46) Inspiration from Strangers

A couple of weeks ago we went on a wonderful mini-break staying in London. 

 I had always wanted to go to the Chelsea Flower Show as I have loved plants and gardens all my life, but it seemed there was always a reason that I couldn’t get there.  This year it was actually Simon who suggested we went as he thought it might be a good place to use his wonderful new camera.  Don’t get me wrong, he does like flowers and trees, and he is interested in the designs of gardens, but he doesn’t have the passion for gardening that I have. 

I was so excited when we booked the tickets a few months ago.  At the time I was going through a fairly good phase healthwise and really thought that with a few planned breaks, I’d be up to mulling around the show gardens and the wonderful exhibits and show stands that makes Chelsea the world-renowned show it has become.  I spent hours on the internet researching places to stay and found The Presidential Apartments in Earls Court.  I always feel slightly claustrophobic in a hotel room, hating the feeling of being boxed in and normally having nowhere else to sit but on the bed, and these apartments appeared to give you more space with a separate sitting area and even a kitchenette to prepare your own breakfast etc.  I booked through a booking site and managed to secure a fantastic deal so I was a very happy bunny!

As the time became closer I was becoming quite despondent.  My feet, legs and hips had decided they really did not want to work.  I can only explain it as if when you wake up, instead of feeling refreshed and awake, you feel as if you have been mountain climbing all night and you have virtually no energy and considerable pain.  I knew that my legs could only hold me up for a few minutes at a time, with very long rests in between, and was beginning to think that maybe we should just cancel and accept that this year was not going to be the year I’d eventually get there.  Simon though had a totally different plan in his mind.  He was determined that we would go and still have a wonderful time, we’d just take my wheelchair along too. I have a wheelchair and an electric scooter, and whilst I am quite happy to use the scooter if we go for a ‘walk’ in the forest, or along by the coast, I have avoided using the wheelchair for a few years now.  I would normally rather stay indoors and read or listen to music than brave the outside world in my wheelchair.

I know it’s sometimes stupid, but I absolutely hate being in it.  I was in a wheelchair quite a lot as a young child (another story!) and I think because of that I almost have a phobia about using one.  I feel like I’ve given up.  I also know it’s daft, but in my head I feel capable of everything, and so in my heart I feel a fraud sitting in a wheelchair.  I also feel like I am a failure, like I have given in, like I should be able to control my body and tell it what I expect it to do.  I find it so hard to accept that in reality I appear to have no input where my physical problems are concerned. I always feel a nuisance and in the way in a wheelchair, and hate the idea of looking ‘disabled’, even if, I suppose, I often am!

In preparation for our mini-break the wheelchair came out of the garage and the cobwebs and dust were flicked away.  Simon re-inflated the tyres, we bought a comfy seat cushion and a very clever back cushion that doubled as a picnic pack slung over the back.  The weather had been atrocious and we expected rain so I ordered a very cool purple poncho specially designed for wheelchair users.  Instead of sitting in a puddle of water (NO, not that I have accidents! We are talking heavy rain here!) this poncho had cleverly designed ‘flaps’ that go over the back and sides of the wheelchair – also keeping the picnic pack dry at the same time. We were set.

We arranged to go by train and using my disabled rail card meant that the cost wasn’t prohibitive.  Simon’s sister Wendy agreed to take us to the train station.  Everything was organised.  The sparkly clean wheelchair sat in the dining room but every time I walked past it I felt a massive heaviness.  The thought of being in it for three days just filled me with dread.

The day arrived and instead of the rain we were in the midst of a mini heat wave.  My purple poncho was not required !

I hadn’t travelled up to London on a train for a long time and was really surprised how wonderfully clean the train was, how smooth it was too, no jigging and swaying, it was as if it was gliding along.  There was an allocated space for the wheelchair so it wasn’t in anyones way, nicely tucked in a specially designed rack.  It was a truly lovely journey.  Comfortable seats, light and airy, just sitting chatting and enjoying the beautiful scenery of Hampshire and Surrey. Everyone at the railway station had been so helpful and nothing was too much trouble. 

When we arrived at Waterloo we made our way out to the taxi rank and I was pleasantly surprised at how everyone happily moved out of the way, smiling at me whilst they apologised for being where they had every right to be.  The taxi driver too was a happy soul, cheerily chatting to us as he drove us to our destination. The wheelchair folded down and was no problem in the back of the cab. 

We were expecting a very small apartment, basically a bed-sit, but at least somewhere with a separate sitting area and a kitchenette.  I couldn’t believe it when we were shown to a very stylish split-level loft-style apartment with far more space that we had ever imagined.  We had huge windows with views over beautiful gardens and every modern gadget you could possibly require and very importantly, being in the middle of a heat wave, it had air conditioning too.  It was totally fabulous. 

In the evening we decided to go for a stroll and find somewhere to eat.  It had been such a hot day it was great to be out and about, albeit that I was being pushed along in my wheelchair.  I had lived in South Kensington with my twin sister when we were 18 years old and hadn’t been back to that area for many many years.  Amazingly I still knew my way around and before we knew it we were right outside the garden flat (a posh way of saying  basement flat) that Tina and I had shared all those years ago.  The whole area still looked exactly as it had done in the mid 70’s and I could direct Simon to some great places to eat.  We found an Italian restaurant in Gloucester Road and sat outside in the warmth of the evening enjoying a wonderful supper.  I couldn’t believe so many people where out and about, it was almost a party atmosphere.  I felt 18 all over again!! Yet again, everyone offered us assistance and gladly moved out of the way as I was wheeled along.

 The next day we were up at the crack of dawn to go to Chelsea! We arrived super early and for the first couple of hours we could easily navigate around the various exhibits but as the time went on it became increasingly busy until there was not even a foot in front of me.  Simon had to be so patient waiting for people to move before he could gently weave the wheelchair through the crowds without clipping people’s ankles.  Yet again, people were so kind, some even calling out ‘wheelchair coming through’ and everyone, without exception, would happily move out of the way. 

Looking at the show gardens was just brilliant.  There were crowds, several people deep, all vying to take a look at the gardens, and yet when they saw me in my wheelchair people would move away from the barriers and let me through ….  right to the front!  Not only did I have the best view in the house (so to speak) but on a couple of occasions, the actual designers came over and chatted with me.  They would explain the reason for the design, why they chose certain architectural structures and how they had decided which plants to use.  I felt like a V.I.P.!!

I saw that the queues for the ladies loos were a mile long and thought that I’d just have to sit and wait it out with everyone else, at least I was sitting down and on my new cushion I couldn’t have been more comfortable.  We only waited a couple of moments and I couldn’t believe it when an official lady very kindly asked me to take a totally different route and I was shown into a palatial loo, complete with its own basin and top of the range toiletries.

We had the most fantastic day, and, thanks to my wheelchair, we saw everything we could have ever wanted to with the very best possible views. It was everything I had ever hoped Chelsea would be.

It was only when we were leaving the apartment that we found they had upgraded our room, totally free of charge, no wonder it was so spacious and well equipped! That type of thing always seems to happen to other people but it happened to us!

Again, the train journey back was just great.  Everyone, from the moment we left the apartment, until we arrived home, was so helpful and friendly.  I can honestly say I felt I had been blessed the whole weekend.  I was humbled by the incredible kindness of every single person we met.  Not one person complained that I was in the way, or that they had to move for me.  Everywhere we went people asked if we needed help, if there was anything they could do for us.  It was incredible.  When you think of all the people we had come into contact with over that weekend, and it seriously must have been in the hundreds, it was amazing how every one of them showed  such consideration.

We are all open to the news, whether it’s through newspapers (which I actually don’t read) or through the tv or radio, and the reports always seem to show that the world is full of rude and uncaring people, that we live in a world of selfishness.  I can’t believe that we were just lucky with who we happened to meet  in London, it proved to me that virtually everyone is actually basically good.  Isn’t it a great pity that our news doesn’t reflect the reality of the society we live in?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our news corporations gave us a more even view of our world, rather than focussing, as they do, on acts of violence and betrayal?

So, after all my despondency, seriously considering cancelling the whole weekend and concerns about using my wheelchair,  I loved our  break in London.  I have some wonderful memories of our time at Chelsea, but I know what will stay with me forever were the overwhelming gifts of kindness and thoughtfulness that we experienced from perfect strangers.  The world  is a far better place than most of us realise. It really was one of the most inspirational experiences.

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42) An Apology

The pier at Burnham-on-Sea

The pier at Burnham-on-Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I owe God an apology.  Well in fact it’s an apology both to God and Jesus.  It’s an apology from myself and also on behalf of my twin sister Tina, as we were in cahoots at the time, so I hope they will accept this from both of us.

When we were about eleven years old, Mum was, spiritually speaking, trying to finding her way.  From my earliest memories I remember Mum trying various religions.  Some she would really get involved in and others she would dismiss very quickly. She was a natural medium, but even with the knowledge that spirit is energy and so, ever-lasting, she was still searching for the meaning of life and felt that ‘somewhere’, ‘ out there’ she would find it.

She was working as a secretary for an airline in Hounslow, Middlesex,  close to Heathrow Airport, and it was there that she met another secretary, Jean.  Jean was a staunch member of the Plymouth Brethren Church.  Unfortunately for us, Mum thought that this religion might be the one that we should all take on board.  All, meaning Mum and Tina and myself, as Dad would never step foot inside a church and by that time our older brother,Ray, was more into becoming a hippy and playing his guitar than wanting to find himself embroiled in some religious activities.

Jean belonged to a small Plymouth Brethren church that Tina and I attended with Mum on a few occasions.  The whole place was very understated and to me felt totally flat.  There was no atmosphere at all, no feeling of joyous celebrations of life, just really boring sermons, uncomfortable chairs and self-righteous middle-aged ladies, faces scrubbed clean and dressed in drab neat boring clothes.   They had such strict rules which basically meant that if you were to become one of them you wouldn’t be able to have much fun at all. I couldn’t help but wonder why Mum was at all interested in this very odd religion, but I think that the stranger it appeared, the more Mum thought there must be something to it.  I am also sure that Jean felt that she could somehow change Mum, give her ‘real’ values and that she would throw away her makeup bag, her fashionable clothes, and become just like Jean – a mouse of a woman who spent her life adhering to the strictest of religious rules.  Jean must have been very persuasive to get Mum to even consider joining.

Jean asked Mum if  Tina and I would like to go on a Plymouth Brethren holiday and she had said yes.  Mum told us that it would be really good fun and that she felt we hadn’t given the church much of a chance.  Reluctantly we agreed to go, after all, we thought, it might be ok because it meant that we would be away on holiday just the two of us for the very first time.  We really thought that it couldn’t possibly be that bad!

We had never been camping before and this was a holiday in big tents, so we really were quite excited as we packed our tee shirts and shorts and swimming costumes.  I remember feeling so grown up as I carried my own suitcase onto the coach.  The holiday was at a campsite at Brean Sands in Somerset, right beside the sea.  To me as a child, a seaside holiday meant making sand castles, sunbathing, sticks of rock, chips and fizzy drinks, , swimming in the sea, playing in penny arcades and donkey rides. I imagined us all sitting round a camp fire at night singing jolly songs.

When we arrived we were all shown to our tents with our allotted sleeping bags already laid out on the ground.  It didn’t look at all comfortable! There was a large wooden cabin were we all had to meet up for meals and for ‘meetings’.  The lady in charge was called ‘Captain’, I would think she was in her mid fifties and wore a rigid black suit with a high neck buttoned white blouse, not your usual holiday clothes at all.  She looked like a sergeant major to me and I had an uneasy feeling about her from the off.  It was obvious she already knew lots of the other children and her tight-lipped stern expression only softened into a smile when she was addressing those she knew.  The rest of us were greeted with a scowl and a look of disdain.  Not the best welcome to a week-long holiday.

After sorting out our clothes we had to go the cabin for our tea.  Captain sat at the top table and before we’d even eaten a sandwich she was standing up calling from a register and issuing your orders for the week.  When she came to Tina and I she told us that we were on latrine duty.  I had no idea what a latrine was but soon found out. Basically we were going to be toilet attendants for the week.  Somehow that did not thrill us.

After tea we were told that the Bible verse for the week was John 10, verse 10. ‘The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly’.  Captain explained that what that meant was that we were all sinners and unless we behaved ourselves and repented that we would not go to heaven.  I was really worried, because I knew that I wasn’t always good and had sometimes been naughty.  I was convinced that there was no way I was ever going to be able to get into heaven.  That first night when I went to sleep, in my sleeping bag on the lumpy ground, I was trying so hard not to cry because I really thought I was going to be in such trouble with God.

The following morning after breakfast (and prayers …. lots of prayers) Tina and I had to carry out our latrine duties for the first time.  The loos were dreadful.  Everything smelt of jeyes fluid and the brushes for cleaning the toilet bowls had seen better days. It was not a pleasant task.  I can’t begin to explain the state of some of the seats …. I still don’t know how they ever got like that.    We had though been told that we would off on a bus to go to the beach for the rest of the day, so that was something we could really look forward to.

We all went and waited at the bus stop with our swimming costumes and towels full of happy thoughts for the day ahead.  The bus arrived, complete with some local passengers and on we all got.  Much to our absolute horror,  Captain got everyone singing hymns. “S-A-V-I-O-U-R- we want you all to know, you’re the one, the only one who saves from sin (saves from sin), if in him, you will believe, his pardon you’ll receive”, etc etc.  I felt a total fool with everyone staring at us.  I had no option but to get used to it, because it happened everyday for the whole week.  I just kept thinking that no-one would know Tina and I and at least we weren’t singing hymns on a bus where we lived.

Even on the beach the theme of the week continued.  We were dispatched to sandcastle making teams.  It was all very formal and efficient.  Each team was given a passage from the bible that you had to make into a sand sculpture.  My team had the verse ‘For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few be they that find it.’  Captain explained that in order to get into heaven we had to walk along the narrow path , but that most of us walked a wider path.  There was that threat again.  Behave … or else!  There was no swimming, no boat rides, no ice creams. No fun at all.

To me, even at that young age, I felt that their whole philosophy was one of fear. So it went on through the whole week.  I really wasn’t sleeping very well and both Tina and I cried ourselves to sleep every night because our worries were growing by the day.  I made the massive mistake of asking Captain if we would be able to go to the pier and the fun fair.  My goodness, she was not happy with me at all.  I was told that I was sinful to want to go against the teachings of the bible. Then to top it off Tina and I were severely reprimanded by Captain, in front of everyone, because we were found walking across a field towards a donkey derby, which we were told, was strictly against God. That’s it, I thought, I’ve totally had it now.  I was convinced that I was going to hell.

It was becoming an increasingly miserable time apart from every night, after the sermon, when other children were standing up telling how they had found Jesus or God.  Everyone would be clapping and they would then become an accepted member of the group. It was obvious to us that there were very few left who hadn’t found Jesus, and we were definitely among those few!  It also appeared that those people who had just found God or Jesus were  given the better jobs within the camp.  People who had been on rubbish patrol would be moved to cutlery placing, those on washing up were put on bread and butter service.  It seemed that was the only way to get ahead.  Tina and I reckoned that as we were already in so much trouble and we were going to go to hell anyway, we would hatch a plan  to get out of latrine duties!

The following evening, after we had cleaned the loos before supper, we had our course of action in place.  After we had eaten and said more prayers, and Captain had given us all yet another lengthy sermon on behaving, we stood up in unison.  We told her we had found Jesus behind the cabin. She did look a little stunned, but managed a very small smile and everyone started clapping wildly.  “The twins have found Jesus”, “the twins have found Jesus” they exclaimed excitedly! People gathered round us and hugged us.  Suddenly we were no longer the outsiders, we were part of the group.

The next morning after breakfast we were given new instructions for the rest of the week .  No longer did we have to clean the loos, we were told we would be in charge of handing out breakfast cereals and porridge.  We had certainly been promoted.  Our plan had worked!  Then, the dreaded guilt set in.  The realisation of the lies we had told and the total certainty of an everlasting life in hell really took its toll on both of us.  We couldn’t wait to get home to talk to Mum and Dad.  We were praying they could somehow fix everything with Jesus and God.

Thankfully the time to go home eventually arrived.  Even now, forty-five years later, I remember how long that week felt. Mum and Dad met us at the coach station and had expected to be meeting two very happy sun tanned girls.  Instead we got off the coach and just fell into their arms crying.  Through sobs we told them that we were going to hell.  We really were distraught.  They asked us to explain what had happened and after we had, they told us there was no way in the world we would be going to hell. Dad really was quite cross that anyone could put such fear into children but was laughing uncontrollably when we told him about us finding Jesus behind the cabin. Mum explained that God is love and that there is no way in the world that God would want anyone to be frightened of him. Quite seriously it took months for Tina and I to get over the fears that had been instilled in us that week.  Mum, thankfully,  decided not to go to the church with Jean ever again and was very pleased when Jean moved offices!

Now, as an older woman, with many years of life’s experiences under my belt, I feel that the higher spirit, the creator of our universe, is as Mum said, pure love. Of that I have absolutely no doubt.  I tend to follow my own spiritual pathway and rarely become involved in anything termed as ‘religion’, although I pray every night, and happily pray with friends.

I believe with all my heart that we all share a creator, no matter the title that anyone or any group may give to this divine spirit, and that this creator would never want to threaten or frighten, but instead would wish to instill love and compassion and empathy in all those who live.

I do still wonder whether the other children on that holiday were as frightened as we were. A whole week of being indoctrinated is pretty hard for an adult, never mind a young child.  Thank goodness Tina and I had each other and parents who showed us, through example and guidance, what a wonder our creator truly is.  I do though still wish to apologise for telling the lie about finding Jesus behind the cabin.  Quite possibly (hopefully) God and Jesus had a good laugh about it.  I am hoping they have a good sense of humour!

34) It’s Only a Number!

A picture of a birthday cake

I’ve just had a birthday.  Hooray!

The problem is that I can’t get used to being so ‘old’.  Although my body doesn’t exactly feel ‘young’, my head, my mind and my heart does.  I’m like a ‘cut and shut’ where bits of me just don’t fit together quite right.  My body hasn’t felt very young for a number of years now. Due to a chronic illness I always have pain somewhere and the lack of energy is annoying, but I’ve got used to that over time, it’s been with me for nineteen years, so I should have by now!

No, now the problem is that my body is actually ageing.  I’ve noticed the wrinkles deepening and my eyelids kind of folding over, its difficult to describe, but all of my eyelids used to be visible, but now there is extra skin that hangs over them – I’m sure there is a technical name for it – but it’s happened all of a sudden.  My legs have never been my strong point, being knock-kneed how I rejoiced when maxi dresses came back into fashion, but now they too are beginning to look like old lady legs.  As I’ve aged I’m seeing more and more the family genes take over.  Auntie Violet legs – thanks Auntie!

My twin used to be very good at pointing out my short comings, but since her stroke she hasn’t so much and I have been thankful for that.  Last Friday when she came over she was looking intently at my hands.  Now, she doesn’t often say a lot these days so I normally relish a conversation with her, but on Friday she was not having a good day and was more ‘there’ (wherever that is), than ‘here’, so when she started to talk I was really pleased. “You’ve got”, she looked as if she was frustrated trying to talk, “You’ve got” she tried again, “What am I trying to say?”, “I don’t know sis” I replied, as I often do, because she often asks that.  There was another long pause and I always imagine her brain is trying to get into gear, “You’ve got  age spots on your hands” she piped up with a big smile, “Oh” I said, a little shocked, “and your hands” she went on, “your hands”, I waited patiently as she gathered her thoughts once again, “your hands aren’t looking so pretty these days, they look wrinkly”.  Gee, thanks sis!  Well that was certainly worth waiting for!

I hadn’t really looked at her hands before, they are lily white as she has been indoors for almost three years now and she only had one very tiny insignificant age spot.  One of her habits since her stroke is applying hand lotion many many times a day, so I must admit her hands do look very soft.  Maybe it should become one of my habits too. She isn’t capable of doing any housework or washing up either and I’m sure that plays a big role in my wrinkly, aged spots hand syndrome! Bless her!

I think the reason this birthday has hit me harder than all the rest is that it really is the heading towards sixty birthday, I can’t say I’m in my early fifties anymore, I’ve tilted over the edge of fifty five and fifty six does sound so very grown up! I think, for all of us who have gained some weight, we can look in the mirror and think about when we are slim again, there is a hope that one day we may shed the weight and be back to our ‘real’ slim selves.  For me too, there is always the hope that one day I am going to wake up well, that my illness will have scuttled off into the night, never to darken my door again, and I will once again return to the ‘real’ healthy, full of vitality, capable of anything, me.  But, looking in the mirror now, seeing my droopy eyelids and, thanks to Tina, being aware of my aged hands, there is no hope that one day the droops will disappear and the wrinkles will all smooth out.  I’m not even going to consider discussing the other, more covered up, bits of me, that are patently struggling with age.  A girl (or maybe I should at this age say woman) does have to keep some dignity! No, this is it.  It really is the beginning of me looking old.

I was chatting to my sister-in-law Wendy just before my birthday.  Wendy is sixteen years younger than me (eek, I’m ‘just’ old enough to be her mother!), she is extremely pretty, very petite and super fit.  She goes to the gym most days and also leads a very busy life as a hairdresser, a Mum to my two beautiful neices and has a very active social life.  She is also, absolutely lovely and great fun to be with.  As the years have gone by and we have got to know each other better we enjoy an easy relationship and chat away and discuss anything and everything.  I’m so lucky to have her as my sis-in-law.  She was asking me how old I was going to be and when I told her she said it is just a number. I laughed, yes, I agreed, but said it was a bloomin’ big number!

This week there was the shocking news of the death of Whitney Houston and it really got me thinking.  She had died when she was only forty eight years old.  I met Simon when I was that age, and how I would have hated to have missed the wonderful time we have shared together.  I have met so many wonderful new people since moving to Hampshire when I was forty eight.  For me it was an age when my life turned around, when I had the courage to stand up and be me, to leave an old life and start afresh.   I didn’t have Whitneys fame, her talent, her money or her looks, but I did have my own identity, which I sadly feel she was lacking.  How sad that her life ended when my new life had just begun.  I was thinking that Whitney won’t ever be old enough to be complaining about droopy eyelids and how very fortunate I am to have made it to have a big number birthday.

How sad that so many amazingly talented people just can’t cope with their lives and end up relying so heavily on drugs and alcohol to get through.  I wonder how many of them feel lonely, how many question who really likes them for who they are, not what they have or what they can do for them? It must be tough to cope with public adulation when in your heart you are not prepared, when deep down you must know that you are not coping with the success.

I find it strange how many young people say they want to be famous, and yet fame has so many drawbacks, I just don’t understand why anyone would want to be in a position where they can’t even pop out to their local shops without someone taking a snap of them. Where everyone feels they have the right to comment on and often criticise what you wear, who you spend your time with, what you do. What a dreadful way to live your life!

Hopefully Whitney is now beginning a new life in spirit where she will be able to realise how amazingly fortunate she was in so many ways, where she will be able to find some of the joy she had in her life here.  I do hope that her soul will heal and with help she will be able to move forward along her pathway. Maybe in her next incarnation she will again have the voice of an angel, but our society may have moved on and she will not be put on such a pedestal, where from such a great height so many have fallen.  Maybe next time she’ll happily get to the big number birthdays.  Let’s hope so.

32) Legal Beagles

English: Public court room in Independence Hall

We all think we are right!  It’s so true. We all think we are right because we see everything from our perspective.  It is how we are.  We often find great difficulty in looking at a situation from someone elses point of view.  It is very challenging to try to put yourself in someone elses shoes, to look at the world the way they see it. I feel it is impossible, even no matter how hard we try, to truly appreciate what someone is going through, to actually feel their joy, their pain, their concerns. And yet, even though we can never completely understand what it is  like to be someone else, we somehow feel we have the right to judge them.

Many of us make judgements about people’s physical appearance.  We make comments about their  choice of clothes, hairstyle, weight etc.   Even if we don’t verbalise what we are thinking, most of us do still think it.  How many times have you seen someone and within a millisecond a thought rushes through your head about how that person looks?  It is a habit that is so easy to get into. Even worse we think we know how to dress them better than themselves!  How can we always be so sure?  I might never ever in a million years wear a pink leather mini-skirt with high heels and wear bright red lipstick – but who says that I am right?  My choice in clothes most probably looks as dull as dishwater to someone else.

Have you met a friend’s partner and immediately made a snap judgement about them?  Just a look, just one word, or the way they dress can be enough for your brain to warp into judgement mode.  Even the way someone speaks, their accent,  can lead us to make sweeping judgements that could be totally wrong!

Our magazines and newspapers are full of judgements about people in the public eye.  Reporters judge everything about people: their lives, their love lives,  finances, children,  homes, even their political views.  Unfortunately it is rarely objective, and usually biased to entice more readers to read all the latest gossip, no matter if the ‘victim’ is a pop singer, a politician or a member of the royal family.  All appear to be fair game.  Even countries are attacked in the press, their cultures, their traditions, their politics.  It is felt that we are able to judge anyone/any country  who/that does not do as we think they should, who does not comply with what we consider is normal or correct.

I enjoy listening to lively debates on the radio and it surprises me how often I change my mind as I carry on listening to different views.  To begin with I am sure that Mr ‘A’ is making perfect sense, then Mr ‘B’ will chip in with his remarks and I start thinking, well, actually that really does make sense, then listening to Mr ‘A’ respond, I am once again seeing and appreciating his point of view.  From listening to so many over the years I have come to the conclusion that it is very difficult to tell the right viewpoint from the wrong one.  Even to the point where I wonder at times if there always is a right or a wrong one! It all depends from which angle you are looking at it.  As an onlooker it can be almost impossible to make a decision of who is right, but if you are personally involved then it becomes even more difficult to be objective.

My husband had to complete jury service recently.  Although he couldn’t discuss the case with me, I knew he was finding it very difficult to make a judgement about the ‘accused’.  Some days he would come home and feel he had totally understood what had happened and would appear relaxed. On other days he would come home obviously agitated after further evidence had been submitted into court which threw a spanner in the works, and suddenly the case didn’t appear as black and white as it had a couple of days before.  In the final days of the trial it was evident that Simon was really struggling.  He is a fair-minded man and was so concerned that he would come to the wrong conclusion, that because of his judgement an innocent man may spend time in prison.  Then he would be worried that if he judged the man innocent, and he was actually guilty, that he would be walking free in society, and what could be the possible consequences of that.    After much debate the jury found the accused guilty and Simon said he was so pleased when his previous convictions were read out and he had carried out similar crimes several times before.  He felt that they had come to the right decision.  His relief when it was all over was amazing.  The experience had really brought home the massive responsibility that there is in making judgements. Goodness knows how I’d ever cope if I had to sit on a jury!!

I do wonder what makes someone decide to commit a crime.  I have no idea of the mindset or thought process that you would go through to plan to take part in something criminal.  I avoid arguments and conflict as much as possible but it has crossed my mind whether someone decides to be abusive to someone else, either physically or verbally, or if it just happens, almost beyond their  control.  I do however know that I am extremely fortunate that I am not them, but somehow I used to think I had the right to judge them, not that I would normally tell others what I was thinking, but in my head I would be making judgements.  What right did I possibly have to do that?

I was sitting quietly one day, thinking about what is right and what is wrong, when I received the following words from one of my writing guides.

Look kindly on your fellow-man

Do not judge too harshly

For where he walks you too may tread

And understand his pathway

Just a few lines, but I feel it is a such powerful  message.  I have  had these words run through my mind so many many times over the years.  When I catch myself making a judgement about someone, suddenly I’ll hear the words “Look kindly on your fellow-man, do not judge too harshly ….” I immediately try to consider where that person is in their life and always ask myself “Who am I to judge?”  I cannot possibly imagine what made them make their choices about their lifestyle, their behaviour.  I have not shared in their life and come to their conclusions. I try to accept others as they are, accept they have their own opinions and have their own roads to follow.

Of course I’m not talking about our formal legal systems, these have to be in place, and we accept that our society chooses people to make legal judgements.  That is totally different to the judgements we all make that I am talking about here.

It  also made me think about the soul choices we make we enter this incarnation.  We can’t all choose to be kind and thoughtful or we would not be able to learn what is right and what is wrong, how to behave with care and generosity towards others.  How tough it must be to live your life as one of those people who are always on the wrong side of our man-made laws. How tough to wake up in the morning and know in your heart that you have been cruel or mean.  We can’t all be the same, we are all unique in almost every way and I say thank goodness for that.  In our diversity we have literally hundreds of thousands of choices throughout our lives, and who should ever judge us for them?  Only ourselves.  My guides know that we are not saints, that we have our human foibles, that we will most likely always make judgements, I feel it is a rare person who never does.  But, if you do find yourself judging, please just think of the words I received, and try not to be too harsh!

30) You’ve Got a Friend

You've Got a Friend

How many times in your life have you felt utterly alone? Felt there was no-one who was there was for you? Felt that no-one could understand what you were going through?

Sometimes the very fact that you put a brave face on it, no matter the tough times you are going through, can actually back-fire because everyone thinks that everything in your life is fine.  Or, maybe people think that you are one of those lucky few who can cope admirably with anything that is thrown at them.  Could it be that maybe your pride is getting in the way of being honest and you prefer people to think that you are ‘strong’ ?

How difficult it can be to be able to reach out when you desperately need a friend.

After I left Devon and moved to Hampshire with my twin sister, Tina, and her family, I was in a very odd ‘friend free’ zone for the first time in my life.   After 26 years I had finally plucked up the courage to end my marriage and within a matter of weeks  many of my friends were doing exactly the same! It was as if a cosmic switch had come on somewhere and we all decided that enough was enough.  My friends are scattered throughout England, and very strangely, all were going through their own very similar difficult and often traumatic times.  After they had separated from their husbands they had all stayed in the same towns, so at least they had their local friends around them for support, but due to my ex’s threatening behaviour I decided it was better (and I felt safer) moving far away.

Friends that I had been in regular contact with for years were busy dealing with their own problems and I felt that I couldn’t bother them with my own worries at that time. Tina and her husband, Woody, had adopted six learning disabled children, whose ages ranged from two to fifteen, so they too were pretty busy,  sorting out the often complicated special educational and medical needs that the children required in a new area.  It was extremely rare for me to get more than a minute or so alone with Tina for a chat, there was always someone who needed her.

Tina and Woody had rented a very large old house so that the children could each have their own bedrooms and fortuitously  it had a two bedroom annexe that was perfect for me.  Although it was not as grand as the main house, it too had large rooms, all decorated in a very gaudy colours by the previous tenant.  The carpets alone were enough to give you a headache.  The main lounge was fluorescent yellow, the second bedroom, vibrant lime green and my bedroom was bubble gum pink!

Although I had not one jot of regret for the decision I had made, and knew I was fortunate to have a roof over my head, I suddenly found myself in an alien environment.  My ex-home was hundreds of miles away, I had none of my treasured possessions around me, none of the comforts of my previous life.    I didn’t have one stick of furniture so went to the local D.I.Y. store and bought the last two fold up garden chairs they had as it was the end of the summer season.  They were vibrant yellow and green so almost ‘matched’ the carpet in the lounge and as a bonus they came with cushions, which looked far more comfortable than they really were as I soon found out when I sat on one when I got home.  I had never sat on such lumpy cushions.  I also bought a table lamp and a small table, so that I could have somewhere to put my coffee, and a small radio so that I could at least have some music to keep me company. I had virtually no money, no income and most of my clothes were still at my old house, so not much at all.  My sister had loaned me a single bed and bedding which looked lost in the massive bedroom.

I remember one evening sitting on one of my lumpy cushioned chairs looking out over the garden which was a tangled mess of laurels and holly trees at the time.  I remember feeling so terribly lost.  I knew that all the legalities involved in both the divorce and the selling and splitting of assets from my marriage were obviously not going to happen overnight.  I felt I was in limbo and  as if I didn’t belong anywhere, like I had no roots.  I don’t think I’d realised how much I had relied on the roots of my life, the roots that come with familiarity of where you live, the friends you see, who you are with, what you are doing everyday.

It is often at times like these when we have to learn to become super resilient, super self-reliant, it is almost as if the universe conspires to put us in a place where we have no option but to dig deep, to delve into our soul’s reserves and find the strength from within ourselves to overcome our fears and concerns.

The realisation of my uncertain future really hit me that night.  I concluded that I could look at my life in two opposing ways.  I could think how dreadful it was, sitting alone in this cold quiet emptiness that was devoid of anything that meant anything at all to me, or try to look at my new circumstances as a blank canvas, ready for the new adventures of my life to be captured in bright cheerful warm colours.

I was so fortunate in that I felt that I could call on spirit, my guides, my helpers, my loved ones who had passed, and asked them  if they could come close. I had a need to know that I did at least, still have my spiritual roots to build on.

As I was sitting there, deep in thought, thinking of  my spirit friends, the sun was setting and the most beautiful deep pink and golden rays of the sunset came streaming through my window.  I felt my spirits lift, and my immediate thought was that old saying, ‘red sky at night, shepherds delight’ and felt a smile from within.

I shook myself out of my melancholy moment and put on the radio. Of all the songs that could have been playing  I heard James Taylor singing one of my favourites.  I had no doubt that spirit had played a part in my putting the radio on at that exact time, the choice of the music, and the station I was tuned to.   I felt my heart fill with love and comfort as I knew I had received a spiritual hug. Whenever I feel alone now, when I start to miss those that I loved so dearly, I think of that magic moment and the enormous effort that I am sure my family and friends spirit-side put into getting that message to me so clearly.  I know that all I have to do is close my eyes, think of them, and they will be here, right beside me.

Written and performed by Carole King, but actually made famous by James Taylor, “You’ve got a friend”.

You’ve Got a Friend

When you’re down and troubled
and you need a helping hand
and nothing, ooh, nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me
and soon I will be there
to brighten up even your darkest nights.

You just call out my name,
and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running, oh yeah baby
to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall,
all you have to do is call
and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah
You’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you
should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow
Keep your head together and call my name out loud
and soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name,
and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall,
all you go to do is call
and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, yeah

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend?
People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you.
Well they’ll take your soul if you let them.
Oh yeah, but don’t you let them.

You just call out my name,
and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Oh babe, don’t you know that,
Winter, spring, summer or fall,
Hey now, all you’ve got to do is call.
Lord, I’ll be there, yes I will.
You’ve got a friend.
You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
You’ve got a friend

29) Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!

Smiley Face

How easy it is to be a moaning Minnie.   I’m sure we all know someone (or ….. gulp, even ourselves sometimes) who get into moaning mode all too easily.

When I look back, which is far easier than looking forward, I know there have been times in my life when someone has asked ” How are you?” and it’s been all too easy to forget all the positives in my life and have a good old moan.  I honestly believe that there’s nothing wrong with that occasionally, we all go through difficult, challenging, heartbreaking times when I think we should not chastise ourselves for moaning, especially to our closest friends who are trying to help us, but it’s the habit of moaning that I’m writing about today.

I used to have a Father-in-law who could have moaned for England.  Seriously if there was a gold medal in moaning he would have been on the podium each and every day.  No matter what you did or what you said, he’d find something to moan about.  When we were first married we went to visit him in our old car, he complained that we were obviously not working hard enough and should be ashamed at driving an old banger.  A couple of years later we drove up to see him and we had a new car.  I couldn’t believe it when he started moaning that it was obviously alright for us, swanning around like we were above everyone else because we had a new car!  We just couldn’t win.

His wife, my ex-Mother-in-law, was also a pretty good moaner. She was staying with us for a while (too long!) and I remember asking her if she had any preference for lunch, whether she would like a hot cooked meal, or a light cold lunch.  She said she didn’t mind.  I even asked her if she was sure and she said yes, anything would be fine.  I was immensely busy at work so prepared a salad with some homemade bread.  She scowled as I put the meal on the table.  “I would have preferred a hot meal”  she moaned.  I can honestly say that in the twenty-six years I knew her, it was a very rare event that she made a happy, upbeat or positive comment about anything. They were obviously well matched.  In fact, thinking about, I can’t think of one instance where she was genuinely pleased with her lot.  How very sad.

I believe that this personality trait actually ages you.  When I first met my ex in-laws, when I was in my early twenties, I assumed that they had been old parents when my ex-husband was born.  Their whole house felt grey and dowdy.  Wrongly, I presumed that they were ancient, which to me at the time was anyone past sixty (how our perspective changes as we head toward the higher ‘tens’ ourselves).  In reality they were exactly the same age as my parents, and had in fact been extremely young parents.  You just would never have believed it had you met them.  The difference between them and my parents was that mine had the wonderful knack of finding the humour in everything, including themselves, they never took life too seriously.  Their houses were always colourful and full of life – they were not what I would call ‘grey’ people!

Dad had nicknames for everyone, my sister was Prunella Pimple Face and I was Fish Face Charlie – we never knew why – we just were!  He had a wonderful sense of timing where humour was concerned, saying just the right word at the right time.  Very dry and extremely observant, he did catch a few people off guard at times, which made it all the funnier! He went through some incredibly traumatic times in his life, both during his childhood, during his time in the war and in latter years, due to his health.  Amazingly though, through everything, my Dad always found something positive to say about every event in his life.

He had to undergo life threatening surgery when I was in my early teens.  He was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to undergo surgery to remove one of his lungs.  This was in the late 1960’s and the medical treatments at that time weren’t as advanced as they are now, so it was very dangerous surgery at the time.  Dad had undergone a routine medical for the organisation he worked for and much to his horror a large shadow on his lung showed up on his chest X-ray.  He was taken into Harefield hospital and underwent an exploratory operation and they confirmed to Mum that he had lung cancer.  They gave her the choice whether to operate and possibly prolong his life by a matter of months, or to just leave it and let nature take it’s course.  Mum, after much consideration and heart searching, chose the operation.  Thank God she did, as when they operated they found that Dad didn’t have lung cancer after all.  He had an unusual form of tuberculosis in a cyst in his lung.  He was in hospital for quite a long time on a large ward. Everyone commented on how he was such a lively spirit and how he lifted the atmosphere.  Within a couple of days of the surgery he was cracking jokes, mainly about himself, and had everyone in stitches (pardon the pun).  I remember the sister on the ward saying that she would miss him so much when he went home because he had made their lives so much more enjoyable and how his warmth and humour had affected everyone so positively.  I was so proud of my Dad.

Mum too had difficult times but without fail she always managed to find something positive to say.  She used to quote Thumper from the film Bambi – “if you can’t say something nice don’t say nothin’ at all” , which is dreadfully difficult to adhere to at times (see above!), but she really did try to live by this, apart from when she and Dad were arguing, and then all their rules went out the window!

When Mum was busy working, more than full-time at times, she and Dad agreed to employ “a lady who does”, in other words, a cleaner.  I think it was Dad’s way of avoiding helping with the housework!  They employed a woman who left notes for Mum every time she left the house.  She complained that the vacuum cleaner wasn’t working properly, or that the polish Mum used wasn’t the right one, or that the broom wasn’t good enough, the house was too hot, the house was too cold etc.  The list was endless.  Dad called her “Mrs Moan-a-lot”, not to her face of course, but within the family.  The awful problem was that the name stuck and we could never remember her real name, which was embarrassing at times!

Mum and Dad had real highs and lows financially throughout their marriage.  Usually the highs where when they were both working for large companies and the lows were sometimes when Dad would start a new business and things didn’t always go so well.  They both took every opportunity they were ever given, even emigrating to Chicago in their mid-forties.  They sold their house and gave away everything they owned and off they went with huge smiles to start their new life.  Try as they could, they both hated living there!  They came back a year later and in that short time the property market had gone wild in England.  Neither of them had employment and their money, having been exchanged into dollars and back again, was nowhere near enough to buy a house again.  They moved into a bed sit and looked upon it as an adventure, both of them optimistic that something would ‘turn up’.

Much to everyone’s amazement, but no surprise to them, a large flat came up for rent in the town they both loved, Twickenham.  They had enough to put down the deposit and moved in to the two top floors of a large Victorian house.  Within a short time they both managed to find work they enjoyed within a short distance of their new home.  Two years later the landlord offered to rent them the ground floor flat as well and they jumped at it.  He was fine about them restoring the two flats back into one very beautiful large house.  Another year on and the landlord suddenly needed to liquidate his assets and offered Mum and Dad the whole house at a crazily low knock down price.  Of course they couldn’t refuse.  They bought the house, did a little work on it, and sold it six months later for a massive profit, putting them in a stronger position than when they had gone to America.  Mum took great delight in telling everyone that she had known everything would be alright.  Through all the ups and downs I never once heard them complain.  Dad used to say it was better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.  Mum being more of a romantic would quote, “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.  Looking back I realise how amazingly lucky I was to have such a pair of positive optimistic parents, which at the time I suppose I assumed everyone had.

Strangely I feel like my journey through life has always shown me two sides of everything.  I do believe that my parents were a couple of old souls, who made light of their problems and put a positive spin on their difficulties and challenges.  I wonder if my ex-in laws were younger souls.  In reality, they had very little to complain about it, but moaned about inconsequential things most of the time. My ex-in laws were pessimists about everything and saw life as a dull routine to be gotten through, whereas my parents were invariably optimistic and saw life as exciting  and enlightening.  How fortunate I was to have chosen them. I can appreciate why I feel that life is full of lessons because that is exactly what Mum and Dad taught me, and importantly, they taught me to ignore the dull routine and always look on the bright side of life!

28) Great Expectations

English: New Year fireworks at the London Eye

Will your world change after midnight?

Every New Year’s Eve there is a global feeling of anticipation that changes are afoot.  No matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing, it is almost impossible to miss the  dawning of the new year.  All around the world there are massive celebrations, huge displays of fireworks, parties arranged and a feeling of camaraderie that only exists for maybe even just a few minutes either side of midnight.  If you are in a large city or even at a local event, complete strangers may well hug and kiss and you and wish you a happy new year.

And then, the morning arrives, and all is back to normal.  What happened to the optimism of the night before? Where has the camaraderie gone?  Is there any perceivable change in your life from yesterday?

No other species on our planet celebrates New Year.  I’ve never seen sheep dancing in a field at midnight! So why do we feel the need to make such a big deal out of a change of year in our calendars? Is it that we have an intrinsic need to focus on the possibility of change for good?  Is it that we are dissatisfied with our lives and want a better future?  Why is there such a negative spin in our news through most of the year, and maybe just a glimmer of positivity on New Year’s Eve?  Why do we look forward to the New Year rather than spend time celebrating the year we have just had?    How many people will look back at the year that is coming to a close and be thankful for the experiences they have enjoyed, the spiritual advances they have made, the new friendships formed, the new lives that have begun, the understanding and compassion that has been shown to them, or they have  shown to others? It always feels to me that it’s all about looking forward to the new and getting rid of the past.  What a shame.

I just read a wonderful blog written by a woman who has been making huge changes to her life.  About accepting that she didn’t have to be superwoman after all, that she can feel free to follow her dreams. I felt that this arrived in my inbox at just the right time to be included in this end of year posting.  She importantly mentioned the notion of ‘having it all’ and as I commented on her post, I thought long and hard about that well used phrase. Why can’t we have it all, I wondered?  But, most importantly, we first have to qualify what having it all truly means to each of us individually. It will be different for each and every one of us.  None of us have to adhere to the classic examples portrayed in the media, to the general consensus, to society’s view of what this phrase means.  No, we can take it and shape it to suit us.

My interpretation of  having it all had to change drastically when I became chronically ill, when my life had no option but to become smaller.  Suddenly, having it all had to alter to fit in with my physical capabilities.  My expectations had to change. It took a long time to adjust, but now I can say I truly feel fulfilled,  feel loved, respected and accepted.  I am true to my beliefs,  to my spiritual goals,  to my souls desires.  That to me is having it all.  I don’t try to be something I’m not and hope that I don’t expect that of others. My days of trying to be superwoman are long gone!

Instead of only focussing on what the New Year may bring to our lives,  just on New Year’s Eve, why not think of every new day as the dawning of a new year.  Feel the optimism and the camaraderie with others throughout the year. Consider what we, those we love and those who are in need, really require, and try to work towards that.  When we go to sleep at night remember to thank spirit for the positives we can take from the day and ask what our expectations and intentions should be for tomorrow.  Look at our lives and learn from our experiences. Feel if we have managed, in our own way,  to have it all, even just for that one day. Sense if we have inspired others and if we have been at all instrumental in them finding fulfilment in their lives.

Many people spend much time in thought and then make long lists of resolutions for the new year.  Maybe they find that the list will motivate them to bring about change in their lives.  Maybe their resolution list is in fact more of a wish list. How many of us have written this list and targeted massive changes that are due to take place from 1st January only to give up within a matter of days or even a couple of weeks?  The resolutions soon become forgotten.

So, for this change of year, as the clock passes midnight, and 2011 becomes 2012, I am not going to make a resolution.  I am instead going to make a promise to spirit.  I will promise to treat each day as a new dawn knowing it has the spiritual potential for the greatest of expectations.

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