillea which I was assured I would never be able to grow in this exposed and fairly chilly area.
That was twelve years ago and its amazing bright red bottle brush like blooms have lit my winter and early spring front garden every year, that is, until this one, when the severe and lengthy winter gave way to drought.
It is now a sad shade of brown - in fact it looks rusty - and there is no sign of green at a casual glance.

I shall of course have a closer look when the rain allows.  Did I mention I hate getting wet? and if it can be saved it will not be for want of trying.

Earlier, my beautifull tree peony put out three fabulous tea-plate sized blooms, only for them to shrivel and dry within 24 hours.  Really, is it any wonder we in this country are famous/notorious for endlessly discussing the weather?

As I speak, sorry write, the sun is already appearing at the edge of the blue/black sky so I guess we've had all we're getting for now.

Oh well, let's be gratefull for small mercies.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Seeing the headlines this morning about the heath fires breaking out all over the UK was a bit of a 'blast from the past' for me, as there was a time in my life when I had a much closer acquaintance with fire than I'd have chosen.

Back in the late 1950s I was in the Womens Royal Army Corps and my last fifteen months of the three year 'stretch' I'd signed up for was not the happiest part of that experience.  Having come from a small female unit based at The Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham in Wiltshire, where we (50 or so) females had the pride of place in an otherwise all-male establishment - about 2000 officers and men, it was something of a shock to be on a small isolated patch of ground at Liphook in Hants without a man in sight.

This in itself produced some odd aberrations both of habit and lifestyle - but that's another story - and we as a unit, lacking outside contact to any usefull degree became close-knit and inter-dependant.  As the unit librarian I had the rare privilege of having my own work-space and a degree of privacy not afforded to most of the unit, and while this was in some ways liberating it also bread  in me a liking for my own company which has only since the death of my husband deserted me.

There were plenty of social activities on the camp but if we wanted other company we had to walk (quite a few miles) to the NAAFI down the A3 and back later, so not a daily occurrence.  We were all young and pretty fit.  Square-bashing (parade-ground exercises for those not familiar with the term) and enforced gym exercises were daily routine and many of us also ran or walked in our off-duty time.  This in the absence of other distractions made us a very athletic and healthy (at least physically) group of girls.

At that time, I've never been back since so have no idea whether it is still true, the area, near the Devil's Punchbowl and the Portsmouth Road were very heavily wooded.  The camp was close to the road-side and consisted in the main of old (world war 1) corrugated iron Nissan huts and a few wooden Spider huts.
They were well fitted in terms of bathrooms and the like, but pretty primitive as far as civilised living was concerned.  In Winter we had coke  burning fires in all the rooms and in Summer we roasted under the metal roofs.

The Spring of 1957 was dry and unusually warm and the road-side verges were tinder-box dry.  Everywhere there were notices about cigarettes and their safe disposal (we all smoked like chimneys in those days), and there were fire buckets hanging every few yards about the camp.

At a certain stage in April we started to have fire drills on a daily basis.  We all found them repititious, time-consuming and boring but had no choice in the matter.  No-one had been at this camp long enough to have had any experience of the real thing so were not unduly perturbed by all this activity.

The first night the fire alarm went off we all thought it was an exercise but piled into greatcoats and boots and staggered out to the parade-ground as per instructions expecting to be allowed back to bed  in a minute or two.  So the bright orange glare of flames was something of a shock.  We were lined up and the buckets filled handed down the chain and returned to be refilled as we had been trained.  After a short while the fires were extinguished the verges damped down and we went back to bed.

Done and dusted we thought.  Not so bad really.  What was all the fuss about?

As I said, that was in April.  In May, it had still not rained, the weather was hot dry and worst of all very windy, perfect conditions for heath fires.

Now we were sleeping a little more uneasily, one eye open you might say.

Then there was the night when the alarm sounded again.  This time there was more of a sense of urgency about the proceedings and the flames along the road-side were further reaching and much taller, the crackling of the undergrowth as it was consumed by flame and the heat given off were rather alarming.  We talked less this time and there was a far greater sense of seriousness in the air.  Eventually, however we all returned to bed.  Job done.

Still no rain, hotter, drier and concerns about our situation being spoken of openly now, we had yet another call-out.  This night the flames were all along the far side of the road opposite the camp and it took much longer to make any impression on them.  Hot dirty worried and tired we were just about to be stood down when there was a sudden whoosh and the most frightening moment of my life I saw the flames leap the road and suddenly they were on our side and heading toward the camp.

It was a very long very frightening very tiring night when at any moment we could have found the camp burning.  Luckily for us the wind dropped and we were able to subdue the fires and spent much of the next day soaking the roadside verges in anticipation of worse.  Fortunately for us we had a huge thunder-storm that day and the first of several downpours solved our problem for us.

Many years later, I heard a radio news broadcast about a fire in that area and apparently the long empty camp had burned to the ground.  There, but for the grace of god!