Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Life Unexpected

The surprise warm weather this week has been quite an added boost for my garden where I have just planted my winter vegetables (I have blogged about the wonder of winter veg over on my other blog if you're interested in growing your own). I love being in my garden, which as I have mentioned before is tiny, mostly in shade and could quite easily appear to be not much good for anything at all. But yet it yield me blueberries for my porridge and salads all summer long and now plenty more veg for the winter season. What it also brings me, when I'm pottering about in it, is some time to reflect and this week has been no different. I like to call this 'garden wisdom' and I thought I share some of it here!

Inside my box of winter baby plants I also received two chilli pepper plants that now live inside my house. Today as I was doing some ironing and enjoying a bit of peace and quiet in my sun-filled living room I thought about how much my chilli plants would like it in the living room window. I hadn't put them there because it seems a bit odd to grow food in your living room and the table I have in the window is an antique one from my Grandma's house but with the quick addition of some bright blue table mats my chilli plants are basking in the sunshine and I've decided to keep them there.

It always amazes me how the simplest daily tasks can flick a switch that makes sense of something if you slow down long enough to allow it to. Perhaps it might seem a little silly to get so much from two chilli plants but I realised the reason I didn't want to move them into the living room originally, even though I'm fully aware it is the sunniest room in the house, was because I was worried about appearances. My living room is hardly styled to perfection, it's a rented place and is painted bright yellow for one thing which is pretty hard to make appear chic! But when I moved the plants though and saw them coming to life and bearing fruit it made me so happy that I couldn't care less if my living room looks like an allotment and began planning what else I could put there and what brightly coloured tubs I could paint to house them. It reminded me what my home is for, a place to live, not a show home and that my life itself is the same, there to be lived not something designed to impress others.

This week I've also been sharing my garden with a robin. As I dug the beds ready for a new season's growing I unearthed some worms providing a feast for my new friend. He rewarded me by standing on the side of my tubs as I planted my plants tilting his head to one side and looking intently at me. Even when he dug up some of my baby plants that night (presumably looking for worms!) I couldn't be too angry at him and now it seems he has moved in for good and my garden is as much his as it is mine. I'm quite happy with that and it reminded me to hold loosely to what I own and share when I can. My little garden reminds me to make the best of what I have and be generous with it, So the robins, the worms, the lettuces and me can all live a happy existence in one small, unexpected patch of garden in the city.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Coffee with Kofi

On Saturday Morning I had the incredible privilege of hearing Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, speak at University Church in Oxford for the UK launch of the charity Children's Radio Foundation. This was both a great opportunity to hear an influential man of our times speak and to find out more about a charity that is really going places. I also got the chance to further hone my developing journalistic skills resulting in a couple of articles in local and national press. A good Saturday morning's work!

As we approached the church on foot a car pulled up ahead of us and from it emerged a very impressive looking man that we assumed, rightly, was Mr Annan! Luckily after bumping into Miranda Hart on my way to hear her talk I was well practised at appearing nonchalant in the presence of celebrity and managed to calm down my husband who quite frankly is just not as cool as me. ;)

The talk itself, entitled 'The future of Africa – how young people can respond', was as inspirational as predicted. The Children's Radio Foundation does a ton of exceptional work across Africa. It's projects train young people to write and produce their own radio programmes, offering them a chance to air their stories and discuss issues that affect them. One project in Tanzania, created by a group of street children turned reporters, now has seven and a half million listeners each week. Children go where politicians tremble to tread addressing issues like preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and doing development their way. In a continent where 50% of people are under 25 this is vital work, empowering a new generation to take control of their future.

Alongside his support and encouragement for turning up the volume on the voice of young people in Africa Mr Annan had some interesting points to make on how we can use our voices closer to home. He praised the efforts of the people who took London back after the riots with their clean up efforts and the strength of the Norwegian people who refused to alter their way of life in the wake of the Oslo shootings. His point was clear. The moderate majority must speak out for what we believe in.

His message for members of religions was particularly strong. He said, 'People of faith must speak out and say, this is not what we believe. These people do not represent us.' Importantly, he said these voices must be heard before we see major attacks on our way of life rather than after. Perhaps this will go some way to prevent the blanket labelling of sectors of society and their beliefs, and the resulting segregation and hatred.

Mr Annan ended his presentation with a message for young people around the world to engage with their communities. 'If each of us does something, collectively we will make a difference,' he said. He cited many examples of young people serving in self sacrificial ways across the world. I wholeheartedly echo his sentiments that it is time we heard more from the voices of young people and celebrate the future we have in them.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Pomp and ceremony featuring ME!

As a born and bred Windsor girl I love a bit of ceremony. When I first starting dating my husband we had a competition to decide who was from the best town (because we're not at all competitive!). His offering was watching a march of papier-mâché giants  through his home town of Herne Bay, mine was the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle where I stood, hands on hips, basking in my triumph and the clear fabulousness of my hometown. When we were little we used to be ferried up to Windsor Castle from school at least once a year to wave as the Queen drove by and every royal wedding at the castle was a real occasion. Little did I know that I would be driving up the same road to the church next door to the castle in my own wedding car just a few years later to marry the man from the land of papier-mâché giants!
I find ceremonies to be such powerful occasions that I inevitably sniff back a couple of tears at any wedding I attend, even if I’m working at the church and I don’t even know the bride and groom other than a couple of meetings and emails back and forth. The wedding of Kate and Will this Spring showed that I’m not alone in enjoying a good ceremony. The response was overwhelming and so many people commented on how great it was to focus on something positive for once. What could be more uplifting than watching two people make a mad declaration of love and devotion, promising to be with one another for the rest of their lives?

What gets me at weddings is the sense of a new start and tomorrow I’ll be taking part in a very exciting new start for our community. Anyone involved in the church will know that where three words can be used in the place of one the church will always, always go for three. So tomorrow we will be instituting, inducting and installing our new Vicar. Oh yes. I was delighted to be asked to take part in the ceremony and despite falling up the aisle in the rehearsal they have still let me continue in my important role as ‘book hander-over-er’ (this is a technical term, of course). I’m looking forward to it very much indeed. I will be handing the new Vicar the liturgy (basically the words of the services we use) of the Church of England and saying a few brief sentences on behalf of the community. We will then be toasting a new beginning together and much joy and hilarity will ensue. 

It is a joy and an honour to be part of such a hotchpotch community and I’ll be blogging more about that this weekend over on the Learning from Sophie Community Blog Party. I’ll post a link when it’s up and hopefully see you there!

Amendment....If you'd like to read my community blog post on Parish Life then head on over to my post at Learning from Sophie here!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


If you have come to my blog today for a light hearted and jovial account of my descent into pyjamas for the autumn (which is true, nonetheless) then the title of this post may disappoint you. I've been doing some thinking today prompted by the fact that I wore my 'funeral dress' - a black dress I wear for when I am Verger at funerals - today to see if I can legitimately style it for other occasions. This coupled with some unexpected philosophising as a result of reading some chick lit (yes you read that right!) has made me ponder deeper things.

The book in question is 'Men I've Loved Before' by Adele Parks. The title doesn't necessarily suggest it would prompt deep philosophical thought and is yet another one that has sent my husband's brow furrowing as he sits next to me in bed, particularly after my last pick 'Husbands - Is one ever enough?' In the book the main character doesn't want to have a baby because (spoiler alert) her mother died in childbirth. I have a friend who had the same start in life and the effect is devastating. It makes your heart ache. That coupled with my 'funeral' attire got me thinking about my own evolving views on life, death and eternity (I did warn you...!).

When I was at University studying Biology I feel headlong in love with science and particularly with the theory of evolution. What I love about it, and about the record of life on earth as we know it, is the ability of life to overcome. I remember one of my lecturers saying that at any point in time, in any place where the conditions allow it, life with evolve. Just look at the diversity on earth, all the strange nooks and crannies that life can survive – on the edge of volcanoes and at the bottom of the ocean. It gave me such a sense of comfort that no matter what we stupid humans do life will always win out. It is spontaneous, always seeking a way.

In my third year I went on to study flowering plants. The arrival of many modern flowering plants on the earth is amazing.  The fossil records show that about a hundred million years ago there were hardly any flowering plants, just a few magnolias, and then suddenly there were hundreds of different kinds. I can just imagine it, all that colour and vitality exploding across the landscape (granted over a longer period than day but in terms of the whole history of the earth, very fast indeed). We now have 235,000 different kinds of flowering plants on earth.

In my third year at University, while studying my beloved flowering plants, I also became a Christian (much to the bafflement of most my friends and family!). It was then, as I started to discover the bible alongside my textbooks, that I came across the book of Ecclesiastes. The book is basically a rather rambling account of how everything is meaningless and the best thing to do is drink and be merry while you can. I absolutely love it. Ecclesiastes charts so accurately the bitter sadness of loss, how meaningless it feels, just like the feelings of the character in my book.

There is one particular line that particularly sticks we me and back then pulled together the sadness of life with my tentative new faith and my heart's reaction to the winning out of life that I saw in evolution:

'He has made everything beautiful in it's time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.'

I still live with that conflict and sometimes it feels like dressing up a funeral dress to insist on something more. But then I go back to that feeling that is so well summed up in William Blake's famous poem, Augeries of Innocence, and find some balance again.

'To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.'