We Lack Discipline reads “The Bet”

It’s very gratifying to get new reviews on a book that’s been out a few years but when it’s the first of a series of articles on said book, it’s a definite red letter sort of day. https://welackdiscipline.com/2021/05/08/we-lack-discipline-reads-the-bet-by-vivienne-tuffnell/

Year’s Mind

Year’s Mind

A year is a strange thing. 365 point something days, during which the earth orbits the sun and spins on her axis, eventually bringing you back round to the same date. It can be bittersweet. Anniversaries and birthdays, markings of celebrations and of commemorations.

The first year after a bereavement is a time when it feels as though all the certainties, the solid anchor-points of life, have been ripped up and thrown away. No matter what you try, nothing feels right. You cannot get comfortable, as if comfort itself no longer exists. And when you do teeter on the brink of it, you jerk back, feeling guilty, uneasy and disconcerted by the sinking into an old normality that doesn’t really exist. Like that stomach-churning moment when you step off the final stair, and for a second, you believe there are more stairs and that you are about to fall, before you catch yourself, heart-pounding and filled with absurd fear. The Rev Richard Coles has a book coming out called “The Madness of Grief” detailing his journey through loss, and though it’s not a book I could read right now, the idea that somehow in that liminal time after bereavement we go into a kind of madness, resonates.

But the year thing, there’s truth in the old adage of time being a great healer. Cliche that it is, and one that should never be offered to a grieving person as a shortcut to actually sitting and being with them, it contains old wisdom. Each day you go through is a triumph; each sleepless night, a survival of that pain. The other week was the first anniversary of my mother’s death. She died in the first few days of the UK lock-down, and so much seems to have happened (and so little too, strangely) since then. The nights of excruciating insomnia, the endless rehashing of memories, the inevitable and (probably) unearned guilt, have begun to peter out finally. It’s unusual rather than the norm, for me to be sitting reading on the sofa at 2am, with a cat for company and a heated blanket for comfort, drinking herbal tea or hot milk. That year of mourning has given way to less raw, less immediate sorrow. Not gone away, no, but the sheer touched-on-the quick roar of grief has settled.

The Victorians partially codified their grief and their rituals and customs around mourning; deep mourning was worn for a certain period of time, usually a year, but sometimes longer, depending on the closeness of the connection. Sombre colours were then allowed, in varying degrees. I remember a colleague speaking of a friend who had lost her husband in his 30s, of how she wished she could use some of those customs because after that first year, when others had begun to forget about her loss, she knew that the grief was still very much in the early stages. She wanted to BEGIN wearing mourning for her love, because only the shock of the loss was past and the real process of grieving was starting at a point when others expected her to begin dating again.

Grief is a journey we all travel along in our own unique ways; the completion of the first year after a death brings for many a subtle change. It can deepen the grief, but for me, I have felt a change. There is great sadness, but it feels different. I’m not sure how to explain it but there is a lightening of the burden of sorrow. It’s still one day at a time but there are more good days than bad ones and I am grateful for that.

Ice Cream For Breakfast

The last two years have been possibly the hardest consecutive years of my life. They’ve been packed with bereavement, sadness, illness (shingles twice, for heaven’s sake) worry, exhaustion, sleepless nights and endless pain. It’s coming up to the first anniversary of my mum’s passing, and today marks the first anniversary of the Covid 19 lockdown in the UK. The last year in particular has been something none of us alive today has ever experienced. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 devastated the entire world in the wake of the first world war, and one of the things I’ve noticed is there’s very little reference to it in literature dating from the time. The war, yes. There’s a whole tranche of novels, poetry and so on, that deals with WW1 in great depth. But the Spanish flu? Not so much. If anyone has information on novels and poetry of that era that goes into any detail, do let me know as I am curious. But honestly, I’d probably avoid (like the plague?) novels that heavily feature our current pandemic. It’s just too close.

During the last two years, my creativity has taken a massive nose dive. I’ve often felt that creativity is the cream of life, the rich stuff floating up out of an excess of plenty. It’s not something that can be sustained when trauma and illness are ripping through your life. Creativity, for me at least, is about having spare capacity to take the elements around me and weave them into something new. With the last two years, there have been days where just getting through and still be upright at the end of the day was more than I expected when I got out of bed that morning. I’ve been channelling the occasional burst of creative juices into a work-in-progress called “On Hob Hill” which I hope to complete this year. It’s also gone into occasional poetry.

I stopped sharing my poetry on this blog for a number of reasons. One of those is theft. From time to time I notice search terms that suggest a school or college somewhere have asked their students to produce poetry. I’m not happy with plagiarism (who is?) and it worries me that so many seem to be unconcerned about passing the work of another off as their own. It’s rife, apparently. The other reason is that it’s satisfying to my inner needs to collect together every few years my poetry into a collection. There’s three published already, all with slightly different themes. The work of the last six months has been to gather together a new collection and publish it.

This is my longest collection to date. The title poem, “Ice Cream For Breakfast” was written the morning after my father died. The blurb for the new collection is as follows: “So much of life is about contrasts and polarities; a kernel of joy within sorrow, and a hint of sadness within happiness. It’s about finding a tiny taste of sweetness amidst the bitterness of bereavement. These are poems for the liminal times of grieving and trying to make sense of difficult experiences. These are poems about the wonders of nature, of the pleasures of living and of the absurdities and humour inherent in life.”

The amazing art of the cover is by Bethan Christopher, whose book “Grow Your Own Gorgeousness” I reviewed some years ago. She has a new book due out very soon, Rebel Beauty for Teens. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rebel-Beauty-Teens-Unleash-Gorgeousness/dp/1789562252/ and it looks amazing.

The new collection can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08YQR65KM/ and if you are buying from other Amazon stores, please replace in the URL whichever store (dot com, dot de and so on). It’s only going to be in paperback. This helps reduce the chance of piracy, and other things like content ripping. I have a small number of stock copies, so I can supply signed editions in the UK only, if should this appeal.

I’m very proud of this collection, coming as it has in the wake of such a difficult couple of years. It’s taken a ridiculous amount of energy to get it thus far. One of the things I’ve had to overcome is a form of pernicious inertia: the whole, who cares, what’s the point, sort of inertia. I believe that poetry matters, that is says things nothing else can in ways that can reach directly into the soul and touch it deeply.

One more thing. If you are kind enough to buy a copy, please please PLEASE leave a review. It’s not about massaging my ego (nice though that may be) but rather the fact that the number of reviews, and the continuing additions of reviews on older books too for that matter, affect the algorithms and how a book is then added to things like “suggested books like this one” and so on. Thank you so much.

Of Violets and of Moss

Of Violets and of Moss

There are violets that grow in my garden; there’s a patch of them at the end of the drive which is expanding steadily, year on year, and because the garden there is a raised area, the flowers are almost at eye level. You just need to bend over to be able to smell the tiny purple blooms. These are sweet violets, I should add, to distinguish them from dog violets which have no scent.

Speaking of the scent of violets, people often wince, and refer to the Parma violets sweets or to Devon violets perfume which was often the standby perfume gift for young girls in the 70s and 80s. During my childhood, while I liked Devon violets perfume (sometimes also April violets was the name) I was forbidden to use it as the pathology lab and morgue my father had worked at as a young man had used a violet- scented disinfectant and the smell reminded him so powerfully of death and decay he would become quite ill if he smelled it.

It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered that actual sweet violets don’t smell much like the perfume at all. In a big shopping centre in Nottingham, a flower seller was offering bunches of sweet violets for a quid. I bought some and I took them home, enchanted and enlightened. That pungent, sickly fragrance from the cheap perfume has only the very faintest of resemblances to real violets. Some years after that, living in very rural Norfolk, I happened upon an entire bank of them, glowing in the spring sunshine and filling the air with a totally heavenly aroma. You could almost imagine the passing of angelic wings giving off this scent as they passed. In Mrs Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, she cites the use of violet leaves as a successful nostrum for cancer, giving the case history of a nurseryman with advanced colon cancer being cured by a preparation of the herb (though the quantities used are vast!). I do not know whether any modern research has been done on the herb (the Modern Herbal was published in the 1930s) but I do wonder whether the properties need another look-at. I use a tea made with a mix of violet leaves and other herbs to encourage good dreams at night.

One of the curious aspects of the scent of sweet violets is that when you smell them, a few moments later, you can no longer smell them at all. The molecules have a sort of anaesthetic effect on your sense of smell; you go nose blind. So if you are walking through an area where lots of the flowers are in bloom, the fragrance will seem to come and go.

Much of the time, though, because violets are often regarded as invasive weeds, you tend not to find them in gardens at all. So letting ours spread means we are finally getting patches of glory. At this time of year you still need to bend over, get close to the earth to be able to partake of this glory. The accepted wisdom of why flowers have a scent is to attract pollinators but with violets, relatively few of the pretty blossoms actually ever produce any seeds. I don’t know why this is so but violets have more than one trick up their silken sleeves. Violets have developed numerous ways to spread. Violets spread by underground rhizomes and may form vegetative colonies. They also spread by a different seeding method. Flowers near the soil surface that never really open, called cleistogamous or non-opening, self-pollinating, shoot seeds out to establish a new colony away from the parent. For more info on this fascinating plant do have a peep at the link here: https://awkwardbotany.com/2020/07/08/the-hidden-flowers-of-viola/

For me, violets are an unexpected gift from life, quite other than I imagined them to be. Perfumes rarely capture the true beauty of a scent, and this is one where the synthetic perfumes associated with the flower fall very short of the reality. Yardley have always produced a violet perfume; in my childhood and until fairly recently, it was very much the classic Parma violets sort of scent. But recently it was reformulated (to various online wails of protest, because it left behind the very sickly-sweet variant) and is far closer now to the mossy, green, and ethereal odour of sweet violets in a hidden nook. Guerlain does two perfumes that have violet at the heart, Apres L’Ondee, and Insolence, if you wanted to push the boat out as they both cost a hefty amount more than the very modest Yardley offering.

Another treasure you need to get close to to appreciate its extraordinary beauty is moss. In the last year especially, I’ve found myself assailed by more anxiety attacks and even panic attacks, than for many years. Purely by chance, I found a grounding method that works for me, and that is when I feel that rising tidal wave of panic, I look for moss. Even in the centre of Norwich, there is moss to be found. It sits on old stone walls as little tussocks of velvet; it hides between paving slabs and on rooftops. The purity of the greenness is soothing and calming; the texture is often soft and reassuring. The closer you look, the more you see. Little fronds uncurling, tiny flowering stems extending into the cold air, often holding beads of dew or rain like jewels being shyly but proudly held out for your admiration. Lichens too will draw my eye; these lowly beings are a scientific marvel and mystery, being not individuals but rather communities working in harmony for the good of all. Made up of fungi, bacteria, algae, lichens are everywhere, some only where the air is clean and pure. I’m currently reading Merlin Sheldrake’s book on fungi Entangled Life which has a chapter on lichens; it’s a revelation how little we yet know about lichens and fungi, and the discoveries are already challenging how we see life as a whole.

Today is Epiphany, the day when the Magi brought their gifts to the Christ-child, named as gold, frankincense and myrrh, and it seems fitting that I have brought you a few gifts too, of violets and of moss, of things you need to get close to the earth to begin to appreciate, maybe even on your knees to even see, and start to ponder on the need for humility in its truest meaning (that of being close to the earth).

A reading from “Angel Lights”, a story for Christmas

A beautiful reading of “Angel Lights”, one of the tales from

Méchant Loup: Modern Fables

for Sensible Grown-ups 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B083HGHSRB/

read by Naomi, from Inanna’s Festival in Norwich.

https://www.facebook.com/vivienne.tuffnell/posts/10158901453546306?notif_id=1608289758035976&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic&ref=notif

 

If you go further down the page, there’s some readings also from the WIP, “Voice from the Cave”, for the Winter Solstice. 

I’ve been fighting hard to keep going at anything right now, so this may be my Christmas post, as WordPress is making it all much harder to post anything. So may Christmas/Solstice/etc bring you much joy after a truly tough year and may 2021 bring us all relief and reunions. Bless you all. 

A small blue bird of grace

A small blue bird of grace

If you have known me a while, or have followed this blog for any time, you’ll probably know that for me the kingfisher is a sort of talisman. It’s a sign of things beyond feathers and beak and general bird-ishness. Which isn’t a word but you know what I mean. There’s connections to the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, As kingfishers catch fire, and a couple of other things as well. They’re not particularly rare birds, though rarer than they should be, and many people have never seen one in real life. Their habitat and feeding needs mean they are only found close to water. At this time of the year, the dearth of small fish in their usual hunting grounds sends them downstream towards the coast and you have more chance of seeing them there, perhaps fishing amid rock pools or in the streams that empty onto beaches.

I haven’t seen one for a couple of years. I used to see them on a regular basis while I stood on the bridge across the stream in the glebe meadow in the village a couple of miles across country from where I live. But that changed, and though I have walked down there fairly often (less often this year), I haven’t seen or heard one there in over 4 years. I keep a record of this kind of thing in a note book; it’s dedicated to my explorations of all things related to the Grail. The last mention of a kingfisher is from July 2016.

I

t goes without saying that 2020 has been a terrible year. Globally, nationally and personally, a bugger of a year. I don’t have any sense or expectation or hope of things getting any better quickly. Or, on a bad day, at all.

Today I took myself off for a walk. Inevitably, because this is Britain in October, it hammered down with rain when I was five minutes out. The washing was out on the line too, but I decided an extra heavenly rinse would do no harm and I carried on. The rain brought out some glorious scents and when I reached the glebe meadow, the stream was in full flow. Brightly coloured leaves drifted down from some of the horse chestnuts on the banks. Raindrops made expanding rings on the running water. The music of the water chuckling along and the sound of waterfall over the sluice gates half way up the meadow made a baffle to the noise of occasional traffic. After ten minutes, I headed up to the waterfall and stood watching it. I’ve often made a wish, a prayer, to see a kingfisher, to be given that sign of connection, but I knew that the residents here, if any remained, will have already headed down to the coast.

Then, to my amazed ears, I heard the distinctive cry, turned, and saw the electric blue back of a kingfisher as it flew downstream. I had not asked directly for this, just, as almost always, had a vague but heartfelt desire to see it again. Today was no worse than many days where I have craved that comfort of connection to the Other; why was it given today and not on the days when I was in utter despair?

I cannot tell. Such a gift (if you believe in these things) is a gift of grace, not given because you deserve or desire a thing, but because it is what you need at that moment more than anything you might consciously believe you need.

A kingfisher, said to be the first bird to fly from Noah’s ark after the deluge, supposedly received the orange of the setting sun on its breast and the blue of the sky on its back. It was considered a symbol of peace, promising prosperity and love.

 

Pumpkin Spice as An Ancestral Issue

Pumpkin Spice as An Ancestral Issue

It’s getting to that time of year again. The nights are drawing in, and the heat of only a matter of weeks ago is a memory (thank goodness; I wasn’t coping, especially with the hot humid nights). Cooler, fresher mornings are making me consider putting the duvet back on the bed; we’ve had instead a sheet with a blanket on the top for most of the summer. I’ve brought in the most tender, temperature sensitive plants back into the house after their summer break in the garden; the scented geraniums and the dwarf myrtle will follow soon, once I’ve cleaned windows and window ledges. The two olive trees will come in after that.

After the dry summer, the trees are bright with berries and their leaves are beginning to change colour. In woods we visit, the smell of autumn has been hovering for some weeks. We’ve spotted fungi erupting in all sorts of places. Bird song has altered. Our lawn is littered with more poo from hedgehogs as they forage among windfall apples and snuffle the cat food I put out every evening. The males will be looking for places to settle for their hibernation, while the females and the youngsters continue to feed voraciously to fatten up for winter. We rarely see slugs or snails here, probably because the hoggies and the visiting ducks hoover them all up.

I like autumn, despite the melancholy. The first anniversary of my father’s death has slipped by; I toasted him with a pint of Guinness with dinner. All Hallows and associated festivals lie ahead in October; there is usually a service here to commemorate our beloved dead. Last year it was too raw for me to attend, and this year spaces at the service will be fewer than usual because of social distancing measures. I hope to attend, and remember with love those who have gone.

Over recent years I have noticed the proliferation of items for sale that have the scent or flavour of “pumpkin spice”, and the attending ridicule of women for liking it. It’s largely contemptuous dismissal by men, powered by an underlying unconscious belief that everything women enjoy as trivial and without real value. Pumpkins as Halloween food and décor are a fairly new thing in the UK; pumpkin spice is actually a much older thing indeed, and has little to do with the vast round orange vegetables. It’s a mix of the sweet spices like cinnamon, allspice, cloves and a few others, traditionally used for baking certain recipes. As a child, trying to get my mother to cook and bake more adventurous things, I got her to buy a variety of herbs and spices. One of those was something called Apple Pie Spice. At home, she opened the bottle and took a sniff; her eyes went misty for a moment and she said one word: “Mammy”. Not, as she explained a few moments later, her mother, but instead her grandmother, who had lived next door. My great grandmother, in fact. That single inhalation of scent had taken my mother back to childhood, and brought a much-beloved grandmother into the room for a moment. Mum was someone who hated nostalgia and rarely reminisced. She seldom talked about her childhood, or showed us old photos but in that tiny breath of mixed spices, she went back, almost bodily. She was back in her grandmother’s kitchen, helping her bake apple pies and other delicious treats. I have often thought that many of her memories from that time are probably deeply traumatic; the roof of their house was blown off by a falling bomb while they sheltered under the concrete thrall shelf in the pantry. Brothers, uncles, cousins, were away at war; desperate shortages of food at times meant that while they probably never went truly hungry, food was doubtless tedious and boring and precious. Mum in her later years talked about never having had teddies or other soft toys; she had a rag doll that someone made for her, but that was it. We gave her a zoo’s worth of cuddly toys, which she loved, but that early lack went deep. I suspect for many that lived through such times there are cavernous wounds, papered over with material comforts in later years.

Spices were once as precious as gold, and their use in food sometimes a matter of conspicuous consumption. Cardinal Wolsey went one step further, using saffron (still one of the most costly of spices) as a strewing herb. In humble families, a pinch of ground cinnamon in a simple apple pie was a way of giving the food an almost magical savour, a pinch of love. That’s why so many of the traditional Christmas foods are heavy on spices, because these were things you could not afford to use every day. They were brought out for the feasts of life, when those you loved had gathered close for that time. They enhanced both the flavour, the fragrance and the properties of the food. Most spices have beneficial effects; cinnamon is anti-viral and many are antibacterial as well. Sometimes added to disguise the taint of food past its best, they protected the health as well as adding to the taste.

In the case of pumpkins, the spice is added as pumpkins have very mild flavour. I’ve made pumpkin pie just the once; we held a Halloween party for my daughter’s friends, some of whom were American (we lived close to a couple of US airbases at the time). The kids looked at it, and because it was unfamiliar to most of the guests, declined to try any. The one American attendee said she didn’t like it anyway. I ended up eating it all myself over a couple of days. I rather liked it. But I think that if they were a vegetable that grew well where I live, I’d feel honour-bound to find as many ways of using it as possible, because of the hungry times in my ancestry. At the moment I am processing as many of the apples from our nine trees as I can, stewing with cinnamon and honey and freezing them for use in the winter when the trees are bare. Last year I didn’t do this; there was too much going on to worry about endless windfalls and waste. But as I add the spice to each batch, I think of the great grandmother I never knew, and of the line of faceless grandmothers going back centuries, and then I think of the younger women daring to have pumpkin spice coffee, defying the (mostly) men who would shame them for liking such a thing, and then I think, “You go, girls. You enjoy that spice. And devil take those who would use it to diminish you.”

Lammas: Replenishing the Life-Well

Lammas: Replenishing the Life-Well

Since the pandemic lock-down began here in the UK, I’ve not spent a night away from home. The furthest I have travelled was a two hour drive to my mother’s funeral, back in April. As restrictions eased, we’ve been to the coast a few times and into Norwich. But we’re not going to be going away for a holiday and I have no idea when I will have my next work trip. I was supposed to have had a couple of Paris or Northern France assignments in later June/early July but obviously they didn’t happen.

At the same time as all this, I’ve had a massive, and utterly horrible increase in the amount of pain I am in, and an equally massive loss of energy. When you can’t sleep because of pain, anxiety, grief, the body has no chance to mend itself, to rest and recuperate and the spirit/soul has no chance to recover from the blows life has aimed at it. I would have loved to have been able to visit various locations and sites that nourish me, but until quite recently that sort of travel was out of the question for normal mortals who cannot flout the law like certain government advisors (and others). Even though many places are now open, at least partially, the limitations and the extra hoops to jump through put me off even trying. I don’t want to, say, go round Norwich Cathedral, following a set path that takes a truncated tour. I want to sit in empty corners and quiet chapels, or stand in the labyrinth and gaze at the sky.

We had a wonderful trip with my brother to a woodland near where he lives; we took a picnic and since he’s a butterfly expert, we got to experience certain examples of lepidoptera we’d not have spotted or recognised. He can identify a butterfly often just by its flight patterns, so this meant we got to see silver-washed fritillaries we’d otherwise not have realised were there; a purple hair-streak butterfly came down from the oak canopy and we were able to get a decent look at it. I’d never seen one before.

Then a few days ago, we went to Dunwich Forest, and had a deeply restorative walk there. We used to take our dog there, and since she died almost ten years ago, we’ve hardly been back. The fluttering leaves of birch, the high fronds of bracken, the deep dark green of planted conifers, and the solid green of oak leaves gave us shade from the intense summer sun; the scent of ferns and moss and the hint of fallen leaves and fungus reminded me of the ephemeral nature of the season. We saw many gatekeeper butterflies, coppers, large skippers, peacocks, red admirals, silver-washed fritillaries (which I’d never have identified if I’d not had my brother show me the week before), and a couple of white admirals too. Dragonflies of many hues and species flitted around like jewelled brooches that have come to life. The sun on gorse seed pods made them crackle and pop and fling the seeds a surprising distance; the few brilliant yellow flowers gave out their toasted coconut macaroon fragrance. Then, because an hour and a half’s walk had worn me out, we drove to the beach and got chips from the beach cafe, and ate them sitting on the shingle while the sea caressed the rolling pebbles at the shoreline.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my garden; I bought a couple of zero gravity reclining chairs which have proved perfect for lying back in to gaze at the night sky and try to see the comet. Later this month, we’ll watch for meteor showers. We’ve left the lawns uncut this year; closer to the house, they’re kept short by the assiduous efforts of our little squad of guinea pigs but further away, the grass has gone to seed, as have the various hawk-bits, cat’s ears, hawkweeds, and others. That’s brought in squadrons of seed-eating birds like goldfinches. The longer grass has encouraged grasshoppers and crickets, and I’ve spotted wall butterflies (whose larval stage eats grasses) and also clouded yellows (whose caterpillars eat clovers) flitting around and mating. The vegetable plants we’ve cultivated are all producing delicious food for us and the guinea pigs; the self-sown evening primroses draw both butterflies and moths. The flowers are like faery ballgowns of the softest, most vibrant yellow silk, and at night they give off both a gentle aroma and a strange, almost luminescent glow as the colour reflects moonlight and starlight. Bats fly in profusion over our heads as we lie star gazing, intercepting the June bugs and cockchafers that have launched from the lawn most nights during June and some of July, and hedgehogs perform their mating rituals (noisy) a few yards or even feet away from us, before adjourning to the feeding station to crunch up cat biscuits and slurp up the odd over-ripe banana.

Our apple trees are laden with fruit that’s ripening and drawing both wasps and blackbirds to the windfalls. The bees get on with their work and a steady hum of insect life underpins the sounds of bird life and the harsher hum of traffic. New dragonflies emerge from the pond, eye us up and decide we’re too big to eat (apparently they’ll intercept fragments of crisp or peanut flipped into the air, or so my brother has told me) and head off to find something more manageable.

I’ve had very few human encounters face to face in the last months; the few that I have had have been usually very welcome, with people I like and admire. The facility for video chats (many platforms available) has been a sanity saver for me and for many.

All of these things have been replenishing my life-well. It’s a term I have used (I might have coined it) for that deep pool of experiences and thoughts and memories and dreams that feed me at the deepest, most essential level. It’s where the ideas for stories are drawn from, where they sink down into the bedrock and sometimes emerge years or even decades later as part of something complex, and wonderful. Two years ago, we went back to Taize, and though the week(with two days of travel either side) left me so physically drained it took months to recover, the contribution to my life-well was so profound that it will stay with me forever. There was an attempt to get such a trip going from this diocese, and I was part of the meeting discussing it; it didn’t happen, and even had it been planned for this year it would have been scuppered. One of the things I needed to get across was how important that trip had been to me, but also how difficult it had been. The sad thing is how abled people react to information about difficulties in access to these kinds of pilgrimages. The general feeling is, “If it was that hard, why on earth would you put yourself through that to go again?” This completely fails to understand what life is like for the disabled. The idea that if they were in your shoes, they’d just not do anything difficult or painful is absurd; life is already constricted for those with disabilities, and the opportunities to replenish your life-well are also restricted. It’s the life-well we draw on in dark days, in days where getting out of bed let alone the house, is a major challenge and can be nigh-on impossible.

Having a life-well is important, vital even, to living a full, well-lived life rather than just enduring an existence. This extraordinary year I have heard friends talk about watching for hours as a spider spun her web, of books read they’ve long intended to read but never found the time for, of local walks where some kind soul has chalked the names of plants on the pavements, of meeting life-minded souls via Zoom, of taking virtual pilgrimages, of being still enough that wild creatures draw closer. I’ve heard nothing of holidays on exotic beaches, of sightseeing in distant lands, of the long-awaited family wedding, because the experiences that fill our life-wells this year are different. Some have been bitter, dark and filled with sadness and horrors. Some have been laden with home-made bread, bird-watching in back yards and reconnecting with much-loved old friends.

This is my Lammas wish for you: that your life-well this year be filled with unexpected riches that will carry you into the colder, darker months and give you joy and wisdom to draw upon as the year turns.

Blessings to you all.

A Light When All Other Lights Go Out

A Light When All Other Lights Go Out

A Light When All Other Lights Go Out

How are you? I mean, really HOW ARE YOU? Be honest, if you have the strength to be, because it really does take strength these days to express your real feelings.

I’m OK. Not always. Not every day, and not through the entire day either but at this precise moment, I’m OK. I’m having nights where I cannot sleep. I get up, go down and sit on the sofa and read. I’ve sat outside with the dawn chorus blazing around me, as the sky is streaked with the rays of the rising sun, and I’ve slept until mid morning having crawled back to bed around 5am. I’ve had a few nights where I’ve slept a decent amount, though never unbroken. My weighted blanket helps, though as the weather gets hotter it becomes harder to use it as it traps heat; I can’t regulate my body temperature well at the best of times so the summer can be a real endurance test.

The last three months have been such a strange time; we’re encouraged to see things in a different light, and yes, for sure there have been some benefits of lock-down. I dearly hope that some of these benefits will be nurtured and encouraged. I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s BBC Springwatch series: three weeks of nature and focus on the beauty and the wonder of the natural world. It was a balm to my soul. So has my garden, and the life within it.

The chances are that despite restrictions being lifted I shan’t be travelling anywhere very far off this summer. My own understanding of the pandemic is that lifting restrictions is premature and that by and large, people will not be sensible. Even if most people are, with a virulent virus around, it doesn’t take much to raise the R level.

I am restless, though. I want to go and see friends and family; I want to go to some of the beautiful places that nurture my soul. Just because we’re allowed to do a bit more does not mean flocking in droves to locations of desire (cough Barnard Castle cough). One of the places I’d hope to revisit this summer was the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, and the White Spring a few yards away; there is peace there I can never fully describe. They’re recently restored the lid to the well itself, replacing the wood that had begun to disintegrate and they have restored the stunning metalwork design, revealing many details long long under layers of paint and varnish. I’d really love to see that this year. But I can’t. In the end, I ordered myself a gift from the shop at Chalice Well: a little pendant, of reinforced glass, filled with water from the well, topped by a vesica piscis, and decorated with a garnet gemstone. 

After I ordered it, I realised what it reminded me of: Galadriel’s gift to Frodo, a vial of water from her well, imbued with the light of a star. She described it as a light where all other lights go out. Frodo tucked it in a pocket and more or less forgot about it as his journey through terrors and trials took him to the edge of Mordor and the not-quite-secret entrance. It was only in the pitch black of Shelob’s Lair that the vial was remembered and brought out. The light drove back the ravenous monster, enough to try and make an escape.

I haven’t checked whether my pendant glows or emits light. The chances are it doesn’t and if it did, I’d worry. The idea of a sacred well becoming radioactive enough that the water glows is a horrible one. But it does emit hope, and in wearing it I feel a connection to a place where the barrier between the ordinary world and the world of deeper connections is thinner than in many places. It’s only a little thing and only a symbol of something greater; it’s a potent reminder of the light that can never be extinguished. And that gives me the comfort I need for the darker days that are ever present.

What are your comforts, your symbols that support you in this time?