‘Tis better to have loved…

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem In Memoriam A.H.H, spoke from the heart about the loss of his friend and the grief he felt.

On Boxing Day, we had a car accident in a surprise snowfall. My husband lost control, despite driving at a sensible speed for the inclement weather, and the car skidded. As we danced a graceful pirouette, a full 360 degrees across to the opposite side of the country lane, time seemed to elongate. I watched in horror, completely powerless; thoughts of dread that my son or daughter might be injured or killed filled my mind. “It’s all right…Hold on everyone!” I said aimlessly. I braced myself against the seat as the car returned to the correct side of the road and landed with a gentle bump against a fence post. When we stopped, the relief that everyone had escaped without harm was immense. Walking the three miles home through freezing sleet, feet slopping and slipping on the wet snow, I felt protective of my two children and husband. I led the way, torch in hand, fussing about our insufficient coats and footwear. I needed to regain some sense of control. It felt as if I had nearly lost everything that mattered to me, everything that I loved, and that shook me far more than the accident.

When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare. I stood watching as my parents and brother descended an escalator straight into a sheet of plate glass. Every time I had this dream, I would awake crying and shaking, believing that it had happened. I was alone; I had lost everything. Since having my children, I regularly experience anxious dreams. A multitude of horrible images where they have been maimed or killed in all number of horrific incidents. When they were babies, I would imagine falling down the stairs with them in my arms. These nightmares leave me feeling drained and afraid. There is nothing I can do. I have opened myself up to this vulnerability; I have no control over what may (or may not) happen to my children. I love them and this involves the risk of getting hurt.

A few days ago, my lovely old dog had a funny turn. My husband and I returned home from searching for a replacement car and he ran excitedly to greet us, then collapsed trembling and letting out a long stream of urine over the carpet.  As we bent down to help him, he looked up at us with confused, frightened eyes and we both burst into tears. We thought it was the end for him. He is nearly sixteen; his weak heart makes him pant continuously and he stands on shaky legs, often falling over. Miraculously, it was not the end and he recovered, carrying on much the same as before. I realize this cannot continue forever, of course. Every day, week, month spent with him is a bonus.  Soon, we will have to face the heartache of losing him. We made the decision to get a dog; to let him become part of our family. We allowed ourselves to love him and must suffer the pain that is to come.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why choose to have partners and children and bring pets into our homes? Why do we allow ourselves to love when we know it will mean pain and loss at some point? Would it be better to protect ourselves from this pain; to avoid love?

Quite simply, to love is to live. Life is about having relationships with others; to make connections. I have had many moments of fun and laughter with my dog. My children have enriched my life and made it more worthwhile. If we do not allow ourselves to love through the fear of being hurt, then we do not truly live our lives. Having relationships and loving others helps us to grow and learn. It gives us meaning and purpose. There will be times when it brings us pain and loss, but living a life alone and afraid would be unbearable. Life is difficult, we must share it with others – family, friends, neighbours, pets.

I have found somebody who explains it more eloquently than I am able:

“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”    Henri J M Nouwen

Going down Cardiff for the rugby

Train journeys always provide inspiration for writers as we get to spend time with a bunch of colourful, interesting characters. We can be observers and eavesdroppers; imagining where and why the other passengers are travelling and creating stories for them. I love sitting with my notebook, listening, watching and scribbling. It helps the journey pass quickly too. I am thankful to my fellow travellers for sharing with me such gems.

Here is a poem based on a conversation overheard on a recent train journey (it would have been impossible not to hear it!). It brightened up my trip and made me giggle. Ideally, it needs to be read in a Swansea accent. Warning: it’s a little bit naughty!

 

Goin’ down Cardiff for the rugby and Linda’s 40th.

Got the T-shirts printed,

lookin’ good girls!

C’mon girls, find a seat, find a seat!

One ‘ere, one ’ere,

one by ’ere, next to me!

Open up them jelly shots, girls.

Get ‘em down yoo!

Have a drink.

Have a jelly shot.

Have a drink, girls!

Oh my God…we got a celeb ‘ere.

Gethin, he is.

We got a celeb ‘ere, girls!

Eastenders!

Quick girls, get down there…

Selfie, selfie.

Get a good’un

for Facebook like.

Don’t mind, do yoo?

He don’t mind.

Gethin he is.

Eastenders!

The teacher, he is…

Do your nails, girls.

Stick ‘em on,

stick ‘em on.

Did mine last night, mind.

Bet they’ll fall off.

‘Ow much make-up yoo got in there?

Good God!

Where yoo sleepin’ tonight?

Top ‘n tailin’ in the

same room.

Share with me,

share with me.

Mind, yoo don’t know what I got in

this ‘ere bag!

Vvvvrrrmmm –

yoo know what I mean!

No, not really like…

left it at home, didn’t I?

Don’t use one, do I?

Don’t need one.

Lucky yoo!

I got a couple of

cucumbers though.

A big one for yoo,

this long!

Come and sit up by us, Gethin.

Oh, c’mon, have a drink.

Have a jelly shot!

Have yoo put that

selfie on Facebook?

With Gethin, selfie with Gethin.

Send it me, send it me!

Gethin, sit by me ‘ere.

Sit by me.

Squish up girls,

gettin’ crowded in ‘ere.

The rugby, see.

Ooh! Squish up!

There’s nice.

Gethin, c’mon, squish up by ’ere love!

Have another jelly shot, girls!

We’ll be fallin’ asleep in the rugby.

God, I need a fag.

Not long now,

not long now, girls.

Them shots it is.

Soon as I have a drink,

I need a fag.

Gettin’ warm in ‘ere, mind.

I’ll be strippin’ off next.

Gethin, I’ll be strippin’ off love.

C’mon girls, have a jelly shot.

Cool us down, like.

Have a cocktail.

I got ‘em, in a tin, like.

Cocktail in a tin.

What in a tin?

No, not a cock in a tin!

Cocktail in a tin.

Better than tinned cock!

Gethin, come by ‘ere.

Have a cocktail, Gethin.

Want a pringle?

Want a pringle, love?

No, a pringle!

I’m starvin’! Should have

made sarnies…

We’ll fill up on cocktails, girls!

My fortieth, right, I’m

doin’ a party.

Butlins.

Brilliant.

That’s class.

I’m havin’ karaoke,

limousine, bubble disco.

That’s a date, that is.

Class.

Date that is, girls!

Gethin, come by ‘ere…

You’ll come to my fortieth, won’t you love?

Butlins, Gethin.

Class.

He’s from Eastenders, he is.

Got a selfie on Facebook.

A celeb.

Are we ‘ere?

Oh my God, I need a wee.

Desperate I am, girls.

Lookin’ forward to this, I am!

I’m free!

No kids.

I don’t get out much, see.

Resolutions of a writer

As the end of the year draws near, it is time to take stock and to think about what lies ahead. We remember the year that is passing – its joys, sadness, successes and failures – and wonder what the new year will bring. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, when we open the back door to let out the old year and the front door to let in the new, hopefully, we let out any regrets, bitterness or disappointment and welcome in positive thoughts, forgiveness and love. It is up to us to decide what to take into the future and what to leave behind in the past. The past is gone and cannot be undone. We can only move forward. The new year provides fresh opportunities. Our lives are wiped clean to begin again.

I have been thinking about my resolutions as a writer for next year. I may not have achieved all my writing goals this year but it is time to start anew. I will forgive myself and carry on.

 

Here are my resolutions:

 

Write every day

 

Take my notebook everywhere and write in it

 

Get on with writing the novel

 

Write first and edit later

 

Just write!

 

 

Do you like to take stock at the end of the year? Have you any writing resolutions?

A little Christmas magic

Claire never forgave me for spoiling Christmas. When she got to eleven years old and still believed in Santa Claus, I told her the truth.

“You said it was wrong to tell a lie…but you’ve been lying all this time!”

“It’s part of making Christmas magical…” I tried to explain.

“You’re just a liar!”

She ran up to her room, slamming the door, making the light fittings rattle. I sat, shaken and bereft, thinking I was a terrible mother.

Christmas was never the same after that. Claire never looked forward to it with the excitement and wonder of before. She never put the tinsel fairy on the tree or licked the paper strips for the bright chains to hang around the ceilings. She never joined in with carol singing or stirring the pudding. If I suggested a trip to see Santa’s Grotto at the local shopping centre, she would storm off in tears of frustrated rage. Christmas became a low-key event with little preparation or fuss. The presents under the tree seemed pointless and shallow. The magic had gone.

I waited for the time when Claire had children of her own. I hoped that with grandchildren things would be different.

“Don’t think I’ll lie to my kids like you did to me.” Claire said when this thought popped out of my mouth the day she told me she was expecting.

“Well you know, Christmas isn’t the same for children without Santa.”

Claire tutted and the conversation ended. In my heart though, I hoped she would soften once the baby was old enough to understand about Christmas.

 

It was Christmas Eve. I bubbled with excitement because Claire and her family were coming to stay. I couldn’t wait to see little George. When Claire explained they were moving to the Scottish Highlands, I was upset at the thought of rarely seeing my grandson. It had been over a year since I had visited them in their new home. He had grown into a happy, curious four-year-old. This was our first Christmas together so I had made enormous effort. I didn’t care whether George believed in Santa Claus or not, I wanted it to be special.

The doorbell rang just as I took the final batch of mince pies from the oven. The house filled with their sweet, spicy scent.

“Merry Christmas!” I said as I opened the door.

“Grandma, Merry Christmas!” George replied; his voice musical with its Scottish lilt.

“Hi, Mum.” Claire looked flustered from the journey. She held out a bag of presents, as if it contained something distasteful. “Dan’s got the luggage.”

We settled down to a pot of tea and mince pies in front of the fire. George looked around, admiring the decorations. He stood by the Christmas tree; the twinkling lights cast patterns on his smooth cheeks.

“It’s pretty, Grandma. Mummy doesn’t decorate our house.” George shrugged his shoulders in disappointment.

“You know what I’ve told you, George. Christmas is an old-fashioned tradition. Not everyone celebrates it. We don’t.” Claire said patiently.

“But we are this year, aren’t we Grandma?” George hopped up and down in excitement.

 

That evening, after a warming meal of squash soup and crusty home-made bread, George helped me put the presents under the tree. He jumped with joy and satisfaction as he carefully placed each gift.

“This one’s important, Grandma…” he said putting it at the front, “It’s for you.”

“Oh, thank you George. I look forward to opening that tomorrow.”

I passed him another present, “Where shall we put this one?”

“Who’s it for?” George asked, his brow furrowing in concentration.

“Oh…I don’t know. The label’s fallen off.” I said.

“That one must be from Santa Claus, then. I’ll put it next to yours ‘cos it’s special.”

“From Santa Claus?” I said.

“Yes, he never puts a label on.” George stated, in a matter-of-fact manner.

“So, you believe in Santa Clause then?” I asked, a slight flutter in my stomach.

George looked towards the kitchen, where Claire and Dan chattered happily as they did the washing up. “Yes, I do…but don’t tell Mummy. It’s a secret. She doesn’t believe in Santa Clause, you know.”

I gave George a hug.

“You’re a good little helper.” I smiled.

The magic had returned.

 

 

I hope you have enjoyed my Christmas stories. Thank you to everyone who has read my blog this year. Have a very, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Miracles can happen at Christmas

Once upon a time, in the Land of Dolls, there lived a ragdoll called Rosie. She was a grubby, tatty little thing as she loved to play outside in the cool, fresh air. Her calico body was covered in darnings and mendings where it had been torn by branches, worn on rocks and caught on fences during her many explorations of the trees, insects and animals in her world. Her red woolly hair was tangled with leaves and twigs. Her plain dungarees were covered in many patches, obscuring the original pattern.

“Oh, Rosie, why can’t you be a bit more lady-like?” sighed her mother as she sewed another split in Rosie’s arm with her needle and thread.

But Rosie ignored her mother. She did not care about such things. After she completed her daily chores, she would escape from the house. She wanted to be out of doors under the wide, blue sky where she could breathe and dream. She wanted to sit beneath the pale moon, where she could think and wish. She wanted to lay her head on the dusty earth and listen to the beating pulse of living things. For Rosie had a secret desire, hidden deep within her heart. Rosie wanted, more than anything in her world, to be a real girl.

 

A sharp north wind blew across the Land of Dolls, the weather was turning cold. Soon, it would be Christmas. Preparations were taking place in Rosie’s home for the special day. Rosie worked hard alongside her mother and brothers to make the house clean and tidy. She swept the floors, dusted the corners and polished the furniture. She helped with baking the rich, fruity cake and sweet, sticky pies, without once licking the spoon or smearing batter down her front. She went out with her brothers to find the biggest, bushiest fir tree in the woods. She cut holly boughs to decorate the mantelpiece and put candles in every window to welcome visitors with their warm glow.

Rosie worked hard for a purpose. In fact, she had worked hard and without complaint all the past year. This was because at Christmas in the Land of Dolls, a miracle might take place. On Christmas Eve at midnight, the Spirit of Christmas would look down upon the Land of Dolls. The Spirit of Christmas would gaze on every doll asleep in bed, or lying awake in anxious anticipation, and make a judgement. The Spirit of Christmas would decide which doll deserved the reward of becoming real. No doll really knew for certain how or why the Spirit of Christmas made the decision but the story was that, sometimes, a doll would disappear into the Land of the Living. In a puff of smoke, or flutter of stars, or flash of light, a doll known to be of hard-working character and high morals, vanished. Rosie hoped this year she would be that doll.

 

On Christmas Eve, after a pleasant family meal and songs around the fire, Rosie and her family climbed the narrow stairs to bed. They hugged each other tight and said a fond good night as it was possible this was the last time they would see their loved ones. With her tummy bubbling with excited nerves, Rosie snuggled under the covers and waited. She whispered a prayer to the Spirit of Christmas as she lay alert and apprehensive on the pillows.

“Dear Spirit of Christmas, please pick me this year. I am a doll of good morals and diligent nature. I have happily completed my chores all year. I am kind and caring. I love to be out of doors with the living things. I wish I was alive too.”

Rosie listened to the gentle patter of new snow beginning to fall on the roof. She could hear no other sound. The night felt interminably long. It seemed eerily silent and dark and empty. Eventually, her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep.

 

Back in the Land of the Living, Helen sat at the breakfast bar eating another mince pie. Whenever she felt depressed or unhappy, she turned to food. It was a source of comfort to her. What did it matter if she got fat now anyway? There was no baby. There would be no baby. She need not worry about her health. The results had come that morning. Another failure. Their third round of IVF treatment and their last. They could not afford any more attempts. She and Tom had agreed that three was the limit. Now they would have to consider adoption or forget about having children altogether. A miserable time to find out. Christmas Eve. Helen wished that Christmas was over and done with. She did not feel like celebrating; did not want to pretend that everything was good and she was happy and having fun.

Tom had asked her yesterday what she would like for Christmas. He was off buying her a present now. Last minute as usual. He seemed to think a present would make a difference. She wanted a baby for Christmas. She wanted a baby all the time. Helen wanted, more than anything in her world, to have a baby. The longing gnawed at her stomach, a great emptiness waiting to be filled. She bit into a fourth mince pie as if to plug the hole. She understood that there were lots of wonderful children out there deserving a home and parents. But why couldn’t she have a baby of her own? Other women were allowed to get pregnant, feel their babies kick and grow inside them, have their babies suckling at their breasts. She wanted those things too. Some of those women didn’t even want to be mothers. She wanted to be a mother. She was a good person, she had worked hard, got qualifications, made a career as a teacher. A popular, successful teacher. She had spent too long looking after other people’s children, that was the problem. Now it was time for her to have a child of her own and it was too late.

She heard Tom’s key jiggling in the lock and he came bustling into the kitchen, arms full of bags.

“Went a bit mad, I’m afraid.” He shrugged. “Shall I put the kettle on or pour us a glass of wine? Christmas begins now!”

Poor Tom. He was trying hard to be cheerful, to make things right. Helen felt guilty. It was difficult for him as well. He wanted to be a father. She had to make an effort. She forced a smile.

“I hope you bought some more mince pies.”

 

After dinner, they wrapped presents and put them under the tree, then sat together on the sofa sipping mulled wine and watching cheesy Christmas films on the telly. Helen’s mobile buzzed. She picked it up from the coffee table, looked at the screen, switched it off and stuffed it down the cushions beside her.

“What was that all about?” Tom asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Just Mum. I don’t want to deal with it now. Not at Christmas.” Helen’s eyes misted. Tom took her hand in his, entwined fingers and squeezed.

“Shall I get the scrabble out? We’ve got a few hours yet to wait up if we’re going to see Christmas in.”

Helen yawned. “To be honest Tom, I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go to bed.”

They switched off the twinkling lights and climbed the carpeted stairs to bed. Tom held Helen close under the covers and kissed her good night.

“I love you, darling.” he said, “Let’s just have a really good Christmas.”

“Love you. Night, Tom.”

Helen turned away from him to attempt sleep. She did not want to hurt Tom. She would try to have a good Christmas, whatever that was supposed to mean. She would try not to think about the constant yearning inside her, tearing at her heart and mind. She would try to hide the constant pain. She whispered a prayer to whomever was listening on this magical night, this time of miracles, as she lay alert and apprehensive on the pillows.

“Please let me have a baby of my own. I’m a kind and caring person with good morals. I would be a good mum.”

She listened to the gentle patter of new snow beginning to fall on the roof. Other than Tom’s gentle breathing, she could hear no other sound; the traffic and city noises were subdued. The night felt interminably long. It seemed eerily silent and dark and empty. Eventually, her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep.

 

The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon her lands that Christmas Eve. She gazed on every doll and every human asleep in bed, or lying awake in anxious anticipation. She heard the prayers of dolls wishing to be real. She heard the prayers of humans in need. She had difficult judgements to make. There were many, many dolls in the Land of Dolls that were kind and good and hard-working. There were many, many humans in the Land of the Living that suffered. The Spirit of Christmas had to find ways to connect the souls of these dolls and these humans. To find balance. To create happy endings.

The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon the soul of Rosie the ragdoll who was desperate to be a real girl. The Spirit of Christmas looked down upon the soul of Helen who was desperate to be a mother.

“I wonder…” said The Spirit of Christmas.

 

Tom wiped the sweat from Helen’s brow and kissed her on the forehead.

“I’m so proud of you darling.” he said.

It had been a long, difficult birth but Helen felt elated as she snuggled the tiny girl. She studied the unexpected fuzz of red hair and the strange birth marks, a maze of lines, on her baby’s arms and legs. Where had they come from? She and Tom had ordinary brown hair and not a birthmark on them. Tom said they must both have recessive ginger genes and the doctor had reassured them the marks would fade with time. Helen did not care. She finally had the child she wanted. A healthy, beautiful girl.

“She’s amazing.” Tom smiled, “And a tough little thing. She didn’t give up through all that and neither did you. I was scared once or twice, I must admit.”

“We’re fine, Tom. I’m so happy. I can’t believe she’s ours.” Helen whispered, “We did it. We actually did it.”

“What are we going to call her?” Tom gently stroked the baby’s head.

“You know, I think there’s only one name that suits her.” Helen said, “It popped into my mind the moment she was born.”

“What’s that?” Tom asked.

“Rosie.”

Christmas sickness

This time of year is one of mixed emotions for me.

In many ways, I love Christmas. I enjoy the traditional activities: bringing out the advent calendar; making and choosing gifts; filling the house with pretty ornaments we’ve collected over the years; brightening the dark days of winter with carols and shining lights; finding a tree to decorate; baking the naughtily alcoholic cake and mince pies. It is not a religious festival in our house but a special time to spend together; playing games without the everyday rushes and having to be elsewhere. A chance to say thank you to loved ones at the end of the year.

The difficulty for me is that Christmas is also a time of greed on a massive scale. It brings out the very worst of consumerism. The shops are brimming with cheap, useless trinkets that nobody really needs. The adverts encourage us to spend, spend, spend. People get themselves into debt to provide the perfect Christmas for their families. In my nearest large town, a Hawkin’s Bazaar has just opened selling ready-filled stockings – the epitome of thoughtless excess.  Many of the presents bought at Christmas will end up at the rubbish dump. Food will rot and go to waste.

A few years ago, I found the experience of doing my Christmas shop at the supermarket – where I saw a family with three trollies of food, one of which overflowed with sliced bread – so overwhelming that it left me feeling sick and dizzy. We are using up the planet’s resources at a shocking rate to make this throw-away stuff. It may please for a short time but, a few days after Christmas, it will be forgotten and discarded. What has brought us to this? We have become disconnected from what is important, from the message of sharing love and caring for others at Christmas. We have lost our way. Something needs to change. We must stop buying stuff and be more satisfied with what we have.

Although I have always tried to do a small-scale Christmas, we still have far more than we actually need. We end up on Christmas Day bloated on delicious food and wine. We are spoilt for choice. So, Christmas is a time when I feel sick with guilt too.  I am lucky to have done well in the lottery of life; of being born in a country with a democracy, safe from war and famine. At Christmas, I think of the many people with nothing – the homeless, the refugees, those living in war-torn countries like Syria and the Yemen. So many with far too little whilst the rest of us have far too much.

This is a time of year when I can feel despairing, so we try as a family to contribute in a positive way. We choose various charities to support at Christmas. We have given up buying lots of presents and sending out cards in an effort to be less wasteful. Money saved goes to those who need it more than us. We show our love by selecting or making one or two special, useful gifts, something genuinely wanted. We plan what we will eat so there is no food thrown away. We take part in community events. It seems inadequate; I would like to contribute more and in the new year I want to explore what else I can do.

Last year, I wrote this poem to express how Christmas can make me feel.

 

Christmas sickness

 

I’ve got Christmas sickness,

guilty, weeping conscience

pressing on my chest,

heart about to burst.

 

So, what

do I do about it?

 

Engulfed by greedy consumerism,

frenzied buying madness, I

hang twinkling lights while

Aleppo burns,

engorge cupboards with festive feasts while

Yemen children starve,

stuff stockings with unwanted gifts while a

refugee child dreams of tomatoes.

 

Bury my head in the sand of Bethlehem.

 

 

 

How do you cope with Christmas excess? Are you trying to buy less and get back to the true meaning of Christmas?

Be grateful for the small things

I have just returned from visiting my daughter at university. It was wonderful to see her and I felt extremely proud at how well she is coping; living independently and managing the demands of her degree course with confidence. She is adapting to city life, although she misses the quiet and fresh air of the countryside.

Cities tire me out nowadays. It is a long time since I lived in one, or even in a town, so I find the change dramatic and difficult. I feel worn down and frayed at the edges after only a couple of days. My nerves jar with the constant noise, the bright lights, the flow of busy, pushing people. The air chokes with traffic fumes and the pavements are squalid with the grime of vehicle exhausts, chewing gum, dog excrement and dirty litter piling in corners. Heaped up, like the rubbish, are the homeless, pitiful in the freezing weather, wrapped in sleeping bags and inadequate blankets. My daughter finds this the hardest thing to face every day – the growing population of dispossessed individuals, so many victims of austerity.

In cities, far away from my peaceful country existence, I begin to feel desperate and hopeless. I am reminded of the vast mechanisms we humans have created – the buzzing shopping centres, the traffic networks, the huge housing estates and business developments; the concrete, tarmac, plastic and metal. I think about our debt creating consumerism, the easy-come, easy-go, throwaway habits, the pervasive, cynical advertising and longing for a celebrity lifestyle. In cities, I become fully aware of the enormous levels of resources used and waste created. Our disconnection from what is important, from our roots in nature, seems vivid.

Back home, sitting in a café overlooking a pretty little harbour on this bright, cold winter’s day, I think I must be one of the luckiest people on Earth. Reflections ripple on the sea, green like a gull’s egg. The vast sky is baby-blue with perfect fluffy mountains of cloud. Pale, winter sunlight casts clear light over hills that stretch for miles around the coastline, folding into mist in the distance. Earlier, I stood on the harbour wall and watched a pod of dolphins feeding in the bay. Darting arcs of darkness in the water, then flashes of white and pointed blades of tails slicing the waves as fins disappeared into the depths. Gulls tumbled and called sharply above betraying the visitors. An awe-inspiring sight, a glimpse into another, unknown world, and rare for me to see them so close in.

As I sit with my pot of earl grey tea, the realization overcomes me that I am privileged to witness these wonders. I am lucky to live where I do, to have the time and enough money to gaze at this picturesque scene. Not everyone has the opportunity and I worry that I have been a snob; smug and patronising in my attitude towards city life. I think I have been too hard on cities and their occupants. It’s easy for me, tucked away on my smallholding, to be negative about cities and to extol the virtues of the countryside with its space, peace and clean air. Yes, cities highlight the problems we humans have created but the countryside is not a total idyll either. Perhaps the truth is that I’ve hidden myself away from the realities of life. The countryside has its issues. Looking around me, I see other customers engrossed in phone screens, unaware of what they have around them. People here have become disconnected too; they have the same obsessions with quick, fake news stories and social media. They are wrapped up in the mundane, every day of their lives. There is litter here, I pick it up with growing irritation as I walk my dogs. Farms cause environmental problems with their abundant use of fertilizers and pesticides. Animals are often treated as commodities in the countryside, not living creatures deserving our respect. There is homelessness and poverty too, though it may be less obvious. Last week, I bought a copy of The Big Issue from a young woman who has recently started selling it in my nearest small town.

When I feel despair overtake me, I try to stop and be positive. Yes, we humans have made a mess of some things but we are capable of great things too. I try to remember these great things. They may be small but they are there, in the cities and in the countryside. People are inherently good. It is up to us, no matter where we live, to put things right. Steps are being taken in our communities by caring individuals. Those small steps make a difference; a slow but continuing change for the better. Visiting my daughter in the city, I saw evidence of these good things: a young man giving money to a homeless man and having a conversation to show someone cared; a food bank project for those in poverty, my daughter collecting unwanted items from her student friends to donate; a nature reserve in the middle of the city mayhem; a vegetarian restaurant with Hindi temple, education centre and hostel; an allotment project for those who have experienced homelessness, drug misuse and mental health problems. Here in the countryside too, people are working to make life better: my nearest town is a fair-trade town; there is a permaculture centre up the hill from me; organic and local food initiatives are growing; the vegetarian café is running a Christmas shoebox scheme for the homeless.

We must be glad of these small steps. We can find hope in them. In our crazy, chaotic world where sometimes our lives can seem pointless or we can feel powerless, we can make a difference. I’ve come to the conclusion that life isn’t really about striving for a purpose or about making or achieving great changes in the grand scheme of things, though of course there are those that will. The point is, we all can make some difference by living our lives in the best way we can. We must be kind, loving and caring. We must treat all living creatures and our environment as we would wish to be treated. We must make the most of every day and look for the good things. We must live simply and not selfishly. Yes, at times it is hard – the bad stuff that goes on will hurt, my experience in the city left me feeling bruised for a while, but I think we must keep spreading, communicating and sharing our feelings, our beliefs and our love. That way we can make a difference in some way to the world, and that is a special thing to achieve.

The wind calls for you

The recent windy weather has awakened memories of childhood. Looking out of my window at the raging gale tossing the trees and pulling at the hedge, I am transported to my old room. I am a girl, hiding under the bed covers, terrified of the wind’s mournful cries. Fueled by bible stories at school, and my own interest in Greek and Norse mythology, I was convinced some incensed God was metering out punishment for a sin committed. Although a fairly well-behaved child, I often felt guilty; any mischief or misdemeanour would burden my mind for days. I still have a tendency to overthink things.

 

 

Today the wind howls

from the heavens,

thumping roofs,

bending branches groundward,

sending clouds scuttling

across an insipid sky.

And I am lying in bed;

a child again,

fearful, enshrouded in nylon

sheets prickling static.

Ears strained for parental voices; a

muffled reassurance below.

Am I alone listening to the

wail and roar? Blustering

divine judgement crashes

around me. A

monstrous anger gathers

as I await retribution.

 

 

What sends you back to your childhood?

 

 

We must speak out

Nearly every day, a new story of sexual harassment or assault comes to light. In politics, in the media and in the film industry, people are coming forward to claim they have been abused by those holding positions of power. These brave individuals, willing to tell their very personal stories, are changing an unacceptable situation that has gone on for too long in our society. Women, and men, will finally feel they can speak out without fear of reprisal. The culture of shutting up and putting up; the idea that this is just something that happens or is to be expected, especially if you are a woman, will no longer be tolerated. New mechanisms will be put in place in the highest establishments to ensure complaints are taken seriously and action taken. This will filter down into all walks of life. There have been complaints of witch hunts and unfair accusations, and indeed all claims must be investigated, but highlighting this issue will ensure disgraceful behaviour of this kind will not be ignored in future.

I welcome these stories. I want my daughter, and son, to live in a world where they can feel safe in the workplace, or on public transport, or in the street. I want them to know they can speak out with confidence if an incident occurs; that it will not mean the loss of their job or reputation and that they will be listened to. I want the perpetrators of such abuse to understand they cannot get away with it. The issue is out in the open. People are talking and sharing experiences. These stories have given me courage. We must always speak out about such behaviour.

 

Unexpectedly,

his hands are

on my shoulders; I

tense as his fingers

probe bone and

skin. An

unwanted intimacy,

discomfort spreading, he

casually says, “You’re

knotted up.” He has

tied them tight; they

cannot be undone.

Inside I scream,

“Don’t touch me.”

My flesh crawls and creeps,

awkwardness seeps

from my pores, as

his thumbs press and squeeze; I

suffer silently,

ashamed that

no words pass my lips.

Some absurd sense of

politeness prevents me;

indignant in

mute humiliation when the

shame is all his.

Stan Green’s Secret #FridayReads #shortstories

A very moving story to make us think on this important day.

Judith Barrow

‘How old are you, son?’

 Stan straightened his spine and stretched his shoulders back, looking beyond the man to the recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener, on the wall.  ‘Eighteen, sir.’

‘Hmm. Date of birth?’ The captain studied Stan.

‘October 3rd, 1896, sir.’

‘Okay, lad, you’re in. Report to the sergeant over there.’ He dismissed Stan by shouting, ‘Next!’

 Stan grinned and gave the thumbs up to his mate, Ernest Sharp who stood, behind him. He turned and marched as best he could to the other side of the room to the serveant.

‘If that’s the best you can do as a march lad, I’ve got some work cut out for me.’ But the recruiting sergeant, tall and moustached, gave Stan a grin. ‘Welcome to the East Lancashire Regiment. ‘He winked. ‘We’re doin’ well; you’re the tenth recruit today, so that’s ten half-crowns we’ve earned. We’ll be ‘aving a few pints…

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