Thursday, 2 February 2017

IS THEIR ANYBODY OUT THERE?

I'm wondering about the value of keeping this blog going. I never have any feedback and have little idea if anyone actually reads it. So over the past year entries have become occasional rather than regular, and I write mainly for my own amusement and to reflect on what's happening in my life.
      Our new life in London is interesting. We are trying out new activities and  new groups. The University of the Third Age has introduced us to new people, and random meets have led to new introductions. The astonishing fact is that almost everyone we've met has a Welsh connection. Either a grandparent, great grandparent, sister in law is from Wales or has some one close living in Wales. Some spent childhood summer holidays in Wales, others moved to London when they were small as their parents came looking for work. Enthusiasm for learning and practising Welsh is impressive. So my husband has  re-found Wales in a London suburb and is very happy
    . I am still searching for soul mates and the desire to create a life here that isn't all about the pursuit of leisure and filling-in time, but has some meaning,perhaps a different meaning and purpose from the one I found in Wales and that lasted for 38 years. Not having my work as a counsellor is a big loss to me but  it would not be easy to set up in private practice here. New times, new places, new opportunities. In the current climate of Trump and Brexit  I'm sure it won't be long before I find the right opportunity. In the meantime, it was a Welsh sailor at the demise of the Titantic who shouted out across the icy water the immortal words,'Is there anybody out there? ' Perhaps someone will hear this shout and get back to me!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

FEEL THE FEAR & ...

This week BBC Radio 4 serialised the story of adventurer and explorer Ralph Fiennes  and how he's faced and dealt with fear in his life. His  reading  of his own work was without drama or exaggeration. He told us about how he coped with a phobia of spiders, although clearly terrified, and in a situation where to scream would have endangered the people he was with, he pretended that he didn't have a phobia and brushed the venomous creature off his leg. It worked! He cited other scenarios of terror and fear-while on expeditions and in battle zones.  Admitting to your self that you're terrified rather than denying it is the first step in dealing with it. When the body is in adrenaline overload, our emotions take over and being able to think clearly and rationally is extremely difficult.
     As a counsellor I have worked with clients with a range of fears and phobias but that doesn't stop me forgetting everything I know I'm supposed to do to calm down-breathing, distraction, self talk, self soothing.  Most of my phobias relate to animals, particularly dogs and birds flying at me in a confined space. (I had that particular one before Alfred Hitchcock made his film, The Birds).
    Fear can also hold you back from having adventures and engaging in life. This week we spent a couple of days in Norwich and took a train out to Hoveton & Wroxham, where The Norfolk Broads are easily accessible.
     Where does fear and just being a wimp start and end? We had the prospect of taking out a small cabin cruiser on our own for an hour. Neither of us had ever driven a boat but we both drive cards. We made up every excuse to each other why taking that boat out was a bad idea- there was no-one else out on the water, it was windy, we might break down, Rhys can't swim (although there were life jackets), it was cold etc etc. The fact was we were both scared but wouldn't admit it. The aftermath for me of not taking the opportunity to try something new is always regret and if only...   This was hardly white water rapids and the speed limit was only 5mph! We did the safe thing. Imagine if we'd felt the fear and done it anyway?
  

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

ICH BIN BERLINER?

 I've just come back from a long weekend in Berlin. I was last there 17 years ago as guest of the British Ambassador and his wife. Their colleagues seemed intrigued as to how on earth a woman with a south-west London working class accent could receive an invitation to stay in the British Residency.  My oldest school friend was a diplomat there and also happened to be married to the Ambassador and they really made an effort to give us a great time.
         My daughter and I slept in the bedroom used by the Duke of Edinburgh on a previous visit with the Queen and were guests at a NATO dinner. The dinner included politicians and people of influence. Some assumed we were also important until they found out better and then lost interest. The Residency's phone bill must have been astronomic that weekend as my daughter in her first year of uni kept her new boyfriend frequently updated on our goings-on. 
        Many of the museums were closed for renovation and the newer ones not yet completed. The most memorable site for me at that time was seeing Glienicka Bridge- a point of exchange during the Cold War for secret agents of both political systems who had been taken prisoner. I recently asked my daughter to recall her most prominent memory of that weekend. It was walking up the red carpet at the German premiere of the film 'Billy Elliot'- the story of a young boy from a mining town in the north-east of Britain who became a ballet dancer.. .
        Fast forward 17 years.  No British Residency for us. Our friends are now both retired. We stayed in an apartment in Mitte. The museums -new and renovated- are open for business and crowded with tourists. There are many more monuments to the atrocities committed in World War 11, the Holocaust and in the Cold War.   You have to admire the Germans for their willingness to own the darker side of their history. By making some of these museums free millions of visitors bear witness to those dark days.          
         In the UK where are the museums or departments within museums or memorials that own the atrocities of the British Empire and enable us to bear witness to our history's shadow side?  I can't think of any. My own father was a prisoner of war for two years in Stalag IV, near Dresden and never spoke of his experiences. My uncle was there at the liberation of Berlin in 1945. 
      What this most recent visit to Berlin did was remind me of the conditions that can lead to totalitarian states. When the Berlin Wall came down I have to admit to a degree of sadness as this was the beginning of the end of communism and an ideology that I was attracted to as a young person. My uncle had a photo of Stalin on his living room wall and as a child he told me it was my uncle Joe. It was only much later that I learnt of the atrocities of Stalin, the mass murders and oppression that took place in East Germany, the Baltic States and Russia from the 1950's until the fall of the Berlin Wall.  
       Visiting the East Side Gallery where murals painted on the remains of some of the original wall mark the 25th anniversary of its fall (1989-2014), I was uplifted by the artists' reminders of  how much better life is today in Germany for the majority under the present system and where freedom of expression is taken for granted. But lest we forget they also remind us that threats to democracy are still there. Capitalism is also an ideology where workers' rights and our environmental interests are being marginalised by the interests of global business, where the media is owned by a few rich men, where 'the outsider' is scapegoated for our economic difficulties and policies, and where the question as to whether we can trust our governments to be transparent and honest is on-going. Image result for berlin wall fall images
      

   

Monday, 24 October 2016

HIVE OF INDUSTRY

Do you think about where your next meal is coming from?  If you're poor you probably do.  If you're like me the older I get the more I seem to think about food. I used to think about death all the time and then a boss suggested that I substitute death for sex and that did work for a while. But how many of us seriously think about the long view-the feeding of our planet?
     Well, Kew Gardens is trying to get us to do just that in it's sensational multi-sensory art/science installation called THE HIVE. It was commissioned by the British government and created by an English artist Wolfgang Buttress, Simmonds Studio and the Building Design Partnership. Rising to 17 meters, it is said to be a feat of British engineering. The structure highlights the importance of pollinators to our future food security. As many of the world's pollinators are different species of bees THE HIVE  dazzles us with sensory experiences to engage and connect with the plight and the flight of the wild bee. In recent years bee populations have suffered declines as habitat loss, parasites and disease, invasive species, climate change and the reduction of wildflower diversity take their toll.
      The installation is made from thousands of pieces of aluminium which create a lattice effect and is fitted with hundreds of LED lights that glow and fade as a unique soundtrack hums and buzzes around you. As part of the total experience you are invited to take a lolly stick and place it in a metal hole on a pole, put your hands over your ears and sense the vibrations of two honey bees connecting.
       The structure was inspired by the work of scientist Dr. Martin Bensik, whose pioneering research can help us understand how the buzzing of bees can indicate deterioration in a hive. In Kew, scientists and horticulturists are exploring the relationship between plants, their pollinators, and the future impact of low bee numbers on feeding our planet. Who was it who said,' Once the bees go, the human race will soon follow.' ?
       As we pushed our grandson around in his buggy after his veggie lunch in the autumnal sunshine the installation made us think about the impact of bees-or loss of them- on his future. 
       Kew Gardens has a host of talks and workshops this autumn on the importance of bees to our food supply. The installation is a wonderful example of where creative thinking and art can inspire and teach us about our science. NOT TO BE MISSED!   Visit kew/org/followkew.   Facebook. YouTube, #kewhive
 Image result for The Hive Kew photoImage result for The Hive Kew photoImage result for The Hive Kew photo

Monday, 10 October 2016

THE BEGINNER?


Have you ever wondered what constitutes, ‘a beginner?’   The Oxford English Dictionary defines begin as ‘ 1. carry out or experience the first part of an action or activity, 2. come into being. 3. have as a starting point. ‘   So when you sign up on a beginners’ course it would be quite reasonable to expect that other people are like you, knowing nothing or little about the subject. How wrong can you be!  A woman on the beginners’ tennis course said to me on lesson two that she was really daunted by the knowledge and skills of other participants. She’d thought that we’d all be real beginners. Well, that’s because some of the women have been on the beginners’ course for the past three years. They are good!  One woman has such a strong forehand that I’ve still not been able to return a shot from her in three lessons. She must be secretly thinking that she could be knitting a Fair Isle sweater, writing a sonnet or cooking a roast dinner while she waits for a return from me.  

     I’ve signed up for all manner of courses in my time that have been described as for beginners. One art course was described as, ’art for the terrified.’  With that title surely no improver or accomplished artist is going to sign up?  Although I suppose any creative person may be terrified at the sight of a piece of plain white paper and the need to fill it by the end of the morning. As a writer I’ve experienced that sort of terror, especially if you have a deadline imposed by an exacting tutor, but surely ‘art for the terrified’ implies a fear of making that first mark on the paper; a beginner  perhaps traumatised by a school art teacher who threw all her creations into the bin or a critical parent who could never bring himself to praise a young child’s efforts at painting her family as hippopotami with golden dread locks. But no, in ‘art for the terrified,’ there were people who’d been in the class for a decade. The humiliation at the end of the lesson when the teacher insisted we all put out our work to share.  There was my pathetic attempt at a drawing of a conker when their autumnal  still life could have made the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition.

     Being in a mixed class with a range of experience can work but it can mean as the beginner you have to work much harder to keep up. Rhys went along to Church Bell Ringing. He was one of two absolute beginners and there was so much to understand, learn and remember, he decided it wasn’t for him. The other beginner wasn’t sure if it was for her either.  Shame at not getting it right in such a public forum as a bell ringing circle or your conker looking like a sputnik in a still life class is not just embarrassing  it can fill you with feelings of not being good enough and  negative thoughts that you thought you’d overcome years ago leak out.

      So why do people who are actually skilled and accomplished place themselves on these courses or continue to repeat the beginners’ course even though they’ve progressed way ahead of what could be fairly described as such?  Is it lack of confidence and modesty or one up-man-ship? Better to be top of the pecking order in the sweet knowledge that no other beginner is going to be better than you rather than have to put yourself outside your own comfort zone. Doesn’t matter how that feels for others in the beginners’ class. Or could it be that you find a good teacher who you like and who likes you, sees your potential, you fall in love, and are not able to let the other go or move on?

Monday, 3 October 2016

GRANNY WITHOUT A CAUSE

It’s taking me a bit of time to get attuned to a life of hedonism. This is some thing  I never  thought I would say as I’m someone usually up for a good time. And I couldn’t wait to have a break from counselling work. I was feeling burnt out. Some have called it compassion fatigue.   But having no work structure and having 24/7 available for fun, self- improvement, hobbies, days out etc, has meant I feel kind of guilty if I’m not out there enjoying myself in the sunshine. But I also feel guilty cos that’s all I’m doing. You could blame it on a Catholic upbringing. My brother calls this kind of life of time filling - ‘padding’- and I can see what he means.  For the past month we’ve been padding ourselves with a diet of culture, sightseeing, activities and events.
    In our first month we’ve devoured the University of the Third Age’s programme (U3A), deciding that a lot of ‘classes’ were worth trying at least once. Classes are informally lead by members with some sort of interest or knowledge in the subject, although that seems to vary.  Sessions cost from 50p to £2 depending on whether the venue is in someone’s home or in a community hall. Most of the classes are once a fortnight or once a month. Either together or alone we’ve already been to Jazz Appreciation, Country Dancing, Spanish, and Singing for Pleasure. Today I bowed out of Church Bell Ringing when I learnt I had to climb a high metal ladder leading into the tower as I can suffer from vertigo.  Rhys loves heights so that wasn’t his problem. In fact, he would have preferred to climb the bell rope than pull it.  Pulling a rope for two hours while getting to grips with the campanology code didn’t really tickle his ding-a-ling so he’s decided to go for Bird Song Listening instead. Should be a lot quieter and could potentially involve climbing.  And for me next week  it’s Play Reading.
    Arts Events have included talks organised by the Richmond Arts Society and Library Service. Rhys has been around art galleries in Cork Street and the R.A. Together we’ve been to the Tate.
    Rhys has joined Age UK Centre for Well-Being which has a broad programme for elders.  On the pretext of doing Pilates, he’ll be attending Wednesdays, ‘Roast Dinners’ sessions.  He hopes that is the eating of and not the cooking of cos he does that at home anyway on Sundays.
   I’ve joined a Tennis Club. That’s another first. I’m having group lessons with a bunch of younger women. In fact I’m probably the eldest by twenty plus years. When I mentioned the U3A most looked blank. Then one young woman remembered her ‘Granny’ used to go.   As I puff and heave myself around the court, ruby-slicked face, missing their returns, being a Granny is only too self -evident.  

    So as pleasurable as this life of padding is, it’s also totally self-indulgent; it’s not work, has no extrinsic value and makes no contribution to society whatsoever.  One of the main reasons in coming to London is to be an available Granny and I’m thrilled that’s working out well for us and our family.  But in this period of adjustment to a life of (p)leisure, I never thought I’d also be looking for a cause. I suppose you can take the granny out of causes but you can’t take a cause out of a granny. Well this granny anyway.    I’m sure there are thousands of worthwhile causes out there that don’t involve counselling adults, I just have to find the right one. 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

FOXY TEDDINGTON

Staying on the subject of wild life, living in London’s suburbs has introduced us to the urban fox. The whiff of musk which we would cross at points on our Garth walks, is the prevalent perfume here. It’s ubiquitous. On closing our first floor bedroom curtains one evening last week I caught the upward stare of my first Teddington fox standing on a green patch in the communal gardens, with a, ‘Yeah?... And? Whatever,’ look, challenging me to close the curtains before he sloped off into the laurel hedge.
     The inhabitants of Harrowdene Gardens don’t leave their leftover pizzas out for foxy dinners.  They may not even eat pizza. I don’t know, I’ve stopped knocking on their doors to introduce myself.  But if I was delivering pizza perhaps they would answer their doors. Charles Forster in his recent, ‘Being a beast,’ attempted to get down on it with badgers, deer, otters and urban foxes, and found poking around London bins for pizza or curry leftovers particularly distressing. Clearly, he’d never been on a night out in Cardiff ending up in Caroline Street with the munchies.
      The Evening Standard has a current campaign to get out of date leftovers in the big supermarkets to homeless and poor Londoners. Don’t think the urban fox realises they aren’t included in the campaign, as I spied an empty take-away container (washed) and a couple of cardboard egg containers by the rose garden, abandoned once they saw they didn’t contain fresh chickens’ eggs, which their country cousins would have eaten straight from the coup.
     My second fox, sighted from our front room,  was limping badly, clearly in need of a hip replacement, which unless we change young doctors’ contracts she isn’t going to get on the NHS.

    Our guest, sleeping on an air bed in the front room and keen to get on with her day, opened the curtains early to see two young foxes, hunting collaboratively for breakfast.  Given the species are supposedly so clever, I wonder why they haven’t gone straight to the supermarket source or accost the Tesco delivery man when the food is fresh.   The Teddington fox is far too cool to ask. Now the Barnes fox is a different animal all together.      

THE DEER HUNTER

Living near Bushy Park, one of the Royal Parks, we're privileged to take our walks and cycle rides in the company of deer.  At the entrance we are reminded not to make contact, not to approach within ten metres or get between them and their young. Yesterday in the warm equinox sunlight and deep shadow, photographers were out in force making contact outside the defined safety limits.  Anything for a good photo, eh?  No, not just a good photo but an award winning photo. The shops in the high street are full of good photos of deer; on their own, resting with iconic antlers poking out of the long grass, like a Georgia O Keefe bone painting, groups of young fawn, nervous, twitching, their speckled backs merging in the autumnal hues or a single startled speciman. Even the local rugby club has an antler as their club motto and on their strip.  Boys cavort like young stags on the rugby pitch.
     In September and October there is a deer cull, which takes place after the park is closed.  I’m not sure how it works but firearms are involved. I imagine a specially commissioned possy of Scottish Highlanders in kilts and deer-stalker hats on their stomachs elbowing their way through the bleached grass like soldiers in search of the enemy.
      Lyme disease is prevalent in the park and tics need to be dealt with immediately.  I’m not sure if they are in the grass or fall from the trees but cycling through the park I make sure I keep my helmet on and avoid the long grass. That means I keep within the health and safety regs on at least two counts and lessen my anxiety of being charged by a bellowing stag who may not have noticed I’m outside the ten metre range, as he trundles across my path in, ‘I’m the king of the park-get out of my way,’ attitude.  I also carry a small tin of Vaseline, which is supposed to affixiate them. The tics of course.
        Deer have been in the park since Henry V111’s day, when he stocked his land with hare, rabbit, pheasant and deer for hunting and eating purposes. Not just one of each obviously.   At a recent talk on the history of Bushy Park by John Shaef, a local historian, we saw maps of how the park’s landscape hasn’t changed essentially since that time. Old Victorian photos of children feeding the deer, with captions such as, ’Oh dear!’ show how times have changed even if the landscape hasn’t.   Until recently the biggest cause of their death (besides culling) was car accidents. A major road goes right through the centre of the park. Now, according to an article in the London Evening Standard in nearby Richmond Park, it’s cyclists. Not by running them over, but by discarding their gel packs from races. Post-mortem examinations of deer have shown their stomachs full of litter. This clogs their digestion systems leading to starvation.  Rather like fish bloated with plastic in our oceans.
    So it was with great schadenfreude that I laughed to myself at an elder running through the long grass, her hand clasped on her handbag as if a stag was chasing her with a view to mugging. Then I realised it was a lovely Chinese woman who we’d met at Pilates at the Age UK Centre for Well Being.  She jumped like a startled young fawn when I shouted out her name, her hand up to shade her eyes from the sun, and surprisingly didn’t recognise us on our bikes as she’d only seen us rolling over on the floor doing pelvic muscle exercises on the one other occasion we’d met.   I even had to shout out our names to prompt her memory. She was most gracious and humoured us well even if she didn’t know who the hell we were.

 Next month is the rutting season, when I may have reason to be really afraid, that’s unless a lyme tic gets me first. 

THE DEER HUNTER

Living near Bushy Park, one of the Royal Parks, we're privileged to take our walks and cycle rides in the company of deer.  At the entrance we are reminded not to make contact, not to approach within ten metres or get between them and their young. Yesterday in the warm equinox sunlight and deep shadow, photographers were out in force making contact outside the defined safety limits.  Anything for a good photo, eh?  No, not just a good photo but an award winning photo. The shops in the high street are full of good photos of deer; on their own, resting with iconic antlers poking out of the long grass, like a Georgia O Keefe bone painting, groups of young fawn, nervous, twitching, their speckled backs merging in the autumnal hues or a single startled speciman. Even the local rugby club has an antler as their club motto and on their strip.  Boys cavort like young stags on the rugby pitch.
     In September and October there is a deer cull, which takes place after the park is closed.  I’m not sure how it works but firearms are involved. I imagine a specially commissioned possy of Scottish Highlanders in kilts and deer-stalker hats on their stomachs elbowing their way through the bleached grass like soldiers in search of the enemy.
      Lyme disease is prevalent in the park and tics need to be dealt with immediately.  I’m not sure if they are in the grass or fall from the trees but cycling through the park I make sure I keep my helmut on and avoid the long grass. That means I keep within the health and safety regs on at least two counts and lessen my anxiety of being charged by a bellowing stag who may not have noticed I’m outside the ten metre range, as he trundles across my path in, ‘I’m the king of the park-get out of my way,’ attitude.  I also carry a small tin of Vaseline, which is supposed to affixiate them. The tics of course.
        Deer have been in the park since Henry V111’s day, when he stocked his land with hare, rabbit, pheasant and deer for hunting and eating purposes. Not just one of each obviously.   At a recent talk on the history of Bushy Park by John Shaef, a local historian, we saw maps of how the park’s landscape hasn’t changed essentially since that time. Old Victorian photos of children feeding the deer, with captions such as, ’Oh dear!’ show how times have changed even if the landscape hasn’t.   Until recently the biggest cause of their death (besides culling) was car accidents. A major road goes right through the centre of the park. Now, according to an article in the London Evening Standard in nearby Richmond Park, it’s cyclists. Not by running them over, but by discarding their gel packs from races. Post-mortem examinations of deer have shown their stomachs full of litter. This clogs their digestion systems leading to starvation.  Rather like fish bloated with plastic in our oceans.
    So it was with great schadenfreude that I laughed to myself at an elder running through the long grass, her hand clasped on her handbag as if a stag was chasing her with a view to mugging. Then I realised it was a lovely Chinese woman who we’d met at Pilates at the Age UK Centre for Well Being.  She jumped like a startled young fawn when I shouted out her name, her hand up to shade her eyes from the sun, and surprisingly didn’t recognise us on our bikes as she’d only seen us rolling over on the floor doing pelvic muscle exercises on the one other occasion we’d met.   I even had to shout out our names to prompt her memory. She was most gracious and humoured us well even if she didn’t know who the hell we were.

 Next month is the rutting season, when I may have reason to be really afraid, that’s unless a lyme tic gets me first. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016