Monday, 28 February 2011

Unusually I am making a direct link between the photo and my musings today!

I just adore Victorian railway stations. The architecture is so stylised and completely over the top - the renovated St Pancras is a wonderfully classic example. Nothing is spared the elaborate detail - in particular the tops of the various iron pillars and columns are always heavily decorated with the most brilliant metallic equivalent of "fret" work.

Needless to say the weather wasn't this good this morning - this photo is a case of "here's one I took earlier"!

So these patterns got me thinking and linking!

Earlier in the day I'd been reading a fascinating article about an ancient Ethiopian cross. They had a photo to accompany the piece - it was utterly breathtaking. So fabulously intricate and entwined. It reminded me of Celtic knot work.

There is something beautiful about Celtic designs - they have no beginning or end, you can trace your way round them without stopping. I love that idea and in particular I love the idea of how that links to faith... How God's love and care and protection is endless, seamless and infinite.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

I seem to be in a nostalgic mood at the moment!!

I woke in the early hours and went to open the window as it felt quite warm in the house. The sky was fabulously clear and the stars sparkled like precious jewels against the velvet darkness.

The constellation that I saw immediately was Orion. As a child I fell in love with Orion. My bedroom window was not overlooked and I used to sleep with the curtains open and watch the stars move across the sky as the seasons progressed from autumn to winter and finally to spring.

Orion is such a dominant feature of the northern winter sky. So easy to spot and so wonderfully diverse with the bright blue Rigel at one corner and the equally stunning red star Betelgeuse at another. Then just below that constellation sits Sirius, the brightest star in the sky - often called the Dog star, as its part of Ursa Major.

I used to watch them endlessly. Almost hypnotised by their splendour.

Their sight gives me joy. It reminds me why I've had a lifelong fascination with astronomy. Why space and our interactions with it still hold my interest.

The enormity of our universe is beyond human comprehension... we can hypothesise as much as we like about its beginnings - and even its end - but we are unlikely to find the irrefutable answer. Instead we can just relax enjoy its beauty and marvel at its maker.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

I just have to write about pussy willows...

I've mentioned catkins earlier but there is something so deliciously tactile about pussy willows!!

They are so soft and feel like fur - a sort of bridge between the botanical and zoological worlds. I can remember stroking them as a child, bringing them to my cheek and feeling their soft touch against my skin. As gentle as an angel's kiss - if angel's kiss...

One of the sad things is that you don't get to enjoy them so much as you whizz by on a train... unlike the catkins that shout their presence as soon as the blossom. Pussy willows are much more discrete - that is until they approach the end of their days and then they bulge and reveal bright yellow pollen. Then you can appreciate their beauty from the train window. But in no way can I relive the wonderful feeling of that 'flower' on my cheek...

Touch is such a unique sense...

When you're sad the feel of an arm around you is so comforting...

When you're happy the delight of hug is exhilarating...

When you are afraid a hand in your own is reassuring...

Pussy willows make me feel warm and cosseted. Simple, childlike, joyful.

Friday, 25 February 2011

This morning when I got on the tube there was a small girl sitting on her Mum's lap near where I was standing. As we pulled out of the station she got off her Mum's lap and made her way to her bright red buggy, sat down and then did up the safety catch on the belt.

She was so good - I was impressed - so I smiled at her and she waved back at me!! So cute!

However, that wave, the sign of farewell, was quite coincidentally the theme for today. I work in the Civil Service and we're going through the process of "voluntary exit". So in our small office of 24 we will say goodbye to four folk today. Quite a sizeable proportion.

The good news (though not for my diet) is that there are a wealth of very tasty cakes waiting to be consumed.

The bad news is that its sad and hard to say goodbye...

For the people concerned its a whole new style of living opening up - most have taken the chance to retire earlier than they'd expected. So ideas to join walking clubs, visit galleries more often, re-visit London landmarks, just spend more time with friends/family and all sorts of other exciting plans have been filling the air.

For the people left behind the work will still be here and be the same but the dynamic will change. The hole that has been left by that unique person will have to be filled in some way by some one.

Change is always difficult, no matter how small or large it may appear. Lives will go on and the work will continue to get done but I shall miss these individuals for a multitude of reasons.

Have you ever noticed that a child's wave is often with their fingers spread wide apart...

Thursday, 24 February 2011


Is one of the words I struggle to get my tongue round! It seems to have far too many vowels in for its own good. I either end up adding some extra ones in or blurring the existing ones into something that approaches how it should be said.

However, it sprung into my mind - it can do when I don't have to verbalise it - this morning when I recognised someone on the tube. I have no idea who they are or what they do but I feel I know them because they are frequently on the same tube as I go to work in the morning. Its rather similar to the man who always gets of the Circle Line on a Monday morning with his wheeled suitcase, who remains a couple of steps ahead of me and then dives into one of the office blocks on Tothill Street. Or the young woman who is so stunningly attractive that eyes follow her as she gets off the District line at Monument as I go home in the evenings.

In all those cases I doubt I'd even recognise the individuals in a different setting and yet they feel part of my regular daily routine.

Conversely, on Tuesday as I got off the Mersey Rail train in Bootle you could've knocked me down with a feather when the first two people I bumped into on the platform were two of the 24 folk who work in our tiny office. The chances of that happening are high. We all work for the same organisation and we were all visiting HQ. Yet it still surprised me and felt unfamiliar!

We are such creatures of habit aren't we... or at least I am!

I actually draw comfort in seeing the people I expect to see in the surroundings I expect them to be in. There is something that just feels 'right' about it. There is something reassuring about teh expected.

I like familiarity!!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Shoes are definitely capturing my attention at the moment.

Maybe its the influence of the media coverage of London Fashion Week - all glamour, glitz and celebrity. The front pages are currently a bizarre mix of natural disasters and/or popular uprising with a splash of colour provided by a fashion model. Whatever it is I couldn't stop my jaw dropping to the floor last night when a young woman 'walked' through the hotel lobby in a pair of shoes that were so vertiginous that she actually couldn't walk!

The other curious thing was the colour, they were a fleshy beige so at first sight it looked like she had no shoes on at all.

Its probably because I'm not someone who is greatly exercised by fashion, I prefer a classic/timeless style which then requires less maintenance! A product of laziness and disinterest I suspect... and surely a great disappointment to my daughter who always looks fab and fashionable! But I digress - as usual!

Why wear something that is designed to be virtually invisible and that makes a perfectly normal function - walking - almost impossible? Shuffling was the best way to describe her movement. What is it that draws to follow trends and styles, flock to fashion shows, devour style magazines?

And how do you balance that almost obsession in some with the real issues that fill our media...

I do find it rather incongruous to see photos from the catwalk alongside reports of the terror and bloodshed in the fight for democracy that's unfurling in Africa and the Middle East... I was therefore greatly impressed by representatives from the Formula One 'industry' who - when the first race of the season was called off - said that there were far more important things to handle in Bahrain than the circus that is a Grand Prix... (I paraphrase the interview a tad!)

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

I think I've already owned up if not explicitly then implicitly to be a people-watching addict!

I just find endless fascination and food for thought in observing the folk around me. Travelling to places on my own gives me almost infinite opportunities to indulge this habit. I'm in Liverpool for work at the moment, I travelled up last night and then made my way from the city centre this morning to our HQ in Bootle.

Walking from the hotel to the train station I narrowly avoided being swept briskly away on a tide of clean smelling foam. I say briskly because the person who was wielding the stiff bristled brush was both efficient and clearly determined to do make that part of the pavement glisten! There was a real vigour to those brushstrokes!

I just love to see people who are absorbed in and by what they are doing. I just think its brilliant to see folk who take a real pride in and a tremendous satisfaction from their work.

However, the thing that caught my eye the most was her footwear... she was wearing UGG boots!!! Sloshing around in diluted bleach... splashing and getting splashed... Oh my goodness!

Now that is what I call style!! :-)

Monday, 21 February 2011

Weddings are VERY much on my radar!

Our son gets married at the end of April - I may have mentioned this before - but the pace is not hotting up seriously! Our daughter has just got engaged and plans to marry in August or September 2012 - as she will emigrate to the US in May this year lots of the key decisions have to be made before then. Finally, our goddaughter got engaged a few days ago and will marry this September.

On Friday evening, as we gathered to celebrate the engagement, I noticed a large pile of magazines by the sofa in the lounge. They were all wedding magazines that had been passed on to her! In fact prior to the engagement my goddaughter had brought one and resorted to looking at it when her fiancé was not present. Her Mum coined the phrase "wedding porn" - which hit the nail on the head and caused much laughter!

However, a quick glance in them and a comparison to my increasing personal experience, I can confirm that "a lot has changed since my wedding day"!

When I got married I made my dress - it was therefore unique - but it cost a tiny fraction of the shop price even in those days. We made all the bridesmaids dresses and I made my Mum and my Grandma's outfits (one was a dress and coat!!) A close friend of the family did printing work and printed the invitations and Orders of Service to my design. We did have a reception at a local hotel but it was a buffet lunch and we'd left the place by 4pm!

Is one style better than the other - the modern trend for a "big" do versus the previous more homespun way? No, of course not... but I am sure that both could benefit from considering the other.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

I have to tell you a small secret...

Birds that sit on top of street lights amuse me...

I have no idea why they do it - I always assume its for a number of reasons - a great vantage point/view and I imagine they are warm. Light must throw out heat, light does throw out heat - I remember learning that at school. So in dark, cold winter days and night where better to sit than on a source of heat... and light!!

You often see birds defending and squabbling over their 'pitch' with others who would come in and try and share - or worse take over. The ensuing 'fight' is always serious but not that dangerous. However, in the end someone is victorious.

So, why is it so amusing - well I guess its because I see myself echoed in that behaviour. I am drawn to warmth and light - its almost instinctive. I love the cosy feeling you get from a warm fire - even when its just a picture of one, it evokes a sense of well-being. Light has the same mesmeric quality for me. So I'm prepared and willing to defend that territory.

I have absolutely no idea if birds 'think' any of those thoughts - but if they do then it makes sense of the squabbles! I also like to compare it to the squabbles I see for territory on public transport. My own line has recently installed wi-fi and the jostling for table-top supremacy with laptops is such fun...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Wednesday last week saw the biggest contrasts human life brings for me...

I got news of a death and a birth.

I think death's are always more personal, always more immediate - simply because if they touch you by definition they meant a lot to you. Birth's are a promise of joy (and pain to come) they are a potential clear slate... though having had two children I can tell you that they are anything but clear - they are born with their own personality.

But the juxtaposition of birth and death is fascinating...

With one comes the inevitability of the other. If you are born you will die. That is one of life's certainties!

But death often surprises us. It comes too soon. It creeps up on folk who are too young to die. Surely...

With birth comes expectations. With birth comes a promise of something different. With birth comes the potential for new life...

Death and birth are so inextricably linked. Sorrow and joy - or joy for the afterlife gained and joy for the new life gained...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Where does the time go to? Friday's seem to come round quicker each week.

I look at my post-it-notes 'to do' list on my desk and there are still many of the things on it that stared out at me on Monday morning - and yet I've been busy all week. I'm not complaining - I like it when days are busy and fly by - but in a few days it will be March already, spring will be well and truly round the corner. The clocks will go forward and light nights will be with us for another few months.

One of the challenges about living in two places is being sufficiently organised to anticipate whats on the horizon. This morning I not only gathered together stuff to take home to Norwich but I also had to pack a case ready for Monday evening when I will travel to Liverpool for two nights. I had to make a decision about what I might want to wear next Wednesday! Goodness knows what the weather will be like - hopefully it won't be a heatwave as I think that's the only climate scenario I'd struggle to cope with! But that is unlikely.

Its so easy to wish your life away...

Some times we forget that each day is precious because, despite our plans and organisational skills, there is no guarantee that I'll reach next Wednesday. Anything could happen. Fortunately for the very vast majority it doesn't but for a few something life changing will occur.

I was reminded earlier this week how important it is to life each day as if it were your last. And by that I don't mean party all day every day - that would be crazy - but I do mean remember to tell those who mean so much to you that they do...
Did you love to play 'clocks' with dandelions seed heads? Its was a favourite childhood game - still is. Aren't dandelions clever, they use humans to distribute their seeds...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

I heard a lovely tale this morning.

My husband had been to a 100 birthday luncheon at which many of the guests were approaching that age too. The birthday "boy" was a keen golfer and so were many of the guests and their tales revolved around that sport in general but the golf course where they were lunching in particular.

The tale that struck me as I listened to many of the anecdotes being retold was of someone who had been playing golf with a group of friends when they reached the point where the course flirts with a railway line. Apparently the signalman saw them from his vantage point and attracted their attention. He had some news.

Britain was at war with Germany!

They abandoned their game and returned to the clubhouse.

Several things in this tale appeal to me. The fact that we still have direct contact with people who lived through something like the Second World War, who we can listen to firsthand, is just remarkable. I always have this almost irresistible compulsion to grab some sort of recording device and capture those memories for future generations.

The second thing that got my attention was the way that time dulls the immediacy of the danger, it was apparently recounted in a very "matter of fact" manner as if wars broke out all the time. But it was clearly significant enough to make them stop their game of golf!

Finally, I marvelled at the style of communication. I have no idea how the signalman heard. Maybe he had a wireless in his signal box. Maybe it came through Morse code... or is my history way out with that... Whatever way he got that information I suspect most people would have heard via word of mouth, from a friend, neighbour, colleague or someone else in the street. Its not the sort of news you keep to yourself because the anxiety around personal safety alone would cause you to share it.

Today we'd hear about it on Twitter or Facebook. We may get a text message or possibly a phone call. We might be watching a 24 hr news channel and see it in the red banner "breaking news" area of the screen.

How things have changed in the space of one life time...

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

We're now in the seventh week of this year. How are your resolutions going?

I've been thinking about my own! I'm doing alright with one and not at all well with another!

The one that I'm having success with involves making a new habit. The one I'm failing at involves trying to break an old habit! Why is it so much easier to establish a new routine as opposed to breaking an old one? I guess the secret lies in just how much I truly want to achieve this. What is my motivation? Am I doing this because I want to or because I ought to?

I want to walk more - lots of people walk in London, even when the weather isn't great. I've started walking a particular journey, from work (Westminster) to church (Holborn Viaduct). It takes me about 35 minutes if I don't get distracted by something - the full moon caused a major disruption last month! Its great, I enjoy it and I positively look forward to it.

Where I am failing is that I want to try and shift a few pounds of flab. At least I think I want to but my motivation seems to be virtually zero and I'm find it hard, borderline impossible, to change my eating and drinking habits significantly!

Maybe I just feel I ought to lose weight... How do I make that gear shift. How do I make ought into want? I know I'd be really chuffed if I did shift the pounds! Why is it so difficult? I do know that some days I don't have the energy to do it, maybe that's where it all goes wrong...

Each day I wake determined to crack it... but so far its not working!

Our habits, good and bad, new and old, have a wider impact. On our family and friends. Our colleagues and acquaintances. And taken to the extreme - on our world and all those who share this precious planet with us.

By the way - a flower update! I can report that the forlorn - but fresh - roses looked much, much happier this morning. They had been joined by bright gerbera! Lively oranges, shocking pinks, sultry purples jostled with the crimson red roses. They looked so cheerful, it made me smile!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Flowers featured quite highly on my radar yesterday!

Most notably it was St Valentine's day so that everywhere I went there were folk clutching bouquets or single roses or one of those square bags filled with flowers. Some had helium balloons attached. Others had another bag with a bottle of something exciting peeping from the top.

I didn't get any flowers. I didn't expect any, in fact I would've been shocked if I had! I've only ever been given a single red rose once and the romanticism of it remains with me to this day - even though it will be 40 years ago this summer! I wonder what that (no longer) young man is doing now...

I have also been watching a new florist's that has just opened in the little arcade at the nearest tube station to my work avidly. I love florists! The aroma is unique - I always want to walk in and inhale the heady mix of scents deeply. The gorgeous colours and textures of the different flowers just fill me with a desire to touch them - oh so gently though!

The perfume from this shop pervades the whole area and it lifts my spirits each morning. I do hope it will survive. Flowers are a luxury. Even ones that are arranged beautifully and displayed perfectly. I noticed quite a few red roses lingering this morning. They looked slightly forlorn, almost wistful. Yearning to bring happiness, longing to be a symbol of the love of the giver, cherished by the recipient.

And then there are wedding flowers! My son and future daughter in law will marry at the very end of April. Last night I got a long email all about the wedding flowers for the reception. Its getting very close and I still have to think about what I need to order for the flowers in the church.

As I said flowers filled my radar yesterday!

They mark so much in our lives don't they...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Few of us can claim to have been untouched by the Chilean mining incident last year - I was certainly transfixed by all the live coverage, especially when each of them emerged from the capsule that rescued them from their underground prison.

You may ask why I've been reminded of it today. I read an article on the train to London this morning that not only brought memories flooding back but also opened up new insights and strangely dovetailed into something else I'm working on. In my experience, coincidences like that have to be chewed on for a while longer.

The article was by the man who had the most active Christian faith in the group of 33 that were trapped so it was written from that bias but the fascinating bit for me was that - once having assessed the situation and accounted for the whole team - they decided that their best option was to pray. They asked the author to pray alone but he said we do it all together or not at all. From that moment on they gathered in a circle and prayed twice each day.

However, the piece that really hit me was when he spoke about the first little shaft that the would-be rescuers drilled that missed their sanctuary. They could hear the drilling but knew it hadn't found them. That was 10 days into their incarceration - how awful can that have been... apparently after that some of those trapped started to write farewell letters to loved ones. However, the second shaft eventually made it through to their little pocket of safety and the rest is history.

It made me understand that you can only really appreciate the fullness of life once you have faced losing it.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Isn't funny how we have an inbuilt desire to protect...

I first really noticed my own when I became a parent - it went from 'ticking over' to 'over drive' in one swift movement! I would have done anything to protect my children, I certainly would have preferred to be ill in their place - I may have said that before - but this morning the same sensation washed over me again.

With all the spring bulbs more or less through I felt sufficiently brave enough to tackle some gentle weeding in the garden. I did the front last week so the back garden was looking decidedly on the scruffy side. Being that close to all the little clumps of brown rotting material was fascinating. Yes, I know I spoke about all the shrubs that were bursting forth only yesterday but close up I was suddenly aware that new life was everywhere!

Having a week in between each time I see things at home means I notice the difference all the more, tiny changes each day are hard to spot, but the changes that are achieved over a week are invariably significant.

I was so excited I have to confess to being overwhelmed by a desire to speak to them, tell them they looked beautiful - because fresh new growth always does - and that I was so proud that they'd managed to survive the winter frost and ice. I can see me turning into a latter day Prince of Wales yet!!

Even the rhubarb that I'd carefully covered with more compost last week had determinedly broken through again.

So why did I feel so protective?? Well the forecast suggests we may have another cold snap and I'm anxious for those tender new shoots... I want to protect them from the harsh reality of life...

I just have to share this! The sky this morning captivated me. I was fortunate enough to be up as the sun rose. The sky was grey and full of heavy low clouds but for a couple of magnificent minutes the whole of the eastern horizon was illuminated by scarlets, crimsons and magenta's. Utterly stunning and as quick as it came it disappeared. Had i not been there I'd never have believed - it was one of those 'blink of the eye' moments....

What a joy!

Saturday, 12 February 2011


Another fabulous word isn't it! It's round and fulsome and rolls about your mouth as you say it.

I've just been watching an act of tenacity from my window.

One of our new neighbours who has only moved into their new home since the start of the year was definitely but slowly moving a large terracotta pot with a beautifully trimmed box shrub in it. It looked back breaking as she was hunched over the pot carefully rolling it along the tarmac of the courtyard that we share at the back of our properties towards the front of her house.

I did initially think about going to help but actually rolling it is probably the best way to move something like that which is heavy. Beside knowing what my back is like I'd have invariably been left doubled up myself!

Tenacity is something you see a lot of in nature. I was also looking at the plants in my garden earlier. Most of the bulbs are now through and the ones that have broke through a couple of weeks ago are now several inches high and the odd one already has a spear-like bud concealed amongst the leaves. The deciduous shrubs are also showing more and more signs of life with several bold enough to be unfurling delicate foliage.

I know from the bird song that greeted my recent trip outside into the late afternoon sunlight that they too will soon be showing oodles of tenacity! Finding a perfect spot, then gathering twigs and other nest material in the face of fierce competition.

Some times you just have to go the extra mile and put in the extra effort to achieve your goal...

Friday, 11 February 2011

It feels a lot later in the year than February to me... does it to you?

I'm sure its because we had so much snow, ice and frost so early in the winter and for such a prolonged period of time. It feels like it should be spring and yet the reality is its still winter!

Everything in my garden at home seems to be equally confused. The bulbs are all breaking through the frost hardened soil - but I'd expect them to be. I'm also relieved they are because I got a serious blister on the palm of my right hand when I spent the weekend digging them in. I wanted to bury them deep so that I avoided damaging them when weeding and didn't have to dig them up each year, dry and replant them.

However, I was really shocked to see that the rhubarb was beginning to break through the surface too. It just seems far too early and far too risky - we could get a frost at any time! It was borderline recklessness! I immediately covered the tender shoots and made a mental note to get some straw.

The birds are in overdrive too. They are consuming sunflower seeds at double the normal rate. I can't work out if its more birds eating the same or the same number eating more or a combination of the two! I suspect they're preparing for nesting.... and I also assume that demands lots of extra energy!

We don't like being caught unawares do we...? Or at least I don't!

I prefer things to be relatively orderly and "no surprises" the mantra for each day, week, season.

Its even more so when we consider relationships with family, friends, colleagues etc. It's often hurtful when you suddenly realise that what you've been quietly preparing for has been overtaken by another event that you were blissfully ignorant of.
Expect the unexpected!!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

I believe in an afterlife, I hope you do too. I can't quite get my head round how futile I would feel this life to be if there were no other purpose... no future... no eternity...

So I often wonder what it might be like. The idea of heaven has prompted far more erudite poems and prose than I could ever produce. Its also captured the imaginations of those who paint and compose. Through such experiences we can find ourselves transported to a personal image of what it might be like. But, I guess, it can only ever be personal.

Last Sunday morning the main worship was led by the children's group. It was refreshing and lively, as you would expect. Lots of catchy little songs to sing with those amusing/excruciating actions to go with them. Oh, how I wish I could do them and relax rather than feel awkward and stiff!! But it was delightful and uplifting, the smiles on everyone's faces told the story. However, during that time something happened that has stayed with me all week.

You might ask what that's got to do with the afterlife.

Well, following on from one particularly vigorous song we had a Bible reading - by some of the older children. That was good but what captured everyone's attention was a younger child, about 5 years old who was in the play area doing some drawing. He was humming the tune to that song. Not so loud as to be annoying or disruptive. Not so soft that it could hardly be heard. But just perfectly pitched in volume and melody.


... and a teeny weeny glimpse of heaven - for me and, judging by the reaction all around me, for everyone else too!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

For the last three days I've been attending General Synod - which is the Church of England's elected governing body. I've been a member for 20 years now, if I say it quickly it doesn't sound too scary! I've just been re-elected for another 5 years and I think that will then be enough!

We had a meeting of the small group of us who make up the Standing Committee for the House of Laity - that is we look after - or try to - the best interests of those members who are not clergy or bishops.

After each election we have the same issue, a significant number are new to Synod and therefore don't know many others so we're arranging a meal together when we meet in York in the summer. Ideas for what we might do were invited...
I rather like the idea of do something silly! Like having a theme for example - my 40th birthday party was themed, "Wear what you were wearing when the boat went down". We had everything from a mechanic to a pirate plus all sorts in between! Great fun!

Possibly not ideal for people who are having to pack suitcases and carry clothes for the weekend though! So my mind continued to whirr... My next thought was why not have us all sing as a big choir and give a rousing rendition of "Getting to know you"...

So often we're just far too serious about things and actually a jolly good sing song would achieve what we want - people to laugh and relax and enjoy one another's company! I suspect we'll do something worthy though so that it doesn't appear frivolous and wasteful...

Shame :-( not least because I have endless "proof" that tells me God has got a wicked sense of humour!! :-)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

I often have the tele on at breakfast time - just to catch up on the news and weather.

Today they had the self-styled Tiger Mum on the programme. She was talking about her own childhood and how that translated into her style of parenting. her parents were Chinese nationals but they emigrated and she grew up in the USA.

It was fascinating to hear about her own childhood and how that translated into her own style of parenting. Having had the privilege of hosting a large number of foreign language students in our home when our children were growing up it reminded me of the discussions we had about parenting styles in different cultures. We had a number from the Far East; Taiwan, Japan and Korea were but three, though the majority were Taiwanese.

The image Tiger Mum portrayed reminded me very much of the stories we heard. Many of the students were in their early twenties, some in their very late teens. Yes, for the most part their parents were affluent - or they wouldn't have been able to stay in the UK for the few months that they did. Though that was not always the case.

However, most of them had experienced or were still experiencing tremendous pressure to achieve. Some coped with it better than others.

Personally, I believe children need the security of well defined boundaries in order to grow and develop. Freedom doesn't permit that because they never learn when they've gone too far/over stepped the mark. The norms of our cultural and what is acceptable or not have to be taught. But I would never push a child academically or musically or in some sort of sporting pursuit. I would - and did - spend hours and hours and hours driving my children to and fro from all sorts of activities but they were in the driving seat. I aided them with homework when they asked but I did expect them to be top of the class all the time.

Both of them have achieved great things against their own measure but more importantly both are happy, self-confident and balanced...

Now that's how I measure success...

Monday, 7 February 2011

I am a water baby... By that I mean I grew up in Norfolk, a county where water is ever present. The Broads and rivers define the county and more than two "sides" of the county's boundaries are surrounded by the sea. In fact for a long, long time I thought the sea was always freezing cold and a sort murky grey, sandy colour... I learnt to swim in the North Sea and have a great affection for it but I know I'm not selling it with that description!

But back to water and my wonderful home county. Water is so synonymous with the area that the only paintings I've ever seen that truly capture the feel of the place are watercolours. Images where the shades meld into one another and every thing has a sense of misty dilution about it.

I think its absolutely stunning... and it also helps me appreciate the vibrant primary colours that you get in Mediterranean countries.

But I was reflecting on paths this morning as the train trundled its way towards London and my eye was drawn to the meandering rivers and streams that run alongside the track in places. They make huge loops and giant arcs to and fro, never taking the direct route or at least never appearing to take the direct route. Even the little rivulets on the estuary that carry away the last remnants of the receding tide do so in great sweeps of luscious curves...

It got me thinking about how often our own "life paths" are like that.

Wandering and slightly distracted.

Rarely going straight for "it" but taking the path of least resistance...

Sunday, 6 February 2011

My home city of Norwich has for many, many years been an absolute delight in spring time. The council must have taken a decision or some head landscape gardener had a vision - whatever happened I am so thankful.

Throughout the city the grass verges have been filled with thousand upon thousand of bulbs. Snowdrops and crocuses, daffodils and narcissi. They suddenly appear through all the mud and grime of the detritus of winter roads. The first ones are pure, pale shards of colour. Little darts of joy.

As the days and weeks of late winter, early spring go on then more and more appear. Their colours become more vibrant and their blooms more bold.

Its almost an echoing of the way - and I suspect many others too - feel as they emerge from winter...

Having almost closed down or gone into hibernation after the excesses of Christmas and New Year the first signs of spring awaken new hope in me too. Slowly at first and then with increasing vigour.

And if I look back at the posts I've written in recent days I can see a common thread in many. The reflections on the rhythms of life are because I feel the tide of the season turning. The wheel of life turns constantly...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Trains are a great way to travel - I love them. They truly do 'take the strain'! They are a fascinating "feeding ground" if you happen to be someone who loves "people watching" like me.

Last night's journey home was no exception! I always buy timed tickets so they come with a reservation. Quite often the reservations aren't put out, for a whole ranges of reasons and to be honest I've got to the stage where it doesn't bother me. But it never ceases to amaze me how many folk are really upset by that!

Last night we were treated to a classic example. Four women arrived in my coach, with large bags so I deduced they were either on their way to and from a trip away. There were no reservations so folk were sitting in the closest free seat. I'd got there early for once but someone was already in "my" seat, I just moved to the next row and settled myself.

However, one of these four women was not amused. She went on about it trying to make the two innocent men who were in "her" seats move. The group spilt into two pairs and found adjacent seats but the lady who was being most voluble wasn't comfy and decided to go and sit with the two men. That was fine for all concerned, her friend was settled but she was summoned to fill the other empty seat.

(Sorry this is a very long shaggy dog story but hang in there!!)

The poor friend sighed (discretely) and moved. But the woman kept on and on about the reservations. To the point that the two poor men eventually waved the white flag of surrender and went in search of peace and quiet.

I felt really sorry for those poor guys... all they'd done was sit down but they were treated to a constant barrage of whinging. And at the end of the day it is just a seat...

I also realised as I reflected on all the fuss that I was embarrassed by the whole fiasco! It just seemed so trivial in the whole scheme of things. We have people fighting for freedom and risking their lives in all sorts of places throughout the middle east. Democracy, freedom and justice - that's something to get vociferous about!

I was grateful for my earphones and music... soothing, peaceful and uplifting!

Oh, by the way it was still just about light when we got to Manningtree estuary. I could just make out the tide line and the shiny curves of the sand... fabulous :-)

Friday, 4 February 2011

I was working away at my desk yesterday afternoon when I happened to notice the time - it was nearly 5pm! I was shocked. I had no idea it was so late, I still had quite a bit to complete but I'd intended to leave work early.

I realised what had thrown me - it was still light!

We're now over a month on from the shortest day and the gradual change in daylight has accumulated. In fact I have noticed on my journey's home on Friday that I can see more and more before the light fades. I'm hoping that it will still be light enough to see the estuary at Manningtree later. Its such a beautiful view...

It also started me thinking that its not that far to when the clocks change and we really begin to look forward to long, balmy evenings.

Rhythm and routine are so important in our lives. I remember the battle I had to establish both when my children were born, the second time was easier but still pretty tough. I find it strange when I go on holiday to somewhere closer to the Equator and the sun goes down so early. It just doesn't seem right! Warm evenings are hard-wired into my brain as being light!

Equally, I am not sure I could cope with living in the Arctic Circle - land of the midnight sun and winters that are interminably dark. I love to experience both - but just for a few days, no more. I'm sure I'd find it utterly disorientating.

We are so conditioned aren't we.

I guess if I'd been born in the Arctic Circle the rhythms of my life would be so very different.

But I wasn't and I can't wait for spring evenings now!!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Photography has been one of my lifelong interests - sparked by a wonderful older friend of my parents who had the hard task of teaching me and my brother the piano, singing and elocution! (I suspect that's a great topic for another day!)

He used to run an annual photographic competition when slides were at the height of their popularity. There was also a print category but we used to set out about a hundred chairs for folk to come and spend the evening looking at all the photos and listening to why they were commended, third, second or first in their class. It was just like the annual fruit, vegetable and flower show but in the dark months of the year so we could appreciate the images in all their glory.

I got involved (at a crazily young age, I now realise) because I loved helping him - he was such a gentle, gracious person - and I adored organising things!!

However, as the years have gone by I have recognise how much I learnt at his feet - metaphorically speaking! How to frame things. How to avoid cutting the photo in half with the horizon. Lots and lots of little things like that.

I now carry a little camera with me all the time and I'm often seen taking snaps of the most bizarre things! I think today's is one of the most strange in recent weeks! It was so much more striking than it has come out!

But what prompted me to write this post was the fact that so often I am disappointed by what I see when I look at the image I've captured.

Frequently its a pale reflection of the vibrancy of the real thing.

Some memories can be a bit like that, we fade out the pain and grief or we brighten the darker tones of an encounter... Fortunately, we invariably enhance the good times and recall them as even better, not sure many photos do that!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Today is Candlemass.

The official end of the Christmas and Epiphany seasons - Candlemass is a festival that is strongly linked to Mary, Jesus' mother, as her tradition required her to attend the temple, 40 days after giving birth, to be purified.

My attention was drawn to a beautiful poem earlier and I want to share it with you...

Star of Ocean –

Sometimes a child is born who doesn’t cry,
or not much;
who sleeps calmly through the night;
eats sprouts without more than a cat’s face grimace of disgust,
and shares its toys;
a child who’s good, but not disliked;
who’s born without the selfish gene.

If you have ever thought of Mary (Virgin, mother of Christ)
perhaps it was as someone just like that.
I think you’re wrong.
I think that Mary was a Boadicea,
a Katy in What Katy did,
Elizabeth of Hungary,
Lady Godiva, or one of Shakespeare’s feistier heroines.

If you were God, choosing a mother to bring up your Son, your Self,

who would you pick?
A characterless white mouse, a nullity?
Little Dorrit? Nell?
Or someone with the steel to bear the weight of hope and love and death?
Someone unformed, as rough as carborundum;
someone who would be polished by her choice into a sapphire with a perfect star’.

Lynn Roberts (Tablet Magazine)

I love this for all sorts of reasons.

I particularly like the idea that God was looking for someone who would stand firm and fight, someone who would be a "feisty heroine"

Why do I like that?

I guess its because I've always imagined Mary to be like that. Not a push over at all but someone with an inner core of strength - to cope with bearing "the weight of hope and love and death".

Bearing responsibility for another - whoever they are, not just your child - can be extremely costly but the rewards are immeasurable...

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

I've been mulling over the idea of "cleaving" since that word came up, unusually, in a conversation late last week.

Biblically, its mostly used when talking about sons cleaving from their families and joining to their wives, though not daughters. However, in these days of gender equality I get a real sense that in our modern society all children cleave from their parents and join their new partner.

Cleave... Its such a beautiful word. I assume its where we get cleaver from... or vice versa... but I digress!

Its more than just leaving, which can be a temporary state - that is you can return. Cleaving has a greater imperative about it somehow. It sounds and feels more final.

My son will get married this year and my daughter has just got engaged so will follow suit at some point in the not too distant future. Both have truly flown/will truly fly the proverbial nest. My son has already moved to Edinburgh with his work and my daughter will follow her fiance to California.

Of course I feel that pain of separation but its tempered by the delight of seeing them both so content, happy and settled with their partners.

Life is like that... we bring up our children and equip them to leave us and eventually to cleave from us and their "old" lives...

Cleave... Its such a beautiful word and an even more joyful action!