Thursday, 29 March 2012

Never too late

The Oxford Literary Festival has given me such food for thought. It has also given me a lot of food. Blueberry ice cream from Oxford’s Own G&Ds on Wednesday and a pot of Jamie Oliver’s sausage and feta stew today, delicious! I've had a thoroughly enjoyable week learning all sorts of new things and discovering (in the way of Rory Gilmore) my very own study tree In Christ Church where I learned to write 'Ben' in Hebrew (now there is love for you. I'll leave it to you to decide if it was the first thing in the book or a sign of unending devotion to the man in my life!!) 

Today I went to see the truly remarkable P D James talk about her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley. As a die-hard Jane Austen fan I lapped up this offering on the future of Elizabeth and Darcy. It was great to hear her talk about the journey she made in researching and writing the novel, that and her personal passion for Jane Austen.

P D James, what a woman! (from the Guardian)

But the one thing that really struck home was how inspirational her personal story is. It was calmly relayed in the first few minutes of introduction that she has had a forty year career as a successful novelist.  And that she began this career at the age of 50! At ninety years of age she is still as sharp as a tack and writing best-selling fiction. ‘I’ll never stop writing,’ she said ‘Though I am worried that I’ll die mid-way through a novel. I do hate to leave things unfinished.’  What a great spirit. If she can take on the new and adventurous at 92 then I can certainly give it a go at 27!!

Before she began novel writing she had forty years as an administrator for the NHS and the Home Office. Her husband had been injured in the war and she had to provide for their growing family. She was practical about this. It was what life dealt her.  But it was a lucky thing (or perhaps she made it lucky...) as it was here that her inspiration for many of her famous crime novels came. Then, in her forties, came the moment when she decided to really give this writing lark a go (she had wanted to be a writer since childhood). It dawned on her that there would never be a good time to write. Life would always throw up demands, there would always be something else to do. So why not do it now? I can totally identify with that.

So all in all another fantastic day. On Wednesday I also discovered the secret of the perfect Earl Grey (it’s Neroli Oil – I’ll give you that one for free!) and discovered that there are in fact such jobs as International Tea Tasters. Should this Vicar thing not work out that sounds like quite a satisfactory Plan B!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Nun times at Oxford Literary Festival

This week in Oxford we are enjoying the arrival of The Times Oxford Literary Festival. This combined with glorious sunshine is reminding me why I absolutely love this city. More so than ever, it is packed to the rafters with people who have brains this size of solar systems and the University looks simply stunning in the sunshine. Now that I know I will be spending the next three years studying here it makes it even more blissful to be lying on my back in Christ Church Meadow (though I seriously doubt I’ll be doing much of that come September- nose to the grindstone!)  

Christ Church Meadows, my new lay about location of choice

On Wednesday I am going to my unashamed pinnacle of the festival, a tea tasting with the East India Company in Christ Church Hall. I will mostly be pretending I am in Harry Potter (naturally). Saturday sees a morning at the Sheldonain Theatre with the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, followed by what can only be described as the world’s most enormous brunch and getting thoroughly lost in Blackwells Bookshop.

On Saturday just gone I went to a brilliant talk about Sister Wendy Beckett, a consecrated virgin (now there’s a term!) who achieved the highest grade possible in her degree at Oxford and is a renowned Art Historian. She has been doing programmes on the BBC since before I was born and is now the subject of a BBC documentary about her life. Sister Wendy lives in a caravan in the grounds of a religious order called the Carmelites and survives off mostly cold vegetables from their kitchens. You’d think this would leave you with a rather austere and serious character but she has that characteristic lightness that seems to come with remarkable people. Just think of Desmond Tutu’s laugh!

from Sister Wendy Beckett, smiley in the sunshine!

It seems that wherever Sister Wendy goes she is having an impact on people. In the documentary they have given her free reign to talk about what she loves most, our cultural heritage in art and how an understanding of our religious heritage is essential to really understand the great art collections we have. As well as giving glimpses of her brilliance when it comes to interpreting art the programme makers have clearly been captivated by her. One of them said ‘It’s like she has to come down from another spiritual plain to be with us.’

It was fascinating to see how people respond to being in the presence of someone they consider holy and how despite our society being a largely secular one people can still be touched by something, as one of the producers put it, ‘other-wordly’. It’s hard to put your finger on where that kind of character comes from, I suppose day after day of quiet contemplation has something to do with it. Integrity, sincerity and wisdom, certainly. Not easily won traits!

New home (Ripon College Cuddesdon) and New Uni (Oxford), happy days! From

At the college I am going to there is going to be an order of nuns living on the site, moving in about the same time I am. I’m not quite sure what they’ll make of me but I’m very much looking forward to meeting them. The nuns being at the college reminds me that this is a two-fold journey I’m embarking on. One of hallowed halls and ancient Universities and one of quietness and peace, searching after the ‘other-wordly’ things. Both are hugely exciting and will surely orbit around my other great love in life, tea. Roll on the tea tasting. Bliss!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Big Reveal

Yesterday I received some much anticipated news. Unfortunately the arrival of this news from the postman coincided with the moment that the sewage drain at the front of our house exploded (I'll leave that particular picture to your own imagination!) So when I opened the envelope telling me that my life was about to change in a big way I had barely a moment to let it register before a crisis call to my landlord (and getting out the way, fast!). Let’s hope that wasn’t a sign!!

For those of you who have been reading this blog and following my journey out of full time work to spend more time writing and working in church, this announcement may seem a long time coming. Believe me, it feels like it has been a long time coming for me! In many ways it feels that it has been seven years in the making since I graduated from Bristol a very different person than the one who started there. If someone had sat me down then and told me what I would be about to embark on I would have laughed. In fact when this whole process started I did laugh. I thought it was ridiculous. But others didn’t and I grew to understand that what I’ve been looking for all these years, a vocation, something to give myself to that means something to me, was perhaps staring me in the face after all. That what I had found was actually what I had been looking for the whole time.

So here goes… of September this year I will be starting college to become a Vicar in the Church of England. Yup. You heard me right! The interview process has lasted eighteen months but the preparation for it has been a lifetime. I’ve met more people in this process than I can count on both hands all of whom have been kind, supportive and seen right to the heart of matters. They helped me realise the potential I have and what I really want before I could even name it myself.

Some people think that the church is a narrow minded institution, at its worst perhaps it can be, but my experience has been one of acceptance, support and encouragement. I have come in with a different background, having come to faith later in life, and I have been part of all different kinds of churches since. Like all of us really, I don’t come to this with a clean record or no mistakes made. I’m not a Church of England bod born and bred, but I bloomin' love this church (with all its eccentricities!), and they have understood that this is perhaps one of the greatest things I have to offer.  They haven’t been put off by the pink handbags and love of Glee, God bless them! They have given me the confidence to be more fully myself than ever before. I’m overwhelmed and thoroughly excited that talking about my greatest passion, this great God who I love so very much, is going to be my day job. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
So where does that leave me now? From now until September I’ll be preparing to start a BA in Theology at Oxford University. It’s going to be intense so I’m going to get a head start and hit the books this summer. I have to learn Greek and Hebrew as well as getting back into essay writing ten years after I last started University. I never thought I’d be staring a degree course in the eyes again, much less one at Oxford! My college will be Ripon College in Cuddesdon (very near Oxford) where we will move to be closer to the college community and all the great things that offers. I’ll be there for three years in total and then who knows? Off to be a Curate (assistant Vicar) somewhere for three or four years and then they might even let me lose as Vicar of my own church!

I can’t say enough how kind people have been to me - friends, family, new friends on Twitter and people I’ve met in Oxford on the journey – I have had an amazing group of cheerleaders. Prepare yourselves for some serious payback this summer!! I intend to spend a large proportion of it in pub gardens, sitting in the sunshine and spoiling you all rotten! This blog, and my writing, will continue - my goodness this journey is going to provide some fabulous blog fodder!

So thank you for sticking with me and for the supportive community that surrounds this blog. I really do appreciate each and every one of you  *gushing ends here*!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Spinning Lizzie

The last week has been totally crazy. I promise to do an all singing, all dancing reveal at some point but at the moment I have way more unanswered questions than I do plans so I’m keeping shtum . Cruel but necessary! In this interim period in which I know less about my life than dogs do about paragliding I have been treating myself to a little life holiday. After all, how often is it that you get a moratorium on all decision making? This, my friends, is where Spinning Lizzie comes in.

Like all good jokes this one originates from an in-joke made in a blonde moment where I thought that a major invention of the industrial revolution was a Spinning Lizzie (it’s Jenny, apparently!) This lead to a comedy blackboard sketch (a firm favourite in our house) and then to my husband creating this.
Spinning Lizzie, you never need make a decision again!
The genius of Spinning Lizzie is that she makes all your decisions for you thus saving you from any additional angst when you’ve had quite enough of that, thank you very much. You simply spin the wheel and see where she lands and voila, a plan for your day! On Saturday Lizzie chose my breakfast, tea, box set to watch, chick flick, pub for a drink, bar of chocolate - the list goes on.
Some excellent chocolate selections made by Lizze.
The categories and options were created by my dear and long suffering husband so they were all things that he knows I like. By three in the afternoon we were gleefully packing up to head off to the pub saying ‘Well Lizzie said so…!’ The more I think about it the more I think the uses for Spinning Lizzie are endless. Off on a city break? Too many sights, not enough time? Ask Spinning Lizzie! Always eat the same things in restaurants?  Bamboozled by a cocktail menu? Can’t decide what to wear? Spinning Lizzie!!!
So if all else fails at least I have a back up plan, the mass production of Spinning Lizzies and the enhancing of weekend plans everywhere. Most excellent!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Pester Power

It’s amazing what you can do with a little good old fashioned pester power. I’m busy planning a Handicraft Fayre with the support of some lovely, and very talented, chums to raise money for the Tearfund projects in the Mekong sub region that I have written about previously. One of my articles, an interview with a fantastic girl called Lin, was published in Inspire Magazine (page 20-21) this month and got the front cover! I’m not surprised really because Lin looks absolutely fantastic in her tribal dress, it’s a perfect cover shot!

The idea of hosting a handicraft sale arose from the work of the New Life Centre where Lin studied as lots of the girls there (all of whom are victims of, or vulnerable to, exploitation and trafficking) still have family members to support even though their room, board and education is provided by the centre. To meet this need for sending money home the centre hosts handicraft workshops so the girls can make items to sell to provide some extra cash for their families. So to raise money for these kinds of projects working with vulnerable migrant groups I thought a handicraft sale would be a very fitting event to host.

On the day (Saturday 28th April, 1.30 – 4.30, at St Micheal and All Angel’s church, Lonsdale Road, Summertown in Oxford) we will have piles of cakes and cups of tea, an abundance of homemade items from knitted toys and baby hats to home sewn decorations and bags. There will also be a book stall, cards and fair trade jewellery on offer. If you are in the area then do pop in. If you’re not then never fear! I will be selling some of the items via my Facebook page and this blog so you can still get involved. If you’d like to donate I also have a Just Giving page set up for the event.
But ANYWAY the reason for this post was that while I was on the hunt for kindly businesses in Summertown today I wandered into Laura Ashley and asked if they had any fabric offcuts they would be willing to donate for us to make some of the hand crafted items out of. Luckily for me they had a bag of swatches that they didn’t need any more from the season just gone so I left well and truly loaded up. It reminded me again of the great fruits to be had from simply asking. It can be a little scary (I’m already dreading walking shop to shop in search of raffle prizes) but I know the personal touch works.
 It’s also a lot easier to be bolshy on behalf of people like Lin. Most of us have no idea what it is like to live how she has and it’s a privilege to be able to help in any small way. It reminds me of the Vicar of Dibley episode where Geraldine persuades a rich man to pay £10,000 for their new stained glass window. She knows that giving will be good for him so pursues him until he writes her a cheque. As they said in the shop when I got the fabric, they were all destined for the bin anyhow and now they have a new lease of life and even better will fund a new life for people on the other side of the world. Worth being a pest for I’d say!