An interesting visitor?

Today there may have been an interesting visitor on this blog. I posted a comment on Paulo Coelho’s blog and when I checked my stats a while ago, a visitor had come via that comment. But the problem is that my comment was deleted by whoever moderates that blog, one might assume Coelho himself. Rest assured I didn’t put anything inflammatory or rude or troublesome; but for some reason, my comment was deemed not to be worthy of that blog. It did however pique somebody’s curiosity enough to take a swift peek here.

It may have been because in response to a Velaquez nude, I commented upon (not the skill of the MALE artist) but rather the hardship of the FEMALE model, knowing from experience that even apparently reclining poses become agony after more than half an hour.

I’d love to know why my comment didn’t appear. Any thoughts?

Edit: Some hours later my comment has now appeared on the origianl post, and various people remarked the blog had been a bit umpty today but I still don’t know who ended up here. Ah, a good mystery!

Driving force

Yesterday, for the first time in a number of years, I got behind the wheel of our car and drove. I’ve had a little spin in it before, in the empty car park of the local golf club, but never on the open road. The last time I was behind the wheel was in our previous car, on Boxing Day more than two years ago, and that after a period of more than 2 years. In that case I panicked and gave up by the end of the road and my husband drove the rest of the way to my parents’ house.

It’s been absurd the lengths I will and have gone to in order to avoid driving. I passed my driving test a fairly long time ago, and the first car I drove for some years after was an ex-army Lightweight Land Rover. As a visitor once commented, that was REAL driving. Not only that, my scruffy old landy was invincible; people got out of the way when I was in it. The thought process went along these lines: I could cut her up…..but she’s got no paintwork to worry about sooooo….I’ll do the courteous thing and not be a bastard on the road. The known factor about land rovers is they DO have a crumple zone…it’s called The Other Car.

I don’t know what happened, but somewhere after her(my Land rover), I lost my confidence and then the will to drive. I sweated blood, practically every time I had to get behind the wheel. At first it was at night and in fog, then just at night and before long I got the shakes if ever asked to drive. I have a patient and kind husband who understands, but I hate myself for it.

So yesterday I said, OK, I’ll try. We drove about three or four miles and then came back. The little Peugot 106 we have is more like a toy car compared with the various other vehicles we have had: obviously the landrover was a tank compared to all cars, but we had a Volvo, then an Astra estate followed by a Skoda estate. The Skoda was the one I gave up on by the end of the street. I simply couldn’t find the gears; every time I changed gear, it felt like nothing would work. Silly when the landrover didn’t even have a synchromesh; you had to feel for the gears and then just shove, hard. But our little car felt quite easy and forgiving, and we returned without incident.

The plan is to take a spin at the weekends when traffic is likely to be quieter, so I can slowly build the confidence I lost. I can’t say I relish this but at least it means when the inevitable day come when it is essential I drive and there is no other option, I won’t be so terrified and then risk making mistakes. At least then I know this car a bit and feel that I can, with care, drive it.

As an addendum, among other curious dreams last night I dreamed I was in a smallish fishing boat, trying to navigate my way our of our busy little harbour. I’ve never “driven” a boat, and apart from a very few sea trips, I’m not a salty sea dog, so it seems significant that my subconscious chose to use that set of images and actions. In real life I would have been frozen with fear and uncertainty, not knowing the rules and regs of sea navigation, but in the dream I was fairly confident and assertive and steered neatly round other vessels and didn’t crash into the harbour walls. I woke before I got out to sea.

I’m hoping tonight I will be sailing out of the enclosing arms of the haven and out into the open sea….


  When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I can look back at my life and see moments of peace, set among the strife and sparkling like fragments of mica in the sand of a vast desert.

I hunger for peace, both innner and outer peace in the wider world much as a junkie hungers for a fix. The piecemeal peace Hopkins speaks of is never enough, and yet it teaches me the fact of its existence.

I recall those precious moments of inexplicable peace, standing out like sentinels in my life, often seeming to be without reason, or good reason anyway. They descend undeserved, and often unasked, and feel like a balm on sore sunburnt skin.

If it feels like that for the one individual, then what bliss might follow should the world find a true path of peace, that state of being that is more than the mere cessation of war?

I am studying my memory so I can memorise the sensations remembered of peace, so that I might stalk it by seeing what actions and inactions tickle that memory bell, like finding the right key for a lock when fumbling in the dark.

I’m in sore need of peace right now. The image of the dove of peace actively brooding her eggs is etched on my inner eye right now; peace is a process of bringing forth, of nurturing and encouraging the emergence of something tender and new.

In my turmoil I am aware of things unborn waiting to be born; I have no means to bring them into the light except by calling on peace.

And yet, like a timid bird, peace disappears at the slightest disturbance, leaving me bereft. 


I wrote a few days ago about my anxiety and how it affects what I carry in my handbag.

Yesterday we had to go to Cambridge because my daughter had a tutorial there for her OU degree. The night before my dad rang to ask when we would next be in Cambridge because he had some presents for my birthday that would likely be hard to put in the post, so we arranged to meet.

I try to see my parents whenever we can but since they live a few hours drive away, it’s not something we get to do very frequently. They live the other side of Cambridge and get free bus passes, so meeting there is convenient if we have to be there anyway. When I am working and am taking students, I often arrange to meet them for lunch.

Well, we were walking back from town to the pub we know near the college where my daughter has her tutorial, and we were about to cross the road. Another family, composed of mother and daughter and a partner that might have been father, were walking on the other side of the road, and as we came to the kerb, the mother on the other side suddenly pitched forward onto the pavement.

For a horrible split second we all feared she had had a heart attack and collapsed. But thankfully, she had only tripped on uneven paving and was being helped up by her daughter. Her face was smeared with dirt and as she straightened up, she was looking with dismay at her hand.

We came over, fast. I have to admit a fall like that ought to have fractured her wrist, but by some freak, she had simply ripped a great chunk of skin from the heel of her hand. The wound was caked with dirt and beginning to bleed copiously.

I produced wipes to clean the wound and plasters to staunch it, and the other family were overwhelmed with gratitude.

“What would we have done if you hadn’t been there?” said the daughter, holding her mum’s arm and beaming at me.

I mumbed something incoherent.

Anyway, I told them exactly where the nearest pharmacy was so they could get more plasters or other first aid stuff and we walked on.

I can’t help feeling proud I was able to help; that I had the means neccessary to help. OK, so it wasn’t life threatening but it made their day, which could have been utterly ruined that little bit better, and made them feel that sometimes strangers are kind.

I’m going to have a quiet word with one or both of my bosses to see if they would consider sending me for official first aid training. The health and safety rules in the UK mean that you are not supposed to do first aid if you don’t have a valid up-to-date certificate; I travel a great deal with students both English and foreign and while so far I haven’t needed to do any, sooner or later I will. I’ve done plenty of first aid over the years and I know what I am doing, but that said, the law says I have to have a piece of paper to prove it.

Anyway, must go and replenish my supply of wipes and plasters…

Belief(or lack thereof)

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with belief. I’ve stopped believing in things most people believe in and I hang onto beliefs many folks have long given up on, for far longer than you’d imagine. I believed in Father Christmas long after everyone else had decided it was definitely your mum and dad; I still do, to tell you the truth. It’s based on some fairly complex metaphysics these days, but back at age five, it was based on the empirical evidence of my own ears. You see, I heard the sleigh bells on the roof, one Christmas. The fact(eagerly pointed out to me by my older brother) that we lived in a Victorian house with a system of interconnecting chimneys, and I surely heard the sound transmitted from downstairs fireplace to my bedroom fireplace, where my father sat wrapping a jingly toy by the fire, and not from the roof as I thought, simply didn’t dent my belief that father Christmas was a real entity. I still believe it, now aged almost 43.

I don’t for example believe in Red Nose Day or Children in Need, Sport Aid or any of the other media fuelled charity blow outs this country seems to delight in. My bus driver today wore a red curly wig and a red nose; I suspect he wasn’t happy about it but you can’t go against the mass without jeopardising your place by the fire. I fully accept they raise a massive amount of much needed money for great causes. But I don’t believe they are the best way. They actually create charity fatigue; people get fed up with it and it’s a fair bet many give out of guilt and a fear of looking mean. I also have a cynical concern that a vast amount of the money raised vanishes in costs and administration.

I also don’t believe in the essential goodness of people, despite plenty of evidence experienced personally. This is based largely on statistics; in short, the sums just don’t add up.  If people were basically good, then the world would not be in the mess it seems to be in right now.

My current belief in God wavers; I suspect God not only exists and I’d also be willing to bet that He/She is basically benign. But also mainly unknowable. If you haven’t ever read “Mister God, this is Anna,” I’d highly recommend it; I think it ought to be required reading at every Bible college, vicar factory, theological college and seminary in the world. In one section, Anna, the eponymous heroine(an eight year old orphan) is watching some ants and tried to explain to Fyn, the author, that however much she loves the ants, there is no way for her to ever convey that love to the ants. Too much of a gulf exists for her to be able to make the ants know of her love. For me, in many ways, this is how I feel, a slightly enlightened ant, knowing that God is unknowable to me in my ant state but having a dim idea that he/she exists and probably loves me.

But, being me, the biggest thing I don’t and cannot believe in, is simply myself.

I have tried. Endlessly. And without success. Others do; others tell me I should believe in myself. I am told I have plenty to believe in, but when I try, nada.

I understand that faith is a gift, a grace if you like. I had a friend who was dying, some years ago. I spent a lot of time with him, massaging his feet and listening and talking. He wanted to believe in God, he really did. He envied his wife and her faith, but even though he wanted to, he simply never reached a point fo faith. I went to see him up until five days before his death, when cellular breakdown meant I could no longer touch his feet without causing serum to leak through his skin; he was the first person who I saw after death. I stood in the room while my husband said the prayers for the dead, holding hands with the family and friends and I could feel him in the room, a peaceful presence. His shell looked very peaceful and it no longer looked even remotely like him. I had the very strong feeling he knew now what he had been unable to believe in life, and it was good. His spirit appeared a few days later to a family member who had been unable to get to visit in the last days; he told her he was surrounded by light, and that it was just wonderful and then he vanished.

I’d like to be given a gift of faith, not just in God, because I have that to some extent, but in myself.

Bring it on!!

I have my new multi-tool. I am ready for anything.

Well, nearly anything. It has needle nose pliers, wire cutters, a file, different screwdriver heads, a bottle opener, a can opener, a serrated blade and a straight blade  and with all those useful gizmos, it’s still only two and a half inches long.

I am a happy and well-prepared bunny!

The Exile

The Exile.


I am a stranger in a strange land:

The exiled, the dispossessed,

A refugee from life.

I want to go home,

Knowing it can never be,

That home is here, and now.

My mind walks alone

Through other rooms,

Other landscapes.

My inner eyes see

Other trees, other people.

At night I turn the wrong way,

Looking for rooms

I no longer possess.

As dusk falls, the walls

Move in, shrinking my cage

Until I feel trapped.

In sleep I escape to homes

I can never own again,

Exploring mansions beyond reach,

Castles and kingdoms

Created by dreams.

It’s not that this life is so bad.

It just isn’t mine, that’s all.

In Case of Emergency….

I have often been able to gauge the level of my anxiety by the weight and contents of my handbag. Yesterday it was back-breaking, even though I removed certain items.

By coincidence there was a programme on BBC2 last night about surviving emergencies and disasters; it was at once reassuring and disturbing at the same time. Reassuring because one of the key ingredients in increasing your chance of surviving an incident is preparation; both mental and physical and by having a plan BEFORE the event that means you can do things without having to think. For me, this means a lot of things. I’ve always gone through a mental checklist when arriving in a hotel room; check the window opens properly, check the fire exit so I know where it is, things like that. When I get on a ferry, I glance to see where the exits are, where the lifejackets are kept, which deck I am on. It’s no big deal; I’ve always done it, and I have had people tell me I am morbid or mad to even think about it. Even in a cafe or pub, I like to sit where I can see a clear route to the outside.

It was also reassuring because as a habit I carry various things with me much of the time; a dynamo torch, for example, sits in a pocket in my handbag. It can’t run out of battery because it is self powered. I used to carry a multi-tool, but that was either lost or half-inched last season; I must replace it. I would like to carry a knife but since that is now considered a problem, I don’t. My multi tool had small blades so I couldn’t have taken it on a plane but it was fine for the UK rules. I’d run through the current contents of my handbag but I think it would betray me as utterly neurotic even though I have removed some of the more telling items like the space blanket.

The disturbing thing about the programme was the fact that what is now known to kill more people unneccesarily in the event of a disaster is not, as you might think PANIC, but rather a failure to react. People will sit there like rabbits in the headlights waiting for someone to tell them what to do. In the 9/11 catastrophe, people did things like finish writing emails, filing papers and putting things in the safe, assuming they had more time than they did. If it had been a drill, they may have feared disciplinary action or the sack if they had failed to file sensitive papers first. People wait for peer confirmation that something is wrong. There was an experiment using smoke in a waiting room; people alone raised the alarm fast, but when surrounded by actors who ignored it, they waited and waited, fearing looking silly by reacting.

Now, this is disturbing because I have done just this thing myself. In late August 2001, I was returning from an overnight stay in a London hospital; I’d had an operation the night before and when I got to King’s Cross, I had just missed my train. So I sat down to wait; I was tired and groggy from the anaesthesia and my wounds were hurting. About ten minutes later, a strange siren began. I ignored it, assuming it was a false alarm, and also because nobody else seemed to react. Thankfully, the station staff came along and shooed us all out of the station and we were all shocked to see fire engines, police vehicles and the bomb squad.

Now I grew up during an era when IRA bomb threats were common and a very real danger; indeed, my high school was often disrupted by bomb threats and once, when I was 18, there was a real bomb in the building(but that’s another story) So for me, this was a real shock and I was scared and very worried. Not only were we all standing too close to the building to escape flying debris and glass, none of the emergency services seemed to know this. I moved as far from the building as I could and sat down on a kerb stone and waited.

Nothing happened. It was indeed a bomb scare; no device was found. Less than a fortnight later, 9/11 changed the world.

Now, I didn’t react. Had there been a bomb, I might well not be here writing this. I might well have been blown up, simply for not realising the siren meant GET OUT THE BUILDING NOW, YOU MORON.     

The experts interviewed stated that one of the biggest factors in survival in an emergency is not intelligence, or strength or speed or equipment but SELF-CONFIDENCE: The ability to act believing that you are doing the right thing.

Of course, blind luck plays a part too.  It can be a matter of utter chance. But an equation was emerging I found worrying. 5 parts self-confidence +  2 parts preparedness+ 1 part luck = possible survival. I have very little real self confidence; I can blag it in plenty of circumstances and pretend. But when push comes to shove, I seldom believe I am right.

Let’s hope then that in the unlikely event of a real disaster, luck and the insane contents of my handbag might save me!

Healing words

As a part of my daily spiritual practise, such as it is, I draw a card at random from my set of Healing Cards by Caroline Myss. I’ve used many cards over the years, some I still use and others have served their time and are left fallow now.

These particular cards have a picture and some words, drawn from every major spiritual tradition in the world. One side there is a soundbite with a picture and on the reverse is a few lines expanding it.

Today’s sound bite was, “Recovery isn’t a goal, but a process”

On the reverse, “You never stop repairing and renewing yourself. You must absorb  the light and shadow of each day you live. Don’t keep your spirit stuck in yesterday as a new day begins. Prayer is process.”

As I wrote first thing, I am feeling very stressed and anxious. I thought I was past this being at the mercy of anxiety, but it seems not.

It seems like it’s part of my life’s work to work through this. Today is tough.

But at least I am safe home and can now try and deal with it now my chores are done with.