Sunday, 23 November 2014

Triumph from Adversity? Or just bonkers?

You don't know Sam and Andy, so let me introduce you:


They look happy enough, don't they? And that logo on their t-shirts - hiding behind the medals - I can tell you that it reads 'Madness 4 Mike'.

Here's what Sam writes about the project: Since losing my Dad to Bowel Cancer on 28th March 2012, I've been thinking of ways to raise money for the charity that helped my Dad. I can see you like them already, turning a family tragedy into something positive.

And then one of them suggested they set out to complete (walking, running, but always in a recognised event) 2014Km in 2014. Do you have any idea how far that is? It's like running all the way from London to Reykjavik (that's assuming you can run on water - given what they've achieved I've sometimes wondered if they've done just that).

They've had to work, of course. Not easy-peasy jobs that give them time for training. They are both vets, so they spend much of their time with their hands in sundry animal orifices. They sit up with sick creatures and will them to keep breathing. They rejoice in the pooch that trots away with her well-being restored; they comfort grieving owners. Not work for the faint-hearted.

But, once they'd started this project, nothing would stop them. And friends and family joined in. Anyone with legs and energy was welcome to contribute. Andy's mother trekked across Vietnam for them. Even my grandson ran 5Km (and had green paint thrown at him), his mother puffing alongside him, as a contribution.

Between them and their supporters they finished a total of 43 events - and Sam and Andy did most of them. The total distance: 3279Km. So far they have raised over £14,300.

So next time you're weeping into your pillow and everything feels like the end of the world, it's worth remembering what can be done. It's your party and you cry if you want to. But maybe, when you've dried your tears, you can transform that energy into something worthwhile. Though you don't have to do something quite as bonkers as this.

If you want to know more, have a look at their website here.

And, in the hope it doesn't put you off, here's what they looked like at the end of the New York Marathon:





Sunday, 16 November 2014

The unkindness of burglary.

Our local independent toyshop was burgled last week.

The owners arrived to find the police stand by the remains of the door. Inside, toys were scattered all over the floor - all except the lego and playmobile. These burglars knew what they wanted - toys that were popular, and easy to sell for a reasonable price in a car boot sale on a Sunday afternoon, and difficult to trace.

The town has rallied round. We love this shop. It's all nooks and crannies, small spaces that are fine for children but adults have to squeeze through. It's owned by a family - and they love children almost as much as they love selling toys. There's a small train set just inside the door. Even a table outside with toys for children to play with as they pass. My granddaughter can spend half an hour playing with the toy food, leave the shop in disarray and depart with nothing more than a bottle of bubbles; and still she's welcomed back.

It took a few hours to clear up the mess. Meanwhile children came to the door and cried. But by early afternoon the front door was open and they were trading again.

Oh how heartless those burglars! Have they not been children?

Burglary is burglary - right? There's no defending it, just the urgency of punishment, retribution.

But is this burglary better or worse than breaking into a house and stealing personal treasures? Cameras? Laptops? Passports?

Is it better or worse than holding up a jewellers, terrifying staff and making off with rings and necklaces that will sell to the rich and careless?

Is it better or worse than bankers stealing millions of pounds of public money, then sitting back and insisting they still deserve bonuses?

It's all theft, and nobody is physically hurt. Does the motivation of poverty make one burglary more acceptable than one driven by greed?

I don't have any answers. I'm hugely proud of the way my town has responded to this one - the shop owners can have no doubt as to our affection for them. There is a cry for our burglars to by hung, drawn and quartered. But maybe, in the depths of our Wiltshire countryside, spitting feathers about those who steal lego, is a banker or two who cannot see that they, too, might have done more than their share of stealing.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Operation Kindness Worldwide.

Sounds a bit wacky, doesn't it. A bit hippy-dippy, 1960s, make love not war, all that stuff.

But hang on a minute.

Last week I pointed out that the government in the UK is fostering a climate of fear. (The link is here, if you missed it.) They would like us to creep into corners while they drop bombs on the 'bad guys'. While I suggested that there are millions of kind, wonderful, fascinating people in the world and we will only make progress if we get out there, understand and celebrate our differences.

There is, I think, a parallel in this Kindness Initiative. We can either pull up our metaphorical drawbridges, look after ourselves and those closest to us, let the rest of the world sink or swim. Or we can open our doors and our thinking and do our bit - however small - to oil the global wheels. (I know, too many metaphors.)

So the Mandala Trust (I'll come back to them in a minute) have defined November 13th as World Kindness Day. Just one day to make a point of thinking of someone else - from the half-forgotten man down the road with just his dog for company to the women walking miles in crippling heat to collect water - and doing something small. Take the old man to the library. Buy your neighbour a cake. Help the mother in the supermarket with two small children and a week's worth of shopping to pack.

Kindness can be infectious. I help the woman up the road. She offers her neighbour a lift to the station. The neighbour gives up his seat on the train for the woman with more shopping bags than hands ... and so it goes on. There's no reason for the wave to end. And if it should peter out because someone is having a bad day, then start another.

Does that seem so wacky now? So hippy-dippy? So 1960s? So here's the link for Operation Kindness Worldwide. Drop by and like them. And spend a minute or two thinking - what can you do on the 13th?

(And the Mandala Trust? The man behind it happened to be there when I was taken, suddenly and dramatically, ill on a beach in Cambodia. He held my world together when I was unable to do it for myself. He is a good, decent, honest man. And he runs the Mandala Trust - a small organisation that helps fund projects across the world that are set up and run by local people. For instance, I met a man in Cambodia who has a project to enable the children of parents who work on the dumpsite go to school - he has set it up himself, in response to a local need. All the Mandala Trust does is help pay rent, wages for a cook etc, just to keep the show in the road. They don't wade in with Western ideas about right and wrong, but prop up tiny projects run by local people that might collapse without them. So if all you can manage on the 13th is to put your hand in your pocket for a penny or two, here is their website: The Mandala Trust.)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The politics of fear.

The UK Foreign Office has warned Brits living or travelling abroad to be vigilant. We are, we are told, targets for terrorists all over the world.

I have two huge problems with this. Firstly, it is evidence of our government's hubris to suggest that we stand out in a western crowd. Whatever the wrongs and rights of military action against the Islamic State we are not acting alone. Our media might suggests that we are planting the democratic seeds of Westminster unaided, but that is rubbish. We are a little cog in an international wheel, and are no more at risk than Americans, French, Germans, Canadians, Australians ...

Secondly, the Foreign Office is promoting a climate of fear. Look over your shoulder, they are saying. Everyone is out to get you. You are only safe if you retreat into the sanctuary of your British castle.

How dare they?

Yes, there is a world-wide rise in terrorism. But there are millions and millions of kind, generous, curious, ambitious people all over the world, in every country, of every skin colour. By suggesting that we should look first for terrorists and only once people have proved themselves innocent can we engage in discourse can only promote suspicion. We will all end up clinging to the wreckage of mistrust unless we bypass such instructions and engage with the wonderful, exciting, liberating exchange of differences.

I want to live in peace as much as you do. And I want to do it by fostering an understanding of the miraculous diversity of the world. Of all its colours and mysteries and beliefs. I want to share all our multiple wonderfulnesses. I refuse to believe that terrorists lurk around every corner.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The garden needs a headache.

It's that time of year. Everything is overgrown. The air smells wet and soggy leaves clog the lawn. The roses have have a few brave little flowers but the glories of June are behind the. I've a vine that straggles across the back of the house. The quince tries to attack me as I squeeze past it to get to the compost heap. The ornamental pear looks like it's just woken up after a night on the tiles: it needs a haircut. The mock orange was beautiful in June but now it's trying to take over the world.

I don't climb ladders any more - mainly because I live alone, and if I fell off I'd be really stuck. Nobody coming to the front door and finding me out would think, 'I know, she's fallen off a ladder in the garden so I'd better find a way to get in and rescue her.' No, off they'd trot, assuming I was out or had my head buried so deeply in a book I was refusing to answer the door.

And so I have a trusty pruning-man. He comes with his ladders and electric thingies and long-handled whatnots and whizz, snip, chop - and the lawn is thick with twigs and leaves and general debris. My job is to come behind him and sweep it all up, and lug it down the garden to the compost heap. Give us a couple of hours and the garden will have its annual headache. It will look a bit surprised for a day or two, and it might sulk for a while, but by spring all will be forgiven. (Except, maybe, the vine - which has produced just one bunch of grapes in all the years I've lived here. It hung over next door; eat them, I said. But they didn't. And so, in a fit of childishness, I chopped that end off the vine. It has never produced grapes since then.)

The garden sorted, I need to do the same for my writing. Pass it over to someone with a serious red pen. Someone who does not linger over dead wood. Someone who can spot a weak shoot or crumbling branch and not grieve for it. I, too, might sulk for a while But eventually I'll review the remains of my lovely words. It will all feel very bald for a while, but will hopefully blossom next year. For we all know that writing, like gardens, need a serious chopping from time to time.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

I'm finding it hard to write today because

I'm finding it hard to write today because:
  • It's too sunny. I need to be outside to soak up a ray or two before the winter sets in.
  • It's too cold. My fingers are too stiff and I want to curl up by the fire.
  • It's too wet. There's a line in Gabriel Garcia Marquez when he writes, 'It's raining too hard to think.' Oh yes, I know that feeling.
  • I'm too tired. I had a late night and all I want to do today is flop about.
  • The gas person/electrician/plumber/parcel delivery person is coming some time today. I don't want to get stuck into something and then lose my train of thought.
  • I really ought to do something about the jungle that is my garden.
  • I'm meeting a friend for coffee later, so there's no point in starting anything.
  • Next door's dog is barking/baby crying.
  • I need to so more research.
So how come, when I get passed that lot, I love it once I can settle down. All I have to do is turn the computer on, open a file - and the hours fly by. Passing delivery men - pah! A coffee stop - wonderful - but not for too long as I need to get back to it.

I tell the world that I write because I breathe - and that's true. I can't imagine living without scribbling things down. My notebook is beside me (and full of random thoughts) all the time. So why the fiddle-faddling delays to turning the wretched computer on?

(Am I the only one who does this ...?)

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sharing your home with wild life.

This is a seasonal post - as some wild life is looking for somewhere warm to spend the winter. And so am I.

Let's be clear. I'm not talking dogs and cats here. Nor hamsters and guinea pigs and budgies. No, I'm talking wild life.

I live on the edge of a market town - I won't tell you exactly where, because I go awol from time to time and it's bonkers to advertise which house will be empty. All you need to know is that I can walk across fields within five minutes of closing my front door.

There are implications in the garden.

I know there are foxes in cities - do they have the same distinctive smell as those in the country? When I walk down the garden in the morning, I always know if one has visited in the night from the pong. Though it doesn't happen often - there's plenty of rabbits in the forest. One summer there were badgers, taking a liking to the fallen crab apples (from my neighbour's tree) and eating so much fruit they were mildly sozzled, which was funny (except for the piles of poo left on the grass). I've had deer, too - muntjac deer who, you may not know, have a particular liking for rosebuds. (Good thing I've never tried entering roses in a show!)

Frogs, hedgehogs - anything is welcome if it eats the slugs and snails. I've also had the occasional slow worm. And birds - oh the birds! I can spend hours by my back door, just watching them.

So you see, I think I've made friends with the wild life in my garden.

And in the house? There are flies in summer, of course. And crane flies, midges, moths, butterflies, and numerous other flying things. Plenty of spiders. Do I evict them all? No - most do me no harm and seem quite happy where they are. I have been known to zap the occasional fly that has really got on my nerves, and will wallop a wasp that lacks the good sense to go out the window. But the rest can stay.

Then, after the harvest and as the nights grow cold (around now), I sometimes get a resident field mouse, come in out of the cold for the winter. One I can manage - he generally hides in the cupboard under the stairs and escapes back to the fields in the spring. I make sure there's no food left out to tempt him into the kitchen (mice wee as they run along, which isn't the healthiest thing in the kitchen). But a family of mice - there I draw the line. I've a humane trap to take them outside, and if that doesn't sort it then I'm sorry, they just have to go the hard way. Rats - I really can't make friends with rats (though I didn't do badly in Laos!).

There's the occasional bird that gets lost in the house - but that's not really a countryside thing. But I have had bats - three times. There must be a colony near here as they dive-bomb the back of my house in the evening, feasting (I think) on mosquitoes. Occasionally one gets lost and ends up in my bedroom.

The dos and don'ts of getting bats to go outside:

Don't turn the light on. Poor thing will flap round and round the light and be truly terrified - much more than you are.

Do - open the window, very wide.

Do go out of the room and close the door (with the light off). By the time you've made a cup of tea the bat will have found her way out.

And you? Who else shares their home with a creature or two?