Sunday, April 26, 2015

How a women's-group-hater came to lead a women's group

The New Scientist recently published an article on research that has been done on witnesses of the meteor crash in Russia a few years ago. It seems that all the effects reported exactly match those experienced by Saul (soon to be Paul) on the road to Damascus. Except possibly the being spoken to by God bit. Or if it did include that no-one mentioned it. (They were in Russia after all.)

Whatever you make of that the fact is that the phrase 'a road to Damascus experience' is still used today to describe a life-changing moment of enlightenment.

Throughout the bible God spoke to man, even appeared in various forms, and lives were changed. In the centuries since Christ people have still had these moments where they claim to hear God speaking to them. These are people who have sometimes brought major change about in the world or in their communities or countries. Even today God still speaks very clearly to some people, not necessarily world-changers but life-changing words.

But not to me.

I've never had that sort of experience of God, the sort where I can hear him as clearly as if he's standing next to me, clarifying what decision I should make or affirming my place in him. I've spoken to loads of people who have had that experience and I have no cause to doubt their sincerity; indeed I have envied them.

Yet I am pretty sure that if God did speak to me or do something miraculous in my presence - something major like restoring sight to a blind man for instance - it wouldn't take me long to rationalise it and to explain it and I wouldn't be alone in that: the disciples spent three years with Jesus, watching him raise the dead, healing lepers and countless other miracles, yet time and again they still doubted, were confused, uncertain.

Sometimes I think what I have - which is just faith - is better as I'm less likely to trip up or be tripped up by my emotions. My faith doesn't depend on how I feel. It's just there.

On the other hand, as I say, I do get envious and wish God would be more visible in my life. Yet when I look back, I see evidence of God's presence everywhere. I'm a drifter by nature; the sort that life happens to rather than the sort that makes life happen. So things come along and what do you know? It turns out to be at just the right time.

But I can't help thinking God has a slightly warped sense of humour.

Throughout my life I've avoided women's groups. When women's weekends were organised in Linden I'd back away sharply. 'No thanks, not for me.' Now I find myself leading one in Zac's. And that's another thing: a leader? Me?

Shy little Liz who wouldn't say shoo to a cross pigeon and who hates women's groups is leading a women's group in Zac's. That's not me. Not my doing. Yet I love it. And the women.

A road to Damascus revelation? Maybe not. God at work? Almost certainly.

I blame it all on Plato

Husband has recently decided to educate himself. He's long had an interest in the idea of philosophy so borrowed some library books on the subject.

The first one was returned to the library quite quickly - before he could throw it down the toilet in frustration. (The smallest room is his philosophy reading place of choice.) The second one is faring better although after each chapter he declares it to be a load of b*****ks.

He's explained me to in some detail precisely why he is coming to these conclusions and i have to admit to sympathising. I mean when the so-called realist school actually comprises the crackpots and what if we're not really here but are only think we are when really we're controlled by a giant computer? (Although in that instance I have to confess to being ahead of the thinkers in that many years ago I wondered if I were really in an asylum and if anything were real.)

Anyway, today's topic relates to mirrors. Apparently for centuries philosophers have wonders why a mirror's reflection is flipped right to left but not top to bottom.
'Well, it's not,' says I.
'No, I know it's not,' Husband says, 'so why is it flipped left to right?'
'No, I mean it's not flipped left to right.'
Husband stares at me for a moment. I continue. 'If I look in the mirror I know my right side is over there.' I point diagonally across my body.
'No, it's not.'
'Yes, it is.'

Then I had a little think. 'Although, if I'm looking in a mirror and I lift my right hand, it's the hand that is directly in front of me in the mirror that is lifted. Well, blow me down. I never realised that.'

Husband shook his head. Then again it's probably not I didn't realise it; I've just never thought about it. For 62 years. 

And it's freaked me out. I'll never be able to look at myself in the mirror again without thinking about Plato.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Update on novel 4

Wednesday and I receive an email from the agent. My submission has been received and they will be in touch in due course.

Ah well, at least it's not a rejection. Yet.

Tow days, two lovely walks along Pennard cliffs, today with Daughter and GrandSon2. Due date is rapidly approaching so I was pleased to see they had put a helicopter on stand-by.

And I came home to find a package for me from Katney in America. A beautiful hand-made quilt for the newest addition.

Thank you so very much - again - Katney!

Monday, April 20, 2015

'One hell of a girl'

Today I emailed the agent to whom I'd sent an extract of novel 4. It's been eight weeks and it says on the website if you haven't heard after six to contact them. So my email is legitimate ... it's just that, in my experience, a query/reminder always ends in rejection.

Still at least then I'd be able to send it to another agent. So look on the bright side.

* * * * * * * * *
Gorgeous weather today so Daughter and I took a meander around the Botanic Gardens at Singleton. With their large tulip display they were a delightful mass of colour in the sunshine.

Daughter pointed out a memorial bench.
Wouldn't it be great to be remembered as that?

With Baby 3 (Grandchild5) expected next Saturday Daughter is trying to keep active to speed things along. In my experience though babies come when they want to, not on demand. 

What not to say in prison

Wandering over the tip yesterday I was reminded of a talk I gave in prison one Sunday morning. 

When we first walked over the tip about 25 years ago it hadn't long closed and it wasn't the most attractive of places with rubbish still visible through the top soil. In fact the very first time when we returned home our dog then kept licking her paws as if they were stinging so we didn't go there again for a long time. Now nature has done a fantastic reclamation job and it's a lovely place to walk.

So, anyway, I'd noticed the variety of grasses that grew there and one day, just for fun, picked a sample of all the different ones in an area of about 1 square metre (which leads me, incidentally, onto another topic but I'll leave that for now), I used this great variety as the base for my prison talk on the uniqueness of every individual (and the love God has for each of us etc). I actually got up early on the Sunday and went out and collected a sample of grasses to take into prison with me.

When the service had ended and the men left to return to their cells the chaplain put his hand on his head and shook it despairingly. 'I can't believe you talked about grass in prison,' he said. I thought it had gone down okay but obviously he had other ideas.

'It reminds me of the young man you brought in once to speak,' he went on. 'He was talking about St Paul and how he held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen. Do you remember?'
I shook my head penitently although I'd heard the story several times before.
'He asked the men if they'd like to get stoned.'

On the plus side, the chaplain hadn't been there the day I'd talked about pencils. Which would have been all right if I hadn't then spoken about having rubbers on the ends. I don't think I said anything about having lead in your pencil although peace of mind means I've had to delete some things from my memory.

Friday, April 17, 2015

In which Husband and I argue over another woman

I'd be the first to admit that my navigation skills leave something to be desired; on the other hand you can be sure with me navigating that we'll always take the 'scenic' route. It's not that I can't follow a map - I can as long as it's the same way up as the road - but rather that I am easily distracted. 'Ooh, look at those little lambs! No wait, you should have turned left back there.'

As long as we're not in a hurry to get somewhere my navigation is adequate for most occasions but now that Mini II has come with built-in sat nav we feel obliged to use it. I used it when I went to Barry the other day. Well, I say I used it; most of the time I was just following the rest of the traffic on the principle that they were probably going the same way as me.

But today, as we were planing a trip to the Lliw reservoirs Husband decided we should fill in the details and let the sat nav guide us.
'I know the way,' I said.
'Where is it?'

So Husband carefully instructed the sat nav to take us to Felindre and it would have done except it was the wrong Felindre.
'Turn left at the junction,' she said.
'No,' I said, 'that's not right. We want to go straight ahead.'
'How do you know?'
'Because I know where we're going.'
'Are you sure?'

After some arguing he took my advice and went straight ahead causing Ms Sat Nav to get her knickers in a twist. 'Turn left at the next junction! Do a u-turn as soon as possible!'

We'd worked out now that she was trying to take us to Felindre west Wales as opposed to Felindre Swansea valley, but try as I might I couldn't get her to recognise our destination.
'Do you know the GPS points?' Husband asked.
I looked at him. 'Seriously? You actually think I might know that?'
'Well, do something. She's just going to keep telling us to turn around. Turn it off.'

Some time later
'There, I've done it.'
'How did you do it?'
'I don't know.'
'You just turned it off; you must know.'
'I just kept pressing buttons until it happened.'
'Which buttons?'

Even later
'Are you sure you know the way?' Husband asked.
'Do we go right at this junction coming up?'
'No, straight ahead.'
'Are you sure?'
Just as we're about to pass the turning I spot the sign to the reservoirs. 'NO! I mean turn right here.'

Don't know what all the fuss was about. We got there. Thanks to me not Ms Sat Nav.

Anyway there are two reservoirs that were built in the nineteenth century to serve Swansea. We took the slightly longer 5 mile option of walking as far as the upper reservoir. As we got higher the sides of the valley were clothed in beautiful coconut-scented gorse.

Upper Lliw reservoir

Obligatory selfie
On our return to the car park we treated ourselves to cake and tea/coffee. My scone was a bit hard and crumbly as was my clotted cream. At first I thought it had been frozen and hadn't properly thawed. By the time I'd eaten half a scone I'd decided the cream was just about turning. Very disappointing so I had to have an ice cream as well. (Yes, okay, I'd already planned to have an ice cream as well anyway.) My Sidoli's raspberry swirl made up for the cake.

Instead of driving home straight away I asked Husband to make a small detour into the village of Felindre itself. Many years ago, before children, I worked at DVLC - and met Husband there - and on Fridays it was traditional for a group of us to go to The Shepherd's Pub and play darts. 

In those days the pub was a tiny village inn, dark and smoky with a little old lady behind the bar. I'm tempted to say she poured beer out of a jug but I think that might be a fiction of creative memory. One of the darts regular was a blind man. When I tell you that he could beat me you'll get an idea of my arrow-throwing ability. Given the chance his dog would probably have beaten me too.

The pub has been greatly extended and not in an attractive way. I was tempted to go in and visit the dart-board for old times' sake but, as I said to Husband as we drove away, 'You shouldn't go back.'
The original pub was just the bit at the back. The front porch and large side extension didn't exist in my day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Didn't we have a lovely time the day we went to Barry ...


My cousin Rhian lives in a gorgeous spot, close to Cardiff, looking across the Bristol Channel. As I had been sceptical about the delights of dog walking in Barry Island she invited me to go and see for myself, and I finally did that this week on what turned out to be a lovely sunny day.

When I was growing up Barry Island was THE day trip location for the mining families of the south Wales valleys and was home to a famous fun fair and, for some time, a Butlins holiday camp. 
Latterly it's regained fame as Stacey's home town in the sitcom Gavin and Stacey.

The town itself is a bit run-down and a large area including the site of today's funfair is scheduled for redevelopment, but the beach and headland paths retain their charm. The main beach gets very crowded in the height of summer but a short walk around the headlands on either side take you to much quieter bays.

Jackson Beach

The main beach at Barry Island

Nessa's slots
And a day trip to Barry Island wouldn't be complete without fish and chips! (Sadly eaten before I remembered to take a photo.)

Hello and goodbye and the bits in between

It was hello new phone
and goodbye Mini.
Mini's potential buyers were late arriving and as Husband had just popped out when they turned up it was left to me to demonstrate my advanced selling techniques.
'Well, she has these lovely doors at the back, oh, and a secret door here! And she's just lovely and I don't really want to sell her.'

Some may say amazingly, but unsurprisingly to me, they decided to buy her. (Okay, Husband turned up and did all the proper information stuff too.) Although I liked them and was happy Mini was going to a good home I was still sad to see her go. Even though Mini II has digital radio.

Speaking of digital radio, Radio 4 Extra has changed its teatime schedule and has upset me. Really why can't people leave a good thing alone? Husband says I should write to the BBC but I'm still waiting for a reply from Swansea council to my letter suggesting they build a fairy door in an old tree trunk in Singleton Park.
Husband said they could make tiny furniture to fit inside too but I thought that was just being silly.

Meanwhile I'm getting to grips with my new phone. I am trying very hard to remember to take it everywhere with me as Daughter's due date is very close and she will tell me off if I go out without it. I'm even taking it to bed with me and I am amazed by the variety of its beeps, tweets and tinkles. 
That go on all night. 
The reason for my disturbed nights.
The length of the list of Do Nots for my new phone is quite scary until you realise it includes things like Do Not bite or suck your device. It probably says Do Not drop down toilet too but I gave up reading before I got to that.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

George thought all his Easters had come at once ...

when he discovered chocolate eggs hidden in the bushes in Clyne Park.

We had walked on ahead and were oblivious until we heard some crazed shouting and a woman running towards him. There've been some instances of poison left down in the park so I thought at first that she was concerned or maybe she'd had a dog who'd taken ill after eating at that spot so I hurried back to grab George.

It turned out, of course, that he'd eaten at least one egg.

The nice woman was less worried about the loss of an egg and more worried that eating the foil would make him sick. I reassured her: he's eaten much worse than that.

It'll all come out in the poop.

And then, when we got home, after working in the garden Husband removed his shoes and socks making George happy again. there's nothing he likes better than a smelly foot to lick. (Actually there are probably lots of things he likes better but it is one of his favourite activities given the chance.)

And you can't see very well in this photo but the fish were fascinated by George's tongue. they swarmed around, circling frantically as he licked. Husband has only recently put the fish in the top pond so they've not experienced it before. I was convinced George would accidentally lap one up.

A mother's Easter reflections

And now. Now my baby is a man. And I kneel at the foot of a cross and watch him die. My first-born, my joy and my blessing, whipped and tormented. A mother should never have to see this. The infant that played at my feet. 

They said he would reign for ever. They – angels, shepherds, wise men – they all said he would be the hope and the saviour of his people. How can that be when he hangs limp and battered, dying a criminal’s death?

My hope has gone, crushed with my son. As his body is beaten and tortured so hope is cast out of my soul. As nails are hammered through his flesh, with each thud, my heart breaks a little more. 

Blessed. The angel said I was blessed. Blessed to have found favour with God. And how does my blessing takes its form? It finds me at the foot of a cross as life drains from my son’s body. With each agonised breath he takes, I gasp for air for him. I call upon God to send his angels, to move heaven and earth to rescue his son – my son. I beat upon the ground and scream out to God, ‘For this? This is why he was born? No! Where are you?’

My son is dead.

And now words return to me, words spoken by an old man in a temple. A sword will pierce your soul. And as my soul screams, I can only trust and wait, and wonder – what was it all for?

‘What are you doing?’
I don’t reply immediately to the question. How can I explain? I'm sitting in the shade beneath a tree, apart from the others. I need to be on my own, to try and understand, to try and make sense of the things that had happened.

I’d knelt on the ground at the foot of a cross as my son, my precious, Jesus, my first-born, died a criminal’s death. I’d watched as my son who had never hurt anyone had suffered the horrible painful fate of a murderer.

I’d wept at last as the skies darkened and all heaven and earth screamed with my pain and his agony as he took his last breath. And then it had been done, and John had led me away while they took his poor bleeding body down from the cross and laid it in a cold empty tomb.

And now they are saying he’s not dead. They’re saying the tomb was empty. They’re saying they've spoken to him. That he’s alive. And I want to believe – oh I want to believe with all my heart - but I'm too scared to let myself hope. I start to tell John this. He has been caring for me; I need to answer his question. But then the voice speaks again.

And this time I know it isn't John who is addressing me.

I turn around quickly and look behind me. He is standing there, smiling at me. He holds out his arms. I stumble and trip in my rush to get up and I almost fall into him. He wraps his arms around me and holds me close. He strokes my hair and whispers, ‘It’s all right, it’s going to be all right.’ And I remember how I did the same to him when, as a child, he fell and hurt himself.

And now I know it will be all right.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Maundy Thursday traditions

A lovely time in our women's group at Zac's today. We're now officially called More Than Rubies, by the way.

As it was Maundy Thursday we washed each other's feet and shared unleavened bread and wine (cranberry juice).

John 13:1-17 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Every year on Maundy Thursday the Queen presents money to elderly people in recognition of their service to the community. The number of people and coins relates to the Queen's age so, for example, when she was 60 she gave 60 pence worth of sterling silver coins to 60 men and 60 women.

The Queen hands to each person a red purse and a white purse. The white purse contains specially minted Maundy money equivalent to the Queen's age in years.

The Maundy custom of washing feet by the Monarch was carried out until 1689. You should, however, note that the feet were first washed by Yeoman of the Laundry before the monarch had to wash them and kiss them! Food and clothing were also handed out to the poor.

The name 'Maundy' is derived from the Latin word “mandatum”, meaning a commandment. Jesus, at the Last Supper, commanded his disciples: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

Incidentally, if you know me and are familiar with a typical Tuesday night in Zac's, or if you have read on my blog about my attempts to lead it, then you will understand the magnitude of what I am about to say.

It is easier for me to make myself heard when leading a Tuesday study (approx 25 men and women) than to do so in More Than Rubies (10 women).