Weekend Read (or watch or listen)

 

winter skaters

 

 

Listen:

When Fenlands raced with Jack Frost by Roger Deakin, read by Robert Macfarlane. Brief, beautiful and evocative tale of skaters in the Cambridgeshire Fens. Winter fodder to be savoured blanket wrapped beside the fire.

Read:

An elegant brief essay on the beauty of being connected to environment through food and drink and the increasing tendency for disassociation in our race for convenience and speed.

The Keurig, the Chemex, and Dietary Gnosticism

Listen:

Dougie and Jamie Richards of Plastic Mermaids sing a simple, pared down, melodic ballad. Recorded in the derelict space of a holiday camp long since deserted on the desolate Southern coast of the Isle of Wight, Echo Man speaks of isolation, alienation and memory.

 

 

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Full Moon – The God Shaped Hole

T.S. Eliot
“music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but
you are the music
While the music lasts.”

― T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems, 1909-1962

The year has begun with a theme of loss – with the death of celebrities, a friend and a dear and ancient aunt, my father’s sister, one of the few who remember him well and with her loss, the severing of another strand of connection between us.

Hers was an extraordinary life. As a bright, astute and well educated woman in the 1930s she fought for many years against the calling to holy orders that she’d experienced as a teenager. She trained as a teacher, travelled and lived fully before becoming ordained as a “Bride of Christ” in her mid twenties. This involved being transplanted from her close English family into a closed order of nuns based in France. It was a system of life which nowadays sounds almost inhumane. Imprisoned within a wimple that allowed only marginal vision, she was not permitted to see her family, to eat in public and lived a very secluded life until her latter years when the order, modernised, the habit was cast aside and from it emerged my aunt, blossoming as a talented musician, driver and head teacher of a prestigious London school.

Her death at the age of ninety one was conducted in the same stoical, positive and matter of fact manner as she lived. On being told that she had terminal cancer she requested a hot cup of tea and in her final days, surrounded and cared for by the nuns of the order who had become family to her, she continued to look at everything and everyone through a lens of immense gratitude.

After death for most relatives comes the inevitable painful practicalities of sifting through mountains of possession, the detritus of life which we acquire which such avarice  and cling to with a possessive fervour as though it defines our very self. In my aunt’s case a simple life left behind no trail of regret or material wealth. A few treasured photos were returned to us and that apart, only a tiny handful of books and a well tempered and cared for piano remained.

As her coffin was lowered into the ground, the sisters who remained stood peacefully. Many of them are elderly and infirm, walking with frames or on the arms of others, they quietly and reverently said their personal goodbyes before one spoke up:

“The sisters would like to sing”

And they started, in latin in a tune so perfect, clear and soft, it was as though a small miracle had occurred. This tiny gathering so lacking in glamour, wealth and sophistication sung an elegy more beautiful than any I have heard before.

It struck me as we walked away, heads bowed, that regardless of our religious inclination, there seems to be within us a need for  spiritual connection. A hole that in this secular age is readily filled with distraction, with work, wine, food, a hectic life. Perhaps this is what so many are searching for with their restless lives. Something meaningful to fill the void.

 

Weekend Reads

 

 

Lumiere London

Giant Fish floating above Oxford Circus – part of Lumiere London

Listen: From Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio Four,  Inspiring Educationalist  Sir Anthony Sheldon talks mindfulness, meditation and chooses some of his favourite music – which just happens to be some of mine too!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06w6ty4#play

 

Read:  Robert Seethaler – A whole Life.  Short, beautiful, minimalist novel, calmly written exploring a life that is simple and joyful despite its’ tragedy. Gentle wisdom and the perfect antidote to modern day frenetic living.

 

Life Scientific: From the wonderful Wellcome Foundation blog a brief and readable overview of something that I am acutely aware of in my day to day Veterinary life. The emergence of  drug resistant infectious agents and how thinking outside the box may be part of the solution

Drug-resistant infections: how worried should we be?

 

 

Luna Reflection

 

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Moon over Tennyson Down

 

At certain times during the luna cycle the Brahmins and in later days the Buddhists, observed “Uposatha”. The word means “entering to stay” and it was the custom of the Brahmins to go to the sacred place away from their homes and families and purify themselves by leading a secluded life for a day and night, returning after the rites were finished. The times when they kept this seclusion were determined by the phases of the moon, the most important being the Full Moon and the New Moon days. It was an encouragement to take stock of the preceding weeks, to pause and recognise areas of difficulty and to commit to starting anew – a kind of rolling confession which helped to prevent the buildup of guilt and regret and encouraged the kind of letting go and living in the moment that Buddhists believe will lead to a happy and fulfilling life.

Sometimes it seems as though we have forgotten how to look up. How to rest and reevaluate, to confess and let go.

Not so long ago, when the stars told us where we were in space and time they were, as fixed points in a confusing and shifting world; our orientation, our grounding, a powerful source of wonder and a way of guiding us home. Nowadays the heavens are, in many parts of the world illuminated and indistinct  and most people have forgotten the patterns of the constellations that breathed mythical significance into the universe. Advances in astronomy have made it safe to ignore the skys in a way that would have left our ancestors incredulous.

I love the skys – the shifting landscape of layers, the predictor of weather to come and at night as a small child growing up on a farm, I wandered the place with my sister, two intrepid explorers of far pastures and deep woods. I wanted to know every tree, to look beneath the hedges and find the steaming newly born lamb, knowing that every single moment of time was charged with a magic that is now largely gone from my experience of the world. A sense of connection and being at ease with nature and the elements. In particular a visceral experience of the essential living rhythms of season, tides, moon, weather, birth and death.

Although we live in a world where the phases of the moon no longer mean much, maybe it would be helpful for many of us to be reminded of the ancient ways to pause, to take stock and to rest even if just for a moment, to slow the cogs of hectic lives, to set and reset our courses. I hope that by choosing to share my personal reflections here in a cycle to coincide with the new moon and the full moon, you will be encouraged to engage in your own contemplation,and maybe take just a moment to glance up at the night sky.

 

 

 

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things: This Body

IMG_0349

 

In times past she was beautiful. A serious, naive, other worldly child, elfin bodied with eyes of a she wolf.

“She looks right into me” the adults would say.

Perhaps they were right.

Time passed and at a certain moment, when childhood was not quite past but adulthood not fully begun, soft curves  started gently draping the body’s slight angular frame. Just as subtly, insidiously, the battle commenced. There was not one single moment in time where the general shouted:

“Let there be war!”

But instead a slowly seeping script of propaganda was wrought, a personal mantra running in the background of life, which proclaimed or whispered, in a language of “should””must””unworthy””shameful”. This tyrannical voice demanded change – the physical form that was evolving required controlling. Thus begun the long and bloody battle.

Inside my head there developed, running as a mental  screensaver, a pervasive critique of the way I looked. “The Voice” that demanded I take charge of my body. I spent a large part of my life chiselling my strong athletic body into something leaner, more angular, shaping something that was less woman, harder, less real.

This body became and was – for the greater part of my life, the enemy. An inanimate object viewed through bank camera eyes, to be constantly monitored, weighed and measured. With hindsight it’s astonishing, as someone who tries to treat others with kindness and respect, just how excrutatingly cruel I was to myself in this quest for physical “perfection” – as if torturing myself enough would lead to a differnt form and thus a different life. I exercised obsessively but worse I tormented my body with “diets”  – based on the unspoken fear that I was a madwoman, a lunatic that needed controlling, unable to make the correct choices about how, what and when to eat. More shocking still, I was not alone in this preocupation – the way that I ate and experienced food, the never ending neuroses surrounding body image, seemed to be pretty much the norm amongst my peer group.

eating disorder
noun
any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits (such as anorexia nervosa).

Were we, in our distorted relationship with food, in our obsession with “paleo””gluten” free””I quit sugar” sufferring from an eating disorder as such? I am not sure – but disordered eating certainly.

Strangely, change has come in the past few years, largely through loss – through the awareness that life is transient, the mourning of friends and family who have died and others whose lives have been limited by physical or emotional illness. Perhaps the loss of my own youth has been a catalyst too. At some point along the road the struggling, suffering, pushing and pulling seemed pointless and exhausting and treating myself with kindness became more important than anything else.

These days I feel immense grattitude to this human machine that carries with it  the battle scars of six new lives sheltered within. Inumerable falls from horses and bicycles indelibly inprinted are no longer a source of shame but instead of pride. This body is truly – as all bodies are – a miracle. It has carried me unfailing through countless city’s dusty streets, up mountains, pounded inumerable miles of rough terrain. It has survived my neglect and torment – fuelled irregularly and harshly – fed coffee and sugar to keep my mind high and semi starved when self loathing required that I disappear into a gaunt bony frame. It spoke – a quiet voice barely a whisper above the minds raucous wailings and in those days I failed to listen.

It spoke – I now know, of kindness, of a wish to be treated gently and to be heard.

Now I listen to its whisperings and I marvel at its wisdom, its ability to keep the untamed and wild mind at bay and form firmly rooted into the stable earth. With age has come  tolerance and compassion.This body is a gift I now see and one which in the meaness of my youth I failed to recognise and thus set about changing, forever discontent, controlling and regulating in a way that I would never dream of imposing on another human.

Kindness has brought eating without rules, taking time to recognise and experience physical pleasures:  the joys of movement; sensation; feeling the strength and the elements against skin. It means resting when tiredness sets in and silencing the ever chattering mind when it “The Voice” begins it’s mutterings.

The last words from poet Galway Kinnell “Sometimes it is neccessary to reteach a thing its loveliness”. Absolutely.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171395

 

 

Midwinter

 

Dawn comes late in these the dark days of winter.

It was a night of howling wind, driving rain beating against weather worn creaking windows. The dog remained curled tightly in his basket ears creased and eyes crinkled, shut to the possibility of morning’s arrival.

Magic Seaweed  – the surfer’s oracle, proclaimed 30mph onshore winds with messy fierce waves battering the rugged South West Coast but to those who know, there are always waves to ride, tucked in the unpromising corners of the dusty, fading, genteel Victorian resort towns that line the shores of the East Wight, or more rarely, stealing  into the shallow sandy bays of the Northern Coast, which in the Summer play host to toddlers taking first shaky steps on sand, squealing with delight as gentle ripples tickle pink toes.

We were not alone when we arrived, the surf bush telegraph is hyper optic it appears and a handful of wetsuit clad figures were already laying seal like awaiting the next set. We made our way through the flooded carpark, sharing jittery, short, conversation as we stood watching the conditions from the shore. The swell rolling in was smooth and consistent – a legacy of stormy weather far out in the channel, shaped by the wind’s fetch – a geographic term which describes the amount of open water over which a wind has blown.

When hesitancy begins to creep into my psyche, my modus operandi is to leap into action before the fear becomes paralysing, so within minutes, I’m paddling out from the beach heading “out back” into the unbroken water, through swirling surging white foam, totally immersed, watching for gaps between the wave sets which give an opportunity to paddle out, avoiding the washing machine effect of battling through the breakers.

Once in the water I’m hooked on the complexity of riding the raw energy of an ever-changing wave. It focuses the mind like few other activities do and even after a couple of hours in the cold sea it’s still difficult to tear myself away despite aching shoulders and the promise of a hot cup of coffee. It is a completely entrancing experience, providing an intrinsic reward which closely resembles, for me at least the concept of “flow”that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as:

“an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing”

It requires persistence, curiosity and teaches humility – all characteristics which I’ve found to be helpful in creating a life that is joyful and peaceful independent of external circumstances.

I’m writing now by the fire, it’s evening, dark and quiet. The dog lies with head on the hearth and the only sound is the gentle creaking of the wood burner, flames dancing hypnotically in the darkness. One more journey outside to put the chickens to bed and then the day will be over.

Who I am and why I’m here

Who I am is, strangely, a difficult question. I am Hannah and dependent upon what moment you glimpse me, I may be vet, mother, sculptor, distance runner, swimmer, singer, somewhat buddhist and invariably insatiably curious.

I began writing for myself, in order to think more clearly about my own pattern of living, a balance of life, work and relationship that I assumed was peculiar to me. As I’ve continued to write – and to talk I’ve realised that this is more than my individual story, that many other people, even those whose lives on the surface appear porcelain perfect, are grappling with the same questions as I and are trying to evolve another rhythm, one that allows for creative pauses, individualism and some solitude and respite from a world in which it can be very difficult to be at peace with oneself.

Life has a habit of imprinting form upon a person – and I’m sure that the writing here encompasses many echoes from my past. I have been incredibly blessed in having an upbringing that encouraged creativity and curiosity, that questioned the divisions between art, science, spirituality. philosophy and environment.

Sharing in this way if a real pleasure and is also a great discipline for one who tends to be scattered in many directions. My remit for the next few months is to try to experiment with style and in particular to write with more sparsity. I’m humbled at how many people have stopped to share the journey so far and I hope that if you choose to stop by here, as someone who’s also alive, you’ll find something here for you too.

 

Popular posts from the early days:

Riding The Waves  – on finding peace in turbulent times

Parenting Paddington  – on acceptance

Letting Children Be – on the wisdom of letting go