All posts by Bevatgreencliff

Call Me by My Pet-Name

sonnets 33A selection of the ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ were among the first poems we read at ‘Gather 2 Read’ in Honley.

Number 33 my choice for you for Poem of the Day –

 

 

 

Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cowslips piled,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear
With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,
While I call God—call God!—So let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate.
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
And catch the early love up in the late.
Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer and not wait.

I always think of my Dad when I read this, although Barratt-Browning wrote this collection as love poems (and they were quite risqué for the time!). Dads have those pet names for us, don’t they? And faces ‘that proved me dear’. It’s usually a Dad or a Mum who loves in that unconditional and always-delighted way. Don’t we always look for those faces – the ones that tell us we’re okay – we’re valued and loved just as we are?

That phrase “let they mouth/ Be heir…” – isn’t that stunning? The one who loves her now has taken the place, taken on the role of loving her the way she was loved as a child – freely, and with no holding back. You can’t imagine that’s possible when you’re a child, can you? Now she can be truly happy and offer her heart and “not wait”. There is no hesitation as she runs to the one who calls her and fills her heart again, in the way it was filled and how it responded, as a child.

 

Monday’s Child

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Whose Children?

I’ve written before about the reading group I run in a Care Home.  I go monthly, meet with between 4 and 10 elderly residents, mostly women, but there have been 2 or 3 men who have come along. I’ve been visiting for over a year now and they have become dear friends. We share an afternoon together; moments in time where adventures of the mind and soul can be had.  Our reading can take us to wonderful places; we meet characters who delight or intrigue; we laugh; we are puzzled; we feel sad, we cry, we become angry. In short we are, as lovely Doreen said last week “We are stimulated”.

There’s plenty written about what makes us think and what sort of thing galvanises us into action. What I have seen and experienced though, on those Monday afternoons, is something really special. What would I say to a lady of 89 who I have only just met? Who spends her life now surrounded with those whose gait is even slower than her own? Who feels as if life is going on ‘out there’ without her now – while she waits, often in pain or at best discomfort, for the door to open to the next world? What do I have in common to begin a conversation? How do I find out what lies behind those rheumy eyes? Reading is the key that unlocks the mystery; that gently enables us to share a lovely time and a place – like  a little room we can go to. We keep it simple – short is good (listening and concentrating gets harder over the years) – poems work – little stories too – a fairy tale might occasionally enchant – but  Shakespeare, Thackeray, Elliot, Hardy – they are much loved too. Some of my friends know the classics well, some have read little throughout their lives but on those Monday afternoons we share in the delights of a variety of good literature

This week, I decided on the theme of “New Beginnings” – after all, we’d had a summer break and we were starting a new term. When you’re in your nineties, it always seems to be about ‘endings’ (they told me about two deaths there had been over summer) so I thought it would be refreshing to think about beginnings – about new born babies and the way we celebrate them. There were six of us this week. I read something we probably all know:-

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Tuesday’s child is full of grace,

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Thursday’s child has far to go.

Fridays’ child is loving and giving,

Saturdays’ child works hard for a living,

And the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay. (Anon)

Well, a few of them knew it and were joining in quietly and tentatively, but by the last line everyone had found their voice, were sure of the words and we chorused it together. Then everyone wanted to talk! I heard of an older sister who had been a Wednesday’s child – “Always whining, she was too!” said Mary. Bessie had been a Sabbath baby “A lot to live up to!” “Me too,” I offered, “I try to be perfect, but never quite make it!” Everyone  was laughing and the afternoon was filled with sunshine. And Jean told of being a Saturday’s child, “I was expected to do everything for my brother. He never lifted a finger”. A good time to move on to “For an Unborn Baby” by Janet Shepperson, then:

If she’s a girl,

I hope she’ll stretch her wings

and grow up free, wide ranging

like a seagull, dealing with the winds

competently, swifting on currents of air,

able to live on anything she can find

in the murky sea, or even on rubbish heaps,

adapting with ease when storms drive her inland.

May she choose wisely if in the end

she settles on one name, one piece of ground.

 

May she banish those who’d seek to protect her

from heartbreak, or joy.

– And may he achieve no less

if he’s a boy.

So began a discussion of how our hopes for girls might be different – how we might choose different colours for their clothes even. Emily started to talk about her daughter – she tells all about the dreams she had for her and how they never happened. How she married a man who Emily hadn’t liked and how she watched with sadness when the marriage broke up, yet couldn’t somehow offer comfort to her daughter and how even now, many years later, all that lies still unspoken, between them. “She’s never married again. That’s sad. But she’s happy. She seems content with her own company”. She sits pondering that thought and the rest of us keep a companionable silence with her for a moment. “She comes to see you though”, says Joyce. “Oh yes.” And that’s what matters now – that she comes; that they have that time with each other.

We laughed together at the next tale from “Blue Remembered Hills” by Rosemary Sutcliffe – about babies being brought by a stork. It ends:

“Nor did it occur to me that at age zero, I would have been unlikely to have had teeth to chatter”

That led to lots of sharing about what we believed as we grew up about where babies come from and some wonderful stories about how children ‘fill in the gaps’ when they don’t know the truth.

Our favourite of the afternoon was Kahlil Gibran’s “Your Children”

It begins:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

they come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrows, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

 

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that

His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He knows the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1950) https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/gibrn.htI

I read the last words and let them rest in the room. I feel it again – the magic of hearing words allowing thoughts to come from within our souls. Emily is the first to speak, “Very deep.” Joyce adds, “Fancy being a bow”, and she says it shyly. “I suppose that’s all parents can wish for, isn’t it?” puts in Doris, who hasn’t any children of her own, but was  a teacher, “To set them off on the right track and hope they get to a good place”. Soon, our thoughts still milling around, we are taking tea together and sharing a platter of fresh fruit, brought to us by the Activities Coordinator. When we are old, we need to have our activities coordinated, you know, we relinquish our ability, so they tell us in care homes, to coordinate our own activities. She is a good person though and loves the people whose activities she is coordinating.

I leave and on the way home I think of all my arrows, and wonder at the joy of how I now have learned “to be like them,” and I pray  to the Archer who I know and love, and thank him that he is guiding them, that he has a purpose for them and that “He loves also the bow that is stable”.

 

Visit my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thewalkingreaderinholmevalley

 

 

Take Me Back Down the Years

Facebook-20150511-115544This is a picture of me taken when I was probably nine or ten years old. My auntie Janet found it for me and I am fascinated by it. You see, I recognise myself in that picture. I knew it was me, before anyone confirmed it. I see my ‘little self’ there in that chair and although I can’t actually remember the moment it was taken I immediately connect with her – that little me-girl – and the things that were going on in her life back then – down the years.

It was taken in the back garden of my grandmother’s house. I can smell the roses and see the flamboyant bright colours of the dahlias and the chrysanthemums. In later years there would be a fish pond in the spot where I am sitting. Before me, off camera, are two greenhouses and if I get up from that chair I can go in, push open the door (that is quite stiff) and feel the warmth and inhale the sweet scent of tomatoes and cucumbers and lettuces. I can hear my grandma’s voice from the kitchen, just behind me, calling me in and smell the cakes baking. I can taste the sugar on my tongue as I lick the mixture from the wooden spoon that she lets me use to scrape the bowl. I can run down the garden and tell my granddad to come on in for his cup of tea – and I can see him straighten up, put a hand to his back, roll his eyes, take his huge handkerchief from his pocket and blow his nose. “I’m on my way” he says and I run back and tell Gran. “Yes and so is bloody Christmas”, she says.

Then I’m standing on a stool shelling the peas he’s brought in and slipping as many as I can into my mouth – the green freshness of the taste delighting me – before she can see me and catch me round the ears with her damp tea towel.

I am there in the garden and in the kitchen of the place where so much of my childhood was played out. Where I learned to play cribbage at the age of 5, whilst recovering from measles; where I snuggled into the huge bosom of the grandmother who taught me outrageously bawdy songs and told me wonderful stories.

The chair I am sitting on was called by my Uncle Bill ‘the Director’s chair’ – she ruled the roost all right and though many argued with her, she would generally have the last word. I am sitting in that chair and wouldn’t have dared if she’d been around, unless I was ill and I remember then I had been. I’d had my appendix out and had gone, after the operation to stay there, while the rest of my family went on holiday. Clearly the reason for my rather sad little face! Bless my little cotton socks.

I could weep for that girl and all she would face but I could also tell her – “It will be fine; you’ll come through. Life will be good for you.” But today when I look at her, I’d like to simply go back and sit with her for a while; not speaking – just to keep her company and enjoy the scent of the roses and the colours of the dahlias. To taste again those cakes, those peas and feel the warmth of the greenhouse and the soft bosom of my grandmother. I feel a tear slide down my cheek for those moments and want to be there. It won’t last – this feeling – I’ll stay where I am in my present and make a coffee, write some more, hang out the washing or go shopping – just get on with my 57 year old life.

I’m reminded of D H Lawrence’s “The Piano”

SOFTLY, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;

Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see

A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings

And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

 

In spite of myself, the insidious mastr’y of song

Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong

To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside

And hymns in the cozy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

 

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour

With the great black piano apassionato.

The glamour of childhood days is upon me, my manhood is cast

Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

See the beautiful way the poet talks of ‘betrays me back’. As if those memories have stolen into his present and given him away – revealed him to be that one he has denied himself to be. ‘The heart of me weeps to belong’ – that was exactly what I felt as I looked at little me in the picture – I wanted to climb back into that time and just be there. “My manhood is cast down in the flood of remembrance” – I couldn’t have thought of that line but it speaks precisely of what we often want to do. Just lay down who we have become – these grown up selves; these adults who have to be so responsible – and let the memories flow over us and take us back, back to the times we remember as being happy or even just without the cares we have now.

It isn’t that we want to stay there – I don’t think it is that. It’s not escapism – it’s about making connections to strengthen our being now, where we are. I’ve just finished reading “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s a compelling but painful story of two women – Sarah, the daughter of a judge and cotton plantation owner in Charleston, and Handful, the slave she was given on her eleventh birthday – and the relationship they forged between them. Sarah Grimke was one of the most famous of America’s abolitionist eventually. Handful’s mother, Charlotte, spends most of her life trying to be free and suffers terribly for it. She is an excellent needle worker and quilter and sews pictures of her life and her daughter’s into a story quilt she bequeaths to Handful, telling her of all the hurt and pain she has endured; the beatings, the brandings, the humiliations. She urges Handful to continue to try and get free but to always remember who she is and where she has come from; all she has experiences. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you should know where you come from”, the slaves would sing. The stories of their lives connected them and grounded them so that they could hold on to an identity that was significant and of value.

This is about knowing where we have come from, so we can know our own starting points, tell our own stories and are able to thread those pieces together to join us to where we are now. Of course, we will cry for those times when we feel ourselves overwhelmed with longing – for that was the place we came from – the first chapters of our story and our present will make little sense if we don’t have that place to turn back to. We are richer and stronger when we know our own stories.

 

Hidden Depths

plants_12-21In recent times I have started to really enjoy gardening. I’ve always loved gardens – it must run in my genes – my grandfather spent most of his life in his garden and grew the most amazing chrysanthemums and dahlias, as wells as beautiful rose bushes. His passion was passed on to my mum but it’s not been something any of my siblings has taken much of an active interest in. I started to be interested when I made an effort to make our back yard a bit more colourful with some pots. There was something quite exciting about seeing how plants turned from tiny little leafy things to gorgeous tall and bushy flowering plants. I had around 30 pots eventually in the small, paved gardens of our house in Marple and brought them all with me to Holmfirth.

We have a much larger garden here – with grass! And trees! It all makes me feel rather rich! And now, having more time, it’s a lovely break from sitting at the computer, to wander out into the garden and get my hands dirty in the compost, deadhead some dying flowers, prune back a few shrubs, pull up some weeds or plant something I’ve bought recently in a special little place I’ve chosen for it. I can’t tell you the thrill I get from wandering round seeing what has ‘come up’ over night. I am fascinating watching buds slowly open over days, unfurling to become something really colourfully beautiful. In the garden I can lose myself completely for hours at a time. I can take my stunted thoughts and, whilst pottering around, grubbing in the soil, I can process my thinking and move myself on; make decisions that I didn’t even know I was considering or imagine new possibilities. But gardening is also an end to itself – it’s such a lovely thing to do. And I know this too – it’s the sort of hobby that can also eat away at your budget! There are always such delightful new plants to buy at garden centres – even the supermarket or corner shop sell lovely things to tempt us to try and grow!

As I said I brought all my pots from Marple and have had such an interesting time planning where they will go and preparing a way for them. You should see how some of them have flourished now they are released from the prison of their pots! There’s also something about continuity. I was looking at an Acacia I had in a pot at our last house and seeing it now, in early Spring, rising tall above my garden wall, with its tiny buds ready to burst, just thrills me that once it overlooked a busy, noisy main road – now it is in such a peaceful setting, watching dogwalkers and ramblers make their way to the woods and the hills; smilingly watching our dog go loopy on the lawn. It’s made a journey with me and both of us are enjoying, and making the most of, our new setting.

At the front of our house here is a strip of grassed land that used to get very boggy when it rains. It’s at the bottom of a steep, sloping lawn and persistent rain often turns it into a swamp. People sometimes stepped on it, the dog would run across it and trample mud into the house. It also didn’t look very pretty. The answer was to cut the turf from it, dig it up, enrich the soil with compost and put in bog-loving plants. I had decided on rhododendrons, astilbe and geraniums. My friendly garden-labourer suggested Achtea too. ‘Beautiful shrubs’, he tells me, ‘with dark foliage and gorgeous creamy white flowers and they grow to 5 feet.’ Sounded perfect. It would be lovely to turn in the drive and see the colourful range from this grouping, set in gold and white gravel. He sent me off to a specialist nursery in Halifax, “Dove Cottage”. I rather liked it just for the name, being a Wordsworth fan. So I set off there, very excited. He’d told me that the plants there were so superior to other nurseries and garden centres. The owner could not have been nicer. She was serving when I got there, so I had a wander. All I could see were lines and lines of pots with nothing in though, but clearly there were parts of the nursery that weren’t accessible to the general public. ‘The real plants must be up those glass houses,’ I thought. It came to my turn and she asked me all about what I wanted and what sort of garden I had, where the sun came up, and what the soil was like. She agreed that an Achtea and a couple of Astilbes would be perfect. She also had some Geraniums which would enjoy that sort of ground, she said. Off she went and I expected her to be ages as the greenhouses were up a hill, but instead she went to where I had just been wandering and brought back two large pots (3 litres), filled with compost and set them down at my feet, ‘They’re really lovely Geraniums, with good spread and I know I’ve got an Achtea somewhere’ – she scooted off again and was back in less than a minute with a slightly larger pot, again with nothing in but compost and a white tag, dashed away again and I watched, open-mouthed, as she rotted among identical black pots and came back with 2 more. For a moment I just couldn’t speak. £8.50 for dirt in a pot!!

Now, if you’re an avid gardener you may wonder at my gormless reaction! You see, I’d only ever bought from a garden centre before and was used to choosing from what I could see. Now it seemed, I was being asked to take, in faith, what I could not see! All I had, for ‘proof’ of what lay beneath that compost, was a printed tag – stating the name of the plant in there, a brief description of what it would be, the heights it would grow to and the spread it would make across the garden. When I looked closely, I could see that there was something poking its way out of the compost. In one of them it looked like dead straw, which she promptly snipped off with her secateurs! I had to take it on trust that what she said was growing there, beneath the surface, was actually there and would grow, from this barely visible thing, to something beautiful – as tall as a person and as broad as a pillar-box, looking amazing when I opened my front door. I had to laugh really! Because I had been so naive. Of course, plants start life as seeds or bulbs and nurseries take cuttings, transplant root balls into pots for people like me to take and lovingly plant in their own gardens and nurture them to full life.

Several weeks on each of these plants is looking splendid in that little part of the garden. FullSizeRender (2) FullSizeRender FullSizeRender (1)

Still some way to go, but definitely heading upwards and outwards!! A lot is going on under the surface as the roots take in nutrients from our well-prepared soil and are enjoying all the moisture from what was previously a bog! John was away when I created this little garden and was delighted to see it done when he came home, but did ask me what the ‘patches of soil’ were spread across the gravel area! It made me laugh as he was obviously as ‘convenience-minded’ as me, when it comes to growth! He expected to see a fully flowering shrub growing straight away. Every couple of days I peer at my plants and I can see something more of them appearing – it’s miraculous to me and it heartens me so much.

There’s a lesson for life here, isn’t there? So often we can’t see growth happening. We can become frustrated that nothing is happening – when under the surface so much is going on. To make something lovely there has to be a lot of spade-work, clearing of debris, preparation of land, adding of nutrients, watering of soil – before the plant can take root and grow. And there needs to be plenty of sunshine to coax the thing to make an appearance! In life, we can all too often trample on the dreams of others who are trying to make things happen. It looks as if there is just ‘dirt in a pot’ and nothing much else – but under the surface there is often a lot happening that we can’t see. The thing is, if we could see, it wouldn’t actually happen quite so well, as it needs to take place underneath to be able to happen. It’s out of the way of the busy-ness of life that much work gets done – it’s in back rooms where policies get written; it’s very often in cold church halls where focus groups and listening exercises take place; it’s sometimes in back bedrooms where emails and letters are written and change programmes are planned.

There’s also things going in the lives of individuals that we can’t always see. How many times have we walked around, knowing on the surface we look just fine, but inside we are desperately anxious about something; or someone we know and live is dying and we can’t be with them; or we have to hide an illness for some reason? And there are those who might simply overlook as they seem as if they have little to say, or nothing to offer us. They don’t seem to amuse or have opinions. Who knows what is going on inside their heads? What trauma they might have experienced, or crippling shyness they are trying to overcome. I remember a little girl who never seemed to speak and one day at a party she suddenly started to recite nursery rhymes after an elderly lady had chatted to her for over half an hour without evoking any response. Eloquently and beautifully, for almost an hour, she entertained a group of us who were enchanted and applauded enthusiastically! Seen in a new light, she suddenly blossomed into a confident child and her life changed from that day. Someone saw she had something; nurtured it and warmed it with the sunshine of her smile and watered it with gentleness.

I am drawn to a Hardy poem – aptly title ‘In The Garden’…

 

We waited for the sun

To break its cloudy prison

(For day was not yet done,

And night still unbegun)

Leaning by the dial.

 

After many a trial –

We all silent there –

It burst as new-arisen,

Throwing a shade to where

Time travelled at that minute.

 

Little saw we in it,

But this much I know,

Of lookers on that shade,

Her towards whom it made

Soonest had to go.

 

Just for itself, this is so beautiful – there’s a calmness and stillness in the words – just waiting for the sun to come back again, hoping it will before night closes in, but holding our breath as perhaps the moment will be lost as the day ends. And sometimes it’s like the early morning sun when it does peep out from behind those thick clouds – and with that burst comes that bright hope – as if we can start all over again. Like the little girl – no one thought much of her – a shy wee thing with nothing to say. A bit of sun warming her, coaxing her from the shell she’d found herself hidden under and she was away! A new thing. Like my plants. Hidden under dirt, waiting for the right conditions to make their appearance – to grow into what they were intended to be.

So where will we let our own rays of sunshine fall upon? Who or what can we coax into the light and nurture into becoming that something they have the potential to be?

Glimmers of Hope in Flecks of Lilac

There are glimmers of hope. At last it seems we are moving towards spring! I wonder why it is that winter always seems the longest season. I mean, it isn’t really as if it’s been frightful – it’s just the seemingly endless dark days; days that feel as though they don’t start till midmorning and are shutting down for business by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Days that have been very cold, damp and just don’t stimulate positive thinking. Well, they don’t do much for me anyway.

Not that I hate the cold as such – a clear, blue sky on a frosty morning when you can see your breath and you have to pull your hat over your ears and can’t bear it if you think you’ve dropped your gloves! I love those sorts of days. When the ground is crunchy underfoot and you can hurry back home and drink a hot cup of tea and really revel in its heat and restorative goodness. Yes, they’re good wintery days. Even days when you’re a little bit afraid walking on a steep slope as you see the frost glistening or you have to get up early to scrape the car windscreen and your fingers go numb and you have to blow on them while the car heater is still warming up. Yes, they are great, stimulating, invigorating days.

What I hate are the days that never seem to get going. When you wake, knowing you’ve been in bed a whole night and yet it’s still pitch black outside. And it’s raining, or it’s been raining. It’s not even really cold – at least not frosty. It’s just miserable. And you’re making your tea and looking out the window and all you can see is your own miserable reflection staring back at you in the dark – like it’s your soul that nipped outside and has found it wanting and can hardly bear to give you the bad news. Then you see children going to school and it’s barely light. It’s like things you’re doing slow down but the day itself slips passed you faster, so just when you think you’ve got a grip on it, it grinds down to a halt. And you’re looking at your own reflection in the window again – wearing a ‘so where has that one gone then?’ expression. Short, miserable days. Oh I know they’re not all quite like that – there’s lots to be thankful for too – but they do drop by more frequently – those gloom-filled days.

But they are coming to an end! Ha ha! I want to laugh out loud and shout ‘so there, winter, you didn’t see me off!’

Even before it’s here, I know it’s coming. There are these signs all along the walks – tiny buds appearing on branches. Each one prompting a wee spring in my step and a slight quickening to my heartbeat. In the shade of a tree in the churchyard (oh, don’t ask me what kind of tree it was; I always get them wrong!) there they were, just peeping through the mulch there – tiny flecks of lilac. Crocii making their yearly appearance.Glimmers of hope in lilac

‘Hello, again!’ they seem to whisper, ‘Is it time?’ At first they appear quite shy, as if they’re afraid someone (like a horrid, north-westerly gust of wind or harsh frost) will shout them back down, with a ‘Get back in the ground you fools! It’s not your turn yet!’

Well, it is! There were a few hints last week – sunny intervals (as termed by the weatherfolk) and milder air coaxed them onto the seasonal stage and there they were – as if they were waiting for me to climb over the wall into the cemetery. Like a warm greeting they met my eyes and I had to pause and smile at them in return greeting. I just had to get the Iphone out and take that picture. I wanted to note it – make an imprint of it. All the rest of the day I could revisit that picture – even in my mind – and know that spring was coming – the winter wasn’t going to last forever.

Over the winter months, being someone who is seasonally affected, I really have to work hard not to let myself slip into a reactive depression. I’m not meaning a clinical sort of depression, although it can verge on that by the way it presents. I mean that the darkness seems to push me into a corner of my own life and I can find myself stuck there. It goes like this: because of the darkness I can’t go out walking so early, so I stay in bed a little longer; staying in bed longer makes me feel bad about myself, so I start the day on a low note; I roll out of bed instead of jumping; I stay in my dressing gown, as what’s the point of getting dressed? I find myself wondering it it’s worth opening the curtains or raising the blinds. What’s the point? There’s nothing to see. Just me looking back at me. I sit and think how miserable it is and this makes me feel even more miserable. I end up eating breakfast so late it makes eating lunch not worth it and then I worry that I’ll want dinner too early and the evening will seem shorter! I do shorter walks and when it’s raining they get shorter still. Not being able to be outside makes me feel even more miserable. I have to put the light on to read and before I know it, I’m closing the curtains as the darkness starts to descend – yet again! And it’s only just gone!

Do you know those days? I have to make myself get a grip. Honestly, I have to take myself in hand and give myself a stiff talking to. I find there is a Psalm that often comes to mind when I’m like this:

                        Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

(Psalm 42:11a)

I love that this psalm was probably written by King David and that he, though he was so close to God (being called a ‘man after my own heart’ by God himself! How brilliant must that be!), finds himself in these same dark places that I get myself into.

It seems important to me that I do that chastising of my soul. So when my reflection stares back at me through the dark glass, by an act of will, I make myself say this line. I talk to my own soul – essentially telling it to ‘get a grip’. Of course, as a Christian, I don’t believe that I can do this in my own strength. For that I thank God – as the second half of that verse gently steers me to where strength can be found and where my hope really is, reminding me that I’m never actually alone; God is bigger than my circumstances. They are only temporary.

                        Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my help and my God.

 

It doesn’t happen immediately; it isn’t like there is a blinding light or that in that moment I am lifted to some higher plain. Not at all, I have simply reminded my soul that things are not hopeless. I have a choice. I can stay in the corner of my own mind; I can dwell there in the dark. I can make my life smaller and shrink into myself. Or I can remember what the light looks like – focus on where my hope really is founded – and I can make that my driver. I can hitch my soul on to something worth getting up for. I can find light, joy, laughter, sunshine in the smile of a stranger; the hue of the leaves of a plant in the bathroom; a robin on the birdfeeder; a phone call from a friend; an episode of a ridiculous soap opera; a chapter of a good book; a slice of chocolate cake; a bowl of lentil soup; a visit to a museum.

On a short, dark, cold winter day, in the driving rain, I can curse the mud and wet; sit and watch it batter my windows; or I can go by the tree in the cemetery, shelter under the branches, stand on the mulch there and remember that underneath all this, something is happening; life is stirring; bulbs are being fed; roots are extending – and soon, and very soon, tiny shoots of green will appear, followed by flecks of lilac – glimmers of hope for tired souls.

Sunshine Doesn’t Last Forever

Sunshine Doesn’t Last Forever

ThoraOnce a month I run a reading group in a care home. I’m not allowed to read to individuals in their own rooms, which saddens me as I know there are many who would really enjoy that, because that’s against the rules as I have no DBS clearance. Well, actually, I do have clearance, at the enhanced level no less, for my role as Reader minister, and I have the same clearance for my work with New Wine ministries, but that doesn’t count with the care home because it, like all organisations, has to undertake its own DBS checks. (If you’re reading this and wondering about DBS – it stands for ‘Disclosure and Barring Service’ and replaced the Criminal Records Bureau). The whole process is supposedly in place to weed out those individuals who have ill intentions towards those who are vulnerable. Not that it can really do that – as it can only found out about those who have police records, including cautions, so the clever ones who haven’t ever been caught can still carry on doing what they’re doing. I could wax lyrical about what I think is wrong with this system but I won’t (for now anyway!). I don’t apportion blame to the care home for not allowing me to visit individuals – they are following vulnerable adult policies. That is laudable in itself. However, in our zeal to protect (and quite rightly those who are vulnerable deserve our protection), I wonder if we are forgetting sometimes to balance the needs of the vulnerable to access positive and enriching experiences. It bothers me. We can too easily forget how much pleasure can be gained from simple exchanges with another human being for instance. We can take for granted the rays of sunshine that can pierce an otherwise gloomy day when someone pauses to talk to us, or even briefly smiles at us in passing.

All of the people in my group once had purposeful roles in society – they raised families and ran homes; they held down busy jobs. Among them are retired clergy members; teachers and head-teachers; nurses, midwives, hairdressers, business owners and one delightful lady who was an entertainer for the armed forces. They have not always been frail and, as they refer to themselves, useless. The care staff I come across largely seem to me to be caring sort of people. However, there is something about the way they speak to my friends – the tone, the language used, the facial expressions I observe – that is markedly different from the way they speak with each other and it makes me uncomfortable. My group members have become ‘categorised’ – they are now ‘care home residents’ and as such must be subjected to all that comes with that categorisation. People don’t even seem to notice they’re doing it – moreover, it’s not just acceptable, it’s expected.

“Just sit back down, Jean” one very young assistant said last week, rolling her eyes at her colleague and smirking. This, to an 89 year old woman, who once ran the Home Economics department at the local high school, because she had dared to stand up and try to move a chair as they entered with the tea trolley. Despite the fact that we were in the middle of reading a very moving poem, in a group that has run monthly for over a year, there was no knock on the door and “Who wants tea or coffee?” was called out without so much as an “Excuse me” or even a cursory nod to me, who is reading to the group. Immediately, the tone of the room is altered, the beauty of the words hanging in the air is banished and the members are back in ‘care home resident’ mode making sure they don’t miss out on the only hot drink that will be on offer until tea-time.

Joanna Harris has written some excellent stories about two fabulous elderly ladies who live in “Meadowbank Retirement Home”. Faith and Hope Go Shopping was the first one and can be found in her book ‘Jigs and Reels’. They’re all written in Faith’s voice who displays an indomitable spirit and has formed a friendship with Hope, who is blind, and who was once a university professor. Well, it’s never going to be easy fitting into the categorisation of the nursing home, is it?  Especially if your life has been so very different:

“…they try to find things to entertain us, but when you’ve been you’ve been a professor at Cambridge, with theatres and cocktail parties and May Balls and Christmas concerts at King’s, you never really learn to appreciate those Tuesday night bingo games. On the other hand you do learn to appreciate the small pleasures (small pleasures being by far the commonest) because, as some French friend of Hope’s used to say, one can imagine even Sisyphus happy.”[1]

I’ve read a couple of the Faith and Hope stories to my friends in the care home – there is always much laughter and knowing comments, but there’s also a poignancy stemming from a “how did I come to this” feeling that seems to emanate from each of them.

Growing old should bother all of us – it is inevitable, if death, equally inevitable, doesn’t claim us first of course. We talk of growing old gracefully – I wonder what on earth we mean by that? Retaining some integrity? Hanging on to dignity? Accepting with good grace what one can no longer do? Does it have to mean being treated as if we were somehow part of a different section of the human race – less deserving of common courtesies?

Then there’s the business of being a bit naughty. Or defiant. Or obstinate. The chasing of rainbows and the running after butterflies. Or the desiring of ‘unsuitable’ red shoes (You simply must read ‘Faith and Hope Go Shopping’ to get that one!). Or mixing with ‘undesirables’ and even indulging in something a little bit unsavoury. We might never want to do any of these things while we actually can, but what of when we are no longer able – or are prevented from doing?

There’s a wonderful play written by Alan Bennett – especially for and performed on the radio by Thora Hird when she herself was very frail. The subtle but perceptively sharp humour, laced with pathos, is as you might expect from Bennett and you can hear Hird delivering the lines with her acerbically soft tones:

Mr Pilling says, ‘ A grand-looking woman, your daughter.’

I said, ‘You’re not alone in that opinion.’

‘Why,’ he says, ‘who else thinks so?’

I said, ‘She does.’

He smiled.

‘I’m going to read from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.’

 

There are clues from early on in the piece that all is not right with the way Mr Pilling relates to the vulnerable elderly ladies although if you blink you might miss them, it’s so cleverly done. With so many abuse cases in the media at present, not least the prolific and predatory abuse carried out by Saville, it’s actually a topical piece and there’s something even more disturbing about the issues it raises. I read it some years ago the first time and returning to it recently found myself not being able to get it out of my mind for some time.

Bindra’s just been round with the air freshener when Mr Pilling arrives. Raincoat always neatly folded. Puts it down on the bed. Holds up the Bible. Lovely fingernails. I complimented him on them once and he said ‘Well, its not something I would want broadcasting, Mrs Walker, but I have them manicured. Kelly does them at Salon Snippets and I count it money well spent.’

Never looks at you when he’s doing it. Just concentrates on the words of the New Testament.

Down goes the raincoat, up comes the Bible and away we go.[2]

You can’t help but feel revulsion for what Mr Pilling seems to be up to with the four residents who share their room. When Mrs Walker’s daughter (Mrs Turnbull) makes the discovery, and reports what she observes, she believes her mother’s had a lucky escape but has her eye on a compensation claim. She is taken aback with the response:

‘Not to put too fine a point on it, I like having the tops of my legs stroked, even at my age, and so does Blanche and if there’s a gentleman like Mr Pilling willing to undertake the task and derive pleasure from it then I prefer to think of that not as something disgusting but as God moving in his mysterious way…I shall tell them it was all done of my own free will. We were consenting adults. So you can kiss goodbye to your flaming compensation.

Bindra comes in with the air-freshener. I said, ‘Bindra, I think Mrs Turnbull wants a tissue’.

Shocking? Of course it is. But I wonder if that’s really to do with what is initially an apparent abuse of position or more that an elderly woman is articulating her desire to be intimately touched . And more, that she apparently has no care to who provides what she needs. Was it abuse? It seemed to be at first reading – but there was more going under that raincoat than we first guessed.

It’s what I like about the writing – that it leaves us disturbed and chewing the unthinkable over and over. Actually, there’s a bit of me that really doesn’t want to think about such things. Like when I was a teenager and I heard those noises from my parents through the thin bedroom wall. How could they be doing that? At their age? It was certainly never to be mentioned by them.

So Mrs Walker wants to make the most of the last of the sun – she knows it won’t last forever. While it is shining in our youth we take it for granted. We bathe in its rays and drink of it greedily. But we think of that other species – the old and infirm – as having no right to it. Not only are they categorised as worthy of disdain, but as no longer having a right to express desire. That sort of sunshine apparently must not be allowed to last forever.

[1] Faith and Hope Fly South in “A Cat, A Hat and A Piece of String” by Joanna Harris

[2] The Last of the Sun in ‘Untold Stories by Alan Bennett

 

‘Let it Flow, Let It Flow!!’ or “They have [NOT] taken away my Lord”

mary weepingI’m excited because today I am off on a weekend away with some wonderful women who all know and love the Lord! Willersley Castle near Matlock is the venue for this weekend and apparently we are in for some real treats, in terms of teaching by Pauline Thomas who aims to help us see ourselves again the way God sees us, through His eyes of love and grace. I need to reclaim my identity in Christ – I know that! I get so busy at times I forget who I really am – a child of a Heavenly Father. I am the Daughter of a King (which of course makes me a Princess!).

I’ve got lost! I put myself up to do all sorts of stuff – with the very best of intentions always – and desperately trying to please my Father, but in so doing, I stop listening and just do what I think He wants me to do. I reckon He sighs and thinks “she’ll learn!” Well, I will, eventually – but after almost 58 years, I do wonder when I’m going to be a grown-up woman of faith. Although, it is written “all things are possible with God” Praise Him for that then!

This morning I read John 20/11-18

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

There are times when I’ve felt myself thinking -“I don’t know where God is in all of this” and others when I feel resentful of people for distracting me away from Him.  They come to me with their moans and groans of “It’s freezing in this church, you need to get that heating sorted” or “Your best just isn’t good enough” or “The music’s far too loud, I can’t hear myself think” or “This coffee’s revolting. We always used to have such lovely coffee….”. I hear myself thinking sometimes….”What’s that got to do with seeking Jesus!!” My mind gets bogged down with the mundane and the trivial – light bulbs, milk, central heating boilers – and I lose sight of the Lord I love. Not that those things in themselves are unimportant – we need lights on; we need to be warm enough to worship in some degree of comfort. But nothing is ever as important as seeking the Lord and we should be doing that with our whole hearts and souls. Didn’t Jesus say that very thing?

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6/33)

Well, I think I stopped making it my number one priority. And I ended up blaming everyone else for stopping me doing that – when in fact I always had the choice. It was in my own gift to turn around and look for Jesus in all that goes on. In the busy-ness of the day He is there; in the sufferings and the pain He is there; in the quiet of the night when worries surface and anxieties press in, He is there. He promised never to leave and He never does; we simply choose to forget His presence with us.

So I read that Mary, through her tears, said at the graveside ” They have taken away my Lord!” Like me crying and lamenting, ‘Jesus isn’t here – this is nonsense. They have stolen Him from me; I can’t see Him any more’. Then I cried and in my heart I yearned for Him and was still enough to hear Him say softly “Bev” – just that. Just my name. A reminder of who I am and more importantly, who He is. The Risen Lord who will never leave us.

Lord Jesus, there you were when I turned around to face the right way. Through my tears I saw you. Your abundant joy flowing into me. They cannot steal you from me. I remembered the words of Paul:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38)

A grave couldn’t hold you, nor even Death. You rose and lived among us again until You returned to the Father and now You are ‘loose in the world’ through the Spirit. So I can say with the greatest of joy, like Mary:

“I have seen the Lord!”

Bring on the weekend! Let it flow, let it flow!!

 

Today I Became A Writer

Yes, ’tis true! I am no longer saying “one day I’ll become..”, today I became. Don’t get all excited, I haven’t got myself a publishing deal or anything like that. All that has really changed is my attitude and self-perception.

I’ve always wanted to write – in fact I have actually written loads of stuff. I’ve just never really seen myself as a writer. It was always something I was going to do one day – when I was clever enough -when I had time – when I could think of what to write – when I knew how to do it – when I found out how I could publish – when I could afford it. And so on and so on! I’ve even got as far as resolving to self-publish – two years ago I even looked up all the information about self-publishing and was about to start, when….I got another job! So it was all put on hold again. Then I thought I had the time when I started part-time work and then….I enrolled on an MA! (Which was brilliant, by the way) – and then I finished the MA and was about to get going again and……then I volunteered to run a Toddler group (well, suddenly I had more time and it would have folded if I hadn’t done…!!). Then I (foolishly!!) became a church warden….and then…and then…

See how it goes? How circumstances eat your time and your hopes and dreams? Well, no more! I started a Blog, did I not? I have written posts that people have read, have I not? I have written. I have created by using words. I write – therefore I am! So – no more volunteering! No more excuses! This is my ‘job’ now! I am a writer! As a baker produces cakes (even if no one eats them) I, as a writer will produce words. I am taking this seriously – I have set off on my journey.

Today I have written over 1,000 words. My first endeavour is to collect all the Christian drama (sketches, monologues etc.) that I have written together and build a piece of work (a resource book) by writing a front for each one – the back story if you like – for each one.

Alongside this, and because I get bored easily and therefore need a few projects on the go at any one time, otherwise I’ll end up volunteering to run a soup kitchen or something – I’m also going to resurrect a novel I began over 12 years ago. The working title was “Georgia on my mind” – it’s about a woman who is devastated when her sister is brutally murdered – it’s not about finding the killer or anything like that – it’s about how her life changes because of the death and how she learns to live again without her beloved Georgia and the journeys she has to make back into her childhood and early adulthood to help her come to terms with this loss. (It may well turn out to be nothing like this when it is finished of course!!)

Watch this space! From time to time I may even share a few snippets of my writing for your feedback.  I will post as often as I can, if only to prove to myself I am still a Writer! I will keep you informed of my progress anyway…..wish me luck!!

Crossing to Safety

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At last the snow has cleared! It’s been hanging around since Wednesday and lovely as it looks when it’s all fresh and white, the disruption it causes is annoying. I always try to really love it and get out and walk in it with my companion, Billy – who, being a dog – finds it enormous fun to toss it about and roll around in it! But, try as I might, it’s so blooming cold and it makes you wet, and it turns to slush and makes you slide and then it ices over and threatens to help you break you neck! No, if I am honest, I have to say I wouldn’t really miss it if it never snowed here again.

Today, though, we could stride out again on our walk – that is until we reached Honley Wood, where the thick covering of snow has left a legacy of sloppy mud – and there is still heaps of it all over the site of the old quarry – with sheets of ice too that can sneak up on you unawares. It’s always good to be out when the sky is so clear though. The dismay I felt when I saw it raining first thing soon lifted as the sky brightened. Isn’t it wonderful how your spirits lift as you walk and breathe clean air? After being more or less cooped up for a couple of days, I was suffering from a bit of cabin fever so it felt even more liberating to be out today. Even countering the mud and the last of the ice wasn’t so bad – a challenge well worth facing. At one point I was in a field so boggy, with whole areas of ice covering what could well have been pretty deep swampy bits, that I really had to switch my brain on to work out the best way of jumping from one tuft of marsh grass to the next. Of course, I ended up with a bit of water down the boots, but my feet managed to stay reasonably dry. Billy certainly didn’t stay dry!! He made up for the 2 days lost opportunities of mud-splashing!

The book I’m thinking of today resonates with this business of getting from one tricky bit to another – trying to make out way across boggy ground – or rocky places – or icy patches. “Crossing to Safety” is by Wallace Stegner; I read it early in 2014 and loved it. It tells the story of two couples (Larry and Sally; and Sid and Charity) who make their way across the challenges thrown at them by life – with its love and loyalties; its trials and tragedies – and how they somehow make sense of all of that through a lifelong and complex friendship. Larry is telling the story – backwards, from his stance as an aging man looking back over the times the friends have been together, sitting on a porch while his wife sleeps. What a different place they have come to now – yet they gather at the same house where the friendship was birthed: “There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters”

Each of the friends go through some tough times. We are with them as they face illness and disability; redundancies, disappointments and death. I love how they all grapple and struggle with understanding their relationships with each other – how they keep holding on to each other – even when forced apart. You’re never really sure if they truly understand each other though – if they ‘get’ one another. What seems important is that they stay on the journey together. Relationships are not easy- they have to be worked at – and just when you think you’ve ‘got’ someone, they sometimes slip through your fingers and you feel like you’re back at the beginning again. Ain’t that the truth! I guess that’s what makes it all so interesting – this people thing.

There’s this wonderful bit in the story when the couples leave their children with Charity’s mother and nanny while they go off into the wilds of Vermont. The plan ( and as always it is Charity’s plan – she plans everything, including everyone’s lives) is to take a horse, backpacks and really rough it – using ‘Pritchard’s’ notes (Pritchard being a real intrepid explorer and camper). And she intends to follow it to the letter…..

“On this trip [canes] have been declared compulsory. Pritchard, whose book on the outdoors Charity has been reading in preparation for the trip, recommends walking sticks, blackthorns, alpenstocks, or some other support for rough terrain and as a protection against hostile dogs.”

The husbands make fun of Pritchard – but not when fearsome Charity is around of course. One of the things he definitely recommends is double-checking your list to ensure everything is packed. So, just as they are about to set out she has them unpack to try and locate the tea. She berates Larry for not packing it and this threatens the harmony of the whole endeavour until the lovely Sally goes to fetch tea from the house and they can finally set off. Sid is angry with the way Charity speaks to Larry, “she acts like his mother, not his wife” he says to Sally and is often irked that Larry doesn’t fight back. On this occasion, it would seem that Larry too is rattled. In an usual fit of anger, he throws his stick away to Larry’s astonishment, who ends up keeping is – “but then, nobody is making me carry it”. Later they are waiting for the wives to catch up:

“He is still sore from that scene at the loading, his nose is still bloody. But notice. When [Charity and Sally] are within a few hundred yards he stands up and goes along the wall picking late raspberries and ripe chokecherries, and when they chug up, pink with exercise, exaggeratedly puffing, he goes to them, Charity first, and holds out a handful of berries as if expiating something.

“‘ Why thank you! she says, extravagantly pleased. ‘oh, don’t they taste good, and natural? I love their pucker’

In a few minutes we start again, Charity now in front with Sid, Sally and I leading Wizard behind. But as we begin to move, Charity notices a lack. ‘Where’s your cane? Have you left it somewhere? Already? Oh, Sid!'”

So much for subversive behaviour! You have to admire that moment of revolt though – and even more so that gracious offering of tender fruit.

Some of the most unlikely people come together well in relationship when many of us would be thinking “that’ll never work”. And don’t you find yourself wondering “how does he/she put up with that?” Mostly, we just don’t know what’s going on – what hidden depths there are to be uncovered by someone who really cares. I bet there are more than a few who think I’m the boss in our marriage – they have no idea how much I depend on that most marvellous man and I doubt they could guess at just how much I adore him and he me. It matters really only to us. You see, in the end, he’s the one I head for – my own place of safety – and I’ve crossed a fair few bogs to get here.

To Have and to Hold

untitledI have doll’s houses on my mind today. I’ve been looking at them in town, wondering whether to buy one for little Jessica – or would it be better to buy Duplo, or Lego and let her build her own? We just want to do the best for our children or grandchildren, don’t we? We want them to have toys with the most ‘play-value’.

There’s a short story about a Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield, that I love. Written in 1922 and set in rural New Zealand, it’s a tale about the cruelty of class distinctions. I’ve read it several times in groups and it never fails to enchant and always gets people talking. There’s something about the heartlessness of the adults and the way the children are sucked in to that that speaks to our sense of injustice.  But it also makes us think hard about our own attitudes to the differences between social classes. Like many stories, we look for ourselves in the telling and wince as we see shades of our beings right there between the lines.

Today, I’m not thinking about that theme though – it’s the joy of having a doll’s house that captured me in this story when I very first read it and does so each time. The picture painted in words is just delicious:

The hook at the side was stuck fast. Pat prised it open with his penknife, and the whole house-front swung back, and – there you were, gazing at one and the same moment into the drawing-room and dining-room, the kitchen and two bedrooms. That is the way for a house to open! Why don’t all houses open like that? How much more exciting than peering through the slit of a door into a mean little hall with a hat-stand and two umbrellas! That is – isn’t it? – what you long to know about a house when you put your hand on the knocker. Perhaps it is the way God opens houses at dead of night when He is taking a quiet turn with an angel…..

Don’t you just want to hug yourself with delight at this? I could almost hear myself squeal. We had one – at our home in Mill Lane – my sisters and I sharing ownership. It opened just like this one and, joy of all joys, it was wall-papered with brick patterned paper on the outside! We loved it. They always had hooks, didn’t they? You could just unfasten that hook, let that front swing back and, just as it says “there you were, gazing…”. All of us seem to love that very idea of being able to see all, at the same time. Of having control of every room – of being able to position the chairs – just so – with the little peg dolls, lolling back with their sticky-out legs at awkward angles, sitting on them.  Trying to tuck those limbs under tables, or popping them onto beds which were ridiculously out of proportion but none of it mattered, because they were our people in our house and we were putting them where we thought they should be. I could tell stories with those people – they had great and happy lives in that house with me in control.

It’s that swinging back image that continues to thrill me most of all. The very idea of being able to see so much. It does sort of give us an insight into how it might be for God and I love that Mansfield puts that image in there of Him tiptoeing around the quiet streets after dark, accompanied by and angel, checking up on us all……

“I’ll just slip this hook off, Gabe, and have a peep in here. She was a bit upset earlier today, so I’ll just pop my head in and see….oh that’s ok, she’s sleeping soundly. All is well again here. Hang on; what’s that going on downstairs? Oh I see her youngest is up raiding the fridge again! Does that boy never stop eating?”

I see God shaking His head at such wayward greed, but never intervening – we make our own choices after all – and then quietly closing the front of the house up again before He and Gabriel continue on their way. Of course it’s a ridiculous image but it’s also a comforting one to know that I am watched and looked over. Although, I guess the actual thought of having the front of my house opened up to the elements in the dead of night is not particularly comforting – given we’re in West Yorkshire and it’s always so blooming cold here!

There were always lots of lovely, little things in doll’s houses – miniature clocks or coat-stands, for instance – that warranted being inspected in close delight. I have in mind just now a tiny box of oranges that Nicola, my daughter (11 years old at the time) once bought from a little specialist doll’s house shop in Marple Bridge. She didn’t even have a doll’s house – she was simply entranced by the loveliness of this piece. In the story, Kezia, one of the little girls who becomes a joint owner of the doll’s house is entranced by one object especially….

But what Kezia like more than anything, what she liked frightfully, was the lamp. It stood in the middle of the dining-room table, an exquisite little amber lamp with a white globe. It was even filled all ready for lighting, though, of course, you couldn’t light it. But there was something inside that looked like oil, and that moved when you shook it.

Goodness! You really want to see that lamp, don’t you? So did another little girl in the story. A girl from the wrong side of town. She hears about the lamp and something inside her is touched – but she dare not even dream of being able to see it. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it, by saying how it happens that she does see it, but there is this beautiful moment when she snuggles up to her sister …

But now she had forgotten the cross lady. She put out a finger and stroked her sister’s quill; she smiled her rare smile.

‘I seen the little lamp,’ she said, softly.

Then both were silent once more.

It’s within us all, it seems, this desire to peer at something exquisite and sweet – a likeness of something real – yet something small enough that we might take in our hand, hold and turn about and simply find joy in. What part of us is this speaking to? I wonder could it be that connection we have with our own Creator? He that fashioned us in His own likeness – and cares about every little bit of us (even, we are told, the very hairs on our heads) I often think of the delight He must have in looking at what He has made and seeing what we get up to. Of course, I think He wouldn’t always be happy with what He sees – we get up to awful mischief and make a mess of things repeatedly. However, like most parents of wayward children, He must surely find lots to smile about as well as plenty that amuses Him!

It’s made me think – all children should have access to doll’s houses and the most exquisite little pieces to cherish and coo over. Something beautiful to have and to hold……and make us smile.