Sunday, 24 June 2012

A Crafty Outing

Yesterday I had a real treat. In the normal course of life at the moment, I am able to cope with an expedition and get out of the house once a week. When there are no medical appointments to attend, this expedition often takes the form of a visit to the local library, a bit of shopping and a mug of hot chocolate. On a good weather day, we sometimes get down to the river and watch all the happenings in and on and around that wonderful vein of life. But yesterday was something different as my daughter took me to a nearby craft fair, or 'Craft & Design Experience' to give its proper name.

Bamboo flutes
 by Ray Brook
It certainly was an experience. If I close my eyes now, I find my mind populated by an extraordinarily varied range of shapes and colours and sounds, and even the lingering memory of the flavour of a damson-sized olive popped into my mouth as a tempting sample of Mediterranean culinary delights. My daughter did a sterling job pushing my wheelchair over tussocky grass around the various marquees as we were drawn to one exhibitor after another. I'm sure the impact was enhanced by the juxtaposition of such different crafts and skills cheek by jowl. Pens next to ceramics next to knitwear next to furniture next to jewellery next to coloured glass sculpture next to hats next to paintings next to carvings and so it went on. Inspired, stunned, tickled, attracted, delighted and occasionally appalled, we had a fantastic time together.

We marvelled at the patient intricacy and beauty of marquetry alongside the clean and simple lines of sculptures so perceptively carved in stone they seemed to capture the very essence of their subject - a leaping hare and pensive owl have both taken up residence in my mind. We rather fell for a magnificent dragon formed from coloured chicken wire perching higher than a person on its stake. A fantastical form of scarecrow perhaps, we could almost convince ourselves it belonged amongst the fruit trees in our garden. We rested in the rare and welcome sunshine, imbibing tea and being gently entertained by a barbershop choir. We nobly resisted much temptation that would have resulted in a sledgehammer sized dent in our bank balance or, indeed, a bomb sized crater, but we didn't quite make it out without making a little indentation. We are now the delighted owners of a handmade bamboo flute!

The big brother of the one we saw?  For more of these incredible beasties and other animals,

Friday, 22 June 2012


One of the things that brings me great joy day by day is our wonderful golden retriever – Kingsley. At this moment his heavy breathing is accompanying my typing as he lies in deep slumber beside me, damply rumpled after a morning walk in the rain. I say deep slumber yet as he sleeps his agile face is on the move, raising one eyebrow then another, waffling his nose as if he’s sniffing out a rabbit. His doggy dreams seem to be populated by wondrous things.

He will be 3 years old this August and we have had him since he was 7 weeks old, although we first glimpsed him when he was only 2 weeks old – a funny looking little blob of life. Neither John (my husband) nor I had any previous experience of living with a dog, being far more cat people if the truth be told. Now we are wholehearted converts to the canine companion community.

Watching him grow, adventure, explore, experiment and learn; training him to understand and respond to us, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much; seeing him leaping and bounding and rolling and chasing with exuberant abandon; sharing soppy, contented companionship – all these things have enhanced our lives enormously. He makes us laugh, he gives us exercise, he changes our perspective, he brings us comfort and he connects us with other people.

He is wonderfully demonstrative and tactile. Is there anything like a doggy welcome home to boost the ego, warm the heart and convince you of your great significance and worth? And I’m sure he seems to sense when I am down. I have received so much reassurance from a paw offered and rested on my knee, a head rested weightily in my lap, or a warm, furry, doggy body laid across my feet, against my legs, as close as close can be.

In his own inimitable way, he brings love and comfort and springy, joyful life into my world and I am filled with thankfulness.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


I love words.

I love playing with words, experimenting with them and discovering new ones. I love the shape of words, the texture of words, the shades and tones of words. I love how different words feel different in the mouth, sit differently in the mind and rest differently in the soul. I love how the same words differently arranged convey such different meanings – and I love how the meaning of words swells and grows through experience and relationship. A picture may well ‘paint a thousand words’, but I love the way a single word can expand and hold the power to fling wide a window onto panoramic vistas in my mind and heart.

In the English language we are blessed with an extraordinarily rich assortment of words, which is just as well for me since I am an abysmal linguist, as my long-suffering O level French teacher would attest.

I don't think there is anything quite like the satisfaction of finding exactly the right word in a given situation. Perhaps it’s like the feeling of striking a ball precisely with the sweet spot of your racquet, but I’m pretty convinced I’ve never done that. Or maybe of easing the final piece into a jigsaw puzzle to see the completed picture, but I’ve not really done that since we bought a mega puzzle of a herd of zebra at a watering hole on our honeymoon. Why we thought it would be a pleasant occupation for a honeymoon I’ve no idea! Compulsive and impossibly stressful, we risked putting an end to our marriage before it had begun until we firmly broke up the small amount successfully connected and consigned the whole lot to the bottom of the suitcase never to see the light of day again.

Sometimes the right word simply presents itself, flowing smoothly into the mind and off the tongue or onto the page. At other times a bit of excavation is needed to unearth it. And then there's the times when there is the need for a major search and rescue mission - either because the exact word with the right nuance remains obstinately elusive, or because lethologica strikes and seems to delete even the most common of words from your memory banks. Of course, it does help to be able to tell yourself you are suffering from a sudden attack of lethologica – a useful word recently added to our family’s vocabulary.
lethologica (n): the inability to remember a word or put your finger on the right word 
So much more impressive than forgetfulness. Impressive or not, though, there is nothing quite like the frustration of chasing the tail of a word disappearing in your mind, or glimpsing its shadow but being unable to find its substance. At such times I must admit that the temptation to make up my own word becomes increasingly appealing. Unfortunately this word concoction enterprise rarely proves particularly successful, unless it comes about by accident.

In family life it seems that some words just do come about without deliberate intent and then become so normal that it seems astonishing that they are not in general usage. ‘Unky’ is one example of this in our family. We all know what we mean if we say something is ‘unky’. It usually applies to the texture of food – something with some substance to it but not at all the same as ‘chunky’. When it was first coined I’ve no idea, but over the years it’s found its niche.

Other common words are consistently misapplied so that they take on a whole new meaning – a ‘bunk’ of cheese, for instance. This I know began with our daughter one lunch time when she was very little, wanting her cheese separate from her bread and butter rather than sliced and made into a sandwich. Whether she meant to say a ‘chunk’ or a ‘hunk’ or a ‘block’ or a ‘lump’, I knew exactly what she was asking and, ever since, cheese can be either grated, sliced or in a ‘bunk’ in this household.

Of course, there are always the mispronunciations and contractions of childhood that linger. Through the years ‘gloves’ have truly become ‘gloves’, but those tall spires of purpley-pink bell-shaped flowers that appear in our woodlands and hedgerows in early summer will always be ‘foxgubs’.

And then there are the transmutations that occur through some kind of association. Our oldest son proved to be an expert at these, probably revealing something about how his brain is wired. One day at a toddlers’ group he was offered a drink that was new to him. Finding it very much to his taste, he presented himself in the kitchen the next morning declaring that he wanted some ‘brown carrot’. I confess it was the work of more than a moment to realise that what he really wanted was a drink of ‘blackcurrant’.

The one I cherish the most, however, emerged on a trip to the New Forest. The Forest is bounded with cattle grids on every road and as we juddered over one, true to my childhood tradition, I shouted out, “cattle grid!” Our little boy was interested and we talked a bit about what they were and why they were there, before stopping for a walk and a chance to see New Forest ponies from up close. As we returned to the car he suddenly turned and asked, “Where’s the ‘teapot bridge’?” We were stymied until suddenly light dawned. Evidently in the process of his mind trying to take hold of and remember something new, ‘cattle’ had become ‘kettle’ which then became ‘teapot’. That ‘grid’ had become ‘bridge’ was not so surprising, we had crossed over it after all. And so the ‘teapot bridge’ was born. How can I ever return to the pedestrian, uninspiring ‘cattle grid’? They will always be 'teapot bridges' to me.

I guess this is all part of the wonder of words in relationship. Such words used well evoke shared memory, strengthen connection and kindle enjoyment. Used badly, of course, they can become graceless and exclusive.

Using words well can come in different guises. I had an aunt who was particularly gifted with the beautifully turned phrase. I remember noticing how these phrases had an almost visual quality as they slid into conversation unobtrusively at first, but then seemed to set up a gleaming residence in the air. I was young and not much of a participant in these conversations, but the observer in me was entranced. Clearly she enjoyed words and used them like a sculptor, shaping them for beauty and for impact.

In a different way, my Dad, her brother, has a wonderful ability to express the profound with simplicity, using words that communicate directly and accessibly. Only possible with a depth of understanding and wisdom, he also knows exactly when to stop.

The world of words is filled with wonderful variety and possibility – of wit and wisdom, of the sublime and the ridiculous, of the ordinary and extraordinary, of fantasy and reality. Yet I think, above all, that the thing I love the most is when words used well engender deep connection between people, until the words themselves recede to frame a silence where communication becomes communion – and no words speak a thousand words and more…

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Tracing the Rainbow

My Blog title is inspired by the words of a hymn that has become increasingly significant to me:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

(George Matheson - 1882)

I have had M.E. since my early teens. Through the years there have been better times and increasingly worse times until 5 years ago almost exactly when a bout of viral meningitis triggered a major relapse which continues to this day. My days are restricted by chronic disabling pain and fatigue and a plethora of other symptoms that make up this bewildering illness. I have very limited mobility and am dependent on my family for care. I spend most of my time alone in my room out of necessity.

In the struggle and the weariness that often threatens to overwhelm me, I am coming to recognise and depend on the 'Love that wilt not let me go.' I am amazed at how often, even in the darkest of times, something reaches into my soul quickening life and joy and hope. Sometimes it is the most ordinary of things that is the catalyst for this quickening ~ a doggy head resting on my lap; the companionable purring of a cat; a glimpse through the window of a red kite soaring in the sky; the wind gusting through the trees; a basket bulging with colourful yarn full of possibility; a hug, a touch, a message from a friend; the sounds of laughter and so many other things. It is as if Joy truly is seeking me out and finding everyday opportunities to penetrate my heart.

I believe that the rainbow is there, full of colour and reassurance and promise, painted over my life by the hand of the one who is Love and Joy and Life. Sometimes I can see it clearly. Sometimes I am so distracted and pre-occupied that I fail to notice it. Sometimes I am so bowed down and overwhelmed that I cannot lift my head to see it. Sometimes I need others to describe it to me lest I forget its existence. Whatever happens, I want always to be able to 'trace the rainbow through the rain'.

I am hoping this blog will help me as I:
  • Notice the good stuff ~ I find it is so easy not to notice the good things in life in the face of day to day struggle. My eyes become persistently downcast and negativity can start to colour the way I see everything. Developing a habit of deliberately noticing the good stuff really helps.
  • Wrestle with the tough stuff ~ Noticing the good stuff is not about ignoring or denying the tough stuff. I think it's important to be honest about the struggle and real about how I feel. I am a wrestler by nature - mentally not physically, in case you're wondering. I tend to grab the questions life provokes with both hands. I object, I lament, I weep and I wonder. I wish everything made sense, but it doesn't. Sometimes I become too much of a terrier worrying away at a bone and need to know when it's time to stop. I know that often it's more about finding ways of living with the questions that finding the answers. But I believe the wrestling process matters and shouldn't be bypassed even when it's raw and messy.
  • Enjoy creativity, colour and crochet ~ I love being creative - using words and imagination, playing with yarn of all kinds and colours, dabbling in art and needlework etc. It seems to be part of being alive and an expression and celebration of being made in the image of a creator God.
  • Recognise signs of grace ~ Each day I receive so much that I hardly notice. I am surrounded by signs of grace - reminders of God's sustaining presence and love. If only I always had eyes to see.
  • Nurture that feathered thing called hope ~ Emily Dickinson's poem about hope begins "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul". The bird imagery strikes me as so perceptively apposite. Sometimes hope is elusive and sometimes it soars. Sometimes it's song is almost imperceptible, sometimes sweetly piercing, sometimes full throttle. But, feathered or not, hope is vital. It shapes life towards a fuller, richer, brighter future, as it restores faith in the present. I need hope.
  • Seek life in all its fullness ~ All my life, as far as I can remember, I have been a 'quester'. I'm not sure if that's even a word, but it'll do. The quest shapes my thoughts, values and desires. It is the search for love, for truth, for honesty, for connection, for freedom, for wholeness - or, in other words, the search for life in all its fullness. It is the promise of the rainbow. It is the promise of Jesus.
I have no idea if anyone will be interested in all this and however it evolves. It is primarily for my own benefit but, if you want to have a look, you are very welcome!

A final word ~ I cannot finish my first ever blog post without thanking my daughter for holding her antediluvian mother's hand and convincing me that I really could do the blog thing.