Sunday, 31 March 2013

Another Easter (done and dusted)

Just three years ago, Easter became something very different for me from the, break from work, chocolate guzzling
lazy, self indulgent few days it had always been in times past.

To my astonishment I found myself being baptised and confirmed into a new way of looking at life.

There was nothing inherently wrong with the old way of life, after all, it was the same as many millions of other peoples' lives, but this "sea-change" wrought from the catalyst of my husband's death was, also for me, a kind of death.

Death of a life-long approach to the world and to its problems, views, prejudices and self-serving indifference to the needs of others.

Many times over the previous thirty or forty years I had tentatively approached the idea of Christianity as a way of life, but had always come to the same conclusion, namely that Christians were a particular kind of person.

My background and upbringing had taught me that religion was the single greatest stumbling block to any kind of social justice and equality, and further, that where Christianity of the Roman Catholic persuasion was concerned, was an active ingredient in maintaining the status quo in all the poorest countries of the world.

Some of these views I still adhere to today, but having accepted the basic tenet of Christ's teaching, with love at  its foundation, I have slowly, very very slowly become able. for the first time in my life, to accept every person I meet, as a potential friend.

Such an idea would have been anathema to my former 'self', viewing as I did, every new contact with a sort of guarded chilly formality, born I think, of fear.

Brought up to be well mannered, i had somehow convinced myself that that was all that was required of me on being introduced to new people.

It is very late in life to be discovering that an open, warm and (dare I say, loving) approach to each new contact almost always receives a similarly warm and loving response.

At St. Mary's, we have just completed a hugely satisfying (if gruelling) four days of Easter services.  Each one unique in its flavour, and each serving a different purpose in the Easter 'story', but the whole four days has had a most profound affect on my stony heart, and, at last, the thaw is beginning.

I only need to live about another forty years for the process to be complete.

Happy Easter everybody.

Friday, 29 March 2013

A favourite rediscovered

A week ago I headed reluctantly into town, no choice really, shopping to be done and my library books were due back that day.

Having made a careful list I went first to the library, queued for ages to hand my books back and  shot off in the freezing wind to get round the remainder as quickly as possible.

It was only on the bus on my way home that I realised I had forgotten to get any books out.

Kicking myself I headed upstairs to my collection of biographies and auto biographies to see what might fill the gap.  Looking at a shelf I seldom 'see', I grabbed one of my collection of the late Dirk Bogarde's dozen or so efforts.

Entitled "For the time being", it is a book in two parts, the first dealing with some aspects of his 'movie' career, the second consisting of letters he wrote - many book reviews - for the Guardian and Telegraph in the 2nd part of his remarkable career.

As a young actor I found him pretty but boring, mainly taking light weight roles in third-rate films, and had more or less written him off until, suddenly, in the middle of his life he began to emerge as a good actor in such films as "Victim", "The Servant", "The Night Porter", and then on to his major triumphs, "Death in Venice" and "Daddy Nostalgie".

He had, in the middle of this latter period begun to write.  His first truly excellent story about his childhood "A Postillion Struck by Lightning" was immediately successful and went into several editions.

This was followed by a series of autobiographies interspersed with a few (not very good) novels.

He was at the same time, being interviewed on TV by a variety of probing, speculating interviewers who were obviously digging for a specific revelation, which with charm and humour he adroitly evaded.

Among some of the very most fascinating and gripping of his stories, touched on in interview, but elaborated on in depth in some of his books, were the terrible eye-witness descriptions of his entry into the horrors of Bergen-Belsen as a young British army officer in 1945.

Profoundly shocked and distressed he was never  quite able to verbalise these stories in interview, but they had a deep and lasting affect on his way of looking at life.

"For the Time Being" touches on this period only briefly but the writing is stark and graphic and it is here that we see a very different Bogarde from the urbane and cynical one we see elsewhere. 

He was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters at Stirling University in about 1985/6 and went on to give a series of lecture/talks/concerts, some of them after his first serious stroke and made a huge impression in this further extension of his notable repertoire.

Until I picked up this book and re-read it for the first time for many years I had forgotten just what a hugely talented man this was.

He was a lot less 'pretty' in old age but far far more interesting.

I will attempt to put a photo of him in later years below.  (no guarantees).

Hoorah.  Did it!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

At the risk of repeating myself..........

This picture has nothing to do with tonight's episode, but, I do  so like looking at him.

Believe it or not, I am back on my favourite platform.  The wonderful Holby City.

"Never" you cry, "you have never mentioned this before, what are you talking about"?

For anyone who may not know, and there must be someone, I am totally addicted to this most excellent BBC hospital drama.

Tonight's episode had, as usual, a good moral dilemma or two, well rounded out with glamour, humour and rather improbable romance.

We had a monk, facing the prospect of very major surgery with only a small chance of surviving, but choosing to go ahead for all the right reasons and a recovering addict now a novice monk who had invested all his faith in this one monk and who was prepared to lie in order to prevent the surgery taking place.

There was a sad recently bereaved girl of 16 who was at odds with her grieving father, and who had a previously undiagnosed illness which was causing her to be accident prone.  There was enough material in that story alone to make a separate story.

Underlying all of this was the ongoing saga of a young doctor with a brain tumour whose future was to say the least, uncertain.

All of these, and the lovely ditzie blond nurse whose sweet nature totally redeems her sheer barmyness.

My periodic leaps into hyperbole about this enthralling series are by now becoming a habit, and, I make no apologies for that.

If anyone has not yet made the acquaintance of this superbly acted series I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Oh, and of course, for we females, there is always |Henrik Hansen.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Winter and Old Age

I chose this woman's face from Google's gallery because it is a face full of history.

She may well have been a great beauty in her youth, the face is fascinating now.

Not all of us age well.  Not all of us started well and that doesn't get better as time marches relentlessly on.

There is a different kind of beauty which comes with great age, the sort of beauty which compels us to look again and again at some faces.

On Thursday evening I spent a couple of hours in the company of a group of fellow volunteers, wining and dining and getting to know each other better.

The group consisted of about 10 women and 2 men, aged from about fiftyish (the youngest), to eightyish the oldest.

As the evening progressed we exchanged small tentative snippets of information about ourselves and, as we relaxed into each other's company, more personal and detailed stories were offered.

Every face, while reminiscing became animated and full of beauty, while the basic features remained the same.

It was a very cold night, with strong powerful gusts of Easterly wind lowering the temperatures, yet warm and comfortable in the pub we forgot this nastiest of winters and our combined considerable ages.

While television programmes are full of adverts for miracle youth-recapturing lotions and potions, some of which probably do work to some extent, not one single word is ever uttered on the natural ageing process
which has a beauty  uniquely its own.

To my (admittedly prejudiced) eye, nothing looks worse than an artificially crease-free, smooth-skinned, dewy-eyed face surrounded by a halo of bright red, blonde or black nylon-looking hair on a woman in her sixties or seventies.

When a hand is raised to the face to push back the hair, the contrast between the wrinkled veiny hand and the plastic-looking face on its lined neck is incongruous, while the softly wrinkled face with hair that matches allows the onlooker 'see' the person.

We will all (some of us already have) acquire a winter face in the course of time, but it should be full of a lifetime's experiences of life lived and loved, not a mask which offers no insight to what a person has been.

It is snowing heavily here once again, and those unlucky enough to be out and about in it will doubtless have pinched white faces and red noses, but, that is as it should be,  A face should reflect what its 'wearer' is feeling, not the face of the person looking at it.

Whether you age gracefully or disgracefully, at least age naturally.

PS Don't forget the birds.  They suffer in this weather.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Happy St Patrick's Day

Sunday morning and it is raining.  Still raining.  It has been raining, with only very few brief respites since Friday.

As it is St Patrick's day I thought foolishly, that maybe we would get a break from the unrelenting wet, but no, it seems the saint has other plans.

Just a thought - St Patrick didn't drive the snakes out of Ireland at all at all.  

They drowned!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

How can I keep from singing

Since to put a picture of myself singing would be to lose even the few readers I still have, the image on the left will have to suffice.

Today is my birthday.  Not something to shout about, since, if we still breath they tend to happen, but as the weather is doing its usual "Hi Ray, this is what we think of you" stuff, with gales and pouring rain.  I have time on my hands.  Never a good thing for me.

I have a shopping list and guess what, on Monday I will still have that list.  Not for me the brave forays into the eye of the storm.

Last evening was choir practice evening, and I got wet going there and again coming home so there is no temptation to repeat the experiment.

We sang our way through a massive amount of music - in the lead-up to Easter we double the amount we have to learn - and we sang much of it really rather well.  The bats came out to do their 'fly-past', always a sign that we are making a nice noise.

Some of the choir are getting involved in music for the Methodist church around the corner in addition to our own hefty programme.  While I admire their energy, I do rather question the wisdom of too much rehearsal.
In my own experience I find that usually one or other of the enterprises will suffer.

However, not my call, so enough of that.

Our lovely and extremely highly qualified singer, voice coach, conductor/musical director has chosen some really rather lovely stuff for us to perform (if that is the right word), and while it is often difficult to learn, it pays dividends in the final performance.

We have the Bishop coming to do the usual Easter Saturday confirmations and baptisms and he will I think, be suitably impressed by the difference in the quality of the sound we now produce.  At least, I hope so.

On a personal level, I find the vast increase in my confidence now that I am an established member of the choir has huge benefits to all everyday things, as well as physical benefits.

Though I am even more inclined to avoid mirrors, this new better balanced, confident person is (at least on the inside) a welcome improvement.

Singing is wonderful.  If you've never tried it do so, it is never to late.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The East Wind Doth Blow

It is very cold today.

It has been cold before.

It has been very very cold before.

It has never in my lifetime felt as cold as it does today.

Before the howls of protest start, yes I am an old woman and I do feel the cold much more than I used to when I was younger and much fatter.

Yes I do remember (quite vividly actually), the appalling winters of 1947 and 1963 as well as the much more recent ones like 1981/82 etc., but, snow and frost dreadful though they be, cannot begin to compare with an east wind.

Standing this lunchtime at a bus-stop in the High Street for a mere four minutes, tears streaming from my eyes, nose dripping oh so elegantly, hands purple inside the frozen gloves, I watched the half dozen or so people unwise, or unlucky enough to be out and about in the Siberian wastes of Aylesbury and thought, "I have never been so cold in my life".

At home in my warm house (even without the heating on) I suddenly thought "Woman, you don't know how lucky you are".

This was prompted by remembering that my eldest brother is today travelling - hopefully for the last time - on foot then for an hour and a quarter by bus, and then again on foot, from Eastbourne to Brighton, where for the past 7 and a half weeks he has been undergoing radio therapy for prostate cancer.

This, if all goes well, should be the last treatment, but the entire course has been through some of the very worst weather we've had for years.

So many others must be in the same boat and so many others like my brother have to travel long distances for exhausting treatment.

Then there all those who have no homes, who, even if they are lucky enough to have hostels to return to, must spend all day out in the bitter cold.

Suddenly my four minutes at a bus-stop pales into insignificance.

The wind is throwing freezing needles of snow flurries against the windows as I type, but in here, it is warm.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Charitable Giving - Altruism, Duress, or Guilt?

This is not the picture I wanted to use, but I have been wrestling with the malign spirit which inhabits my lap-top for nearly an hour and I have now admitted defeat.

Originally I had intended to once again visit the subject of giving to charities - money that is - not any other form of giving.

Having worked on my bank statement and household accounts yesterday, I found myself writing no less than eight cheques to various charities.

Now I am not an idiot, don't all shout at once, and I do know that there has to be a balance between what one would like to do, and what is possible.

Sometimes the boundaries become blurred and I have, more than once, found myself with too little money left to last the month.

I have a system, briefly this is it:  I give by direct debit to six charities every month.  These were ones on which John and I agreed and as far as I am concerned these are set in tablets of stone.

The problem which grew out of all proportion fairly recently, was that I was receiving upward of thirty appeals a month from other charities.

I devised a system whereby an appeal is put into my pending tray until my monthly cheque writing day, when I check it against my accounts sheet for the previous months.  If they have been given money in the past 3 months, the appeal  is shredded.  If not they get a cheque.

These are all charities of which I approve and whose work is well monitored and reported upon, but if a new charity, (new to me that is) sends an appeal, I now shred it instantly, since I cannot possibly add any more.

The amounts I give are not enormous but, when the system works, which it mostly does, it means that the charity will receive a cheque roughly three times a year.

In addition I give to the Disasters Emergency Fund, and two other charities on an ad hoc basis about twice a year.

Yesterday I actually sat and worked with a calculator to discover just how much was leaving my bank each month.

The result was staggering, and shocked, I wondered for the first time in my life why I do it.

As I think I have said before, I do not believe in pure altruism, I don't think it exists, there is nearly always some way in which the giver also receives.

Sometimes I think people respond to duress from others and give when they don't really want to, and I also think there is an attempt to relieve guilt by giving.

This is not cynicism, it is simply that I always look for reasons for set behaviours, as opposed to knee-jerk responses to something which appeals to our emotions in some way.

How much is habit.

How much is fear.

How much is innate generosity?

Don't ask me what my motives are, I have no idea.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Happy Dewi Sant

For those of you who share my brand of insanity, here is a dance performed by my two household dragons Ivan Llewellyn Pendrangon and Little Rhodri, in honour of St David's day.

My computer is playing up so I don't know whether  their 'tribute' will appear, but here goes nothing.