Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twenty

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twenty

DSCI0082 DSCI0079Day Twenty

Angel lights and angel chimes

The putting up of the Christmas decorations is my cue to get out my collection of angel lights, and also the angel chimes. Angel lights are little metal whirligigs that hold a candle; the heat from the flame rises and sets the thing spinning. I have five or six, all with slightly different pendant themes; some have angels, some have deer, some have stars. When they spin they create patterns of light and swirling shadows in a darkened room. It’s a simple, magical thing that brings me great pleasure.

I wrote a short Christmas tale about an angel light that you can read here.

Angel Lights ~ a story for Christmas

Angel Lights ~ a story for Christmas

To have lived a hundred years is a remarkable thing,” Elspeth remarked to the girl who held her arm. “But it is a lonely thing, too. There is no one left who remembers me when I was young.”

The care assistant gave her arm a gentle squeeze for Elspeth was well-liked and as the oldest inhabitant in the home was cherished as much for her wisdom as for her venerable age.

Is there no one coming to see you this Christmas?” the girl asked and Elspeth shook her head, though she smiled as she did so.

No, they are all obeying my orders for once,” she said. “I said I did not wish them to disturb their day this time. So I have only myself to blame should I feel lonely today.”

The dining room had been decorated with so much tinsel and bright ornaments that Elspeth felt quite overwhelmed with the shining light that glimmered off every surface. The other residents were all seated, waiting for her as if she were the queen, and she was shown to her place and Christmas lunch began.

The merry atmosphere was added to by the playing of Christmas carols on the radio, and as she ate, slowly and carefully, she cast her mind back over her many Christmases. There was little to regret in a life as long as hers had been, but there were times, like today, when those who were gone, seemed to wave to her from her memories. She had outlived all but one of her own children, all her sisters, a beloved husband, dozens of dear friends and one grandchild. The friends she had today had never known her as a young woman, and there were times when that tugged at her heart. To be a hundred years old, and still mostly in possession of her wits and health was a gift she had never expected.

When lunch was done, she walked carefully back to her own room rather than go to the community room to watch television with the other residents. Inside, she could walk without the aid of a frame, using only a stick to steady her steps. Her room was a little oasis of treasures, the belongings she had chosen to accompany her to this home, and each held great meaning for her, for there was not a lot of room and they had been chosen with immense thought. There was a little fir tree in a decorated pot that her son (her youngest, and only surviving child) had brought for her, and around it were some packages in brilliant paper, decked with ribbons. The family brought small gifts in the week before Christmas, though the joke was often what do you buy for a woman who has seen as many Christmases as she had. She opened them carefully, gratefully, enjoying them. They were predicable, but well chosen: a lovely new nightdress, slippers, some books, some of her favourite soap. She smiled as she opened each, thinking of the donor.

One parcel had arrived on Christmas eve, hastily wrapped in stained brown paper and with an indecipherable post mark and a stamp that looked Arabic. She recognised the handwriting: her great granddaughter, not quite the black sheep but certainly the wandering one. Inside the parcel was a letter and two more roughly wrapped packages.

Grand-mère,” she read. “I had hoped to be home to see you but I think my parcel will be there before I am. I saw them both in one of the bazaars and thought of you. I hope to be in Jerusalem for Christmas so I will light a candle there for you and I will visit as soon as I get back.”

The first of the packages was tiny, and proved to be a vial of dark, viscous liquid that proved to be perfume, woody and musky and exotic and entirely unlike anything you would expect a lady of Elspeth’s age to wear. She dabbed a few drops on wrist and neck and sighed with delight. The second parcel contained a heavy length of raw woven silk in a celestial blue shot through with dawn pink and threaded with fine gold wire. It smelled of incense and mystery, and she wrapped it round her whole body. It felt as if her great granddaughter had somehow caught a whiff of her young self and Elspeth felt her heart race with delight.

The daylight was fading fast, and she had one more Christmas ritual to perform. From the top drawer of her bureau she brought out a little cardboard box, and painstakingly she assembled the device inside. Made from silver-coloured metal, the angel light held a carousel of dancing angels that were suspended from a canopy of slats. The heat from a candle below would rise and set the angels spinning, and their shadows and the glancing lights would pattern the walls and ceiling with their dance.

But naked flames were banned here and though she brought it out every year, it had been many years since the angels had turned. She set it on the window ledge, where she spent many hours sitting at the table, reading or thinking. Every Christmas Day since she had come here, she had brought this little toy out and wished that she might light a single candle and see the light and the shadow angels spin and flicker.

Rule were rules, and given the age and sometimes infirmity of most of the residents this was a sensible rule, that kept them all safe from fire. But this one day, she always wished to break the rule and give the angels their annual dance.

She turned on some music and settled to read one of the new books, wrapped tightly in the beautiful shawl, feeling the balance between contentment and wistful longing see-sawing this way and that. Her mind wandered from her book, and she wondered if her great granddaughter had indeed made it to Jerusalem for Christmas. It had always been her habit to light candles, since she knew that it was not allowed to her great grandmother any more. One day, the angel lights would go to her, perhaps.

The sky beyond her window had darkened to indigo, and she could see that a single star shone high above. On impulse she turned out her reading lamp and gazed out. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she saw more stars slowly appear. A golden glow was reflected off the window glass and she looked down to see that where a candle would fit in the angel light, there was a flickering globe of light, so unlike a candle, that brightened and grew. The tiny metal angels quivered and began to shift, slowly turning as the carousel they hung from rotated smoothly.

The shadows on the ceiling spun too, amid the flashing, glimmering of the magical light and as she watched, her mouth dropping open in wonder, the room filled with the scent of lilies and she felt the brush of soft feathers against her face. She closed her eyes, but the glory of light still filled her eyes, and she knew she was not alone.

When her care assistant came an hour later, she could see from Elspeth’s face that she was happy and not lonely at all as she had feared she might be.

Is that one of your presents?” she asked, touching the shawl with tender fingers. “How lovely!”

From Istanbul,” Elspeth said. “My great-granddaughter was on her way to Jerusalem and stopped there for a short while.”

And some scent too,” said the girl, and picked up the bottle. She took a sniff of the contents and grimced. “Funny. This isn’t what I can smell. I’m sure I can smell flowers; this is musk and sandalwood, surely.”

Elspeth smiled at the girl.

Heavenly, isn’t it?” she said.

Do you believe in angels?

Do you believe that someone, somewhere watches over you and tries to keep you from harm? That things happen for a reason or many reasons, and we don’t always(or indeed very often) know why?

My old friend W has lived an extraordinary life, working and living in some very strange and often dangerous places. I first met him about 22 years ago, when for a short space of time, he was trying domestic life and lived in the next street to me in the north eastern town where I lived when I first married. We babysat his little girl. Over the intervening years, we’ve moved a good few times and he has clocked up tens of thousands of miles travel. He sends postcards from round the world, reappears at irregular intervals with tales and souvenirs and marvellous gifts and then vanishes again. I get postcards and packages from all over the globe; he indulges my strange fascination with rocks and sends parcels of rocks from the places he’s been that I, in all probabilty will never see, so I can sleep with them under a pillow and dream a psychometric dream.

The last time I heard from him was about a month ago when I got first an email and then a postcard from Libya.

I really didn’t think any more about it till the news the other night told me about the plane that crashed at Tripoli airport. I didn’t even think much then, until the news came through that there were Britons on that plane. Then a cold wave went through me. You see, because he has no family, we and a few other friends have become his official family: I may even be named as his next of kin. I’m certainly his executor.

Rather than wait and worry, I emailled him. I figured that if I have no reply within a week, then I will start looking on the manifest list or the list of casualties.

Late last night, I got a reply. No, he was fine. BUT: he’d been trying to get back to Libya from South America, and he’d been bumped off the flight he ought to have been on and therefore missed his connection.The connection should have taken him to meet the plane that crashed. He’d been booked on that plane.

You can imagine how it happened and how cross he must have been to have lost his flight and to have to sit and wait for the next one. We’ve all done it; got angry and frustrated at how things unfurl at times.

His final comment on his email to me: “My angel strikes again.” You see, he’s had near misses before, not to mention almost fatal accidents, and he’s always believed he won’t be allowed to pass on till he’s done whatever he was meant to do on earth. He’s still trying to figure out what that is, but you get the point.

For a large number of people, that flight was the end of the road for them. But for my friend, it wasn’t. I don’t know why. I do know I am glad it wasn’t. I’m not certain I believe in the popular idea of guardian angels, with your very own celestial body guard growing greyer of hair by the year, but I do believe our lives are watched and cared for and we each have our time to go. The book of Ecclesiastes has it well:

“For everything, its season, and for every activity under heaven its time: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time for mourning and a time for dancing.” (Ecclesiastes 3, 1-4)


I’m glad that this time it wasn’t his time to die and it wasn’t our time to mourn.

Snake oil and me

On Wednesday I finally managed to get a film developed that had been stuck in my old camera since the summer of 2006. I’d actually forgotten most of what was likely to be on it, so I sat down outside Boots and leafed through the wallet of photos. The camera had jammed at the very end of a film and I’d not dared try and retrieve it in case it hadn’t fully rewound. A colleague from work who is a photographer kindly retrieved it for me, in a special dark bag, so I was able to find out what was on the film. I intend to post a few at a later date but need to do a smidge of research for the article I want to write about one.

Some of the photos were from our last holiday before we moved here. We stayed with friends in North Yorkshire and some were taken at the very top of Roseberry Topping and some at a secret beach unknown to all but locals. Since the place is a former pit village, no tourist expects a glorious beach there and even in high summer all you find are locals and a few ex-locals like us. It’s also a brilliant beach for fossil hunting.

Anyway, there a couple of pics taken of me wading in the water, having a wonderful time. Due to some abnormality(light, film whatever) I am surrounded by a pinkish aura, with a deeper pink blob around my right hand. It occurred to me that it would be easy to make a case for this being an accidental Kirlian type photo, showing my “true  colours” and my “healing nature”. I had a small giggle at this and went home.

In the post that day was my copy of The Cygnus Review, which is a book company that specialises in Mind Body Spirit type books, reviewed and with articles etc. This dates from my time as a therapist and I stopped getting it for a while; then I ordered a book via them and I seem to be getting it every month as before. I’d had a long chat a few years back with one of the owners of Cygnus Books basically discussing how I found it disappointing that the vast majority of the books were so light weight and also by the same authors producing yet more books, cards sets and merchandise and how this might be remedied. I’ve had a similar conversation with the owner of our local mind body spirit style shop and it always comes back to the same thing: that’s what most people want. They want the next book by (I won’t mention names) because it’s going to be more of the same. There’s no surprises, no challenges and nothing to make them wake up.

One of the books in this months Review is about Orbs. Now, I am sure there are a lot of things out there that are unexplained that really are of supernatural origin, but I am a firm believer in Occam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is probably the right one. Looking at my pinkish pics, I am certain that nothing is going on there that a good photographer can’t explain by the age of the film or other factors. But Orbs? Try a swift Google search and see what it comes up with.

So much of the MBS world is built on existing books and these are not checked for either sense or authenticity. Because it’s been around a few years, it becomes a source, and an acceptible one, for people to build their own research(ha ha) on. And people want to swallow what seems nice to them. Go into your local bookstore and visit the MBS section; I can almost guarantee you will find a massive array of books on angels (probably by three authors) plus oracle decks and divination sets. Now my own experience and beliefs suggest that angels are real entities; however, my opinion is that a lot of what is written is wishful thinking, delusion and merchandising. I also suspect from accounts from people I know and respect of their encounters with this type of being, the writers of the popular angel books would die of fright if they ever encountered the real thing.

In my novel, “Little Gidding Girl” I had the enjoyable task of creating a range of spurious therapies for a secondary character to offer as part of her therapy business. They included: Egyptian Rejuvenation Therapy, Angel Healing(with range of angelic beauty products) Japanese Forest Therapy(using Bonsai trees) and Mayan Heart Retrieval. I drew the line at musa-rectal therapy (musa= banana) because it was just too gross. Although I had fun inventing the therapies, I got quite worried because they were altogether just too convincing. My daughter reckoned I could sell any one of them as a genuine therapy and they would actually work. I’ve deliberately not explained them here in case someone somewhere has actually started them(since then, various angel therapy courses have appeared; don’t know about the beauty products yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me)

It scares me because it would be so easy to exploit the very real and very human need for healing and wholeness, and I am fully equipped to do so. I have an inventive brain, a personality that can sell anything and a flair for media ideas. I frequently see ideas I have thought of appear on TV and ads and be successful.

And yet, this appals me. I am no guru. I am no Messiah. I want people to find their own way and if I can help, I will. But this is not what most people want. They want the books that come out every six months, they want the next set of cards or crystals or the next course or whatever. Maybe this IS their way of finding their way; but it doesn’t seem to be helping anyone but the fatcat authors and publishers and the whole merchadising industry surrounding it all. The sad thing is there is a grain of truth in every glossily packaged book or course; but to get to that truth you have to swallow a whole pack of lies, dross and frankly bullshit.

There’s a berry known as Miracle Berries that make everything from drain cleaner to shit taste sweet and nice. Someone out there has found the equivalent in the MBS area and it’s going to kill people eventually. Their bodies might go on but their souls are going into shutdown. It’s not why I got out of therapy work but it’s why I’d not want to ever go back. In the end I value my integtrity too highly to sell something that is unreal or damaging.

I’d rather be able to distinguish between good and evil and have the sadness that comes with this than eat poison and never know it.