Friday, 28 November 2014

Views of some things

 Again I have been far too late to take yet more views of the maple and the chestnut and the rain. Hooray, I hear you carol at your screen. Instead here is a view of our calendar. Yes I know that November is still where we sit. Yes I know that the very word Christmas is banned in this house until 1st December. Yes I know, but Prince Charming is galloping into the festive season already, and while I appreciate his enthusiasm, I'd like the last three boxes left to this month, please.
 And here is a view of our metronome. It was set in motion earlier for Jo. One particular piece of practice needed more attention than anyone could give just at that particular point in a Technology homework and something so important that I can't quite think what I was doing, but it was very, very important. I think of this woman when I see the metronome. She gave it to us long before we had children, indeed long before we had the piano! Or maybe we rescued it from one of her many and ruthless clear-outs. Probably the latter.
This is a view of the lights that go annually to our Preparing for Advent morning. Two more sleeps until this year's event, and that is why I am up so late. Making lists of everything I need to bring, everything I need to photocopy, everything I need to say. At least there will be organised and fabulous people doing cookery and craft!

I want to be guided by the light of Advent as I journey along the Bethlehem road again. I'll be joining with Pause in Advent this year, and I think I'll share the reflections we'll be mulling over on Saturday morning. Most of all I'll be relishing the annual companionship of you all as we bump into each other along the way x

Friday, 21 November 2014


I know I dream of snow come Winter, but really, much love and many prayers to those of you lost in drifts of the stuff. May your hearths be warm, your socks dry and may He keep your feet from slipping.
Suddenly the glorious maple has lost her sheen and the grey patches sadden her. I think the Meadowplace is declaring an end to Autumn.
Even the stalwart chestnut tree, whose leaves swayed proudly intact for weeks, is bare and bedraggled. As wet as an eleven year old trudging daily home from school in pouring rain. We're consciously now working at keeping the hearth warm, the feet dry, and the feet from slipping.

I am also endeavouring to fend off the approach of a certain season, the name of which is forbidden in this house until the 1st December, by mutual consent of all within. November is about preparing for Preparing for Advent, our annual ladies' event. Isn't it?

Sunday, 9 November 2014


When I was in London at the start of last month everyone told me to go to see The Poppies. I will be honest and say that they were not top of my list. I grew up the daughter of an army man in Belfast in the seventies and it was not good.

So while my father and my brother are both now members of the British Legion, and while I go to buy poppies from them, and while I talk much to the boys, especially at this time of the year, about war and its consequences, I am not comfortable with these long weeks of remembrance.

Interestingly I have a colleague in work who grew up in the South of Ireland. Her grandfather volunteered to fight in the Second World War, as many Southerners did. She has however been struck by the intensity of remembrance since her move North. I do think, and this will be a very different experience from across the water, that Remembrance has often been appropriated by one side of our communities here in the Frozen North, like the Irish language and Ulster Scots, like hurley and rugby, like flags, like the National Anthems.

It is very exciting then to see today that Irish diplomat, Dan Mulhall, laid a wreath at the London Cenotaph, that Taoiseach Enda Kenny was at the emotive Enniskillen Memorial for his third time, and that Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, went to Belfast's ceremony.

Angela from Tracing Rainbows happened to be visiting us in Belfast on Remembrance Day a few years ago. I had to explain to her, in tones hushed for the demographic of the crowd as much as by the solemnity of the occasion, that the Mayor was not there because he was from Sinn Fein, but that the Deputy Mayor would be happy enough to attend because he was from one of our many and disparate unionist groups.

She has a fabulous post today about the Hovering Angel. I had seen a picture of it this week on a Radio 4 link. The accompanying paragraph said that Germany had lost twice as many people as Britain's 880246, but had no national day of remembrance. The boys wanted to know why. Maybe because only the winners get to celebrate their lost? Maybe that's why here in the North we still fight for our right to remembrance not just for what we have lost, but also for what we think we have won. Mind you, history does point to the sad fact that here in the North we just fight!

So my soul looks to the hovering angel tonight. It broods as I do thinking about all the colleagues Dad lost, all the rivers of blood seeping from countries near and far. I did go to see The Poppies at the Tower, and I have ordered two for my Legionnaires, and I was moved by the scale and the sadness and the beauty. I stood for a long time in the warm gold of early evening and watched the wave wash up over the bridge. I said the other day that my favourite war poem is Owen's Parable of the Old Man and the Young, and I think of it every time I see a Prime Minister at the Cenotaph,

But the old man would not so, but slew his son
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A Belfast book

So I finished one of my four books on the go! Might I just say that the A. S. Byatt is marvellous, and I mean that in a literal sense of full of marvel! Glowing rubies of narrative and style. Read it, read it, read it! I have two stories to go, but my favourite so far is A Stone Woman...

Judith Hearne- stone woman? Certainly the Belfast of her era is described as a hard boulder of granite, more bleak and drear than even the constantly wet, constantly patrolled city that I remember. We were up and through the university area on Friday, and you would be hard pressed to imagine a woman in even a red coat tottering along beside a desperate American today.

It is nonetheless, I think,  a very accurate reflection of the city in those austere post-War years. Probably we took a lot longer than other areas to recover, given that our sectarian divides were lined up for war before most battalians got back. Indeed, maybe we're only now seeing the full potential of a recovery from oppression of all sorts.

It's not primarily a book about the city- apparently the Maggie Smith movie is set in Dublin. What interested me most was the question of a crisis of faith. Monsignor Quixote had his dream that unsettled his long held perceptions more than the friendly debate from his friend, the communist ex-mayor. Birdsong chronicles the assault on faith that I think Owen so well encapsulates in The Parable of the Old Man and the Young. Hearne becomes obsessed with the existence of the Host in the altar.

What I wasn't sure about was whether her crisis in faith precipitated her decline into her lonely passion, or whether her rapidly decreasing hope and perspective undermined her faith. Moore paints a cruel background for this woman. I suppose in a way Barbara Pym takes the same subjects: down-at-heel gentility living increasingly sordid lives, although sordid is too strong a fate for the healthy and stoic Pymiennes.

Is there a warning for us all in the fate of Judith Hearne? I think not ultimately. I think it is a call to be grateful for a new era. Especially if you live in Belfast!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Happy Hallowe'en Views and into November

 Here we are in my favourite month of the year. Clear, grey, empty expanse of a month that revels in its calm before the neon explosion of Christmas! Who will be blogging everyday this year? I think I might. It's become my catching up month. My catching breath month. My Forest of Toon Tellegen month!

 I went into Mattman's room to snap the glorious golden foliage of the tree outside his window, but it's all gone!
 The Argory have expanded their forest playground. Lots of things for adult children to try as well!
 And beautiful textures and colours all around.

 This was the walled garden on Thursday. I could not believe the heavy fragrance of the roses at this stage in the year. It really has been the warmest Autumn I certainly remember.
 It all made me think of the box of green wool that constitutes most of my limited "stash". I love having a blanket on the hook through the winter, and I'm thinking of an Argory Blanket- all greens with rows of brown and gold?
 More colour at the Ulster Museum's fascinating exhibition on the periodic table. I had not one inkling of scientific comprehension at school. But I'm making up for it now!
 Today I am gradually packing away all the orange; more quickly than these mild days are allowing the garden to do! I am also picking up lots of sweetie wrappers and lolly sticks after an impressive haul brought home by a house full of trick or treaters last night.
Hallowe'en is really quite controversial here among people of faith. We've always tried to steer an Autumn-celebrating line that nonetheless allows guests to dress as witches or be gruesome if they so decide. There is trick or treating, we laugh and gurgle our way through ducking for apples, we have food and fun and friends. We generally jump at any excuse for a party! I'm not sure that I would warn my children from the ways of the occult just by forbidding them to take part in any of the above. I wonder would I be more effective at building up their spiritual armour by being more patient, more joyful, more faith-ful all year long?

Time stands still

 Hello! Sending you all lots of love from Northern Ireland, where nothing much changes just as everything changes, as usual. Time has stood ...