“Bleeding for Jesus” by Andrew Graystone – a review and some comments

“Bleeding for Jesus” by Andrew Graystone – a review and some comments

I don’t often review books on my blog; I’ve tried to steer clear of being a book review blog. Others do it better than I could ever hope to; plus my reading is so eclectic that there would be no discernable pattern for readers. But this book needs to be mentioned here. I’ve talked a bit about spiritual abuse, here and in some of my novels (especially “Square Peg” which draws liberally on my own experiences), so it feels as if this is the best forum for my thoughts on this book. I have done a brief review on Amazon (which was not yet showing when I began writing this) and hope that may help anyone wavering over whether to buy it.

This is the blurb:

A Christian barrister and moral crusader who viciously caned young men in his garden shed. An exclusive network of powerful men seeking control in the Church of England. A shared secret of abuse that casts a dark shadow over a whole generation of Christian leaders. This is the extraordinary true story of John Smyth QC, a high-flying barrister who used his role in the church to abuse more than a hundred men and boys in three countries. It tells how he was spirited out of the UK, and how he played the role of moral crusader to evade justice over four decades. It reveals how scores of respected church leaders turned a blind eye to his history of abuse. Journalist and broadcaster Andrew Graystone has pursued the truth about Smyth and those who enabled him to escape justice. He has heard the excruciating testimony of many of Smyth’s victims, and has uncovered court and church documents, reports, letters and emails. He has investigated the network of exclusive ‘Bash camps’ through which Smyth groomed his victims. For the first time, he presents a comprehensive critique of the Iwerne project and the impact it has had on British society and the church. https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1913657124/

I read the book in a couple of sittings. It’s not terrifically long (less than 250 pages) and is well written in an engaging but not frivolous style. I know that the publishers rushed through the publication (for a variety of reasons) and there’s some small issues with editing; some repetition of material without clarifying why that has been mentioned again, and also a conflation of Plymouth with Portsmouth in reference to a bishop. These are small and relatively unimportant matters. The entire book is shocking. One reason that I had two disturbed and sleepless nights after reading it was the realisation of various gigantic missing pieces in my own experience of spiritual abuse (which I do not wish to detail here) and a greater understanding of how the evil that came through the Iwerne camps filtered out into the wider church community and damaged many lives beyond the immediate reach of the camps and the leaders there. Imagine the mycelium of a malign and toxic fungus reaching through most of the trees in a forest and you get why I felt so shaken and horrified. The abuse itself detailed in the book is shocking enough. The cover-up that has ensued is also deeply shocking.

As a young person I was unaware of the existence of the Iwerne project for a very good reason: I was a state school student. Iwerne dealt exclusively with the boys and young men who came out of what were considered the top 15 private schools in the UK. Their intent was to recruit those who would be leaders in society, whether as clergy, as lawyers, doctors and so on, at the highest levels. The idea was that if they had such men (for until later it was universally male and much of the leadership were misogynistic to a terrifying degree) as Christians, their effect on the country would be powerful.

Except to anyone who has understood the gospels and the person of Jesus, nothing of what these people did was in the slightest bit Christian. The very choice to only recruit from the ranks of the privileged is frankly unchristian; not one of Jesus’s disciples was rich, highly educated or from a higher level of society. He chose from among ordinary people doing ordinary jobs; his reaction to the Rich Young Man who came to him was not to immediately ask the guy to join him but rather ask him to let go of his wealth and privilege first. The beatings, given in the name of promoting holiness and with a gloss of various select New Testament texts, are little more than the surfacing of pernicious gnostic heresies that deemed the body evil and to be subdued and punished. The effects of physical pain inflicted in this way is well documented in studies of S&M: endorphins kick in and a kind of high ensues, there is a feeling of catharsis and bliss and release. This is not holiness. It’s the body’s mechanism for surviving catastrophic injury and illness. Yet it’s close enough to a numinous and mystical experience to baffle those already brainwashed and enthralled by a man whose personal charm and charisma were enormous, that they believed themselves to be singled out for an extraordinary life. Iwerne was, to put it bluntly, a cult, and the members behaviours is classic cult behaviour.

The persistence of those still in power to keep the lid on this, not to address any of it, but sweep it under the carpet and hope it is swiftly forgotten, is impressive. My feeling is there is so much more to come out. Those who have been harmed will not forget. People have speculated why spiritual abuse is so damaging, asked why don’t those just walk away from the church, wash their hands of faith entirely, and forget they were ever involved. Graystone succinctly sums up why this is not possible:

The nature of abuse is to inflict trauma on the personhood of the victim. It is a conscious invasion intended to violently challenge and destabilise the physical, sexual, cultural and spiritual identity of the other – to fundamentally devalue them and forcefully mark them with the identity of the abuser. In other words, abuse, whether physical, sexual, spiritual or emotional, is always relational. Where the abuser is deeply identified with an organisation or culture, as John Smyth was with conservative Christianity, the identity that is marked includes that of the organisation.

So a victim abused by a Christian is indelibly marked as a victim of Christian abuse, and the relationship that is damaged is not only between the victim and the abuser, but also between the victim and God. When John Smyth beat his victims he was baptising them, not into the identity of Christ but into a false identity as a worthless object for his pleasure.” (p210)

From a personal perspective, this rings true. Much as I have wanted to stay away from the church since then, I have not been able to; what I experienced damaged my own relationship with the divine terribly badly. Any embryonic sense of vocation was aborted by what happened.

Touching on some of the wider ranging reach of the abuse, Graystone also says:

This is a book about men who abuse men. Men abuse women too, both in person and through the institutions they sustain. Perhaps the hidden victims of the Iwerne movement are the thousands of women who have been led to believe that they are in some way created to be subordinate. I know that some conservative evangelicals who will want to say that the Bible carves out an equal and complimentary role for women alongside men, but again, the deprivation of opportunity for women is a matter of culture as much as teaching. I’m well aware too that there are more women who suffer physical and sexual abuse in the church than there are men; that the church treats female victims even more badly that it treats male, and that the degree of blindness to this in myself and others is greater than it is towards men.” (p208)

At the time of the activities of Smyth in the UK, the ordination of women was something being campaigned for, fought about and by 1992 was finally allowed. Yet it was held back and suppressed and damaged by Iwerne alumni, and to this day the divisions are still brutal. They still have great reach.

It’s said that a participant in any battle sees very little of the battle at large, only being witness to what they could see and experience in their immediate environs. For me, this book has shown me what was going on elsewhere on the battlefield beyond the smoke and blood and fear of my own tiny part in that battle. None of this should ever have happened, to any of us. Please consider buying, reading, reviewing, discussing, buying copies for your church library/bookstall, because it might be the piece in a jigsaw you (or others) may need to make more sense of your own experiences. I’ve found this incredibly difficult to write about because of so many difficult emotions and memories, so I am going to leave it here and hope that it reaches those who need to read it.

Revelations of Neurodivergence

Revelations of Neurodivergence (part one)

This is a very deeply personal and quite difficult post to write for an assortment of reasons that I hope will become clear. It’s also something I feel is important and I also hope it may be helpful to others.

Last year in the autumn I was diagnosed as autistic, level one (what was previously referred to as Asperger’s). It took the better part of four years on a waiting list to get to an assessment; the psychologist at the pain clinic had been very helpful in getting me get that far. I’d filled in a 20 page assessment form, sent it off, and then waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually, worrying that it had gone astray, I rang and left a message. Nothing. Apparently they had NO admin staff whatsoever. Eventually a message was left on our answer phone, apologising for the delay, acknowledging both receipt of my form and also the fact that my information in said form strongly suggested a formal assessment was in order. Then they warned that the waiting list was very long. They weren’t wrong.

In the wake of my father’s death, I was contacted again, saying that I’d got close to the top of the waiting list and wanting to organise various things. This is where, for me, the process began to become painful. They asked whether they would be able to speak to someone who’d known me as a child, a parent for example. Bearing in mind I was 54 at this point, I found this first an offensive and pointless request, and secondly, when I explained my father’s recent decease and my mother’s dementia, a painful one. It did not occur to me that this information would not be placed front and centre of whatever records they then held.

Then there was another LONG hiatus. My mother also passed away. Then they made contact again. They wanted to know if there was someone who’d known me as a child who they could also talk to. I explained the recent decease of my one remaining parent, explained also that at 54 there was NO-ONE they could talk to who had known me in childhood and that my husband was the person who’d known me longest (since we were 18) and that he would have to do. I expressed repeatedly my distress and increasing anger that they were continuing to ask for “a parent or someone who’d known me as a child” when I had politely informed them this was NOT possible. There cannot be any condition, illness or anything that ever asks for such a thing. It is infantilising in the extreme. I told them this. I was informed that this was just how it was done. They apologised, but it began to feel very much like a not-’pology.

There were several sessions booked in via video link. Two people, a psychologist and a speech therapist, taking turn and turn about speaking to first me and then to my husband. They were both very pleasant. The process from my point of view was absolutely not. Again I was asked whether there was someone who’d known me as a child, explaining how it was needed for a proper diagnosis. I sensed the hand of a supervisor somewhere in the background insisting on prodding still further. Both my sessions were gruelling, taking several hours each. Endless questions, and most of them were those you would use with a child. I felt insulted and infantilised. I had to comment upon pictures from a children’s book, telling a story and describing the scenes. I’m a story teller, so it wasn’t difficult (but in my assessment letter, apparently I did it in TOO MUCH DETAIL) but frankly I was getting more and more angry at being treated as a child. The assessor was quite stunned at how much I could notice and observe in a single picture, and infer and deduce. That in itself is insulting. I have an IQ of something that is up there with the most intelligent people in the world; I’m a trained observer and a very experienced storyteller.

You’d think all that would be enough, wouldn’t you? But no. Again I get contacted saying that for a firm diagnosis they needed to speak to someone who’d known me as a child. Perhaps my brother, or an aunt or an uncle? At this point I became incandescent. I had thought I had made myself clear: there was no one who’d known me from childhood that it was even vaguely appropriate to speak to. More apologies. Another assessment session.

And a few weeks later, a letter, confirming that I am indeed autistic. I have read the letter twice, then shoved it in a file, because I am still furious. All of the markers that suggest autism were there, quite obviously, without the need for this endless requests for someone who’d known me as a child. There were at least 6 separate occasions when this was asked for, despite on the first time of asking me saying emphatically no. I cannot imagine a more disempowering and infantilising process, one which sought to deprive me of all personal agency over my own designation. I have considered making a formal complaint and still may but I do not have the energy to fight through the process. The assessors I do not blame; they were following the script of a poorly developed process, and I felt the heavy hand of a pernickety supervisor at every step of the way. But to insist that an adult of mature years somehow produces what is in essence a character witness to their childhood years is absurd and cruel. It shows the system is failing adults seeking assessment, because it fails to recognise that they are fucking adults. Sorry. The reason I went through the process was to try and understand myself. There are very limited resources for helping adult autists, and NONE of them address the long term trauma of being autistic in a world that despises and loathes difference. I will not be attempting to access those resources via the autism services locally. I cannot imagine they will be of any real assistance to me. Or, to be honest, any adult who has survived so far into middle age. I can only expect that they may be as infantilising and disempowering as the assessment process.

(part two to follow soon)

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.

Dame Julian and self-isolation – some lessons from the 14th century

Dame Julian and self-isolation – some lessons from the 14th century

Despite having her writings, we actually know surprisingly little about Dame Julian,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_of_Norwich the anchorite whose hermitage in Norwich remains a site for pilgrims to this day. We don’t even know her original name; she took the name of the saint whose church she became anchorite of. The church and the cell were bombed during the war but later rebuilt, stone by stone, and the place retains an atmosphere of calm and contemplation; the visitor centre next to it offers refreshments, access to their library and a lovely little gift selection. If you go, they also allow you to park next to the church if you ask for one of their parking permits that will ward off the eagle-eyed traffic wardens.

The 14th century was an especially turbulent one, taking in the Black Death (which reached Britain in 1348, ripping through populations weakened by 2 generations of malnutrition), wars, pogroms, The Peasants’ Revolt, social upheavals and religious movements galore. Dame Julian(born around 1342) saw the effects of the plague first hand, both the initial wave and the later wave that had a reduced effect. When she was around 30, during an illness that was almost fatal, she had a series of visions that are the basis for her writings, and which led to her becoming an anchorite after her recovery. While we know nothing for certain about her origins, education or life before the visions, given that she was 30 at the time, many have speculated that the likelihood was that she was or had been married, and may have had children. The surmise also goes that the illness she survived may have wiped out husband and children. Whatever the truth of this, the life she led after this cataclysmic illness and the visions was entirely different from what she must have led before it.

An anchorite was a hermit who pledged to stay in a single location, often walled in and supplied with the essentials of life via a small window. When a person became an anchorite, the service for the dead was performed, and they were then sealed in. However, they usually led productive lives, often making clothes for the poor and acting (via the window) as a counsellor to troubled souls. One of Julian’s visitors was the mystic Margery Kempe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Kempe who wrote of her visit to dame Julian. http://juliancentre.org/news/margery-kempe-who-met-julian-is-remembered-in-the-anglican-church-on-9th-november.html

One of the most famous of Julian’s sayings was “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Sometimes people use this as a means of shutting up others who are worrying about what’s going on around them. Right now, there’s a lot of reasons to worry. Covid-19 is not the Black Death, but it’s a frighteningly infectious and potentially lethal virus, and there’s a lot of misinformation about it. Julian would have witnessed not just the Black Death but many other epidemics or pandemics that roared through the populace; mechanisms by which any disease spread were little understood then and it’s hard to imagine the terrible fear most people would have experienced. For many it may have felt like a judgement from an angry god. Even today, there are so-called Christians who are preaching that this pandemic is God’s judgement on a sinful human race; some who see this as stage in the end of the world prophecies that are supposedly laid out in the Book of Revelation. To that I say: utter tosh.

When the door closed behind Julian and she was sealed inside her cell, I wonder what she would have felt. Her faith, both in a good, kind, loving God rather than the hideous vengeful god usually depicted by the medieval church, would have kept her at peace, and her faith in the benefactors and supporters who ensured that she would be kept supplied with the necessaries of life meant that the usual worries and cares would be gone. She could focus on what she was there for: to pray, to work, to support others from her window, and also to write about her visions.

In my previous post I wrote about how pressured many of us feel by having so many reminders of what others (like Shakespeare) have accomplished in their time in quarantine. There’s a massive collective angst and anxiety that fills the air and reaches all of us who are sensitive to it, and many who otherwise would not be. It’s extremely hard to be creative when the world around us is filled with such turmoil and uncertainty and fear. It’s even harder when well-meaning people exhort us not to waste such an opportunity for extra time we didn’t know we had.

As well as the collective grief and fear and worry, there’s personal concerns that almost everyone is affected by; worries about money, jobs, family, the future. After losing my father six months ago, I had had a sense of relief that at least I didn’t have to worry about him getting the virus. The worry for my mother was short-lived, and replaced instead with immense shock and sadness when she passed away suddenly a few days ago.

I wonder how much of the collective grief that Dame Julian bore and prayed with in that little cell in Norwich, how many folks she comforted with her words of a loving God who cared for his children as a mother might. I would love to sit an hour in her cell now, and pour out my soul there, but I cannot. It may be many months before I can go anywhere that is deemed non-essential. But I can sit quietly in my home, and hold like hazel nuts the cares and sorrows of others, just as she did.

World Weary Woman – her wound and transformation by Cara Barker

World Weary Woman – her wound and transformation by Cara Barker

If you were to ask me (I don’t recommend it if you are looking for a cheerful, uplifting answer) how I am, my most common answer is “I’m tired.” It’s a boring answer, and to some, a tedious one. “Oh we’re all a bit tired,” is sometimes what the response is. I gnash my teeth and stay silent. The tiredness of chronic illness, of M.E and other exhausting and debilitating conditions, is not the same as normal tiredness, yet people never believe it. There’s a sense that those of us with these conditions are somehow glamourising our exhaustion, demanding medals and accolades for taking the bins out.

Continue reading

The incredible power of myths and fairy-tales

The incredible power of myths and fairy-tales

One of the highlights of last year (which was a truly awful year in most respects) was having the chance to go on a workshop with Caitlín Matthews http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/ Held at Woodbrooke, the Quaker study centre in Birmingham https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/ , “The Paths to the Grail” remains an island of calm, learning, fellowship and a deep sense of the numinous, and a shining, beautiful couple of days of my life. A true oasis, if you like. I had wanted to go on one of her courses before, but never so much as this one. In the hell of all the horrible, sad events, this gave me respite.  Continue reading

Méchant Loup Modern Fables for Sensible Grown-ups

Méchant Loup

Modern Fables for Sensible Grown-ups

Time for a big announcement.

New book!

Yes, finally. When I was glancing through the files for this one, I saw that the start of the collection as such began around five years ago. It’s been a long five years, to be honest, and 2019 seemed to last for at least ten years.

Méchant Loup (which means big bad wolf) has been a labour of love. It’s also been one of uncertainty and no little fear too. Fear of abject failure, if I am honest. I spent a lot of time lurking online and frankly, the books that sell well right now tend to be cosy murder mysteries, paranormal fantasy, romance of all kinds, police procedural and crime thrillers. Not books of fables and fairy-tales. Nonetheless, here it is; I’ve sensed a need for this kind of reading, though and I hope that it hits the spot for many, many people.

Here’s the blurb:

For those of us who loved story-time, who knew that stories are not just to entertain for a few minutes or a few hours.

For those who know that story is a living thing that can live inside us, grow and change, and change us too.

For the dreamers who dream with their eyes wide open.

This book is for all of you.

The wolf-whistle cut across the cool evening air, shrill and insistent but the girl in red did not respond…”

From Tall Poppy Syndrome and the dark side of therapy, to New Age flim-flam and con artistry, through the battle against depression and burn-out, through the seductive and sinister side of libraries and books, and joining the fight against harassment embodied by the #Metoo movement, these modern fables and fairy tales will take you on a magical journey of discovery, enlightenment and wonder. Thirteen is a magic number. You’re never too old for story time. Are you sitting comfortably?

These stories weren’t written with the intention of creating a themed collection; each tale was written as it emerged, blinking in the light of day. Some I shared on my blog, some have languished quietly on my hard drive, read only by a few good friends. Each tale sprang from somewhere deep inside me and some surprised me by quite how strange they were. Gradually, I understood that they were fables, fairy tales and parables, rather than simple pieces of fiction written solely to entertain. Each carried something else with it, something I found hard to define.

During my exploration of the works of first generation Jungian authors, such as the inestimable Marie-Louise Von Franz, I started to understand that fairy tales and fables carry the weight of our collective unconscious. Far from being stories for children, they contain powerful truths for adults and for our evolving societies. Research based on various aspects including linguistics have shown that some tales may have a core that is many thousands of years old, some potentially dating back to the last Ice Age. These stories change and evolve over centuries, with the peripheral details often varying enormously; if the core remains relevant to the human condition, a fairy tale will endure and continue to speak to us.

I also discovered that while an individual cannot truly create a new myth or fairy tale, they can sometimes channel such a myth. In my heart I feel that with some of the stories in this book, I may have done just that. I have heard something speaking deep inside me and I have listened to its voice as attentively as I could and written it down. There are thirteen of them, a number which is magical for so many reasons.

Fables, fairy tales, myths and parables are often written in simpler language and concepts than we are now familiar with; they carry a kind of child-like purity, a throw-back to listening to stories as a small child, a memory almost lost to time. Some of these stories have elements of that spirit of storytelling; some are more modern in their telling. Some carry the energy of the cautionary tale, meant to warn and admonish. I have entitled the book as modern fables for sensible grown ups because I wanted to ensure that they reached the right audience. They are not written for children, (which is what the word ‘fable’ is usually held to mean), though I think some are eminently suitable to be read to children. I avoided using the word ‘adult’ for obvious reasons and I hope that the use of the word ‘sensible’ speaks for itself.

I’ve included the links for the UK versions below, which, in due course will become one link when they are joined together. Other Amazon stores can be accessed either by searching for the book by name or by changing the dot co dot uk in the URL to dot com or whichever store you usually shop at.

Reviews are far more important than folks think, even on books that have been out for a long time, because it gives the book more visibility by keeping it current. For new books, they’re especially important as (it is believed) the more a book accumulates, the more the mighty unnameable might choose to promote the book. This is not an exact science, alas, so if you can review a book you have liked (or loathed) please do.

UK Kindle version: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B083HGHSRB

UK paperback version: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1091667012

Brand new year – same old me

Brand new year – same old me

I’ve never quite understood the hype of New Year. The changing of the calender is, in modern times, quite arbitrary. It pays no heed to celestial events like solstices, or to celebrations of saints’ days or gods or goddesses. Yet every year there’s big parties and declarations of intent for the coming year.

I was glad to see the back of 2019. It contained more trouble and trauma than it did joy and gladness. Yet despite the arbitrary nature of when we start a new year, I found myself looking forward to the change of year. It’s good to start a new daily journal, for example. I’ve gone for a larger sized journal, A5 instead of A6, and have used a Moleskine I’ve had in my stash for a few years; my dad gave me a John Lewis voucher a couple of years ago, and one of the things I got was this journal. It seems fitting that something my father (indirectly) gave me be used for the first year that no longer contains his living presence. I’ve done a daily journal since 2014, and it’s a good discipline for me to have to write a few lines at least before I go to sleep each night. It helps put the day to bed as well as give me a chance to record my impressions of the day. Choosing a significantly larger size means I have greater scope for those impressions. I began also a new bullet journal for recording things done and things planned. Last year’s got abandoned around August when events and health crises conspired to make sure I had insufficient energy to keep it up. I stopped writing down the books I read along with a short review and rating, because of the same reason, and because I stopped caring about keeping going with such things. They seemed futile. I considered starting a new notebook for my book records but as the old one was only a little over half way, I decided to draw a firm metaphorical line under last year and start afresh. The first book completed this year was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection of Professor Challenger stories (three novels including “The Lost World”, and several short stories of dubious merit, and copious notes on spiritualism)

Last year’s reading and favourite books I may come back to another time, as I am aware I read some superb books that deserve a shout-out as well as a proper review in the appropriate places. In my haul of Christmas presents were two books by authors who both deserve greater fame. “Meeting Amalek” by Gev Sweeney, and “The Immortality Clock” by Richard Pierce are sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me to finish reading “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”. I read it years ago, not long after it came out, and only had a library copy. I’ve enjoyed it far more this time, for some reason.

Shortly before New Year, I did the final set of edits on “Méchant Loup – Modern Fables for Sensible Grown-ups”. I need to do a last read through to ensure it’s all as perfect as I can make it. Then I need to dredge up the courage and resolve to do the upload and publishing parts of the process. I’m so afraid of it sinking into the void unnoticed. I’m also fighting a terrible sense of futility and of uselessness. The year has begun with terrible fires in Australia and the USA doing more than rattling sabres. I’m being deliberating cautious about what I say about that. I’m also doing my level best to try and focus on good news stories and not be sucked into the mire of bad news. I spend some time each day in contemplation, one might even say prayer. Even if there is no one listening (I wonder this more and more as I get older) it does me some good. I am baffled by the unkindness, hatred, stupidity, intolerance, bigotry and so on that goes on daily, unremarked. I feel unwanted in my own country, one I can trace ancestors back a good four hundred years.

Oops. Almost went down a very dark rabbit hole there. Anyway, it’s a new decade too. Not that it means very much either. Not in the grand scheme of things. Whatever it may bring, may it bring for those of us who need it, hope, and better times ahead. I am reminded of lines in Luke’s Gospel, https://biblehub.com/luke/1-53.htm . The rich have already had their reward.

A Living Nightmare of a Decade?

A Living Nightmare of a Decade?

There’s been a thing going round. One of those things. Posting a picture from ten years ago and one from this year, to illustrate the changes in a decade. Another thing has been to list your achievements in the last decade. Both have made me shudder. I couldn’t find a picture of me from 2009 that I wanted to share and when I have compared to now, it’s clear the decade has aged me. But ten years ages everyone, so no surprises there.

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“We left the camp singing” – the interrupted life of Etty Hillesum

We left the camp singing” – the interrupted life of Etty Hillesum

These words, written on a postcard thrown from a cattle transport on its way out of Holland to Poland and its ultimate destination, Auschwitz, were some of the very last words written by Dr Etty (Esther) Hillesum. The postcard had been found on the 7th of September 1943 and posted by the farmers who found it a few days later. Dr Hillesum died on the 30th of November 1943. She was 29 years of age. Between 1941 and 1943, she kept a diary of her life in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, detailing the privations, the fears, the joys, the hopes and her extraordinary inner life.

I’ve been reading it in chunks, often during those frequent occasions when insomnia and pain and worry have driven me from my bed to read downstairs on the sofa. It’s been a true companion to me. Her voice, silenced for many, many years, rings out, true and clear and full of life. Her love of life, her resilience have been an inspiration and not a reproach to me in my own troubles (and believe me, virtually every self-help book I have come across, every nugget of a meme from some guru or other, has left me with nothing but guilt and self-reproach for my own lack of strength and guts) and I finally read the last section of the book today. It’s a collection of the letters she wrote from Westerbork, the camp Dutch Jews were held at before being loaded onto cattle trucks and sent off to Auschwitz. The voice in these letters differs only very little from that of the diaries; her integrity and pure honesty shine out, unmistakably amid the events of those terrible days. Humour, love, gentleness and a lack of bitterness that is almost shocking.

I’d put off reading this book, because the core of the book is something I cannot look at square in the face without feeling the abyss opening. Yet the abyss IS indeed opening. Concentration camps exist again in the so-called civilised world, and the fact that many dispute the use of the word is proof that they have become inured to the concept. But the book brought me some comfort that a voice of sense, reason, justice and love can still ring out across the years since its owner died. It reminded me that we have lessons from the past that can and should be learned from.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Interrupted-Life-Diaries-Letters-Hillesum/dp/095347805X/