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Thursday, 31 December 2009

The year of opportunity

2009 was for me a year of challenges and a year of change, but most of all, a year of opportunity. I for one am grateful for every moment. If I hadn't experienced the pain and joy, in equal measure, then I would not be here today smiling and holding my head up high. 2009 was the year that I finally discovered my path and realised that it doesn't matter what you do, all that matters is to celebrate who you are and to be happy. That in the end is all that counts.

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Tribute to a Lady


Last Christmas in the midst of crisis and pain, Coran and I did not have the heart to even put up our tree - we had other things on our minds. This year fortunately was the opposite, and to me at least, brought nothing but joy. I cannot of course speak for Coran, as he needs to speak for himself.

The days leading up to Christmas were sadly marred by the deaths of two residents at work - one an 84 year old man with dementia on Thursday 17th and the other a dearly loved lady, aged 99. She was our longest standing resident, having been in the home, so I was told, for 13 years. I feel privileged to have shared the last seven months of her long and no doubt eventful life with her. I cannot begin to imagine the changes she lived through and witnessed; two world wars, countless smaller ones, a marriage and widowhood, the births of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, the beginnings of communism, the death of communism, several monarchs and US presidents, the sixties, the list is potentially endless. It was sad that she didn't make it for another Christmas (it would have been terrible though had she died on Christmas Day), and even sadder that she did not live to see 100 - she was six months short.

Her slide seemed to be quite rapid in that two weeks ago she was sitting in her wheelchair, happy as Larry, watching us all at work. When I met Lulu I began to understand the meaning of the term "second childhood". Her happiness and her zest for life were infectious, even though she was old and not always well, she was a joy to watch and to spend time with. Watching her eat her lunch was like watching a baby; a big grin would spread across her face as she picked up the food with anything that she had to hand - her cutlery, her napkin and more often than not, her own fingers. More food would end up on her than it did in her mouth, but she enjoyed herself immensely, and we enjoyed watching her. Somehow nobody minded the mess.

I have so many happy memories of this very special lady - I remember how she used to sit in her chair for hours babbling away in a babyish little voice while cuddling her dollies, how she used to talk in more lucid moments about her life with her husband and her own mother, and how much she loved them both. I remember the card from her daughter addressed to "My darling mother"; that was how we all thought of her, as our own darling Lulu (her real name was Louisa, but we called her Lulu or Louie for short). Most of all I remember how when I used to be hoovering in the lounge, her eyes would follow me around the room, and she would look at me and open up her arms, and point to her heart to ask for a kiss and a cuddle and to let us know in her own sweet way that she loved us as much as we all loved her. This wonderful lady has left a huge hole that will be very, very difficult to fill, and although Christmas at the home was good, it somehow wasn't quite the same without her.

I think I knew that she going to die when I went into her room three nights before and found her lying on her side, with her eyes open staring at something invisible. I reached out to touch her arm and offer her some comfort and she turned to look at me and said in her croaky little voice, "I'm tired". I knew that it wasn't physical tiredness she was feeling, but a tiredness for living, that her time was coming to an end. The night that she died I went to see her again, and sat there for a few moments stroking her arm and her hair, talking to her, sometimes out loud and sometimes in my head, and saying to her that if she wished to go, then she should go, and she should not wait around on our behalf. I did the same for my own mother when she passed ten years ago.

In the early hours of Christmas Eve I was in the space between sleep and wakefulness when I had the strangest experience. It was as if I had left my own body and was hovering around her room, watching her sleep. I saw one of the night staff enter her room and press the alarm button, and as I continued to watch, I saw Lulu herself rise out of her body, which lay lifeless on the bed, surrounded in a ball of light, as the silver cord that anchored her soul into the physical form began to separate. Her face appeared in this ball of light, which as I watched began to smile and gradually grew younger and younger until she was back restored to her full health and vigour, surrounded by those that she loved. It was a very touching and privileged experience, so when I went to work later that day and found that her room door was shut, I was not surprised to find that she had passed during the night.

The mood that night was understandably subdued, with most of the staff deeply affected, and many tears were shed, not least of all by myself. There must have been some powerful connection though between the two of us for her to feel that she could show me that and allow me to share the moment of her passing. I would love to have known more about her life, but I don't suppose now that I ever will.

Christmas Day itself was reasonably uneventful, but very busy. It was the first time that I have ever had to work on the day itself and I must admit that a part of me was slightly resentful, especially when one reads of so many who get two weeks off. Christmas is though a time for families, and in many ways, the old folk who I have come to care for so deeply, are now as much a part of my family as my own flesh and blood, whom I see little of.

There was a steady stream of visitors throughout the morning, and I don't think the doorbell stopped ringing. Some stayed for a short while, bringing gifts and Christmas wishes for their loved ones, some stayed for the whole day, including a three course Christmas lunch, which I was told was delicious. It was lovely to walk into one lady's room and find three generations all together, her daughter and son in law, with her granddaughter and her new husband. It was also nice to share a cuddle with one of their son's, such a lovely man, and to finally meet another lady's son, who she has told me so much about. He travels a lot with his work and can't get to see her that often, and I know she misses him.

Despite the extra work, somehow it did all get done, and I managed to finish just after 2pm, as usual and get home for my own celebrations. It was nice to spend time with Coran watching telly and cooking a simple dinner together. There was another cause for celebration too, as I found that two of the soft pigs that I collect had had babies during the night (bought from the National Trust centre a few days ago). Our main meal will be at lunch time today - I will be cooking a root vegetable roast with fruity Cumberland sauce, which we will have with roast potatoes, roasted red onions, carrots, peas, and cauliflower cheese, with Christmas pudding and custard for afters.

Later on, we hope to go and see Avatar, and we are both fans of James Cameron's work, and then it will be back to work as usual tomorrow, before it all starts again.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The shortest day of the year


Today is the winter solstice, tradtionally regarded as the shortest day of the year, after which the light gradually starts to return. Many people, myself included will breath a deep sigh of relief with this knowledge.

The light may be returning in nature, but this time last year, it felt as if the light in my life had well and truly gone out, for I had been literally frogmarched from the store in which I worked having been suspended pending investigations of certain aspects of my behaviour to which the company had taken a dislike. Actually the feeling was mutual, but they did not realise just how much until several weeks later when I finally had the chance to let them know.

That though is water under the bridge, and I try not to dwell on the past. Still, it has been on my mind of late, as have other things from my past. This time of year is littered with anniversaries - the ending of that job, and the death of my mother to name just two. Today though is the 88th birthday of one of the female residents at work, whom I am particularly close to, and who reminds me in many ways of Mum. It is ironic that we have also just passed my mothers birthday - had she still been alive she would have been 89 on Saturday - which makes her one year and two days older than my friend at work. I will not be there to wish her happy birthday until later on this afternoon, but they will fill her room with balloons and have a special birthday cake with their afternoon tea, and I hope too that if they can, at least one of her four sons will visit.

At this time of year, the number of deaths seems to increase, it is almost as if, like the animals, the old folk wish to hibernate, only with them it is of course permanent. The latest one to leave his body was on Thursday, which I was saddened as always to hear about, especially as I found out purely by chance, when the chef remarked that she was surprised to see his widow there at the residents Christmas party which was held on Saturday. I was shocked and upset that no one had seen fit to tell me properly, and it left me wondering just how much part of the team I really am. It is true that a sign was put up on the wall next to his room, but it was postcard sized and I do not believe it is reasonable to rely on staff who were not there at the time to see this - the nurse in charge should make sure that everyone is informed.

It was in many ways a relief for this poor man, who suffered from a form of dementia that affected his swallowing reflex, and it is true that I did not know him well, for he could hardly speak, but I know that his last few years were made as comfortable as possible, and he was surrounded by love from his wife, who came to visit every day. I shall miss her perhaps more than I will miss him, for we used to have some nice chats about different things, but life moves on, and it is part of the grand cycle. His room shall be cleared out, spring cleaned and re-let no doubt in the New Year - there is a considerable waiting list for a three star home such as ours.

For the moment though, snow is cascading past the window, and once Coran has dried his hair, we are off to the gym via the National Trust Centre and the Post Office to look for pigs and to finally get some stamps.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

As 2009 comes to an end


As we approach the end of the year, and indeed the decade (a whole other post), it seems fitting to look back on the year and see what challenges and surprises it has brought.

The year for me started off on a low note, when I had to face a disciplinary meeting at work - I was charged with writing about the company on my blog and disclosing 'company secrets'. They were expecting me to bow down and admit defeat without fighting back, and got the shock of their lives when I turned up with a army of friends in support. I really knocked them for six when I read my opening statement and defence that stated it was as much their fault as my own, since it was their lack of communication that had led me to find other ways to let off steam. They must have taken it to heart, since to my utter surprise, rather than sacking me I was given a final written warning.

That of course knocked me for six, as it meant that I had to face the prospect of going back to a job that had made me ill. Understand that I had not been fighting to save that job, but for a principal - to let them know that their behaviour was unacceptable and that there were repercussions. I did go back, but didn't manage more than half a day before I broke down in floods of tears and had to phone Coran to come and collect me. The Manager of the branch I had been sent to (I couldn't go back to my original one) was fantastic and did all that he could to listen and support with judgment (I suspect that he had seen it all before many times). In the end though I realised that I had to resign, which I did that same afternoon. I instantly felt a huge sense of relief.

Of course then the fears started to creep in - have I done the right thing, should I have stayed and sorted this out, what will I do if I can't get another job, will the fact that I have this warning put potential employers off? I knew though that I had to walk away, as I no longer (if I ever did) belong in that industry, it represented everything that I despise about our modern consumer society and the me, me, me attitude that seems to prevail amongst so many of the under 35's.

Then came the clearing - terrible shakes and sweats as I began to work through the different layers of emotion - thankfully those symptoms only lasted a day, but the thoughts and the doubts remained right up until I began my current job, at the beginning of May.

Before that I decided to apply for a job on Lundy, the island in the Bristol Channel that I have been visiting for the past 14 years. That brought its own set of challenges, not least of all telling the entire village so that they could advertise for a new Editor. Even now almost a year later, despite the fact that I published an open letter in the newsletter informing people that I would not be going, some of them still ask when I will be moving. I politely inform them to refer to the letter which was printed in the April edition !

Finally in May I started my new job - as a housekeeper in a nursing home. Good things can come from bad, since if I hadn't been to Lundy and experienced doing this type of work there, I would never have considered applying for such a job. When funds were really tight I cleaned some of my neighbours houses, so I suppose I may have considered it. Anyway, seven months on, and having also taken on the role of evening kitchen assistant in the same home, I love the job and am enjoying getting to know the residents and their families. I could do with the extra money that would come from a more full time job, but haven't got the heart to leave. I am putting out to the universe though that I would like more hours in the home on a more permanent basis. For the moment I just about manage, with overtime and occasional exam invigilating work, plus a bit of Internet based market research and the odd royalty check from my publisher. Even so, I have had to face the fact that my days of being able to afford three visits a year to Lundy are well and truly over.

This is difficult since the craving remains, despite the veneer regarding island life being shattered (for that you will have to read my earlier posts from March onwards). I hope to visit Iceland next year but at the moment cannot see how or where the money will come from - I try to have faith that the universe (or more likely, the tax man) will provide.

Other challenges of a more personal nature have included dealing with my sisters illness and my relationship with her, and not allowing the past to affect the present. I have to constantly remind myself when I overhear the girls at work discussing their work related problems that that is their experience and it doesn't have to be mine. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but I have learnt from mine this year and done a lot of growing. I have a new found confidence that wasn't there at the beginning of the year and am no longer afraid to communicate with bosses or to be myself - people have to accept me for who I am, and most of them I am glad to say, have. As for the others, well that is for them to work through.

The year for me then has been about dealing with issues from my past and moving very firmly into the future - to be more precise, it has been about learning to live in the present, for this is the only moment we have. As my bumper sticker says, "today is a gift, that's why they call it the present".

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mirrors are two way


I have been in my current job for just over seven months now, and most of the time I love it. There isn't anyone there that I don't get on with, but there have been one or two problems with one of the other housekeepers. For some reason she seems to continually look for holes in my work and pull me up on certain things. They are mostly what I would consider to be quite silly things - like for example the other week when she came and found me to ask me to empty the bin in the laundry as she claimed that it was full. I knew that I had emptied it once already that day, but she seemed to think that it was full and needed emptying again. I don't know why she couldn't do it herself, but that is par for the course. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I went and had a look and found that it was not actually full at all, rather, someone had placed some cardboard in there that made it look full.

Officially I am employed as a housekeeper at the home, but really and truly I consider that I am there to help the residents in any way that I can, including talking to them. There is one lady in particular that I have become quite close too, she often tells me little things about how her family and her past and we chatter together like old friends. Several times in the morning I have gone into her room to collect her breakfast tray and found her in distress - she suffers from depression and is not a morning person. So I stayed with her for a while to try and cheer her up. My colleague came and found me and really was quite upset that I was spending as she put it "too much time talking". My job she said was to work in the kitchen and not talk to the residents - that was for the nurses !

Well, that knocked me for six. I mean, it is not as if I don't do my job - I am always finished on time, usually early in fact, as is she. In fact the other day I saw her sneaking off 20 minutes early, and I don't think she started early that day ! I also found the iron placed on the floor with its flex trailing all over the place dangerously when she hadn't put it away properly, so I don't think she should be lecturing me.

Her words though had been playing on my mind, particularly this weekend when she told me off again. I am aware that conflicts like this occur it is usually reflecting to you the fact that you may behave in this way, so I have been racking my brain to think how this could be true. Then it occurred to me that a mirror is two way - could it then be that I am acting as a mirror for her and in some way pressing her buttons in the way that I work and get on with everyone, staff and residents alike so well that it shows her where she herself is lacking? This is not meant to sound as if I am blowing my own trumpet, but the fact is that I do work hard - everyone there says so, and the residents all sing my praises too. You only have to read the notes from the monthly residents meetings to know this.

So, now that I have realised this, I have resolved not to let her worry me. I intend to carry on doing exactly what I do best - to do the job to the best of my ability. I do not want to make this woman uncomfortable though, so I will also endeavour to befriend her and get her on my side that way. The Christmas party next weekend should certainly help.

Monday, 30 November 2009

The final analysis (not for this blog)


I find that I begin to think of my Mum at this time of year - I don't often at other times, although I never stop missing her. Today though is different, as it is ten years since since she died. The build up this time has been much more intense, possibly because of everything that has happened this year, but also I am sure, because I now work with the elderly and understand so much better how she must have felt and the things that went through her mind.

It is hard to believe that ten years ago, Coran and I were at the hospital with my sister Linda, and her then boyfriend, waiting for my brother to arrive. A lot has happened in those short - but seemingly very long, years. A few months after that, my sister's boyfriend's Dad also died, and Paul a recovering alcoholic feeling unable to cope, jumped off the roof of a nearby shopping centre. When he woke up he found himself in intensive care with a broken pelvis and other multiple injuries, including severe head trauma - it was more than three years until he was finally able to live on his own, and he still needs help. My sister still sees him from time to time, but their relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend, which was always rocky, did not survive.

In the meantime, within a few years my brother also split from his wife. He met someone else quickly, rather too quickly for his wife's taste, whom I think regretted the fact that she hadn't tried to patch things up (my brother from what I understand, begged her to go for counselling). She eventaully remarried, but it didn't last. In the meantime, my brother has been with his partner for about eight years now, and they are engaged to be married. His eldest son is also engaged and in May, will become a Dad, making me a Great Aunt and my brother a grandfather. How things move on.

I am sure that if she could see all this, Mum would be incredibly proud. She would proud too of the things that I have accomplished - writing and publishing my book, helping Coran with his issues, travelling around the world on my own, and of course, being brave enough to face my demons. I am not sure if this something she ever managed to do herself, since she never really talked about these things, and I know she had a lot of them, but I would like to think that wherever she is now, maybe looking down on us, she is happy and free of pain. In the final analysis, that is really all that matters.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The anniversary waltz

It is hard to believe that it is almost a year since it all kicked off with my ex employer - how things have changed. When I look back to where I was and how I was feeling back then, how relieved I am that I no longer have to put that mask on each morning and pretend to be something that I am not. The strain that I was put under was incredible, and I am not surprised that I reacted in the way that I did, for when people feel forced into a corner, drastic action is needed in order to extricate themselves from that corner. It was the best that I ever did to leave that place.

The other anniversary that is coming up quite soon is the anniversary of my Mum's death, which will be ten years at the end of this month (30th). I always start to think about her at this time of year for this reason. It seems extra poignant this year, for a reason that I cannot quite put my finger on - I suppose that working with the elderly as I now do, has made me more aware of what things are like for them, and many of the things that my Mum must have been feeling. I hope that she is happy wherever she is.

I have never been lucky enough to have 2 weeks off at Christmas which many spoilt and pampered office workers seem to take for granted. In fact in most of the jobs I have had, I have been lucky to get more than 2 days. Shops have to open on Boxing Day after all, so that the aforementioned office workers have something to spend their money on. This year for the first time I have to work on the day itself, and actually I am surprised to find that I don't mind - I am actually looking forward to it in fact. It should be good fun, and a great atmosphere, with all the residents dressed up and the staff in silly hats having a laugh together, with a steady stream of visitors all day. Normally I work on Saturdays and Sundays, but as Boxing Day is on a Saturday and I am working the day before, they have agreed to let me have the day off. It seems only fair after all, that staff are not expected to work all over the holiday, everyone is entitled to some time off.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Making a difference

I don't think I have ever had a job that fulfils me in the way that this one does. The faces of many of the residents in the care home that I work in light up when I walk through the door, and we laugh and joke together like old friends. In many ways they are becoming my substitute family, for the grandparents that I never knew. All bar one of my real grandparents were dead before I was even born, and the one that remained (my Dad's Mum) was a bit dotty to say the least. I remember how she used to pinch my Dad's favourite chair and sit and watch the wrestling, which she called boxing, and how she used to enjoy playing my fuzzy felt ! Those were the days.

It is ten years at the end of this month since my own Mum died - I can't believe where the time has gone. It feels like yesterday. It makes it all the more difficult when one of the residents at work dies, or when something happens to one of them, and there have been a few incidents this past weekend. One lady, who has only been in the home for 2 months, passed away on Friday morning, another man fell out of bed and bumped his head (he refused to let them use the guard rail), and one lady who I am quite close to, had an accident and pooed all over her carpet - guess who had the job of shampooing (no pun) it up. Lovely ! There are some aspects of this job that I really do not enjoy at all.

I still think though, all things considered that I am in the right place, doing exactly the right thing, and from the smiles on their faces when I walk through the door, the residents evidently feel the same.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The right place at the right time

I go back to work this afternoon after six days off, days which were very badly needed. Half the time was spent at home, with three days in Glastonbury from Tuesday to Friday last week. We enjoyed our time there, despite persistent rain, and in between the showers managed the usual round of shopping, sitting in the Chalice Well gardens (we have been members for years, and stayed at the Retreat House) and the climb up the Tor. To be out and about in the fresh air did me the power of good, and blew away all those persistent thoughts. Now though it is back to normality and the thoughts are coming back (it doesn't take long).

I have had a lot to think about of late with regard to my work. I have been in the job for almost six months and enjoy it more each time that I go. When I am not there I find that I miss the old people and the banter with different members of staff - the hustle and bustle of working in a busy kitchen. The only thing that I don't like is when one of the residents dies.

There have been three deaths since I started there in May, the most recent of which was two weeks ago yesterday. The lady concerned had been ill for some time, so it was not unexpected, but she was deeply loved by all the staff, and it affected most of us quite badly. Don't believe all those stories about nurses not being affected by death.

A few days after that, I was clearing the tables after lunch and talking to the residents like I do, when one of the carers said that I was wasted in my job, and should be a carer myself. I was slightly taken aback and not sure how to react. If I am honest though, the thought had occurred to me that it might be something I was interested in. The thought of all that responsibility though scares me, and there are also practical matters to be considered - am I fit and strong enough for all that lifting, I struggle to move wheelchairs as it is, so how would I manage to get them in and out of the bath? How would I also cope with the smells and the more unpleasant aspects of the job - and do I have the patience? If I was affected so badly by the last lady's death as a simple housekeeper, how would it be if I was her carer and more closely involved? Do I really want all of that?

On the other hand, this could be a new career for me (albeit with continuous training and heavy regulation). There is no denying that the extra money and hours would be useful and do much to improve my life - my boss tells me I am not the same person who started there six months ago. I mentioned the idea to her and she said that if I do decide that this is what I want, she will support me to achieve this, which I am naturally pleased about, but when I think about the practicalities I am not convinced that it is for me. I haven't really been there long enough to know. Once I have been there for a year then I may re-assess, but for the moment I believe that I am in exactly the right place. This way I can remain detached, while still making a difference - and I know from what my colleague said that I do.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Missing Lundy

I am really missing the island of Lundy at the moment, which until recently, I escaped to two to three times a year. I am not sure if it is the island itself that I miss, or the idea of it, and am no longer certain as to whether I even know the difference.

This is the time of year when I normally start to think about going again to set me up for the winter months, so it is natural in some ways for me to feel this way. The island after all, has been a part of my life for a long time. My whole lifestyle has been built around it - and I even have a separate Lundy wardrobe.

I find I am craving the idea of fresh air, silence and solitude - something that despite living here surrounded by beautiful countryside, I miss. There is something about the island and its way of life that magnifies its beauty - everything is there in equal balance - the elements of earth, air, fire and water, reflected in the island's and my own, bountiful spirit.

I know though that no matter how intense the craving gets, it is not one I can afford to indulge if I wish to go to Iceland next year. At the moment I am hard pushed to afford even the three nights in Glastonbury we have booked later on this month - we both though need the break.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The weirdest dream - but what does it mean

Last night I had the weirdest and most disturbing dream about my sister - I dreamt that she died and I attended her funeral. I can't remember who was with me, but I guess it is not important anyway, the important bit is how I felt about the whole experience, while I was in that experience.

A dream like this can have several meanings, and I can only guess based on the relationship I have with my sister as to what it may mean. Most websites I have looked at state that a dream about death does not necessarily mean physical death - I think I had already worked that bit out. It means the death or the ending of a certain phase in your life, or perhaps that the way in which you have been relating to the person concerned has or needs to change. All of this could be true in my sister's case, for I have been having much more compassionate thoughts about her of late, despite the letters that she has been sending (there have been none for about a week now). However, it can also symbolise a part of yourself that you have buried and wish to deny - we all have plenty of these. I also been aware of late in many ways just how similar my sister and I are - I do not of course have schizophrenia, but there are plenty of shared, perhaps inherited, family traits and mannerisms.

This one particular website states that the dreamer may feel resentment towards the person being buried, who symbolises this repressed part of their self. The dreamer may alternatively be worrying about their health or feel that they wish to bury the past (actually I thought I already had). If any of this applies, then the dreamer needs to examine the emotions and bring them to the surface to look at. I have been re-examining and evaluating my relationship with a lot of things these past few months, since leaving my old job. Jobs have a way of making you do that. Of course in my new job, in a nursing home, I am surrounded by death - it is almost an occupational hazard that sooner or later the residents will die - two of them have already in the five months since I began work there, and another one isn't doing too well. I think though she will hang on for a while, and the dream clearly was not about her.

Personally I feel that this dream is about the separation of the different dimensions, which Karen Bishop has written about for the past year or so. Around the time of the autumn equinox, those of us who were sufficiently spiritually evolved made a choice as to whether to move into the next fourth dimension or to stay in the old third dimensional world. Coran has been ready for this for a long time, while I hesitated because of guilt at leaving my sister behind (there is no way that she would be ready for such a leap as this). There is something about this dream that makes me feel that it marked the turning point for me, at which I made the choice to leap into the abyss and finally make my choice. The funeral then to me, since the overwhelming emotion was grief, represented that final etheric separation that took place between my sister and I.

This was the kind of dream that I will not easily forget, but will I suspect stay with me for a few days, while I acclimatise to this new space. I should have known that something was coming, since I have been feeling ungrounded and emotional for days. I put it down to hormones, but now I think it may have been something else. This was why it was important for me to write about the experience as soon as I arose, and I am glad that I did, for in the months to come, I can look back on this and use it as a gauge to see how far our relationship has moved, not just with my sister, but also with myself.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Ethical Farmville


I have been playing Farmvile, which is a very addictive farming type game on Facebook for about a month now and am enjoying it very much. It occurs to me though that this is more than just a game, for it could be used as model for good practises in world farming - showing the real farmers how it can and perhaps should be done.

What if everyone were to plant crops and trees that were native only to their own country? This might be a problem for Europeans since most of the crops are designed to grow in an American climate, which is as varied as the country herself, but with a little thought I am sure it could be done. The same with trees - we could refuse or immediately sell, all non native trees that we are gifted and harvest just the native ones, such as apple and apricot. The animals, apart from the baby elephants which harvest ridiculous circus peanuts, are of course farmed in the real world almost everywhere (ivory is farmed in some parts of south-east Asia), so there is no problem there, and as for the orphaned animals, well these could be used as a lesson for children in bullying, which again has been in the news of late. Petting your animals on a regular basis will ensure that they feel loved and appreciated, resulting in a higher yield of better quality.

I admit that I do not follow most of the practises mentioned above, but my partner is endeavouring to, and his farm is thriving, even though he only has five neighbours (I now have twenty five). I may not buy exclusively European crops, but I do like to practise the art of crop rotation - that is, planting different crops each time I sew something, or at least planting them in different areas around the farm. At the moment I have a mixture of water melons, artichokes, squash and egg plants (aubergine to us). The squash and egg plants should be ready later this afternoon, while the water melons and artichokes will take another three days. Of course what I should also do is try and sew seasonal crops - which at the moment I suppose should be root vegetables. I have not got to the necessary level to buy a lot of these as yet, although squash could be considered to be seasonal since it does appear in the supermarkets in the autumn.

It is also good to let your land lie fallow for a while in between crops and not be too eager to make profit - it is after all only a game, and land like people, needs to rest now and then so that it can recover its fertility (shouldn't be a problem with all those animals I have!). My farmer needs to rest too, so I have provided her with a picnic bench and a rest tent so that she can sit back and enjoy eating (and drinking) the rewards of all her hard work. Another reason to sew a varied harvest of crops is of course so that she can enjoy a varied diet, thus maintaining her health and providing her with more energy with which to farm (what was that about it only being a game?!). I have decided that my own farm is organic which will help provide even more nutrients. My animals are also of course free range.

It seems then to me that Farmville is an opportunity to practise what you preach and put all these ethical things into practise. It could be if you like, a model for how we would like our food to be produced, and if the current situation with soil depletion and falling water levels continues in some regions of the world, may be forced to go back to.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Monday morning blues

I seem to have a sense of melancholy on Monday mornings, caused not by the return to work (for my longest days are at the weekends), but rather, by lack of it. I know that to a lot of people this does not make sense, for they would give their eye teeth to be in my position, but I can't help feeling bored and restless at times like this. I have the whole week ahead of me, and nothing to fill it with.

Actually this is not true -there are lots of things I can do. I can go to the gym, I can go food shopping, I can tidy the house (a bit too much like work perhaps - I work as a housekeeper), I can read, I can blog, I can write some more of my book, I can play Farmville, I can watch television, I can sit in the garden; there are lots of things I can do to fill the time, and later on, I can go to work ...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A week of contrasts


It has been a week of contrasts for me, with 3 letters from my sister, each following in quick succession and each getting progressively more demanding and aggressive than the last. Some time ago, my brother made the mistake of agreeing to look after some money on my sister's behalf. It wasn't a great deal, but now that her inheritance is gone and she has to live on benefits alone (she should try working for a living if she thinks that's tough), she says that she needs this money, to no doubt squander on cigarettes ...

I have done my best to contact my brother and get him to send her the money (she has lost his contact details and he has asked me not to let her have them), but to no avail, and she keeps hassling me. I wish she would get it through her thick head that any problems she has with my brother are nothing to do with me, and I cannot get involved, but she doesn't seem to get it.

In her last letter she said that while she realises I have to work, it would be nice if Coran and I put her first for a change. Does the time that Coran spent the night with her in casualty count for nothing? Or what about the time that I called an ambulance and dashed to her house after she attemped suicide (it turned out to be a false alarm)? Or the time that she fractured her neck in a car accident and I visited her every night, the time that her fiance attempted suicide, or the time that she set fire (by accident) to her flat. I could go on, for this is just the tip of the iceberg, but it all falls on deaf ears. I am beginning to regret allowing her back into my life if this is the thanks I get ...

On a happier note, I had an email over the weekend from Shirley Henderson, the Vicar of Hartland, Welcombe and Lundy, to ask whether she could use some words from this blog at a service at the island's church conducted yesterday to mark the 40th anniversary of Landmark taking over the island's administration. Naturally I said yes, and considered it a real honour to be asked. I wish I could have been there.

Despite my decision not to return to the island for a while, with the beautiful weather we have been having (temperatures of around 20 degrees with wall to wall sunshine), I have found myself thinking about the island a lot. I get these thoughts from time to time, so know it will pass, and don't dwell on it too much. This is the time of year when I would normally be booking for the winter months as the boats season comes to an end. I have a week off soon, and a few nights booked at the Chalice Well in Glastonbury to look forward to, but other than that have no more concrete plans.

I hope to go to Iceland next summer, and trust that the funds will be there. After a few weeks of basic hours, the overtime is starting to come back, as my colleagues take their holidays, and the exam season will soon be once again in full swing with mocks and re-takes to invigilate.

What with my sister and the Church service on the island yesterday, it has then been a week of contrasts. But you know that they say, they can't be light without darkness, and personally I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Down on the farm


Can it really be over a week since I posted on this blog? Where has the time gone? I can't even remember much of what I did last week. I can remember what I was doing a year ago though, I was signed off from work as sick due to stress, following a Stevie Wonder concert and a very traumatic night in hospital in Croydon after my partner had a suspected heart attack. Thankfully it turned out to be a panic attack, but it proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back as far as the job that I was in at that time was concerned. All water under the bridge, and I can look back on those times and smile to see how far I have changed and moved on since those times. Anthony who runs the Inner Journey group that we attend each Wednesday commented the other night about the changes that he has seen in me since the start of this year when it all kicked off, and he is right, I feel and behave like a different person, and for the first time in a very long time I actually like what I see.

So, where has the past week gone? I am ashamed to say that I have spent an extraordinary amount of time on Facebook playing what has been a very addictive game called Farmville. I made the fatal mistake of joining (both Facebook and Farmville) following an invite from a friend, whom I am now wondering is a true friend at all ... Joking aside, it was my choice to join and it will be my choice to stop playing if I so choose, but actually I find it quite good fun, and a very good time to waste a ridiculous amount of time. I used to criticise people who were addicted to games (such as X-Box and so on), but am beginning to see that there is really little difference between what I do and what they also do. Well, on the surface anyway.

Actually there is a world of difference - many of the games which are played on these consoles are filled with violence and other forms of anti social behaviour, but Farmville is a peaceful game where no one gets hurt - a harmless bit of fantasy. The aim is basically to make as much money as you can - not real money unfortunately. The key is to have as many neighbours as possible, as your neighbours send you free gifts which can either be traded in for cash, or can be added to your orchard or zoo and harvested every few days. You can also earn points by visiting your neighbours farms and helping to remove weeds, scare away crows etc, and can get bonuses every time one of your neighbours moves up a notch to the next level of the game. The money that you earn can be used to buy more crops, trees and animals for your farm, which in turn can be harvested when ready for cash, or to buy buildings and other farm equipment. I have earned nearly 47,000 coins in a week and am already on level 10!

Of course playing Farmville is the perfect excuse not to knuckle down to writing that children's book that has been in the back of my head for the last few years, and also the perfect excuse not to wash up ...

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Do staff have the right for extra pay on Sundays?

It cannot have escaped people's notice (unless you live on Nibiru, and even then not) that rail operator London Midland has been forced to continue paying their workers double time on Sundays in order to avoid the cancellation of Sunday services operating to Liverpool and the West Midlands.

Last Sunday the operator was forced to cancel the majority of these services when staff refused to work following the ending of a temporary agreement to pay double time on Sundays which ended on August 30th. The company has since announced that it has come to an agreement with staff to continue with these payments for an "extended period".

Not surprisingly this led to a flurry of protests and comments from both passengers and the media, most of whom seemed to be against the action taken by London Midland employees. Having weighed up all the facts, I am surprised to find that I agree with this view. After all, it is not as if it were a permanent agreement, the staff knew that this would soon be coming to an end, and they also know that their employers wealth is not limitless. Yes, they have got used to these extra payments, but they do not appear to be a contractual right, and they knew that they would only continue until the end of August, so I do not see what the fuss is about.

Contrary to popular opinion, workers do not have the right to extra pay for working unsocial hours. Whether they should is not a matter for me to debate, but for them to debate with their employers. I have to work Sundays in my job, as do millions of other workers in many different industries, and I do not get double time, but time and a quarter, which I am more than happy with. The one right that Sunday workers do have however is the right to opt out, and also the right not to be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs (if they refuse to work on Sundays for example because they are Christian).

In fact, the right to opt out of Sunday working only applies to retail and betting shop workers - other industries such as nursing, security and yes, transport are not covered, as those in these jobs have always had to accept that they will be a certain amount of Sunday work - it goes with the territory. If you are not prepared to do this, then don't apply for this type of work (unless you are a Christian). The other thing with regard to Sunday working if you are a a retail or betting shop employee, is that rather than opting out, you have to opt in. When I think about it, I never did do this with my previous employer, it was just taken for granted that I didn't object. I obviously didn't, as I turned up for work (without I add extra pay - although we were paid for a 8 hour day when we only worked for 6).

If you are a retail or betting shop worker, and object to working on Sundays, you must give your employer three months written notice of this (some employers only require one months notice, so check your handbook carefully). If you choose to opt in, it is up to you to agree with your employer exactly what work you are prepared to do on a Sunday, and its frequency. You have the right to opt out at a later date after you have opted in should you so choose, as long as you give the required notice, and cannot be discriminated against (passed over for promotion etc) because of this.

The regulations do not apply in Scotland or to those who are contracted to work on Sundays only.

I cannot help feeling that London Midland are making a big mistake with this in giving in to their staff and their demands, but at the same time, can see that they have been placed in a very awkward situation. The only alternative they appear to have is to sack their entire staff and replace them with other workers - but the strike would have to continue for a long time before they could justify this, and not just one day. Is wasn't a strike anyway, since Sunday working has always been voluntary, and you cannot sack someone for failing to volunteer. Even if they could sack them all, in a skilled job like this it is not that simple. They need trained staff to operate these trains and these do not come out of thin air. You cannot just walk in off the street and drive a train like you can operate a till.

What then is the solution - for the union and the employer to negotiate - it is the only solution that there is - I just hope that the union this time is sensible and does not make unreasonable demands that cannot be met.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Men, especially when they want to be women !


Coran and I seem to be getting very frustrated of late, not just with life, but also with each other, which is I suspect, a symptom of other frustrations anyway. Life is less than perfect for both of us, but as always, we do not see what we have, only what we have not.

There seems to be this sense of restlessness which is in part linked to the change in seasons, but runs much deeper than that. I am frustrated about many things, but the main problem is boredom - there is just not enough happening in my life right now to keep me occupied. What this is really about is lack of work. The lack of work also means lack of funds to do the things I want - and the hours I do (5 to 7pm four nights a week, plus 8am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays) also means that it is difficult to arrange days out, without an awful lot of pre-planning, which Coran and I have never been good at. Yes I pre-plan holidays, but days out are different, these are done on the spur of the moment, and to get home in order for me to go to work means leaving early, which needs pre-planning, nice as it is to be spontaneous.

Of course Coran being the one I love, and being close to hand, working from home, bears the brunt of these frustrations, which I know is unfair, but I am not sure what to do about. It is obvious that I need to find other interests in which to fill my time, and perhaps another source of income - but what and how? Most part time jobs are five days a week, which would leave me in the position of having no days off at all, and those that are less than this are not the type of jobs that would interest me - working in a supermarket for example or market research, knocking on people's doors (I have a fear of dogs). What then to do? It is true that I have the school job as an exam invigilator, but there are no exams scheduled (as far as I know) until November. As for overtime in my existing job, there has been some this month, but there is unlikely to be more until the end of October when my colleagues take their holidays.

Following a quarrel this morning, I have returned from a routine Doctors appointment to find that the furniture in Coran's room (and our carpet) has borne the brunt of his own frustrations. The man himself is meanwhile nowhere to be found. He can't have gone far, as his car is in the garage for it's annual service. It is a waste of time though trying to telephone, as his mobile phone is rarely used, so I guess I shall have to sit it out at home and wait for his return. If it doesn't come by a certain time, I suppose I shall be cooking lunch for one ... Men, especially when they want to be women !

Monday, 7 September 2009

The mysteries of the supermarket trolley


I worked as a cashier for a major supermarket for 2 years from 2003-2005, and since then have been fascinated by the food that other people buy and eat. I find it hard to understand why people moan about the size of their food bill when they insist on buying so much expensive junk - it seems to me that there are three (four in fact) things that make food bills expensive - meat, alcohol, ready meals and buying branded goods. Since we do not eat meat and very rarely drink, that takes care of the first two. Being wheat free takes care of the third one, since most ready meals are swimming in the stuff, and as for the branded goods - apart from Green and Blacks chocolate, the cheaper stuff is in my opinion just as good.

People tell me that the reason they buy ready meals is convenience and because they don't have time to cook. More often it is because they don't know how to cook. When you have unusual dietary needs as Coran and I do, you are forced to cook for yourself from scratch, as there are no or very little convenience foods that are suitable, apart from the odd curry, most of which I find too hot anyway. As for the frozen roast potatoes and the like which some people like to buy - that's just being lazy! These things cost a fortune, so being lazy and not bothering to learn how to cook is an expensive habit. It's not one that I could afford, for the sake of my health or my bank balance, but each to their own.

People are so used to relying on wheat and convenience foods that they cannot imagine what people in our position live on - the answer is really quite simple - everything except meat and wheat! Tesco and Sainsburys (I prefer Tesco, as there isn't a large Sainsbury's close enough to home, and I am used to their store layouts), do an excellent range of wheat free foods, including delicious cakes and puddings, and occasionally we like to treat ourselves. We rarely buy wheat free bread, except when travelling, as it extremely expensive and mostly white without the goodness of wholemeal, so we tend to buy things like rice cakes and Ryvitas instead, which are cheaper and more nourishing. We have these for lunch with cheese, hummus or some other vegetarian pate with salad or in the winter when it gets cold, with a nice bowl of soup (Baxters do a very good range of wheat free, vegetarian soups, but the Tesco own label fresh ones are not too bad).

For our main meal, which during the week we eat at lunch time, we rely heavily on rice and pasta with occasional eggs and jacket spuds. On Sundays we have the traditional roast with veggie burgers or sausages, both of which are delicious, with all trimmings. Some of our favourite dishes include stuffed courgettes with cherry tomatoes, goats cheese and black olives, coconut rice and stir fries with either soy sauce or sweet and sour (occasionally as a treat with Pesto).

On an average week we spend between £40 and £45, around two thirds of what most of our couple friends spend, who do eat meat and wheat. This diet and lifestyle are then definitely cheaper.

Last week I bought:

Plum tomato soup, vegetable soup, 3 cartons of rice milk, oat cereal, porridge oats, washing powder, cheese and chive crisps, 2 packs of fish cakes, sweet and sour sauce, asparagus, broccoli, a fresh stir fry, organic eggs, multi grain Ryvitas, TV guide, Daily Mail, a bag of mixed salad, carrots, cheddar cheese, Quorn ham, pasta sauce with garlic and roasted vegetables, tomato and basil hummus, coleslaw, potato salad, apples, cherries, a pack of 3 pens, cherry tomatoes, baking potatoes, Ibuprofen, baked beans, Basmati rice, soya desserts, red onions and new potatoes.

In the freezer we have frozen chips, veggie sausages and frozen peas. See if you can guess what we ate? Bet you can't !

Yesterday we sent to see my sister


Yesterday afternoon after work, Coran and I went to see my sister who has been in the local psychiatric hospital for the past month or so. I only found this out when I had a letter from her informing me of this - the hospital did not bother to let me know, even though I am her next of kin. When I telephoned I was told that they could not contact me as she had given them an incorrect telephone number, which sounds about right. In fact I thought she had lost our number, as I have not spoken to her since Christmas, when she told me to f*** off (she always did have a way with words). Anyway, yesterday we went to see her and it was not the best experience of my life.

It could have been a lot worse in many ways, but spending time with someone who talks incessantly about themselves and chain smokes for the entire one hour period of your visit is extremely tiring and mentally draining. To some extent her illness (she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1988) encourages this, or to be more accurate, the mental health system encourages this, as it all about the needs of the client, and not the needs of their family.

In my sisters case she has had to pay for much of her care, due to an inheritance, and also her rent, receiving no help from the state at all other than incapacity benefit or whatever they call it these days (this is not means tested). It makes me cross when I think about how Coran and I have had to scrimp by for the past few years, with his pension and my own relatively low earnings (I am earning little more now than I was 20 years ago). Having said this, one should focus on what one does have rather than what one doesn't have, as what you focus on you attract. If my sister could understand this, she would be a lot better off.

Her money is of course all gone, frittered away on useless things she doesn't need and on hangers on who are only interested in her for what they can get. She is so desperate for affection that these people gravitate towards her like moths to a flame, and doesn't see their true motives until it is too late.

In terms of behaviour and lifestyle we are poles apart, but people do say that we look alike. I suppose if I had hair like rats tails, stopped wearing my glasses, stopped shaving my legs, smoked, and bought my clothes from jumble sales I might look her like. Thankfully I don't. Such is life.

She has always maintained that her behaviour is dictated by her illness, as if she were some sort of robot with no conscious control, but Coran and I disagree with this and feel that she knows exactly what she is doing and knows exactly how to wind people around her little finger to get what she wants. My brother for this part agrees with this analysis - others may disagree, but they don't know her as well as we do. This analysis is borne out by the fact that she remembered almost word for word our conversation at Christmas when we last spoke, and spent the best part of 15 minutes reminiscing on her words and saying how sorry she was. If she did not know what she was doing, she would unable to remember anything of this at all. Needless to say, I have learnt not to challenge her on such things, as it only results in more tears and more tantrums, and to be honest, it is not worth the grief.

She is back in my life because despite it all, I do her love her. She is the only sister I have, and I would feel terrible if we were to lose touch completely, or if something happened to her and I did not know. That said, I do not feel I can cope with seeing her more than once a month. Thankfully she has agreed (she suggested in fact) that we keep in touch by letter rather than phone, and seems to understand that Coran and I need space, away from her troubles and traumas, which in the scheme of life are minor anyway.

Friday, 4 September 2009

As summer turns to autumn


I have been feeling very restless these past few days, unable to settle into much at all. The shifting seasons seem to be reflecting my own mood, as summer gives way to autumn and a chill starts to descend. Condensation has been forming on our windows and car windscreens for the past few weeks, and the temperature seems to have suddenly dropped to what seems like a rather chilly 18 to 20 degrees. Of course this is not really chilly, but because the temperature has dropped so suddenly, and with the added wind chill factor that we get up here on the hill (the village where I live is over 1000 metres high at the summit of three mile winding road), it seems very cold indeed. By mid morning it is usually warm enough to don shorts and go about with bare legs, but it won't be for much longer. Once again, the warm summer we were promised does not seem to have materialised, although it was the warmest one yet since we moved here.

Of course were I an Icelander this would be quite normal, in fact very warm for the time of year. When I checked the other day the temperature in Reykjavik was 10 degrees. Summer weather is more normally about 16 or 17 degrees, with slightly higher temperatures and more sunshine in the eastern fjords and around Lake Myvatn in the north east. I have not yet decided where I will be going when I visit next summer, but am determined that I will be visiting.

It is difficult at the moment to see where the funds will come from (I had a £344 repair bill for my car yesterday, as it was in for its annual service and MOT and needed 3 new tyres at the same time), but I am trying not to focus on that, knowing that the funds will come from somewhere and a lot can change in 10 months. When I think back to where I was 10 months ago it hardly bears thinking about. I was in it up to my eyes working five, sometimes six days a week in a job that was challenging in all the wrong ways. I have to admit though I did enjoy the company (if not the company).

It was difficult for me being the only female in a male dominated environment, but I did the best I could. Given the circumstances and everything else that was happening in my life, I am amazed that I managed as well as I did. Of course when that store eventually closed and I transferred to a larger and busier one, it all fell apart. Looking back I am glad that it happened in the way that it did, for it gave me the opportunity to do an awful lot of clearing, and let go of years of emotional baggage which had been weighing me down. I don't suppose my ex boss at the new store would understand any of that, but maybe I would be surprised.

I came across a picture of the two ex colleagues who 'grassed me up' the other day, and was surprised at my reaction. Instead of feeling angry, which I thought I would, I actually felt compassion, compassion for the fact that they are still where they are while I have moved on. It was a strange feeling, that took me by surprise, but I was pleased as it shows how much I have moved on. It took me years to recover from the shock when a previous employer closed the kitchen showroom I managed without consultation, but this time it has taken a matter of months.

Things are moving so rapidly now that we don't have the time to pussy foot around feeling sorry for ourselves anymore - we are the ones who suffer anyway, not the ones who have committed these 'wrongs'. In the end it all a learning curve and life has to move on, and so it does.

The sun is out today on one of those spectacular late summer/early autumn days, with a slight chill in the air and clear blue skies. A nice bracing walk to the bottom of the hill is in order to blow those cobwebs away and get the blood racing, followed by a hot cup of tea and a cuddle up on the settee with the one I love.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Over to you

Every so often you meet someone who seems to trigger something in you and whom you recognise in unseen ways from perhaps times past. This happened to me tonight with a new member of the Inner Journey group that Coran and I attend each Wednesday night.

The lady in question relayed a long and interesting tale about the spiritual work she has undertaken over the past 10 or so years, the details of which I will not go into here.

I have not done much promotional work on my book Genesis of Man in recent months, in fact there has been very little for over a year now. Each time I have picked it up myself and tried to read, the words have not taken shape in my mind, as I can no longer relate to the words that it contains, many of which were written over eight years ago. Still I get the feeling that this lady needs to read this book. A postcard has been given so the rest is up to her.

Monday, 31 August 2009

My plans for next summer


Now that I am back from Lundy and this years summer holiday, my thoughts have turned towards next year. It may seem a little premature, but having made up my mind to return to Iceland, and knowing that this can be an expensive country, it helps to have some idea of costs. To this end, this past week has been spent re-reading various guide books and deciding based on this years bus timetables what is and is not feasible.

I was pleased to discover that Iceland Express, the budget airline that flies to Iceland from the UK, as of this May changed their London base from Stansted to Gatwick. This is perfect for me, living as I do less than half an hour from the airport. It will cut down the journey time not to mention the cost, considerably. Since they fly on Sunday evenings it may be possible to fly out after a weekend at work, giving me an extra days holiday without actually taking a day off. On the other hand, it may be better for me to fly direct to Akureyri in the north of the country, which Iceland Express do each Monday. Decisions, decisions.

I had already decided that I wanted to visit Myvatn in the north of the country, so the Akureyi flight would be perfect, as I could use it to connect with a bus to Myvatn, which is around an hour by bus from Iceland's second city, and packed with attractions - abundant bird life, bubbling mud pools, hot springs, pseudo craters and of course the lake itself. The best hot springs are of course the ones at Landmannalaugar in the country's interior. Landmannalaugar can be accessed via several different bus routes - one of which goes to Myvatn three days a week. Landmannalaugar also lies on the Fjallabak route which runs to Skaftafell National Park in the south east. This is one of the few places in Iceland which I have never visited.

Initially I was torn between a visit to the park and a trip to the Westman Islands off the south coast, which I have visited before - several times. The islands are best known for the volcanic eruption in January 1973 which threatened the towns fishing harbour, but also for the island of Surtsey which rose from the sea bed in November 1963. The island is off limits to all except scientists, but it is possible to do a fly past, and the island can be seen from Heimaey, the largest of the Westman group on a good day.

In the end, because Skaftafell and Myvatn can be linked together by Landmannalaugar, I will probably visit the National Park, but until next years bus timetables are released it is impossible to make concrete plans. I relish the thought of long walks across the heath to admire the views across breathtaking glacial lakes, and hiking across the Icelandic interior, relaxing in a natural hot springs at the end of a long day. I get the feeling that next summer will be a good one!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Don't worry, be happy

Many of the spiritual books and websites that I have looked at over the years state that we come to Earth with a specific purpose to fulfil - this may be to work with the sick and dying, or at the opposite end of the scale, the very young; it may be to work with the Earth, with ley lines and vortexes, or it may be to work with animals or to create great works of art. These are all noble things, but in my opinion are nothing to do with what life is really about. What is life really about? The here and now.

I remember when I was new to the path back in the mid 90's. My first spiritual teacher, a mixed race woman who lived in Battersea, southwest London told us about a wonderful new medium that she had been to see at the college of Psychic Studies in London, who could tell us anything that we wanted to know, including our life purpose. I duly made an appointment, and went there on the train, all the way to Kensington on a blisteringly hot summers day.

I had not experienced anything like this before - I am not sure what I was expecting, but remember being surprised to find that the medium, who had a gift I seem to recall for communicating with animal as well as human spirits (I cannot recall her name beyond the fact that it was Annie), looked perfectly normal. When she asked me why I was there, I replied that I wanted to know my purpose. I was expecting some wonderful revelations along the lines that I was here to heal or to do something miraculous, and you could have knocked me sideways when she informed me that I was here to simply be happy!

To be happy, what a seemingly easy yet when you think about it very difficult thing. How many people do you know who are truly happy? I could count them on well, I couldn't, as I don't think there are any. I don't think I know one single person, including myself who could be considered to be truly happy - we all want something that we don't have - a better job, more money, a bigger house, Mr or Ms Right, three weeks on a Caribbean beach (or an Icelandic desert in my case). Of course what this really boils down to is that we do not want we already have - it equates to rejection of the now and of the present moment.

Our heads are perpetually filled with other stuff based in either the past or the future - what we did yesterday, what we need to buy at the supermarket, what time we need to pick up the kids, what to have for lunch, what time we need to be at work. None of this is anything to do with the present. The closest a woman probably gets to being in the present is on her wedding day, or possibly when giving birth as she has to do what her body tells her and these things can't be rushed, even then most women are probably concentrating on the outcome, of what their baby will be - boy or girl, and whether she or he will be healthy (I do not know for sure since I have never given birth myself and at 44 have probably left it a bit late).

Our purpose has nothing to do with what we do, but more to do with what we feel. Eckhart Tolle in his wonderful book, "A New Earth", which I highly recommend, takes it one step further and says that whatever we are doing in any given moment (sitting at our computer, drinking a cup of tea, listening to music or whatever - I am doing all three) - is our purpose for that moment. Remember that there is no such thing as past and future as they are well, in the past and the future respectively and so do not as yet, or anymore exist. The only moment we have is now - this is our only chance to be happy, for when that moment is gone it is gone forever. Of course the beauty of it is that the present is infinite and never ending - so we have eternity in which to choose to be happy or not. I intend to seize that moment of eternity with both hands.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Life is fragile


It has been a strange day for me - I have been having weird dreams ever since I returned from Lundy with somewhat restless nights, and last night was no exception. I have also been waking up earlier and earlier each day, and when I do awake I have not felt refreshed, but extraordinarily tired. It is true that I have had a lot to deal with these past two weeks - and especially this week, with the village newsletter to prepare (it is finally done), but this is no ordinary tiredness, it feels like something much deeper.

I had the strangest day at work - I put down not one, but two pairs of rubber gloves while I moved my cleaning gear, mop and bucket from room to room, and one point also managed to mislay the hoover - it eventually turned up in the same place I thought I had left it in, but I know it wasn't there when I looked the first time! Most strange. The head housekeeper and I had a good laugh about it nevertheless, and so did the chef.

Just after I returned from my tea break I was told that one of the residents had died. She had been ill for some time, and had only recently come out of hospital, so it was not unexpected, still I was surprised at my reaction. I did not know the lady well, since her room was upstairs and I work mostly downstairs, but it seems to have triggered something in me, and I am not sure what. It reminds me I suppose of my own mothers death, which will be ten years ago this November, but also how fragile life is. The nurses and care workers of course took it all in their stride, as they are trained to do, but I am not used to this aspect of the job, and I found it difficult to concentrate on my work.

The door to her room was kept closed until the Doctor came after his morning surgery, to certify the death, and then closed again until the funeral directors came to remove the body, which was just as I was leaving. I suppose her family will come in the next day or so to collect her personal effects, we will clean the room ready for the next resident, and the funeral will all be arranged.

When I left work to return home, after the funeral directors called, I mentally pictured her surrounded by light being welcomed into the loving arms of her deceased husband and other relatives. This is the second death at the home within the last month (one of the male residents died while I was on holiday), and as things normally go in threes, I can't help wondering who will be next. Banish that thought.

Friday, 21 August 2009

I confess

Okay I confess, I am guilty of one of the greatest crimes in journalism - not checking my facts. The story I ran the day before last regarding the Dudley pigs was in fact over four years old - dating from May 2005, a lesson for me to check the dates.

The only accurate thing about that post was the information regarding my own pigs - I do indeed collect them and they indeed have names and family histories. Yesterday I managed to purchase a small pig which will act as Dimitri, Sergei's little one (Sergei is the latest arrival from Russia) - when they saw each other after I bought Dimitri home, they were as happy as pigs in mud! I still have to get an Anoushka (Sergei's wife or sow), but she will follow in due course. Dimitri after all, needs his mother like any growing young lad.

So, next time I promise to be more careful (honest) and check the dates of these articles that I use. I have no idea how the situation was resolved (I presume that it was), but it made interesting reading after all, and enabled me to introduce you to my porcine friends.

Ramadan incidentally starts today (one day later in North America) and will continue for 30 days until Saturday, the 19th of September. During this time Muslims (with certain exceptions - the young, the frail, pregnant women and so on) will abstain from food during the hours from sunrise to sunset. Rather them than me.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A load of hogwash ...


For some years now I have been a collector of soft toys in the form of pigs. My pigs, which all have names, and are formed into family groups of Mum, Dad and babies (porklets), have their own sties in the form of several shelves in our bedroom. They have their own individual lives, loves and careers much the same as humans, and their own family histories. It is part of an elaborate fantasy, which one day (perhaps quite soon), I may write a book about. It would make a wonderful cartoon.

The latest addition to the porcine family is a Russian pig named Sergei, who was left on our doorstep the other night by our neighbours John and Marian. A note was attached to his box to say that Putin had exiled him from Russia, and that when he landed at Hogrow Airport, immigration officials had given Sergei our address. He is settling into his new sty nicely, and has been joined by his wife (sow) Anoushka and son (porklet) Dimitri. Anouskha and Dimitri exist for the moment as etheric pigs without physical form, forms for which we need to buy. This morning then I was surfing the net looking for some suitable piggy toys when I found an article which must be true (since it has featured in none other than The Sun) stating that in the town of Dudley, West Midlands, soft piggy toys and in fact anything porcine, have been banned for fear of offending Muslim employees in the run up to Ramadan.

I wondered at first whether this was all hogwash .... but no, it is very much true, these delightful cuddly animals have indeed been banned. Anything porcine - from soft toys to pigtures of pigs on calendars have been banned following a complaint from a Muslim employee. Even a tissue box bearing images of Winnie the Pooh has been forcibly removed.

The partner of one of the members of staff in the Ednam Road Department, who chose to remain anonymous, said: "It's caused a bit of an atmosphere in the office. The staff did comply but it's just crazy - things like ornaments that have been on desks for years have had to be removed."

Head of Finance at the Council, Mike Williams, said a decision will be made after Ramadan ends as to whether these items will be allowed back. When asked what reason the member of staff gave as to why he or she found these images so offensive, he said "It did not matter why it was considered offensive". He did however acknowledge that some members of the department had seen it as "political correctness gone barmy".

Councillor Mahbubur Rahman, a practising Muslim, backed the ban and said he agreed with the action taken. He also said: "If it is a request made by an individual and other officers can reason a compromise, it is a good thing. It is a tolerance and acceptance of their beliefs and understanding".

Well I am sorry Mahbubur but tolerance and understanding cut both ways - if we have to be tolerant of your ways then you also have to tolerate of ours - and not take life so damned seriously - this is indeed political correctness gone stark, raving mad. It reminds me of the case in Sudan a few years ago when a British school teacher was incarcerated for naming a teddy bear after the Prophet Mohammed. I mean for God's sake (no pun), it is just a bear (or a boar - in more ways than one) and it doesn't mean anything !

Putting up with things that we do not like is part of life - be it pigs, or anything else. As a vegetarian I don't particularly like handling meat in my job, neither do I like listening to other people's loud music or children, but I have to put up with it. No one as far as I know is suggesting that Muslims should eat pork, so I really don't see what the problem is. While there are undoubtedly some very good aspects to Islam (such as tithing) this sort of thing really does them no favours at all and reinforces the idea that it is controlling religion that wants everything their own way. I hasten to add that these are not my views - I have worked with several Muslims over the years, and for the most part, found them to be highly intelligent people that know their own minds, without trying to get you to change your own. Acceptance and tolerance are the key words.

Michael Mallin has a very interesting article about this on his website, with some fascinating facts about pigs that I encourage you to read. He also details some interesting facts about pigs.

I discovered some for myself, which are as follows:

Pigs are highly intelligent and fast learners. They rank fourth in animal intelligence after chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants. Piglets learn their names by two to three weeks of age and respond when called.

Contrary to popular opinion, pigs are very clean. They keep their toilets separate from their living or eating area. Piglets just a few hours old will leave the nest in order to relieve themselves.

Pigs have no sweat glands, hence the need to wallow, usually in mud, although if available, they prefer water. The layer of dried mud protects their skin from the sun. Pigs are also great swimmers.

Pigs have a great sense of smell. Their powerful but sensitive snout is a highly developed sense organ. They have a wide field of vision, as their eyes are on the sides of their heads.

Wild pigs are omnivorous, eating both meat and vegetables. Corn is considered the best domesticated pig food. It is illegal in Australia to feed commercial, farm or pet pigs any type of meat.

Pigs have also played an important role in many ancient cultures and feature prominently in mythology from around the world. The pig was seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity in ancient Britain and Ireland. Traces of this can be seen in the tradition of piggy banks, seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity.

In the Hindu tradition, the divine mother Varahi was the Earth Sow. In Egypt, the sow or female pig, was sacred to Isis, and sacrificed to Osiris. The infant, Zeus, King of the Greek gods, was nursed by a pig. In Ancient Egypt, the sky-goddess, Nut was depicted as a sow suckling or swallowing her piglets which became the sun and the stars.

The pig is also there in Christian mythology, with the boar as a symbol for Christ, due to his strength and fearless passion.

The pig then far being unclean, should be highly revered as the sacred and special animal that he (or she) is and not banned from offices or anywhere else. Of course we should respect a Muslim's right not to eat pork, in the same way that my right not to eat meat at all should also be respected, but banning images of pigs altogether is taking things just too far, and as far as I know, is definitely not a part of this of this religion. If you choose to live in a country then you should do your best to fit in by honouring their traditions and their ways, as we are expected to honour their traditions and ways, by for example covering our shoulders and legs. Religion as Michael Mallin says, is a private freedom outside the public sphere. It should stay that way.

I do not write this to offend, but rather, to make people think. This is political correctness that has gone too far. The Muslims are not the only ones who are offended - I and many right minded British citizens (including no doubt many less radical Muslims themselves) are incensed by this stupidity, which is almost laughable. I would be taking it a step too far to say that I was actually offended, for this is a strong word, but it shows just how ridiculous this religious gravy train has become. So I say, bring back the Dudley Pigs - and save their bacon now!

Monday, 17 August 2009

A week in the life of June


It is hard to believe that it is only a week (and two days) since I returned from Lundy - it seems like a lifetime ago. Nine days ago I had just left Ilfracombe and was somewhere around Combe Martin along the A399 heading for home. Today I am sat at home sitting at this computer and wondering where the last week has gone.

There is no typical week in my life, but if there was it would go something like this. Three mornings a week (usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday) I go to the gym where I do what feels like ten rounds with Mike Tyson - seriously, it tends to be around 10 minutes each of cycling, cross training, rowing and walking (with a few minutes running when I can muster the energy) in no particular order, followed by some weights and stretches. At least once a week, after our trip to the gym, Coran and I go out for lunch - usually to our favourite tea shop, where we have a delicious cheese and potato pie or sometimes an omelette.

On the remaining mornings I go food shopping and potter around the house. Sometimes on a Friday I accompany Coran to the local computer club where he works as a volunteer teaching local residents how to use these machines.

The afternoons are spent pottering around at home on the computer, keeping up to date with the news in publishing, visiting one or two forums and doing some writing, perhaps for the newsletter that I edit or for one of the three blogs that I maintain. I usually have music on in the background - my favourites being jazz and classical - but sometimes dance, it depends on my mood.

If the weather is good I may saunter up to the viewpoint for a cup of tea to sit in the sun or go for a walk. If not, I may watch something on television. As a woman of simple tastes I do not waste my time by visiting the shops, but every couple of months I will go into Guildford to visit Lush and stock up on toiletries and have a browse in Marks and Spencer.

I work as a catering assistant four nights a week from 5 to 7pm (each week day apart from Wednesday), and a housekeeper at the weekends (Saturday and Sunday) from 8am to 2pm. Sometimes after work at the weekends we will pop next door for a cup of tea and a chat, and sometimes I have phone calls to make for the newsletter. Other than that our social life revolves around the weekly Inner Journey group that we go to on a Wednesday night and the bi-weekly meditation group at our local church, every other Monday afternoon. The evenings tend to be spent again on the computer, watching television, or in the bath. On the warm summer evenings I sometimes go up to the viewpoint to listen to the birds and sit in silence, or occasionally to watch just to watch the stars.

I do not then lead a particularly exciting life packed with activities. Most of it is quite boring, and I suspect that I am not alone. Financial concerns are always there in the background - to live the life I would really like I need to be earning around twice what I do, but I do not want to go back to that 3D world of sod you Jack (June in my case), I'm alright, I have been there and done that and there are easier ways of earning a living (or not). At certain times of the year I am able to supplement my income with exam invigilating work, which earns me a little extra, but it is still not enough and sacrifices have to be made. It is though my choice, and I am grateful for the fact that I can afford (just about) not to have to work full time.

All in all, Coran and I live a pretty good life. We own our own home, have (some) money in the bank and manage our finances surprisingly well. There are a lot of people far worse off than us.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

BOGOF's to be banned?

BOGOF's (buy one, get one free) could soon be banned from the supermarket in a series of guidelines that will no doubt please suppliers, who currently pay a heavily penalty for such offers, as in the book world, subsidising deals by being asked to provide deeper discounts. The move has been designed by Government watchdogs in an effort to cut food waste, which has reached criminal records. There may be an obesity epidemic in the west, but in the third world people continue to starve.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is demanding that retailers agree to a series of tough measures designed to cut such waste, or face legislation that forces them to make savings. These may include measures such as ditching buy one get one free in favour of half price deals (a move that would not offer improved terms for suppliers, in fact possibly worse), and different sizes of products designed to cater for smaller households as well as families. This is a move that I would certainly welcome, as it is increasingly hard to find such items without relying on over priced and over packaged convenience food, most of which I cannot eat anyway, as it is swimming in additives and hidden wheat.

The series of reports - called Food 2030 – has been welcomed by food specialists. DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency are also said to be preparing new guidelines to reduce confusion over best before labels.

The difficulties of a travelling (almost) vegetarian


As a pescatarian (someone who eats fish but not meat) of limited tastes, who is also wheat intolerant, I expect and usually have problems when eating out, which is why Coran and I tend to stick to the same places - the Pizza Hut salad bar, our local tea shop and for special occasions, The Riverside Vegetaria in nearby Kingston upon Thames. Of course when I am on the road driving to Ilfracombe as I was recently, you do not have this luxury and have to either bring your own food (impossible if you want something hot) or are forced to rely on motorway service areas.

The Little Chefs are not too bad, but the portions are not what they used to be and the food is not particularly tasty, but they are usually willing to substitute bread rolls which come with their veggie burgers for fried eggs and that sort of thing. For this reason, and also the fact that they are so accessible, I tend to use them, most of the time. On my visit to Ilfracombe at the end of July however, for some reason I missed the entrance to the last Little Chef before the M5, and so had to use the Moto service station instead at Taunton Deane. The tale I am about to tell will no doubt be familiar to others with the same dietary needs as myself.

Taunton Deane is a fairly large service station situated at Junction 26 of the M5, the motorway which links Birmingham to Exeter and also the A303 to the A361, which is the main route into North Devon. It is then extremely busy and well used, and you would think would understand the importance of catering to different needs. Not a bit of it!

Most caterers I have found, have trouble enough understanding the difference between vegetarian and vegan without adding pescatarian to the mix, so when I travel, I tend to describe myself as vegetarian, as it so much easier. As I entered the car park, there was a big sign up proclaiming "2 meals for £10". This is no doubt a very good offer, given the high price of motorway food in general, but I was travelling alone, so this was no use to me. So I walked into the main food area and read the list of meals that was on offer - cod and chips was one of them (covered in batter made from wheat), but there was not one meal that was suitable for vegetarians - not even lasagna (other vegetarians will know what I mean).

So, I asked a member of staff who was standing behind the servery what they could offer me - the answer - pasta. I told her I was wheat intolerant and her response was to confirm what I (and anyone with an ounce of sense) already knows - that pasta is made from wheat. She then somewhat predictably asked me what I eat at home - answer - everything except meat and wheat. I have learnt through experience that when a caterer asks you this it is because they have no imagination and no idea as to what they can cook for you - they are in effect asking you to tell them what you would like. In this case, because the girl seemed so helpful and friendly, I told her that I ate a lot of rice, upon which she offered me a bowl of rice - the problem was that there nothing to go with it - except chilli made from minced cow!

I ended up with the ubiquitous jacket potato with cheese and beans - I didn't dare ask if the cheese was vegetarian! I thanked her for her time and and patience, paid for the food (which cost almost £8 with a cup of tea - ridiculously overpriced) and ate. Very nice it was too.

This will be a tale, like I said, which is sadly all too familiar to others with similar needs. I really do not understand why in this day and age it should be so difficult to get decent vegetarian food - almost 10 percent of the population are now vegetarian, with more and more people making the change each week - many meat eaters like to eat vegetarian food when travelling, as they know that they trust where it has come from, and also know that it is safer, since most cases of food poisoning can be traced to meat and other animal products. This is not to mention the thousands of Jews and Muslims who have to eat vegetarian when travelling, since catering establishments do not offer Kosher or Halal meals. It is in everyone's interests to offer a range of good quality vegetarian food since everyone can eat this regardless of faith, allergies or lifestyle choices. It makes sense all round. I wish that caterers would take note, but don't hold out much hope.