Doggie in a Deck Chair
Image by anyjazz65 via Flickr

Communicating is becoming very difficult. Using text on your phone is like trying to make your thoughts and feelings heard through a thick fog, at the top of a very high mountain, wearing a mask over your face. There is no way a text can be properly understood. Whatever you write will be misconstrued, even more if you use text-speak, which is a mad foreign language to me.

The same can be said of Facebook. What ever you put in that little space at the top of your page entitled:  ‘what’s on your mind?’ is not likely to be properly understood by those who have the privilege of reading it. We never tell the truth in such circumstances, because we are playing to an invisible audience. When you stand in front on someone and have a conversation, you are reading all sorts of non verbal clues that will enhance your understanding of what is being said. So using text and social networking is like experiencing a sort of mild autism – you never quite get it, even though you think you do!

Even an old fashioned hand written letter gives you  more information about the state of the writer’s mind than any email. You can look at the style of writing and glean something of the person communicating with you. It’s a sort of instinct – you ‘read’ them and not just the words. Even the smell of the notepaper, the stamp on the envelope, the colour of the ink can give you clues about the personality of the person sending the letter. With email and text it’s all an unknown unless you know them well, but even then they can tell you lies in a text and you have nothing to make you suspect them because you can’t look into their eyes and respond to a hunch you might have that all is not well.

Life moves so fast these days, that it’s no wonder that mental illness is on the increase. The computer age means that we are expected to move far too fast in a very short space of time. Energy must be seen to be produced. It is accountable. No time to stop and consider. No wonder therapists and councillors are so busy. You have to pay someone to sit and listen to you these days. You have to pay someone to give you time to be human!  In families, with all the stresses and strains that modern life brings – commuting long distances to work and school, managing on inadequate incomes, bowing to consumer pressure, trying to keep a roof over your head, answering text after text, constant mobile phone calls, emails, a TV blaring out at you 24/7 – is it any wonder that relationships break down and people become mentally ill?  No one is allowed to do nothing. You will be labeled as lazy, non productive, negative. But doing nothing now and again is essential for a healthy mind. Today every moment must be accounted for, every hour is part of a race to achieve. Why?

When I was a kid, my mother has a ‘nothing’ time every day and woe betide any of us if we encroached on it. It was between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. There was no TV to fill the minutes and no mobile to bleep at her. There was no laptop on all day and no callers during that precious hour. In the summer she would put her deck chair at the bottom of the garden facing away from the house. She took out a variety of nothing time amusements. They included her knitting, a book of poetry or some embroidery.  In the winter she would curl up in her special chair in the sitting room in front of the fire and stare into the flames. Sometimes she would gaze into the distance. When we asked her what she was thinking about she would say ‘ my secret landscape’.  To this day, I still don’t know where that was, but it kept her sane and  I believe it did a great job of cleansing her mind and helping her cope with the unexpected death of my father, who was always on the go.  She lived until she was 96.

Now, it’s so easy to get wound up and feel frantic about our lives. We always have to be doing something. Even in retirement you have to ‘keep busy’. Why? Just try the nothing time once a day. Do it for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. Give your mind the chance to stand still. Find peace. It won’t happen unless you make it.

Take a few moments of nothing time now and listen to the music below. Travel down the road to nowhere. It will be time well spent…


Image via Wikipedia

The fear of abandonment is one of our greatest anxieties. As babies, it takes time for us to realise that we are not physically attached to our parents and that they can leave us. When the penny drops, it is a horrible shock. For children, the realisation of abandonment is akin to the terror they may feel when they suddenly learn about death. If a baby is abandoned, it is likely to die pretty quickly unless found. Older children may not die, but their vulnerable minds may receive damage that could last a lifetime.

I remember losing one of my children in a supermarket when he was about two. To this day, I can still feel the blind panic I experienced, but for my little son it was much worse. He was hysterical for some time when he realised I was out of his sight. It took a lot of cuddles and kisses to reassure him that I hadn’t disappeared on purpose and he didn’t sleep too well for some time after the event.

Parents who walk out on their kids can cause irreparable damage. Children’s minds are fragile when they are very young, and to lose a parent in a separation can be the most awful trauma for a child. There should be no hypocrisy about whether it is worse for mothers or fathers to leave; it really doesn’t matter. To a child, parents are their whole world; they represent comfort and safety. However, we are increasingly seeing more mothers abandoning their children and taking off for a new life elsewhere. We’ve been used to men doing a runner, but now it is mothers who are leaving not just their partner but their kiddies as well.

I lost my own father when he died. I was eight years old at the time. What I remember most was the fear I felt that I only had one parent left and what would happen to me if my mother died unexpectedly too. I would wake up in the middle of the night sobbing, because I was sure it would happen; sure that I’d wake up one morning alone in an empty house and have to look after myself forever. I visualised what I would do first; would I dial 999 or go to the shops and buy food so I wouldn’t starve? How would I keep the house clean? Would I be able to cook roast chicken on my own?  It never occurred to me to think about other relatives and how they might look after me. My parents had that job and if they went, there would be nobody. As it was, my mother was very empathic and understood my fears. She always told me the truth and explained things in a way that was child-friendly, so eventually I relaxed and was able to get on with my life.

If a parent does not die, which is irreversible, but just leaves with no explanation, kids imagine the worst. They think mum or dad has left because of them. It was something they did, or said. When a mother walks out, even though it is sadly becoming more common these days, kids are often sure it was their fault, because a mother is someone who puts up with a lot. Dad is usually at work all day and they are used to him getting grumpy and laying down the law, but Mums are often softer, accept bad behaviour and give cuddles when the tantrums are over. If mum suddenly disappears and no one says anything about it, kids can become obsessed with the notion that they caused her to leave because they were naughty.

When a partner walks out, it can be devastating on all of the family left behind.  Your pain is exacerbated because you try to keep things going as normal in the face of the children’s agony at losing someone they love so much. It can send you crazy and many abandoned partners find themselves having a breakdown, which again impacts on any children.

Trying to give kids a sense of security and safety after a marriage or partnership has broken down is one of the most challenging things you can do. No matter what you say, you cannot bring that missing person back. I know of a ten-year old who attended her father’s wedding to a new wife, seven years after he divorced her mother. The little girl was a bridesmaid, but at the start of the ceremony she broke down and refused to go into the register office because she said: my daddy is meant to be marrying my mummy, not that other lady…

So feeling abandoned as a child means that the remaining  partner must understand that it will be their child’s greatest fear and it often leaves children with a deep sense of anxiety that the world is a dangerous and unpredictable place. That’s a hard feeling to shake off once it is in their heads. So what can you do to help children cope with separation and divorce?

To make kids live in an atmosphere of secrets and lies can only damage them, sometimes beyond repair. So I would say that being open and honest and telling them the truth is a good start. But the truth has to be sensitively spoken. So I guess it’s all about the remaining parent holding and loving the kids as much as he/she can and although they too will be in pain, explaining the facts as carefully and gently as possible. Euphemisms such as mummy’s gone on a little holiday or daddy’s going away to work, do not work. Children have to know that they will not see that parent every day as they used to. They have to come to terms with enormous change and they have to understand that nothing they can do will stop the situation and make things as they once were.  They have to come to terms with grief and loss at an early age and they need a lot of support to do this.

Grand parents suffer that sense of loss, too. For them, the challenge is not apportioning blame to either parent and to simply be there for everyone, especially the children. Grand-parents can provide a real sense of safety for kids caught up in an unhappy marriage. They can give kids a safe and happy place to relax, where they can forget the traumas and just be beloved grand children.

Remember, children are just that; children. They cannot see things in an adult way. They cannot understand the behaviour of adults and they need, more than anything, to be reassured that they are loved and still wanted by all their family no matter what happens.


Image via Wikipedia

It’s hard to deal with anger. Especially when you can’t express it in a safe way.

The anger I can’t express, the spleen I can’t vent (what the hell does that mean, anyway? – I thought the spleen had something to do with the liver, that big thing that hides in my body, on the right hand side, under the ribs? Anatomy was never my best subject!) is taking its toll. You see, I want to be able to question those parliamentary members who I think have pulled a fast one and it happens every time I read a newspaper.  And because I feel like this, I also feel sad. Sad that there should be so many things wrong with my country at present that our government doesn’t seem able to put right. It’s sad that it should have come to this, because I know that in this country, we do have politicians who are honest and fair and work long, long hours for us.

Something else has made me very angry. Refuge, the charity that helps women who are victims of domestic violence, is, like many charities likely to lose funding. This is the charity that last year took out a test case against Manchester Police Force for the death of an Asian woman at the hands of her husband. Apparently, it is alleged that this woman complained 25 times to the police and still nothing was done. Why? Two women a week are murdered by their husbands or partners. There are 68,000 incidents of domestic violence  a year in Manchester alone. Can we really call ourselves civilized while this is going on? So much anger expressed violently against women and children behind closed doors.

All this makes for gloomy thinking on a rainy day in Devon! There are some healthy outcomes to anger. I was once furious with my neighbours two cats for doing what cats do and bury on my boxes of fledgling vegetables. Carefully picking the stuff off the baby carrots, I hatched a plan. Nothing violent, that’s not my style…yet!   It took a whole day to execute my humane cat diffuser.  The equipment included quite a lot of green garden string, two bean poles, a tambourine, several spoons, a foot pump, a whistle, a generous helping of pepper and a couple of eggs. I will be patenting the method and it’s not available on the BBC website! The making of my contraption certainly diffused my anger and the cats and I are now good friends!

Anger is a strange emotion. It can galvanise us into action for good and it can simmer, unexpressed for years, making us bitter and ill.  Learning to channel it in the right way, is essential, but sometimes so difficult. Teaching anger management should be compulsory in our secondary schools and these days, maybe in our primary schools, too?

Families seem to harbour a lot of anger. One wrong word can divide siblings for years. Parents have a row with a child, who then leaves and only returns to attend a funeral, many years later. I suspect  there are incidents like this in many  families. Anger appears when communication breaks down, so I guess that’s something else we should learn at school – how to communicate effectively?

Forum Theatre, the method created by the late Augusto Boal to look at oppression – and anger is an oppression when it can’t be put to safe and good use – changed the way I think and view life. I wish it could be used in parliament. It was, in Brazil; Augusto’s home country. But I suspect it would be too intense, too emotional, too real for our political representatives. But if it were used, it might save us from a lot of chaos – like the safe and workable cat trap that rescued my baby carrots, while allowing me to make friends with my feline enemies as well as the neighbours!

In the end, a calm and peaceful life is what we all want. But as we have seen in Syria today, it took a lot of anger to get rid of Gaddafi and free the country from his despotic rule. If only it might have been achieved with love, not anger.


Friendship love and truth
Image via Wikipedia

When is a friend not a friend? Liam Fox and his mate Adam Werritty must have had some difficulty in defining the concept of friendship. In retrospect, was it a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours relationship? Did they send each other birthday cards and gossip over their beer? Did they do football matches together and moan about the wife? Did they care about each other? Mr. Werrity seemed interested in gaining insight into the workings of government. Why else would he have trotted behind his friend like an enthusiastic shadow? And now, an inquiry is under way to discover if his persistent lurking compromised national security and led to his mate resigning and being accused of breaking the ministerial code. And as usual, it looks as if money was at the heart of the issue. There have now been allegations that these jolly trips Werritty took with his mate were funded by people with a special interest in our defence policies. Some friendship.

Could it be that the expectations we have of our friends depend on how we view ourselves? If we think it’s okay to lie and cheat; if we see no harm in it, is it likely that we will choose friends who also lie and cheat? Or do we just make excuses for our friends because most of us are so desperate to fit in and be liked?

Teaching children moral independence and integrity from an early age, could help them distinguish good friends from bad. And there are bad friends out there. They are the ones who betray you, who lack loyalty and consideration, who lie in order to protect themselves and leave you to deal with the consequences. Good friends stick with you, never compromise you and show their friendship by never putting you in a position where you don’t know what is going on. Good friends explain themselves! A good friend is there when times are tough. A bad friend lands you in it and walks away, feeling unscathed.

To my mind, friendship is a kind of love. When you love someone, you care for them. When you are friends with someone – I don’t mean just being an acquaintance – you care about them. Their welfare is important to you and you express that by being there for them, no matter what. True friendship is not limited to polite niceties. Real friendship takes work and commitment. There is no expected payback in a true friendship. The happiest couples say they are friends first. If you start by liking your partner enough to develop a long-term friendship, love is likely to be the outcome. Friendship gives you responsibilities you want to have. To support a friend when they need you, can be life changing. It changes your life because you see yourself in a new way; you see what you are capable of. The converse is also true. If you betray a friend, you may not immediately see the damage done to yourself or to your friend, but in the end, you will be as affected by your bad behaviour as your friend was. There is a lot of negative energy around friendship betrayal.

So what is true friendship? It is unconditional. There is mutual respect. You feel emotionally safe; you feel comfortable. You know there is trust between you. In an emotional crisis, a true friend will be there and you will be able to ask them to rescue you when you hit rock bottom and they will never shrug or look scared or show diffidence. True friendship lets you speak without having to measure your words or control your emotions. Man or woman, we should all be able to have a good cry with a true friend and know they will be okay about it. They will listen and understand.

For me, calling someone a friend means you look out for them.   Mr Fox and Mr Werritty take note.









English: Mortgage debt
English: Mortgage debt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the eighties people were encouraged to buy their council houses. They were helped by taking out loans that many could not afford, so when they defaulted and ended up homeless, the Council had  one less house to rent out and one more homeless family. The house was owned by the bank or building society.

This has been a long term monitory strategy and we have all been conned into thinking that by buying council houses we will be progressing up the ladder. The ladder to where? Boom and bust.  I do not understand all the ins and outs of how money is supposed to work within a country, but I can see that some disastrous mistakes have been made and the banks appear to be unwilling to shoulder any responsibility.

Houses have for too long been the holy grail for too many people. We have encouraged young people into debt. Get a mortgage! Get your foot on the ladder! The ladder to where?

The word mortgage has an interesting meaning. ( ‘The Grip of Death’ is the literal translation of ‘mortgage’, when the owner of a house pledges his or her house to another with a handshake…until death. Quote from the book The Grip of Death – A study of modern money, debt slavery and destructive economics by Michael Rowbotham. Published by Jon Carpenter.

In the last three decades or so, we have been encouraged to borrow money way beyond our means. It became a culture, a way of life. This standard of borrowing was set, not by the ordinary people of the world, but by the banks and successive governments. The subconscious message was that it is okay to borrow. Having six credit cards, spending up to the max, obtaining a huge mortgage, all were considered to have a certain cache. We forgot what having debt really meant. We forgot to think about the future.

And then our kids started to accept the fact that if they wanted to go to university, they would acquire huge debts that would be with them for life. They didn’t think. Why? because the education system had not taught them to think. It taught them to pass exams. The lucky ones, with rich parents had no need to think. Money did it for them. But for the rest…. A lifetime of debt from the age of 18? Ah, you say, they get degrees and then they get well paid jobs so they won’t ‘feel’ the debt…  Jobs?

This disassociation with the truth, this cutting off from reality has permeated down and seeped into us like a disease. We are all guilty of believing the lies. Everyday, TV ads blast out artificial hope. We hope to win the lottery, we hope to get compensation for an injury at work, we hope that bad food is good for us – it must be, because the ads say it is.

So as a nation, as a world, have we lost the capacity to think? To be discerning? To have good judgement? Why do we accept information thrown at us that is quite patently untrue? It is just a simple case of we can’t be assed to object? We are worn down; too tired to make a fuss? After all, aren’t our politicians, out county councillors, the people with all the letters after their name, the people up there in positions of power – isn’t their job to protect us and make everything alright?

We have allowed ourselves to become a nation of sheep. We have allowed ourselves to be co-opted onto that roller-coaster of commercialism and we have been told and are still being told that if we do not buy, buy, buy the sky will fall in…  So as the ball starts to roll again, we the hapless and unthinking citizens run up debts, yet again? After all, to spend is to save – save our country from going under, so they tell us…  And there will be CUTS. Have to be, for a bit until they get that ball going again, and believe me, they will. That’s the way it works, because no-on has come up with a better way.

There has to be something better. Scientists have just started to rethink their ideas about the origin of the universe. Isn’t it time we realised that the money universe is out of kilter? We need to open up a fresh way of  of understanding what money actually is and how it works and doesn’t work. Why should we put up with not knowing any more? The power of money must be challenged. We need to think much more responsibly and clearly about economics and the important word here is THINK!


Meeting nieuwe leden
Image by Voka - Kamer van Koophandel Limburg via Flickr

Meetings! The Brits love ’em. Give a committee a table and some papers and they will push them around forever. Tea and coffee must be provided of course, and in the most serious of meetings, there is usually herbal infusions to soothe and prevent bloody murder.

Meetings are a microcosm of our class system and no matter how many times some hapless politician bleats on about the wonders of our egalitarian democracy, we all know it exists. If you step out of the class line in a meeting, ten to one, someone will flounce out and an excruciating silence will follow until that most exulted of people, the Chair, grabs the reins and you are all guided back to hypocrisy.  No mention is made of the ‘incident’ until the coffee break. Then you will hear phrases like: ‘What the f*** was his/her problem?’ and ‘He/she always has too much to say for his/herself!’

Meetings in rural communities have a unique orchestration. In a city or corporate environment, time and the agenda rules. In a village meeting, agendas are there to doodle on, while someone drones on and on, never quite getting to the point. Village meetings are guaranteed to mess with your head. First of all, it is imperative that everyone appears to like everyone else. Even if you hate the person sitting next to you with a passion, you must never let anyone know. Smiles are mandatory, as are conciliatory phrases such as: ‘Really? How interesting…’  Of course, there is always the bad apple in the bunch who says exactly what they think without any editing and what mayhem that can cause.

That sort of chaos usually occurs when the main body of the committee are over sixty. Old age ain’t no place for sissies and words-will-not-be- minced.  There is a sense that these people have little time left for niceties and will thoroughly enjoy any combat. After all, there are always one or two who have: ‘ been through the blitz, you know!’ Anyone stupid enough to mount a challenge will pay for it. 

Intellectuals at meetings are always a lot of value. They know and you don’t. Strings of letters after your name give a cache that is hard to beat. Being a member of the aristocracy is another show-stopper. But having letters after and a title before your name, gives you shot-guns, while everyone else is equipped with pea-shooters. The only people who can win here, are very pretty, young women. It doesn’t seem to matter if their heads are full of recycled rubbish or nuclear fuel, the mere fact that they are at a meeting at all, changes the dynamic if the intellectuals are there: ‘It’s so nice to have some young blood attending, don’t you think? Welcome, welcome… Now, what are your views on the new by-pass, the dog-poo bin, the church warden, the fete…?’ Of course, in villages, brave young things are too busy driving to the nearest city to get a life than hang around in drafty village halls to help with decision-making.

Of course, apart from the class thing, there is also the competition game. There will always be someone who says very little but has the ‘look’. That look speaks a thousand words. You can tell the ‘look’ has the ‘knowledge’ that everyone else wants but will not get. Silence, lowered eyes, simpering and fawning are all strategies used when someone knows more than everybody else. They may know that the parish council has already passed the planning for a new chicken farm next to their neighbour, but they’re not saying. They keep the game going. It’s thrilling. It gives them a real buzz, without imbibing any substance that might do harm, except perhaps the invisible barbs that others on the committee will fire at their heart when the they find out.

One very powerful position is Minute Taker. If you are roped into this, rejoice. Taking minutes may seem terrifying at first, but fear not. You can write down anything you like. As long as you flatter people by mentioning them by name, throw in a spattering of dates and times, refer to ‘The Chair’ often and thank several people randomly throughout, you will be a success. No one questions the minute taker.

Meetings make our world go round. They give you something to do on a Wednesday night when EastEnders isn’t on the telly. They let you go home and moan to yourself or your partner that: ‘No one gives a b***** toss!’  Meetings keep you busy. They keep you nosy. They make life infinitely more interesting than it would be if The Squire made all the decisions. They wouldn’t happen if we became a fascist state. Love them!

And finally, the stocks may still be standing on the village green, but these days, you need a committee meeting to decide who’s head goes inside…





Letter out of grandma's photo box
Image by Romtomtom via Flickr

What is kindness? Maybe that sounds like a strange question? But defining what it means to be kind these days is quite hard work.

The preoccupation with commercial pleasures, the acquisition of possessions, the focus on money; all these have made simple acts of kindness less common than they used to be. There always seems to be a hidden agenda when someone is ‘kind’. It’s been a ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ society for a long time and successive governments have fostered that attitude.

Okay, you can’t blame the government for everything, I know. But to my mind, there is a large gap between the desire to be top dog in the world money stakes and the fostering of real communities where being kind and thoughtful to others is written into the constitution! That sounds horribly sentimental, but you know what I mean…

Cameron has touched on all this in the Big Society idea. But he hasn’t gone far enough and the idea has become ridiculed and criticised as a way of getting something for nothing, which has been the hidden agenda in this country for many a year. Eventually, our young people followed that agenda in reality – they rioted and looted; they lived up to the sub-text of ‘get something for nothing’.

Is kindness as a concept understood any more? Yes, I think it is.  But in action, it is far less obvious. In America there is now a website for an organisation called Random Acts of Kindness  It seems we need reminding what it means to be kind. We have to have kindness illustrated to us.  This is just another way that we have lost a handle on what is important in life.

Communication today often engenders a lack of responsibility. If you do not have to look someone in the eye, read their body language or see that they are distressed, you cannot get the whole picture. None of that is clear on a social networking site or in an email. Old-fashioned letters gave you some idea of the mood of the person writing – you can sense a lot from handwriting.

The whole communication thing is becoming homogenized, sanitized. It’s all about image and what you want to project through that image. And lies are easy. You can tweet away to your heart’s content as someone else. You can sign up to Twitter as the Queen of Narnia and express spiteful views about anyone you like. No one need never know who you actually are.

This online fakery, as someone called it, is disturbing. It’s not going to get any better, either. The technology to stop it is not easy to use.  It is becoming more and more difficult to tell the difference between truth and lies on the net. In the same way an understanding of moral codes and of kindness has, it seems to me, also become distorted. We are frightened to ‘interfere’. We might get hurt if we get involved. We might come across as patronising… (but to be patronising is about self-importance and certainly has nothing to do with being kind to anyone.)

The novelist E. M. Forster said:  ‘Only connect…’  By that one simple action, kindness becomes real.