Friday, February 27, 2015

And then they clapped the preacher

So that's that. A hectic few weeks at an end. And, for a short while, it should be peaceful-ish.

We celebrated the birthdays of Nicole and Sean in Zac's on Tuesday.
On Wednesday I joined about a hundred others at the crematorium for the funeral of a 'gentleman of the road'. Known by most of Swansea as Tea Cosy Pete, he lived for the last 30-35 years on the streets and he was something of an enigma as unlike most rough sleepers he didn't drink or use drugs. His passions were athletics, music and books, and, interestingly, he was in the same class in senior school as Rowan Williams, ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, who remembered him as being a man of complete integrity.

Sean was one of the few people Pete allowed to get close to him and it was Sean who took the funeral service. I've never before known people to applaud the preacher at the end of a funeral but Sean did a brilliant job. The local paper did a good job of covering the service too.
Hannah, who had befriended and grown close to Pete, left a bunch of wild and seasonal flowers along with some of the books Pete had left in her keeping.

I didn't really know Pete. I've often seen outside Zac's when I've left bible study at about 1015 pm. He'd wait for Sean to come out and then talk to him for an hour or two. It didn't matter how tired Sean was he stayed to listen. I considered myself honoured if I got a grunt in return for my 'good night, Pete'. But I went to the funeral as part of Zac's and afterwards mourners were invited back to Zac's for bread, soup and cake.

Then on Thursday I gave a talk to a ladies' group about Zac's. The morning didn't begin well. The meeting was being held in the local Marrriott Hotel and it was a pay and display car park. In the pouring rain and gusting wind I tried to make the stupid machine take my money. After 5 minutes I gave up and tried another machine only to be told when I got in that I needn't have bought a ticket. (They gave me my money back.)

Next up we had technical problems. I'd made a short film to give a snapshot of Zac's but we couldn't get the computer to talk to the television or my stick. And then I gave my talk. 

You know how when someone gives a talk that at the end there's usually applause? Even if it's only a little bit? Well, there wasn't. I don't think it was me but rather that as a group they didn't do it. But it did throw me a bit. Especially as the woman leading it then got up straightaway and prayed without saying thank you or anything about my talk like people usually do.

On the plus side, in the middle of my talk the receptionist brought in a plate of freshly-baked cookies, which smelled delicious. Of course, that was also on the minus side as it was slightly distracting to one and all, not least me.

Straight from there to women's group at Zac's where there were only four of us. Car trouble, sickness and work prevented three others at least joining us but two of the four were newbies, which was encouraging. Very different women - one with years of Christian experience and mission and the other a fresher - who both brought a lot to us, with honesty and openness.

When I finally got home it was to find flowers and Maltesers waiting for me from my lovely Husband who thought I deserved a treat after all my hard work. And croissants in bed this morning AND he cooked dinner tonight. He might not surprise me very often but it's worth waiting for!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

All spidered out

You may have guessed by my lack of blogging that I've had a busy week.

Monday: Night shelter preparations as already explained.
Tuesday: Day out with two grandchildren. Splashing in the sea and trying (and failing) to make a fire in the woods.
Wednesday: Wandering around town trying to find a Spiderman costume.
'You're going to dress up as Spiderman for the party?' Husband asked.
'One of us is,' I said. 'The clue is in the name.'
He was relieved when I returned empty-handed. £37 was a bit much for one afternoon. Although I'm sure we could have found other uses for it.
Followed by GrandSon2's 3rd birthday with a tea party with Spiderman pinata and cake.
Well-made by Daughter
Thursday: women's bible study group where we looked at Martha (appropriately enough for me).
Friday:  Spent half the day writing a covering letter and, with synopsis brilliantly prĂ©cised by Husband, sent off the first two chapters of Novel4 to an agent. My first submission and I'm trying hard not to be too pessimistic. Rest of day and evening spent thinking about and writing a talk about Zac's I am giving next Thursday.
Saturday: Watching the TED talk Husband sent me about how to give a talk and tearing up original talk and starting again. Also popped into library to collect the book I'd ordered, The 100-year-old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared.
Today, Sunday: Will be practising and 'perfecting' talk and getting some exercise walking dogs. Oh, yes, we have grandDog, Holly, staying with us for the weekend.
Tomorrow: Ditto today but with one dog less and circuit training added to mix.
Tuesday: Ditto plus making cake for Zac's.
Wednesday: Soup making ready for Tea Cosy Pete's after funeral wake at Zac's.
Thursday: Giving talk followed by women's bible study group at Zac's.
Friday: Collapse in little heap I suspect. Much as I almost did here.
P.S. It's not all at the wrong angle. That's just because Husband was spinning me around while holding the camera at the beginning.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Anyone feeling hungry?

I was designated cook for the night shelter tonight. Having been told the expected number I shopped and began cooking. Some time after that came the phone call saying there was only one guest so he was being put up in a B&B.

I now have two huge saucepans of cawl and two large rice puddings of which to dispose. While I could happily eat two rice puddings all by myself I don't think it would be wise. So it'll be cawl and pudding for Zac's tomorrow instead of cake/pancakes.

I don't think anyone will mind.
Just waiting for the leeks and dumplings to be added.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dinosaur eggs

I posted this photo on Facebook yesterday labelling it dinosaur egg. Younger Son identified it as such without first reading my note, thus proving that we brought him up well.I say 'we' but for this time I think it's 'I'. While Husband has many wondrous and worthwhile characteristics, making up for the many I lack, a vivid imagination isn't necessarily one of them. 

You mean you've never driven down the wrong side of the road?

Let me explain. Traffic on the main road was very slow and delayed by road works so, in my wisdom and impatience, I decided to go via the back streets. First mistake. I should have remembered: I've tried that before and if a road isn't a dead end it's one way and not the way you want to go. So my journey was extremely convoluted and took much longer than had I waited in the traffic jam. But I was moving - which is always a plus I think. 

Anyway as you've probably guessed I was a little confused now but I carried on in vaguely the right direction or occasionally the opposite. I think I may have been driving down a one way street (the right way) when I came to a right-hand turn. My destination was approximately right so I paused to first check that it wasn't one way (or if it were that it were the right way). There were cars parked on both sides of the road and facing both directions. From this I concluded that it wasn't one way. Here for your edification is a little picture.
And this is where I went wrong. Now I understand why it's illegal to park the wrong way on a road: it's confusing for other drivers. Naturally pulling around the corner I drove on the side of the road indicated by the direction of the parked car. A perfectly reasonable mistake I'm sure you'll agree.

It wasn't until I reached another junction where a car waited to pull out and the driver looked at me in bemusement that I cottoned on. 

I would normally by now be convinced that I am suffering from old-age-itis but I've had this blind spot about sides of the road for more years than I care to recall. 

Don't worry: it isn't usually a problem for me so you don't have to stay off the roads when I'm about. it's only when I'm lost/confused/in a one way system that I'm best avoided.

P.S. It's like a computer keyboard. Usually I know instinctively which button to press to capitalise but I just stopped and thought and ended up with an italicised letter instead.
P.P.S. Please tell me I'm not alone in this.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

How I stopped fighting and learned to love the English

Love may be a slight exaggeration.

Okay, a huge exaggeration. Better to say ... like? No. Tolerate? No. Not hate? That'll do.
It's not the English per se that I have a problem with you understand. I have nothing against those born and bred in England. It's their misfortune not to be born in Wales but you can't hate them for that. 

No, it's only when it comes to rugby that things get sticky. I've tried to understand and tried to explain here on my blog the emotions that are unleashed every time Wales plays England at rugby but there isn't really a satisfactory explanation.

And it's not just a Welsh thing. A couple of years ago the BBC made a Six Nations* trailer that ended up not being shown but it's still available on youtube.

Everybody wants to beat the English more than anyone else. And that hasn't changed for me - so last night's defeat was a bit of a downer - but ... I am trying to learn to support England against other nations. Husband is English and he's very supportive of Wales - and of me when England beats us - but I've always struggled to cheer for England. Even against France for goodness sake!

Try as I might there's always been that tiny little voice in my head saying, 'Come on, Ireland/Scotland/France/Italy!' And sometimes that's exploded into a celebratory, 'yes!' air punch when the opposition has crossed the line. Quickly changed into a 'Cough, cough, I mean, aw, there's a shame,' as Husband scowls at me.

But then Cardiff City Football Club got into the premier division, joining Swansea, which had been the only Welsh club in it. That's good, you'd think; another club to bring investment, big teams, visitors, money into a very needy South Wales. But not according to Swansea fans.

The gleeful reactions on twitter each time Cardiff then lost a game were shocking and shameful. Of course I can understand inter-city rivalry and when they're playing each other would expect fierce competition and one-up-man-ship but to take delight in the other's downfall just seems wrong.

Still it came as a shock when someone pointed out to me that my intolerance of England could be viewed in the same way. England's our closest neighbour; some of my best friends are English; why not support them? 

So I'm trying. It helps that I quite like captain, Chris Robshaw. And I'm even keeping the English flag that I found upstairs in case England get through to the world cup final. Again.

However if we reach the end of this season and only England or Wales could win the championship (unlikely as that seems at the moment) then, sorry, it's got to be Wales.

*Six Nations: every Spring Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy play a rugby union tournament.

Destroying the past

My godmother, Auntie Mary, married later in life; I must have been about ten at the time. After a while she and her husband bought a plot of land on the east cliffs at Southgate on which to build their dream house. Uncle Alan was a woodwork teacher and he designed and built the house himself but he was plagued with ill health and injury and the house took many many years to complete. It became a standing joke that it would never be finished.

But it was, and Alan and Mary lived in Tandayo (a combination of their surnames, Tanner and Davies) happily for many years. Several of the rooms and the entrance hall were wood-panelled, the wood coming from old school desks that Alan had bought up, or possibly been given. It wasn't a huge house but one of a kind in very large gardens and a fabulous position with nothing in front of it except headland and sea.
 Tandayo, the white house in the centre of the photo (From Google maps, dated 2011)

Yesterday Husband and I walked along the east cliffs at Southgate and I was puzzled because I couldn't spot their distinctive house but eventually we found it - or rather we found what looks like a hideous flat-roofed building being erected in its place.

It is so sad to think of all the time, attention, hard work and love that went into it only for it to be destroyed. Yes, the house would have been in need of updating and extending if necessary but to knock it down completely seems an awful waste. 

I lost touch with my godmother, who would now be in her late eighties or early nineties. The last I heard of her was from my uncle who told me that she and Auntie Elsie (another non-related friend of my mum's) used to have Saturday lunch in a pub in Mumbles. I looked out for them but never saw them. I hope she has died and hasn't seen what has become of her home.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Fake it till you make it

I visited a massage parlour on Monday. 

I plucked up my courage, walked to the door and rang the bell. I was expecting to be quizzed and had my spiel ready. Imagine then my surprise when the door was buzzed open. I climbed the stairs and was greeted by an attractive young woman. Which all sort of threw me a bit.

I stuttered, 'Um, my name's Liz. I'm from Zac's, up the road. Do you know Zac's? You do, yes, good. Um, here are some invitations.' And so on. Until I'd run out of things to say (pretty quickly) and we stood and looked at each other.
'Okay, so I'll leave these invitations and I'll go now.'

Stumbled back down the stairs, out of the door and into the street where I took a deep breath.

The invitations were to a women's group that began today over lunch in Zac's. Nobody from the massage parlour came but I hadn't expected them to. I'm just thrilled that I've been over the threshold and taken the first tentative steps.

However five other women did come and were enthusiastic and positive and encouraging. 

I've wanted to do something for women in Zac's for ages. It's a male-dominated environment, not as much as it was when I first went there when it was largely bikers (large bikers) but still men outnumber women. I particularly want to see Zac's provide the same level ground for women from all walks of life as it does for bikers, rough sleepers, alcoholics and addicts so when Sean suggested this lunchtime bible study group i was delighted.

And quite nervous today beforehand as I texted Sean. He replied, 'Just be yourself.'
Really? Are you sure that's a good idea?

I've recently watched a TED talk about 'faking it till you make it' using power poses to begin to change your own perception of yourself. The speaker reckoned doing two minutes of power posing before an interview, challenging meeting, or any sort of situation where you need to project an image you're not convinced is really you, will make a difference. And that, eventually, you would not only make it but you'd become it. 

I think there is a place for psyching yourself up, changing yourself to create almost an alter ego - I know there have been situations where it would have been useful for me - but a a women's bible group isn't one. That is one place I need to be real and myself, however feeble I think that self is.

So watch this space to see what develops.

Monday, February 02, 2015

You've got a friend in me

Speaking in prison yesterday morning. I wasn't supposed to be but neither of the two people I'd hoped would be speaking were available so they were stuck with me.

I usually get very stressed beforehand but this time I felt calm and relaxed. I mentioned this to our musician while we were waiting to go into prison adding, 'Which probably means I've forgotten something or I don't know what I'm doing.'

It turned out to be the latter. It wasn't that I did anything wrong exactly but I lost confidence and began to stutter and stumble. It wasn't horrendous but I came away feeling 'could have done better.' Nobody said anything critical and one or two of the men thanked me and appreciated my talk but you know how it is: we're always our own worst critics. 

The theme was friends so I had this bright idea that we'd end on a jolly note by singing 'You've got a friend in me' from Toy Story. I printed off the words so we could all join in and we were off.
'You've got a friend in me (sung loudly and heartily)
you've got a friend in me
mutter mutter
mutter mutter
mutter mutter
you've got a friend in me!'

To be fair it's quite a difficult song to sing as it doesn't have a repetitive rhythm and you have to either squash or stretch the words to make them fit - and you have to know when to do which. We won't sing it again but the men took it in the spirit it was meant and left feeling happy (I hope) and, if they're like me, will be singing the first two lines until Thursday at least.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Baking Cakes in Kigali

"If you're a fan of the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency you'll love this" seems to be a common tag placed upon books these days but in this case it's true.

The story's heroine is Angel Tungaraza, cake baker extraordinaire. A Tanzanian by birth she's living with her husband, a university lecturer, and five grandchildren in Rwanda.

Nothing really happens in this story but what we do have is Angel using her intuitive skills, wisdom and ability to help customers and neighbours solve their problems, problems they may not even realise they have.

A book based in Rwanda can't fail to mention its comparatively recent and tragic history yet it's dealt with in an almost matter-of-fact way as are the continuing problems of and reactions to AIDs and ebola. They're there but life goes on.

Like Precious Ramotswe Angel has her little habits, taking off her glasses and wiping them at times of stress for example, and is a very likeable woman. Though her own life has been marred by personal tragedy, something she struggles to come to terms with in the course of the book, you're left in no doubt that if Angel is making your cake she'll sort out your life as well.

Highly recommended and not just to fans of the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

I blame the sainted Delia

It's what every good hostess does. Ten minutes before her guests arrive she decides to make playdough. 

There was a good reason for it. I'd dug out the board game Cranium and discovered the modelling dough had gone hard; hence the need for some speedily squished home-made playdough. It was just unfortunate that I misremembered the amounts of ingredients - I had to go from the puta in the study to the kitchen, for goodness sake - and put in four times as much oil as was needed. Meaning I had to increase all the other quantities meaning I could now go into business selling playdough.

And when it came to it our guests wanted to play Articulate.

A pleasant evening though with our gang of friends. We missed out on our pre-Christmas meal as six of the eight were poorly so when I saw crackers in the shop reduced to £1.24 I had to have some so we could all wear silly hats and tell appalling jokes.

How it's supposed to look
Food was nice but the potato was less mashed and more liquidised. I'd planned on making duchesse potatoes so I could simply pop them in the oven just before we ate but as I hadn't made them before I thought I'd better check on a recipe, which is where I went wrong. I am very good at mashed potatoes. Usually. 
Closer but mine didn't have that much shape

At the time I thought it seemed like a lot of cream and butter (and I was using less than Delia suggested) but who am I to question Mother Superior? When I tried to pipe them onto a tray it came out as less of a swirl and more of a, well, puddle. Its only attribute was that it tasted good but, then again, Vivaldi mashed potatoes taste good as they are. Hey ho.