Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Christmas Comma

This year, at the last minute, The Man begged off attending the Midnight Service on Christmas Eve. Instead we trooped off Christmas morning at 10.30 for the Family Service. It began with the well-known old carol, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.  It's not my favourite of the traditional carols -- partly because it never made much sense to me. In my imagination I pictured a Dickensian scene of jolly, red-faced and rather rotund gentlemen with beer mugs in their hands enjoying themselves on Christmas Eve -- rather 'Ho, Ho, Ho,' for a church service -- or so I thought. But that was before I heard the Vicar's sermon for Christmas morning!

He pointed out that in the first line of the carol -- one of the oldest -- there is a comma after the word 'merry'. As long as I have been singing that carol, I had never noticed that. It means that it's not at all about 'merry gentlemen', but that we should 'rest joyful' that 'Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day.

It's still not one of my favourite carols, but I can't quite get over the difference that a comma can make! I hope you have all had a very Merry Christmas and send my very best wishes for a very happy New Year 2014.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Third Time Still Lucky...

And so the  two weeks passed. Thanksgiving was a lovely day, turkey and the usual trimmings and pies! My sister and her family arrived loaded down with the essentials -- I bought the ingredients for succotash! We laughed a lot and my mother thoroughly enjoyed her grandsons who enjoyed hearing her tell them about my father and the early years of her marriage. By the time Thanksgiving weekend was over -- and no I did not even attempt to shop on Black Friday, never-mind Thanksgiving Day itself -- my visit was almost over-- time to think about packing for my return.

Two days before I was to leave I was able to take my mother to her former home town to meet friends for lunch. The weather had not been very conducive to taking her out, but on this day she was really ready to get out and about. She has become much more frail over the past year or two -- and is now reluctant to venture outside of her apartment except in a wheelchair. However, it is not possible to take the wheelchair in the car and she would need to use her walker instead to get from her apartment to the car. And she did it without batting an eye! She really enjoyed her lunch and the company and was animated and lively. It was a wonderful day.

The next day I would return to the town to meet a good friend and do some Christmas shopping. Kent, Connecticut is the quintessential New England town -- the sort of place if you had never been to New England you would imagine it would be. So I met my friend and we had lunch and then browsed around the shops. As darkness fell, I thought it best to be on my way so that I could have my last dinner with my Mom. The way back is a beautiful scenic route along the Housatonic River and takes about 45 minutes. I thought I would be back just in time for dinner -- around 6.00. As I approached a junction about 5 miles from my mothers place, I did so with caution as it a hairpin turn -- meaning that it is necessary to turn oneself carefully to the right to check on-coming traffic before turning left. There is a stop sign at the junction and I duly stopped and was just about to continue when there was a terrific WHAM from behind as I felt the unexpected impact of what turned out to be another vehicle.

Initially, I sat there in absolute disbelief! Then I was overwhelmed by the feeling of not knowing what to do and wanting to burst into tears. It seemed like a long time, but was probably only minutes when I decided to get out of the car and find out what exactly had happened. The car that rammed into me was a total wreck and the driver, a man, was trying to find his way around the airbag which had gone off. My European phone was not working and I asked  him if he could call for help, which he said he was trying to do. He told me that he had not seen me! I then returned to my car and thought to turn on my hazards! Not long afterwards a man appeared, he asked if I was hurt and said that the state trooper was on his way as well as an ambulance. To this day I have no idea who he was or where he appeared from. But I suspect he might have been from the gas station, which was located at the junction.

It was not long before the State Trooper appeared. He was very kind and after ascertaining that I was not seriously hurt, asked me what happened. I explained as best I could and within the next few minutes a lovely lady from the ambulance appeared and said they wanted to check out my vitals and I went to the ambulance and was checked. I was shaken and stirred, but felt no need to go to the hospital and after they reiterated that if at any time I felt worsening symptoms I was to call them. You can imagine that all I wanted was to get back to my mother, who I knew would be worrying, and to get on the plane back to England the next day! The fellow who hit me went off to the hospital -- he seemed in a bit of a daze and his car was being towed away. My car, however, was still drivable and was looked over by the tow truck guys and the trooper. We discovered when I got back into the car that an airbag in the head rest had gone off -- which probably explains why I only suffered a few minor aches and pains the following day.

As I got into the car the state trooper said the magic words -- "Don't worry, you are not at fault"! Fortunately, I had taken out full insurance coverage when I rented the car. The next day I was able to drive back to the Enterprise office and turn the car back. The rear end looked a lot worse in the daylight -- the trunk would not open and the rear end looked like it was beginning to separate from the main part of the body of the car. The agent said it would cost thousands to repair!

I then got into my sister's car and she drove me to the airport. All my planes were on time and I had once again a seat to myself on the final leg home from Philadelphia to Manchester. Funny thing, little did I know that there was a major storm brewing in England. The plane due in 5 minutes before mine had been diverted to Edinburgh! There was a slight bit of turbulence, but nothing out of the ordinary -- I had no idea  until I met my husband and he told me!

From an appendicitis scare to a car crash, with an allergy scare in between -- it was a funny old trip!

Friday, December 06, 2013

There and Back Again!

I am sure many of you have heard about the old Chinese, "May you live in interesting times"!  My recent trip to the States for Thanksgiving with my mother was very interesting! Fortunately, the illness I had just before leaving England was not appendicitis and the antibiotics what they are supposed to and rid me of the urinary infection and ache in my side. I did, however, arrive with a cold, which soon resulted in an unexpected and unpleasant outcome.

In order to stem the tide of my streaming eyes and running nose I moseyed on down to the drug store to seek a cold remedy. As tends to be the case, I was overwhelmed by choices in selection but soon settled on one that said it was for people with high blood pressure. "Ah", thought I, "Just the thing for me!" And, indeed, the cold symptoms abated within a few hours...

At two in the morning I awoke, feeling very uncomfortable, rather hot and very itchy! When I looked in the mirror I was absolutely horrified. I was covered from head to toe in a red weals and totally uncomfortable. I was also worried that I had something contagious while staying in a place with many elderly people, including my mother! Every morning at around 5.30 a nurses' aide comes to my mother to put special support hose on her legs. So when she came in I stopped her and explained the situation to her. She thought it looked like an allergic reaction and called a nurse to come and have a look. The nurse agreed and brought me an antihistamine, Benidryl, and I waited. I also stopped taking my newly acquired cold remedy, Coricidin HBP Cold & Flu.

Happily, 24 hours later and the redness and weals and itching had all but disappeared. Later that day, while talking to my sister she said that she had only once had such a reaction and it was when she had taken some cold medication many years ago! The same medication!

By Thanksgiving I was completely recovered and we had a lovely celebration. You know, though what they say about troubles coming in threes? There was one final element to come -- but that was waiting for me as my visit was just coming to an end -- and no, I'm not going to relate that -- just yet!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Long Days' Journey into Flight

On 23 September, I booked a flight to The States for November 20th. Thanksgiving Day was on my mind and I thought it would be nice to be with my Mom and sister this year. I do enjoy going back for Thanksgiving and my sister goes out of her way to make it a special occasion -- bringing all the necessary ingredients and equipment with her from Vermont.

Mom has a fully equipped kitchen, but when she moved into the retirement center left behind most of her cooking paraphernalia. She has never missed having it! Every time you mention to her that she doesn't have to cook any more she smiles broadly. Not that she was a bad cook. She was in fact a very good, if plain cook. My father was a rather fussy eater -- he didn't like fish and he didn't like cheese! His dislike of cheese made us all laugh whenever he ate pizza, which he loved. Anyway, because her 'Other Half' didn't like to experiment with different kinds of food, my mother lost interest in really developing her cookery skills. My sister, is an entirely different story! The woman can cook!

So last Sunday night, while watching the final episode of Downton Abbey, and began to feel very uncomfortable -- an ache in my right side that persisted and kept me from having a good night sleep. Around 4.00 pm the following day, when the pain did not subside, but seemed to be getting more persistent I called the Surgery to see if I could see a doctor -- if possible the next day. Surprisingly, there was an opening with my favourite doctor 45 minutes later! I was worried that maybe I had appendicitis, but the doctor thought it was probably a pulled muscle as the symptoms didn't really point to appendicitis. However, if symptoms should increase or suddenly get worse, I should call the next day for an emergency appointment. He would not be that day, but if two days later I had not improved I should call reception and tell them that he wanted to see me again. Symptoms did not get worse, but did not improve so on Thursday I saw him again -- and remembered to bring the 'water' sample he asked me to bring! As soon as he tested the sample, he could see that I had a urinary infection.

So the third day of antibiotics later and the pain has abated significantly, but not disappeared. The doctor had me take a blood test and sent the sample for further testing and did not rule out the possibility of the appendix -- I haven't heard anything back, so I am hopeful to get an ''all clear" Monday. I've never not been able to take a flight and hope this is not the first time! In the meantime, it's all put rather a damper on packing and so on. I still have the occasional twinge. So glad I have insurance that covers me just in case I'm unable to make. For one thing is for certain, I just as soon not be in the USA if I need emergency surgery for anything! My flight is Wednesday morning -- I'm holding my breath!!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Another Day Another School Project -- ad infinitum

Moses Project: Done. Geography Project: Done -- No it's not!!! Fortunately, we have until Friday.

Unfortunately, this is the part of projects that both Sam and I hate the most: The evaluation. Now, it is possible this may sound like a good idea to you and I do understand the point of being able to assess ones work critically. However, this is not effective for Sam, who takes criticism like a dose of poison! Therefore, it stands to reason, he is not bent toward criticising himself. And if I make 'suggestions', the instinct is for him to stomp off and head for the stairs and a good long sulk, not to mention sass...

Whoever thought up the idea of 'evaluation' did not think about the effort it takes to get some children, Sam is one, to sit down and work on a project. Reasonableness does not work. Threats work. By the end of the process and completion of the project we are both exhausted. The 'evaluation' is  an unwelcome finale.

I say to Sam, "Sam, how do you think you could have done this better?"

Sam says to me, "It's fine. I don't think it can be better."

And so the final tussle ensues. The thing is I should probably let him write that. Except it's 25% of the final mark. That is 5 points out of 20. And now, why don't you guess how much it counts towards the final grade?

Nothing. Niet. Nada. Rien. Nul Point...

And now I want to know why I/we bother -- These 'projects' go on throughout the year. They are a headache. They do serve the purpose, but there should be more of a reward than, 'didn't he do well!'At least, that's what I think!!!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Discovery, Sad Goodbyes and Hope...

In August my sister, Mary, was in Connecticut to visit out mother for several days. Because she had a problem renting a car -- due to the fact that she had renewed her driving license and had been issued with a  temporary one. She called my brother who lived about 20 minutes away and he came to the rescue, renting a car on her behalf. He then drove the car away from the rental office and she took his car and was to meet him 'down the road'. However, there was a mix up and in the end my sister gave up trying to meet him and after making several calls went on to my mother. The one thing she could not do was call my brother -- he had left his cell phone in his car!!

Twenty-four hours later all was sorted and my sister had the rental and he had his. At the end of her stay on the 21st of August they met up again for Bill to be present when the rental was returned. For some reason, which I can not now remember, my sister ended up staying the night at my brother's apartment and the next day he drove her to catch her plane. She had never been to his place before. While she was there it seemed to her that my brother was a bit dis-oriented and it seemed to take him a long time to do things. She was not unduly alarmed, but was relieved to know that the following day he had an appointment with his neurologist and he felt that there might be a problem with his meds. How fortunate we all were that my sister had stayed with him would become very apparent only a few days later.

On the 24th of August my sister received a telephone call from my mother, who was very distressed. She had been trying to call my brother and he had not returned her calls. My mother was convinced that he was 'mad at her' and she didn't know why. Mary knew that my brother would never in a million years be 'mad' at my mother! Anyway, as she later said to me, 'alarm bells rang'! She called his son in Raleigh, who also tried to reach him, but wasn't particularly alarmed. But who heeded his Aunt. Eric wanted to call the office of the apartment complex to see if there was someone who could check his apartment.

Fortunately, my sister, notices things like names of apartment complexes and remembers! She went on the Internet and found the website and a telephone number. A woman from the office went over and found the apartment door was open. She called my nephew and told him she could not enter the premises, that they would have to call the police -- and that was how my brother was discovered by the police. He was incoherent and could not walk. The apartment was in disarray -- apparently there were pills all over the place. No one really knows what exactly happened. Except that the previous day he had seen his doctor and his medication had been altered.

When I think back on all the events of that day, I can't help but marvel at how a series of mix ups and unusual happenings can lead to crucial pieces of information that can actually save lives and end up exposing all kinds of secrets! Such as a girlfriend, who lives in Dallas, Texas, none of his siblings or mother had any idea about! As my sister, Tricia, put it -- "It's a shame the word 'awesome' is so over-used -- because she really is 'awesome'!

We also discovered how important it is to monitor the healthcare we and our loved ones receive. Because often it is very seriously lacking. We think we have found the best place for Bill to be, where there is the best specialist treatment for Parkinson's disease. He is now able to walk -- with the aid of a walker and not in a wheelchair and in a care facility that specializes in mental disorders. He has been referred to a specialist at the University of North Carolina and we must wait for further developments. There is still a long way to go, but we remain hopeful. He is also very near his son and daughter-in-law who are able to visit him every day.

Bill, his girlfriend (of some years!!!), and son were able to visit my mother and have said 'goodbye' -- this is heartbreaking, but inevitable. Fortunately, my mother is now pretty forgetful and doesn't fret too much about it. She did like his girlfriend and admonished him for keeping her a secret! "Why?" he asked her.

"Because, we could have become friends...." You tell him, Mom!

Thursday, October 17, 2013


In Britain there is an expression one often hears to describe certain kinds of people as "keeping himself to himself". It's often ascribed to certain kinds of neighbours and the reasons for not getting to friendly. I rather think there is a bit too much of that kind of thing -- and not just with the British, either!

This is a serious post about something that has happened in my own family.

On August 24th my only brother, who lives alone, was found by the police in a semi-conscious state in his bathtub. He could not walk and did not know where he was or what had happened to him. He may have been there for over 24 hours.

My brother, Bill, has always "kept himself to himself". When he was a little boy he had a paper route and we sisters use to joke about how we never knew how much money he had -- only that he always had nice presents for us on Christmas! If he had problems we never knew what they were, only that he was looking kind of sad and eventually we'd find out if it was really serious -- like breaking up with his first girlfriend, for example. What a song and dance that was! I found that if I had a quiet word with him he would tell me -- but always I had to ask -- information was never volunteered!

Three or four years ago when I was home for Thanksgiving I inadvertently discovered one of his secrets. We were at my mother's apartment and I went into her bedroom for something. Bill was there and I saw him taking a couple of pills from a bottle that looked like a prescription. "Ah", I said, "Do you have high blood pressure, too?"

He answered quietly, "No, I have Parkinson's Disease." He also asked me to "not spread it around" -- I didn't promise him one way or the other. After some thought I decided to tell The Man and also my youngest sister, but not my 90 year old mother. By the end of Thanksgiving weekend my other sister also knew.

All of us were relieved to know because we had noticed that often his words were just slightly slurred and his speech a bit slower -- like when some people have a bit too much to drink and try to look sober. We had also noticed the slight shuffling of his feet when he walked.

I've thought a lot about Bill telling me he had Parkinson's and the way he told me. I really think he wanted to tell us, but didn't know how -- until I asked about what I had perchance observed. It has made me wonder how often it is that people aren't really secretive at all -- they just aren't able to share problems. Maybe they don't want to burden people with additional worries -- or maybe they don't trust anyone enough to thank they will care. I expect there are many reasons for reticence -- ranging from 'pride' to 'insecurity' and 'fear'. Maye it's growing up with three sisters, who when they are together can be quite a formidable force. That he loved us all has never been in doubt -- he always has gone out of his way to see us when we are visiting and he always seems really pleased -- even content -- to be in our company.

Several years ago my brother's second marriage ended and since then he had been living on his own in an apartment about an hour away from my Mom's residence. Mom and sisters all wished he had a girlfriend, but of that there was no evidence -- suspicions maybe -- but not a shred! He even admitted to me that 'I do get kind of lonely'...

Over the past three years I've been able to visit the my mother once a year for  a few weeks at a time. In that time, I've seen some deterioration in Bill's condition, but on the whole he seemed to be doing quite well and it was good to know that he was there regularly for my mother. I was looking forward to seeing him in the Fall.

As you will see in my next post -- life often interferes with expectation...

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

One Down, Two to Follow

What I like about Sam's effort is that he came up with an original idea and didn't just copy something off the Internet or choose a super-hero. He based his design on lizards -- he loves lizards and dinosaurs!! It has a definite 'tribal' element about it, I think.

But, my goodness my grandson is a lazy boy! The mouth is a mess because I explained to him how he could make the teeth by drawing them with a marker on a clear sheet of one of those plastic clear pockets you use to keep documents from getting wet or dirty. He could then paint the mouth -- with red nail varnish and put the plastic with the teeth -- painted in with tipex! So I did a rough example to show him -- after his eyes glazed over and the inevitable, 'huhhhh??' came from his mouth!

"That's good enough" he insisted. By that time I was so flippen' sick of pushing him to get the damn thing mask finished that I just let him have his way and he glued the 'rough' example to the mouth and that was that.

On the day the project was due and out of the house,  I was enamoured to download two more homework projects from the school's website -- geography and RE (Religious Education). The geography  project is to find out about one tourist resort in Europe and then design and make a tourist brochure, webpage or advertisement to provide information for tourists.

The RE task is to write about or make a power point presentation about "The Life and Times of Moses".

I think I've died and gone to hell... :-(

Monday, September 30, 2013


The grandson has an art project for a homework assignment. He must make a carnival mask. He can make this mask out of any material he wishes and of any design he desires. As with all his other 'homework' assignments Grandma must keep on eye on him and nag encourage him to do it.

While talking to his parents via Skype we were encouraged to make this mask out of papier-mache, which I readily informed them I had never done before. They both assured me that it was 'easy' and 'fun'! Use a balloon, they said... Sam was about as keen as I was to try. We went found several instructional sites on YouTube and it all looked pretty straight-forward: Make paste out of flour and water; tear newspaper into strips, get a balloon, paste the strips on the balloon; build at least 3 layers, and make the top layer from strips of white paper, such as the paper in my computer printer.

Why is it that when you want something like balloons you never have any and the first stores you go looking for them don't have any? The super market had them though I had to ask the manager where they were. It took him a while and he helpfully advised I could buy a cheaper packet that said "girls party" balloons. I told him it was  not a good idea to present Sam with anything that said "girls" on it and bought the slightly more expensive packet that didn't say anything about gender. Anyway, I digress.

On Saturday I reminded Sam that we needed to start this project and he got a balloon and excelled at blowing it up to a suitable size. Then I got out  a mixing bowl and made the slop paste. The recipe we found said two parts flour to one part water -- that we soon determined should have been the other way around -- easily fixed. Now I had remembered to cover the kitchen table with newspaper -- which much to my relief we still had in supply, as we quite regularly put it out with the weekly trash pickup. I found a tabloid size newspaper and Sam was very good at tearing the strips to the right size. But what I had more or less forgotten was that Sam is one of these kids who hates putting his hands in slop!

Then the balloon kept slipping and sliding and bouncing around the table and floor as both of us were trying to hold it down and get newspaper strips stuck on -- strips which were so sodden they kept ripping and disintegrating into a mass of yuck.  When we finally managed to get the 'sodding' over-wet strips stuck to the balloon they were in such a disarray as to be completely useless. I took it all off and we had to start again. By 'we' I mean 'I'...

My apron, well covered in paste, as well as the sleeves of my sweater/cardigan -- from trying to hold onto a balloon that was slipping and sliding all over the place and all over me -- I managed to somehow hold down the balloon and apply two layers of newspaper strips and one layer of computer paper strips successfully. Sam helped a bit. Although he tried to escape, I wouldn't let him! This morning the mask-to-be was dry -- it took a good 36 hours. When he got back from school, Sam was able to stab the balloon:

We have only just begun -- or rather, Sam has just begun. I wonder what we he will come up with!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Childhood Autumnal Comforts

Last week the weather had turned brisk and crisp -- just perfect for Mom's Hamburger Pie! My mother collected as many recipes as she could to make 'hamburger' meat more interesting. This one came from St. Johnsbury, Vermont in 1952 -- or there-about. It's great because it can be made with some convenient convenience -- or not. Oh and it's very tasty, too! At least it's always been a hit whenever I've made it and all three of my sons have asked me for the recipe and make it themselves!

My mother has always said that the 'secret' ingredient giving it an extra special 'oomph' is the celery -- so don't be tempted to leave it out!  You will need the following:

Pastry for a two crust pie -- home made or store bought
1-1 1//2 pounds of hamburger meat (mince) (428-500 g)
1 onion 
1 green pepper
1-2 stalks of celery
1 tin condensed tomato soup and a bit more or use pasata or red lasagne sauce. Don't use cream of tomato soup.


Line a 9 or 10 inch pie plate with the pastry
chop to your liking the onion, green pepper and celery. I like mine finely chopped. Sauté in a little oil until soft and the kitchen smells wonderful! Add the mince (hamburger meat) and brown mixing everything together. When the meat is brown add the condensed soup and if needed some additional tomato sauce or pasata. Cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. By the time you finish it should look like this:

Dump the cooked mixture into the prepared pie plate, roll out a lid with the second piece of pastry and bake for 40-50 minutes at 400F (200C): It's always a good idea to cover the pastry edge with tinfoil to avoid over-browning...

Silly me! I forgot to photograph the final result!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Veiled Threats

Recently,there has been a lot on television and in the newspapers about the wearing of the 'niqab' or Muslim veil. This is the type of veil that covers most of the face -- sometimes the eyes and the forehead are not covered, though most of the women I have seen wearing the niqab show only their eyes.

Some countries, including France, have banned the wearing of this veil in public places. This has lead to certain groups of making threats of violence against those countries. In Britain I have been surprised at the number of people -- at least those shown on television -- both members of the debate forums and those in the audience -- who believe that if women want to wear the veil they should be allowed to wear it. The people I am talking about are what some would call 'real British people' meaning 'white' and Anglo-Saxon.

Personally, my instinct when I see women attired in black Muslim dress and completely covered from head to toe is to recoil. But then I am pretty much a feminist and for me it goes against too much of what I believe women have had to fight against, have had to endure to gain their rightful place -- at least in western culture. And I wonder why those who would wear such a garment would choose to live in our world. Of course, many times the answer is that these are British women, born and bred who have fallen in love with a Muslim man and converted to his faith and so chosen this path. And so they are participating in their democratic right as a British citizen. The point being that it isn't always foreigners who make this choice. I do not have a problem with head scarves, or with the burqa -- if women choose that form of attire, far be it for me to object to that.

The authorities are now in a quandary about how to handle the questions that arise from this 'right'. A woman has been told that when she testifies before a jury she must uncover her face so that the jurors can see her when she testifies. Another woman was told that she could not teach her children with a veil covering her face -- she lost her job.

One woman wrote about wearing the full Muslim dress, that is the burqa and the full veil, to work and abandoned the idea because co-workers avoided her. This, is the crux of the matter for me. For me it represents a wish to 'separate' oneself from our culture -- more than anything else we judge others by how we see their faces. For all you know, as I am sitting here, I could be wearing a burqa and veil but because my 'veil' is the Internet, it is perfectly acceptable -- but 'face-to-face', in our culture,  we want to see for ourselves -- the voice is not enough.

The judge decided that the jury had a right to see a woman's face because it was necessary in order to make a fair judgement. But it has occurred to me that if this woman had worn a veil all her life would taking it off place her at a disadvantage because she did not have the experience of being so exposed to people. But then if you live in a foreign culture, sometimes you just have to go with the flow...

There could also be arguments that this form of dress holds security risks -- how do you really know it's a woman hidden beneath that garb and not some wicked man!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sometimes There Just Isn't Anything You Can Do

It is depressing  to consider the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's momentous speech coincides with the present day horrors in Syria that dominate our television news. Where is there a leader that can uplift the hearts of humankind. We are caught in a web of suspicion compounded by concern for our fellow men and women being used by world powers to ensnare our better natures toward goals that lead us we know not where.

I do not believe that military action by super powers will accomplish anything other than to make matters worse. But that doed not help resolve the pain and suffering of those people caught in the bloody crossfire of political maniacs.

I hope that those mighty "powers that be" will allow the United Nation's team time to do the investigation they have begun and to back off the posturing and threats until some kind of determination can be ascertained. I do not  believe the answers to the problems in the middle east can be found by western military intervention.

I do believe, however,  that it is essential that we in the west support the countries bordering Syria as they try to cope with the onslaught of war-weary refugees.l

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


August is perhaps my favourite month. It's the culmination of everything I love about summer, with the bitter sweet chill scent of autumn's approach. The flowers are now at their peak as the warm days were slow to come this year. The fruit has reached perfection, the melons are in abundance -- our plums ripened for August this year and not mid-July.

Here in the Lot the tourist season has reached it's peak, but many are still here ready to leave en masse to head refreshed and brown back to their jobs, their schools -- normal life. In the evening the sweaters come out and one thinks how nice it would be to have a fire in the fireplace. The last two nights I snuggled down into my duvet -- but still left the windows wide open...

In New England we had a maple tree that would have  begun to turn the scarlet that used to so abundantly cover the mountainsides of Appalachia. And the sky would be a shade of blue crystal clear and beautiful. By the end of Labour Day weekend we'd be putting summer away and getting ready to go 'back to school'! It was amazing how the weather and the school calendar coincided. At least in New England!

Here it will be beautiful probably into October. The tourists will mostly have gone home. Rare will be the restaurant serving an evening meal on Sunday! Visitors will be retired or have pre-school children. The terrace at our house will be in the shade most of the day and most evenings will be too cool to eat outside. 

But August is still summer and all that is to come -- after we leave on September 1st. Tomorrow is Wednesday and we begin to pack up the house again till next summer -- when, God willing, we will make another long trek and have another summer of sunshine and friends.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Upping Sticks is a Brave Move

It is so interesting to meet other English speaking people who have homes in this part of France. We have friends in town who have opted to commit themselves to France and have made the big decision to live a French life. Others, like us, have a 'maison secondaire' and I think for many of us we live a French 'fantasy' life.

Part of my wish not to live permanently in France is, I suspect, because I have already moved countries once and I don't feel like going through the trauma of re-establishing roots again. I also have, over the years, developed a commitment to my adopted country and realize that re-establishing yourself in a new country is a long time coming! One of the difficulties for us, however, is that our chosen French getaway -- is not convenient for visiting more than once a year -- being 900 miles from Southport. Once upon a time, we had a second car, but that has still not been repaired. The nearest airport we can access is 100 miles away and it's complicated to get from there to our little house. The Man is not one for renting a car!

It intrigues me how many people choose to live here and never really learn to speak French. There are French people in the area that can speak some English, but by and large this is not an area where you can depend on people being able to speak English -- even limited English. But there is quite a reasonable English community in these parts and they rely very much on each other for friendship and often for work when they are renovating their houses. Friends of our have a most beautiful house that they have done a beautiful job renovating -- almost all the materials for the kitchen, the bathroom and utility room came from the UK. The main reason being that it so much cheaper. Other friends of our, however, bought the materials for their home in France -- but had a great deal of the work done by an English carpenter.

All of us ex-pats have English television! Some things are just not for giving up!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

At Last I'm F'eye' ne!

It's been much longer between postings than I expected! That was in mid-June and now it's  August and we are in France again -- for an all too short 6-weeks...

The eyes are now 'healed' and with the second operation I found it problematic to do certain things -- like reading, for example. But particularly I found it quite a strain to spend much time on the computer.

After the first operation it was easier -- only one eye was under strain while the other was completely comfortable. But it was quite a change when both had been done with only two weeks between. Monday it was six weeks since the second eye was done and I now am feeling much more back to normal. But, unfortunately, we have no Wi-Fi at the house and I now rely on either my phone mobile data (very expensive!) or coming into town to the Wi-Fi Centre and a few hours of Internet Bliss!

I now have great vision -- and only need spectacles for reading and the computer. But it's very strange being able to 'see' from first thing in the morning. Now I cannot do any close up work or reading without specs -- a small annoyance, but still takes some getting used to... There was one close call about four weeks ago. I was outside taking the washing down from the line. Since the 'line' is a rope tied onto the house at one end and a tree at the other, it is necessary to have a long pole to bring up the middle and allow the laundry to 'fly' in the breeze. As I was taking down the last t-shirt on the line -- right next to the pole -- the pole suddenly sprang forward and hit me about 1 mm clear of the left eye, the one operated on about 10 days before! I saw stars, I can tell you. And it did jar the eye and there was for a few days deterioration of the vision -- what a freak accident!

But now all is wonderful -- I can wash my hair without worrying about getting water in my eye and I can even dare to wear mascara!

Friday, June 28, 2013

In Search of Humanity:The Tradition of Jewish Thought

This latest series of lectures on what it means to be 'human' began with a thought-provoking lecture by the American theologian Professor Alan Mittleman from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Mittleman began by explaining why believing in God is more compelling than believing in science and how Jewish thinking can engage with present non-theist philosophical thought.

He presented an excellent review of the history of the philosophical view of God from the ennobling of humanity in the Renaissance toward the scientific point of view that humanity is not special, that science has no room for the soul.  So the question for the believer is how we can be part of and apart from nature. The challenge, he said, is to reclaim the idea that humans are made in the image of God.

Jewish texts understand that humans are special and problematic; that the nature of God is not random and accidental. We were given several texts for study that proved to be not only interesting but very instructive. Rabbinical scholars of the Talmud have a rich history of debate and argument. He gave us one wonderful text in which God and the angels argue about the wisdom of creating man. Somehow the texts became alive, often humorous and the debate and argument between scholars not one of enmity but of growth.

I particularly liked this example which began:

R. Simon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties, some of them saying,

‘Let him be created,’
whilst others urged ‘Let him not be created.’
Thus it is written, Love and Truth fought together, Righteousness and Peace combated each other...
The passage ends
While the ministering angels were arguing with each other and disputing with each other, the Holy One, blessed be He, created him. Said He to them: ‘What can ye avail? Man has already been made!’

What appealed to me about the entire passage  is the humanness  of the heavenly debate. I could see ourselves reflected in the arguing and debating, as well as in the resolution of the Final Authority! For me it was a new perspective in the nature of who we are and how we are: just below the angels and at the same time in the image of God.

Judaism, Mittleman said, is a work in progress. There is no dogma in Judaism – you cannot command belief, so there is tremendous openness about what you think. It is a proliferation of arguments because it is never clear as to what is the right thing to do. Human beings are complex; Judaism is a ‘Community of Interpretation’ asking questions instead of making assertions.

It is also in keeping with what I learned about Jewish thought a few weeks ago when I attended a lecture about Martin Buber : God is the “Eternal Thou”. The ‘sacred’ is here and now, and can be listened to in the present. God is to be ‘heard’ or ‘listened to’. God as a person is indispensible.  Event upon event calls upon the human person to endure and to be open to the demand of the Divine because “where there is a need there is an obligation.”

I came away with my Christian perspective but seeing Jesus very much as a rabbinical scholar. I remembered John’s Gospel, In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. So it seems to me that our humanity is involved in an on-going conversation of revelation, forever and ever, Amen...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

This Ancient Seer

On the 10th of June I made my way to the nearby eye clinic and had the cataract of my right eye removed. Now for the first time since the age of 9 or 10, I have perfect vision in that eye. On the 24th of June the second eye will be 'under the laser'!

I entered the clinic at 9 O'clock sharp and left at Noon. The procedure itself took all of 15 minutes! I experienced absolutely no pain, though the injection that left the eye numb and immobile was not exactly pleasant. During the operation my eye was focused on a very bright light that moved around and at one point I heard the very high drone of what sounded like a drill. Later it was a bit disconcerting to discover that the pupil of the eye was frozen in a position looking toward the upper right while the other looked pefectly normal! After lunch I took a nap and by the time I got up the anaesthetic had worn off and the eye was looking normal again.

I can now SEE CLEARLY with my right eye! The optician put a clear lens in my glasses and so I have pretty good use of both eyes now. The good eye is doing most of the work because cataracts really do make it difficult to see... I can now read the towns and temperatures on the weather map! And subtitles! Trees have well-defined leaves. I will, however, need reading glasses. The good news is that I will be able to use the same glasses for the computer as well as for the book. Yesterday, I went back to the clinic for a check up to ensure that all is going along well and they can proceed with the second eye on Monday.

It is astonishing how quickly the eye settled down. Things are a little weird because of the difference between the vision in the two eyes and the fact that the left eye still has a cataract. However, the day after the operation I attended a lecture about Buddhism and was easily able to take notes!

Now if only modern medicine would come up with a 15 minute treatment for the aches and pains of old age to go with my 'young' eye(s). It is quite bizarre to walk around with the vision of youth and the body creaking and groaning with every step...

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Part 2: Martin Luther King: I have a dream... Personal Reflections

It is worth remembering the stated demands of the event which led to arguably the greatest speech of the 20th century. The March on Washington represented a coalition of several civil rights organizations. Among the demands were the passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; the elimination of racial segregation in public schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; a major public-works program to provide jobs; and the passage of a law prohibiting racial discrimination in public and private hiring.

The second part of Professor Hilary Russell’s lecture began with a film of Dr. King giving his famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. A crowd of over 250,000 attended what was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation’s capital and despite worries of violence and a large police presence, the march is remembered for its civility and peacefulness.

Watching the speech again after many years, I was quite over-whelmed by my own memories of that time in my life. There was a great deal of coverage on television and the March on Washington was the major news event of the summer. I was 18 years old and as I watched the speech live longed to be there, too. Within 10 days or so, I would be leaving my New England home to attend George Washington University – only a few blocks away from where Martin Luther King was speaking.

I can remember watching the speech as it built to its astounding and mesmerizing conclusion. As Professor Russell said, “It was a sermon, a political treatise, a work of poetry, all rolled into one.” I remembered well how the speech began slowly and then seemed to swell in authority and excitement as the words “I have a dream” echoed and re-echoed in to an all-inclusive crescendo to “Let freedom ring”.

Midway through the speech,  the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, is said to have cried out, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!” and that’s when he ad-libbed what followed. “This” said, Professor Russell, “gave ‘I have a dream’ its raw power and edge – King was living the words that he spoke.

As I listened to the power of the oratory so many half-forgotten memories of that time came flooding back. His words and the peacefulness of the movement he led inspired me to believe that all things were possible. I was on my way to the future filled with hope. Hope that came crashing down around me two months after my arrival in Washington, D.C. with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I remembered the evening of that day running to the White House – only a few blocks away – and seeing hundreds of black people, sobbing, walking aimlessly, as if a great dream had been destroyed. I saw the helicopter arrive with the new President – the man who it turned out was able to pass laws to uphold civil rights.

The decade of the 60’s was troubled and often violent. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both murdered – within weeks of each other. I witnessed riots in the streets not far from where I was living. Many more began to believe that non-violence would never succeed.

We still have work to do, but the words and work of Martin Luther King definitely started us on a better path to righteousness. As he said at the end of his speech, 

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reflections on Past Influences: Martin Luther King ... Part I

The final lecture in the recent series I attended  was an informative and fascinating study of the American Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. The lecture was given by Professor Hilary  Russell from John Moores University, Liverpool.

The Vicar began the evening by playing a clip from the movie ‘In the Heat of the Night”. The clip was very effective in explaining and depicting the relationship between the black man and his white counter-part in the American south in the early 60’s and possibly up to the present time in some places.

The Martin Luther King who arrived in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 did not have civil rights activism on his agenda. Brought up in Atlanta, the son of the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, he had been educated at Boston University and was still working on his doctoral thesis in philosophical theology. The church he went to in Montgomery was proud of its access to the white establishment and, therefore, access to political power. The congregation may have hoped for an end to discrimination, but offered no challenge to the status quo.

Professor Russell picked three events to illustrate King’s spiritual journey and his evolving thinking.
Martin Luther King’s journey toward non-violent activism began with the arrest of Rosa Parks in December 1955 for refusing to sit in the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white man. The result of this refusal was a bus boycott by blacks. King became the President of the boycott group, the Montgomery Improvement Association. It was the first step toward becoming the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. The boycott continued for 382 days when King himself was arrested, abused and had his home bombed.

When King arrived in Montgomery he was not a pacifist; he believed the only solution would be armed revolt. However, during the bus boycott he had an intense spiritual experience in the midst of a period of great harassment and personal fear. While praying at his kitchen table, in the depths of despair, he experienced the presence of God as he never had before. His fears left him and he had new strength and resolve and he was now clearer about the real goal. Three days later he authorized his lawyer to challenge the segregation laws. “Segregation is evil and I cannot, as a minister, condone evil.” He was also determined to meet violence with non-violence and to resist pressure from others in the black community who were impatient for change.

The second experience came in 1963 from jail when King responded to a letter from white clergy in Birmingham, Alabama who took issue with King for being an ‘outsider’ causing trouble in the streets of Birmingham. In response, King wrote famously, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly... Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider...” When the clergy accused the civil rights movement of being extreme, King argued that Jesus and other heroes were extremists, “So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or love?”

In Part 2 I will discuss the “I have a dream” speech and my own personal reflections of that event.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Martin Buber -- "I and Thou"

In 1925 the Austrian philosopher, Martin Buber, published his best known work, I and thou which explored the way humanity relates to the world. Last Thursday I attended a lecture that was an absorbing look at the book as well as a study of the man who wrote it.

(Photo courtesy of wikipedia)
We began by looking at this photograph of Buber and many of us gave our impressions of the face that seemed to be looking back very directly at us. To some he seems to have a piercing even mesmerizing gaze. As those eyes interrogate you, they also engage with you and seem to invite you to come on a journey to a better understanding ... The discussion which followed was to discover something of what that understanding was and to clarify Buber’s philosophy by looking at the man. A man who believed that ­real life was about meeting and actual life was about encounter; that the mystical is in the here and now.

Vienna at the time Buber was growing up was a hub of culture and anti-Semitism. His father was a famous scholar and a member of the Zionist movement. By the age of 26, Buber was a student of Chassidic texts and greatly influenced by them. He would have believed that learning is about enlightenment, not about finding a job. He would have believed learning is religious. He also believed in “Tikkum Olam” which is a classical Hebrew doctrine, a pragmatic approach to repairing the world: What’s gone wrong we try to fix. One cannot understand Buber without understanding his emphatically Jewish perception of the world.

Martin Buber is difficult to read. He did not wish to be read quickly and so he tries to slow the reader down. Modern man always in a hurry often fails to read well. He was concerned that we recognize life’s meaning where we are addressed by God as ‘Thou’.

In I and Thou Buber talks about two kinds of relationships: ‘the I-it’ relationship where we use each other to get things done. For example, I want to learn about Martin Buber so I go to the Vicar’s lecture to learn about him!  The Vicar asks me to write about the lecture. Most of our relationships are ‘I-it’ relationships.

The second kind of relationship is ‘I-thou’­. This kind of relationship cannot be engineered or organized. Buber wrote with surprising sensuality and intimacy about I-thou relationships in describing the mystical translated through the ‘every day’. He said “The Sabbath is every day, several times a day.”

Our relationship with God is an ‘I-thou’ relationship. God is the “Eternal Thou”. The ‘sacred’ is here and now and the only God worth keeping is a God which cannot be kept and cannot be seen, but can be listened to in the present. Jews do not visualize God, though they do ‘personalize’ Him. God is to be ‘heard’ or ‘listened to’. God as a person is indispensible. If we can have an ‘I-Thou’ relationship, it cannot be less than personal. God cannot be an object. This is why most Christians do not understand the Jewish objection to the incarnation. God penetrates events in our lives. Event upon event calls upon the human person to endure to be open to the demand of the Divine because “where there is a need there is an obligation.”

The complex and absorbing meeting ended with the moral demand of Tikkun Olam: the duty of repairing the world, little bit by little bit.

Since the lecture last week, I have found some additional and intriguing quotes from the work of Martin Buber, which I think are worth contemplation.

The world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny. There is divine meaning in the life of the world, of man, of human persons, of you and of me.

Creation happens to us, burns itself into us, recasts us in burning — we tremble and are faint, we submit. We take part in creation, meet the Creator, reach out to Him, helpers and companions.

Through the Thou a person becomes I

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Eye'll" Be Seeing You!

Way back on the 27th of November I wrote about my eyes and that I was in the pipeline to have my cataracts removed. It was not too long after that appointment that I received a letter from the NHS to report to the Cataract Clinic for an assessment. This appointment was at the end of January. It's been an interesting NHS experience.

The Eye surgeon that I saw on this appointment agreed that it was time to have the cataracts removed. He then asked me where I wanted to have the surgery done. I was rather flummoxed by this question because I had not idea that I had a choice about 'where' nor did I have any idea where the 'where's' were, let alone which one to choose. So I asked, didn't they do the surgery. Oh, yes, they did and he named a hospital about 10 miles away where this surgery was done. I said I would have it done there.

After speaking to him, I was then seen by a nurse who went through details of the procedure and said I would be hearing from them with an appointment for the first operation. The second eye would be done about 6 weeks after the first. Throughout February and most of March I heard nothing. I hadn't expected the wait to be so long...

Because of the impending operations, I had told many people that I would not be able to promise to do this or that in case the hospital wanted me for the 'laser'! One day after church, a friend approached me and said she understood I was not available to work on the Art Exhibition this year. I explained to her that I couldn't make a definite commitment, but that if I could be there I would be. My friend was a former head-mistress. She looked at me sternly and said,

"Where are you having the operation?"

I told her.

A pained look crossed over her face. "You don't want to have it done there... I had mine done at Drayton House. They are wonderful." She then proceeded to parade me around the parish centre meeting all the people in the congregation that had had their eyes done at Drayton House! They all agree that the named hospital was a terrible place to go!

Not only was the hospital several miles away, but Drayton House was walking distance from where I live. So I had a good excuse when I called the Clinic to explain that I wanted them to refer me to Drayton House instead. I was astonished to learn that there were several other places where I could have this work done -- all private clinics/hospitals -- all paid by the NHS! I asked to be referred to Drayton house. This was on the 2nd of April. On the 16th of April I had an appointment at Drayton House for Monday 13th May.

I went for my appointment this past Monday and by the time I left had an appointment for my first operation on the 10th of June! The second operation should be done about two weeks later instead of the usual 6 weeks because one eye will have near perfect vision and the discrepancy  would make it very difficult with me to balance my eyes out.

There has been a lot in the news of late about the NHS farming out work to the private sector. The pros and cons of this have caused quite a debate. I don't quite understand all the ins and outs of this debate. I expect it has to do with money and with whether or not the doctors are NHS doctors getting paid as private doctors. It would seem that the private clinics around here have a much better reputation that the NHS hospital. I never got a date from the NHS when I was on their list --  over two months. Within two months of being referred to Drayton house I will have had my surgery.

As for the Art Exhibition -- I'll be working on that from the 7th-9th of June!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Twelfth Century Woman Composer

A week ago, I attended a lecture about Hildegaard of Bingem. A 12th Century nun she is considered by many scholars to be the first 'known' composer of music! She was also a respected theologian whose correspondents included the Pope, she was also a revered healer, who wrote medical and scientific works and she had 'visions'...

Hildegaard was the 10th child of a noble family and upon her birth her family promised her to the church, a 'child oblate' -- it was suggested by the lecturer that as the 10th child she could be considered 'tithed'! So at the age of 8 she entered an enclosed Benedictine 'anchorage' with an older nun, Jutta, who was to be her teacher.  The anchorage was attached to a monastery and Hildegaard lived there until Jutta died, when Hildegaard was 38 years old! 

The anchorage had two windows -- one would have enabled her to witness the mass and the other would have given access to the outside world. 
Anchors of both sexes, though from most accounts they seem to be largely women, led an ascetic life, shut off from the world inside a small room, usually built adjacent to a church so that they could follow the services, with only a small window acting as their link to the rest of humanity. Food would be passed through this window and refuse taken out. Most of the time would be spent in prayer, contemplation, or solitary handworking activities, like stitching and embroidering. Because they would become essentially dead to the world, anchors would receive their last rights from the bishop before their confinement in the anchorage. This macabre ceremony was a complete burial ceremony with the anchor laid out on a bier. (
In time  the fame of the two nuns spread and many pilgrims came to visit them for advice and spiritual guidance. As a result other noble families sent their daughters and soon a small convent was established. When Jutta died, Hildegaard was named Abbess and it was not long before she demanded from the Monestery, authority to build a convent in its own right. Although reluctant -- each postulant brought an impressive dowry with her -- the abbott was 'convinced' that it would be best to let Hildegaard have her way. She was suddenly laid low with a kind of seizure and would lie prone and immovable until her wish was granted. Hildegaard's fame and nobility were such that it was best to acquiesce to her wishes. She built the largest convent in Europe!

The second half of the lecture focused on Hildegaard's  music. Whether or not she wrote each piece of music herself or in concert with other sisters, is not known though it is probable. Until then singing was in the form of the Gregorian chant and followed the words of the Latin Mass. Hildegaard's compositions were Liturgical dramas with original music and words. These dramas can compared to the nativity and passion plays we see today.

She also wrote 2 symphonia and 77 songs. Unlike the monotone of the Gregorian chant, this music soars and the notes ascend and descend. It sounds very ethereal and rather primal. it also sounds like it should be sung rather than listened too. They were 'ruminatos' -- that is music and text working together to help contemplate the deeper meaning of her visions. 

Hildegaard became famous for her miracles and was allowed to go on preaching missions outside of the convent. She also had a secretary -- a monk -- who went with her and wrote down her writings. Nowadays she is criticized for her conservatism in only allowing noble women to join her convent -- only they would have the kind of education and manner to understand her work, her visions, her theology...

Isn't it fascinating to consider that such a woman making her way with such success and so respected in the 12th Century. She lived to be 81.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Passing Thoughts

When I first came to Britain to live September 1, 1980, Margaret Thatcher had been The First Among Equals for 16 months. My very first visit to Britain has been from mid November 1978 till early December of that year. Little did I know it at the time, but negotiations between the unions and the government over the amount of pay rises were critical at that time and would eventually lead to the devastating strikes that would become known as 'The Winter of Discontent'. Strikes that would arguably lead to the unexpected election of The Iron Lady.

Upon my first visit I was warned that the unions had a habit of one day strikes -- especially affecting public transportation -- and indeed that did prove to be the case. However, in general I was not unduly affected by industrial action. My love life brought me back to Britain only 6 months later -- in June. So in the interim, Mrs. Thatcher would have been newly elected -- but  on that visit political history made no impact on me at all! I had to live here before that would happen.

The move to England came in September 1980. This novice American had quite a shock as she watched the annual political conferences shortly after arrival! Words like 'manifesto' instead of 'platform' were used by both parties without the innuendo of 'communism'! The Labour party conference addressed its delegates as 'comrades'. You don't hear that word used by the Labour Party  any more!

Then in November Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States -- and 'the die was cast'...

Around September 1981 we moved to the town of Southport in the north west of England from Diss in Norfolk -- just after the Toxteth riots in Liverpool. Margaret Thatcher and her government were facing down the unions and the battles had begun. A newcomer to British politics, I was an enthralled witness to a very different kind of political drama than what I was accustomed to in the United States. Battles between the 'right' and the 'left' would be violent and prolonged. The miners were convinced they had the power to bring down the government -- as they had once before. Mrs. Thatcher was determined to stand firm and she did not flinch. The cost to the miners is still being felt today.

My politics do not coincide with those of Margaret Thatcher. I did not like her stridency. Her hectoring voice could give me a headache, while her attempts to sound calm and reasonable seemed false and insincere. But I did admire her forth right candour and her toughness. . She was right about Gorbachev, who I greatly admire, and I give her credit for the influence she had on Reagan.

There were moments when she took my breath away -- such as her strength of character after the Brighton bombing. I agreed with her when she demanded that Europe pay back the money Britain had owing -- and which ironically still has not been paid. Her appearance when she appeared in Parliament for the last time was phenomenal.

I believe that Mrs. Thatcher exhausted those of us who had to live with her. I can remember the feeling of relief when John Major with his authentically calm voice became Prime Minister. The arguments prevailing over her upcoming funeral bring it all back -- Her premiership was eleven years of that kind of vitriol -- and whether she was right or she was wrong, it was exhausting.But I don't believe she was 'evil'. Perhaps her policies were a necessary evil -- and even though I and many others think there could have been 'better ways',  we will never know, because things just are what they are.  She was a force of nature and she changed everything. I do believe history will be kind to her.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A Rapist, a Murderer, and a Thief

Habemus Papam! Although I am not a Roman Catholic, I have always been interested in the person who, as the Bishop of Rome, leads the vast number of Roman Catholics and fellow Christians. In my lifetime there have been three following in the footsteps of St. Peter who have particularly impressed me with what I, lowly as I am, perceive as 'holiness': John XXIII, John Paul I, and now Francis I.

On Maundy Thursday it is traditional in many churches to re-enact Christ washing the feet of his disciples just before the last supper. It is customary for the Pope to participate in this re-enactment also, usually washing the feet of selected clergymen. But this year our newly elected Pope went to a prison and washed the feet of a rapist, a murderer and a thief.  For me, the implications of this are very powerful and imply that this man is breaking away from the inculcating protection of the wealth-bound glory of an enthroned papal head. (In addition, it should be noted that he also washed the feet of a Serbian Muslim woman inmate.)

Pope Francis 'gets it'! Christ is to be found among the poor, the wretched, the people who believe and those who do not;  not in the edifices and trappings made and built to glorify him. We, his community, bring Christ to these places, we do not find him there otherwise. Places are spiritually powerful because of those who come -- and have come before us.We find Christ in our humanity toward and for each other -- whether we are rich or poor, white, black, English, Chinese, Korean, German, French, saint or sinner...

I am writing about this in response to the Good Friday service I attended this year. The Vicar made a special reference to the Pope's actions on Maundy Thursday and made the point that the sign of a successful church is in its 'diversity'. Society is now multi cultural. This may well take us out of our comfort zone. We may long for past days when life may have seemed simpler. It doesn't really matter because this cultural diversity is here to stay and it is the lifeblood of the church.

It seems to me that the history of Christianity has been one of struggle: A struggle through persecution and  intolerance. As often happens in  history, the persecuted became the persecutor, those who were not tolerated, became the intolerant. We do indeed "see through a glass darkly".

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Game is Up

Being in charge of the care and well-being of our 12-year-old grandson means we have been thrust head-long into the pitfalls of parenting in the 21st century. Our biggest problem has been coming to terms with and controlling Sam's access to modern technology. As he is not interested at all in girls or matters sexual (yet) we have at least not come across any of the problems as mentioned by one of my favourite bloggers,  John Gray today...

We have had a problem of another sort. I would call it Addiction to Games. In our house, he has had access to two gaming machines: an X-box and a portable Sony Play Station. Both of these have been confiscated. An I-Pad, which was given to him by one of his aunts in Korea just before he left to join us, has also been taken away from him and he is given only very limited access.

When Sam plays a game he becomes transfixed, mesmerized. If you speak to him, he does not hear you. His face becomes beet red and the eyes glassy. If he plays for much longer than an hour he will develop a headache and he will vomit. I think it's a kind of allergic reaction.

For the first few months Sam was here we wanted to show that we trusted him and we also wanted to allow for some 'mistakes' in order for him and us to learn about each other and our boundaries. When it comes to games, we can not trust him as far as we can throw him... A few weeks ago, I caught him red-handed at night when he was supposed to be in bed -- lights blazing playing the X-Box. I later learned that he had been doing this for quite a while. I removed the 'controllers' and they are in a place where he can not get to them. It will be a long time before they will be available to him again.

As for the Sony Play Station -- I/we told him that he would be allowed to play with that when we went on long journeys in the car. As a matter of trust I kept it in the bottom drawer of my desk. I later discovered that rather suspicious behaviour on his part was because he was plugging the damn thing in from the bottom drawer and playing his little heart away when I was busy elsewhere! I thought he was watching television. Well, the Play Station is now where he can't get his little mitts on it! He can now spend more time looking at the scenery!

I asked him one day, if he felt he wanted a cell phone. He said he used to have one in Korea, but that his parents had taken it away from him --

'I got in trouble', he said.

'Games?', I asked.

'Yes', he replied, with a sigh...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

For My Doggie Lovin' Bloggy Friends!

This should bring a smile to y'all! You might even applaud... (N.B. this is not my video! Compliments of The Internet!)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Laying Down the Law -- Grandma Style

This 'parenting' gig has been quite an adjustment for me. I didn't like parenting much when I was 'mommy-ing' it a few years ago, and now it's not so much a question of 'liking' or not 'liking'. It's more a question of remembering how to do it in the first place! Like, for example, Homework!

Since living in England this has been a struggle for me. Not because I have a problem with my children having homework. My problem was that I just believed them when they said they didn't have any! To put it bluntly they were Lying Toads. In the Connecticut town where I spent my homework years, I  would not have dreamed of not doing my homework and it would be done on time, too. I had homework in every subject every night -- hours of it in high school. We had to turn it in. It was part of our grade come report card time. There was no escaping it!

And that is another thing. The schools here don't have report cards! In fact my mother kept all of my report cards and gave them to me a few years ago! Report cards came out 6 times a year and had to be returned, signed by a parent. Report Card Day was a big was reported in the paper, the names of A and B honour roll students were in the paper. The kids could not keep it a secret very easily.

So it never occurred to me that my boys would not do their homework or that they would deny having any. I don't know where or when it was, but alas and alack for Sam, I have discovered how it works. First of all I now know about 'homework books/diaries'! I know that I'm supposed to sign them each week. I also know that if I don't sign them, I won't hear anything from the school.

My brother has a theory about homework -- at least it's true for where we went to school. He says that if you do your homework every night, you will do well in school ...

Homework here is quite different. But then school is different. In Sam's school the schedule is over two weeks and you do not have the same core subjects every day. Core subject to me are English, history, a foreign language, mathematics, science.

Now it is 2013 and we have the Internet. Things have  modernized! Sam's school has a website and on the website there is a 'Learning Zone' where I can go and download major project assignments -- like two that Sam is working on at the moment -- and which I am over-seeing. I look at my job as teaching him the difference between doing what is 'necessary' and doing what is 'the best' he can do. Usually, we have to compromise. But I only compromise a little!!! At the moment he has two projects about medieval castles. One, in history, entails learning enough about the nature of a castle to design one himself and to develop a budget from a list of what you would need for your castle and to defend it from enemy attack. The other project is to design two medieval characters to be used in an animation for an IT game. The biggest problem is that Sam tends to be sloppy and lazy in his work and convincing him that he should use the computer and transform his sloppiness on the computer. He is always pleased with the result, but it's always an matter of firmly insisting he do it!

But the third assignment is the 'jewel in the crown' for me! The assignment is to research 5-6 ofShakespeare's plays. Imagine being 12 years old and not knowing anything about Shakespeare -- other than having heard of Romeo and Juliet!!!! How does one begin -- besides joyfully, that is? The best part is that Sam is loving it! I confess to have chosen the six -- two tragedies, two comedies, and two histories. (Of course, he only wanted to do five!!!). I am not making him read the plays -- He has found synopsis and I shall pick out a couple of famous passages for him. The first one he read was Richard III -- which I chose because it is topical and I thought it a good opportunity to read about the play that has made it so topical. He was completely absorbed. Now he reading the synopsis of Hamlet! I'll let you know what he thinks -- but he has been quietly reading for a while now and seems to be giving out very thoughtful signals ... Coming up are Julius Caesar, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, and Henry V. And then write his own version of what each play was about -- he probably won't like that bit ... but you never know!

Friday, March 08, 2013

More than Pretty Lakes Beside the Seaside by Morcambe Bay

The last weekend in February The Man, Sam and I took leave of Southport and headed for Ulverston in Cumbria for a visit with close friends who had moved up there last summer. Ulverston is in the southern part of the Lake District and I would think less of a tourist attraction. But it is interesting, nevertheless.

My friends live in Baycliff, a pretty little village overlooking Morcambe Bay. Morcambe Bay is an unusual area of sea and sand noted for its rich stocks of seafood and dangerous and fast-moving tides. Carnforth, which I wrote about in my last post, is located on the opposite side of the water from Baycliff.

When The Man was a navigator in the RAF he often flew over this area of Britain and was keen to visit Barrow-in-Furness and to check out little Piel Island while we were there. I had only recently heard of Piel Island -- by way of television actor and personality Martin Clunes in his program Islands of Britain'. 

The drive to Barrow was interesting, but not particularly beautiful. Our first stop was the Roa Island Life Boat Station and Piel Island Ferry landing. Windswept and cold is how I shall remember it best! Fortunately the gates were locked shut so we didn't have to endure a walk around the building!
My first glimpse of Piel Island -- looking quite
mysterious and a bit forlorn!

It is actually possible to reach the island by foot when the tide is out. Needless to say it is important to keep an schedule of the tides if one wants to cross and stay dry! This view of Piel Island is taken from Roa Island, which is very tiny and connected to the mainland by a causeway. Though we didn't eat at the cafe/restaurant there, I understand from  my friends that it is a good place to stop for lunch!

Considering its small size, Piel Island has quite a story to tell! From the middle ages when King Stephen in 1127 gave the island to the Savignac monks to 1487 when German mercenaries made for Piel in an attempt by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, to wrest the throne from the Tudor king, Henry VII. Around 200 years later Charles II gave the island to one Duke of Abermarle and from then activity seemed to revolve around shipping, industry and salt. By the 18th century Piel was an important trading post and there was a large contingent of harbour pilots and customs officers in order to combat piracy and smuggling. Their cottages are now used as summer residences...

Currently, the island is occupied by the publican of the Ship Inn and his wife. Soon after taking possession of the pub the publican was crowned King of Piel Island. His coronation can be seen in the following clip, a testament to a certain quirkiness best found in these sceptred Isles, no doubt!!

What better way to end our day than with a meal in a local Baycliff pub/hotel, The Fisherman's Arms, followed by another glass of wine before the fire of the very English Farmers Arms on our way home! Cheers!

Friday, March 01, 2013

An All Too Brief Encounter with Carnforth

I had an inkling many of the Brits would know where I was in my last post!

One of the most iconic British films ever made, Brief Encounter, is a bitter-sweet story of two people who meet while waiting for a train. Both are married to other people ...

When the film was in the planning the world was still at war and a decision was made to do the rail station scenes in Carnforth, Lancashire. It is said that Celia Johnson was not very happy at having to spend several weeks filming in darkest Lancashire! Anyone interested can see the entire film on You Tube. 

Wikipedia explains the concept of the movie very well:
Brief Encounter is a 1945 British film directed by David Lean about the conventions of British suburban life, centring on a housewife for whom real love (as opposed to the polite arrangement of her marriage) brings unexpectedly violent emotions. The film stars Celia JohnsonTrevor HowardStanley Holloway and Joyce Carey. The screenplay is by Noël Coward, and is based on his 1936 one-act play Still Life. The soundtrack prominently features the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, played by Eileen Joyce.
Several years ago, The Man was in the area and decided to visit the train station. He was rather impressed with the fact that it had been turned into a fascinating museum that paid tribute to the movie by keeping the station as it was as a movie set. All of the pictures I used in my last post were in the movie. So on our way home from a lovely visit to Ulverston in the Lake District The Man decided to take an alternative route to the M6 Motorway, which took us through Carnforth.

Sometimes it really is lovely to be transported back to another time -- if only briefly, if only in the imagination.

My enduring memory of the movie is of the clock in the background here. I suppose that 'time' figured heavily, even poignantly, in the story.

Unfortunately, we were running late and did not have time to stop for a cup of tea. But it looks like we will be visiting our friends in Ulverston from time to time, so I see the distinct possibility of a not so Brief Encounter!