Dismantling a life

Today’s gospel reading from Mark tells us ‘He ordered them to take nothing for the journey except a staff’. If only I had the confidence to divest myself of absolutely everything I do not currently need. Emptying the house ready for a move has given me a number of insights into myself. For starters why did I need to have 50 gardening books (I never garden!) 60 cook books, 25 knitting books and 200+ business books. If pressed I could argue a case. But the reality is that I ignore gardening tips, get my recipes online and even use YouTube and Ravelry for knitting patterns and tips. Of course many books are gifts and for that reason it is more difficult to part with them. The inscription from the giver reinforces the relationship and remind me what really matters. Then there’s the kitchen and bakeware. Copper pans only used as decorative hangings in the kitchen, French style. Bakeware – what a joke, I rarely bake and have never made a children’s birthday cake in my life. Board games – regularly used on wet Sundays; still used at Christmastime. But 30 of them? No! Then there’s all the stationery. I have always loved paper and pens. This week I had to stop myself buying yet another purple pad from Paperchase. But I have dozens and dozens of pads that I won’t live long enough to use.

The thing about all this stuff is that it is quite tricky to dispose of. Sold some books to Amazon trade-in. American hardbacks gave me the best deal. Sent some books as gifts. Can’t be bothered with a car boot; too cold, too early. EBay a hassle. Cuddly toys and more books to charity shops. Girls have taken furniture, plants, pictures, odds and ends. Loads of bedding, furniture and household items to a local homeless charity. Stationery to schools. Business products to clients. Business books to the university. But still loads left.

So what have I learned as a result of tbis exercise? Firstly, that I can live without most of all this stuff. Much of it I purchased on a whim, to make myself feel better, to reward myself for working hard. Secondly, that whatever it is, the attraction soon fades. There is always a better, improved, more up to date version that you want to upgrade to. Thirdly that these physical items clutter my brain. I spend too much time dusting them, cleaning them, thinking about them but rarely using them. Finally that in the future I will curb my spending, give more stuff away, avoid receiving gifts (unless they are consumables) and focus on what really matters. Like the disciples I will set out for the journey with what I need. But as for only one tunic … I haven’t even started on clothes!

Having fun

One of the most enjoyable artistic collaborations I have engaged in recently was to work with my daughter on ‘a comic’. (Seems an odd term to me, I think of The Beano, but it is a genre in its own right). Taking time out to retrain as an illustrator she used linocutting to draw a set of images depicting the Bob Dylan song, Desolation Row. She contacted Bob Dylan’s agency who requested a huge amount for permission to use the words so she asked me to recreate them. I feel a bit of a fraud as it took me about an hour, compared to the hours and hours that Alex put in to create the drawings. Well, her work is getting some attention and been mentioned on a few blogs. Maybe a new career awaits me too (joke!)




In Connemara

The local shop advertises donkeys for sale. They stare at me because I am obviously not a local. There are oysters for sale at the small market. Cashel blue is a local cheese. I had crab salad for lunch. Yesterday seafood chowder. Delicious! Yes I am in Ireland with my friend Geraldine. She lives 10 minutes drive away from the nearest shop. There is no petrol station, off licence or pub. She doesn’t even have a postcode. But the compensation is that you can see the sea through every window in her home. The landscale is desolate and barren but beautiful. A paradise for those of us who like to relax and be quiet. There isn’t much to do here and that is a bonus. We chat, read, write, eat, watch films. You can’t help but feel better when you return to reality.


Today I met a friend of Geraldine’s. Anne lives in a grand old house, right next to the sea. She is French and has lived here for many years. Recently returned to her home ‘after seven years on the road’ she writes a blog called ‘grannyontheroad’. For every year during the seven she had a different principle that she pursued. The first one was Freedom, the second Joy, the third Love and so on. She made many friends on the road and told me that people looked after her and out for her because of her age. She has written a book about her extraordinary life and is looking dor a publisher. She gave us tea which we needed as the house was so cold. But her hands we warm and so was her heart.

The gift of listening

I am doing a course in Listening Skills. I’m not the trainer, I’m the recipient and that makes me the worst critic. We didn’t get off to a good start when I arrived at the venue, along with a few others, and there was no signposting. When we eventually found the room the trainer had her head down, in her equipment, and didn’t acknowledge us. Then it started 30 minutes late! I nearly left. I find training so slow and don’t understand how a lot of trainers expect people to listen endlessly. And sit. After two hours I asked for ‘a two minute comfort break’ but was told to wait til after the next exercise. So much for practising what they preach!

There are 13 women on the course and one man. That’s a laugh as who does most listening?! The man obviously feels uneasy because his interventions consist of pointing out what might be wrong and helping the trainer with her equipment malfunctions. So far I have done an evening and a full day yesterday. There’s an evening to finish off this week. Then I pass. Yippee!

Why did I want to do a listening course? Well I’ve thought about doing something for a while. I think because it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to somebody and I dont believe I’m very good. I get distracted or give advice or make judgements. And often want to wind people up to make them speak faster. I wish I’d listened more to my Dad. But because he was always so grumpy I found it hard. Now I realise he was grumpy because he was unhappy and I might have helped if I’d really listened. It always came round to the War and I switched off. Of course in the 40s there wa no such thing as post-traumatic stress and counselling. On this day I am reminded that my Grandad sold my Dad’s clothes because he didn’t think he would return. And he lost his mother whilst he was at sea. When he came home he said she was hardly mentioned. I can’t bring my Dad back but I can try to do for others.

In the exercises we do I have found it hard to listen, really listen, witout commenting. The firs time my partner used a real situation and I listened. Not feeling obliged to comment or ‘solve the problem’ makes it easier. I said little, just made noises to let her know I was listening. At the end she thanked me profusely and said how much better she felt.

I don’t think its just being heard. I think it’s being given the time and space to articulate your thoughts and come to your own conclusions. I do believe that most of us know the answers to our problems deep inside. When Stewart was in hospital and things were grim I was fortunate in having good listeners around me. I very quickly learned who to turn to for different reasons. Most of the time I didn’t want advice. And because I am not ‘feelings driven’ I didn’t want to talk about them. Not that I submerged them, how could I? I just didn’t want to be paralysed by negativity and I wanted the girls to see that everything would be alright. Which it was and is. Because people listened.

I was thinking about all this during the priest’s homily this morning. (Yes I know!). At the moment the teaching feels a a bit process like. Mechanistic. And i wish they wouldn’t constantly use our name, it drives me mad! Particularly when they get it wrong and call me ‘Christine’. But there are some really useful bits. And I like how they ended yesterday…

Every meeting and sharing of people is an exchange of gifts. My gift is me; your gift is you. We are gifts to each other.

I was telling Stewart about the course ans what I was learning. After about 5 minutes he said ‘They’re odd things to be learning on a knitting course!’ Aaarrgghh!

Under the Tuscan sun

You have to forgive the Italians for their lack of humility for so many of their superlatives are true. The finest architecture, the grandest churches, the best cuisine, the most stylish people, and the best ice cream. Even ‘the best in the world’. At this time of year crowds are less dense. St Guigminiano is said to be the best preserved Italian medieval village. A walled town of 15 turrets. The model of what all Italian cities used to be. Atbthis time of year crowds are less dense and there are few children. But Americans of a certain age in droves. I imagine many of them are in search of the same experiences as Frances Mayes of ‘Under a Tuscan sun’ fame. It must be the ‘Peter Mayle effect’ in Provence. And then, having publicised this idyllic lifestyle he left. I think I am sensitive to their loud voices because of my own experiences as a student 40 years ago in France. Americans were everywhere, and my friends and I were constantly asked ‘Are you American?’ or even ‘Do you speak american?’. I always like to visit churches and of course there are many. But most deconsecrated now (no light on the sanctuary) so you have to pay. A sign of the times. Some have become museums, others ‘vinatecii’. The walls are left to fade. Fewer people understand the history. It’s ironic that many of the frescoes show Christ amongst the people, and in the marketplace. He’s still there.


A perfect day

The weather is glorious in Italy at the moment. Warm days and a blue sky. A perfect day to visit Loreto in Italy, exactly 50 years and a month after I started as a Loreto pupil in Manchester. Wearing an oversized uniform, like most girls, I hadn’t a clue what Loreto meant. Little did I know about the nuns whose vocation was to educate ‘the poor girls of Manchester’. I always wanted to visit. Loreto is the site of the Virgin Mother’s home, where it was supposed to have been flown from Nazareth and preserved. Few people believe that now. It may be that the stones were transferred. It has been proved that there is some resemblance in the type of stone in both places. It doesn’t really matter. The yellow and white bunting was still in place from the Pope’s visit last week when he inauguarated the Year of Faith. His picture was everywhere. When we went to eat at lunchtime, after paying the bill, they gave me medals. That’s a first. Unlike most places of pilgrimages we have visited there were not queues of people kissing stones, as in Chaucer’s time. I only saw one nun. You can’t go anywhere in Italy as a Catholic without feeling transported back to biblical times. It reminded me of what I once knew and had almost forgotten. Later on we went to Norcia, home of St Benedict. We went into the crypt of the church where he is said to have been born. We were present at Compline, the divine office at 7.45pm. Hooded monks sang it in Latin. It brought back what I had been taught at Loreto. You never really forget. The responses trip off the tongue as they did 50 years ago. I prayed for most people in my life and lit candles. Norcia is a town dedicated to St Benedict and food. Regional specialities must include wild boar. It is on all the menus and there are stuffed animals in the shops. I also saw ‘coniglio di malo’ in a food store which I think is too revolting to translate. I thought of bringing some home as a joke for my son in law. But at 9 euros, if he doesn’t eat it, it’s an expensive joke. I ate tasty sausage and lentils with a local red wine. This is our last night before moving to Tuscany. More churches and restaurants. As always in Italy.