Thursday, 29 June 2017

This month: Glasgow

This month I went to Glasgow for a weekend. I got up at a ridiculous hour one Saturday morning, closed my eyes briefly on a plane and woke up in Scotland. Admittedly there was a very accommodating husband and pre-booking forethought involved. There was food, and food for thought; there were friends; there was crochet in public on Knit in Public Day. It was wonderful. The photos might imply more sun than in fact there was, but it was Glasgow. Just as miserable a climate as here, presumably! All in all it was nice to know that such things can still be done.

Thanks to Catherine and Fred for letting me come, and thanks to the strawberries for letting me go x Summer school holidays start tomorrow- in hilariously seasonal pouring rain...

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Life with boys

 This is the book I bought for Prince Charming for Father's Day on Sunday. I got it in Glasgow the week before, hoping to blog about that soon too! It obviously forms part of this wave of nostalgia we have for the pictures of our childhood, overlaid with the cynicism of our adulthood. Poor Bruno Vincent doesn't even get a mention on the front cover, though he seems to be embracing his role as "Enid Blyton's comedy representative" with great magnanimity.
 PC and I will laugh until we cry over anything that takes personal experience and turns it into communal shared fact. This used to be my favourite definition of poetry, paraphrased from T. S. Eliot, but now it just sums up how any book full of tales of exhaustion is going to work for us! I think this is why we crawl outside like good pagans every Summer Solstice night and sit up until the last trace of light is gone from the sky- just to prove to ourselves that we can. Not that we will necessarily function well the next day!
 When I started blogging it was all artful scenes of kitchen table and lots of small feet, and tales of wry domesticity. Yesterday I got a letter mug from the new M&S range, all fancy and gilt, to set me apart from the bold monochrome of men mugs. Now they drink tea from full-sized cups. Now they have broad shoulders that look sharp enough to slice the bread things they eat continually. Now I am often taken aback at how outrageously funny they are, or right, or wise.
 And then other times it still feels like this! Which is why I think the Enid Blyton spin-offs are so successful just now. Personal pain made public! The book about The Meeting makes you realise that you are not the only person dealing with inanity at work. The Mindfulness one makes you take yourself just a little bit less seriously, and allows you to chuckle at excess. And that's just three out of the four titles I've bought this year- you'll have to ask Niqi about The Dog one!

Depending on how the Queen's speech goes today, I might think about putting this one on my Amazon wishlist. Presumably it's our jolly, old DUP who are holding up the proceedings on Mrs May's new government. See apology below! With politics, much like parenting, do we need someone to help us laugh as well as cry?

Friday, 9 June 2017


I would just like to apologise to all of you living on the Mainland (as we call it, as if living on the island of Ireland was like living on the lake Isle of Inishfree) for the exposure you will now be experiencing to the phenomenon of the Northern Irish Politician.

Well, to the phenomenon of a DUP politician. Obviously, to call them politicians ignores the fact that we currently have no government here in the frozen North and they are all canvassing around the place with no work to do and £70,000 a year to do it with.

I digress. Apologies for the incomprehensible accent, the esoterically Unionist rhetoric, and the fact that it has brought you a state of affairs that may be not at all to your liking.

This may help... (The comedian on the left is the one we "met" at the Museum in the post below!)

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Raising Ebenezers

I have blogged about this little sculpture before. It is "Community" by Sonja Landweer, and it is my very favourite piece in the whole of the wonderfully wonderful Ulster Museum. I have always loved the diverse mounds and pillars and surfaces, all of us in all our shapes and sizes, how we look and how we feel.

 We spent an evening in the Museum one Friday night last month. Such a hoot. It was open for one of Belfast's Real Sketchy events, where you roll in and wander, with a drink in your hand, live music in your ears, and sketching any of their treasures as you go!
 It was planned to coincide with the Museum's hosting of the Lines of Thought exhibition- sketches of masters from Michaelangelo (in whose fat belly this middle-aged and spreading woman found much solace) to Picasso. The Barbara Hepworth is all ours, but it was gorgeously intimate to be there after hours, able to look and consider, though still not touch!
 Some people took it very seriously. This is Colin Murphy, a Northern Irish comedian we laugh over when we watch the Blame Game on BBC1. He really didn't want to be disturbed. I'm afraid I did. Couldn't resist. I don't get out much.

This is our friend, the prof, who doesn't wear shoes inside. Ever. Anywhere. When we first met him, and his fabulous wife, in church, we presumed it was a standing on holy ground thing. It's not. He just doesn't do shoes unless absolutely necessary. Darlings! It was just his sort of night.

Other people didn't take it quite so seriously. However, what I have since appreciated about Prince Charming's artistic output has become something very significant. PC downloaded an app that allows you to photograph something, and then turn it into your own piece of art. Very David Hockney. Very now. Darlings.
And so here is Landweer's community re-imagined a la PC. (That's a very PC word- apparently re-imagined is an old hymn given a modern twist.) And what I keep thinking about now, is how perfectly it illustrates what is increasingly for me a very, very fundamental truth. I Samuel 7:12. "Thus far has the Lord helped us." It's the story of Samuel experiencing the loud thunder of the Lord's deliverance, and setting up a stone, raising an Ebenezer, as a visual reminder that time and time again God deals with the details of our lives, the fights, the struggles, the worries, the times. I know that we know this, but I am not good at remembering this. I love the notion of having visual reminders in the landscape that say to this generation and the next- thus far has the Lord helped us.

So, until I can get some big rocks into the garden, I'm sticking with PC's Landweer!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Spring into summer, and then just back to Spring

 In terms of blog posts written since then, it wasn't very long ago at all that I was wondering about "autumn" as a verb, and you cleverly pointed out that "fall" and "spring" were indeed verbs.
 It is nonetheless two whole seasons ago. Must do better! And here are some photos from the last few weeks in Northern Ireland, the few weeks in the year when we wake up one unexpected morning to vast blue skies, temperatures warm enough to merit dragging out the suitcase with the barely worn summer clothes, and the firm belief that it could never rain again.
 You see, Spring in Northern Ireland springs straight into summer for a few weeks in May. Every year. Just at exactly the time when you need outdoor-craving boys to be indoor-revising boys. Not sure if Jo is smiling or begging in this shot. Five minutes more, and you oblige, because you don't really want to be an indoor-boy-curtailing-mother.
 So you wander round marvelling at all the colour, and all the heat, and all the sun. Rejoicing in the fact that the people who built the house were gardeners! Real gardeners, with a scheme and a plan and everything. We don't really have a plan. We just try to weed it all out as best we can, which doesn't admittedly amount to much effort on my part at all...
 Look at that sky. Blue. Ireland is mostly green, because of all the rain. But when it's not green, and therefore grey, it is very, very blue.
 So here we all are at the table. Inside. Books and files and pens and mind-maps. And tea. Door wide open for air! My sanity lies in the basket of small ends of things. Crocheting lots of little flowers to join lots of other people's little flowers to be joined into a little flower thing for our Knit in Public day at the start of June.
 Lots to look forward to- boys' exams start tomorrow, so obviously it has rained again, as revision season draws to an end, but at least the revision pain will end! A morning at Mossley Mill with Hookery for KIP, where we'll sit outside if the sun shines, and inside in the coffee shop if it doesn't! And maybe we'll still get glimpses of vast blue skies before the traditional downpours of July. The speck in this picture was a para-glider who had thrown himself from Knockagh Hill, just behind the tree. He served as a needed reminder that day that the feeling of falling off a hill can possibly be followed by the feeling of actually surviving and landing safe on the other side!

ps Thank you to everyone who did leave comments re Outside Tea in Lent. I have a little sachet of tea wending its way to  you all x

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Outside Tea in Lent

 Well, there's the end of another Lent. I hope yours was full of insight, and warmer than ours here in the Frozen North! I think I did learn a few things along the way...

  If you drink tea outside every most days in Lent, you may catch cold. This cold could last forty days and forty nights plus their associated Sundays. You may well end up on a very strong antibiotic! Falling asleep outside, see below, will not bode well! If you do all this in the Frozen North, be not deceived by short moments of sunshine. And most of all, climbing Northern Ireland's third highest mountain with said levels of congestion will not be a happy experience, at least on the way up!

 Secondly, there is a distinct contrast between the earlier and the later days. At the start it was all about taking time out, literally, to be more disciplined about listening to God. Then the idea took over, to the exclusion of the reflection. This has happened to me before, and is for me, I think, quite linked to the whole social media thing. So in the days before Pentecost I am going to be much less on farcebook, and much more locked in the metaphorical upper room, before the invention of WiFi! Waiting for the Spirit, rather than the likes. This is a shameful admission for a woman of nearly fifty! I do have a greater desire to seek God now than I did forty pictures ago.

What strikes me very much about the pictures is that the vast majority of them are taken in our garden. The meadowplace is predominantly where I live and move and have my being, but there needs to be a bit of an effort now to have open doors, an open life as our sermon encouraged today. There are a few opportunities that I have ignored for weeks, but I am saying yes to them now. Very scary in all three instances, but small steps!

 And lastly the Cross. My main intention was to appreciate, not just understand, the importance of the cross. This has been a very humbling journey. Right through the denial of Judas, and predicted denials of Peter, in John 13. It was my sin, my daily denial, that held him there. And yet, immediately after John 13, in 14:1-4, Jesus promises a room for me, prepared, with safe passage guaranteed.You know the way to the place where I am going!

 It does tickle me that I ended up with forty pictures- admittedly they are not all outside! I thought I would be able to pick a favourite, but now I'm not so sure. My top four might be mountain tea, soon-moving-to-Glasgow-Catherine tea and the silly black and white ones: there's a trend among the wittiest of folk-from-church-on-farcebook to be witty in grayscale. I don't quite cut it, but it was fun to have a go!

So, cheers! A kind, and incidentally hilarious, colleague of Prince Charming's sent me at one point an envelope full of delicious tea sachets to help me along the way, and I have two left. Leave a comment and I'll pull a name out of the hat, and send them on. But if you're going to be drinking outside tea- do wrap up well!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Outside Tea

 I laughed painfully when I read this quote about the narrator's ineffective mother at the start of "The Third Policeman". This sums up perfectly what I do now, with only two days teaching in the week and the whole house crying out for attention! It was also an unwittingly ironic precursor to the routine into which my Lent has fallen.
It started when I told the Wondrous Catherine that I was going to sit outside every day in March and drink a cup of tea, zealously intending to escape the domestic madness within and spend a few precious moments listening to the birds, now returned from warmer winter climes. Which sort of became a notion that it could be a Lent thing, and maybe the listening could be to God as well. Tea and Lent- they are, after all, two of my favourite things!
And thus was Outside Tea in Lent born! A farcebook friend decided she would do something different with chocolate (apart from giving it up) every day in Lent, and this is why you maybe see lots of pictures of mugs and dessert dishes on my daily feed! After that people started asking questions- what was it for, what was the idea, could they drink Outside Tea with me?
Today I did meet someone for Outside Tea. Today the wind is groaning down the chimney and the rain is lashing the daffodils into horizontal submission. Today we didn't even sit in the semi-al fresco shelter of the doggy porch- we sat inside wallowing in the central heating and watching the puddles rise up to meet the misty lough!

Last week, also on farcebook, which I might add I find mostly very useful, Our Daily Bread posted this picture:

And this is what Outside Tea in Lent is about. I might get to a late point in the day and think- oh good, I haven't had my Outside Tea today. I wrap myself up and sally forth. Sometimes I do read and pray and think. Sometimes I just listen to the soundtrack of my life: the birds, the husband, the boys, the friend. I'm hoping that by the end of Lent it will have forged a habit that gets to a late point in the day and thinks- oh good, I haven't had my great big dose of God's love and voice today. I'll wrap myself up and sally forth. I'd recommend it! And if you're within Outside Tea distance, pm me on farcebook!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

And this was half-term!

We started in the wilds of County Down for two days. Jo has reached that part of Year 8 History where he learns about the Norman conquest of Ireland, and then looks at Norman castles. Well, we are not short of Norman castles here in Ulster, or indeed of the clear remains of original motte and bailey structures, so there was lots of mound scrambling! Then we had swimming, and climbing, and more hill-walking, and friends sleeping over, and going off to friends' houses, and walking down to church tonight with friends- by themselves, in the dark! I am reeling from it all. Although there was shelter for me in mounds of my own, of the laundry variety!

After church this morning I laughed in horror at the words of the father of two of our boys' friends. A colleague of his is, like us, the parent of a teenage boy. His take on the whole experience is that teenage boys are like dogs. You need to feed them regularly, exercise them with sticks and balls, and clean them out every now and then. I did laugh at the sticks bit. My two are obsessed with sticks and still have not forgiven me for not bringing their long-won and much prized collection from our last house. (We moved nearly exactly three years ago...) So this week they have remedied this lamentable situation. Prince Charming drew the line only at sticks that were clearly not going to fit in the boot of the car. The rest of the colleague's philosophy does also ring true for me at this stage of strawberry development!

And so back to routine tomorrow for another blast of school term. The boys' routine is well-established. Mine is not at all! I have done two weeks in my new spot, and am decided after a week's reflection to be very disciplined about how I use my time for the next few months. I'm teaching on Thursdays and Fridays until the end of May, and need to use lots of time revising my Latin, and sorting lessons that I want to teach! That and housework should keep me far, far away from on-line time-wasting, surely?

I do also need too to be more disciplined spiritually. I'm thinking of starting Lent early. Tomorrow, in fact! Have a great week, Blogland. Expect a timorous knock on the porch for a cup of tea and a quick moment between Concentrated Efforts!