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Time and place



Updated: 2017-06-22T03:51:37.316+01:00

 



New place

2008-05-16T20:52:18.111+01:00

I'm blogging here now. Come on over.

www.wanting2behere2.blogspot.com



Signs and Sitting

2008-03-07T16:06:17.975+00:00

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If you are meditating and somewhere within earshot interesting things are going on, you will find your mind going there to check it out. No problem. If you do not resist the process, your attention will of its own accord return to your focus - your breath, or your own thoughts and sensations.
Lorin Roche
Meditation Made Easy, Page 123


I've been tagged by Neith with the Astroblogger meme. Variations of this have been floating around for a little while but this is a first for me. While I don't blog about astrology per se (not knowledgeable or orderly-minded enough) I am a keen amateur practitioner so, stealing Leslee's phrase, this blog has something of an astroflavour.

Here it is:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people

It's been necessary to bend the rules. Never Let Me Go was definitely the nearest book to hand, but only has two short paragraphs at the end of a chapter on page 123 and too few sentences. At a second attempt I found three sentences on page 123 of a basic beginner's meditation guide. This book's great virtue is the emphasis on keeping things simple and enjoying the practice, and given the large dollop of inquisitive Gemini in my birthchart plus a mercurial Virgo ascendant the passage quoted is particularly helpful.

Unless I'm ill or travelling I sit pretty much every morning. Just for fifteen minutes or so but it's become an intrinsic part of my day, While I'm not a Buddhist - sometimes I wish I could sign up for something but that's a topic for another post - their meditation techniques work for me. So there I am in front of my altar, the thinking part galloping into the past and future, the meditative part noticing the fact then trying to bring the focus back to the breath. Where it stays for at least five seconds.

In the silence and space thoughts and feelings rise to the surface then fall away. Insights occur and truth asks to be faced. For this quarter of an hour I am physically quiet and still even if inwardly agitated and there is comfort and strength in that. It can be very peaceful sitting at the window with the faint background sounds of my neighbours starting their days. Very, very occasionally I do approach that place that lies beyond thought. Other days there is restlessness and frustration and the whole thing seems as rewarding and fulfilling as watching paint dry, yet I'd no more leave the house without brushing my teeth than skip this.

I'm groping for a final sentence to explain why I sit. Because I must. Just because.

****

I'm not going to tag anyone but if you'd like to do the meme, with any slant or none, leave a note in the comments.



Perspectives

2008-03-02T17:08:18.358+00:00

. Compared to the daunting size of some London art galleries the Welsh national collection is built on a human scale. The few rooms are relatively small so it is possible to do them all justice in a couple of hours and then, if you wish, to make a day of it and take in the museum part of the building. Just how museums and galleries ought to be. Having been duly beguiled by Renoir and rendered nostalgic by Sisley, I was jolted awake by a Welsh artist new to me, Kevin Sinnott. For a start, who could resist a painting with such a title? I love its size and energy, the crazy perspective and the unanswered questions, e.g. Why aren't they holding hands?

. After many months of almost no book reading, I've just finished Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. Set in a dark version of the 1990s the story unfolds at a slow, painstaking pace and at the end left me uncomfortable but, goodness, it should be read. It won't be a hardship either as the book is beautifully written and from one perspective it is purely about human relationships and how we are each of us influenced and dominated by our pasts. That which isn't explained or which just filters through - to the reader as to the main protagonist and her fellow students - is the most chilling part of all.

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. The visit to the Welsh national gallery allowed enough time to take in the Cardiff Bay development. The photo was taken at the Water Sculpture (yesterday without the water) and I wasn't the only photographer to be attracted by its hall-of-mirrors potential. It can make you visible yet invisible. A little like a blog.

More photos here.





Arrival

2008-03-01T18:20:28.903+00:00

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The tulips were blowsy and past their best that lunchtime last April when our van pulled up outside the house. But the splash of colour of the two-toned red and yellow flowers in the front garden was welcoming as I struggled out of the passenger seat clutching the cat basket. I had hardly slept the previous night and it had been a four hour journey. The cat - poor thing - had protested loudly until we reached Ross, when he had no choice but to give in to the call of nature. We pulled over and Bill went for a cigarette while I did the necessary. (My sister had the bright idea of using incontinence pads - one to start the journey with plus a couple of replacements in case of such an occurrence - at the base of his basket).

l was apprehensive that I wouldn't be able to find the key for the front door - the bunch of keys we had collected half an hour earlier from the estate agent's offices in town seemed more suited in size to Fort Knox than a modest semi. My fears were, of course, unjustified - it transpired that there were three copies of each one. Sally the estate agent, at probably half my age, had asked if I would mind waiting while a colleague popped out to the local florist to buy a pink hyacinth as a house-warming present. This may have been company policy but I was touched and found it a niche on a sunny windowsill.

After unloading the boxes and cartons Bill set off home to Sussex. The furniture in storage locally was delivered shortly afterwards. Water, gas and electricity all worked. I released the cat from his portable prison, drank a mug of tea, read the meters and made arrangements with a friend to go shopping for a washing machine and fridge the following day. Oh, and did a bit of unpacking. All surprisingly straightforward after the stress of the previous months.

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That freezing weather of a few weeks back is past - for now - sunlight floods the garden and a strong wind blows from the south west. The daffodils are in full flower and those red and yellow tulips are opening. Nearly eleven months later the sight of them once again outside the kitchen window, drawn upwards inexorably through the dark earth by warmth and light, leaves me jubilant and relieved.

This spring the signs of change and rebirth have particular resonance.



Moderation

2008-02-24T21:36:26.278+00:00

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An interesting week and it looks as if the coming seven days will have their moments as well. Nothing like a total lunar eclipse to stir things up. None of it bears blogging about for the moment, but it's been a reminder that life is nothing if unpredictable.

Thanks for the comments on the previous post. One of the things that gives blogging its fascination is the ability that it affords to chronicle and celebrate a few moments of an icy, dank February morning in a country town in the Marches. The creation of a post allows me the space to contemplate and experience my own world more deeply and thoughtfully and I can share the moments with others worldwide, most of whom I will probably never meet. Blogging as a creative and meditative tool, creating an invisible spider's web of links across the planet as we exchange pieces of our lives. And there are millions of us doing it. All those webs.

I need to limit my time on the internet though often I'm tempted not to. Mostly I manage to find the balance. When I don't my wellbeing suffers. It comes back to the concept of moderation. Not my natural home, and not where I've spent a good part of my life, but, heaven knows, the alternative is counterproductive. I'm getting older and increasingly body, mind and soul need me to aim for a state of equilibrium, however unfamiliar this may feel. I can't afford to waste these years.

****

Because I can't resist, a couple of other photographs of those murky, beautiful days. To see enlarged versions of these or any of the pictures on the blog, click on the photograph and go into Flickr, then select All Sizes.


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Monochrome (almost)

2008-02-19T10:49:09.656+00:00

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We've been experiencing some of the lowest night temperatures in the UK.

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Clear night skies and heavy frosts combined with early morning fog means the dawn becomes a study in shades of grey.

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Any stretch of open water that doesn't move freezes over ....

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... and the pigeons wait for the sun to break through.

When it does the contrast is almost shocking. Colour everywhere. Bright. Clear. Glowing.



New Job

2008-02-20T16:37:51.773+00:00

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I think it's going to work out. I'm getting to grips with the charity's fiendishly complex database. Remembering names and telephone extensions. The people seem nice and the short working week is good.

Part of the job is to upload information onto the computer system and it's impossible not to be aware of the human beings behind the statistics. Elderly men and women in nursing homes, in most cases suffering from dementia, who can no longer care for themselves and whose families can no longer care for them. As I work I wonder about their lives, the contrast between then and now, whether they are aware of what has happened to them.

And what about the families who are forced to take decisions for which they cannot know the outcome, to choose between painful, often less-than-perfect options? Unlike a few of my friends I've never had to face this situation. Both my mother and grandmother were as sharp as tacks when they died in their eighties; my father was confused but not to the extent that he couldn't function.

So. I've started a routine of wishing each person peace as I load the details of their lives onto the database. It's the one thing that I can do.

****

Today has been a peaceful and ordered one, productive without being manic, social but with quiet times. Most of the items on the list I drew up this morning have been ticked off. Feelings come and go. It's OK.

Photograph: Eastgate Clock, Chester.



New Moon

2008-02-12T18:02:55.462+00:00

My father, outwardly the most prosaic of men, had a ritual that he kept religiously. Once a month, when he spotted the new moon, he would stop what he was doing and turn over the loose change in his pocket - I can remember the jingle of coins to this day. I think you were probably supposed to make a wish as well but he never talked about that.

Homeward bound, yesterday late afternoon. I had a window seat in the half empty carriage.

I think it was after the train pulled out of Wrexham that the first thin curve of the moon appeared. Hardly noticeable at first in the late afternoon sky, as the day dimmed and the sun sank towards the horizon the new moon's light grew; she seemed suspended above our little train as we hustled south towards Shrewsbury. Now and again her image was reflected in a river or a pond ..... a cool light in the dark land.

We rushed through Craven Arms, Church Stretton, then Ludlow, past hedges and fields, factory farms and gardens - ugliness and beauty one and the same now - the hills much closer here, large black shapes looming out of the night. I could hear the rumble of conversation a few rows back; a woman read a newspaper on the other side of the aisle. Occasionally the ticket inspector came by. For the last hour of the journey I leant back in my seat and watched the crescent moon, from time to time with a lump in my throat. Impossible to focus on anything else.

At some point there was a shift. The heaviness and anxiety of the past weeks softened and lightened.



Spring Walk

2008-02-07T14:01:00.718+00:00

The weather offered a foretaste of April: soft rain alternating with fleeting bursts of sunlight. Sometimes both at once. With the new job starting soon this week has a poignant, end-of-the-holidays feel about it, free days measured as a diminishing and precious commodity. After an inactive weekend and in response to a gnawing urge to make the best of Monday, mid-morning I set off westward along the riverbank heading for Breinton Springs, a few miles away.The narrow path was so slippery with mud and puddles the immediate task was to stay upright. A couple of hikers - a middle aged man and woman - picking their way gingerly through the mud from the other direction, smiled as they went by, the three of us cheerfully bonded in self-inflicted adversity. It didn't matter. The mist of raindrops was so gentle on my face, it resembled a cool caress.Suddenly a large buzzard rose over the bare branches of the surrounding trees. He was joined by two others - a male and a female - and a loud dog-fight (for want of a better term) broke out overhead between the two males. They came together repeatedly, clashing then withdrawing, their eerie, mewing cries reverberating over the valley.The losing male flew off, vanquished.The spring. A trickle of clear water issues from a horizontal crack in a tree-covered escarpment of red standstone a dozen yards from the river. No habitation and no signs to speak of, though it appears on the local maps, just a grassy access track leading towards it from the Wye Valley walk. A mysterious, intimate, feminine place if you overlook the discarded cigarette packets. I hate litter. I couldn't bear to leave them there, so scooped up the sodden cardboard and found a rubbish bin later.Homewards via a different tracery of paths and lanes. A steep climb then a track leading past cider apple orchards incongruously protected by high, barbed-wire fencing. To the right the wooded drop down to the river, in the distance to the left, green fields and hills.The rain had more or less stopped and everywhere were visual pleasures: the clump of wild snowdrops in an abandoned orchard .....the warm, red brick and classic lines of a farm outhouse ........and a very faint rainbow's end in an adjoining field. A minute or two later it had vanished completely.More pictures from the walk here.****I'm looking forward - cautiously - to the new job. It's a simple, part-time admin position, but the department provides a service that's indirectly useful to the wider community and my soon-to-be colleagues seem friendly and congenial. It will be a relief to have a small but steady income and a definite, though not stifling, structure to the week. I need both badly.[...]



Possibility

2008-11-14T01:40:56.827+00:00

(image) It went so well.

I hadn't given any kind of massage for over a year. Force majeure up to a point, but all kinds of instincts of inertia and withdrawal were tucked away behind the excuse of undeniable upheavals. I've missed my handful of London clients badly and have been mulling over whether I should abandon massage altogether. You're all right on the practical side but you keep forgetting the theory, I told myself. Compared to others you're probably not that good. Maybe it's time to let it go. I turned down a couple of tentative approaches.

Recently a new acquaintance asked for a clothed head and shoulders massage. This time with some reluctance I said yes. So yesterday, a day of gales with the wind hurling handfuls of rain against the window, I donned my waterproofs, cycled the fifteen minutes to her house, chatted, took a short case history and began.

It all came back. She'd never had a head massage before so I explained the process. Body and hands and voice remembered and I discovered once again - like meeting up with a long-lost friend - that place of stillness and peace beneath the physical strokes. I watched her face soften as I worked the muscles of her shoulders (trapezius, levator scapulae), neck (sternocleidomastoid, splenius capitis) and scalp (occipitalis, frontalis). I probed beneath the occipital ridge, listening to the silence surrounding and holding both of us, sensing the return of my own confidence. Before I left we agreed on further sessions.

She was happy. So was I.

There are many things I don't have a talent for: mathematics, rock climbing, conceptual thought, dressmaking, ballroom dancing ..... That's fine. But I have been horribly unsure and cripplingly perfectionistic about the abilities I do possess. Nature? Nurture? Karma? It doesn't matter. All I know is that it would be the ultimate betrayal not to go ahead and use them.



Urban Gardening

2008-11-14T01:40:57.198+00:00

(image) Seem to be doing a lot of blogging lately. It comes and goes.

On Sunday I caught the first programme of a new series on BBC2 TV, Around the World in 80 Gardens. We started in Central America. I loved it all but it was the section on the urban gardening movement in Cuba - something I knew absolutely nothing about - that really grabbed me. If you wonder how city dwellers will manage when the oil starts to run out and it is no longer economically viable to transport food long distances, this may be at least part of the answer.

From necessity after the collapse of the Soviet empire and the subsequent withdrawal of aid, in the early 1990s the Cubans set to and started growing vegetables on spare pockets of land in urban environments in order to feed themselves. And, amazingly - to me anyway - the project is a success. Locally grown, organic fruit and vegetables feeding urban communities.

Here's an excerpt from a longer piece on the Cuban urban gardens:

For the vast majority of urban Cubans since the Revolution, food came from a grocery store or supermarket. Growing food was generally considered a part of campesino (peasant) life, left behind on the move to the city. To encourage small scale food production in urban areas, the government gave unused land to anyone who wanted to cultivate it. Havana, with a fifth of the island's population, was a priority area for urban food production .....

This all created, almost overnight, a new urban gardening culture. By the mid 1990's there were over 28,000 huertos in Havana city province, run by 50-100,000 individuals. Some of this new army of gardeners could remember farming with their parents 35 years ago, before they moved to Havana. For many it was an
entirely new occupation.

Huerto is Spanish for 'kitchen garden' and these are the equivalent of allotments or smallholdings in Britain. They may be individual, family or collective and some are attached to institutions such as day care centres and schools. They range in size from postage stamp to two or more hectares. Garden clubs are comparable to allotment societies ... there are more than 19,000 individuals organised into more than 800 clubs throughout Havana.
Read the whole thing. The programme is being repeated tonight at 7.00pm on BBC2.

It's probably not a one size fits all solution - there must be other factors involved: culture, climate, population density, social cohesion. A reminder nonetheless that homo sapiens can and will adapt in order to survive. When we have to.

Photo: http://www.cosg.org.uk/gardens.htm



Fair Helena

2008-01-28T07:21:30.946+00:00

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Photohunters theme: Old Fashioned.

With two additional rooms to furnish I’m keeping my eyes peeled these days for pictures and wallhangings that I like and which fit into the budget. Attracted initially by the carving on the frame I spotted this delight yesterday, hidden behind a pile of other donated pictures and assorted bric-a-brac in a local charity shop. The tattered, yellowing label on the back reads:

RACKHAM, Arthur (1867-1939)
“A Midsummer’s Night Dream”
Original Colour Print. 1908.

A quick search on Google and I found an alternative name for the print: Fair Helena.

Standing alone and watchful in the midnight wood she is discreetly sensuous, this Helena. The gauzy fabric of her robe is draped to show her figure to advantage. Tall and elegant, rather Edwardian with her bare shoulders, plunging neckline and mass of upswept, slighly dissheveled hair, she possesses more than a hint of Pre-Raphaelite wildness.

I remember hearing of Arthur Rackham as a child but can't remember where and when. I’ve just spent, or perhaps wasted, a fascinating couple of hours following links on the net and discovering what a talented and imaginative illustrator he was.

Have I made a profit on my purchase? Possibly. I paid £2 and from its condition this particular print looks to be an old one. Prints of Fair Helena seem to be selling for around US$70 online and I will ask C, a professional artist, for her opinion. Helena's not for sale though; she hangs above my bookcase, spreading enchantment. I must re-visit A Midsummer Night's Dream.



48 Hours (Updated)

2008-01-26T15:12:30.345+00:00

In the last 48 hours the following has happened:

a) I've had a severe stomach upset (following a dodgy jacket potato and tuna mayonnaise from a previously reliable stall in town).

b) The hot water tap in the kitchen jammed yesterday evening. A high pressure stream of hot water thundered into the sink and spilled over onto the floor. I tried to turn the stopcock under the sink to stop the flow but it was too stiff. I phoned three emergency plumbers and none could come out till this morning. After an anguished phone call a friend's husband (thank you, T and C, thank you, thank you ) came over at 8.00pm and shut off the faulty tap. He will buy and fit a replacement on Saturday.

c) On T's departure I switched on the gas boiler which I had closed down when the flooding started. After half an hour it was apparent that there was no hot water or heating. I rang British Gas at 9.00pm yesterday and they arranged for an engineer to call this morning.

d) We had a city-wide electricity power cut this morning just as the engineer arrived. He was sorry but he was unable to do anything without power. I rang British Gas at 11.00 am today when the electricity was restored and an engineer will call again tomorrow.

e) I have a job interview this afternoon

I think Mars retrograde has something to do with all this, but that's just me.
I don't know what I would have done without T.
Taking out Three Star insurance cover on the boiler was a good idea.
I'm thankful for two fan heaters and an electric shower.
British Gas's efficiency has been a pleasant surprise.
If I get this job it won't be because of my calm demeanour.

This afternoon I'm in a state of mild shock at how fragile the structure of my so-called self-sufficiency actually is. It's perilously easy to take so much for granted - good health or utilities or whatever - for so much of the time. I'm contemplating our mutual interdependence. No exceptions. None.

Update: I got the job.



Hilltop

2008-01-23T15:54:26.262+00:00

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One day long ago
a yellow kite tugged and soared
straining for freedom,

a boy unaware
of our presence in his duel
with the cunning wind.


....

The river runs fast and angry and the watermeadows have flooded. I'll need to take the long way round to the railway station this morning. The heavy skies have their own beauty but it isn't for me today. Too much grey. Too much rain. I've been looking through my photographs in search of a particular memory of summer.

It was taken in June, I believe, sometimes in the early 1990s. My father and I drove out one morning for a walk on Harting Down . I remember the feel of the warm breeze on my face, the springy turf, our hesitant conversation - sadly we didn't often talk one-to-one without my mother being present. The quality of the photo could be better - a bad workman blames his tools but it was taken with a very cheap, very basic, camera. Yet the combination of the energy flowing through the solitary kite flyer, his absorption and focus, the sweep of the downs and the distant memory of a summer's warmth still captivates me.

And the photograph was taken from the crest of a hill. Throughout this lifetime I've lived in the flatlands, on river plains and estuaries. I know that I need to climb a hill, any hill. Regularly.

I need - always - to be reminded of the long view.



Waiting

2008-01-13T19:08:13.437+00:00

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You might believe, wrongly, that the universe is out to get you when it's 6.45 am on Saturday morning, still nighttime really, and you have struggled downstairs with one of two huge piles of washing. You're making an early start to catch up on the week's accumulated chores. You load the washing machine, set the programme and press the On switch. Thirty seconds later the machine starts to grind and squeal. Red lights flash. The tub stops turning and your sheets and towels sit there, waterlogged and motionless.

The engineer is coming on Tuesday.

A therapeutic phone call to a friend at 9.00 am helped. So did a sunny morning after several grey days, a trip into town and new lingerie bought with a Christmas gift token.

....

The temporary job finishes next week. I've been more than glad to have it, but the goal of permanent part-time work is still elusive. The spectre of financial insecurity has started to make himself at home.

So I fall back on those other, smaller, ways of grounding myself which are suddenly no longer just a luxury. Making commitments. Lighting candles (£1 for 50 nightlights) around the home, taking care of the physical self and its surroundings, creating a structure when life isn't supplying one, eating properly (more or less), meditation. Especially meditation.

....

The only real answer though is to let go. To cry over the piles of dirty washing and the worry and the paralysing fear of doing the wrong thing. And then to listen.

I can wash some things by hand. A contact has requested a head massage. There's enough money in the bank for today, this week, this year. And I try to move forward in the understanding that real growth and real progress are sometimes more about considering the lilies - or snowdrops - than measuring miles covered or items ticked on a To Do list.

Waiting is an art form, someone I knew used to say. I think he was right.



Kiva

2008-01-13T18:22:09.598+00:00

Kate at Integral Shamanics originally put me on to to Kiva where I went to renew my development aid loan this week. For all sorts of reasons, when you're anxious about money this kind of activity is good. My first loan went to a shopkeeper in Mexico to help her buy a photocopier. The second is to a charcoal seller in Tanzania.

I'm no economist but I'm particularly interested in the concept of microfinance. In another life, over twenty five years ago, I had some contact with work of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, then in its infancy. The bank's founder, Muhammad Yunus, played a major part in launching the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as forms of development aid.

Follow any of the links above for more information.



New Year's Day

2008-01-07T14:44:48.401+00:00

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Awake so early
in this unfamiliar bed
swimming in grey light.

My heart pumps its blood;
mist wraps the house in silence
and the Buddha smiles.



Nine

2007-12-31T16:38:56.768+00:00

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There's something about the words Gratitude List that doesn't sit well with me. Just call me awkward. It brings back memories of false expressions of gratitude uttered to keep the adults happy at times when I was a silently rebellious child. But I do see the real value of paying conscious, thoughtful attention to the good. So now and again I compile a list.

Here's mine for 2007.

1. Good health. I've had prolonged periods without it. I never forget what a gift - and a potentially fragile one - good health is.

2. My sister. She put up with her temporarily homeless elder sibling plus cat plus litter tray for twelve weeks at the beginning of the year. During this time I was never once made to feel that we were in the way, or a nuisance, or annoying, though at different times we were probably all three. I wrote her a cheque for rent which she refused to cash - it lay gathering dust on the kitchen dresser. It was a needed respite for me, a time of shared suppers, walks along the beach and good humour. She opened her home with grace and generosity and without knowing at the time for how long. I owe her.

3. Space. When you move from a cramped city flat to a 2-bedroom house on two floors, you spend a good deal of time climbing stairs and wandering from room to room. Having lived minimally for so many years there isn't enough furniture to put in all these rooms, mind you, but the guest bed was installed earlier this month.

4. Being able to walk to work. It takes about twenty-five minutes. A pleasant route, bordering the river for much of the way. After years of overcrowded Tube trains this means a lot.

5. Being able to start again. In every single minute of every day. Nothing to do with physical relocation, this one. The gift of the limitless, shining present moment.

6. Friends. Yes.

7. Sunsets and sunrises. They are spectacularly beautiful, almost psychedelic here. Look at the photo. There must be something special about the meteorological conditions - the quality of the light during the day can stop you in your tracks.

8. This blog. In 2007 I finally grasped that I write what I write here for me. The blog is a unique creative outlet, and one I appreciate. I also got rid of the sitemeter - a real act of liberation.

9. Kindness. The quiet acts of kindness that I have received and witnessed this past twelve months. There have been a multitude.

Wistfulness has crept in today, but I'm out celebrating at a friend's house this evening, the first time for several years that New Year hasn't been spent at home. May it bring you happiness and fulfillment, and hope and better times to the planet. Happy New Year.



World View

2007-12-31T07:59:14.113+00:00

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Hereford_Mappa_Mundi_1300.jpgBefore C caught her train to London yesterday we visited the Mappa Mundi. A last minute decision to fit this in, and I'm so glad we did. It was a first for us both.According to the official guidebook:It is the largest and best surviving example of a type of cartography which flourished particularly in England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These were works of history, zoology, anthropology and theology, as well as geography, and reflected the contemporary passion for arranging knowledge in comprehensive form .....It summarises the world view and many of the major topics of intellectual interest of the period and may best be regarded as a type of pictorial encyclopaedia, or a map of the medieval mind.Standing before the Mappa Mundi in the silent room with its subdued lighting leading off the cathedral, it's easy to visualise its two creators (according to the guide this was the likely number), their rounded backs hunched over the vellum, one making the line drawings, one inscribing names. Talking quietly to each other, perhaps, as they worked. You wonder what they believed about the places and stories they were depicting.The map mixes what we would now call fact and myth indiscriminately, with drawings of actual countries and continents, centaurs, sphinxes, a hermaphrodite, Noah's Ark, a bear, fortresses, cities, rivers and a rhinocerous. And much else besides. All this bound together within a religious rather than geographical framework: Jerusalem is at the centre of the map and Christ sits in judgment over it all at the top, looking down on his creation.It's a heady, hallucinatory combination and unexpectedly moving. I was struck by the resemblance to a mandala.***In the afternoon another friend and I drove to the remains of an Iron Age hill fort a few miles out of town. The bare branches of the beech trees at the summit creaked and sighed in chorus as scudding clouds were swept across the sky by a strong westerly wind. The conservative estimate is that these earthworks have been here for at least two thousand years.We walked around the perimeter of the fort and then, as the original inhabitants probably did, climbed onto the north-facing earth parapet. There we contemplated far below us the small city with its cathedral, its river and its creeping suburban sprawl. In the distance to our left, Wales and the lead-grey bulk of the Black Mountains, to our right but hidden by trees, the Malverns.It was almost dark and lights were glowing in nearby houses when we returned home. The kettle was boiled and the remaining mince pies served. I didn't switch on the TV till much later. The contents of the nightly news bulletin yesterday were a vivid reminder that these days the local and the global are sometimes hard to separate ....More on the Mappa Mundi here and here, and a news report this week on the granting by UNESCO of an entry for the map on its Memory of the World International Register.[...]



Solstice

2007-12-23T15:57:10.770+00:00

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Light returns. In around twenty four hours from now the Winter Solstice will be exact. Each year I greet its arrival with relief; it may get colder but it won't get darker. This day is the focal point of the holiday for me since my belief system is linked to the rhythms of the natural world - I find it impossible to separate one from the other.

The temperature has been hovering below zero for almost a week, a bitter, damp, Dickensian cold penetrating every single item of clothing and shriveling the bones. On the way home from a holly-and-mistletoe gathering expedition late last Sunday afternoon I strike up a conversation with an elderly angler hunkered down on the riverbank and swathed in a parka. I ask if the river has ever frozen over.

"The last time would be in 1963," he says. "There's been nothing since".

We watch the water flow past, deep and swift after the recent rains, darkening in the fading light.

****

G arrives this weekend to stay for a few days.

We're friends who go back fifteen or so years to when we lived in the same block of flats in West London. We met on the stairs and just hit it off. It was a time of radical upheaval for me and in her company I found that trips to the local arthouse cinema and mugs of Earl Grey tea on a winter afternoon could be effective antidotes to the churning going on inside my head. She left London a few years later and we've stayed in touch.

Walks are on the agenda. DVDs, reading and Scrabble if it's raining really hard.

****

A year ago yesterday I viewed the house I now live in for the first time. Immediately after Christmas I travelled back across country for a second visit. There was a third in early January, followed by the survey. A couple of weeks after that I put in an offer which was accepted. Taking stock twelve months later I can list the following: a reasonably congenial (temporary) job that leaves me time to have a life; health; a home; a garden; a cat; a bicycle; a nucleus of new people to get to know; and enough money in the bank for a while anyway.

Good - if uncertain and precarious - times. I know I'm lucky. And for the future maybe I can simply do the next thing in front of me and then leave the outcome in the hands of Dharma or the Universe or whatever name you want to give it. Maybe that's all I've ever been asked to do.

I hope the next few days are peaceful and grounded ones for you, filled with kindness. While I participate in this addictive, creative exercise called blogging for myself, it wouldn't be the same without your silent presence on the other side of the screen. Whether you're a regular or not, whether you leave a comment or not, I'm very glad you're there.

Merry Christmas.

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The western sky really was this colour last Sunday for about one minute. I just happened to have my camera ....



Meme: Seven Random Things

2007-12-17T08:19:53.195+00:00

Click to enlargeI've been tagged by Endment. Her blog is one of the quiet pleasures of cyberspace. If you love poetry and the beauty of wild places, go and visit and give yourself a treat.This is how you play.. link to the person who tagged you and post the rules on your blog. share 7 random or weird things about yourself. tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs. let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.1. I've visited the Grand Canyon in winter: November 2000. A chill, grey morning, a few days after the Bush/Gore presidential elections - and nobody knew at that stage which way the result would go. Snow had fallen unexpectedly overnight and there was some doubt whether our bus would even be allowed to enter the National Park. but we made it. There were very few other tourists. The plateau was covered in a thin layer of snow but there seemed to be none in the canyon itself and the North Rim, closed at this time of year, was just visible through the haze, all those miles away.I hesitate to use the term spiritual experience but this came close. We were only there a few hours. Of all the places I have been, if I had to pick just one for a return visit this would be it, no question. The quality of the silence as we stood in ones and twos on the edge of the canyon was extraordinary.2. My mother introduced me to astrology as a teenager by showing me the astrological report of my birth chart that she had commissioned when I was born: And this was well before the 1960s. The reading was pretty damn accurate and I've been an amateur practitioner and enthusiast for many years now.3. I am drawn to water: Although we weren't affected, given the scale of the July floods my house is possibly a tad too close to the river for comfort. But I'm staying put; to live further away from water would just feel wrong.4. I don't have a car: Yes I know. For a lot of people this is definitely weird. In mitigation I am an extremely nervous driver. I haven't driven for years - and living in big cities as I did for decades you can get away with this. Here though you need wheels to reach where public transport doesn't and, although it feels like a distinctly retrograde step in view of my strong green tendencies, I want to get a car but then use it sparingly. Bicycle and bus are better, for monetary and for planetary reasons.5. I lived in Paris for almost ten years: I spoke schoolgirl French before I went but the time in France gave me a genuine love of the language and a confidence in using it that hasn't faded in the years since my return. It's not that I speak it perfectly, au contraire, but I've stopped worrying about the errors that I will inevitably make. Communication is what counts.6. I hanker after a bigger, better camera: With a tripod and a zoom lens for all those wildlife and full moon shots.7. I can rustle up a very good omelette: Or so they tell me. Aside from that I am a less than wonderful cook but I aim to improve. With that in mind I'm doing the cooking this Christmas.I hereby tag:. Leslee at 3rd House Journal . Kate at Integral Shamanics. Sonia at Leaves of Grass . Crafty Green Poet . Krissie at Message in a Bottle . Wenda at Daring to Write. You. I don't want this to be exclusive. It is a game after all, so if you're not on this list and want to play, then go for it. Just leave a note and a link in the comments if you do.[...]



Water, water .....

2007-12-14T22:27:56.088+00:00

Days don't get much wetter.My sister and I had put this Saturday in the diary months ago. We were to meet in Bath, L travelling up from the south coast and me coming south from the Marches. On the way to the station you could see that the river had flooded, covering the watermeadows opposite the cathedral. The driving rain continued as the local train headed south to Newport and as I caught the connection to Bath.The streets of the town were a maelstrom of shoppers and battling umbrellas and dripping raincoats. L and I headed towards the Christmas Market but couldn't cope. Too many people, too much frustration.So we did what we should have done in the first place and descended into the Roman Baths of Aquae Sulis, the extraordinary hot springs - part temple to the healing goddess Sulis Minerva, part thermal baths. The Romans merged the existing local deity Sulis with their own Minerva and this spot on the marshy floor of the Avon, where steaming thermal water bubbles from the ground, was sacred.Forbidding. Sulis Minerva wearing a Gorgon face.The sacred spring of Sulis Minerva.Mosaics.Steam rising. The drainage channel, taking water from the baths towards the nearby river.The Great Bath. The marks are raindrops on the camera lens.This was my second visit to the Roman Baths and L's first. Each time I marvel at this steamy elemental world beneath our present one. The price of entry is - in my book - far too high and must deter some visitors, but I would probably pay double if I had to. Bath isn't simply a genteel, well-mannered spa. Nor a university town. Nor a consumer's paradise with excellent shops. At its core it is a holy place, a destination for pilgrims, a site of of hope where an ancient goddess was invoked and petitioned through prayer and animal sacrifices. So very different from Jane Austen and the Regency terraces. And from Santa and Waitrose and W H Smith and French Connection, .When we resurfaced the rain had stopped. Crowds were emerging from the carol service at the Abbey. A red balloon had escaped and soared and bobbed over the Christmas market.[...]



Becalmed

2007-12-02T07:50:02.878+00:00

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Waiting for work.

I walk by the river and across the fields. I take photos. I knit. I meet up with friends in town for coffee and a sandwich. I shop for groceries. Latterly I wrap presents and write Christmas cards. My attention span has shrivelled this past year so - sadly perhaps - reading isn't on the agenda. An inward, reflective time nonetheless.

There is at least one job interview in the offing so the period of quiet is unlikely to last. I've needed it; the actual move was in a way the easy part, the emotional and mental assimilation of the new life in new surroundings is taking much longer. My longtime friend and mentor, J, who knows about these things told me to allow three years. OK, I said at the time, not really understanding what he meant.

A few months ago I had my second Saturn Return. As a new cyberfriend, an astrologer, wrote in a recent email.

...Perhaps one of the joys of being past one's Second Saturn Return is a renewed appreciation of the small things in life.

Yes. There is also an - unfamiliar - degree of acceptance, a letting go of a few of the multitude of expectations. A willingness to let life unfold, to let my niche here reveal itself in its own time rather than frantically running around looking for it. I've been reflecting on love as well. The idea of falling in love again is frightening, yet I think I would take the risk if the opportunity arose. Can I let that come to me? Or not. A fantasy perhaps .....

Next year I'd like to be more active in environmental work and maybe take an evening class. Get a car and do some exploring further afield. Today, though, with the approach of winter, I've cut back the roses and the lavender bush and started a compost heap. That's enough.

....

Years ago I was pointed in the direction of the Cavafy poem, Ithaka.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

The complete poem can be found here.



New Worlds

2007-11-28T07:23:23.048+00:00

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The cash flow is mainly one-way at the moment, i.e. Out rather than In, but I decided that this book was an essential buy, and it popped through the letterbox at the beginning of last week.

Reading the evocative ode to grasses by Crafty Green Poet had brought the matter to a head. I know very little about wild flowers and plants. I want to become botanically literate, to learn the names of the flowers of the fields and hedgerows around here. The photo above, posted on my Flickr site in July after a morning exploring the woods, is indicative. I called it, um, Flower and Fly.

Thanks to my purchase I am reminded that the flower is Red Campion or Silene diocia, "a hairy biennial or perennial of hedgerows, grassy banks and wayside places generally" and that its status is "widespread and common". Wikipedia has a piece which indicates that the crushed seeds were once used as an antidote to snake bites, and following a link I stumbled on the wonderful National Biodiversity Network site which is now on the list of Favourites.

Then there is this photo - taken on the same day - of what I now believe to be Wild Carrot and titled, you've guessed it, Flower and Insects. Wikipedia informs me that its seeds were used as a contraceptive. I'd like to learn more about the insects feeding on the blossoms, but that's a subject for another time.

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I feel like a child on Christmas morning. The new book is obviously just a starting point. It has 268 pages of different plant listings with an average of 5 per page. There is so much to learn.

Long ago and far away I made up my mind that I was no good at maths or science and more or less closed the door on all related subjects. So I've never investigated this intricate, extraordinary world that has been right alongside me, even in the concrete fastnesses of the city, and of which I am a part. Until now that is.

And it's started me thinking. What else don't I do? And why?

What other worlds are out there?




First frost

2007-11-19T08:09:05.074+00:00

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A new friend? Perhaps. We've only known each other a month or two, C and I - not long enough to be comfortable labelling our tentative compatability a full-blown friendship. But we get on and she'd invited me for breakfast and that's a good start.

Her home is an old farmhouse about forty minutes walk away. By road it's quicker, but who would choose that option on a morning like this when you could instead follow the footpath across the meadows by the river? Muffled up in a giant parka, gloves and wellington boots, at just after eight a.m. I head east, tramping towards the rising sun.

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It is very cold. The first frost of the winter, a translucent white coating, covers each and every blade of grass and every leaf, shrivels the remaining blackberries and temporarily renders muddy hollows rock-hard. Earth and grass are bleached to a near-monochrome and tiny crystals glint and refract the light. By now my nasal passages are tingling and the cold is starting to seep through the rubber boots. It's definitely a morning to keep on the move but I have to stop at intervals to take in this changed world.

Against the ice-blue sky streaked with thin clouds, a vapour trail, beautiful but lethal, streams out from a speck of an aircraft high, high overhead, and I wonder if the passengers waking from their unsatisfactory transatlantic doze are as dazzled by their early morning vista as I am by mine.

Apart from silent flow of the river, everything is still. The cattle that grazed these fields throughout the summer are long gone and mine are now the only tracks to be seen, animal or human.

As I head up the farm track towards C's house her black and white border collie rushes to the metal gate, barking a welcome.

....

A year ago I wasn't sure that I would be able to sell my London flat. I was temping in a financial boutique (yes, they do exist) in Victoria.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I am here.

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More autumn photographs on my Flickr page.