Sunday, 28 December 2008

SHORT STORY: Caroline's butterflies (Prt 1 & 2)

Flat on my back, I lie and watch the crisscross of cobwebs across the light bulb. From one angle, it takes the shape of a cirrus cloud. From another: a butterfly. ‘Butterflies...’ I think out loud. Butterflies were my dead sister, Caroline’s, thing. She’d spent hours and hours poring over butterfly books. The Orangetip had been her favourite. She’d even won a school prize for a poem she’d written titled: The Bountiful Butterfly. ‘What does bountiful mean?’ she’d asked again and again while she’d been penning the poem. She’d only been six at the time.

Caroline visits sometimes. She simply materializes in my room without warning. Often: she’ll sit on the edge of my bed, or stand by the window gazing out at the surrounding farmland – where she’d exhausted countless hours exploring. ‘I’m off Butterfly scouting’ she’d yell as the door slammed behind her. On days like this, I can still hear her sunny voice. At other times: she lies beside me – as we are doing now – and we stare at the ceiling saying nothing. Since she died, Caroline hasn’t spoken to me. I talk to her all the time. But she says nothing. It’s as if there is a barrier between us. When I look at her, pools of sadness fill her eyes. She offers no tears, no words – nothing. In spite of this, her silence strengthens me. I’d rather have her wordless presence than nothing at all. Now: in the stillness of our thoughts, I squeeze her hand – the way I’ve always done.

Then: as if on cue, she bolts upright, stands up – shatters my reverie. With a finger, she urges me to follow. She wanders to her bedroom across the landing. As we enter, an abrupt sneeze escapes and is caught by my cupped hand. ‘Dust everywhere...’ I mumble to no one particularly. Her room is just as it’s always been; untouched since she died. It's been six months. Butterflies of all descriptions crowd the room. Butterfly patterned wallpaper, butterfly toys, posters and decor – resting and hanging from all directions. When she was around this Butterfly Zoo seemed to come alive. Buzzed with life. Nowadays, it felt... feels cold and lifeless. I notice Caroline open the wardrobe. She begins to rummage around for something. I watch her bent head; her pale curls bounce with the movement of her search. After many minutes, she retrieves a shoebox and places it on the bed. From it, she brings out a scrapbook-cum-photo album. Together we flick through each page. Inside: more butterflies. Images of: Orangetips, Brown Elfins, Edith’s Coppers, Cabbage Whites, and on and on. Each labelled in her scratchy scrawl. Eventually, from the back of the book, she pulls out a postcard. She stares hard at it, takes a deep breath, before handing it over to me. I fix my attention on the postcard settled in my grasp. But I am confused because it is blank. Her manner tells me that my eyes are deceiving me. I do not see what she knows. A secret lies in the note.

Today would have been Caroline’s tenth birthday. Unnoticed: she appears in the kitchen where my mum and I are busy pouring ingredients for a cake. She watches, wearing a strange expression, as eggs, sugar, flour, milk, cocoa and melted chocolate are poured and whipped in the bowl. Chocolate Fudge cake: our favourite. Mum stirs the lumpy mix until it is silken and smooth. I hover – waiting for mum’s nod; my permission to lick the thick rich mixture off the ladle. It’s not long before I’m lapping the sugary goo. With the corner of my eye I catch Caroline smacking her lips – plump and wet – I see her eyes are bright with green longing. In her halfway-house existence I wonder to myself: if hunger pangs are a thing of the past for her. It is peculiar that even though the room is full of our laughter, mine and Mum’s – a blinding sadness lingers. But somehow in this moment of reprieve, we are able to escape the sadness that has been eroding our life for months. Our pain suspended. This thought moves me to wrap my arms around my mum from behind, while she washes up. Caroline is settled next to us; leaning beside the sink, looking out the window – captivated by something: a bird, squirrel – I can’t tell what.
‘I sense her very strongly,’ Mum says with a short embarrassed laugh.
‘Perhaps she is here –,’ I whisper, tossing a glance in Caroline’s direction.
For a few seconds neither of us speaks – until Mum says: ‘Your father thinks it’s time we clear out her... Caroline’s... room...’ Her words tail off and dissolve with the air. My breath catches a little – as if the next word spoken will break the spell. It’s the first time Mum has mentioned Caroline by name since she died. Caroline has stopped what she is doing. She straightens herself, reaches over and places a kiss on our mum’s cheek. I see a slow smile spread across Mum’s face. ‘It’s as if she is in this room... standing right here,’ she says again, ‘maybe your father is right and it’s time to move on,’ she whispers.

After lunch and an indulgent slice of cake, Caroline and I walk up the lane to the village church. Once there: I sit on a patch of faded grass by her gravestone and pull out the postcard she handed me last week. Caroline stands at a distance, with the soft sunlight dancing around her like a honey shower. I turn back to the card in my hand. The one side remains blank, so I peer at the image on the other side. It is strange, because the longer I stare – the image becomes sharper – in the manner of a camera lens adjusting a blurred picture, bringing it into focus. At the centre: a delicate yellow butterfly. Circling it: six black butterflies. The more closely I look into the picture, the six butterflies appear puffed up, somewhat menacing. The dawning realisation emerges as a thread of clarity making a direct connection with six girls I knew. For almost two years these six had made Caroline’s life a misery. Even as my eyelids flutter and shut I can hear their taunts: ‘Butt Fly’ ‘Moth Girl’ ‘Caterpillar Caroline’. My anger and fists had only gotten me in trouble every time I had tried to protect her. I blink away the rising tears – squint slightly – and look up to find Caroline facing me, sitting cross-legged. Her sudden proximity startles me. She has been as soundless as the shadows emerging among the trees. Our gazes lock in a knowing look. An unexpected shiver travels through me. Something ugly – uglier than ugly – had happened that terrible day.

...to be continued in part 3...!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Boxing Day Reflection

Two things occupying my time at the moment, around the merriment of Christmas and New Year festivities are:
(1) Reading: The Shack by WM Paul Young, and
(2) Completing an assignment (3000 words) for my current MA in Creative Writing. The title: What, if any, is the significance of tradition for poets we have studied? Your answer should refer to at least two poets studied on the course. The two poets I’ve decided to focus on are W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin.

It is always interesting when different elements of one’s life seem to come together and link in to formulate a ‘word of wisdom’. I’ll explain what I mean. In researching Larkin – I came across his poem titled: Aubade (which I post below), a poem that contemplates death in an honest and straightforward way. Underlying the poem is that age-old question as to the meaning and purpose of our lives – especially when we are being ravaged by difficult and traumatic circumstances. It is this same question that is ultimately presented in an intelligent and different way in the book: The Shack. Indeed, I heard about this book in the summer but for some reason resisted jumping on the bandwagon at the time – and I have only finally picked up a copy this December. And on reading it (absorbed from beginning to end)... all I can say is: WOW! It is a book that discusses an old narrative in a vibrant, new way – causing the reader to re-think ideas and paradigms of one’s understanding and truth about God (or that ultimate power or supreme being... however you choose to interpret or define ‘Him/Her/or It’). Even though this book is a Christian book – it transcends the religion or system we call ‘Christianity’ – and asks for serious reflection and consideration of the question posed by Larkin’s Aubade – to both Christians and non-Christians alike. It provokes and challenges pre-conceived notions and ideas of humanity’s relationship with a supreme being (however, you interpret that!) Hence, both Larkin’s Aubade and Young’s The Shack has illuminated for me a quote that I read recently by the contemporary artist, Francis Alys: ‘Sometimes, to make something is really to make nothing; and paradoxically, sometimes to make nothing is to make something.’

I find it poignant to be reading and reflecting on these things at the dawning of a new year. A reminder to myself that in my anxious moments when my mind is shackled by deep and dark fears and feelings of uncertainty about the future, that the key to living in the now and present is to: ‘trust and let go’ – allowing each day to take care of itself.

HAPPY BOXING DAY TO YOU ALL!!!

Aubade by Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

SHORT STORY: Caroline's butterflies (Part 1)

Flat on my back, I lie and watch the criss-cross of cobwebs across the light bulb. From one angle, it takes the shape of a cirrus cloud. From another: a butterfly. ‘Butterflies,’ I say out loud. Butterflies were my dead sister, Caroline’s, thing. She’d spent hours and hours poring over butterfly books. The Orangetip had been her favourite. She’d even won a school prize for a poem she’d written titled: The Bountiful Butterfly. ‘What does bountiful mean?’ she’d asked again and again whilst she’d been penning the poem. She’d only been six at the time.

Caroline visits sometimes. She simply appears in my room without warning. At times, she’ll sit on the edge of my bed, or stand by the window gazing out at the surrounding farmland. Often, she lies beside me – as we are doing now – and we stare at the ceiling, saying nothing. Since she died, Caroline hasn’t spoken to me. I talk to her all the time. But she says nothing. It’s as if there is a barrier between us. When I look at her, pools of sadness fill her eyes. She offers no tears, no words – nothing. In spite of this, her silence strengthens me. I’d rather have her wordless presence than nothing at all. Now – in the stillness of our thoughts, I squeeze her hand – the way I’ve always done.

Then as if on cue, she bolts upright and stands up - shattering my reverie. With a finger, she beckons me to follow. She wanders to her bedroom across the landing. As we enter, I sneeze. I've always been sensitive to dust. Her room is just as it’s always been; untouched since she died. It's been six months. Butterflies of all descriptions crowd the room. Butterfly patterned wall-paper, butterfly toys, posters and decor – resting and hanging from all directions. When she was around this Butterfly Zoo seemed to come alive. Buzzed with life. Nowadays, it felt... feels cold and lifeless. I notice Caroline open the wardrobe. She begins to rummage around for something. I watch her bent head; her pale curls bounce with the movement of her search. After many minutes, she retrieves a shoebox and places it on the bed. From it, she brings out a scrapbook-cum-photo album. Together we flick through each page. Inside, more butterflies. Images of: Orangetips, Brown Elfins, Edith’s Coppers, Cabbage Whites, and on and on. Each labelled in her scratchy scrawl. Eventually, from the back of the book, she pulls out a postcard. She stares hard at it, takes a deep breath, before handing it over to me. I am confused because it is blank. Her manner tells me that my eyes are deceiving me. I do not see what she knows. A secret lies in the note.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

SHORT STORY: Dying to be free

The horizon hummed in the distance. The silence of early dawn drowned by the waking landscape. Laurie took a sharp intake of breath, drinking in the freshness of first light. Martin stood apart lost in his own thoughts. Both figures: reflecting on their future.

Their conversation the night before had been difficult. In thirty-five years of marriage there had rarely been a raised voice.
‘I can’t do this anymore. I want to die,’ she had told him, in a muted calm tone.
She observed the anger carved in the heavy lines of his brow.
‘How can you ask of me such a thing?’ he had shouted.
‘I need permission to die with dignity. I have nothing more to offer this world in this condition. I will only get worse. I choose not to live like this.’ There had been very little emotion in her words. Dead-pan, she had delivered her thoughts with a steely look.
‘What about me? And the girls? We need you.’ He declared before dissolving in a torrent of tears with the distress of a petulant toddler. No more words had been said as she cradled his head on her lifeless lap.

This morning it had been her wish to see the sunrise. The cold air lapped around her face and she closed her eyes. She allowed herself to be submerged by the atmosphere’s embrace. Her mind travelled to a time in the distant past. She recalled the house she was raised in: the old, rambling cottage in Port Talbot; sprawled on a hill. Nine years old, her legs worked then. A tom-lass, she’d loved running through the overgrown grassland or climbing up the oak, birch and ash. A laugh rose and rippled in her throat as she remembered their honey-coated Labrador chasing after her, drooling and wagging. Ringo Starr, he’d been called; after one of the members of the Beatles - her mother’s favourite rock band.

In the depth of her daydream, she was transported to the cycling accident that had taken her life. Sure, it’s true that physically she wasn’t dead, but the spinal injury had destroyed her life. Or at least, any life that was worth living. Her strength, her joie de vivre, her independence – all gone. ‘Her independence,’ she sighed heavily. Since the accident, it had been up to Martin to care for her. Ten years of routine that she no longer handled on her own. Never again would she be able to: brush her teeth, blow her nose, cook, dress up, or walk their dog – Millie. Even after ten years, she still had days like this… when she ached to be her old, able self. She longed to walk again away from her wheelie, as she affectionately called it – like the invalid in the bible who ‘got up and walked’ when Jesus gave the command ‘get up and walk’. If only.

‘You alright, love,’ Martin whispered from behind, rubbing her shoulders in a gentle massage.
Her eyes darted open. ‘Yes – yes. This spot is beautiful.’
‘A beautiful place,’ he echoed.
‘Martin,’ she began.
‘Uh-huh…’
‘I want you to help me with something.’
‘Go on…’ he changed his position and knelt in front of her.
‘I’d like to create a memory box. For the girls.’
‘We’ll have to tell them soon.’ Hs eye-lids drooped, and his head fell forward. Reminiscent of a sad clown, Laurie thought. But said nothing. Only turned her face away from his gaze. She didn’t want to think about it. Telling Poppy and Zahra, it would break their hearts. It would be hard on both of them. Twins, they were in their second term at Brunel. She imagined how they might react; probably, not dissimilar to Martin’s reaction.
‘Yes – I will have to find the time to tell them. First things first... I want to create a memory box for them.’ The thought of the project brightened her spirits and forced the other niggling, not-so-uplifting thought to the back of her mind.

Poppy called a few days later and Laurie asked if she and Zahra would visit during the long Easter weekend coming up. ‘I’ve got some important news to share with you both.’ It was a matter-of-fact request in her bid to keep the conversation light. ‘Is anything wrong?’ ‘No – no. Everything is fine. It’s nothing to worry about.’

After this phone call Laurie summoned the energy to begin creating her memory box. ‘I want every item to mean something,’ she told Martin, as they began rummaging through the boxes Martin had lugged down – almost twisting an ankle – from the attic. It was a time-consuming and tiring process. Martin held up each item. If Laurie shook her head in the negative, he returned it back in the box. When she said ‘perhaps’ he placed the item in Laurie’s hands. Sometimes, she would be silent and at other times she talked about the memories behind each article – resurrecting them from the buried years. Over the course of a month, she decided on her ten items. The diary she kept during her first year of marriage; a scrapbook she had created in secondary school; a pair or earrings that had been passed down from Grandma Alma; an empty locket her mother had given her on her sixteenth; a collection of short stories by Katherine Mansfield; and five journals filled with poems she’d written over the years. Martin, she told him, was to give Poppy and Zahra the box after she’d gone. She hoped that by leaving a part of her in this way, she would ease their pain somehow.

‘Zahra, you’ve lost a lot of weight,’ Laurie reproached when the younger twin stooped low to give her a hug.
‘Mum, don’t start,’ she giggled. ‘And, you’re looking great.’
‘Yes – I suppose I am,’ she winked, ‘I had my hair styled yesterday.’
‘Very chic, Mum,’ Poppy said, leaning over to give her a kiss.
‘How are things going with you both?’
‘Where’s dad?’ Zahra asked, as she arranged herself cross-legged on sofa.
‘Sorting out tea, I think.’
‘I’ll go and see if he needs a hand,’ Poppy said, vanishing to the kitchen, carried by her long lissom stride.

After their evening meal, Laurie decided to tell them. It was a staggered confession of sorts – her decision. She steeled herself as she watched each face drain its colour. She knew she had to hold it together – for her sake and theirs. Poppy was the first to speak.
‘I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I don’t believe what you’re saying.’
‘I know this will be difficult on all of you. But I’ve thought about it long and hard, and for me,' she paused, 'it’s the answer.’
‘To give up,’ Poppy half-shrieked. Her eyes flashed with fury and brewed with tears.
‘What would you have me do? To stay? Unhappy and useless?’
‘No – yes – I don’t know. To stay for us,’ she whimpered. A strained smile formed along Laurie’s lips as she noticed her daughter's clenched fist. From birth, Poppy had always been the stubborn and feisty character. As a baby, her trombone sounding lungs had always given clear guidance on her likes and dislikes. Not selfish exactly, just wilful. She wished she could reach out and stroke her daughter’s wet cheeks.
‘I have to do this,’ Laurie said resolutely, in no more than a whisper.
‘Dad, what do you make of all… all this?’ She threw her hands in the air, unable to find any other words. Three pairs of eyes gathered to stare at Martin.
‘It’s your mother’s decision. I – we – have to respect that,’ he said, uncrossing his legs. While he spoke, Laurie noticed how grey he looked. Like a wilted plant. A twang of guilt washed over her. Was this really the only way?
‘I agree with dad,’ Zahra said. It was the first time she’d spoken. ‘If it’s what Mum wants to do – we have to respect it.’ At this point, Poppy stood up and ran out of the room. In turn, Zahra came forward and knelt down to give her mother a hug.
‘I love you, Mum,’ she said, squeezing tight.
‘I love you all very much.’ Laurie said, kissing her daughter’s recently shampooed locks, ignoring their tickle on her nose and chin.
‘I’ll go and check on Poppy.’ She unclasped her arms and disappeared.

Later that evening, before Laurie turned in, she stood at the doorway watching Poppy and Zahra sleep. Lying in beds side-by-side in the room they had always shared. She heard Zahra’s gentle snore – purring rhythmically. Poppy, as she had done since infancy, lay curled up in a cat-curl deep under the duvet. Some things never changed.

The rest of the weekend had been difficult. Poppy remained moody while Zahra put on a brave face. On the Monday, the girls left to return to their lives in Middlesex. And as they were leaving, Poppy embraced Laurie and made a strange remark: ‘I won’t let you do this. I can’t and I won’t.’

Catherine Mark

I've decided to post this short story (WIP) that I'm working on... I have an ending in mind... but I thought it might be fun to see what endings my blog readers come up with:) Let me have your thoughts/ideas/comments... Thanks for reading!!!

Monday, 8 December 2008

SHORT STORY: Uncle Jock and the girl in the barn

I blow a bubble of cloudy O on the window. Follow it with another, and another. Then, with my stubby, half-chewed finger I trail my initials through the mist formed by my mouth. The door slams. Mother enters the car. ‘Indigo,’ she barks, ‘why aren’t you wearing your seat belt?’ she says, casting a nervous glance in the front mirror. I struggle with the strap. Tug, tug. At last, it extends. I press the buckle in and it lodges with a click. Mum gives me a side glance before revving up the car. The engine sputters in the icy cold. Reluctantly, it springs to life. We are on our way to see Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock.

Their cottage is nestled on a large farm in the Cotswolds. It is a grand dwelling brimming with wealth. Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock don’t have any children. ‘Too busy making their millions,’ my mother would often TUT. There is a purpose to our visit today, but I can’t remember what it is.

When we arrive, Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock meet us at the door. Aunt Mavis is looking immaculate, perfectly coiffed like Nicole Kidman in that perfume commercial. Although well presented, Uncle Jock – short and stout – looks awkward standing beside my aunt. Greetings and kisses are exchanged. Mother and Aunt Mavis head off to the kitchen while Uncle Jock mutters something about going for a walk. I decide I will explore the woodland around. ‘Don’t go too far,’ my mother says, disappearing down the hallway.


The trees stare solemnly while I stroll through their doorways. Their bare barks look bleak, barren. With each breath I exhale a conical cloud rises as it hits the freezing atmosphere. Even underfoot, the ground is glazed with ice. Temperatures had dropped to 2 degrees overnight. There is no plan in my mind as to where I am going. I just walk, ambling along a muddy frost-crusted path.

I don’t know when my feet stumble on a derelict barn. Non-descript, it resembles a shack. Even at this distance, I can tell that large chunks of the flat timber are rotten through – dead wood. My size-fives break a twig, surprising a black bird. It swoops off a branch and flies away. I watch until it becomes a black dot against the November mist. Averting my eyes back to level ground, I walk around the rectangular structure. I am quiet. I sense that I am intruding. On what, I do not know. That is, until I hear something – a whining sound. Like the whimpering noise cats make when they are sick, or suffering. I stop. Listen hard. Perhaps, I have imagined it. But it comes again. I lean against the wooden wall, as if wanting some sort of a camouflage. I wonder if I should make my escape. No – my curiosity gets the better of me. Now at the rear end of the barn, I move closer to the wide window, and crouch beneath it. I take a deep breath, trembling slightly: a mixture of cold, excitement, and fear. I count to ten before edging my body upwards. My eyes hover halfway then peer through the dust streaked panes. I blink, widen my eyes, and press my face against the window – flattening my nose. I see nothing; only the outline shadow of a pile of hay and a scattering of disused farming equipment. I stretch myself fully. A wave of disappointment drifts through me. There is no mystery here. In that moment of contemplation, in the stillness that envelops, I hear a strained, soft moan. Following the direction of the breathy whimper, I walk past the window and notice a loose panel – no longer overlapping – revealing a slit-hole. I peep.

Inside, there are two figures. First, I see the fresh, freckled face of a girl. Not much older than me. Thirteen? Fourteen? I cannot see her eyes, but the paleness of her skin tells me she is frightened. Her red curls are sprawled in a tangle on a bed of hay. She lies still; pinned down by a flushed fleshy mass. His back – a blanket of grey wiry hairs – faces me. I recognise the thinning patch on his head. He is still wearing the green pullover he greeted my mother and me with. My chest tightens. I cannot think what to do. Transfixed. I watch the rhythm of his bulge move back and forth. With each thrust a moan escapes; a cry of pleasure and power. 'Get up. Run.' The words ring in my mind - over and over. A sharp pain stings my chest, as I will the girl to move. She doesn’t. Stiff, stoic – she remains as silent as I am.

Catherine Mark

In this... I'm experimenting with the present tense (very much work-in-progress). Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

A lesson in God's wisdom (the hard way!)...

Well, I’ve finally arrived at my temporary digs over the weekend (on Sat 29/11). For the next few weeks – until I complete the new term and as I await all my visa paperwork to come through – I will be sharing a lovely house with a primary school teacher. The move operation ran like clock-work. Three friends helped out with their three cars and we were loaded up and arrived at the other end by around 3:30 pm. However, it wasn’t an uneventful move with my landlords turning evil on me and threatening to withhold my deposit of almost £600 – for a moth ruined carpet caused by damp (possibly condensation). To say the least, I saw red – especially, as I have sought for months to highlight these problems (structural issues of poor insulation and ventilation with the house) with them, hoping that they would engage with the situation and find solutions to remedy the deteriorating condition of the space. Their plan: to allow me to continue in a false sense of security i.e. believing that they were fair, decent and Christian human beings – and, then on the date of my departure inform me that they would not be returning my deposit. This deposit of which every penny is accounted for! I was fuming – angered by their lecherous greed and pretty much fell apart. (Unfortunately, this is a failing of mine – whenever I get that angry, I am no longer able to muster up the ability to communicate in a reasonable manner – all my words choke in my throat or go jammy in my mouth – and, I often end up child-like in a flood of tears!) This encounter was no different (sigh). After accusing Mr and Mrs Evil of being ‘thieves’ I fell apart on the phone to Joel. It never ceases to shock and infuriate me when I encounter such manipulation and wickedness of this kind, or magnitude. How these people can live with their consciences when they blatantly endeavour to derail others (me, in this case) with their lies and untruths, I do not know!?! Joel often chides me that I need to develop a ‘thick skin’. I find it offensive to see this level of depravity fuelled by greed (in this situation). Then, I ask myself why am I surprised by the extreme acts of terrorists (note my blog entry below)? Okay, okay – perhaps, I’m being a tad melodramatic placing these two, Mr and Mrs Evil, in the same breath as terrorists – maybe… but, not so farfetched in that they fall within that spectrum of human nature that has the propensity to be sinful, to do wicked and cruel things. To be egocentric! To find myself on the receiving end of such ugliness is quite unpleasant. It’s not the first time and I know it will not be the last time. True, a part of me is sick and tired of fighting injustices of this kind. And I wonder whether the time, energy and money that I will expend should I take these two to a small claims tribunal – is it really worth it? The old adage comes to mind: choose your battles carefully. And, for me at this juncture in my life – preparing for my relocation to Oz – I don’t think this is a battle worth fighting. So, against all my principles, I decided to take the deal that was eventually offered to me yesterday (Mon, 1 Dec) at around 5 pm – they’ll take £100 and return the rest. Life is so unfair – but, at this point I feel that I just have to cut my losses and hope that Mr and Mrs Evil choke on every penny of the £100 (i.e. their greed).

In all of this, what has been the lesson? Funny you should ask. Well, I remember when I first saw the house and fell in love with it – quaint, and quintessentially English. Postcard perfect (on the outside)! I prayed so hard that I would get the lease on the house – pressing God not to let me down on this. If only I had allowed myself to LISTEN to God’s will and purpose as with regards to this house. He probably would have told me that although the house looked great on the outside – it wasn’t the house for me… because he would have known about all the internal problems with the place, and the evil landlords. But I wanted it my way… and twenty months on I have paid a heavy price! Yes – it pays to ‘wait on God and heed his voice’!

‘For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"…’ (1 Corinthians 3:19)!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Terrorism: An indictment of our generation

Once again, the terrorists have struck. This time, in Mumbai. There was a period, in the distant past, when terrorist attacks were a rare occurrence. However, it seems that these tragic events have become a part of our human landscape, eroding our human psyche – to the extent, that we now see terrorist attacks as the norm. Like the media depiction of the malaise that blights the continent of Africa: corruption, war, disease – it has come to the point, where we (me included) observe terrorist assaults and are immune, immobilised by the onslaught unfolding on our TV screens. I confess, that the sense of outrage and injustice that I felt on the dawn of 9/11 (in America) diminished with 7/7 (in London), and has ebbed even more with 26/11 in Mumbai. Of course, I am angry… and think that these acts are depraved and wrong… but, somehow… with every additional act of terrorism on the world stage, I'm acutely aware that I am becoming desensitised, as a part of me responds to these affronts with: ‘It (terrorism) is one of those things: an evil that we have to live with, and contend with in this century’. I find it frightening that my response, so obviously lacking in zealous rage, is an indictment of our generation. In my mind, when things like this happen, I find myself numbed by the horror, fettered by my powerlessness – and, after I watch the mayhem on the streets (as people cling on to fragile life) of this commercial and entertainment centre of India – I do nothing.

Interesting site - The Changing Faces of Terrorism:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/recent/sept_11/changing_faces_01.shtml

Monday, 24 November 2008

Tinkering with a song!

I am not much of a songwriter, but this composition kinduv' tumbled out of my soul as I walked to school this morning. There is a tune going round and round in my head... and, I'm hoping that one of my more musical friends will help me get the music down soon. Let me know what you think!

Jesus give me a faith…

Jesus give me a faith that is true,
That comes from you
Jesus give me a faith that is real,
That can heal

A faith that makes me walk on water
A faith that will never falter
A faith that can move mountains
A faith overflowing like fountains
…and sees you more clearly, loves you more dearly

Jesus give me a faith that is true,
That comes from you
Jesus give me a faith that is real,
That can heal


A faith that fills and possesses
A faith that fulfils and blesses
A faith that praises your name
A faith that raises my game
… to see you more clearly, and love you more dearly

Jesus give me a faith that is true,
That comes from you
Jesus give me a faith that is real,
That can heal

A faith that grants eternal wisdom
A faith that glorifies your kingdom
A faith that is strong in every decision
A faith that gives me Godly vision
…and sees you more clearly, loves you more dearly

Jesus give me a faith that is true,
That comes from you
Jesus give me a faith that is real,
That can heal (X3)


Lyrics written by: Catherine Mark-Beasant
Dedicated to: Joel Beasant (24/11/08)

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Melbourne Beckons!

Apparently, one of the top FIVE most stressful events (alongside divorce and death) is MOVING... and, boy don’t I know it! With an upbringing as a diplomat’s daughter (my father worked for the UN), MOVING is something that I am well accustomed to. As a child, we moved from Egypt, to Jerusalem, and then to Syria (which was my father’s final duty station). After boarding schools in Shropshire and then Kent, I went on to university in Virginia (US), and then returned to the UK to complete further studies in Hertfordshire. In adulthood, I have moved around a lot within the UK: London, Gloucester, and Birmingham. But now I am preparing for the biggest move of my life - a relocation to Melbourne, Australia - to establish house and family with hubby, Joel (who I married last July).

Despite the fact that I moved around a lot in my youth (which I did come to resent in my twenties), England has been home for 20 years or so... hence, this relocation to Australia is a huge upheaval. To be honest, it has taken me about a year to come to terms with this relocation; that is getting my mind and heart in the right frame of mind for such a mega move. However, now that D-Day is looming I feel my stress levels rising with all the things that still need to be organised between now and Jan '09. I finish my teaching term in four weeks, and around working fulltime, I am busy with packing up my current house to move into temporary accommodation until I fly out in Jan. To give you an idea of the things I’ve had to sort out in recent months: pack up all my books, CDs, photographs, bags, shoes, bike, etc. (38 boxes in all)... and put them in storage; sort out all my furniture, kitchenware, etc. and organise charity collections; and pack my suitcase for the move into my temporary digs. This week... I have arranged the final charity pickup, I will need to defrost the fridge, and then clean the entire house from ‘top-to-toe’... YIKES... so much to do, so little time. Well, I’ll be out of here on the weekend, and that will be such a HUGE relief. Then, it’s a matter of awaiting visas, organising my tickets for travel, and making arrangements to ship my things across.

I must say, that the way I have managed to keep my stress levels in check over the last few months is in the following ways:-
· Writing: I am working on some great short stories at the moment.
· Knitting: I have rediscovered knitting again in the last month (mum taught me how to knit when I was about 9 or 10 years), and I’m loving it. My current project is knitting a scarf for Joel.
· Scrapbooking: Yes – I’ve recently started a scrapbook, and again I’m enjoying the process of collecting my interests and memories in a collage.

Indeed, I am finding writing, knitting, and scrapbooking very therapeutic in keeping the ‘zin-zen balance’ of my soul. And of course, my friendships; daily walks to and from school; and lots of prayer is all part of what’s keeping me sane during this stressful juncture in my life.

Two nuggets of wisdom that I hold on to at this time:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful worldas it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things rightif I surrender to His Will;That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen. (Reinhold Niebuhr)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Trust in the LORD with all your heartand lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways acknowledge him,and he will direct your paths. (Proverbs 3, 5-6)

Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Obama Odyssey!

Where were you when history was unfolding on the shores of America on the 4th of November 2008? On the other side of the Atlantic (here in the UK), I chose to watch on the BBC, minute-by-minute, the arrival of a new chapter in America’s history books. After an intense night, at around 4 am, the verdict was given. The American people (and indeed, the world) were rewarded for their desire for change and hope for a new and better future. The first black man, an African-American, was elected as president of this century’s leading superpower. Barak Obama has risen from obscurity to the global stage as the leader of the Western (free and democratic) world. It was a momentous victory that inspired pride and vision. Truly, it is rare occasions like these, which cause an outpouring of cliché and commentary. The media, minions, and millions across the globe were revelling in rhetoric such as: ‘dreams can come true’, ‘miracles do happen’, ‘fiction has become fact’, ‘the American dream concept (that long-held fantasy) has proved to be a reality’, and on and on. The cliché that continues to tumble out of my mouth in discussions with family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers, is: ‘I never thought I would live to see the day when a black man became president of America’. To be perfectly honest, I never perceived it, nor conceived it in the realm of my imagination. Not surprising, as I was raised in an era blighted by subtle and overt racial prejudices, encountered during my upbringing and schooling years in the Middle East, US and UK. In the main, for most of my thirty-seven years, I have been surrounded by the white populace (both in terms of my schooling and work settings). It is these white dominated environments that have been my daily truth, and fed my aspirations as a young black woman. Therefore, it never crossed my mind to dream or imagine that such an event could occur in this century, let alone in this decade.

For many black people born before the 80’s (I speak from my experiences), the truth of the plight of the black man globally, both in the first and third worlds, caused many to stop believing in the dream that one day a black man would ever have the ‘top job’. For most of the black masses in the West, the only grass-roots dream available to them is to: ‘survive life, have a good job, and raise a family’; in the developing nations, this dream is further muted. Decades of the deflowering of the black man has meant that the drive to dream for, and achieve the impossible has remained stifled, and a daily battle. Of course, countless many have continued the struggle in their various corners of the earth, be it as an activist in Australia, a teacher in England, a minister in South Africa, or a senator in America. Definitely, the face of the struggle that I talk about, is evolving: from slavery; to the right to vote; to equal rights at work; to what I would call, an eradication of the racist DNA that is endemic to the American gene pool (which of course, equally affects many other Western nations in a similar fashion). In light of this pervasive DNA, we cannot talk about an ‘ultimate victory’ for the black man at the entrance of President-elect Obama. However, what we can take away from this incredibly symbolic outcome is a shift in humankind that is moving from a place of discord and polarisation amongst racial communities, towards one of working towards greater unity and understanding. It is significant that Obama arrives at a pivotal moment in our times, to act as a key to bridging the divide between black and white, past and present, and play a vital role in moving people forward towards a post-racial American world.

In my time, I have witnessed three life-changing events of this magnitude, both incredible and incredulous: Nelson Mandela’s release and presidency in South Africa, the 9/11 bomb attacks, and now the election of the 1st black president of the United States. As an African and as a Westerner, I am proud to have played my part in the role of a witness to this historic event. Sure this is only the beginning, and the task that lies ahead for Obama is monumental in terms of rebuilding the wasteland that has been created by the Bush-Cheney years – particularly, in terms of the global economy, and international policy. In addition to this, he will encounter a lot of opposition from his critics (let us not forget that he won by only a slight majority, in terms of the popular vote), suffice to say that as he enters his term of office in the White House, he will in fact be entering a ‘lion’s den’ where many will seek to devour him. As a black man, he will have to work twice as hard as any of the 43 white presidents that have gone before him – to prove his promise of bipartisan and pragmatic leadership to the American people, and the world. It is unlikely that a term of four years will be sufficient to re-establish a paradise that recaptures the essence of the American Dream. However, in as much as, Obama faces a colossal task ahead, it is important not to minimize the symbolic victory that has been achieved by Obama because he has opened up the gates for people from every corner of the pigmentation spectrum, to make a bid not only for this ‘top job’ of presidency, but for top jobs in every aspect of industry and society. He has given people of colour (ethnic minorities) permission to dream again. Thus, his campaign manifesto ‘yes, we can’ has indeed raised the benchmark across the world!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Autumn's hope!

Walking home from school yesterday evening as I waded through the river of golden brown leaves, it struck me that autumn has arrived. It never ceases to amaze me how after the wet rains of the English summer, autumn seems to appear unnoticed until we are captivated by the beauty of the changing leaves, especially when captured under a streak of autumn sunlight. It is a special season. One that is full of irony, in that as the leaves die and fall (producing much beauty to the eye) it whispers ‘hope’ and the promise of spring. We can take a lot of comfort from the changing seasons, in that there is a cycle to all things – life, death, pain, joy – everything has a season, as the book of Lamentations alludes to in its mantra: “There’s a time…”! Personally, I'm encouraged by the optimism that autumn brings because I'm at the cusp of entering into the next phase of my life. There is a lot of fear, anxiety and uncertainty, as I wait for things to unfold in God’s perfect will and time – but, I know that this season of ‘waiting’ will also come to completion. And for me the lesson is, that while I wait, I should look out for, and enjoy the nuggets of beauty occurring in my midst (even at this difficult time in my life); because every season has beauty to offer – it’s just a matter of our perceptions and how we view our difficulties and challenges from where we are at. I found this quote by an unknown author which sums up where I'm at: 'When the world says, "Give up,"Hope whispers, "Try it one more time." '

Friday, 19 September 2008

Goodbye little toe-nail...

This evening I decided to trim my toenails, however, when it came to my little toe on my right foot – the entire toenail came off. Yikes!!! I must say, it looks very strange being toenail less on that foot, but I seem to be able to function without it. This got me thinking... what is the function or purpose of a toenail? On further reflection, it reminded me of some of the awful stuff that happens to us in life – sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason to these events... just like the toenail... seemingly, no rhyme or reason to this hard and translucent nail plate! But perhaps there is a purpose to it being attached to our human bodies... it’s just that I’ve no idea what it is!?! In the same way, it could be that some of our life struggles do have a purpose or function in our soul's journeys – even if we are unable to understand or decode them at the time (or ever)! Ah well, enough philosophising for one day. Oh yes, I’ve had a much better day... could be because it’s Friday and I’m craving a weekend of chilled out ‘me-time’! p.s. I do hope my toenail grows back (apparently it can take between 12 to 18 months to regrow).... hmmmmmm... one more thing to try not to worry about... (lol)!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

One of those days...

Not feeling my mojo today. Truth be told, I feel as if my sense of ‘inner calm and balance’ has taken a bit of a nose dive this past week. I can’t quite put my finger on it – although, I know that it’s probably not helped by a number of life stresses and pressures that are pressing in on my life. I had the day off today due to hospital appointments all morning at Heartlands (I’ve got a follow-up appointment in two weeks). Nothing serious, just keeping tabs on the progress with my health! On returning from the hospital, I’ve been in bed pretty much for the remainder of the day. I’m feeling really achy and shattered – physically, mentally and emotionally. I slept a bit, but I’m finding that my sleep in recent days is not at all refreshing – because of the life concerns burdening on my mind – I’m having loads of restless nights. I’m resisting going back on the anti-depressants. Personally, I’m so ANTI being on anti-depressants -something about me feeling relinquished to the status of ‘failure’ for not being able to manage my mental and emotional health without them – even though, I must admit they have helped me in the past. Two significant periods that I’ve been on anti-depressants for a period of time, include: first, in 1996 after my Masters degree, I went through a particularly difficult time, and I was on them for about six months; the second occasion, is this year in coming to terms with a number of life-changing issues that have affected me deeply since July 2007. Anyway, I stopped taking my current prescription - which I've been on since the beginning of the year - about a month ago, thinking that I was over the worst of it (whatever 'it' might be) - maybe not!?! Thank goodness, I meet up with my counsellor tomorrow (Fri 19th Sept). It’s meant to be our final session – but I may need to request for more sessions. I get so frustrated when I think things are looking up and then, again and again, I come crashing down! Hopefully, all this fog that I’m in will pass. Well, life's getting busy again – in terms of my writing courses start back up next week – and maybe that focus will help me get back on track with ‘being and living’. It’ll be good to get back into some serious writing, with regards to my poetry and prose after a lull over the summer. Incidentally, I came across a great tune on You Tube today titled: It’s your love (Tim McGraw & Faith Hill). Funny, how a song can make you smile or weep depending on how you’re feeling inside. With my mojo gone (fingers-crossed, not for too long!), on listening to the song (several times today)... I wept. But, it’s still a great little tune! p.s. started reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Paul Torday) - so far, so good...!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Does the tortoise win the race?


Sunday, 7th September... it was an exhilarating feeling to complete the Adidas 5K Challenge – albeit a power walk – in 47 minutes! I recall that I did the London 10K Run (about ten years ago) in about the same time – however, back then I was fitter and healthier and in fact I completed the course in a run. Nevertheless, after the battles I’ve had with my health in recent years – which has indeed affected my fitness levels – it was a great personal achievement to complete the course in the time that I did it in.

Despite the drizzle and grey weather it was fantastic to see the commitment of so many women who came out to complete the Adidas 5K Challenge in support of their sponsored charities. An incredible buzz infused the atmosphere during the mega warm-up session with a fitness team. All revved up and rearing to go, the race started earnestly at 10:30 am. The serious runners began the race from the right lane, and both power and casual walkers commenced on the left lane. The serious runners completed the challenge in record times, and I believe that the first place runners ran the race in fifteen minutes flat. The rest of us had up to two hours to complete the challenge. As I’ve mentioned I completed mine – with a fellow power-walk partner (who I met on the day) – in forty-seven minutes. The course was a relatively flat and direct route which catered to all abilities of runners, joggers, walkers, and even those with visible disabilities; for example, I spotted a lady in a wheelchair, and there was another blind lady who completed the course with her sighted helpers.

There were many highlights to the event. One of the more rewarding experiences on the day was the sight of all the charities on a rainbow-colour display of T-shirts sported by women of all creed, colour, shape and size – a beautiful montage to both the multitude of charities represented, and the sisterhood of womankind. I stood amongst many, playing my part to raise money and awareness for my chosen charity: Action Aid. Each step I took – inspired by the support of many colleagues, acquaintances, and friends – led to the fulfilment of both a personal and charitable endeavour. And although I’d made the decision to participate in this Adidas 5K Challenge around June, it wasn’t until the beginning of August that I began fundraising in earnest for the event so it’s been such a satisfying accomplishment to have fundraised nearly £250 in a month. Hoorah!!! Definitely... this has very much been a team effort and success – namely, the combined effort of all those who’ve supported me financially and/or in prayer – in contributing to the work of Action Aid.

My sense of achievement from this challenge has given me the impetus to continue to improve my fitness levels, and look ahead to perhaps a bigger challenge next summer – again to help with raising money for Action Aid, and in particular their HIV/AIDS work. Many of you may not have been able to support me financially in this endeavour, but I hope all of you will stay connected with my news/blogs – and may feel inspired to sponsor me in future events of this kind that I may engage in as I (with your help) strive to ‘be the change I want to see in the world’ (Ghandi).


Once again, huge thanks to everyone for all your support with helping this tortoise win her race!

Digging deeper!

This weekend (Sat 13th & Sun 14th Sept) I undertook a WORKSHOP course titled: Creativity & Life. It was an incredibly challenging, and thought-provoking course helping us to explore a myriad of ideas and concepts e.g. one area we looked at was – the imagination, wonder, playfulness in Jesus-centred spiritual growth. I found the course contained great insights and revelations – in my opinion, quite revolutionary – as to helping me think deeply as to seeing a more robust picture of the nature of God through Jesus. As I've said, I found it to be an incredibly challenging course and I look forward to attending other courses being offered by www.workshop.org.uk in the future.

Miss… you’re so random!

A couple of days into the new academic year – after three days of Staff INSET – I was asked if I’d be able to come along as a team leader for a Year 10 spiritual retreat. With very little thought, and a quick scan of my diary, I gave my consent. So it was that on Tuesday 9th Sept, around 2 pm, I found myself on a coach load of almost thirty students heading down the motorway to Soli House, in Stratford.

It never ceases to amaze me how often God makes appointments with us even without us realising it or before we perceive the event. The priest-in-charge offered the young people a similar thought: “you might not believe, or indeed realise it, but God called you to come on this retreat to have an opportunity to engage with, and encounter Him”. And I found that I too had been led – notwithstanding that it was a last minute call – to come along and do business with God.

The retreat was a powerful spiritual experience for me amidst ongoing personal struggles. In the quiet and calm of the surroundings, I found God ministering to my spiritual needs – reminding me of his enduring love and presence in every situation. In recent weeks, I have been praying that God would move me from a place of fear to a place of faith, and during this retreat I was given a gentle reminder that the wind of change that is needed to propel my transition from ‘fear to faith’ consists of: taking God at his word, and choosing to trust him completely. Not surprisingly, moving to that place of total surrender is no easy feat and is a daily and ongoing challenge for me. However, after many years (over five years, if anyone is counting!) of spiritual stalemate, I have decided that I do want to press more into the Father’s heart, dig deeper into scripture, and move to the next level in my relationship with God. Hence about two months ago, I made a commitment to read the entire bible using the book ‘Searching the Scriptures’. And I must say that I’ve got so much from the book of LUKE which I’m re-visiting again with new eyes – being washed and cleansed afresh with numerous nuggets of truth e.g. “Any of you who does not give up everything he has, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33)! Having made this commitment, I have sensed God opening more of himself to me – seeking me out in the routine of my life, and equally, in the out-of-the-ordinary events such as this Soli House retreat.

Hence in the midst of a gaggle of nearly thirty Year 10 boys and girls going through their own private journeys with God and despite the three days of sleep deprivation (on the first night, I didn’t get even an hour’s sleep!) – I found myself being renewed by the person of Christ, and the love of God. In addition, it was rewarding to experience this group of young people outside of the school environment and see their faith journeys being nurtured in this way. Getting to know the young people, and having the opportunity to share my life story with them – to the extent that one girl commented: 'Miss... you’re so random...' what a treat!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Summer blues!

Less than a week to go and I am struggling with a cold (in the tail-end of what has been a beleaguered summer ... weather-wise). I believe I caught this chill on the way from church last Sunday evening; dressed for summer (in a knee-length dress over jeans), sitting at the bus shelter waiting for the bus I was caught up in the bluster of rain and wind. Not exactly Hurricane Gustav conditions, but pretty unsettled conditions! Worse of all, I didn’t have my mega-umbrella with me so I did get soaked on the journey to and from church. Indeed, it was extremely uncomfortable sat in church all damp and wet while trying to worship and praise God. Still, it was the walk back to the bus stop (where I got thoroughly soaked), and the twenty-minute wait for the bus, that sealed my fate – the onset of a cold, which I felt the next morning. All day yesterday (Monday) my nose was running uncontrollably like a baby’s, and my body succumbed to the aches and pains that had settled in my joints and muscles. What a way to start the week, in terms of keeping up my fitness preparation, after such a promising start earlier that Sunday – where I managed to pop along to the LA Fitness Spin class at noon. Unfortunately, not much else has happened since that hour’s exertion. But having rested up all evening yesterday (after running some errands in the afternoon – which in some ways, I consider has contributed to helping with my fitness levels – that is, walking from here to there), I hope to manage another Spin class or session at the gym a couple of more times this week before Sunday.
In spite of my struggles with this cold, I remain excited and look forward to the event on Sunday. I have just found out from the Action Aid Office (London) that I am the only person participating in this Adidas 5K for Action Aid on the Birmingham Women’s Challenge! So, if you happen to be in town (Birmingham, by Centenary Square) – look out for me in the brilliant red Action Aid T-shirt (striding along in a power-walk) and give me a holler or a wave. I take this opportunity to THANK EVERYONE that has supported me in this venture! I must confess, I have been bawled over by the level of support and well-wishers that I have received in this short month of fund-raising and I look forward to doing lots more in the future for Action Aid and contributing to the work of HIV/AIDS nationally, and globally.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

A lesson from Arthur & Dolly!

Last weekend I was given the grand responsibility of looking after a friend’s two rabbits, Arthur and Dolly, who have recently had two babies. Both Arthur and Dolly are young rabbits, and are different in looks as they are in personality. Arthur is a strong, sculpted hare with a beautiful coat of grey. On the other hand, Dolly is a fluffy ball of white’ish fur. In fact, when I first saw her, I mistook her face for her backside because her eyes, nose and mouth were hidden behind her long-haired coat; a distinctive feature of the Angora rabbit (I later found out from Joel). In terms of personality, Arthur is a feisty rabbit who doesn’t like a lot of human fussing, e.g. being picked up and stroked (yes... he scratched me enough times for me to learn this lesson quickly enough). Dolly, is a placid creature more amenable to the human touch, enjoying being petted and stroked. Although, I found Arthur’s personality more challenging, over the weekend, I grew to a place of accepting Arthur’s strong-willed nature. Last night, Joel reminded me of a teacher’s mug that I bought several years ago which reads: ‘they’re all God’s little children’. It got me thinking. Indeed, despite Arthur and Dolly’s very different personalities, they are both unique and loved by their owners. In the same way, as we negotiate all manner of personality types in this world we must recognise that in spite of the challenges of human nature, we are all God’s children, and we need to work hard at trying to accept people as they are. This is a useful reminder in any human interaction – a marriage, a friendship, and amongst work colleagues. Dolly and Arthur (more significantly) have taught me there is a certain maturity that comes with adjusting our responses to other personalities, however difficult, and even if they do fall short of our expectations. Accepting people as they are, or rabbits in this case, has been my lesson for the week – incidentally, that choice and responsibility is all of ours to make.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Running for a 'Healthier Africa'...

After a number of years of struggling with bouts of ill health, inevitably my fitness level has really suffered over this period. For a while I tried in vain to maintain the level of fitness which I achieved in my twenties through a rigorous and committed daily exercise regime. Unfortunately, as my health took a turn for the worse in 2005 I found it impossible to keep my exercise routine up, and soon gave up. Hence, it’s been a good couple of years since I exercised consistently, and it’s only in the last three months (as my health has improved) that I have started to re-engage with fitness and exercise. After years of being ‘out of the routine’, it’s such hard work trying to regain that motivation and discipline to go to the gym for an aerobic class, a swim, or even go for a run (a ‘jog-walk’ in my case) around the local park (and it must be said, that I am spoilt for choice in terms of green spaces in the Kings Heath/Moseley vicinity). Therefore as I seek the re-emergence of my athletic self, (well, what’s left of it in the tail-end of my thirties!) I have decided on this undertaking – to complete the Birmingham Adidas 5K. Entering for this 5K ‘run’ (although, I aim to ‘jog-walk’ or ‘power-walk’ the distance) has a dual purpose for me. First, to give me an end-goal that would work as an impetus, to give me the motivation to keep working hard at improving my fitness level. Second, in deciding to run on behalf of Action Aid, I wanted to raise money to support their HIV/AIDS work in Africa – a cause that is close to my heart for many reasons; not least, because my husband and I have been sponsoring a young girl from a Lesotho community since our wedding last July. Receiving intermittent newsletters about her life in her community is always a gentle reminder of the plight that faces the masses on the continent of Africa that suffer daily hardships due to corruption, poverty and disease. For these reasons, I am excited that I am in good health once again to go forward for this Adidas 5K on Sunday, 7th September. Less than five weeks to go! As I’ve alluded to, I will be working hard to get myself fit enough to make it round the 5K comfortably. Not a major distance (I know, having done a 10K about ten years ago in London – completing it in about 50 minutes), however, in light of the uphill health battles I’ve had in recent years – completing this route even in a ‘power-walk’ would be such a great personal achievement. And, as I make this personal ‘step towards a healthier me’, I ask that you support Action Aid by sponsoring my endeavours to make a ‘further step towards a healthier Africa’. I will be updating my blog regularly over the course of the next few weeks to keep you posted on how I am progressing with my training, and fundraising efforts. So, please do stay connected by popping in now and again. I take this opportunity to thank you for all your financial support towards the work of Action Aid!

For more news on this event and to sponsor me visit: http://www.myactionaid.org.uk/Walumba

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Hot Air Balloon

On the train back from Swansea this weekend, I spotted a number of colourful hot air balloons in the far distance. As they floated high against the backdrop of sun-kissed skies of a fading summer’s evening, it struck me at how much my life was like journeying on a hot air balloon. Let me explain: up there (on the hot air balloon) those navigating have a plan as to where they are heading – but, it’s not a exact science – and anything, such as a ‘squall’ could throw them of course – so, ultimately, only God knows exactly where and how that journey will end. Isn’t that very much like our daily existence? In my numerous discussions with my friend, C, in Swansea, we were amazed at how despite our many wonderful plans and preoccupations of our teens and twenties --- where we have in fact ended up at this point in our life (in our thirties) is not what we could have ever dreamt up nor imagined. And yet, here we are blessed in so many wonderful ways, echoing a favourite saying of my mother’s: ‘man proposes but (ultimately) God disposes.’ It was a joy to see C’s new baby boy, one of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen, with the softest cherub skin, and big pools of blue eyes – he was delectable; and I was tempted to take him home with me, if not for the fact that his parents, the law, and God would not take too kindly to my pinching this precious baby boy (lol!) It was great to understand the beauty and radiance that comes in ‘patiently waiting and persevering with the Lord’. Throughout the weekend, the bible verse that spoke to my soul again and again was: "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm — my great army that I sent among you.” (Joel 2:25). Indeed, C and I have been through some extremely tough patches over the years, and yet God has remained ever faithful to his promises. Our wonderful marriages, and now the recent arrival of C’s baby is a testament to that awesome truth. Yes, there have been terrible squalls along the way that have blown us off course, and even threatened our physical, spiritual and emotional lives (in some way, and for varying periods of time); but when all is said and done, as long as God is in control of our hot air balloon we know that we will end up in a place of abundance – not in the worldly sense of ‘riches’ but in God’s sense of ‘peace’ no matter the trial or struggle that we are facing. And one of my favourite scripture passages confirms this by saying: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). It is this nugget of hope that renews my energy each morning to face the day ahead.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Journeys & Thornton Chocolates!

Journeys are like the experience of buying a box of Thornton chocolates – that process of eager anticipation, knowing that you are about to indulge in something beautiful, almost magical. Often it is impossible to describe in entirety the explosion of chocolate flavours in one’s mouth until that first exquisite bite when you are surprised (again and again) by the eruption of mouth-watering riches of chocolate, nuts, caramel, coffee, truffle – whatever your preference might be. In the same way, many journeys I make I begin with a sense of excitement, anticipating an element of ‘surprise’ along the way. As I reflect on my recent time in Ledbury I am reminded that journeys are so often more important, than the actual destination (if indeed, one can pinpoint a specific endpoint as the destination of their journey). I am of the mind that journeys are often perpetual – in that they remain a ‘process’, and each point that we may attribute as a ‘destination’ is simply a ‘check-point’, a ‘rest-point’, or even a ‘stepping-stone’ to the next adventure – all part of that continuous life journey.

After a tenuous start to the weekend, in that I finished my teaching day late on the Friday (caught up in a good old chin-wag with a couple of work colleagues); then went home only to find that my portable phone was on the blink (so I then had to spend many minutes phoning B.T. on my mobile trying to resolve the issue – which as usual was a nightmare); then on the journey out the No. 35 bus into Birmingham City Centre broke down (and I had to walk 20 minutes to New Street); and I soon realised that the handle of my mini-suitcase was broken (making it awkward to move the darn thing across town). Hmmmm… they do say bad luck happens in ‘threes’. Still I managed to make the train (in the nick of time), and got into Ledbury at around 8:20 pm that evening. I eventually arrived at my B&B in Putley (approximately 10 miles away from Ledbury train station) around 8:30 pm’ish.

The weekend was a really good time of reflection and much needed ‘me time’. I did achieve most of the things I had hoped to do (as noted in my last blog) – so it was a very productive weekend in that sense. But more importantly I felt as if I had the space to connect with my inner self and God. Indeed it was a very spiritual journey as I re-connected with God on many levels through a myriad of encounters over the weekend. God spoke volumes into my soul and nurtured my spirit in numerous ways, for example: through a book by Cameron Conant titled: ‘With or without you’; through the beautiful landscape which surrounds the B&B; through the silence and the quiet of the area; through the two gorgeous dogs belonging to the owners of the B&B; and through the beautiful churches and graveyards in both Ledbury and Putley (where I wandered around for hours basking in the lovely sunshine). At the offset, I believed that the journey for the weekend was one of ‘timing out’ and having some R&R, but what I received on this journey was abundantly more --- a box of Thornton surprises as I bonded with God in a very personal way. Bliss.

Friday, 11 July 2008

'Timing Out' in Ledbury!

I’m travelling to Ledbury this weekend. I’d had every intention of taking part in an extreme workshop at the Poetry Festival this Saturday (15th July) – walking all night on the hills (11pm-7am) while taking breaks in between to write. I was inspired having done a similar extreme workshop event at Birmingham Book Festival last year in October 2007. Then, it was an all night bus circuit travelling to places like Iron Bridge and Ludlow, punctuated by stops where we were given a variety of writing tasks to infuse our poetic creativity. It was a blast (especially the full English that we had at the end of our ‘tour de Brum’!) Unfortunately, I’ve been struggling with the onset of a cold this week (lots of aches and pains) and it’s important that I don’t get a chest infection – so, with much reluctance, I will not be attending the all night workshop at Ledbury. However, since I’ve booked a B&B for the weekend I’ve decided to go ahead with my ‘time out’ from Birmingham anyway. Lots to think about at the moment – both in terms of ‘my future’ and ‘my present spiritual odyssey’, so I’m hoping to use this weekend to spend time in some reflection and contemplation. I also want to use the time to plan Joel’s birthday and anniversary gifts. In addition, I need to work on some outstanding writing redrafts – a short story and some poems. And, I definitely need to get my ‘Things to do before I go to Australia’ list sorted. There’s so much to remember especially with regards to my financial matters, such as: closing various accounts, and memberships. I’m very much a lists person, therefore, this particular ‘to do’ list is now quite high on the agenda as I notice that time is swiftly swimming away from me. I must confess that a part of me is ‘um’ing and arr’ing’ about being away this weekend, especially with not feeling 100% and the awful weather of recent days, but I know that having this ‘time out’ will be good for me as I do find it hard to create space for personal reflection in my daily routine, and I know if I stayed home in Birmingham this weekend many of these things would be relegated to the back burner until goodness knows when! I’ll touch base when I get back on Sunday…

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Fat cat - NOT!

Why is no one ever tells you (during the journey from childhood into adulthood) how tough it is to earn a living when you’re all grown up? An impossible concept to get to grips with when you’re being raised in the relative opulence of U.N. wealth. From international schools, to boarding schools, to trips in Europe and Africa, and spending liquid money (from dad’s earnings) – it’s a real shock to the system when one realises (as I have) that the proverbial ‘silver spoon’ has long slipped into the descending echelons of simply hovering above one’s financial comfort zone. Now in adulthood and fast approaching middle age, I feel as if I am constantly ‘chasing my tail’ like a gerbil on a Ferris-wheel, in my relentless effort to stay afloat financially. Something in my mind tells me, that if I was ever going to ‘make it’ and make a significant mark in my personal life, in terms of doing more than survive financially, I would have done so already. Almost 40 (well, 37 this year to be precise), I’m still counting the pennies. Today, once again, I gritted my teeth at the post office and asked to know the balance of my current bank account. The three measly figures on the thin strip of paper confirmed the worst – as I noted, that on the 9th of the month (today), my account balance is where it should be on the 19th or 20th of the month (well, this would have been the case in the first quarter of this year). Don’t ask me what’s happened, because I just don’t know! Actually, I do know. The state of affairs of my bank balance is due to several unexpected expenses this month, such as, the breaking my Jai Kudo glasses last week (I sat on it). I’ve had them for eight years, so – long overdue for a change, but I really would have hung on to them a while longer; if only to hang on to my pennies. Even though my prescription has since changed (getting worse as the years tick on), but the bottom line is that I could still see with those glasses. So this week I had to fork out on another pair of glasses; a cheaper option, mind – albeit still a designer pair (since I certainly couldn’t afford another Jai Kudo in the current economic slump that I find myself in!) In addition to this, there’s all the expenditure tied to my impending relocation to Australia. Under the deluge of cost, after cost, after cost, my bank balance is stretched to the limit – reading comfortably in the ‘amber’ zone in the last two months, and almost toppling into the ‘red’ zone this month. Hmmmm... I may have to dip into my meagre savings this month. Definitely, the ongoing battle with my finances is making me look forward to the move from ‘independent career woman’ (note, that I have not said ‘successful independent career woman’) to becoming a ‘wife that’s looked after, and who chooses to be looked after by her husband – a lady of leisure, so to speak’. So much for any youthful fancies I might have had in the past: that of a feminist approach to life. It’s got to a point in my life where all such fanciful notions are thrown out of the window, if not completely stomped on, and buried in the ground.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Pilgrimmage...

After a significant year of ‘mixed blessings’ I find myself at a juncture in my life where I am having to stop and reflect on the life path that I have been on to date; and the further journeys that I am about to undertake this coming year. Reflecting on the last couple of years, two key journeys I have found myself on are that long harrowing road to recovery and wholeness after a devastating illness; and more positively that of falling in love (at the ripe ‘old age’ of thirty four), and subsequently getting married last July. Interestingly, since September (2007) I have been engaged in a creative writing course, which has catapulted me into starting my first novel, a project that remains very much a ‘work-in-progress’, and it is an extract from this novel, that I commence my blogging adventure. The reason for this is because this novel has in many ways, and continues to be part of my healing process (through grief and reconciliation) as I make sense of my world after several traumas in my life in recent years. I really have found my writing – both my poetry and prose, very therapeutic in terms of working through ‘past stuff’, and feel that the process of journaling the next phase of my life - the ‘hope and future’ by way of blogging - will also be a satisfying endeavour, as I look to share this pilgrimage that I am on while connecting with others through this forum. Thus, the focus of walumba.blogspot.com is two-fold, to journal both my re-location to Melbourne, Australia, in December 2008; and the spiritual journey that I am on (linked to many of the issues that I have touched on in this entry). Like Madeleine (the protagonist in my up-and-coming novel) who finds herself confronted by twists and turns of varying degrees and severity in her travels, and has to find a way through to her final destination (wherever that may be); I too have to meander through a personal ‘walkabout’ as I take the plunge of uprooting myself from my home in Birmingham to starting a new chapter, and a different life ‘Down Under’. And, like the flying-foxes, in the extract, who help Madeleine during a particular stage in a strange world she finds herself in, I see the discovery of my ‘inner self and strength’ and ‘the strangers and friends that I am yet to meet along the way’ as the ‘walumbas’ (or the flying foxes) who will emerge as ‘helpers’ in my coming journey.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Journey

Madeleine landed in a thick forest. A solitary bat-like creature hovered above. Behind it, the fading moonlight. For a while, she sat motionless gazing up at the fleck flittering in circles. All of a sudden, it dived low and perched itself on a branch. It was then she spotted the dark lotus-bud shaped lanterns dangling from the trees. Except these were no lanterns. This was a colony of roosting Flying-foxes.
‘Don’t just sit there. Get up. You need to get out of here.’ The sharp voice spoke as he swooped to a lower branch.
‘Who are you?’ Madeleine asked, rising to her feet. She brushed off the twigs and leaves, moving closer to the fox.
‘Keep your voice down. It’s our bedtime,’ he hissed.
‘What time is it?’ Madeleine looked at her watch. Almost six o’clock.
‘Well – who are you?’ Madeleine asked again.
‘Pipistrelle is the name. You must be the chameleon child. You’ve been the talk of the whole kingdom.’
‘Really...? Yes, I’m Madeleine.’
‘But... you’re supposed to have been captured. Locked away somewhere. You and the earthen boy.’
‘Jake...? Do you know where he is? I must find him.’
‘First tell me. How did you escape?’ His tawny coloured eyes caught hers.
‘They locked me in one of the rooms. In the Towers.’
‘The Towers? How on earth did you get away? No one escapes the Towers of Sarpos. It’s impossible! And to get past the phantoms that guard the Towers.’ He shook his head in disbelief.
‘I found a porthole.’
‘A porthole exists?’ His face lit up, eyes wide with amazement. ‘We’ve always thought that was a myth.’
‘Yes, it exists.’
‘You must be a special child to have discovered the porthole.’ He left his perch and flew towards her. ‘I will help you find your friend.’ His voice was grave.
‘Thank you Pipistrelle.’
‘Pip’s the name, my dear. Now that we are friends.’
‘Thank you Pip. We don’t have much time. I need to be home at eight.’
‘I know. I know. It’s the curse of the chameleons.’
‘Do we have enough time?’
‘They will have locked him up in another room in the Towers. We should have plenty of time so long as nothing goes wrong.’
‘How are we going to locate him? There must be dozens of rooms in the Towers. And once we find him how will we make our escape?’
‘There’s nothing for it,’ he declared. ‘I am going to have to enlist the help of some of the others. They’re not going to like it. They’ve all settled in for the night and they’ll hate being woken up.’ He pursed his lips.

Ph-ooo-eee-ph-ooo-eee! Pipistrelle let out a series of piercing chirps. The pattern of his squeaks was like a Morse code signal. In seconds, each unique call commandeered a dozen foxes. They stirred, soared high, as if to shake off sleep, before joining Madeleine and Pipistrelle on the ground.
The largest of the twelve spoke first. He looked grumpy. Madeleine wondered if he was always so, or only so because he had been woken up.
‘Pip what’s going on? Who is this then?’
‘It’s the chameleon child.’
‘Madeleine.’ She introduced herself, giving twelve nods as she acknowledged each fox.
‘I thought you were locked up in the Tower?’ another fox asked.
‘Yes, yes – but she escaped. Through the porthole. It exists.’ Pipistrelle explained, with an air of authority mixed with impatience. ‘I’ve told Madeleine here that we will help her find the earthen boy so that they can make their escape.’
‘Why should we help?’ The large, grumpy fox spoke again.
‘Pascoe – don’t be rude. She’s in trouble. And it wasn’t right that we went to Earthendom and kidnapped these two children,’ said Pipistrelle.
‘The Council decided it. We vote for our council and they act in the best interest of our kingdom,’ said Pascoe.
‘We’ve gone against the Treaty,’ said Pipistrelle with a sigh.
‘Treaty?’ Madeleine asked.
‘Yes. The Treaty. It states that we will not intentionally trespass into each other’s worlds. And what have we gone and done? We’ve not only trespassed into Earthendom, we’ve stolen two of their own.’
All looked at Pipistrelle intently. Some nodded their agreement. Madeleine remained quiet, and solemn.
‘There’ll be trouble if the Council finds out that we’ve helped these two young ones,’ said Pascoe.
‘Well they refuse to hear the voices of the lesser creatures of the kingdom. I think it’s about time we do the right thing,’ Pipistrelle half-shouted.
‘The right thing?’ Pascoe repeated. ‘For whom?’
‘For the Quadrant. This chameleon child is our hope. The key to bringing lasting peace between the Quadrant worlds. We must help her.’
This comment was punctuated with a lengthy pause. Pipistrelle resumed.
‘We must find the earthen boy and help these two back to their world.’
‘We don’t have a lot of time. The whole kingdom will be awake soon,’ said one of the foxes.
‘I don’t have much time either,’ Madeleine blurted, glancing at her watch again.
‘What’s the plan?’ asked a young fox called Jasper.
‘We know he’s being held in the Towers,’ said Pipistrelle.
‘If you could locate which room he’s being locked in,’ said Madeleine.
‘Then we can form a stairwell so that the boy can climb down to safety,’ Pipistrelle added with a wink. He knew that no single fox would be able to fly the weight of the children. This would be the next best thing.
‘Sounds like a good plan,’ Pascoe said, nodding. His voice had lost its rough edge.
‘Madeleine. We’ll lead you to a safe distance by the Towers. Then we’ll go and find your friend and get him out.’
‘I do hope he’s okay.’

The group traipsed through the forest under a canopy of bark and mangroves. They tracked the narrow stream that would lead them out of this marshland. Madeleine, with Pipistrelle resting on her shoulder, walked. The other foxes flew. At last, they came to a clearing. From their vantage point they could see the ashen Towers loom ahead. It was an unusual looking building. At this distance, it had the appearance of a hovering alien spaceship. Madeleine and Pipistrelle followed the rocky path that led down into the valley. Compared to the moist habitat of the forest they had just left behind, the landscape here was sparse.