Thursday, 31 January 2013

In pursuit of sloth

Never the world's most energetic person I find as time rolls by it is easier and easier to find reasons for not doing something.

This morning, since it is one of my non church days, I had intended to tackle a shrub in the back garden which has become a tree.

Getting up to howling wind and pouring rain I thought first "Oh no, the garden is out of the question today, swiftly, oh so very swiftly, followed by "Yippee, I can have a lazy day".

When I was working for a living (yes there was such a time), the 43 years years spent in so doing were of necessity run by time-tables.  Every minute it seemed was structured by someone else.

On retiring John and I decided we would do what we liked when we liked, and for a little while that worked, but bit by bit we found ourselves creating our own schedules, setting aside time for this or that activity, until in the end it was not that different from paid employment.  Without the obvious advantage.

After his death it was essential that I find something to fill my long long days, and as I've blogged before, the church became my new home.

Initially a sort of survival activity it eventually became a new way of life, except  for one small corner which was to be my " own time."   Originally filled with household tasks but lately filled with long gaps where I snooze, read, spend a little time on face and body repairs, talk for an hour on the phone to my brothers, it has become apparent to me that humans are programmed to 'do things'.

Always filled with guilt when idling in past times, I now deliberately let go of rigid plans which would map out every second of the rest of my life.

Yes of course, there are duties which we must all perform in order to live in reasonably civilised surroundings but my inner sloth is now being actively encouraged, and when our notoriously treacherous climate plays its tricks, like ten days of snow and ice for instance, there is a perfect excuse to do nothing.

My mother used to say of my father's family (the Bowdens), that no Bowden would stand when he could sit, or sit when he could lie, and I am living proof of the truth of that statement.

Oddly, the fewer tasks I perform the more I enjoy the ones I do undertake, and guilt?   Guilt shot off on its broomstick a while ago.  Never to return.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Angels Male or Female or Neither?

For many centuries the question has exercised the imagination of theologians, artists, and many individuals from vastly varied sectors and cultures world-wide.

How you think seems to depend upon your source.

I am in no way qualified to engage in the argument so would simply offer up this, for consideration.

Last autumn I joined the beginners' class of Iconography at St. Mary's, with no artistic experience or skills to offer.

Carefully following the formula week by week, copying as best I was able the dexterous and gifted tutor's instructions, I found that my puny efforts were producing an odd result.

The picture above is the template of our 'subject', the Angel Gabriel.  (Not sure whose work the original is).

The picture on the left is my (finished) effort, albeit short of a week's work.

Below this one is a photo of three other student's work with mine alongside.

The startling fact, regardless of the expertise, or in my case lack of expertise, of the individuals, is that we were all following precisely the same set of instructions, using the same materials and processes, yet every face is different.

Some of those who had greater skills than others, produced a much better likeness of the original, while others had either more, or less, or totally different expressions in the eyes of their/our versions.

Each of us had 'traced' the original and produced our own version, yet every finished Icon looks like a different person.

Mine as I said, was not very exact.  The work was hurried and slapdash, yet the face is highly individual.

Strangest of all, for me, is the fact that from the original A-sexual Gabriel has emerged a distinctly female.

More Gabrielle than Gabriel.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Merits of Hibernation

 Standing at the bus stop waiting to go to St. M's on Wednesday morning, teeth chattering, temperature about -4 degrees at 9.00am, I was discussing the merits of hibernation for humankind with a fellow traveller.

I took my gloves off long enough to grab a swift photo of the frost covered trees across the road and foolishly uttered the immortal words, "at least it's not snowing".

Some of us never learn.  The next morning there were a few flakes of the white stuff and dire warnings on TV of more, much more, to come.

Friday morning saw thin light snow, gradually becoming thicker, heavier flakes, snow-ball size flakes, faster and faster until, going out to fill up the bird feeders I saw a sudden need to grab my wellies from the shed and take them into the kitchen.
Having thrown out a handfull of birdseed I took a shot through the backdoor glass of blackbirds and chaffinches feeding ravenously.

This was followed by ever heavier snow and more food being thrown out at increasingly short intervals.

At one stage there were 10 wood pigeons and a huge variety of small birds scrabbling around trying to get at the seed before it was covered by snow.

When this happens I resort to my standby supplement bird food, namely shredded suet and dried mixed fruit. (the cheapest available).

By mid afternoon there was quite a thick covering of the 'white stuff' and it was becoming necessary to pour hot water on the bird bath to keep a supply of water for the birds.

By now, very thankful that I had done a 'siege shop' the day before I was seriously thinking of taking to my bed to get warm.

The only thing that stopped me was the fact that it was still snowing and the birds were still landing thick and fast looking for extra lagging.

Taking the last shot through the front window I was aware that there was no longer a kerb or a road to be seen and that my front garden, drive and the footpath at the bottom had all disappeared.

Finally, getting dark though only 3.30 I threw out one last lot of food and went up to lie on the bed.
Resisting the temptation to undress  and get in, I lay with eyes closed, aware that there were sounds of activity outside, but too tired to get up and look.

When I finally got up and looked out of the window it was to discover that the 'snow shovel fairy' had been, and I once more had a drive and a visible front step.  The good fairy, though he would not appreciate the title, was my  next-door neighbour a policeman, who had just come off duty and was 'chilling out' in his own inimitable way by clearing a path for himself and for me too.

John and I used to call him Action Man, since he was never still for a second, usually doing something for someone else, and always glad to be able to use his boundless energy in a good cause.

So, on reflection, tempting though it might be, I shall probably not hibernate, since keeping the bird population alive is something I can do in return for all the good things I receive.

That doesn't necessarily mean I'll be in church tomorrow.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Wood Spirits

Perhaps it's because I am a Celt that I have an affinity with trees.  Not just as a decorative part of the landscape, but as living breathing entities without which our planet would cease to exist.

My friend and fellow blogger Perpetua of "Perpetually in Transit" fame has some photographs of her local trees in her latest post which illustrate several of the things I feel about trees.

Not least of these, is  the sense that at some angles, and in some circumstances, trees might just not be quite as immobile as they appear.

Many years ago I was in the WRAC  based at Shrivenham, some four miles or so from Swindon.

At that time, we (the females at  The Royal Military College of Science) were allowed a weekend a month away from the base.

As most of us were 20 or less years old, we mostly used this weekend break to travel home to our families.

Along with just one or two others, I used to get a 'free' seat on the coach from RAF Watchfield, just down the road, into Swindon where I picked up my coach or train home, and returned by the same route.

Imagine my shock one Sunday evening, arriving in Swindon to discover that the RAF 'boys' had been told to return on Saturday, and there was thus no coach.

This was at about 11.30pm and there was no other transport, so, I did what I had to, and set out to  walk.

Not something I would even contemplate for a second these days, but, being young, fit and (relatively) fearless I started walking at a good pace, soon leaving the edge of the town behind, and striking into open country.

It was, fortunately Summer time and there was a good moon to see by.  Nevertheless, as the lanes narrowed and the hedgerows closed in, I quickened my pace and walked down the middle of the lane to avoid the shadows as much as possible.

Several hours (it seemed) later, and still with no sign of another human being, I was feeling distinctly nervous particularly when oddly shaped trees, and bare trunks of long dead ones, loomed up at strange angles over the road ahead.

There was very little traffic on the roads in those days, and no-one deemed it necessary to cut down dead trees, so they remained, huge and menacing looming over the landscape until some land owner or farmer decided to remove them.

Knowing I could be only about three-quarters of a mile from the camp I suddenly saw ahead of me, what appeared to be a tall thin man leaning across the road ahead.  Heart in my mouth I approached slowly and had just realised to my immense relief that it was a bare tree branch when suddenly, out of nowhere a man on a bike, without a headlamp came towards me.

My heart was hammering as he dismounted and said "You're out late, where are you headed?".

To my massive relief I saw that he was in uniform, had three stripes and was wearing the REME badge on his shoulder.

When I said "Becket" he turned his bike and said "I'll walk you back".

Recounting this to  my mother some months later, she was horrified that I had just accepted that since he was in uniform he must be OK.  When she made me promise never to take such a risk again, I replied that the only thing which had really rattled me that night, was the menacing trees.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Spring has sprung (they think)

One of the features of this extraordinary Winter is the 'out of season' factor, visible everywhere to those with their eyes open.

My wreck of a garden has still a frozen then soaked rose or two left over from last year, plus flowers on the yellow buddleia, plentiful flowers on the winter jasmine, none yet visible on the red witch hazel which should have some by now.  Everything upside down and confused by the soft mild spell.

Listening yesterday to a pair of robins it was obvious that they were quite convinced it is already Spring.
I fear for the poor little idiots when the inevitable hard frosts begin and they realise their mistake.

A few minutes ago there was a hugely excited racket from a sizeable flock of Long-tailed tits, squabbling and flitting from feeder to feeder in the back garden.  Anyone who is unfamiliar with this lovely little bird should take time to seek out a place where they are common and just watch them for a while.

Truly tiny little bodies of pink and black and white, with very bright dark eyes and tails about three times the length of the body, they are utterly enchanting.

Their behaviour is also unusual in that they live in communes and roost in rows, leaving always the 'unmarried'
aunts and uncles to play nanny to the newly fledged babies.  The parents do the feeding but when it comes to bed-time aunty and uncle are at each end of the row, with mum and dad next to the babies, huddled up to keep warm.

When a flock arrives you are in no doubt who your visitors are, since the racket they create is impossible to ignore.  Designed I suspect to warn off would-be predators.

I'm sure we shall pay for the few days' grace we have had from Winter cold, but it is lovely to see and hear the happy presence of, surely, one of God's greatest creations.

Life would be unthinkable without birds.