Thursday, February 4, 2021

A Birthday Blessing

It’s my birthday today. Technically it was yesterday but since the pandemic and lockdown I feel quite free to play fast and loose with the space-time continuum. So we’ll pretend it’s the 4th February.

It’s been a great day, despite lockdown. I’ve had loads of messages wishing me love and a Happy Birthday. There have been cards and flowers and cakes and a very cool new friend called Alexa…unexpected joy.

I received a blessing for my birthday today. A lovely friend of mine sent me words by John O’Donohue…A Blessing on Your Birthday from his book of Blessings, Benedictus. He wrote this blessing for his god daughter, also named Heather…

For Your Birthday

Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day

The blueprint of your life

Would begin to glow on earth, 

Illuminating all the faces and voices

That would arrive to invite

Your soul to growth.

Praised be your father and mother,

Who loved you before you were,

And trusted to call you here

With no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you

Into becoming who you were meant to be,

Blessed be those who have crossed your life

With dark gifts of hurt and loss

That have helped to school your mind

In the art of disappointment.

When desolation surrounded you,

Blessed be those who looked for you

And found you, their kind hands

Urgent to open a blue window

In the gray wall formed around you.

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

Your health, eyes to behold the world,

Thoughts to countenance the unknown,

Memory to harvest vanished days,

Your heart to feel the world's waves,

Your breath to breathe the nourishment

Of distance made intimate by earth.

On this echoing-day of your birth,

May you open the gift of solitude

In order to receive your soul;

Enter the generosity of silence

To hear your hidden heart;

Know the serenity of stillness

To be enfolded anew

By the miracle of your being.

-John O'Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us, A Book of Blessings

I’ve been particularly touched by these lines

‘Blessed are those who have loved you

Into becoming who you were meant to be

Blessed be those who have crossed your life

With dark gifts of hurt and loss…

When desolation surrounded you

Blessed be those who looked for you

And found you, their kind hands

Urgent to open a blue window

In the grey wall formed around you’

Today, I’m remembering my chief ‘looker’…my Richard…he opened a blue window on my life and celebrated me wildly on my birthday…he loved me into becoming who I was meant to be…my best self. I have the experience of having lost some of that self…maybe this is the year to look for it for myself…

Sometimes the gray wall seems to rebuild itself…the blue becomes only a splinter of light and hope. Other times, on days like today, the grey seems to recede and light and hope come in the faces and voices of friends sending cards and good wishes. They make the loss of Richard, and of me, the missing, easier to bear.

I am thankful for them…blessings on them…

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Only Christmas Kiss

 This story has been waiting a long time to be posted. Not really sure what happened but the effect was that any confidence I had about having anything to say just up and slithered out under the door. It's taken a few weeks to come back, with lots of encouragement from friends and not a little shame and embarrassment at my famous inability to stick at anything...
Anyway, here I am, having another go. The story that follows turned out to be the highlight of my locked-down COVID Christmas

The Only Christmas Kiss

On the eve of Christmas Eve, I decided that I would head out late to do some food shopping in my local M&S store (it wasn't just any food...)
I reckoned that if I headed over there for about 9pm it wouldn't be horribly busy and I would be able to pick up the few things remaining on my list without having to queue to get in. 
I wasn't in a great mood as I set off. Christmas has been bleak since Rick died. It was made even bleaker by the new restrictions we were facing so I was pretty grumpy about it all. However, the shopping fairies smiled on me; parking was easy and the store was fairly quiet. 

When I got into the store I noticed a couple who were standing together, engaged in a quite intense conversation. The woman wore a mask and she looked pretty classy, wrapped up against the cold, wearing a scarf with the careless nonchalance of someone comfortable with their style. 

The man with her was maskless but it wasn't the first thing I noticed about him. He had what I would describe as 'catalogue looks' - he seemed fairly young. He was dark and handsome and looked like he should have been on an M&S website wearing a denim shirt and chinos with a sweater, the sleeves of said sweater draped casually around his shoulders and tied in front of him - the sweater would have been a silk and cashmere blend. 

He caught my eye.

I heard the woman ask him what they needed to buy and he said they needed apples. Something about the way he spoke pricked up my ears and then the woman sent him off to find some apples. Her tone was...oh, I don't know what it was...but I heard something that intrigued me. 

(As I type this my little Google icon is telling me that the tone of my writing is anxious and I think that's what I heard in the woman's voice)

By this time I had sauntered around to the fruit and veg and was looking to buy some apples for myself. So many varieties to choose from and I was thinking about whether I just wanted two Pink Lady apples or should I get 4 when I became aware that the young man was standing beside me. He was crowding me a bit but nothing that concerned or impeded me but the woman with him saw what was happening said that he 'shouldn't crowd the lady' and as she said this he peered right into my face, up close and personal and whispered 'Santa's coming!'. His face was split from ear to ear with a smile. I asked him if he was excited. He whispered a breathless yes and then leaned over and ever so gently planted a gossamer kiss on my cheek. The woman was horrified...'Oh no, you can't do that' and she quickly ushered him away with apologies to me and words of reminder for him...'You know you shouldn't do that'...'Don't do it again'...

I was OK about it but likely if I'd been the woman I would have been the same. I am guessing that she was either his support worker or his Mother...I think probably his Mother. I wasn't sure what her concern was...was it COVID or the invasion of someone's personal space or the inappropriate touch? Whatever her concern I wanted to let her know that it was OK. I wasn't shocked or violated. I wasn't attacked. I was just...surprised and, if truth were told,
 that wee moment was joyous for me. 

I've wished that I could find the woman and tell her that. 

Tell her that in this time of lockdown, with the virus ripping through our communities, as people ache for a kind touch, a warm hug, a great big smoochy people gathered at Christmas around quieter tables oftentimes with empty chairs and exchanged presents but not hugs...

I wanted to tell her that, as the yearning for connection deepens, that young man gave me a gift that I've carried with me into January and if I close my eyes I can still feel it...

My only Christmas kiss...

'Kisses, even to the air, are beautiful'

Drew Barrymore

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Royal Train Tour

 OK...I'll just say this from the get-go...I don't have much time for the Royal Family. Don't have anything in particular against William and Kate. I like the frocks and will freely admit that I bought Hello magazine after both William and Harry's fact, had a bit of a morning tea here for Harry's wedding. But it's the frocks that I like. 

I find it a nonsense to imagine myself 'subject' to the Queen...I don't object to the money as such unless I really start to think about it. 

(although I did blow a bit of a gasket when Meghan and Harry were in discussions about who should pay for their security detail when they decided they were packing it all in and also when they got arsey about when we could see photographs of the Princelet...)

What I really object to is the IDEA of them...the Divine right...the specialness...the kow-towing...the forelock tugging...the 'Your Majesty'-ing. Can't do it...

Anyway...clear enough...I don't really have time for them but I'm sure they are perfectly nice people. So I state this to prepare the way for what is to come...

Yesterday, I read in my Twitter feed good old Val McDairmid saying 'WTActualF' is going on with a Royal Train Tour at this time of restriction, sickness, loss and grief...really...WTActualF. 

I completely agree with her...when the message to all of the unwashed is that they should wash and keep washing...they should stay home...Kate and William are touring the country in the horribly expensive royal train...maybe £20000 for the train, plus security...thank goodness Kate wore a coat she's worn 4 times before...

Are they magic? Does the virus just slide off them or wouldn't dare go near them? I thought we were not supposed to travel. There are people who have not seen family for months and are looking into a quiet Christmas and possibly a lonely New Year. But William and Kate set off on a Royal Train bizarre.

Anyway, I read Val and I thought in a kind of mean and growly way, what a freaking carry on...

But it gets worse...I read this on Twitter...

Apologies it's a bit fuzzy...

It is suggesting that the Government requested that they take the trip to raise our morale...cheer us up...

This is where I really start to part company with the whole endeavour because I am incensed that a bunch of Tory Posh Boys are sitting around thinking that this will cheer us up...Johnson, Gove, Rees Mogg, Hancock. Raab...that they all sit braying around the same table thinking about how distract us from the utter shambles of these current times: Corona virus; Brexit...'Oh, I know, let's let them touch the hem of the garment of the blessed Kate and we're safe for another few months'. 

That the specific targets of this cheering up are the people who have risked their lives and knocked their pan in to look after the people who are sick or need some support looking after themselves is, in my view, cynical in the extreme. Having starved them out of society over that long period of austerity they are finding different ways to rub salt into their broken hearts, tired bones and fragile psyches.  


And then, just when I thought that it couldn't get worse it just did.
Facebook provided me with this little nugget...

The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) is the regulator for the Social Service Workforce in Scotland. Over 200 000 people working in social services in Scotland: social care workers, social workers, students in a range of settings such as residential and day care, community facilities as well as in people's homes. There is not a single one of them unaffected by this pandemic. They will have bravely and consistently put themselves on the line to ensure that the people they work for get the support they need. 

They are the people who have been at the bedside of people dying of COVID-19 in nursing homes. They are the people who have altered the rhythm and routine of their lives to minimise the numbers of people going into someone's house and cut down the risk of spreading the virus. They have worried and cried and sweated in PPE and got rashes on their faces wearing masks. They've queued at supermarkets and been passed over in favour of NHS workers. They've clapped for NHS workers until their efforts were finally recognised and someone included them in the acknowledgment. And they've done it for £9.30 an hour...sometimes even less. 

The SSSC knows all of that. And the SSSC thinks it is lovely that Prince William and Catherine are visiting frontline workers to pass on the nation's thanks for their work over these past months. 

It's somehow easier to take that from the politicians and the royals. We've come to expect this from them - although the bare faced cheek of this bunch of Tory posh boys does take the breath away.

It's just disappointing from the SSSC. I sort of thought they were on our side. That they got the complexity of the situations we work in. That as the regulator the SSSC was bothered that it was done right. 


I wonder if there's something else that the SSSC might be saying on behalf of the social care workers in Scotland.
Might they be saying that really...a flying visit to some carefully chosen people in some carefully chosen setting is not going to mean very much to the bulk of the 200 000 workforce. 

Might they be saying 'Stop trying to distract us with the sleight of hand that is Kate's coat and hairstyle and join with us to say that enough is enough...that there is no more fat to trim...that quality care does come at a price and it would be bloody marvellous your royal highness if you could tell Boris and his pals to stop treating us like we're daft and instead make some of the changes needed to assist the people we work for to live better lives'

But, it is lovely,'s all lovely...the travelling...the foolishness...the cynicism...

Seriously SSSC...Are you having a laugh?

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Fabulous Richard Hill

 I said yesterday that in the 5 years or so since I last wrote a piece for the blog I've experienced all of the major life events but really, there is only one event. 

Not so much an event...more a person...Richard Lawrence Hill. 

When I was leaving my job at C-Change and was wondering what on earth I was going to do my lovely friend Rhona Ferrier encouraged me to write. And to write about Rick. 

I'd shied away from it because I couldn't imagine how I could write about him without it being maudlin and self-indulgent. I didn't want a pity party and anyway, I had no idea about what to husband died and...? I wasn't sure about the 'and'...and what?

My husband died and I was sad.

My husband died and I had to move house and...I was sad.

My husband died and I had to move house and then decided to move to another country and...I was sad.

My husband died 5 years ago and you know what?

I am still sad.

(The little Google icon has appeared in the corner and is telling me that my text may sound sad and gloomy to the reader. That's not at all how I want this to sound because life with Richard was never that. And honestly, you don't have to worry.)

While living without Richard is undeniably sad my life with him was as far from sad as you can imagine. It was frustrating, challenging, infuriating, complicated, intense, scrutinised, commented on, exhausting, joyous, safe, funny, kind, loving...there was passion, gentleness, kindness...
It was real life. It was a good life.

And Richard died. Because that's how life is...

You only hope that people get the opportunity to live that good life and I saw Richard do that. I saw him wring every last drop out of living. And I saw him live it BIG. He lived every one of his almost 55 years to the full...he lived it big and brave.
It was a marvellous force to be around...magnetic and vibrant...

Never appreciated as it should have been but...that's life.

And Richard died. Because that's how life is. 

When I started writing this I thought I was going to write some happy little story of how we met. And then I thought I could tell you something about how we lived and then maybe I would write later on about when he died. 

But it seems that this might be the thing that's been waiting to be said for 5 years.

My husband died 5 years ago and I am sad. But I'm so happy that he loved me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Let's just see what happens...

It has been a very long time since I've posted on this blog. A lot has happened between now and then. Almost all of the big 'life events' have been experienced and as that's been happening I've been swept up in the turmoil of it all and have found myself in a place that sure isn't Kansas.

And there has been this year. This Corona/COVID-19 year. 

This is the year I became 60! I managed to sneak all of the celebrations in just before lockdown began and so I was lucky to celebrate and share it all with family and friends. February was a glorious month of meet-ups and gifts and afternoon teas and gifts and karaoke, balloons and cake...

Then March came along and somehow things slipped away over the lockdown. Work was done differently. Friendships were done differently. Our rituals for celebration and grief became impossible to perform. We communicated remotely through screens and on-line and assembled, masked, and distantly. Everything was different.

Now it's December. And things have changed again. I've thought a lot about what I was doing and after three years at C-Change I've left my job. I'm not really sure what's next but I've got this thing about stories and finding ways to tell I think it involves more writing. 

Maybe some on-line work with some people in Perth?

Maybe some things that I have not even imagined and have yet to discover? Who knows? 

I'm going to try and write about what I notice and learn as I go along. I'm going to write every day as we head into the new year. After that, who knows?

If you're kind enough to read this my hope is that we'll share some common experiences. If it turns out not to be your cup of tea then that's I said in the very first intro, just close the door quietly behind and come back anytime you like.

And let's just see what happens...

'I'm about going about into the world and noticing 

stuff, and going home and writing it down, and putting

it next to other stuff I've noticed and 

seeing what happens'

Pam Houston


Monday, June 16, 2014

Hard times, Come again no more...

Late afternoon on Sunday. Sitting in my car...chatting on the phone to my friend...beautiful Perth winter afternoon, bright as bright could as blue could be...and warm in the sun.
I'm parked outside Nandos, Subway, Wok in a Box, Pasta Cup and Liquorland. Hungry Jack's is about 100 metres away. I'm joking with my friend about whether or not I could eat a meatball sub while driving and not get it all over my front and give the game away.
My window is down.  A man sees me and comes right up to the window and tells me that he's trying to get some food...could I help him? My Rick will tell you that I'm like the Queen in as much as neither of us carry cash. But today I have a $10 note and so I give it to him...he kisses my hand and God Blesses me and I tell him to never mind that, just go and eat. And that's exactly what he did. 

I don't want to make a drama out of it but I have to say that he and his situation has stayed with me. 

A comfortable suburb in the richest state in the Lucky Country. 

And a man finds himself in the situation where he has to rely on a stranger in order to eat. 

Before I jump to conclusions about how he lived I think it's likely that he didn't ever have enough cash to do what he needed to do in the first place. And I have to confess that I watched carefully to see that he did buy food with the $10 ($10!!! The princely sum...). The story I was telling myself about him was all about drink and drugs.

And he was hungry. 

To be honest with you, I'm not really that fussed about what the circumstances were that brought him to that point...I don't really care if he drinks or uses drugs or just squanders his cash. But I am bothered that, in the midst of all our excess, someone is hungry. And I'm troubled that the solution he finds for his hunger only serves to stigmatise him.

I hear my friends and family in the UK talk about how things are there. How tight it is with families relying on food banks for basic provisions. I hear all the stuff that's been said here about how we all have to share the pain that will result from the last Budget. But I know that we won't all share that will be the people on the edges who'll feel it most...the people who are already feeling pretty stretched and threadbare. That makes me angry and sad.

You won't be surprised to know that I don't have any answers, but here's a song that expresses my thoughts and concerns. Those of us not yet suffering might think on...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Where DO all the B'stards work? - R.I.P. Rik Mayall

A few thoughts that seem to have a connection for me...what anyone who reads this will make of them...well, that's for them to decide...

Last week I was doing some training. The group were lovely. Really lovely people, all of them working in services. All of them committed to doing the best job they can to support the people they work with. At the end of the 3 days, one of the participants remarked on what a great group of people they were. He went on to say that he keeps meeting really nice people who work in the disability sector AND he keeps hearing all these stories of bad things that happen in services. 
He asked the question, 'Where do all the bastards work?'

Today I watched one of the videos that regularly appear on my Facebook page  from Upworthy. This particular video had been shared by my friend Heather Anderson, a good woman upon whose instincts and judgements I would stake my life. I was thinking that if she was recommending this video it was definitely worth having a look. Although the talk is given by an actress playing a marketing consultant to the food industry, the facts about the produce and the marketing are 100% real. She talks about the tricks of the marketing trade and then lets us in to the great big secret weapon that marketers rely upon. Turns out that their greatest secret is us and our propensity to simply ignore what we won't or can't face. We just don't think about it. She calls it 'wilful ignorance'
The video articulates our unwillingness to confront the horror of factory farming and to change our behaviours in the face of unspeakable cruelty to the animals who end up on our supermarket shelves.  It ends with a damning quote, describing what occurs as 'systemised cruelty on a massive scale, and we only get away with it because we're prepared to look  the other way.'

If you changed the context and thought people and not pigs or chickens... and instead of factory farms thought institutions and group homes and day centres...and then asked yourself what you're prepared to turn from and look the other way...

And then later today my friend and colleague Margy Meath shares a post on Facebook...a quote by Jane Addams

"The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life'
Jane Addams

I think there's a thread runs through these ideas. At least, there is for me. Knowing what I know...what will I do differently?