L is for Little Lights

Ocean of light

Occasionally I post about life as a British Quaker under the structure of the Quaker Alphabet Project 2014. I haven’t done so for a while and am in danger of falling behind schedule, so here is a post for the L of it.

There is a perception often quoted, not unreasonably as it turns out, that Quakers are a bit on the mature side. It’s true we have “Young Friends” who are pretty active. However, they remain sadly outnumbered by the Silver Horde, at least in my neck of the woods, and in keeping with many other religious congregations in this country. There was great excitement the other month when a bona fide young person of the teenage persuasion applied for membership of the Society. It was like getting a letter from Elvis c/o the Loch Ness Monster and delivered by a leprechaun riding a rainbow. What I mean to say is, it was a bit unusual and slightly thrilling.

Some years ago I was fortunate to be a member of a relatively large Quaker community with three (count them!) age groups for under-16s. It was not the usual experience of Quaker groups up and down the length of the land. Since moving Up North I am now a member of a small and chronologically-well-endowed group. Yet we do not despair at our reducing horizons because we now have two young people among us – a male toddler and a female school person. They bring their parents along about once a month and keep company with various members of the meeting who enjoy playing with toys and drawing pictures and singing songs while the parents snooze in the main meeting room. It’s an act of kindness really.

The best bit of all is when they join everyone for the last fifteen minutes of the meeting for worship. In Britain, Quakers usually hold silent meetings for worship (not having “programmed” services like, say, Anglican churches, with sermons and singing and standing up and sitting down all and repeating words out loud). The people present sit quietly, apart from the Rumbling of the Stomachs, and wait for ministry to find them. Most people think it is a bit odd, but nevertheless the end result is a usually a quiet room filled with slightly sleepy people who have been sitting for 45 minutes and are beginning to feel it.

Enter our Youngest and Brightest! We hear them clattering along the passageway, with their retainers encouraging them to be quiet by making lots of loud shushing noises. The children usually are making no real noise at all, but never mind. The door swings open and in comes the first child, beaming from ear to ear to see all the old folks grinning at him, and often reaching out hands to welcome him inside. Then his sister, a little more self-aware and so slightly shyer, comes in behind him, composed and clutching some treasured picture to share with us. It may go straight on the table in the middle so we all crane to see it, or she may wait until Notices are read out at the end and then wave it at us. Meanwhile her brother sings to himself or stumbles around from one arthritic knee to the next, smiling up at the faces and dribbling a little. Sometimes we dribble back. It depends on the medication.

Quakers are very fond of using the imagery of the Light Within or Inner Light to talk about their relationship with God. Nowadays we don’t generally describe ourselves as Jesus’ little sunbeams, just talk about Light in a more general, non-denominational way. Early Friends in the 17th century were more direct in their writings about God and Jesus, but still the imagery of Light was fundamental to much of their thinking.

I was under great temptations sometimes, and my inward sufferings were heavy; but I could find none to open my condition to but the Lord alone, unto whom I cried night and day. And I went back into Nottinghamshire, and there the Lord shewed me that the natures of those things which were hurtful without, were within in the hearts and minds of wicked men… And I cried to the Lord, saying, ‘Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit those evils?’ And the Lord answered that it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions; and in this I saw the infinite love of God. I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God; and I had great openings.

George Fox, Journal, 1647

But when our children join us in meeting for worship they bring that infinite light and love with them and in abundance. It is a gift to us and one for which we are humbky thankful.

Namaste

B is for Busy

The Quaker Alphabet Blog Project in 2014 aims to encourage a post a fortnight about some aspect of Quakerism in alphabetical order. No doubt I will eventually rebel and start posting out of order, but as it happens this time I want to write about Busy-ness and that happens to fit in nicely with needing to do a B post. Lucky me. Meanwhile, sit back and prepare for an incoherent babble about how unfair life is. I may inadvertently be channelling a teenager.

It seems appropriate to talk about being Busy because it is the beginning of another artificially induced time segment, known as a year, at which point there is enormous upheaval in Quaker meetings up and down the country. This upheaval is caused not by shifting tides or phases of the moon, nor by reaction to New Year’s Honours or the publication of secret papers. It is instead caused by the fact that almost the entire Society of Friends changes roles and responsibilities, and does a kind of sideways shuffle. December is a frantic blur of last minute nominations for jobs:

“EBL – we really need an Assistant Treasurer! It won’t mean much more work.”

“Well, alright, I’ll do what I can…I am taking on clerking too so…”

“Great! The Treasurer is going to New Zealand for 3 months. You’ll manage won’t you? Thanks again!”

“…urk…”

Then January sees the traditional floundering of people trying to pick up their new roles (probably the same role they did 3 years ago and to which they have now returned on what I like to call the Quaker Merry-Go-Round of Jobs). So as I have also agreed to work on the clerking team I found myself yesterday planning an agenda for our first business meeting of the year.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am happy to do my bit. I am happy to clerk because I have done it before and it was OK most of the time (see the pretty Merry-Go-Round). Everyone helps out with wording things and another Friend will be handling the correspondence and notices, which is the bit I find hardest. But, and there had to be one, I am painfully aware I have just spent a couple of hours pulling everything together and being thankful I booked an extra day’s leave after all.

Along with many other church and community groups up and down the country, the Society of Friends is a dwindling population with a fast-growing list of Jobs That Must Be Done. There are increasing regulations and costs around insurance, risk assessments, CRB checks, financial probity and goodness only knows what else. At the same time I find other members of the meeting saying things like “I’m really sorry I have to give up doing X Job, but now I’m in my nineties I do find it a little difficult.”

I’m quite serious. I have replaced someone in her nineties because she felt it was getting a bit much. And she feels terrible at letting people down.

Sometimes I think Quakers live to such ripe old ages not because they are (broadly speaking) affluent and middle class, but because they simply don’t have time to die or don’t wish to inconvenience other people by doing so before their agreed term of office ends.

I find myself asking “is it all, when you get right down to it – actually necessary?” I am not comfortable about putting such expectations on older Friends or on younger ones, like me, who feel unable to use long work hours as an excuse when the alternative is that dear old Prue, who was 93 last week, will feel obligated to carry on if I say no.

Sometimes at meeting we talk about SQUIFs. What can I say, it’s a Quaker thing. It means Single Quaker in the Family. There are particular pressures on those who participate in a meeting but whose family do not. We have a debate about whether we get more or less of their time as a result.

One camp thinks we get less, because they need to find time to spend with the family apart from meeting, and have to balance the demands of meeting with competing demands of partner, children, siblings, parents etc who don’t quite understand what this strange “meeting” is all about.

On the other hand, some feel we get more, because being a Quaker Couple, for example, means that both partners can’t devote all their attention to meeting as they still have to do other, more worldly activities, such as working, childcare, shopping etc. In addition having a Quaker couple means the meeting is more constrained in the permutations and combinations of roles it can work with. For example, Sigoth and I would not both be asked to serve on the clerking team at the same time to prevent us appearing to have “taken over”. chuckle brosI suspect we will cox and box through roles as a result in a Chuckle Brothers fashion (“to me, to you, to me!”) as we take It in turns to carry out various jobs and possibly get jammed in doorways with hilarious consequences as a result.

Either way I feel quite bleak about the future of these roles. Not only do we now have the situation where it is unlikely that a couple can afford to have one partner at home full time, or even part-time, by choice; also we are faced with people working for longer as pensions contract. Whereas I once thought I would retire at 60, still vigorous and able to volunteer whole-heartedly, now I will have to work for longer and be less fit when I do retire. And that’s assuming I ever get that far, given that my father died in his sixties while still working to support the family.

In fact, “bleak” barely scratches the surface. Perhaps I chose the wrong B word for this post.

So let’s Brighten up and count some Blessings!

  • It is likely I will live longer and be healthier than previous generations.
  • I should be able to retire by 70, leaving me a good 20 years of voluntary happiness ahead (based on Prue).
  • If the worst problem I have to face is how much time I can give to meeting, then I am pretty fortunate.
  • If no one clerks the meeting, I suspect no one will die. Or even be maimed. Or possibly, whisper it, even notice.

While none of this addresses the underlying problem facing our and other societies and groups, I think today I’ll let the world manage without me. It will sort itself out or it will not; I will do what I can and not what I can’t, and hope for the wisdom to know which is which.

Looks like I may have to move on to C for Catastrophising (and why I really should stop) in the next post.

Saying “No” – how do you do it? Or don’t you? If the latter, please join your local Quaker meeting!

Namaste

Pearly King and Queen

There is a Cockney tradition of Pearly Kings and Queens. You can look it up through a search engine or on-line ‘pedia of your choice. My granny used to tell me all about them when I was small.

Well, on 1 October 2013 Sigoth and I will be a Pearly King and Queen, albeit not of a Cockney variety, and we will be in Copenhagen, not London, for we are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary by spending a few days in the land of top-notch knitwear and construction toys.

Hopefully if I have sorted out the scheduler you will be able to wish us “skål!” on the day itself (subject to the rotation of the earth and your own regularity with WordPress reader or whatever you use). To which we reply “thanks, my dears, and cheers to you too!”.

I met Sigoth at university in Freshers’ Week. I thought he was rather sweet and we used to cross paths every Wednesday evening as we both dashed out of the labs where we were doing practicals to rush for the bus back to Hall. Different labs, different Hall, but same general timing and direction, and friends in common.

Then there came the inevitable Christmas party, the day John Lennon was shot, and so we became an item. Cautiously at first, then more confidently, we grew into each other’s ways and have never yet grown out of them.

We got engaged on the night of one of the university Balls, in February 1982. We only told one friend in advance, confident she would have the news around the rest of the university before we had had our first dance. Imagine our horror next day when we wandered into the bar to meet up with the usual suspects for lunch and no one knew a thing! For the only time in her life she had decided it was a secret and told no one, so we had to broach the news ourselves, with great embarrassment.

The wedding was a home-made affair. The night before the great event my friends came over and we made sandwiches. Another friend made the cake for us, having practised the icing pattern on her mother’s Christmas cake, and it was beautiful. My mother’s friend, Aunty Sheila, did the flowers having taken a flower-arranging course.

On the day itself it was cool and a bit wet. I left the house in my best friend’s father’s car, with my Dad, windscreen wipers going, and worrying about the dress. It was my mother’s wedding dress, which we had cleaned and spruced up, and it looked fine although something happened to the hem in the cleaning process so it was a bit crooked. No one cared.

The rain stopped by the time we arrived at the meeting house, and during the meeting for worship a blackbird sang its heart out in the garden. As Quaker weddings were quite unusual we had a lot of Friends join us, almost all of whom we had never met, but they filled out the room and contributed their worshipful silence.

Meeting house where we married

The wedding vow for Quakers in Britain is a simple one:

Friends, I take this my friend Sigoth to be my husband, promising through divine assistance to be unto him a loving and faithful wife so long as we both on earth shall live.

Sigoth said the same thing, with appropriate amendments for name and relationship. After that we signed stuff and had cake and drank juice and took photos. In a Quaker wedding all those present sign a certificate, which contains the time/date/place and promises we make to each other, and may be either a poster sized document or a booklet (ours was the poster version, and is framed in the hallway). Then Sigoth and I went away to Germany while everyone else went to the pub.

We were young and a little insane. We had no money or jobs – it was 1983, so no one had jobs – but we decided to start a family straight away. Offspring #1 arrived 6 weeks before our first wedding anniversary.

The bare bones are not so interesting really. What makes it special is that my stomach still gives a lurch when I see Sigoth. My heart still beats a little faster while he sleeps beside me, and I feel the warmth of his breath and the beat of his heart. Every day he is there for me and will be so long as both on earth shall live.

I wish you happiness and joy in your relationships, whatever shape or form they take.

Namaste.

 

My Syrian tantrum

I have been struggling since I learned of the chemical attack in Damascus. Struggling with the images and the rhetoric and the desire in myself to do something violent and pain-inducing and retributive to whoever made that attack happen. I wanted to see deadly force used against those responsible.

It’s easy being a pacifist when the biggest challenge is dealing with the supermarket running out of my preferred yoghurt, or a colleague disagreeing about how to resolve a problem or a n able-bodied individual sitting in the disabled seat on the train leaving a wobbly, walking-sticked pensioner to stand. Then I can take a deep breath and try to contain my irritation and think loving thoughts until everything falls into perspective. (I’m not saying I always manage to do it, but I try.)

Chemical weapons, any weapons, are not a source of irritation though. They are far more. They are unforgivable.

No, wait, aren’t I supposed to forgive?

It makes my brain hurt to try and understand why people would use them. And I certainly wanted to go storming over to Syria and send them to their room to think about what they had done.I tworked with our children who have become sensible adults.

Yet these are people who have very clearly thought long and hard about what they planned to do, and then did it. In fact they are dangerous, mad-as-a-bag-of-frogs bullies. Bullies need to be removed from the situation and dealt with, patiently and exhaustingly, but crucially removed until they are safe to be around others.

Then I realised I was being sucked in to all the nonsense about crossing lines and standing up for whatever good word came to mind: freedom, justice, peace.

If before I thought it was wrong to kill people, why was I even giving it time of day now? Because the cold, hard truth is that pacifism is not easy. It means dealing in the long term, not the immediate, knee-jerk present.

In my primitive brain I had a fight or flight response to danger: shall I kill someone or run away and hide? I want to be a more sophisticated life form than that. I want to use thoughtfulness, and compassion. Yet that means not rushing in to save the day as if I know best. It means, with awful certainty, waiting. Waiting for more deaths but working to remove the cause of future deaths, rather than stepping in and introducing new reasons to hate and fight and murder other people. It means being unfashionable and unpopular with those suffering. It means taking the hard path.

Today in meeting for worship at my local Quaker meeting we shared our pain and sense of powerlessness and, indeed, our joint struggle to adhere to our core values. This is what our corporate response to the crisis says; it was published last week just ahead of the Commons vote.

Today in meeting for worship we shared that statement and also asked ourselves through our Advices and Queries to think about how we respond as individuals. Advices and Queries is a document used by Quakers and Quaker meetings in Britain as guidance, prompts and challenges to the issues we confront in the wider world. They are not a call to increased activity by each individual Friend but a reminder of the insights of the Society. We are all asked to consider how far the advices and queries affect us personally and where our own service lies.

The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Advices & queries.

The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain. Advices & queries.

I know I have to take the hard path. I hope to have your company along the way.

Namaste.

Together we are stronger

This month’s Bloggers for Peace topic asks us to consider our relationships. My brain ferments such questions. Today I uncork for you some early brewings.

You know how it goes: one minute in the privacy of your head you are thinking deep and meaningful thoughts; the next, someone else, outside your bony skull echoes them in public. It happened today.

To start at the very beginning: I am reading a book. I know, who’d have thought it? It’s about the Civil War, by which I mean the English Civil War in the 17th century. The book itself is a peculiar mix of history text book and historic fiction. It’s a bit peculiar but fascinating.

As you will no doubt be aware, there is nothing civil about a Civil War, and the English variety was no exception. It tore apart the country, respecting no person, destroying trade, harvests and cities, families and friendships. It was as uncivilised as war can get, with civilians being used as human shields or hostages, or just target practice. Your immediate neighbours, with whom you had lived cheek by jowl all your life, might suddenly mutate into the Opposition. One man was for the King, his brother for Parliament, and they were followed for better or worse by daughters, wives and children. Both armies, and their camp followers, slogged through ice and snow, rain, sun and mud, starved, died of fever, disease and trench foot (this war was fought in trenches in some cases, just like the calamity in the Somme in the early 20th century), as well as wounds and quaint medical practice.

At the end of it all we, the people, killed the King for treason. We had a contract, you see, where in return for his life of privilege and riches, we could expect his service through good governance and a dedication to our collective welfare. He believed he had a Divine Right, but it turned out he was mistaken, fatally so.

The execution of the reigning monarch would have sent shock waves through an already fractured society and across the Channel throughout Europe. As everyone returned wearily from the years of war to try and rebuild their lives, it would have been hard to trust their neighbours again. During this period a number of extravagant and radical religious groups flourished, in part by offering to replace the lost trust and sense of community desired by a shocked and stricken populace. Among them were Quakers.

It didn’t last, of course. In the end we brought back the king, a new one, whom we held to account. Well, it was that or give up Christmas, and as Narnians will tell you, that is not much fun. The English reserve as their inalienable right the opportunity to celebrate a mid-winter festival. It’s the long, dark nights, you see. You have to take your mind off them, preferably with alcohol.

In my more old-fogeyish moments I sometimes feel we are experiencing similar upheaval today, as communities fracture under the pressures of modern life. There seems to be a lack of connectedness which, I think, can result in the total lack of love for others evidenced by bankers, care workers and certain celebrities. Obviously, many bankers, care workers and celebrities are kind, nurturing people; it’s just we hear about the others. Equally these behaviours are not new.

Whatever the causes, or not, and whether it’s true, or not, people do like to feel part of a community. Some communities may be closer than others, but no one likes to feel alone always and forever.

So there I was, sitting in Quaker meeting and thinking about how we are the same as those distant forebears of the 17th century, when someone stood up and said:

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Well now! There’s a thing. Because I had been brooding over Isaac Penington’s letter from 1667, which begins like this:

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand, if there has been any slip or fall

Isaac lived through a terrible period of history and he, like others, wanted to leave behind all war and occasion for war. He was a religious man, and saw love and peace and tenderness as a calling from God.

These times are not as religious as then, although it seems superstition is rife instead. We have learned so much and most of it is magnificent, as Professor Brian Cox likes to point out in excited tones.

Reason is a mighty instrument, but reason without love is empty. Reason does not soothe tears or smooth away bad dreams. Compassion and wisdom, as some might say, are the way to enlightenment. Or as Bill and / or Ted would have it:

Be excellent to one another

Namaste.

 

B4Peace: Art, peace, memory

This month’s Bloggers for Peace Challenge from Kozo is about art. I am not artistic, but I do like to look at stuff.

“Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world. Just start thinking peace, and the message will spread quicker than you think.”~Yoko Ono

For the month of May, we will focus on art. I believe that art has the ability to transform the soul. If art can change a soul, then it can change the world. What piece of art makes you a more peaceful person?

As I was growing up we had a most wonderful next door neighbour. In fact we had two, but mostly he was at work, so I knew her better. Auntie Brown was from Aberdeen and talked in a strong Scottish accent. She was bright and cheerful and very down to earth. She had a grandson about my age, who visited occasionally and played; he kept a rabbit at his grandmother’s but it was a mean rabbit which bit, so I didn’t like it very much. My friend Joanne had rabbits and they were cuddly and much nicer.

Auntie Brown would take me out when she went to the shops, just for the company. She listened to my stories and talked about all kinds of things and taught me to make cauliflower cheese. I would often visit when I came home from school as a teenager because we could share a cup of tea, and my own house was cold and empty with my parents both out at work.

Her husband worked at the local undertaker’s. Once when I was doing a school project on trees I went to see him at work to ask about coffins, so he took me and my friend into the workshop to see the caskets in various states of completion and told us all about how they were made. Apparently elm was the best, although this was before Dutch Elm Disease put paid to that. I remember worrying about how people would be buried without enough elm trees. I was a strange and introspective child.

One day Auntie Brown saw me coming in from school and called me into her house. They were planning to emigrate to New Zealand now Mr B had retired, to be closer to their family who had moved there some time before.

“I want you to have this,” she told me in her rather high-pitched voice.

198310 photo of painting

She indicated the picture on the wall. It was quite large.

“I love this picture, but it’s too big to take with me and I would like to think of it going to a good home. Your mother said she didn’t want it, but I knew you liked it…”

There was hope and desperation in her eyes, and her voice was all trembly. It was also true that I did really like the picture.

“Thank you,” I said. “I love it. It can go in my bedroom.”

And my dears, that is just where it went. My mother complained and my dad put up a nail for it and there it stayed until I got married. Then it lived with us for a long time.

It was not a high quality print, and was a little ruffled from the damp in Auntie Brown’s old Victorian terraced house. The frame was falling apart and all skewed, and the backing was warped.

I had always liked it and I loved it more as time went by. I loved it because auntie Brown had loved it and then had trusted me with it. I loved it because it reminded me of her. I loved to sit and stare into it and make up stories about what was happening off in the distance or to the side. We spent many happy hours, that picture and I, listening to music and dreaming teenage dreams and living adventures when the dull suburbs were too tedious to bear. It moved from house to house with me, hanging drunkenly in the living room or dining room, wherever there was wall space, until one day it simply became too old and tattered and worn to last anymore and we had to say goodbye.

It’s imprinted on my brain. It lives on in my memory, more clearly than some people I have known and more clearly than Auntie Brown’s face (although her voice and her love are still sharply in focus). I like the picture in a generic way because I think autumnal woodland scenes are pretty; I love it because of the people and memories it shows me, like ghost pictures within itself. When I look at it I see the trees and water, but I also see myself making cheese sauce on Auntie Brown’s cooker (always use a wooden spoon!) or sitting in her narrow garden with a tea cup and a biscuit, or walking to the shops in November fogs (hold my hand so you don’t get lost!), or shouting greetings over the six foot fence as we both went up our respective paths, or most ridiculously and desperately spooning whisky into my poor old catfish in an attempt to revive him (whisky will make him better; it makes everyone better!) or trying to make sense of Jane Porter’s “The Scottish Chiefs” (William Wallace was a great man, you know; they ought to teach you about him school, like back home!).

A picture can tell stories when words may fail. You know the quote. Sometimes we have no words for what we want to say (although I seem to have hurled quite a few in my attempt today. Yet still they don’t tell you half of it.)

Perhaps all I need to say is this: when I look at that picture I remember feeling loved, and peace is all around me.

Namaste.

For more, please read:

http://cardcastlesinthesky.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/float-upward/

http://fishofgold.net/2013/05/01/remaking-the-peace-symbol/

http://everydaygurus.com/2013/04/29/monthly-peace-challenge-art-thou-peaceful/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

Which side of the fence are you on?

Rarasaur posts her Prompts for the Promptless on a weekly basis, but as I operate in a different space-time continuum I may appear to be out of step. It’s a challenge for those of us who choose to interact with you Earthlings.

Anyway, the other week the prompt was about the Litmus test.

The Litmus Test is a test in which a single factor (as an attitude, event, or fact) is decisive.  In other words, it’s a single question test, not necessarily related to the information that is gleaned from the test.

I knew what I wanted to write for this but then life got all inconvenient and it didn’t seem right. This morning the sun is shining and the birds are shouting and I have a spare hour, so I am throwing caution to the wind and writing what I wanted to write regardless of consequences.

The reason for the hesitation, my dears, is that my Litmus Test is Margaret Thatcher.

I left university in 1983 to unemployment, riots, IRA bombings, the miners’ strike and all kinds of social ugliness which I blamed on the government’s policies.  Indeed, they must take responsibility for much of it, although ugliness can only come from within. The provocation was extreme and we were all pretty ugly back then, whichever side of the fence we were on. I don’t think anyone was on the fence. It was a very polarised time.

I had a friend who was suffering from extremely serious depression and was suicidal. She had a few attempts to kill herself, which were clearly of the kind where she was asking for help. Her friends did their best, but the health services were in such disarray that they basically put plasters over here wrists and sent her home again. Three times. Finally she went around visiting each ofus to tell us how she appreciated us and we hoped she was turning a corner. Then she jumped off a multi-story car park and died.

I blamed Margaret Thatcher.

For years I planned to celebrate when she died in turn. I judged people by whether their view of her was that she was a decisive leader who made difficult decisions, or whether she was a divisive figure who split society in two when we needed to pull together, took us into war and taught a generation to worship money and consumerism over love and hope. You will have worked out, I am sure, which I think.

Then the inconvenient woman died, just as my post was starting to coalesce in my brain. Honestly, Maggie, give me a break!

I was surprised how uninterested I felt. The woman herself has been irrelevant for some years, and I feel a little sorry for her having seen her being manipulated in her turn by wolfish politicians trying to boost their own public approval ratings.

What I have realised is that it’s the Idea of Margaret that lives on, regardless of her particular tenure in this world. She left a legacy: and so she remains my personal litmus test, slightly amended, to how a person’s view of her and her ideology.

She remains my litmus test because she was divisive. You couldn’t be ambivalent about her policies or attitudes or achievements. You have to come down one side or the other. Whatever the subject, if unsure of how to respond, you can ask yourself “what would that bloody woman say?” and it will tell you which way to go.

Her behaviour, attitudes and actions made me sad, they made me angry and they made me choose.

Namaste.

Strength in weakness – or why we need Schadenfreude

Rarasaur’s wondrous “Prompts for the promptless” feature Schadenfreude in this week’s episode.

Definition: Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.

Naturally the Germans made it into a single word while we poor English have to use a whole sentences to describe it. This leaves us less time to indulge our guilty pleasure in the act itself., and so we pragmatically have annexed their word as our own

Don’t give me that look. I know you do it. Every time you cheer a goal or laugh at someone’s stupid mistake, you are guilty. But be reassured, we all do it and it’s part of human nature. It’s tribal, it’s belonging, it makes us feel safe because it identifies The Other, the one who can’t or won’t or didn’t.

There is a passage in Seven Days in New Crete by Robert Graves describing a time traveller’s encounter with the future, where values are different:

…they lacked humour – the pinch of snuff that routs the charging bull, the well-aimed custard pie that routs the charging police constable. For this they had no need, and during the whole of my stay there I heard no joke that was in the least funny. People laughed, of course, but only at unexpectedly happy events, not at other people’s misfortunes. The atmosphere, if it could be acclimatized in an evil epoch like ours, would be described as goody-goody, a word that conveys a reproach of complacency and indifference to the sufferings of the rest of the world.  But this happened to be a good epoch with no scope for humour, satire or parody. I remember an occasion when See-a-Bird absent-mindedly hung up a mirror on what he thought was a nail, but was really a fly that had settled on the wall. Everyone laughed loudly, but not because of his mistake: it it was a laugh of pure pleasure that he caught the mirror on his toe as it fell, and saved it from a crash.

The time traveller is not very impressed. It’s why Paradise sounds dull and Milton had the best line for Lucifer with “Better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven.” We like it a bit rough. It gives us stretch and challenge, and if we cope we can enjoy the failure of others as an added boost to our self-esteem.

EBL is in a rather sombre mood today, na? Walk with me on the Dark Side a little longer, I beg you.

My definition of civilisation is whom we choose to mock and whom we cherish and support. Do we enjoy a child crying because of failure? Or an elderly pensioner unable to understand the changes to the bus timetable? Or a disabled person trying to get into the library and having to use the goods entrance? What about foreigners who don’t understand how to queue properly? Somewhere in there you may enjoy their misfortune, but we all differ where and when.

My personal moments of unrestrained gloating are focused on seeing the mighty fallen. In other words, people that I believe deserve it because they have been insufferable in the past and are now getting a taste of their own medicine. You know the creatures I mean: politicians.

EBL, why are these innocent lambs fair game in your harsh, unflinching, judgmental eyes?

Well, I’m glad you asked me that. (I suspect some of you just nodded, and said “Right on, sister!” or words to that effect.)

It’s because politicians try to tell me how to live my life. They try to tell me what is right and wrong. They try to define Us and Them according to their personal belief system and not the consensual system of the people who elected them. They lie and cheat and abuse their positions. I am generalising: some of them are as yet still trying to do right, whether it’s effective or not.

All those squirmy moments in the Leveson Inquiry, those were great. Nothing changes, but at least now there are memories to cherish and my prejudices confirmed. That is why in this evil epoch we need humour, satire and parody – because the mighty are men, and women, of clay, of human weakness and frailty but pretending to be more. We need to remind them of their basic humanity, and if we do not use  sharp, pointy, steel weapons we must use sharp, pointy, steely words.

If I were a conspiracy theorist (and I watched The X Files avidly, so it is possible) I would assume that politicians would try to hide what they do to avoid such embarrassment. They try, poor dears, of course, but they always forget they are still only human. In the end they slip up, or are out-ed by the little people who serve them, and the ensuing hilarity over their pathetic machinations makes the enjoyment all the greater.

It’s why we enjoy the satirist’s rant, and I commend you all to A Different Daylight’s recent article on this very topic.  Because a well-constructed rant lifts Schadenfreude to the next level, to “Schadenfreude-EX-treme!”, as it were. It exposes and propagates and multiplies the effect for all to share, enlarging the tribe.

I cackle, my dears, I snort, and I turn to my friends and neighbours and indulge in tribal bonding with the well-worn incantation: “I told you so! Bloody politicians, they’re all the same. What can you do?” And we all guffaw and someone buys another round, and we are united in warm, joyous, fuzzy contempt, and the world turns.

We are devastatingly, shamefully, beautifully human.

Namaste.

 

Blog Awards

Well, EBL is red-faced with embarrassment. Two blog awards have pinged my way recently and I am lost for words. In fact the reason I didn’t respond immediately was that I was lost for words. Enjoy that while it lasted, gentle readers: normal drivel is now resumed!

liebster-blog-awardFirst up, I accept with delight and with intense amazement.the Liebster Blog Award from Authentic Talk at: http://leazengage.wordpress.com

Thank you very much!

Secondly, I am thrilled and somewhat shell-shocked to accept the Reality Blog Award from Ponderings at http://ponderingspawned.com/category/ponderings

realityaward

I never thought I would be the recipient of one of the blog awards that go around, so I am more than a little stunned to receive two almost at once. It feels like something that happens to other people.

I know many people whose blogs I read are old hands at such things, but then their blogs are better, so that is as it should be. Seriously I am quite shocked.

Anyway, I’ll give it a go and see what happens.

Liebster Blog Award Rules

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to their blog.

2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself and create 11 questions for your nominees.

3. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 bloggers who you feel deserve to be noticed. These blogs must have 200 followers or less. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated by you.

4. Copy and paste the blog award on your blog. Post all the items listed in item 2 on your blog also.

My Answers to the 11 Questions from AUTHENTIC TALK:

What is important to you?

Honesty. It’s going to make the next 10 answers difficult.

Why do you blog?

I have always liked writing and I find that it is good for my mental well-being. By committing to a blog I am more likely to write, mainly because other bloggers comment and inspire me further. Surprisingly this did not happen with my paper journal.

Do you like art, music, fitness, nature?

Why yes, I do! They are Good Things. However, my appreciation is often very basic, and I find keeping fit very hard in particular, being of Middle Age and Genetically Undextrous. The things I like even better than those things, as in really like, are literature (unless that comes under art – but then so much does that I feel the need to draw a line), learning new things, playing games, being with family/friends, knitting, and making soup. Not necessarily in that order and rarely all at once.

What has surprised you recently?

Blog awards!

The other surprise was running out of wool when finishing a jacket. I am at an impasse trying to work out how to sew it up now because I am terrible at sewing up and the stitching will show with different wool. <Frowny face>. This may genuinely represent an occasion when eBay is a Force for Good in the world.

Are there any other online communities, besides the blogger world, that you belong to? Do you like them? Why? If you’d like, feel free to provide links.

Actually I’m not a huge fan of the on-line world, although I do enjoy the new experiences it brings and the people I meet virtually. I use other social media to keep in touch with friends from the meatspace. I like to look stuff up or download a programme I missed on TV or order items to be delivered. However, I prefer to interface with compatible fleshware in co-terminous time/space coordinates over a glass of something unsuitably alcoholic whenever possible. I am EBL, and I am retro.

When are you happiest?

Friday night at home with a glass of wine, my Significant Other, and a sense of another week achieved.

What is your favorite food?

Balti palak paneer. It is unfailingly delicious. There is nothing else to say, unless it’s “Seconds? Why, thank you!”.

What is your favorite season?

Autumn: intense colours, conkers, mists and mellow fruitfulness, that back-to-school feeling, new beginnings (strangely, but probably due to the school thing), nearly Christmas, bonfires and fireworks and pumpkin pies, proper dark nights, frost on spider webs, pale blue skies, hot chocolate, snuggly jumpers, home made soups, new Dr Who starting, ghost stories, a real fire….

Do you own indoor plants?

I share my life with a few friends of the vegetable persuasion.

I have a Christmas cactus grown from my aunt’s plant, which she gave me when I was about 13 or 14. That would make it almost 40 years old. There is also a spider plant dating back to a similar time. Those plants have been with me through thick and thin.

We inherited a fern from Sigoth’s Granny when she died and it thrives on our window sill, keeping her a place in our home too. I also adopted a cordyline when a friend changed jobs and had to leave it behind. It reminds me of her.

There are a couple of other plants which were gifts more recently, and we are getting to know one another. I am pleased to say we have reached a good rapport.

Who has inspired you in your life?

My father, and an extraordinary teacher I had at primary school.

I wrote a post about the latter recently in fact.

Do you like answering these kinds of questions?

Not really. I find them difficult. I am sure my answers are not of much interest, although I enjoy reading other people’s responses so feel obliged to do my best. It is not my normal blog style, but it’s interesting to try something new. I thought quite hard about whether to accept these awards, but the main point of them is to share other blogs more widely so I decided they were a good thing.

11 Random Facts About Me:

  1. I love getting older. It feels like I am breaking free because I care less about what other people think and more about living a life I am proud of, no matter how insignificant.
  2. I work in IT but dislike desktop computers immensely. They are badly designed and confusing and expect humans to adapt to them, when it should be the other way around.
  3. I was born by emergency caesarean a month early. My dad built the nursery furniture in the month my mother and I were in the hospital.
  4. My children are better people than I will ever be.
  5. I want to go into space and see the earth from the outside and the stars without interfering atmospherics.
  6. I learned to play classical guitar at school but cannot strum.
  7. I keep my hair long because I still have a crush on Mary Hopkin after 45 years.
  8. I love science fiction because it allows us to examine questions about what it means to be human, plus who can resist a roaring good space battle, a split in the fabric of the space-time continuum, or a Grandfather Paradox?
  9. I love science but studied languages, which I found easier.
  10. I went to watch England play South Africa at Twickenham once and screamed so loudly I lost my voice, although it was worth it because we won the match. For those unsure, I am referring to rugby union.
  11. I once won First Prize in the Village Show Photo Competition.

The 11 Questions for my Nominees to Answer:

  1. If you were reincarnated, who/what would you like to be?
  2. What is your earliest memory?
  3. What is your favourite music?
  4. What three words would your best friend use to describe you?
  5. How do you feel about the place you live?
  6. What would be the one thing you would do if you were World Ruler for a day?
  7. What is your favourite story?
  8. Do you prefer the mountains or the sea?
  9. If you were stuck for 18 months in a space capsule going to Mars, what would you miss the most from home?
  10. Who is the greatest person in history?
  11. What is your favourite word?

My 11 Nominees are:

  1. http://alisonmay.wordpress.com/
  2. http://backontherock.com/
  3. http://elappleby.wordpress.com/
  4. http://adifferentdaylight.wordpress.com/
  5. http://farawayinthesunshine.wordpress.com/
  6. http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/
  7. http://ellengreycarter.wordpress.com/
  8. http://cpgutierrez.wordpress.com/

There is a Quaker Blog Project in 2013 to look at an A-Z of Quaker Experience. And three bloggers I enjoy reading as part of it are:

  1. http://stumblingstepping.blogspot.co.uk/
  2. http://brigidfoxandbuddha.wordpress.com/
  3. http://www.stephanie-blog.co.uk/

Please go and say hello to these lovely bloggers!

Now for the Reality Blog Award! from Ponderings

The rules of this award are as follows:

1. Visit and thank the blogger who nominated you
2. Display the award on your blog somewhere
3. Acknowledge the blogger on your blog and link back to them.
4. Answer the 5 simple questions about yourself.
5. Nominate as many as 20 bloggers for this award and notify them.

Here are the five questions set for me:

What encouraged you to begin blogging, and how has the experience affected your life?

I started blogging to keep in touch with my eldest child when he went to university. It was a way of holding a more in-depth conversation without long, expensive phone calls or timing issues. I liked writing anyway so it was not a great leap; I was mainly concerned that other people might read it and tried not to be found. More recently I have ventured further afield and made new blogging friends, and am enjoying the whole experience!

What is your favorite wordpress feature?

I like the Daily Prompt. I used to use Plinky but it got silly although I found some great bloggers that way.

To date, what would you say you are most proud of having posted, and why (don’t forget to include a link)? 

I think it’s the post where I admit to my own depression. It’s not cheerful but I was scared to put that in the public domain and have been grateful for the responses.

https://electronicbaglady.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/black-dog/

What role does writing play in your life?

Writing is good for my mental well being, as I said in the earlier question. Plus I like the sound of my own voice. What’s not to enjoy in blogging?

If you had to do a character sketch based on yourself, would you like the character? Is there anything you would change?

I’m not very positive about myself, so a character sketch might not turn out well. At best I’d feel sorry for me, for being so timid and slow to change and risk-averse. I see little to celebrate.

More blogs to read:

http://grandmalin.wordpress.com/

http://knockedoverbyafeather.wordpress.com/

http://cardcastlesinthesky.wordpress.com/

Show them some bags of love!

For those of you still with me – I salute your stamina. Namaste!

100th item in bagging area

My dears, please extend a warm welcome to our 100th WordPress follower who has joined out little corner of yon t’Interweb.

Yarntospin – it’s lovely to have you, and I hope you enjoy your visits. I certainly look forward to some conversations about the value of knitting as a means of creative living and creating peace and tranquility, internally and/or externally.

Namaste.