Knitting Zen

A friend phoned me the other day and we talked about how we were both coping with our various issues and troubles and woes. Sometimes it’s good to talk about them instead of just being brave. Sometimes you need to look those little scamps right in the eye and call them out for being what they are.

As we talked she told me about how she was starting to do more creative activities as a way of coping with the stresses and strains of living. Given that I have been adopting this strategy myself over the past few months, it was a conversation close to my heart.

Sometimes it seems those stresses and strains just need to be sung to sleep with a lullaby, or painted into a corner, or sewn into a pocket. You can’t let them run around creating havoc. You need to create a space to hold them, through music or art or cooking or whatever you feel is right.

It emerged she had taken her needles back up and was knitting and purling her way to equilibrium.

“It’s like meditation,” I said.

“Exactly!” she replied.

My dears, that is indeed what it is like, as I have said before, and probably will again. It’s my Great Discovery. You count and focus and keep present in the moment, otherwise your knit becomes purl and your increase a decreases and your cable in back a cable in front, and before you know it your lovely new cushion cover has turned into a beret.

As I pondered our conversation later, in the small hours of the night, I became a little fanciful. That’s what the small hours are for, I think, a chance to let our imagination gambol for a while before the everyday world requires a halt in chaos, and demands sensible behaviour.

It seemed to me that we are the stitches of a greater whole, fitting into the warp and weft of the Goddess’ Great Project, not a tapestry but maybe a sweater for Christmas. Perhaps I am a little stitch or even an absence of stitch, an artfully placed hole in the lacy bit, so to speak. Some of us may be a little knot in the yarn; we try to keep the knots at the back of the work, but sometimes they insist on poking through and creating a stubbly disruption in the pattern, for better or worse. If Shakespeare had known more about the mechanics of knitting I’m certain there would be a good quote from him for just such an occasion. Sadly you are left with me.

I’m glad my friend is finding solace before the needles. She is far more creative than I am, and has already made socks. I countered with a cabled jacket, and raised her a knitted Dalek, and then we moved on to designs for knitted covers: gadgets, teapots and sundry small storage containers. She will no doubt create amazing patterns while I continue my love affair with fair isle and further my plans for a Sarah Lund jumper before the next millennium. (Of which there may be more in due course, should you care.)

I think I have discovered that great as these hobbies are, and calming as they may be for the fractious brain, having someone who shares them to talk to is even greater.

Think then on this; it can be your homework for the day. Answers below in comments please.

If I drop a stitch when no one is there, does my cry make a noise as it falls?

Namaste.

Slippery thinking

I don’t know what prompts certain memories. It’s a bit like getting a tune stuck in your head all day, but without the music. For no good reason my thoughts have been sliding around sliding, and ultimately why butter is bad for you.

Out of the blue I started remembering about the tea tray game from when I was little. My friend and I would dare each other, successfully I’m afraid, to slide down the stairs on a tin tea tray. We only did it at her house because (1) her mother didn’t seem too worried about it and (2) she had the tray. Both of these were critical success factors. Also her stairs were straighter and the hallway a little bit longer. It was the perfect combination for successful tea tray related activity in a semi-perpendicular (yet stepped) environment.

Obviously this led me to also recall the other sliding we did as children, down the side of the flyover on cardboard. If we were lucky. Otherwise it was grass stains and grazed knees, and on one memorable occasion a broken collar bone for a boy who got carried away with how clever he was at sliding down backwards. We would hurtle down the slope into the ditch at the bottom, and you had to aim just right else you hit the nettles. The drivers going over the flyover seemed less concerned than my friend’s mother did about the tea tray.

SlideI suppose it all started when I was even smaller and we used to play on the slide in the park. It was a very high slide, built a bit like the watch towers at a prisoner of war camp. There was a wooden platform surrounded by wooden planks that were too high to see over unless you were at least seven, and the slide itself was taller than our parent. We went down it forwards, backwards, tummy side down or up, in pairs (although not all of those things at once). Sometimes the slide was not very slippery so we greased it with butter (or marge, in extremis) to make ourselves go faster. We took it in turns to steal the butter for home.

There was a crater at the end of the slide where we all shot off and landed, occasionally feet first. If it was raining it turned into a large, muddy morass, and landing in that was definitely too slimy for words, so on wet days you had to be able to build up enough speed to jump over the crater as you came shooting off the end of the slide.

I cannot begin to tell you the trouble we got into for the state of our clothes.

And that, my dears, is why butter is bad for you.

Namaste.

Unique

We are all special, each in our own way. Some of us make the world a better place and some of us just cope with getting by. A handful of people contribute a net disbenefit, so to speak, but I am firm in my conviction that they are the tiny minority, even if they do occasionally seem to make the most noise.

Today there was some discussion of the child within, the unique person who can be seen emerging from the infant and growing into the adult, and latterly peeping out from the eyes of the elderly through their force of personality. We continue to feel much the same on the inside while our bodies start to ache and our brains become increasingly puzzled by the latest mobile phones.

My friend went on to propose that how we treat our children, by which she meant how society, as well as the actual parents or carers, treats its children, will create a secure child who feels loved or an insecure one who grows up with problems. I felt she was right. My own upbringing, while far from tragic, was also far from ideal and I am very insecure. The resulting chronic depression I live with is evidence in favour of my friend’s argument.

However, I decided to avoid that particular old chestnut today, and focus on the wonder that is a human being. This is probably because I watched my Cirque du Soleil DVD last night and am still in awe of what some people are able to persuade the body to accomplish. On the other hand I can touch my toes, so all is not lost.

Naturally, I cast my mind back to my youth in the green days of the last century. One text book I studied on Child Development had a poem by Aldous Huxley, which bizarrely I read the once and instantly memorised. My brain used to do that back then, just remember things for fun without me even asking it to do so.

“A million million spermatozoa,

All of them alive:

Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah

Dare hope to survive.

And among that billion minus one

Might have chanced to be

Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne –

But the One was Me.”

The Fifth Philosopher’s Song

There is a final response verse which is less uplifting, but don’t worry about that here. The point is the same: we are each unique. Some of us (not you, obviously) may be uniquely appalling, but most of us aren’t. My tutor in Child Development would make that point, adding “Children grow up to function well in society, usually despite their parents rather than because of them.”

So here I am, and possibly here are you, and here are all the rest of us, getting by, each in our own way. We cannot mourn the possibilities that never were, but can only make best use of the ones we have. Where individually we have weaknesses, together we have strength.

Who needs another Shakespeare anyway? As he said himself, you can have too much of a good thing:

“If music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.”

Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 1

Namaste

 

Hopefully

Hopefully, my dears, I will be posting this to you soon. I travel in hope as I write this, as WordPress has decided to block my ability to post because my blog content is causing concern.

Well, how very exciting! I haven’t felt this excited since being phone-tapped in the 1980s for being undesirable. It makes me feel positively young again. The phone tapping thing was because we were caretakers at the local Quaker Meeting House, and I also worked at Friends House in London. I suspect they just listened in automatically. They would have been treated to some very mundane conversations, but obviously it was all code.

“Hello, Someplace Friends Meeting House.”

“I’d like to book the hall for Saturday 5th all day please, in the name of Someplace Embroiderers.”

“Oh, hello, you’ve booked before, haven’t you? That’s fine, it’s free then. Is that all day or just half a day?”

“All day please, with access to the kitchen.”

“OK, that will be an extra £10. Please be aware we do not allow alcohol on the premises.”

And so on. Clearly all a deadly plot against HMG. At no point did we discuss the geese flying south for the winter, or the clouds hanging low over London, although it was tempting.

The Embroiderers are not a joke though. We also hired out meeting rooms at Friends House and the National Front was always trying to book the large hall because it was cheap, capacious and handy for various stations. We had them blacklisted but they remained hopeful too. They booked once as an Embroidery Guild and we only realised when lots of shaven-headed young men in bovver boots arrived for the meeting. Now I don’t mean to be stereotypist here, but generally such sartorial elegance is negatively correlated with a keen interest in artistic sewing. Upon challenge it turned out they were, in fact, not the Embroidery Guild and so were asked to leave.

So here I am, writing to you from the equivalent of Solitary Confinement until WordPress respond to my cries for help. If they take too long there will be a mighty storm of posting to catch me up. I look on it as a way to learn patience. I’m learning as quick as I can! Hopefully.

Namaste.

And thanks to the Kindly Elves at WordPress my account was restored in under 24 hours. Thanks, guys! Although can I say I am slightly disappointed not to be considered a radical threat to society after all…

Live Adventurously

Today has been a thoughtful, peaceful kind of day; the kind of day we all need once a week or so to recharge batteries and gird loins to face the tumult of the working week.

Today someone reminded me, standing there in her bandage from where she hurt herself through misadventure:

Live adventurously.

Today I tried something new, adventurously in my old lady, careful way. I finished knitting the baby cardigan for the imminent-new-team-member-by-proxy, and started knitting myself a cable pattern jacket. I have never knitted cable, largely because my mother taught me to knit and she didn’t know how.

“It’s really difficult,” she said to mini-EBL, and so for more than 40 years I have thought it too difficult for the likes of me.

Today I decided the likes of me would give it a whirl. So far, it’s looking pretty good. It’s fiddly and my fingers haven’t yet worked out the acrobatics of balancing three needles at once without spilling all the stitches while my brain still remembers to keep counting. Instead of my usual rushing, untidy, flailing knitting style, a kind of free-form fingered version of Norman Wisdom, I am having to learn to be thoughtful and quiet and peaceful as I work. I think it’s good for me.

Until I get lost and swear and have to unpick it and snap at poor Sigoth. So much for trying to speak more thoughtfully. It seems I can’t be thoughtful in two places at once.

That phrase, “live adventurously,” has a little more to add. It’s from the Advices & Queries of Britain Yearly Meeting (that’s how the body of Quakers in Britain are known, because they meet together once a year). It goes on like this:

Live adventurously. When choices arise, do you take the way that offers the fullest opportunity for the use of your gifts in the service of God and the community? Let your life speak. When decisions have to be made, are you ready to join with others in seeking clearness, asking for God’s guidance and offering counsel to one another?

Today I thought quite hard about that. The first bit, the bit that sticks in the brain and can be easily remembered as some kind of mantra to help us try new things, that bit on its own can be a sorry excuse for recklessness and thoughtlessness. We can throw ourselves into wild new adventures without thought for how it will affect other people, or how we put ourselves or them at risk. On its own it’s not enough.

I have mentioned before I’m currently incarnate as a Project Manager. What I do is manage risk. It means I plan, plan some more and finish off by planning. It doesn’t mean not taking risks, it means talking them consciously, knowingly, considerately and in such a way that when everything goes wrong, and the Hellmouth opens, then you know what to do. It sounds dull, and often it is, although it plays to my strength of catastrophising everything around me.

Today I noticed the follow on bit for the first time, really noticed I mean. I’ve heard it many times before, but like a truculent teenager or defiant toddler, I have chosen not to hear it in my heart. I thought I could live adventurously and not worry about consequences. I thought it was a bit foolish, because EBL is by nature a cautious old bird.

The Advice, though, doesn’t suggest that at all. It says “Hey, EBL, when you have a bright idea, check it out with people whose judgement is sound, who know what’s what, who can tell you where their towels are.”

It’s taken me over 30 years to notice, but better late than never.

It’s funny how you think you know something, but then, when you finally look at it properly instead of brushing it aside with a “pfft, I know all about that!”, it turns out to be new and different and better than ever.

Namaste

B4Peace goes Gutsy

Today my body betrayed me. Like a bad worker blaming her tools, I hold it responsible for my loss of peace and descent into frantic, darting confusion. Let me tell you about it.

Sigoth and I went to Quaker meeting. We hadn’t been for a very long time, but part of our decluttering project is to do, or do not, and not just waste energy talking about it. So off we went. I felt a bit stressed at the thought of giving up so much of my precious time when there are so many busy things to do, and then I thought “Get your priorities straight, old girl!” and calmed down.

The Met Office had promised us snow, but it was sunny, although a bit frosty and icy. Yesterday’s sleety deposits had otherwise disappeared and the sky was blue. We rattled along the road to town and I was thinking about Kozo’s post about the need to surrender ourselves to life instead of fighting all the time. It seemed a good starting point for an hour’s contemplation.

The meeting room where we sat was cold; Quakers believe in layers and being Green (while also turning blue). I had expected this, so was wrapped up like supermarket packaging. The room had seats and a few old benches, and very high windows which let torrents of light in but only allowed you to see the sky and tips of trees. Today even that was obscured by condensation. It’s an old meeting house, from 1793, when the Georgians had inexplicably not heard of central heating.

I waddled in and found a seat and looked around at my fellow sittees. We were in a circle, and there was the obligatory bowl of hyacinths on a low table in the centre. All around me were about 20 people, mostly grey haired, it must be said, while outside a couple of children were being taken noisily for a walk.

We settled in and started to centre down. This kind of quiet reflection is very different from meditation; it’s a collective exercise. In Britain, Quakers hold silent meetings for worship at which anyone moved to do so can speak. We waited together for the meeting to gather and for someone to be so moved.

That was when it happened. Like a woolly mammoth thundering across the frozen, pre-historic tundra, my belly began to roar. There’s always one in every meeting and today it was mine. I snuffled a little and shifted, hoping to coax the beast back to sleep, but it persisted. The mammoth was replaced by humpback whale noises; long yowling, mournful moans, rapidly changing in pitch and intensity. My guts groaned and whinged and shrieked, and everyone definitely didn’t let it bother them in that very definite way of sitting and not moving or tutting at all.

The whale frolicked alone, producing a lengthy and melancholy solo. I thought of Pink Floyd. Then it found a friend. Across the room there was a response and the twin voices joined in ecstatic harmony. My musical score moved to Wagner.

Inwardly I ran through a broad and thorough range of emotion: irritation, embarrassment, a terrible urge to giggle, boredom and frustration at my powerlessness to impose order on the processes in my innards. I had lost my inner peace and gained only a buzzing, blooming internal cacophony which completely distracted me from any meaningful contemplation. I thought of the joke at the original LiveAid concert: “There’s been a complaint about the noise. From a woman in Belgium.”

I wondered briefly about Belgium. Well, you do, and I say that having visited only last summer. I remembered the carillon concert in Bruges and felt better.

Meanwhile the chemical carnival cavorted with abandon, and those around me certainly didn’t hear anything at all. So much so that there was not a single piece of ministry for the entire hour.

My body surrendered completely to the demands of catabolism. My mind, on the other hand, was torn between right-brain incredulity at the sonic range it witnessed and left-brain attempts to solve the “problem”. My dears, it was almost rent asunder. I was exhausted by the end, but fortunately another tradition decreed tea and biscuits, to which in turn the rest of me surrendered utterly and so I was saved.

Other bloggers for peace include:

Namaste.

Best. Teacher. Ever.

A recent daily prompt asked me (yes, me, personally) to write about a teacher who had a strong influence on me. I wrote about our French teacher from Hell yesterday before I saw the prompt, which coincidence amused me. I am easily amused.

Teachers have had a massive influence on my life, for good or bad; I am sure this is true of many people because many people spend a lot of time in their formative years with teachers. In his younger days, Sigoth was a primary school teacher and the children loved him very much, He is still in contact with some of them, over 20 years later, having seen them grow from barely more than toddlers to graduates and working adults.

I had a teacher like that too. Lots of my teachers were frightening; they thought that was how you managed children, poor things, or they enjoyed it, even more poor things. Imagine finding happiness by scaring little kids – how sad is that! Either way, I had one teacher who just loved teaching us and found great things to show us and teach us about.

The most important lesson he gave me was when he got the better readers in the class to sit with the slower readers and work through their books. Can you guess which I was? EBL: you can say many things about her, but not that she is slow with a book.

I sat with a boy who was virtually illiterate. The first thing he asked me was how to spell “phlegm”. I had no idea and supposed he wanted to write something rude, but I had a go and got it wrong. He was absolutely delighted to tell me the correct spelling and our teacher agreed he was right. I looked at the boy with fresh eyes and then we worked through his book.

I’m sure you can guess what had happened. Mr B, the teacher in question, explained it to me later so that I didn’t feel too bad (the lad had not been very gracious!). It wasn’t a fluke or chance that he got the spelling right, he had been primed by Mr B so he could show me he knew something I didn’t. That he could learn, if someone spent the time to teach him. That he was not, in fact, stupid.

Well, it worked. The boy felt better (and I hope he isn’t reading this! If so, know this: the respect stands), and I learned a lesson about hubris, which I can also spell.

One of the best lessons we had with Mr B was following an “incident” at school. Someone, someone you see, had been writing on the outside walls a very rude word. We didn’t know about graffiti back then, because it was the 1960s and English suburbia. Mr B got a boy to admit it (it might even have been our hero of the earlier story, in fact – hence my readiness to believe he might want to write “phlegm” somewhere). Then Mr B told him it was a bad thing to do, and paused.

“The thing that really upsets me,” he said, clearly upset because he was a bit red and huffy, “is that you spelled it wrong. It has a C in it. It’s actually an old Anglo-Saxon word for having sex. If you are going to do this kind of thing, at least make sure you know how to spell it and know what the word means. Swear words aren’t just swear words. They mean something.”

You could hear the jaws of 35 kids hitting the desks.

There was no more graffiti.

I kept in touch with Mr B after moving on to the school from hell. It was him that made my parents enter me for the scholarship. He told them that if I went to the comprehensive down the road I would be so bored by the time I was 12 that I would be in prison by the age of 14. I think he may have been right. He knew me well; I get destructive when I am bored. He wouldn’t have known how awful the teachers were or how soul-destroying the school could be. Even if he had, it was still better than the alternative. I won my scholarship and went to the posh kids’ school where I was bullied by some children and some teachers, but also had a chance to learn all the fancy stuff I love. Thanks to him I kept out of prison and went to university instead; my parents would not have put me in for the scholarship without his intervention. They did so because they liked him and trusted his judgment too.

So Mr B kept in touch and even came to my wedding. He was a lovely man and we often slipped up and called him “Dad” instead of “Sir”. He loved taking us all out for walks on the Common and bringing back pond water to look at under the microscope. He showed us how to make paper, and papier-mâché dinosaurs and how a candle went out in a bell jar because it needed oxygen. He taught us to respect the world and that we would lose the pandas and rhinos if we didn’t take care. He taught us to ask questions, and that knowledge was more important than tradition; he was incensed at a hymn we had to sing one day because none of us understood the words (“He who would valiant be”) – so we had a whole morning on what they meant and who John Bunyan was. We held trials in the classroom, where we had to play judge and jury, and prosecute or defend a moral argument.

He got in trouble for not teaching us traditional lessons, but we were the brightest class in the school.

He was inspiring and I have become unexpectedly emotional writing this. It was my privilege to have known him.

I hope you have all had the fortune to have known a teacher like him.

Namaste.

 

A fighting opponent

“A fighting opponent” (8 letters).

I was working on a crossword yesterday before settling down to plan a post as part of Bloggers for peace, and this clue was giving me some trouble. Then I got it (it was the last one to do, that’s how slow I was!). I’m sure cryptic crossword fans will be sighing heavily at how obtuse I am, and those of you not cryptically inclined will be looking blankly at the page and wondering what is EBL on today?

The answer to the clue, in case you want to know, was “pacifist”, ie an opponent of fighting.  Geddit? I know, cryptic crosswords are a bit, er, cryptic…

So that was an interesting piece of synchronicity, or coincidence, and got me nowhere in terms of a blog post. Not unless I wanted to do something on favourite cryptic crossword clues. Such as “What a dog does round trees” (4 letters), or “Bridge is a card game” (7 letters).

So I settled down to watch the wondrous Borgen, as planned, and tried to let go of bloggery.

Wouldn’t you know it though? Not only did those delightful Danes live up to my wildly inflated expectations, and pull off not one, but two, absolutely cracking episodes; not only that, but also the first episode was about the war in Afghanistan.

EBL wears a serious face…

The show encapsulated a dilemma that I face as a pacifist. Once a violent set of actions have commenced, the next conundrum is whether to support further actions to try to reduce and minimise future harm, or whether to withdraw in order to resist collusion with opposing principles and actions. In the Borgen episode, the broadly left-leaning prime minister, who was trying to remove Danish troops from Helmand, had to deal with the fallout of a fresh attack by the Taliban which resulted in the loss of a number of Danish troops.

I am aware at this point that I am about to introduce spoilers for anyone who is planning to watch this episode, but has not yet done so. So if that is you, go watch it first!

In summary, due to public and media responses to the loss of life, she was unable to keep to the plan for a phased and managed troop withdrawal. She had either to withdraw immediately, allow the Taliban to claim a moral and actual victory and face the consequences (difficult but do-able for her), or she could respond by increasing the amount of equipment, resource and troop levels in Helmand (not what she wanted to do at all but an obvious choice for a number of others).

She was put under pressure by Afghani activists who begged her to support their country in promoting democracy. She faced down political opponents who wanted to pursue a more military (and macho) goal. She dealt with her own supporters who wanted to stick to the original plan (political suicide). Then she was faced by the father of one of the dead soldiers, who was himself opposed to the war, but who shared his son’s farewell letter with her. In it his son tried to explain to his anti-war father why he had joined up and served in Afghanistan.

It was a complex, emotional and brilliantly written story. The acting, as always, was superb. God, I love Borgen, even though political dramas generally are absolutely not my thing.

Maybe I won’t tell you what she did in the end. Did she change her approach, or did she stick to her principles and take the consequences? Just watch it already!

Actually what she chose is not important because (a) Borgen is fiction, and (b) the dilemma is always there, regardless of a specific choice at a specific time. What the show did was allow the audience to work out their own solution and agree or not with the way chosen by the character.

This dilemma is familiar to peace activists. It can split groups apart who should be working together. It causes loss of peace in itself, just by existing.

The Friends Ambulance Unit was initially set up in the First World War to provide conscientious objectors with a role in the conflict that did not violate their opposition to fighting, but allowed them to support and help those wounded in it. Again, this was not unilaterally supported by all Friends. Some preferred to go to prison rather than support the war effort in any way. It also operated in the Second World War.

Once we are committed to acts of aggression, it seems inevitable that there are innocent bystanders. In the 1980s I could not bring myself to support the immediate withdrawal of troops from Northern Ireland because I felt the vacuum that would have left would have caused greater harm and violence. It was a difficult decision. I opposed the troops being there in the first place, but given that they were, I felt I had to take that into account.

My dears, EBL is a pragmatist, first and foremost. I manage projects, which means most of my time is spent finding ways around things which don’t go to plan. Life is messy and doesn’t read my critical path, unbelievable though that is. I wash it all up at the end in an evaluation to try and avoid making the same mistakes, but in the heat of project delivery (and it can get heated, and much of that heat may well be generated by yours truly if someone defaults on their commitment, I can tell you! You don’t want to make me angry.) I ignore the why, and focus on the “if … then…” option of sorting it out.

It does not sit easy. Sometimes I feel I have sold my soul, and not just on projects.

I said “No” to sending troops to Afghanistan. They went. I won’t celebrate it, and even though there are examples of good being done, I am not sure I can condone it. While I am not comfortable with asserting that my ethical squeamishness is more important than, say, Malala Yousafzai’s right to an education, nevertheless, in my bones I feel that there is still some moral weight to my viewpoint. If we accept, as I think we must, Malala’s right to an education (and if you don’t, then that is another matter to be discussed elsewhere), then using this agreement as a basis for violent intervention and conflict does not necessarily follow. Trying to link the secondary actions as a necessary outcome of the first (Girls should have education; girls’ education can only be achieved by killing the Taliban; therefore we must kill the Taliban) is both flawed and lazy. There are other ways to ensure the education of girls. Nor am I trying to imply this was the given reason for the war, of course! The given reason was just as muddled.

If we fail to stand firm on this, we contribute to a single-minded, unthinking and inherently dangerous world view that whoever has the biggest gun gets to decide whether girls go to school, or whatever the issue is that is being fought over. There needs to be constant challenge and discussion and reflection on all important ethical issues to ensure that we do not simply fall back lazily on what seems the easiest answer.

And if we should have learned anything by now, it is this: the long-term effects of such “obvious” solutions demonstrate that violent interventions merely result in generations of future conflict even if for a while some girls get to go to school. This is true of the rest of the world as much as Afghanistan. The UK is still trying to deal with the impact of its colonial past. Other examples abound; feel free to <insert your example here>.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it..

My dears, I appreciate your time in reading this rambling and poorly constructed brain dump. I am not agile of word or fleet of keyboard when ruminating seriously. I beg your indulgence.

Other bloggers for peace who are more able and beautiful than I include:

And really, go and watch Borgen!

The light in me salutes the light in you. Namaste.

P.S. “What a dog does round trees” (4 letters). Bark.

P.P.S. “Bridge is a card game” (7 letters). Pontoon.

Getting back on track

EBL may be a grumpy old blogger who refuses to indulge the current cultural meme of “resolutions” and “goodwill” because she thinks she is better than everyone else. Bah humbug! But EBL nevertheless resolves to do things regularly and occasionally she manages to achieve some of them, at least in part.

Such heart-warming thoughts on a mild, damp January morning! I know, you want to thank me, but just can’t quite find the words…

The resolutions thing does get me grumpy though, and yet here I am dedicating time and web space to it. I did make a resolution last January as it happens, and I did keep it. On 31 December 2011 I was unconscious for a while, not through over-indulgence, but undergoing a general anaesthetic to try and restore some movement in my feet. It was a last resort by the consultant who had tried everything else, including hitting my feet with paddles to try and stimulate some healing. He didn’t know why it worked but it often did, although not for me as it turned out. And we claim Western medicine is scientific…take that, Richard Dawkins!

When I woke up, feeling all fuzzy and inexplicably happy (I love anaesthetics, it turns out!), I found I needed a visit to the little girls’ room. A nurse helped me up and warned me it would be painful to try and walk.  I discovered it was painful, but less than it had been before the anaesthetic. At this point she said a stupid thing along the lines of “Gosh, it must have been painful then!” as if I would be undergoing such a procedure for a minor bruise. I told her I was starting salsa class the following week so needed to be more mobile and she looked concerned and said maybe I should wait a bit. I am guessing she wasn’t used to humour, which is odd for an NHS employee who is exposed to so many humorous initiatives from bumbling politicians. Anyway, over the next couple of days I rediscovered the ability to walk from the living room to kitchen without agony. It was a revelation.

Getting giddy with excitement, I decided to try to lose some of the weight I had gained over the previous 4 years. Let me explain.

Middle Age is not kind to the waistline: my dears, I hope you are not too shocked to learn this! In addition, sitting around doing nothing because I couldn’t walk didn’t help, and I had ballooned even more than normal over the years of reduced activity. Sigoth was also suffering Middle Age, although otherwise relatively trim. So we both ate less, and moved more. I managed to start walking from the station to the office (about a 10 minute walk which had previously required a taxi), and lost weight. It was glorious.

I am no longer overweight. This makes me happy because I can move around more easily and I feel much better. I’m not too shabby for 50, which is just as well because that’s how old I am. I still can’t walk overly far, but I can shamble around town slowly on a good day.

Health blogs are boring, aren’t they? Especially the ones where it ends well.

What the foregoing was leading up to was the fact that I also took up a bit of yoga once I was able to stand in bare feet for a few minutes. The stretching is helping rehabilitate my tendons as well so it’s a virtuous circle.

Yoga blogs are terribly boring too, aren’t they? All the chanting and incense and silly posture names, like it’s a club for people better than you. (I believe real yoga people have a sense of humour, but I may be mistaken. It turns out I over-estimated the NHS, after all.)

So the point of that was to say I also try to meditate for a short while after the stretching and bending and generally amusing contortions. Middle-aged women starting yoga are just a bit of a laugh; fortunately most of us know this, and laugh along too. We particularly laugh because you don’t usually get to 50 without seeing the funny side of yourself, and also we know that it’s better to do something than nothing, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so we might as well enjoy putting in the effort.

And the point of talking about the meditation was that today I simply felt some joy as I heard the birds beginning to stir outside, and we welcomed the new day together. We don’t share joy enough, so I wanted to pass on some of mine.

You can roll your eyes if you like, I don’t mind, because I know I sound like a mad old hippy. But actually I am, and I wish you joy whether you like it or not. So there.

Namaste.

Peace Testimony

My dears, I need to share something with you.

I don’t feel comfortable with New Year Resolutions. For me there is an implied double standard, a bit like the implied double standard of swearing an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. What this means, to me, is that the rest of the time I might not do that.  How very dare you!

The other day I wrote a piece about a blog I enjoy reading, so today I am going to tell you about another one, written by Fish of Gold.

There are many great reasons to enjoy the blog: witty stories, great quality writing and provocative articles. FOG also occasionally shares difficult and demanding issues and experiences, and in my opinion this is what contributes to turning the blog into a fully-rounded expression of being human (or piscine, if you will).

Recently FOG wrote about Bloggers for Peace, and it caught my eye in particular because I think peace is a good idea.

If you are interested in reading more about it, then you can click the badge on this blog or follow this link to Bloggers for peace. Just imagine – if just 100 bloggers commit to blogging once a month in 2013 about peace and what it means to them, we will have a great conversation with more than a post a day. All the How-to-do-it is there too.

I am a pacifist. I said I think peace is a good idea, but I don’t think it’s is an easy or simple idea. Crucially I find the some people equate it with passivity, but I am here to tell you that is not the case.  Pacifism is not passive surrender, it is an active obedience. That can mean upholding a difficult and unpopular point of view, and even facing persecution for it. It can (and does) mean that we oppose the use of force no matter what, even, for example, in 1939 against the Nazi threat. We uphold the essential humanity of evil-doers, while detesting and opposing their evil. We demand that they are dealt with another way, even though we might not know what it is, or how it can be done.

Many war-mongers try to validate their actions by claiming they are required in order to bring about peace. I can’t hold with this. To explain why I am now going to quote to you from the original Quaker Peace Testimony, so prepare yourself for some righteous 17th century olde English.

the Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, & again to move unto it; And we do certainly know, & so testify to the World, that the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all Truth, wil never move us to fight and war against any man with outward Weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, nor for the Kingdoms of this World.

The Testimony was addressed to Charles II in 1660 to demonstrate that Quakers, a heavily persecuted religious group, were no threat to the authorities, and had no intentions of rising up violently against the newly restored crown. At the time carrying a sword was as normal as carrying a mobile phone today, and people who chose not to do so were viewed with intense suspicion.

The nub of the argument was that it was inconsistent and unethical to say one day you were for peace and the next that you would kill people who disagreed with you. It identified a double standard. Quakers at that time decided this was not acceptable for them, and have kept to that ever since.

The Quaker Peace Testimony remains central to modern Quaker beliefs and actions. As a Quaker I want to uphold this testimony, although I fail and fail every day, then fail again. And every day I need to brush myself down and try once more.

Namaste