Friday, 27 June 2014

'Becoming Who You Wish To Be Known As'

I am into Week 8 of the Edx Course, "Becoming A Resilient Person:The Science of Stress Management" presented by Prof Clayton Cook of the University of Washington.  It's the last week and it's been fantastic. 

The quote above, from week 2 only hit home this morning as I went through the course summing- up. 

"Becoming who you wish to be known as." This is not a new theme for this blog. I am very interested in knowing who I wish to be known as, and am aware of undergoing many metamorphoses in my long and eventful life. 

I view the creation I am with a degree of suspicion. Some days I have it made, and walk on rainbows, other times, I want to hide beneath the duvet and cry like a baby. I see that both incarnations, and a realm of others, are All authentically me, with an orchestrating Self that may, or may not be 'me too' working to hold it all rogether. 

The Science of Stress Management explains and explores the bio-chemistry of Me, the evolutionary drivers that kept my ancestors safe enough to produce me, but don't always serve me well today. It's very enlightening, and the knowing has put me in a place of choosing. So let me pat the lizard in me on the head and soothe her with some TLC, then remember that I AM the ape at the top of the tree, and I have the capacity to say no to rage.  

"Observe the situation with a kind and gentle attitude." 

I really like that this comes from a science professor and not a priest, though it pretty well sums up the Beatitudes, the core of Jesus' teaching. Here's the thing:

Do good
Be kind
Show compassion
Give of your time and resources to help others
Cultivate a habit of gratitude 

Because these things promote your own well-being: boosting your immune sytem, making you feel happier, reducing  the risk, of cardio-vascular disease and lengthening your life. Wow! 

So here's the thing. Who do I wish to be known as? I've already told you. The woman who walks on rainbows some days, and cries under the duvet on others, and is totally at peace with both. God summed it up totally: I am that I am. I would add, and I am glad that I am!

Lucky woman eh? 


Monday, 23 June 2014

You Have All That You Need

My friend Alex is tall, thin and very religious ... in the best possible way - by which I mean the, 'God Loves You' way. The other way, 'God Loves You If You're Good' way, doesn't hold any attraction for me, because if it's true, then, frankly, I'm stuffed. 

So, Alex. He's been to Bible College, and has returned from Canada, where he went to Bible College, looking for God to tell him what to do. 

Now I have a problem with this. To me, God has a true Name, which Is, 'I Am'. We don't use it much, because it's a bit hard to make sense of, which is how it's meant to be, I think. I Am has some pretty peculiar characteristics in my book. If you wait for him to tell you what to do, or not to do, you could be hanging about for ever. This isn't written down anywhere, you'll find, except here, of course, which probably doesn't count. I'm just giving you the benefit of my sixty years in the faith's worth of experience. 

See, I Am too, and I don't hang about waiting to be told, I just say, 'You know, I Am going to do THIS."... And I do, and usually it works out just fine. I Am smiling at some of the less conventional things I've done, and might be tempted to shake my head and wonder ... But no, it was all good. :) 

Jesus led the way. This makes sense because that was the name, 'The Way', he gave himself, and the name taken up by early adopters to Christianity. He said, "I do what I see my father doing." That's the trick to this Divine Guidance lark, look about you, if you're so inclined, and do what you see The Father doing. How you feel about it will be your guide. It will feel:


It will bring you:


There ought to be more, I think, I shall definitely return to this.

So when Alex falls to his knees in the prayer time begore going out on the streets, I listen for what I Am is doing. He's telling Alex, "You have all that you need." I go over and whisper it to him, in case he's too busy pleading, to be listening, and I see his face  light up. 

"You have all that you need, because the  indwelling one, I AM, has put it there." 

God and I have both learned to do this: stand back and let people find out what's in them for themselves. So much easier than trying to give advice. Which, as you know, I NEVER do. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

I wrote down as one of my goals today, to write on the Pursuit of Happiness, and as I'm at the stage in goal-setting where the goals are pursued whether they make me happy or not - i.e. Day One - I'd better get started.

Naturally, I have nothing original to say, but as this is no hindrance to any other of the blogs around, I'm not going to let THAT get me down. 

(Two paragraphs ... Well, it's a start.)

This all stems of course from my Resilience Training, which is now in Week 6. We are doing TLC's which in the context of my RT means, Therapuetic Lifestyle Choices. Groan. I eat too much, I don't get enough sleep, exercise is horrid, and I spend too much time doing untherapuetic things like ... Sitting on my big fat sofa watching highly unsuitable television. I do have some fun too, but it does rather feel as though I shouldn't ... 

"Seriously, Mary," I nag, (And you know me, I NEVER nag.) "You have to make some changes if you want to live to be 106 in order to get every last penny back that you invested in The Prudential." 

The above is a long story, and I strongly suspect only I find it interesting, so moving on... . 

There's an App for it, says Clay Cook, the prof delivering this course, so I went to look, and there IS. I have been tinkering with it all day, and I am now checking on every one  of my goings-on in order to decide whether or not I derive any benefit from them. It might sound very selfish to ask of the World, "Are you making me happy?" But as happiness is derived as much by giving as getting, or more so, it can work out to everyone's benefit. Besides, if I'm pissed, everybody gets it. Not good. 

Actually, apart from a slight 'not being in the moment, moment' when I thought something unpleasant about a woman who drove discourteously in my direction, and advising her to be more considerate in future, I haven't done too badly today. 

Nothing dramatic. No adrenaline rushes or mighty acts of mercy, just this:

Took clothes to a charity shop
Made a conscious act of forgiveness 
Cleared out some junk 
Bought a Big Issue
Ate a fruit salad instead of a bar of chocolate
Did my exercises the physio gave me for my back
Weighed in on Wii Fit
Spent some time in silence  after doing the church flowers
Offered to help a friend out on Sunday
Played with my granddaughters
Had a glass of wine with my lunch
And finally...
Sat in the garden with the flowers, trees and birds and 

Not a single moment of unhappiness. 


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Conversation in a Victorian Tea Room

On 8 August 2012 20:11, Mary Francis <> wrote:

Silvana (73) said she'd never laughed so much since she was at school, and it was Agnes' (75) fault. We three agreed afterwards that it was just as well Margareta, (82) is deaf. If there's ever a conversation you would have wanted to be a fly on the wall for, this was it!

We were at a Victorian Tea Room, and we're delicately drinking tea and forking our way through scones with cream and jam, having an unexpectedly good time.

Agnes is very smart both in dress and appearance, slim petite and blonde, with hilarious tales of her life in the travelling community. Most of them involving Agnes bossing her enormous and devoted husband about, keeping him on his toes by proving time and again that whatever he does to please her, he can't get it right.

It's how she tells them.

During a lull in the conversation I casually mentioned the controversy over Fifty Shades Of Grey. Without batting an eyelid, Agnes tells us she's reading it at the moment. I really hadn't expected this, we are, after all, Catholic Matrons in a Tea Shoppe!

'I'll tell you one thing, 'she said,' It's really badly written. I shan't be reading the other two!'

'What's she talking about?' asks Margareta, so I have to relay a slightly modified but still unmistakably risqué conversation about which parts of a man's body we find most attractive and generally hooting over the assumptions behind this question. Sylvana thought male bums too hairy to be attractive, but that a deep voice really turns her on. She's French, and was free with gestures and facial expressions, such as made my attempt to tone down her remarks for Margareta, redundant.

I would blush to repeat what wiles Sylvana and Agnes employ to cool the ardour of their respective mates: these are the tactics of black belt, medal- winning, wives that have both served terms of well over fifty years. I think it safe to say that Agnes occasionally employs a wincyette nightdress.

I don't expect you know what a wincyette  nightdress is! Hint: It doesn't plunge.

A film crew were filming the occasion for, 'Food Glorious Food' a prog that wias screened early last year. They took footage of me pouring tea, but they were, thankfully, elsewhere in the room for our confessions.

Fr Aidan was seated right behind Agnes, but she didn't care. 'Oh he knows what a wicked soul I have!' she laughed.

'Agnes,' I said, You have an innocent heart! A dirty mind... But an innocent heart... .

Friday, 6 June 2014

Miss Chew

I am a little taller than the gate - eight or nine years old maybe - and I stare wide-eyed and tingling with the excitement of a child who knows she is secure, and is savouring the fear.

The innocent object of my fascination is an old, old woman. I can not guess at her age, I don't have the experience. As old as God, I think. She lives alone in a ground-floor maisonette behind the patch of green at the closed end of  of our cul de sac. She stares out of her window as we, noisy, scruffy kids,triumphant  in our youth, play Tag, and British Bulldog, as fast as our feet will carry us. As night closes in , shielded by the dark, before we're called in, we play cherry-knocking. Banging loudly on our neighbours doors, then running away shrieking with laughter. What nuisances we were! How little we cared. 

We do not deliberately target Miss Chew, we  shun her, her age alienates her from us, her shuffling form draped from head to foot in black, sets her apart. She glimpses us through eyes puckered by age in a face creased and twisted by a hard, relentless life. We flinch from her. 

This is the day I learned to feel ashamed. My brother Adrian and I had the good fortune to be given sweets. Four ounces of Cadbury's chocolate eclairs, expensive at 10d a quarter, smooth and delectable. A toffee overcoat, that can be sucked gently away or bitten straight through to the soft chocolate interior. In no time, we'd scoffed the lot. A regal sweet, a rare treat. 

Left with a white paper bag and a handful of purple cellophane wrappers, we hit on a plan which we thought would afford us a half-hour's entertainment. We were living without consequences in a world that had been kind to us: we didn't know how to weigh our prank against the feelings of another. We were to learn.We wrapped   the shiny cellophane around lumps of mud, and left the 'sweets' enticingly abandoned on the pavement. 

We hid behind the privet hedge at Number 14 and waited.

More than fifty years later, I blush with shame as I relive the moment when the bent old woman leaning heavily on her sticks, made the painful descent to pick up those bloody sweets. I can see the pleasure light up her button eyes and the smile  lift her caved- in mouth as she struggled to gain her prize.

I couldn't laugh. I could find no pleasure in this frail old woman's humiliation. My brother and I slunk away, no word passed between us, then or since. 

We didn't fully understand the awfulness of what we had done, but we knew that never, ever, would we do such  a thing again.


Tuesday, 3 June 2014


My landlady died in January. This came as a huge surprise, not least to her, because everyone, including she, thought her indestructible. Mrs Jane Brooks. I knew her not-so-well, because she didn't let casual people like me get very close, but she was a jolly good sort. There are not many people it would be at all appropriate to label so these days, but Jane was one of them. I feel slightly guilty, calling her , 'Jane' because she never allowed it, and I was always, firmly, politely, MRS FRANCIS. In capitals, like Terry Pratchett's Death character, because Jane was no shrinking violet.

I called her after her first operation for a brain tumour last Spring. 'I'M STILL HERE, DEAR!' She trumpeted, and I was glad. 

Do you know ANYONE who watches 'Ready Steady Cook!' and then makes the  dishes? Mrs Brooks did. She was, as it happens, a jolly good cook, along with being a jolly good sort. Once upon a time Mrs B was a midwife and District Nurse in the less salubrious suburbs of Gloucester. "I COULD TELL YOU A FEW THINGS DEAR! Give her her due, she never did. What happened in the birthing room, stayed in the birthing room. 

She was very old-fashioned, and I loved her for it. After her husband died, she came to play in Assembly (Collective Worship you have to call it now. Funny, the less like worship it became, the more you had to say it.). All my kids would be able to belt out the old hymns at weddings and funerals, thanks to Mrs Brooks. And many other beautiful works besides. 

In an act of utter vendetta, she was sacked as Music Director at her beloved Parish Church, in Ledbury, where she led one of the few real Choirs (besides the cathedral of course)  left in the county. I knew it, but never spoke of it. Mrs Brooks would not have wanted me too, she carried her emotions very close to her chest. 

Church people can be very cruel. 

It would never have been appropriate to tell Jane how fond I was of her, and how I admired her courage, especially as death approached. I'm doing it now for no other reason than that it's true. 

I wasn't going to write about Mrs B, but she came to mind because there are men in, replacing the windows, and the cottage echoes to hammering, sawing and -worse - the builders' radio. Mike and Brian, are good guys, hard-working and conscientious. Mrs Brooks would never be doing with new windows. She held her pennies in like-vein to her emotions, though she wasn't mean. We pay way under market-rate for our home even now.

That's going to change, and  I'm not complaining. There's a lot of work needs doing to weather-proof the house, and it'll have to be paid for. But it did start us thinking we ought to be looking around in case the lovely Mr Brooks (Jane's step-son) decides that at 75, he's too old for landlording. 

What a shock! Pokey little hen-houses 'For Seniors' (I'm NOT a bloody 'Senior'! Call me a Senior and you'll regret it!) which would make cat-swinging laughable, ARE available if you want to pay £550 pcm for them. Computer designed too - which means you can have French Windows that give you three feet of vista before a 10 ft high brick wall! No wonder they don't sell. 

Don't worry about me, I'll manage, and well, but, I was thinking, as I looked at pages of over-priced apartments, how do people on low incomes, or worse, none, ever get housed? There's the high rent for starters, rising ahead of wages, for sure, then the month-and-half deposit, PLUs estate agents' fees, and then the fee to have you 'checked' ... What a bloody cheek! £75 for accessing information about ME that I never agreed anyone could hold in the first place! More on this later, I feel. 

'NO DSS' appeared on every single letting advertisement. Which means the unemployed, no matter what their circumstances, needn't bother to apply. A whole swathe of society indiscriminately discriminated against... . 

I wonder why this is even legal. I do not wish to be the tenant of anyone so mean-spirited. But. I doubt I'll have any choice. 

Good old Mrs B. You didn't ask for references, and didn't do a credit check, and I'm certain we'll get our deposit back when we have to leave. We thought you'd live for ever, Jane, and we sure wish you had!