Thursday, 2 October 2014


Breaking news. On my way for a newspaper I espied a swan. Just one. Paddling along (do swans swim or paddle?) faster than I was walking.  Quickly it disappeared so we still have not seen the family. I have asked several people-all, yes all have seen 2 adults with  4 cygnets but not us.This was not the case with the lovely oyster catchers of which I estimated over 200 on the sands at Morecambe. Our interest in ornithology is definitely  increasing.

I am still considering my little book of useful suggestions for a brighter life. Simply things I have picked up over the years that are worth passing on. The little book would be pocket sized and on the list compiled here I have over 30. I am trying to practice two of them. First enjoy what I call planned laziness. The second, learn to lighten up. I am thoroughly enjoying them both.. I have completed one book of 300 pages, as reported yesterday. Today I have started a new book by one of my favourite authors, wife of a television quiz show host, whose literary fame arose through a leper colony island called Spinalonga just off Crete. The author- whose Christian name is Victoria- went to meet one of the old survivors of the island, which housed leprosy sufferers from 1903 until 1957.

The old man was charming, lively without a trace of self pity, still handsome despite the marks of the disease on his face. He had no complaints, but was willing to tell his story. So persuaded by this, Victoria returned to London to learn Greek. Thereafter the conversations were even more stimulating and inspiring, conducted beneath the vines outside his front door, or in front of the huge wood stove in the winter. He revealed a passionate love for his family and  religious faith his rock. There was something so large, generous yet gentle about him that it seemed to Victoria like another worldly quality.People who knew him said that in meeting him they knew what was meant by the words 'psych' and soul.

When the two first met, unlike many of his compatriots he was exactly on time. As the end of his life came he faced it with strong faith and a very strong sense of 'being ready to go'.And so he did- on time once again as he had promised.

Such stories I find inspiring and humbling. I thought it might be worth sharing with all of you.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


It is good to be here, especially as the sun shines brightly and warmly, despite the calendars turning the page tomorrow. Getting away seems to have good effects, enabling me to lighten up and relax. But then a question; why am I not relaxed as much back home, given very few things I have to do? I try to answer this question, but do not get very far. Poulton-le-Fylde is a very busy town with traffic whirling through all day long. Even a trip to the shops is rather like negotiating the M6. And here there is so much space, so much sky to see, so many places to explore. I have all but given up riding my bicycle at home because it is so very busy. A different world here where we see cyclists happily pedalling into work in Lancaster City and not a traffic light in sight. Despite all this I am not into thoughts of re-locating, especially in a town needing two undertakers ! By unhappy coincidence, following my sighting of the second firm I walked into the grocers and there was a sign advertising the lotto draw, clearly saying 'You may be next'.

We were on the canal path today and met a friendly couple collecting juicy blackberries. I chanced opening a conversation, first about those fruit and then about swans. Yes, they had seen them this very afternoon- mother, father and four strong, grey cygnets. We will locate them very soon.

I mentioned completing reading a book  by a well known woman from the television programme where rich business people offer applicants thousands of pounds to invest in their businesses. And what a story this woman has to tell. It seems to me that she survived so many disasters, yet came through almost intact.

Born in my home town of Bolton, even attending the same school as me, she grew up in a loving but always poor family.Her subsequent years were enriched and sustained by the love of the family. When she was still a young girl she was raped by her father's best friend but kept it a secret, bringing shame on herself.. After university and a number of jobs she married for the first time. Although some love clearly existed she was often ill treated but during this time produced a son.

The marriage fell apart and she fell in love again, a second marriage the result. All sorts of difficulties arose and before too many years had passed the divorce court beckoned. By this time, despite continuing grinding poverty, she aspired to her own transport business. At first it went well, but before too long she experienced near failure because of the local council's intransigence. But she held together, supported by her third husband. But this turned sour also and the inevitable divorce followed. But the business was growing rapidly and things looked better.

Then her son- now a teenager- appeared unwell, bad tempered and even violent. He was accused of stealing and arrested. Then came the dread news- her son had become a heroin addict of the worst sort. Again and again he fought with his mother, told her how much he hated her because she stopped funding his habit.(On one occasion his landlord complained and the resulting damage to the flat cost her £9,000). After an agonising time(and I add, a very agonising read) he eventually came through it, coming very near to death on several occasions. On one such occasion his mother was hosting friends when the call for help came- she had not drunk overmuch wine but a patrolling policeman found her just over the limit and she was banned from driving.

Not long after this another disaster came upon her. She had a serious stroke, taking her speech, sight and feeling on the left side. Months of hospitalisation followed and she emerged mostly recovered. Then on holiday in Spain she had a second seizure, at the very time a call came to say her dear mother was dying. No airline would take her in the condition she was, so a dear friend drove her the 24 hours back to make it to her mother's bedside two days before she died. Her mother knew her daughter well: 'You are good at business H , but hopeless in choosing men!'. How true that seemed to be.

She is much better now, albeit with some post stroke limitations. She runs a huge international transport company and is a multi millionaire. Her story is one of dogged determination to counter every disadvantage thrown in her path. Her story should be an inspiration to us all, with our much smaller disasters. Perhaps it was being born in Bolton that gave her such resilience!!?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014


Today has been a lovely one, the sun shining and remarkably warm for the end of Se ptember. This morning we walked by the sea, rather by the sand, the water being far away. This afternoon we were on the canal path again, but with a specific search in mind; the swans had been sighted along the canal with, alas, only two babies left from that great clutch of eggs. Apparently, only last night, one of the cygnets was poorly and taken to a barge for safety, but died overnight. The RSPCA or RSPB took it away to see if it died of any particular poison. But our walk along the canal revealed nothing, even though a young Mum had seen them earlier. We will keep looking.

 One item I am watching- an empty packet of chocolate buttons lying on the towpath. I am waiting to see how long it remains on a path frequented by many locals as well as visitors like ourselves.It has already been there 9 hours and,yes, I will move it eventually.

I have discovered two outlets in the village I had not noticed before- a butchers and a second undertakers (there is no way I am going to live in Bolton-le-Sands!).

I have finished reading my first book, a library copy(large print by mistake!) about a lady who was a member of the television programme  awarding money to would be entrepreneurs. It is a story of rags to riches. I will tell you the story soon, suffice for now to say  that for this woman fear  walked alongside her all her years. And I am turning to my second book- one I have read before- about how we think and feel.Appropriately there is a chapter on fear and anxiety, described as  Anxiety; Fear of the Unknown. Herein is the author's distinction; fear fixes on things that are identifiable and possible. Anxiety is concerned with unspecified phenomenon, far more vague in its reach. Some poor folk are anxious about everything.

The list is endless.. Sickness, disease, redundancy, loved ones, getting older, winter, the dark, sleep.The book describes how anxiety is rooted in our brain but because the brain is now regarded as plastic, new pathways can be established away from those filled with anxieties. And the way to deal with them? Attempt to face them, not run away.In this we may need help. Then turn away from them, by distraction. Then the remarkable suggestion; by altering our thinking habits we are actually doing the same work as a brain surgeon.

So being positive is the key to dealing with our fears and anxieties. Being open. Getting help to sort them out- so often our fears and anxieties may be based on false premises, unreal situations, erroneous interpretations of past events.Expecting to happen, something that straight thinking would tell us, borders on the impossible.

Rosie our dog has settled here , but she has had her anxieties. When we are packing up to come away, she knows. When we arrived here she follows us around, even to the bathroom. She sleeps with tired eyes half open, watching, wondering. Hours later she settles down; if only we could say 'Don't worry Rosie, we are not leaving you'. Her fears also are irrational. But unlike us humans we cannot tell her.

And if any of you are of an over anxious disposition, do not give in to it. Here is a battle we all can win,in some measure at least.

Monday, 29 September 2014


Yesterday we welcomed Stephen, Kate and Rachel which was as ever a delight.It involved taking Rachel on the canal path to show us how well she can balance on her two wheeler bicycle. We had to decide who would go in the canal for her if she over balanced. No decision was made, but I noticed I was the one who ran alongside the speeding 5 year old as she demonstrated her skill.The other feature was an enormous pizza takeaway; even though I only ordered a medium it was far too much. This food business really is something these days. I swear I saw an African boy, dressed just in a pair of ragged shorts staring in at me through the window.

Today we will visit the seashore, only 5 minutes away.It is hard to believe that we will have been here almost 48 hours and not sighted the sea, except in the distance from the canal path. It was from there last evening we saw a lovely pink sunset.

I have been looking for another book on consciousness.By this I mean a book about our thought processes, where they come from, how wide they range, sometimes under unusual stimulus (For example drugs). No, I am not being clever. But I am concerned that one of the greatest threats to faith is from the world of the neuroscientist. Increasingingly they are telling us that all we are amounts to a rather clever bag of tricks. Complicated intricasies in the brain. Thoughts of God, the recognition of beauty are just functions confined to and originating  in our heads. The more I know of their arguments the better I can address them, even rubbish them.

The truth is surely that however much we know about our brains, there are some things we are not capable of knowing, anymore than Rosie(our dog) can understand when we talk to her.(She cocks her head on one side with the expression saying 'If only I knew what you were saying to me').This is an argument beyond reason; it is about ultimate mysteries. But we are so cocksure in our cleverness (not you and me, but the atheist) the one thing we cannot tolerate is the sense that knowing everything is and always will be impossible. It is much as I was saying yesterday- over concentrating on one thing forces us to forget the rest. So focussing and being taken over by what we know forces us to forget what we cannot know.

Kate did a very important task for me yesterday. On Saturday I purchased a new mobile phone, costing all of £22.(You can tell from the price that it is state of the art model !!). The only trouble was that the plug for charging it didn't fit any wall socket. So I asked Kate to help. She smiled kindly, 'twiddled ' with it for all of 5 seconds and handed it back. The plug had been folded inwards to facilitate a smaller box!  Oh dear. I have a degree in stupidity.

Sunday, 28 September 2014


We arrived here safely yesterday after the 50 minute journey. By the time we started out after lunch there had already been quite a busy morning. My group were on coffee duty, so in addition to the making, serving and washing up, there was the usual work of friendly discussion. Listening to various people quietly tell their stories reminds me yet again of how many folk hide away secret fears and forebodings. It is not only the famous who hide behind the laughter, but ordinary folk by the thousand.

We awoke this morning with a disagreement! 'What is that noise?' Janet asked. 'Church bells' I replied. 'No, it is coming from in the house somewhere'. I replied, forgetting my first suggestion, 'It is getting louder'. Janet replied'No it isn't, we are just waking up'. Anyway we soon found a clock in another bedroom, obviously left on from previous guests. How to turn it off came next. I suggested we dunk it, but Janet had a better idea. Find the off switch , which she did.

I have been reading some words by the Pope which quite fascinated me:

The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose 

We know what he means, but to be fair some people(many I suspect are 'money mad' simply because they need it to reach a minimum standard of family life). But this said money, as well as image, has become a fixation. I tend to see this upside down- it is not the concentration on money that is the sad thing, but the other things that the money fixation precludes and hides. There is nothing wrong with the young person loving the computer, just as long as other interests and freedoms are not lost. There is nothing wrong with the person loving the city with all its noise and bustle , as long as it does not hide them from the wonders of a more natural world. The idol is often bad in itself, but probably not as  bad as what it hides from us.It is good for Christians to carry out God's errands in splendid works of kindness, as long as it does not preclude them from what God wants to do for them.

One of our first tasks was to carry out a village and canal survey. The Mallards were still swimming about happily, but the swans had gone. When we here in Spring Mother Swan was sat on her eggs- hopefully they hatched and the entire family have moved to pastures new. We walked the canal path for a while, encountering a few cyclists and being passed by one or two barges.  All the shops are still there, a nice surprise given the way retail outlets come and go. There is still the garage, the grocers, the confectioners, the undertakers, the hairdresser, the chip shop, the accountants.

So on with our break. Welcome to the canal side.