No Place Like Home!

“Where are you from?” has always been an awkward question for me, it may sound simple enough but my answer is definitely complicated. I used to find a pause would build up while I ran through the many alternative responses in my head, and the questioner would look at me with increasing curiosity.  After years of stumbling, I worked out the simplest solution – give the inquirer the answer they are looking for. As the question often comes when people hear me speak, and my pronunciation is not from wherever I currently am, saying “My accent is from Yorkshire” covers the ground I think they want to cover. I made this leap when I realised that when in Yorkshire I don’t get asked the question, so there it must sound like I am from “round these parts”.

Now I come to consider it, my answer has me assigning a separate identity to my accent and disowning it as a part of me. I think this reflects the difficulty I have had identifying myself as a Yorkshire woman in the past. Although I spent the years aged three to eighteen in various Yorkshire towns and went to school there, I was born in London to an Australian. Then I was adopted by parents of whom neither are from Yorkshire, so we all arrived in God’ country as aliens. The school years and family life in the county did nothing to embed me, the Yorkshire identity sitting uneasily; I never did own it and so answering The Question with “I am from Yorkshire” does not feel truthful.

Until recently I have felt neither at home nor found much belonging in my adult life. After I left Yorkshire I headed to the north east, to university and beyond. Leaving there ten years later I did feel a deep sense of loss, that life was ripped away as I moved south with my husband to accommodate our future plans. I had a connection with the region and made good friends, so moving away was difficult as I felt I lost my footings.  We moved closer to relatives geographically, but as I had never felt relaxed in any family this did not prove to be a comfort. I again felt alien; my accent and lifestyle so out of place and unfamiliar in the south. I have lived in the south now for 19 years, but it is not my home.

I have a notion that home (where one belongs) has a deep attachment to family or heritage or place. Families move around so much more in current times, some are very loose and separations are common. Very often children are not familiar with grandparents, or even parents, who live miles, or continents, away, and scant time or inclination may impede many meetings face to face. Heritage and family ties can get lost within a haze of disinterest if not nurtured. I wonder how many people today feel displaced or dislocated from their home as this cultural isolation from their past is more prevalent.

When the element of adoption is added then this can intensify the dislocation; I certainly have had a “lottery” feeling to my history. My mother happened to be in England when I was born (she may have been traveling on and I could have been born elsewhere), I was adopted here and did not return with her to the antipodes. My adoptive parents were randomly selected, and just happened to be registered at the same adoption agency as me – and I was born early, so if I had come on time, would I have had different parents? This leaves all elements of home (family, heritage and place) very fuzzy indeed. Who and where is home? And to whom and to where do I belong?

Answers have begun to emerge; I have finally found places on the earth, within the soil and with others, that feel like my heritage and family; I have established an identity that comes from inside me; I have taken a name I chose that fits me, it incorporates where and to whom I feel I belong.  I have created a homeland within myself, a heartland that sustains and comforts me. It may not help me yet in answering the question simply when asked “Where do I come from?” but I am working on a new answer that feels authentic and valid in the context of all my history.

Celestial Bodies

Sunset

I have always been fascinated by the sky and the things that appear in it. I love watching sunsets and moon rises, waiting until the last light fades from the golden sky, or seeing the first glimpse of the ethereal white orb as it passes over the horizon.

The moon has a special place in my heart. I follow her phases and look for her each night the sky is clear. The brightest light from the full moon casts deep shadows in the dark around my unlit house. On these nights we rest with the curtains pulled back, the moon’s reflected glory shining in through the windows; she helps me to sleep and wraps my dreams with tranquility. This was how I slept last night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On dark nights, when she is new, I wait until the sliver of the crescent may be visible and I take time to search the western sky, just before sunset, to catch sight of the pale shape. It has become something of a ritual, a ceremony to honour the passing of another month, and I love the continuity that sits within the unending wax and wane.

The passing of time is also marked out in the turning of the seasons within the nightly star-show. Just now Pegasus is about, its large, square form dominating the view for me, and I await “Mr Orion” into the northern sky soon, marching across the heavens through the winter, I know spring is coming when Leo is high in the sky in February, the familiar sickle of the proud lion’s head rising earlier as the days get longer. The unchanging pole star and the circling Ursa Major, the famous Plough, with the attendant “W” of Cassiopia are welcome and reassuring sights for me on a dark night. Their constant but consistent movement reminds me of our place in space, our “3rd rock from the sun” status and the ramifications of that state. We are but small dots, blips in the cosmic history. This sense of perspective, as well as the beauty, fill me with an awesome wonder that I never fail to feel whenever I observe the sky and its celestial bodies, which are for me heavenly indeed.

 

The Sea of Memory

There was a moment this morning when I was unexpectedly thinking of all the cats that have graced my adult years. My cats have always been precious parts of my life, although I am now without one, and over the last 25 years I have had the companionship of seven felines in various configurations. This morning memories of them swept through me – joyous ones of kittens and playfulness, and tragic ones – of deaths or illness. The recall was vivid and intense where I felt tears prick my eyes, I miss my furry friends. The whole situation was a surprise, it felt like a non sequitur in my head as nowhere in recent previous hours had my cats, or my memories of them, been referenced as far as I could tell.The beach

I was then struck by a metaphor of a tidal sea that sweeps up on to a beach. What if every memory we form, even if we can’t consciously remember it, is incorporated into this sea? I imagine I am on that beach where each time the tide comes in memories get washed up, and some come to rest half buried in wet sand. Walking up and down the beach it may be that I can encounter memories that have been dumped here by the sea completely at random. This morning I reached down and picked up the early tide’s offering without noticing that I had. By recovering the beached memories I bring them to mind, turning it over and over, looking at it from all sides.  Next, I picture myself throwing the whole lot back into the surf whereupon they sink under the rolling waves. Consequently the reminiscence then fades in my mind, and I wonder at the power of this Sea.

I wonder if it is possible to swim in it, to pick up memories that I want to follow and ones that I want to see. I also wonder if it is possible to bury some so deep in the underwater trenches (that are far deeper than mountains are high) so I don’t have to think of them ever again. This may be a potent visualisation to play with…

Reading Matters

I am an avid reader and will often get through a book in one or two sittings. Being no good at deferring gratification I like to get to the last sentence, in fact, when I was younger and reading stories I used to read the last page first, completely undisciplined about not knowing the ending. I have managed to wean myself off that particular habit, most of the time.

In terms of reading material I go through phases, sometimes it is fiction that I want to read, and sometimes non-fiction. In the non-fiction camp I concentrate on books about psychology, philosophy or psychotherapy; reading and learning are two of my favourite Front Coveroccupations.  I read often at bed time, and so books that might be considered textbooks by others are often found on my night stand. For example, I have been rereading two books recently byFront Cover Ian Stewart and Vann Joines who write about Transactional Analysis, the psychotherapeutic approach pioneered by Eric Berne. “TA Today” and” Personality Adaptations”  are literally reference books for practitioners, and their subjects fascinate me.

Yes, I do abuse my non fiction books with highlighters and notes, but I like them to be functional, and when I reread, which I often do, highlights help me to find the core messages quickly.  As an adult I have given myself permission to relearn a great deal about books being useful – I am the child of two librarians so I had double the messages about the preciousness of books, and didn’t even bend spines until my twenties. Now I approach a book with impunity and see it more as a utility.

In terms of fiction, I will oscillate between “fiction-lite” (maybe chick lit or sometimes crime genre stories by such authors as Freya North or Janet Evanovich) and more heavy literature, which may be books considered classics or by authors renowned for good writing. Recent choices have included rereading Virginia Woolf, or Alan Bennett.

As I move into mid-life I am diversifying into darker, more subtle books. I have started to pick ones with more difficult themes that I may have shied away from when I was younger. I am always interested in relationships and how people interact, but now I may read about more complex issues such as death and grief and loss. Currently I am reading “The Grief of Others” by Leah Hager Cohen, a book about a family’s loss, grief and longing. The author takes the subject of losing a baby shortly after birth, and creates a story that is at once wounding and healing to me as a reader.

Having recently rediscovered the joys of the local library I love the freedom this gives to pick up books I may not otherwise choose, and then return them unread if they prove to be a false start. It took me a while to realise that I didn’t have to persevere, I could stop a book before I had finished. This was, again, a hangover from my youth where I was told to finish what I started. Nowadays I am establishing more fully what I like and what I don’t, and this can extend to my reading matter also.

In deciding on a book  I have often been influenced by the cover. Regularly the picture on the front, the colours and the way the jacket is set out lure me, they woo me (a booksellers’ dream, I am sure!)  Even the type face and the weight of the book can contribute to a volume’s attractiveness. I will also scan first pages, or contents, and make an intuitive decision. Although sometimes, I pick up a book simply because I know of the author, and this will be my only method of choosing.

Whenever I successfully get in to a book, whatever its subject or genre, I will lose myself in the world of character and place created by the writers, or the world of ideas presented within. Once I am absorbed then they are hard to put down and so I may be up all night with the next novel, and I need to get to the end before I am tempted to read the last page first.

Soulmates

When I first anticipated a relationship with J I was berated by my best friend because I banded about the term soulmate. She, quite rightly, was cross as for 15 years prior to this event I had always poopooed the idea of soulmates as romantic guff. She had insisted that it was her soulmate that she was looking for, and I, irritated by her insistence, would try to reason with her, explain how the world was not like that – and even if it was what were the chances of meeting this supposed soulmate? Her response was unwavering. She looked at me sympathetically and announced that Fate would play a hand – and didn’t I believe in destiny?!

In those days I did have a view that soulmates, if they existed at all, spent their entire lives looking dewy-eyed at each other and cooing gently; a condescending viewpoint at best, I concede.  At the time I was married  to a lovely bloke; we got on well, we lived if not always harmoniously then with a great deal more accord than some of our friends – we were friends, and at that time I thought this was as good as “soulmates” got.

Then unexpected things started to happen. I became “Hallmark woman” thinking and saying romantic things. I developed a jukebox in my head, and I found meaning in all sorts of love songs that I had previously not taken seriously. I started singing – out loud!  It was weird I tell you, but it was not the most weird thing of all, that happened 2 years earlier.

I began a masters degree, and as part of the practical work I was to be allocated a supervisor. In the room with me on the day of the allocation were my 25 fellow students and seven strangers – our soon-to-be-assigned supervisors. I immediately noticed the tall, silver-haired, bearded man and I distinctly remember saying to myself – he will be my supervisor and he will be called J .And so it was, and so he is, and I was not surprised. And this completely unremarkable and forgettable event was lodged in my memory for ever as clearly as if it had just happened yesterday.Two together

After the year we spent in a professional relationship we became friends by mutual consent. I did not know at this time that J does not make a habit of “acquiring” friends from professional contacts, and so I did not know that this was a rare event. At this point all was unconscious, maybe now I could perceive it as we were being driven by destiny, and Fate was taking a hand? We talked of things as we did with no other, and we shared our secrets in a growing intimacy that neither of us was able to prevent; it slipped in while we drank tea and by the time we became aware it was too late, we had gone over Niagara Falls and were waiting to splash down – to sink or swim, to drown or endure.

A rendering that may be seen as inevitable began, as both J and I sawed up our past lives to be together. We ripped up marriages and families like ripping up carpets, leaving exposed and cold surfaces. We alienated people and had major transition issues, going in to shock which lasted months if not years. We were a million, million miles away from looking at each other with dewy eyes and we were not cooing gently.

As I look back on this from a few years down the line I see that my original issues with the idea of soulmates were correct; there is nothing lovely-dovey or superficial about meeting someone who unpicks the fabric of your being, which is as painful as it sounds, but wants to help you to weave a different one in the more colourful pattern of the new life you lead. Someone whose deep soul needs are so whispered that you can hardly hear that they are the same as your own. Someone who has spent a lifetime hushing and stilling these needs so as not to have to feel them unfulfilled, but whose eyes reflect the fountains of sorrow you share, and reveals those you can help to heal.

No, I still don’t believe in soulmates in the way that I perceived them back then – but who’s to say my dear friend wasn’t imagining what I have since discovered; soulmates are not found in Hallmark card sentiments, nor in trite lyrics to love songs, but they are found in other people and that precious, intimate connection between souls.

The Duvet Day

Yesterday was a duvet day. It wasn’t planned, but returning to bed looked attractive at 8.30am having got up at dawn because we heard 100 geese honking noisily as they landed to breakfast in the field next to our house. It was sunny and warmer than expected standing outside the back door with binoculars studying these early morning arrivals. Even though being awake this early on Sundays is unheard of for me, I anticipated being “up and at ’em” after this, so I completed my morning ritual of making my first cup of tea. But then the clouds came over and a breeze got up, I recalled that we are moving through September and autumn is underway where warm and staying sunny is not the norm.

So, back to bed with a cup of coffee and a good book on the Kindle ( Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – which I can recommend, if you’re interested). I still did not anticipate being in bed most of the day, but the book and the warm duvet enticed me; I fell asleep around lunch time. In the end I did not get up until about 3.30pm, only then because the tea and coffee meant I needed a bathroom stop, and my stomach was grumbling about  having missed breakfast.

To some, I know, a duvet day feels like a luxury not everyone thinks they can afford. I do not believe it is a luxury. For me it is a time of renewal, and a necessity, a time when I can fall into my own rhythm and I have no pressing concerns outside of myself.  I consider a timeout in this way, be it a duvet day or a solitary walk, a meditative sit down on a park bench or a cup of coffee in a boutique cafe as time well spent. In our busy world ‘doing’ is always given higher priority than ‘being’. In fact “just” being is one of the hardest things to achieve, let alone to justify to others. Taking time to be, to enjoy a hobby, to watch the world go by, to taste the coffee, to be present in this moment of your life is a glorious notion, and should not be resisted every time it appears.  Try it; give yourself permission to be in your own time and space. How does it feel?

 

Grey Hair

It is happening gradually. I am approaching the final years of my forties, and the hair at my temples is now starting to grow-in grey. But only in ones and twos. In the last few years I had noticed, but not recorded, that this creeping sign of aging was apparent, and I expected it to accelerate. It seems odd to me now that it has not. There are always the same number of hairs (about five or six) on either side, but they are always short and seem to disappear before they are fully “salt and peppering” my hair. Now there are also a  few wiry ones around the hairline, just at my parting. They are much lighter than my naturally brownish hair, and wave at people from their two inches of length that sticks straight up. I wonder if these new arrivals will grow longer before they disappear?

I notice that I am not at all fretful, and I had thought this, a most visible sign of aging, would concern me. I do have a general anxiety about getting older; the promise of more aches and pains, of being less alert, of having less energy, and maybe getting some difficult to deal with illness, so why are my new grey hairs not prodding this anxiety?

It appears I am proud of this badge of achieving the age I am… hmm, still uncertain as to where this response is emanating from, but it is certainly here. I am approaching this change with something akin to curiosity. I seem to be taking it in my stride, accepting the things I cannot change, which I have always found to be the hardest line to adhere to in the serenity prayer.

So, I have decided at this point that I am going to make no efforts to cover them up. I know friends who have been managing grey hairs since much earlier in their life than their late forties, and, particularly for women in our culture, this can add a layer of stress from appearance norms that are hard to resist. I am curious to see what my attitude will be to this stance as the grey hairs multiply and become more obvious.

TBC…

 

 

Netball

This is an old poem, but I have just seen that my sister has been out celebrating some netball achievements, and it got me thinking to this poem. I wrote it in school a very long time ago (1982), but it reminds me of how Netball used to go.(BTW it looks better on a computer screen than on a phone, as the layout is wide.)

 

Play in                                                                                    Play out

 

Jump up                                                                                Ball out

 

Throw in                                                                                Catch high

 

Throw back                                                                           Loud cry

 

“Wrong way”                                                                         Back Up

 

Throw long                                                                            “Ball, duck!”

 

Blue in                                                                                   Goal scored

 

Good throw                                                                           We roar

 

Centre pass                                                                          Whistle blows

 

Short time                                                                              Short throws

 

Up high                                                                                  Down low

 

Out again                                                                              Another throw

 

Quick shot                                                                             Long pace

 

Up court                                                                                 Fast race

 

Centre third                                                                           Once again

 

Goal missed                                                                          Try again

 

Whistle blows                                                                       Loud long

 

Game stops                                                                           Players throng

 

Bird Life

Yesterday was a lovely sunny day, just the sort you want at the end of August in this part of the world where summer is showing signs of being over. J and I decided to take a day out and go over to our local RSPB reserve for a spot of birding. For the uninitiated this is not a euphemism, we really do look at feathered birds, and in J’s case we record all sightings for his future use and possibly for posterity as well.

Little Grebe feeding chick (from http://www.thamesvalleybirds.co.uk)

The day turned out to be a wonderful mixture of walking and watching. We walked the stony footpaths alongside the fruiting hedgerows, and took the visitor trail up to the reed-screen hides. On my previous visits the waterways had been quiet, lovely to contemplate but not noteworthy to a more serious birder than I. On this visit we were pleased to see a young Little Grebe whose peeping was insistent, and we watched as its parents dived for food. As the young chick begged it was rewarded with small tidbits.

Further along the way we were graced with a glorious display by two Hobbys. These small falcons are seriously acrobatic, and as they swooped and dived for dragon flies along the reed edged water channels we watched in wonder.  Once the birds had taken their prey in the air they then bettered this aerial feat by feeding in the air, taking pecks at the insects caught in their talons. This spectacle went on for over five minutes, and neither J nor I had ever seen this activity for that long before. It was certainly a memorable moment in my birdwatching career.

Great Crested Grebe carrying chick. (www.northamptonshire.gov.uk)

This was all topped off for me by a sight I have had on my “to see” birding list  since I was about seven; a young Great Crested Grebe riding on the back of its mother. We had walked up to the furthest hide and on the way we passed a fellow spotter who told us that he had seen a grebe with some very small chicks. Very small chicks are normally around much earlier in the year, but the wet weather this spring has put back some breeding efforts so we were lucky to have them around. As J set up the telescope, I scanned across the water with my binoculars, I saw the grebe and its young but we needed the ‘scope to get more detail as they were across by the far reed bed, about 100 metres away. When I put my eye to the ‘scope I saw the sweet sight of two very tiny stripy headed chicks scrambling up their mother’s back. I squealed with absolute joy at this and watched as they snuggled into her down, disappearing out of view for a time (so much so that J didn’t see them for a while!)

So, a beautiful day and a great time spent in the outdoors.  In the local pub, over cider, we assessed our visit; we walked and watched for four hours and saw over thirty different species – I know this as J diligently recorded each one. The encounters portrayed here sum up the magic of the day for me; to have the opportunity to see beauty at first hand in the commonplace happenings of nature is a great privilege.