Of Miranda and Monks

As I was pacing my lawn and mediating this morning, two interesting thoughts came to me. As I pace I push the lawn mower and its steady noise makes a reassuring backdrop to my thoughts.

The other night I watched the last ever episode of Miranda, staring Miranda Hart. It was a most satisfactory conclusion to her story but it did remind me of all the times Mum and I laughed ourselves to tears watching her. She was reminiscent of the old-fashioned physical comedy that is beyond most so-called comedians nowadays. It occurred to me this morning that I can now remember things I shared with Mum and it makes me happy, not tearful. I am at that stage where memories cause me joy.

The second thought was concerning monks. I was given the complete set of Cadfael DVDs for Christmas. There are 13 episodes over four series and I have three left to see. I have enjoyed them immensely. Derek Jacobi was so brilliant in his hey day, and yet he is still brilliant now, and there are many other actors who had bit roles at the start of their careers in the mid 1990s. People like Hugh Bonneville and Hermione Norris etc. They are based on the novels by Ellis Peters and set at Shrewsbury Abbey in the 11th century.

Cadfael is a medieval monk, a herbalist and healer, who is also an amateur detective and solves murders. One of the interesting things I have learned from the extras on the DVDs is the incredible skill of these monks. They knew what the plant world was capable of, they treated gangrene successfully, made a potion of poppy to cure pain and treated knife and arrow wounds so that men hurt in battle would heal. Of course they didn’t have to deal with gunshot wounds in the 11th century. They had tremendous gardens full of life-giving plants and recipes that were hundreds of years old.

The scribes had copied the Gospels, they didn’t write down the recipes of the ointments and pulses and tonics that their herbalists used. Then in the 16th century the Reformation happened and the Abbeys were “Dissolved”. Most of the monks were killed or driven away and the ancient gardens were destroyed. The knowledge that was lost set man’s ability to heal himself back for two hundred years, maybe more. He resorted to ‘bleeding’ bodies to rid them of bad humours and isolating lepers instead of healing them. Science has had to rediscover these cures all over again and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t found them all yet. Isn’t that fascinating?

It makes me wonder what the world would be like if the Reformation hadn’t happened and the Church was still the powerful force, people were God-fearing because they knew nothing else. Would we be backward, with no electricity and the majority of people being illiterate, no contraception, no airplanes, no computers….or would science and faith have found a way to co-exist in harmony? Would the discoveries still have happened? Would man have learned compassion or would he still be as cruel as ever to his own race?

I don’t come up with any answers and I am bathed from head to toe in sweat, but at least I have short lawns.


Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful, Cat

That’s the thing about writing, blogging, corresponding with people who read what you write…sometimes it’s easy and funny and entertaining and sometimes, it’s hard. The other day I was sitting in my conservatory watching a white butterfly. Something had happened to it and it couldn’t fly very well. Every so often it would heave itself up and flutter an inch or so off the stone floor, then slump, exhausted, back onto the slate, both wings on one side. After a little rest it would have another go.

Today I have felt like that butterfly. I try for few moments and then I give up. There’s a line from “Vincent” By Don McLean:
“A silver thorn, a bloody rose
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow”
that sometimes haunts me. We had a thunderstorm this afternoon and some very welcome and very heavy rain. My house sprang several leaks and I was busy with towels and bowls as I watched the water cascading from the spouting. It reminded me of my leaky eyes, it’s a by-product of grief, leaky eyes. When things aren’t going well I just miss my Mum so much. The world goes round and tomorrow will be better.

I took Chloe to the vet today and the first thing she said (the vet, not Chloe) as she coaxed her out of the carry cage was “what a beautiful cat!” Chloe is black and white and she has black whiskers above one eye and white above the other and her coat is very glossy. When she came in from the rain storm she was sodden and looked like a cat that had had a bath. Surprisingly, she let me towel her off and then sat, happily, in front of the heater and licked herself clean but she wasn’t keen on going back outside so spent the evening cuddling with me and watching TV. “Outside” is a summer word as far as Chloe is concerned, it goes with ‘warm’ and ‘long summer evenings catching moths.’ The merest hint of cold and dark and rain and she’s curled into a ball on the nearest soft, cosy inside surface. After all, when you’re that beautiful, you have nothing to prove outside and it’s closer for the trained humans to reach the treats.


I promised a few days ago to tell you about the short story that won the hearts of all four judges at the Cambridge Autumn Festival short story competition. The word limit was 2,500 words and the subject was ‘Favourites’, open to whatever interpretation the writers wanted to put on it. There were about seventy entries and the organisers split them into two piles, two judges read one half and two judges the other half. We came up with a short list of six and then all four judges read the final twelve. There was a clear winner and we were all quite emotional about the story. It was called ‘Princess Belle’ and was written by a Christchurch writer, a woman in her fifties. It’s an intergenerational story set around a grandmother reading her granddaughter a bedtime story, her favourite, Cinderella. The grandmother is the narrator and through her we learn about her relationship with her own mother and the questionable job she made of parenting her daughter, the little girl’s mother, who is not there. Jail or rehab, we never quite know. It was simple, stark, poignant and yet ended with a note of hope. It moved us, informed us and entertained us. It was a joy to read.

Today I want to talk about one of the most important things in my life. One of the things that keeps me sane (relatively) and drives my onward journey. And that is Music. As regular readers know, I refer to my grief for my Mum (who died three months ago next week) as my ride on ‘the ocean of grief.’ Most of the time it has settled down to a manageable swell and I’m coping well. A few days ago it suddenly turned into a storm for an afternoon. In the middle of it, when I cried out for help, God directed me back to my music.

I dug out a concert DVD I hadn’t seen for about two years and watched it. That drove me to my computer and I compiled some playlists of songs I’ve neglected, put on the headphones and, ever since, I’ve spent a part of every day singing my little heart out. I can’t hear myself but I’m betting it isn’t pretty. Don’t care. I’m rocking my world to The Killers, Jace Everett, Alison Krauss, Air Supply, Scouting for Girls, Abba, Robbie Williams and Michael Ball among others. And every-so-often I throw in a dose of Placido Domingo, Noah Stewart and Luciano Pavarotti to remind myself that my top notes have gone.

I can’t adequately explain how great it makes me feel to hear and sing along and how soothing music is to me. It helps me express my emotion and it lifts me up when I’m down, it is a big part of how I praise my God, it lets me pretend I’m an opera singer or a rock star. When I make up my own lyrics I’m a poet, when I hum a tune I almost know but can’t remember I’m a songwriter and when I hear a new talent (like the first time I heard Noah) I am awe-struck.

Little quiz, you will recognise this man. When a singer is largely remembered for the end stages of his career, people forget how handsome and incredible on stage he was in his prime. He is sadly missed by millions, including me.

handsome 1

My very favourite song at the moment is called “My arms are Strong”, it begins:
Come to me my darling child
Is the world upsetting you?
I’ll hold you in my arms a while
Nothing so bad
Don’t you know that I will protect you, protect you?

And in the spirit of sharing, here are some of my favourite clips, the ones that make me smile. I hope you click-through and watch them and enjoy them. These are some of the people who (unbeknownst to them) are keeping me afloat on my ocean as the time passes and it becomes easier. Their vocal gift is my life jacket and they are the soundtrack of my life. I thank God for each and every one of them. “Thank you for the music…and in some cases the laughter and in some cases the incredible acting.”

Sunday Sunday

It’s Sunday, which means it’s church day and that’s nice. One of my best friends is 70 today and I have a wee present for her. Tomorrow is the first of two fairs that we have on the church grounds, the other is in October. There are over 100 stalls and people come from miles around to shop. Hopefully it will be a nice day. The group I belong to, AAW (Association of Anglican Women), puts on the morning tea that people can buy in the church hall. Good old-fashioned home baking. I have some Christmas mince pies in the deep freeze and this afternoon I shall be baking. Nothing too complicated, banana cake with chocolate icing and some chocolate chip muffins with dark, milk and white chips.

Tomorrow I shall be at the hall at 7am to help with the sandwich and asparagus roll making. We will sit around a table and butter and fill and slice and chat and laugh and sometimes even sing. Then from 9am till 2pm we will serve morning tea or coffee and the afore-mentioned home baking.

I am on a health kick! For several reasons, one, to be more healthy and to stop my doctor giving me a metaphorical (well-deserved) kick up the arse every three months and two, to get fit for a rather strenuous three months of travel I have coming up quite soon. I am swimming at the magnificent local pool, uncovered and 50 metres in length and lovely and refreshing. I LOVE swimming. I dive in and away I go, rhythmic stoke after rhythmic stoke, length after length. I started with 10 lengths and now I am up to 16. I also go to the nearest park and walk fast, but that makes me very hot at the moment and swimming doesn’t, so I really do prefer swimming. This morning I had my first reward, after 11 days of my health kick. I test my blood sugar twice a day and this morning it was 6.2….under 7! High five myself. Eleven days ago it was 18.6 and I was very naughty type two diabetic. Now I’m not. Progress.

I’m still riding my ‘Ocean of Grief’. I have decided it sounds like it should be a place on the moon. Most times it is fairly calm and serene, if a little sad. Then I glance over my shoulder and see a Tsunami wave waiting for me, have a double take and it is gone. So maybe it is my mind playing tricks. You remember that scene at the end of “Perfect Storm” when the fishing boat starts going up and the shot pulls back and it is climbing this massive wave and you know it isn’t going to end well?

Breakfast time, I used to have a bagel with Marmite and melted low-fat cheese, now I have some very healthy and remarkably chewy cereal with low-fat milk and a banana. Oh, the good thing is I think I’ve lost a few kilos in the week, my scales have very small numbers on them and even with my glasses on I have to bend double to read them and that rather ruins the effect. I’m back at the doctor next Friday and I’ll get him to weigh me. And I’ll show him my blood sugar log and will finally have someone else to high-five with and no (metaphorical) arse kicking. If I can just resist tomorrow’s home baking……


I haven’t blogged for a while, not because I’ve been too busy, but because I couldn’t. Something was stopping me from writing about the events of the last few weeks and I didn’t know what it was.

Grief is a funny thing, Some people say it is the price we pay for love. You love something, someone, and when you lose it, you grieve. Doesn’t matter how you lose it, death, separation, divorce, theft, accident…you grieve. When Mum first had her stroke in May 2012 I used to come home from the hospital and then the rest home and cry my eyes out. I missed her being at home with me so much and I didn’t think she would ever come back, I missed talking to her and I was so distressed by her pain and suffering. It was my wonderful vicar who suggested to me that I was suffering a form of grief, for the life we used to have and the woman she used to be. When I understood that I coped better.

Then she started to improve, we got rid of horrible tubes and she could eat food and drink liquid and she understood more and laughed and seemed to get real pleasure out of things. We shared stuff, we sat in the garden and watched the birds flying around the water tower.  She was fascinated by them and I know she wished she was free to fly away, like them. We shared jokes and laughed a lot. She was tactile and loving and used to roll over and stretch her arms out for a cuddle and stroke my face and touch my hand to her lips in her form of a kiss. I told her I loved her every day, twice a day, when I left her. Just in case.

On Christmas Eve my brother and two of his children came to see her and we had a lovely afternoon, she was in good form and laughed and hugged them and walked them to the door when it was time for them to leave. I came back that night and we talked about how much fun it had been. I’d cooked some trout he’d brought and she ate trout and some sweetcorn fritters for tea. I’d cooked a whole pile of fritters for Christmas Day the next day and we laughed at how I couldn’t cook them the way she did. I kissed her and told her I loved her to bits, more than anyone in the world and that we would have a lovely day the next day with family. Then I left her.

At 8.30am the next morning, Christmas Day, she died. Quickly and peacefully and I am so grateful for that. Carol from Resthaven came round to see me and when I opened the door and saw her standing there, I knew. Straight away. Instantly. I knew. And my mind froze. I went into a sort of frozen state and I have remained in it until yesterday.

I told my brothers.  I helped organise her funeral and I knew exactly what she wanted. I met with the vicar and told him about her and the family. I went to dinner with two of my close church friends. I talked to lots of people on the phone. I had Mum home and I stroked her hair and talked to her and read my eulogy to her. I cut a lock of her thick grey hair and put it in a little box. When the undertaker came I helped him to screw the lid down and load her into the hearse.

Then I went to our church and said goodbye. This was the church she was christened in, married in and had come home to. When we moved to Cambridge she insisted that we go. “If we’re going to go, then we’re going to go every Sunday,” she used to say on Saturday nights. So we did. And during the last two years we both found God again. I have been enfolded by my church family and I thank Him for them every day. And Mum took communion at Resthaven and when we talked about Heaven her eyes would glow and she would smile. She was looking forward to it.

I talked about her during the service, not as well as I would have liked. I wish I had abandoned my speech and just talked about her, about us. But I didn’t and I felt fine during the service. I helped carry her out and put a poppy on the coffin and away she went. Then I had conversations and lots of hugs with family and friends and repeated again and again how relieved I was that she didn’t suffer at all. “She was ready.”

Since then I’ve had the odd time when I’ve cried and wished she was here, but I’ve finished my book and sent it off to my agent and a couple of other people. I’ve planned a trip overseas that I can now make and will write a book about and I’ve started swimming at the local pool and walking in the park and stopped eating sugar to get my blood-sugar more under control.

Yesterday I felt sad all day, different, just sad. And last night a dam broke and I cried and cried. I remember when Dad died a very wise woman asked me how I felt and I told her I was standing on the edge of a deep black lake and I couldn’t even dip my toe in. She helped me to plunge in and swim to the other side where I could miss him and think of him and talk about him and actually FEEL something. It took six months to get to that place.

This time an equally wise woman wrote to me and told me that grief was like an ocean and sometimes it is gentle and sometimes it drops you down into deep holes. So now I am riding the ocean, at long last I have pushed my boat out from the shore and started this journey that is grief. At long last I am feeling. So, I know that eventually I will reach the shore and I will be able to think about her without crying, remember the good times and all the years of fun we had. How fortunate I was to have the amazing love and care and devotion of that beautiful woman, my Mum.


Tarawera 2013