Sunday, 17 September 2017

Write. And keep writing.

Write, they say.  And keep writing.  Every day if possible.  That's what you do if you want to be a writer.



Right, I say.  Writing.  I'll get to it as soon as I've done the shopping cleaned the bathrooms called some volunteers mowed the lawn hung up the washing got some exercise spent time with my family. 
Um.  Maybe tomorrow.

So writing has slid backwards from being a priority, when I called Cafes with Kids my job and reviewed a cafe every week, to a sideline, now that I'm the other side of the counter and, once again, calling cafe management my job.  And, as a bonus feature, actually getting paid for it.  It's exciting.  It's rewarding.  It's also all-consuming and completely exhausting, at least in these first few weeks when I'm trying to learn everything and everyone all at once.  That breathing space seems a long time ago already.

But sometimes you have to carve out space for who you want to be as well as who you need to be.  And I want to be, if not a writer, then at least someone who writes.  So here I am, writing.  And here you are, reading, and wondering if I'm going to get around to anything apart from the fact that I'm not writing.  Now, there's an interesting question.  I'm wondering the same thing myself.

Now I feel like I probably should.

OK, two quick thoughts.  Back when I was last a church cafe manager, ten years ago and more, I distinctly remember thinking:  How does anyone do this job and then go home to look after children?  But then I picked my boys up from school, and they were running down the path hand in hand ahead of me, and I thought:  That's how.  They crystallize a moment into a memory, and you tuck that memory into your heart, and it gets you through.  Cherish the moments.



And secondly, for those of you who are interested in Bible stuff.  Romans 10 was the reading at church this morning, and I had never realised that this:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”...  Romans 10:5-8 ESV
 is basically a direct quote of this, from Deuteronomy:

11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.  Deuteronomy 30:11-14 ESV
OK, so there was a big clue there in the "Moses writes" bit.  It's always obvious when you know it, isn't it?  Moses is talking about keeping the Jewish law, which has just been spelled out in mind-numbing detail in the rest of Deuteronomy.  Paul takes his words and applies them to having faith in Jesus, "the end of the law", as he puts it.  Neither of those things are something you can claim to have achieved all at once.  But neither of them are too difficult to start.  We don't have to wait around for someone to achieve the impossible.  If you want to get somewhere, just take the first step.  Do what's already in your mouth and in your heart.

Or in other words: Write.  And keep writing.  And one day you'll realise that you're a writer.





Image credits
(1) Writing tools By Pete O'Shea [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(2) Writing sunset By gnuckx [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 1 September 2017

A breathing space

Theo and I sat perched on a rocky step in the sunshine.  Somewhere above us, Graham and Toby climbed higher up the path, while behind us, a waterfall splashed noisily down the hillside.  In front of us the land spread out in patches of green and grey and purple, sun-bright and dappled with cloud.  I drew in a deep breath.  We were definitely on holiday.




Our usual last-minute AirBnB searching had led us to a cottage on the corner of the Yorkshire Dales.  Technically we were in Cumbria, but this area is far less popular than the more famous Lake District, with the guides tending to use words like "under-rated" and "little-known".  We certainly didn't have the place to ourselves, but then the weather that first day would have dragged the most reluctant walker out of doors.  Or just about.  You can see how enthusiastic our little walkers were!


Cows.  On an A-road.  Definitely under-rated.
The target that first day was Cautley Spout waterfall.  We had a fairly flat walk along by the stream, then a steep climb up some well-made steps beside the waterfall itself.  By that point little legs were getting tired, so we made our way back down and treated ourselves to fizzy drinks at the Cross Keys.  This is no ordinary pub, but a temperance inn; it hasn't served alcohol since 1905.  It has an impressive array of alternatives.  Graham was delighted to find root beer, while I had ginger beer and the boys went for Diet Coke.  It was a good thing no one else was in the garden - the burps that resulted were tremendous!



Next day we mooched around the pretty town of Kirkby Lonsdale.  The Devil's Bridge, just outside town, was built in the 14th century, and amazingly, carried all traffic over the River Lune until the 1930's, when the number of vehicles got too much for it.  It crosses an excitingly swirly part of the river, where we were much entertained by some novice canoeists attempting to paddle the rapids.  The boys were happy exploring the rocks for quite some time.  Finally we dragged them away and along the footpath to the Radical Steps - unfortunately less exciting than they sound; it was the landowner who was a Radical, not the steps.  Still, there's a good view from the top.  And fish and chips and ice cream and a sweet shop in the town centre.  Oh my.  No one wanted much dinner that evening.




Our cottage was well-equipped with board games which reminded me of my youth.  I'd mercifully forgotten the frustration of shoving straws through a tube to set up Kerplunk, but Theo loved it.  Toby begged for a game of Monopoly and beat me.  Oh, the long-drawn-out torture of losing Monopoly.  That takes me back.

Our holiday cottage

We were a long - but curiously precise - distance from London.

Finally, since we live in landlocked Derby, we always have to go see the sea on holiday.  Only a small amount of bickering about directions was needed to get us to Silverdale Cove.  We arrived at high tide, which meant we got to throw stones in the water for about ten minutes before it retreated, rapidly and astonishingly, across the vast mudflats of Morecambe Bay.  There was a fair breeze with occasional bucketfuls of rain, but we ate lunch in a handy cave, then sheltered under trees as we climbed Arnside Knott for some more views.




In such a crowded country, it's remarkable that there are so many places still to retreat to for some breathing space.  I'm glad we found another one of them.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Summer holidays: Half way through

Six weeks sounds like a long time when you're at the beginning, doesn't it?  But it's a lot less long when you're halfway through, wondering where the time went.  Here's what we did with some of it.

The males of the family (including my dad) went to see the truck racing at Donington, the first Saturday.  They came back full of truck excitement - and with bigger hands than usual!  Meanwhile, my mum and I went for a nice peaceful walk.



Next day, Theo was a little tired.


Later that week, we drove to Dove Dale and climbed Thorpe Cloud in the rain, which helpfully and unexpectedly ceased just as we got to the top.  We were able to have lunch with a view and without getting soaked.  A kestrel came and hovered nearby, looking as if it were hung from the sky by an invisible string.



Coming down, the boys decided that running was the way to go.  This is my new favourite picture of me with them.

We also went to a tractor festival (oh yes, we know how to have fun!) where Toby had his first go on a quad bike.  He was cautious while driving but fizzing with excitement afterwards.



The second week, both boys went to a holiday club run by a couple of local churches.  Toby loved it; Theo endured it rather; they both came home with an enormous bag of craft activities, and entertained us for days afterwards by dressing up as knights and acting out scenes from a play.

I took advantage of my free time by picking blackberries for my yearly batch of jam (the hedges were overflowing with berries!) and getting myself a new haircut.  Now I just need a better photo of my new haircut.

Last week, Toby went to a tennis course, and Theo and I went shopping, entertained friends, bounced on the trampoline and watered the garden - endlessly and repeatedly, owing to Theo's current obsession with the hose.  Still, it seems to be doing some good, judging by the size of the carrots!



And finally, Toby has been getting rather good at Mariokart Wii.  He was so pleased with his first place trophy that he and Theo had to celebrate like Formula 1 drivers do - by tipping champagne over their heads.  Or rather, firmly-closed bottles of squash.  The champagne will have to wait for another day.



Wednesday, 12 July 2017

You reap what you sow

Those neat little sprouts in my previous garden post are now great floppy plants, overflowing their boxes like leafy fountains.  Theo has been particularly keen on picking things, sometimes before they're ready!  So, what harvest have we had?

Peas


I was really pleased with the peas.  Every couple of days we could go out and grab a boxful of fat green pods - and it was fun popping them and seeing how many peas were inside.  The boys and their friends from next door happily ate them straight from the pod, and we had them raw in salads, cooked as a side, and even made into pea fritters.  Their season finished early so I've put some more carrots, onions and rocket in their place.



Strawberries


We only really had enough to pick a few and eat them one by one.  However, we went to Scaddows Farm and picked LOADS, so we haven't felt short of strawberries.

Carrots and spring onions



The spring onions have done well, and got lovely and fat.  Theo's been desperate to pull up the carrots, so we've thinned a few, but they are barely pencil-thick yet.

Tomatoes


They're growing tall, but none of the fruit has ripened yet.  The boys are keeping me updated on how big they're getting (but they are a cherry variety, so won't get huge).

And the what???


These were the things I thought were courgettes.  Well, they're clearly some kind of squash, but what kind I do not know.  One plant has green ones on, another has yellow - rounded, with a slight point at the bottom.  I have NO CLUE how they got into my garden.  But if they're edible, we will eat them.  Sometimes you get to reap what you don't sow!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The changing map of Europe

I was eight when the Berlin Wall came down.



For many of my contemporaries, it was the first big political event they remember seeing on TV.  We didn't have a television then, so I don't even have that hazy recollection.  As I got older, I became aware that many European maps I looked at were no longer correct.  The big splodge on the right emblazoned with the ominous letters U.S.S.R. had now dissolved into smaller countries with unknown names: Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova.  Something called the Iron Curtain had disappeared.  And Germany was now one big country again, no longer split between East and West.

Our history lessons at school focussed heavily on the First and Second World Wars, with odd excursions to the Romans, or motte and bailey castles, or Henry the Eighth.  It wasn't until I studied German A-level that I heard about the Berlin airlift, and my first reaction was: "Why did no one ever tell me about this?!"  Up until then I had always vaguely assumed that Berlin must straddle the border between East and West Germany.  The story of the stranded city supplied only by plucky planes flying night and day to defeat the Soviets was like a fairy tale.  Far more interesting than endless re-runs of trench battles.

Later in the course I wrote an essay - in German, a feat which now astounds me - comparing the 1953 uprisings in East Germany, which were violently squashed, with the 1989 "Monday demonstrations", which were shortly followed by the fall of the Wall.  I dread to think what youthful liberties I took with the history of a country I had barely visited and whose language I hardly spoke, but I remember picking out a couple of decisive factors: the peacefulness and prayer of the demonstrators in the later event, and the new approach of Gorbachev, who encouraged the Eastern bloc countries to work out their own problems in their own way (without Russia sending in the tanks).

Since then I had given that period very little thought, until I picked up a fascinating book called The Year That Changed The World, by Michael Meyer.  As a Newsweek reporter based in Germany, he was in the thick of the action, dashing from Poland, where the Solidarity party ousted the Communists in democratic elections; to Hungary, where the leaders dismantled the border fence and practically ushered East Germans towards Austria; to Prague, where crowds filled Wenceslas Square for the Velvet Revolution.  Events came tumbling over each other, gathering momentum like a rockslide hurtling downhill, far faster than anyone expected.

Meyer does a fantastic job of conveying the determination and randomness of human history.  On the one hand, dozens of people were working tirelessly for change.  He argues that the fall of Communism was as much due to its own leaders realising that something had to be done, as to the people rising up and overthrowing the Party.  On the other hand, a seemingly tiny event can send the avalanche of history off in a completely different direction.  One of the best bits of the story is the reading of the press release on November 9th, 1989, with its one small word sofort - immediately - which sent East Berliners crowding to the wall.  If things had happened as intended - the next day, in a orderly fashion - would the wall have fallen as it did?

It's also striking just how unexpected all these events were.  Even those who were implementing them, both the Communists and their challengers, thought change would occur gradually, over maybe the next 5-10 years.  As for the West, the leaders were mostly entrenched in a Cold War mentality, neither hoping nor working for major change.  But suddenly, in a matter of months, the world shifted.


The translation is rubbish but the footage is good!

One quote brought these historical events right up to date for me.  Gunter Schabowski, the East German offical who read that fateful press release, described his reaction to Hungary cutting a hole in its western border fence: "Here was Hungary... going off on its own and doing something which challenged the very existence of the bloc... And if there were no bloc, where would that leave us?"

The European Union is somewhat different to the Soviet bloc, of course.  But if history teaches us anything, it's that actions can have unintended and enormous consequences.  If a rockslide of events starts, there's not much you can do except try and keep on top.  And perhaps one day my son will be saying, "I was eight when..."

Photo attribution: Lear 21 at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 23 June 2017

A Trip to Norfolk


Belton House.  Biggest adventure playground ever.  Seriously.  You start at one end with the seesaw which pumps water for a splash pad, and go past the treehouse and rope bridges, and cross over the miniature railway, and discover the giant glockenspiel and spinning wheel, and hop over some stepping stones, and it still goes on.  We gave up and had lunch without ever finding the end, and went off to draw pictures in the beautiful gardens instead.

 


And that was only a short stop on the way to the real holiday in Norfolk.  We were headed to a little house in Heacham, just a few minutes from the beach.  It was a bit cool and breezy that first evening, but you've got to paddle and dig, haven't you?




The sun set beautifully over the sea, and we tucked Toby and Theo up into their bunk bed - which according to them, was the best bit of the whole holiday.



The next day we got a perfect beach day.  We drove to Wells-next-the-Sea, where the sea was so far away that it was more like being in a desert, trudging through endless waves of dry sifting sand.  The boys spent the day excavating tracks and tunnels, endlessly absorbed.  Gradually the tide turned, filling up the river channel and spreading swiftly across the flat banks.  The buoys re-floated and some seals came swimming in to bask on the shore.




Tuesday dawned grey but initially dry, so we took the boys out on their bikes along the sea wall.  Halfway back the air picked itself up and hurled itself at us, in a hammer-blow of wind and driving rain.  We staggered back to the cottage with our hoods flapping around our faces, soaked to the skin.  Once we realised it wasn't easing up, we scurried to the car and sloshed our way along country lanes to the intriguing experience of the Thursford Collection.  Ostensibly it's a steam engine museum, but when you walk in to the large dark hall, lit by sparkling trees and innumerable glints of polished brass on the restored engines, surrounded by the glorious facades of of a dozen enormous fairground organs, it feels more as if you have entered some surreal Victorian experience.


The organs come to life one by one, playing their mechanical tunes in turn, but the star of the show is the Mighty Wurlitzer on the platform.  Robert Wolfe has been playing it here since 1981, and his performance was well worth the entry fee all by itself.  His hands and feet simply danced over the three keyboards and foot pedals, flipping levers, pushing buttons, and creating an endless flow of astounding music.



On our final day the wind still blew but the sun shone.  We walked along the beach by the bi-coloured chalk cliff at Hunstanton - white above, orangey-red below - leaping rock pools, exploring an old wreck, and gathering shells.  In the town was a memorial to victims of a flood in 1953.  I'd never heard of that January night when the cold North Sea came sweeping in, killing hundreds around the UK and over a thousand in the low-lying Netherlands.  The local hero was a US airman stationed in Hunstanton, a 22-year-old named Reis Leming.  He went out into the freezing water again and again to rescue stranded people and was awarded the George Medal for his bravery.





Inspired, impressed, and covered with sand, we headed home.