Monthly Archives: January 2013

The challenge of meditation

When a Korean soldier went berserk many years ago, and shot sixteen of his mates, his excuse was that they’d been making a noise when he was meditating.

My children roared with laughter when they read this, and said they knew exactly how it would have happened, remembering all the times I had exploded out of my bedroom when I couldn’t stand their unconscious attention seeking noise every time I went to meditate. (It was the same if I was on the phone to a friend – sure as eggs were eggs, they’d end up squabbling or making some commotion to get my attention again)

I learned to meditate in the palmy days of the Maharishi and his disciples the Beatles. Transcendental Meditation they called it. ‘Transcendental’ being the word that hooked us all in, thinking we’d find bliss in meditation and transcend our normal consciousness… it sounded safe and blissful at the same time… better than drugs…

It wasn’t like that of course… I went to a tatty hippy house, where a motley collection of us tackled the mantra, with lots of hocus pocus about it being specially designed for each one of us, hibiscus flowers, joss sticks and candles setting the scene for the whispering of this magic word.

And so I began, and found for the first few weeks that I fell into a deep sleep each time I meditated, but I felt ok about that, as they’d warned us that we’d catch up on what they called our sleep debt. Now with some experience behind me, I think that the tiredness which came up could have been the life-time’s effort of keeping feelings bottled up – for meditation, as it relaxes us – puts us in touch with our buried feelings. Then that anger started to rise, and I couldn’t handle the children’s noise. But I persevered, and had had so much practice at bottling up my feelings all my life that the meditation didn’t do too much harm. I remember a friend telling me she’d started meditating too: “I thought it was meant to make you feel peaceful, but I feel so angry.”

Some years later serendipity meant that I helped set up a personal growth movement in NZ, run by a talented and inspired couple who had realised what a powerful and sometimes dangerous practise unsupervised meditation can be ( see Korean policeman). They devised a series of courses designed to handle the emotions and buried feelings that meditation brings up in people. I remember at the end of one weekend a psychologist who’d just done the course, saying that people had cleared in a weekend what would have taken seven years in therapy.

One of the important lessons I learned  was not to treat meditation lightly. I read some comments the other day from people who said they’d given up meditating, they felt uncomfortable and didn’t enjoy it. I felt  sad – because they’d been given a powerful tool and not enough knowledge to use it, a bit like being given a piano and not knowing how to play it.

Meditation was the basis of the courses I did, and on one course, an old woman (she was about sixty, and I was a heedless forty-five) couldn’t settle while we meditated on the first day. As she fidgeted and shifted in her seat, the teacher signalled to me to take her out. We went into a counselling room where she lay on a mattress and I asked a few questions.

She started to tell me about her childhood with the step-mother she hated as much as she felt the woman had hated her. I noticed as she was talking, her right hand was fidgeting, so I suggested that she let it shake as much as it wanted. The hand took over, then her arms, then her whole body, and she shook all the bottled up rage of her childhood out of her body, on and on…  when she’d finished, she was gasping with joy at having shifted this huge burden, her eyes were sparkling, she moved quite differently, and went back to meditation calm and happy.

It was a graphic example of how powerful meditation can be, and why some people find it an uncomfortable experience. In all the great religions in which meditation is practised, it’s done with a mentor, precisely because it is a technique which can’t be treated lightly. It has to be done consciously, with awareness. But if we’re on our own, and aware of what meditation can do, we can start to deal with its side-effects.

When we feel fidgety or have some discomfort, it’s possible to look at where this energy block is. Some people become so in touch with their inner self that they can immediately identify what the feeling is, when they first felt it, what it’s about and then let it go.

Another way of dealing with it is to use something called the pain banishing technique which was very popular in the eighties, and even used in some hospitals, but now seems to have fallen into disuse. It can be used on a head-ache,(unless it’s a de-hydrating head-ache, in which case, drinking is the answer) discomfort in the body, or any sort of physical pain. If it doesn’t work then you need to see a doctor. So when I sprained a knee skiing, it contained the pain for three days until I got to a doctor, but when I fell last year and used it on the pain in my arm it didn’t work, because I ‘d broken it and needed immediate treatment.

The pain banishing technique consists of six questions. The person can ask the questions themselves, or they can get someone else to ask them.

Where is it? This needs to be answered in detail. “On my left leg two inches below the knee, on the left hand side….

How big is it? Sometimes it’s enormous. When I scalded my finger-tips, the pain was ten inches out from my fingers …

Has it got a shape? Has it got a colour? Has it got a texture? … like wire wool, steel, rubber?

On a scale of discomfort from one to ten, where would you rate it?

You do this three or four times, by which time the pain has diminished or it’s gone.

It works because the place that was crying out for attention has got the attention… whether it’s a physical pain or an emotional pain. With a child who’s fallen over, I say “Does it really hurt?” ”Yes,” they’ll answer tearfully. “Is it still there?” You can see them thinking at this point, and then they’ll say “No”, and skip off happy.

Any time a person is fidgeting during meditation, something is coming to the surface, and this is why it helps to have a technique to use if a person is meditating without a mentor. Sometimes even talking or reading about it makes a person feel uncomfortable. It brings up in us what we’ve been trying to ignore all our lives, which is why it often feels disturbing. But properly used, meditation does bring – if not transcendent bliss – certainly peace of mind, a calm spirit, and an ability to find a different way of being, instead of fight or flight.

People have written whole books about it, so it’s presumptuous of me to write this inadequate description. But if it helps explain why it isn’t always easy to meditate, it may have been useful to someone.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I needed a cake to take to a summer gathering, so made my quick standby, a lemon and olive oil cake – a Spanish recipe from Elizabeth Luard, an English food writer who lived in Spain with her children. Take 175 gms of flour, sugar and olive oil, three eggs, a pinch of salt and the zest and juice of a lemon. I also put in some drops of vanilla in memory of my grandmother who put vanilla in all her cakes! Mix everything together, and tip into a greased lined tin – I use a loaf tin. I then add a thick dredging of sugar on the top to cheer it up, and cook it in a moderate oven for forty five minutes or more, or until cooked.

Food for Thought

‘Do you pray for the senators, Dr Hale? ‘No, I look at the senators and pray for the country.’ Dr Edward Everett Hale 1822-1909  Chaplain of the US Senate


Filed under cookery/recipes, great days, happiness, life/style, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Blogging and Eating !

I’ve put on weight since I started blogging. There aren’t enough hours in the day, so that instead of going for a walk I catch up on reading blogs – for as we all know – writing a blog is the quickest part.

But even walking doesn’t wear off the pounds gained by sitting still, gazing at the seductive screen, tripping the light fantastic across the blogs, there a ‘comment’, here a ‘ like’, there a ‘follow’.

This morning I read a story about a massively obese young man going on the Paleo diet when he was refused life insurance. He sat in front of a computer all day, and snacked. Eating like a caveman, he lost kilos almost immediately. Aha, I thought. The Paleo diet consists of meat, fish, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables and oils. No-no’s are dairy, grains and carbohydrates, salt, sugar.

But this morning I also got up early to go the Saturday morning food market in the next village, to visit one stall for a delicious round artisan wholemeal loaf, and then the cheese truck, where I bought two generous hunks of Brie and Havarti for half the price I’d pay in the delicatessen. So Brie for lunch with a nice glass of chilled Pinot Gris.

And this is the dilemma. I eat because I enjoy food and savour the infinite variety that modern man has access to, unlike cavemen. It seems to me that cavemen – or Paleos, if I want to sound up to date- ate a vegan diet if you leave out the meat. I’d be happy to leave out the meat, but that doesn’t leave much nourishment for the likes of me…

I have friends who’ve become dedicated vegans recently, or vegetable strong, I think it’s called – but I don’t like the beans you need to eat in order to get enough protein. I also find the food rather bland, and I love my flat white coffee and my hot cups of freshly brewed lapsang souchong tea with milk.  Sometimes my flat white or my lapsang are the only things that keep me going! Paleo food with no salt, would be hard to stomach – p’raps that’s why people do lose weight on it!

But I’d hate to live without the occasional delicious pasta supper, or a tasty risotto, and what are potatoes without a little butter? No heavenly aoli, or the odd pancake when I can think of nothing else… no scrumptious rhubarb crumble, or soothing crème caramel, no lovely kedgeree or curry… no boiled egg and toast fingers for breakfast, no tomato omelette when there’s nothing in the larder? No hot buttered toast when all else fails? No,no, Paleo is out.

So how am I to combine blogging with a diet that doesn’t put on weight? Organise my time better, and get a pedometer is one solution. But that still leaves a self – indulgent diet which isn’t doing me any favours. My thoughts go back to my war-time childhood, when no-one ever got fat, and dentists had no patients, while rickets and crossed eyes from malnutrition disappeared from poverty-stricken slums. All teenagers earned the description lanky, no-one even had puppy-fat.

We all ate the same food because that was all there was. Being rich was no advantage. Go shopping without your ration books, or lose them, and you could buy no food. Ration books were stamped when you bought the necessities of life, while coupons which allowed you luxuries like jam or a tin of salmon, bully beef and the like if there were any available, were cut out. When you’d spent your coupons for the month – no more luxuries – if you could call jam, or cocoa a luxury.

We had five ounces of meat per person per week, four ounces of butter, two ounces of cheese, one egg per week. So little sugar that we had golden syrup on our porridge. Tea was rationed, there was no coffee, no chocolate – an orange at Christmas.We also had a small allowance of dried fruit in December, so as to cook a Christmas cake – they thought of everything!

If the butcher made some sausages, word would go round, and there would be a long queue until they ran out, and many times we went home empty handed. Bread went on the ration during the hardships after the war, so you couldn’t even splash out on toast then. Orange juice was supplied for small children. Milk was plentiful, and free for under-fives, so we had milk puddings galore. I know about this, because when I was old enough to go shopping, I was sent out with the ration books. This went on until the end of the forties, and I remember the day sweets came off ration in 1953, when I was fourteen, and I gorged on Maltesers.

But this sparing diet meant no obesity and healthy people… should I be looking at eating like I did when I was a child? Would it be possible to turn back the clock? Could I ration myself to strong cheddar instead of imported camembert? Sausages, instead of smoked salmon? Water instead of wine? Would such a diet be conducive to my blogging lifestyle? You had to cook back then – no pasta for a quickie,  and no ready- made meals or frozen suppers to whip into the oven when blogging has got the better of me.

(I lost another frying pan two days ago, mushrooms bubbling gently away in cream and garlic with fresh chopped sage and rosemary, to have on toast for a light lunch. When I remembered it, the mushrooms were just charred relics, and the pan was crusted with burnt everything else, and being non- stick incapable of being scoured – c’est la vie for this blogger – at the screen I’m oblivious to the real world)

So it looks like a pedometer and some plodding, plus self discipline, of which I have very little these days. But at least blogging takes my mind off the problem!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’ve just perfected a recipe for sea-food risotto after enjoying it in my favourite riverside restaurant. In fact, I think I’ve improved on it by adding the herbs which give it depths… and it’s still a cheap meal. The one extravagance is making sure you have a few ounces of moist, melting smoked salmon – not the thin bright orange slices, but the smoked hunks. I keep it in the deep freeze. I always have a packet of frozen shrimps and prawns in the deep freeze too.

So chop an onion finely and fry in a little oil and butter until soft. Add a cup of Arborio rice or similar, and fry for a few minutes.Pour in half a glass or so of good white wine, and let it bubble away. Then start adding hot vegetable stock in small amounts. Chop very finely a few leaves of fresh sage and a small spring of rosemary and add to the rice.

While the rice is absorbing the stock, get  half a cup of frozen shrimps or prawns or both from the deep freeze. Let them thaw. (I’ve also used a tin of shrimps if I have no others) Chop the smoked salmon. A small piece is enough for flavour. When the rice is cooked, pour in half a cup of cream, gently fork in the sea-food, and cover for about five minutes. Serve with freshly ground Parmesan and a glass of chilled white wine. Paleos stay in your cave, rub your sticks together and roast your dinosaur.

Food for Thought

The first pre-requisite for education is a willingness to sacrifice your prejudice on the altar of your spiritual growth.

Luisah Teish, African-American writer, teacher and priestess. She is an Oshun chief of the Yoruba-Lucumi tradition




Filed under bloggers, cookery/recipes, great days, life/style, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

The Pursuit of Love and Other Interests!





When I was twenty and longing to fall in love, I came across a book that seemed made for me. It was called The Pursuit of Love.

But far from being chick-lit (a term which hadn’t been invented then) it was an elegant, deliciously funny work of literature. Back then with no internet, and no Wikipedia, it was almost impossible to find out anything about the writer, Nancy Mitford, but when her next book appeared, I was waiting with eager open hands. Since however, a whole library of books has been written about Nancy Mitford and her extraordinary six sisters.

Actually The Pursuit of Love has wickedly funny descriptions of most of her sisters, and her parents too. Uncle Mathew – her father – having passed into legend. Nancy was the eldest, and had a series of love affairs and a miserable marriage until she met General de Gaulle’s chef de mission, a philanderer called Gaston de Palewski. She fell hopelessly in love with him, and after the war moved to Paris to be near him, swallowing his other affairs with difficulty. She went on to write a series of witty and sparkling best-sellers, including historical books. She was probably the most brilliant of the sisters.

Pam, next in line, was superficially the least interesting of the sisters – her idea of bliss was working a farm and milking. Poet John Betjeman wanted to marry her, and wrote poetry about her, but she ended up marrying a famous physicist, millionaire and amateur jockey, who won the Grand National, the most famous race in England, and also became a much decorated RAF pilot. There’s no room here for more of his extraordinary life and serial marriages! But when their fourteen year old marriage broke up, Pam became a lesbian, a farmer, bred dogs, and practised re-cyling so obsessively that she was the laugh of the family – but in hindsight, may have been one of the first conservationists.

Diana, the next, was a great beauty, and like all her sisters possessed of great intelligence and spirit. Married for a couple of years to a rich Guinness heir, she threw it all away for love of Sir Oswald Moseley, another philanderer, who was ravishing not only his wife but her two sisters at the same time that he was  seducing Diana. When his wife died of appendicitis, Moseley, founder of the British fascists, the Blackshirts, married Diana. As fascist friends of Hitler and co, their wedding took place in Goebbel’s home, and Hitler strolled over from his office with a wedding present, to celebrate the occasion with them.

Back in England when the war broke out, Diana and her husband were imprisoned as potential traitors for most of the war, and Pam looked after their children. After the war, the Moseleys settled in a famously beautiful country home outside Paris, where he carried on his trouble making politics and his philandering, while Diana wrote and edited a fascist magazine plus her books. She never recanted her belief in the goodness of Hitler, and to her dying day said what had happened was exaggerated, or that his underlings had done it without his knowledge.

Unity the fourth sister, a tall imposing blonde, went to Germany to learn the language and fell in love with Hitler. Being a snob, as well as a racist, he found the blonde Aryan- looking aristocrat  intriguing, and they became good friends. She introduced all her family to him, except for Nancy, and her two younger sisters. They were all very taken with Germany’s dictator who showered favours upon them. When war broke out, Unity shot herself in the head, but survived, and Hitler paid her medical expenses, and sent her on a special ambulance train to Switzerland, from where her parents could retrieve her. It caused a sensation! Unity survived until three years after the war, with the mind of a twelve year old, incontinent, and confused. She died of meningitis caused by the head wound.

Jessica ‘s story is in The Pursuit of Love – how she saved all her pocket money throughout her childhood for her running – away fund, and on meeting Esmond Romilly a troubled and truculent nephew of Winston Churchill, they eloped together at eighteen to join in the Spanish Civil War. Nancy Mitford’s account of their escapade is very funny, she had a gift for sending life up. Back in England, their first child died at a few months old, and they went to the US, as convinced communists.

When war broke out, Esmond joined the air force, and was killed, leaving Jessica with a daughter and no money. Eventually she married another communist and they had numerous problems during the McCarthy era, when they worked to help blacks in California. She made a name for herself in America writing books exposing scandals like the funeral parlour business – The American Way of Death etc. and her best- selling autobiography,‘ Hons and Rebels’.

Deborah, the youngest, married a Guards officer. His eldest brother, who was married to President Kennedy’s sister Kathleen, was killed in Normandy, so the young guards officer became the Duke of Devonshire. John Kennedy, Deborah’s brother in law was very fond of her, and invited her to his In-auguration where she sat beside him to watch the parade, and she attended his funeral of course, broken hearted.

As chatelaine of Chatsworth, one of the greatest houses in England, she restored it, made it a prosperous business so the family can afford to live there, and preserved all its treasures so the public can enjoy them too. She opened farm shops, bred and showed dying breeds of hens, cattle and ponies, has written wry witty books, preserved her marriage to her alcoholic philandering husband and survived several miscarriages to bring up a happy family.( So many of the Mitford girls’ men seemed to be both powerful and philanderers, unlike their rigidly upright father)

The story I like best about Deborah was when war broke out when she was nineteen. She was staying on a remote Scottish Island in the Hebrides with her mother, and had to get her goat, her Labrador and her whippet back to Oxfordshire. To get from the island there was a long walk from the house across a slippery sea-weed covered causeway at low tide to reach their boat. This meant leaving in the dark at 6.30 am. Once in the boat and having reached the Isle of Mull, there was another long and hazardous walk over rocks to the tin hut where their car was kept. From here she drove across Mull to catch the ferry to the mainland. The ferry took three hours to get to Oban, where she waited all day with all the animals for the London train. To pass the time, she went shopping around Oban. Accompanied by the goat and two dogs, and buying their lunch from a butcher and a greengrocer!

The train arrived at Stirling in the middle of the night, where she had to change trains and wait an hour for the London train. She took the animals into the first class waiting room, which she characteristically mentions she shouldn’t have done since she only had a third class ticket. Here she milked the goat, and gave it to the dogs to drink. Then off to London in the train, a taxi to her sister Nancy’s house, where the goat cleaned up her garden while they waited another two hours for the train to Oxfordshire. Now that’s what I call an epic journey. Deborah is still alive and lively at ninety three, her son now being the present duke.

The only son in this extraordinary family whose father, Lord Redesdale, prospected fruitlessly for years in the 1920 Gold Rush in Ontario, was a lawyer, musician and soldier who was killed in Burma. Book lovers like me have a whole library on this coterie of girls who were related to, or knew many of the main players in history at that time, including Winston Churchill who was their uncle. There are all their books, their letters to people like Evelyn Waugh, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, autobiographies, biographies, their novels plus memories of them written by others – a real niche market – and I have them all. Like ‘em or hate ‘em, they were an extraordinary phenomena, who unself-consciously lived lives less ordinary.

And this is why I prefer fact to fiction – facts are so interesting and truly, in that old cliché – so much stranger than fiction.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This recipe for courgette slice was given me by a friend twenty five years ago. It’s one of the most blotched and spotted recipes in my book, as I often use it at this time of year when courgettes /zucchini are cheap and plentiful. The original recipe used three slices of bacon, but I use a tin of salmon. Beat five eggs, and add a chopped onion which has been gently fried in butter, a cup of cheese, chopped bacon or drained tin of salmon, and about four or five grated courgettes – 12 ounces in weight. Mix well with a cup of flour and half a cup of oil, add salt and pepper, and if using salmon, a good helping of dill.

Bake in a moderate oven. I serve it hot with new potatoes, green vegetables, and sometimes make a quick tomato sauce, frying tomatoes in olive oil, adding a little sugar, salt and pepper. I prefer it luke warm or cold, when it’s good with salad and summer vegetables. It’s great to take on a picnic, and cut off slices, or in a packed lunch. This amount serves six, but I often make double the quantity and freeze one.

Food for Thought

“Through respect for Divine Order, patience is cultivated. This brings knowledge of proper timing. In that is great intelligence. Often other issues and other needs have to be worked out before your plans can unfold, before your place can be set at the table. By respecting all things, and most especially Divine Order, you will attain peace and patience. Through this, you will be directed to the most efficient use of your life, so that you can experience self respect to the fullest…”

“ Love Without End – Jesus Speaks”  by Glenda Green



Filed under animals/pets, books, cookery/recipes, culture, great days, history, life/style, literature, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Thinking isn’t Always the Answer

The old chap used to be a great reader of the small ads at the back of magazines, until the print got so small he couldn’t read them anymore.

One of them in a farming magazine caused him to whistle and read it out loud. “What a rip-off”, he exclaimed as he read out: “ Someone to look after our small farmlet for six weeks – three children, two dogs, three cats, a pig, five goats, two guinea pigs and eight hens. “ They’ll be lucky” he scoffed.

My response was “ Fancy getting a stranger to look after your children.”

Until that moment, I had thought we thought alike. But this was a eureka moment, when I realised that everyone looks at everything from their own perspective and experience. And we ‘re also influenced by the thoughts of others, and then they get another twist as they go through our lens of perception.

I had a discussion with a fundamental Christian the other day, who felt that only people who had a relationship with Jesus would be ‘saved’. I supposed this meant that they were the only people who were going to escape hell. Everyone else is doomed. I protested that if God was a loving God, why would he want to make most of his creation miserable, but I only got chapter and verse back from the Bible, (and the veracity of the Gospels, the first of which was written ninety years after Jesus’s death, is another story).

Dipak Chopra has discussed people’s perception of God, which goes through different stages as they change and deepen their spiritual life. The most basic beliefs  are those of a punishing judgemental father, he suggests, but as people  move deeper into their spiritual understandings, they do actually reach a point where God is indeed loving and inclusive, rather than excluding.

It’s always amazed me that though people believe in God all over the world, unless they use the same word for God as us, they are not OK. So Christians call the Creator God, Muslims call Him Allah, Jews call Him Jehovah, American Indians call Him Great Spirit. And according to some fundamental religious beliefs, if people don’t speak English, and therefore call God by a different name, they are heathen. Similarly many Muslims who call God Allah believe that people who speak another language and personify Him with the name of God, are infidels – unbelievers.

And then there are the divisions among Christians, Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican, while the Muslims are split down the middle between Sunni’s and Shia’s and then sects within those groupings.

The same stuff goes on with politics – sometimes religion and politics are intertwined). One set of people have one set of beliefs and others think differently. That would be okay, but we judge people who think differently from us, and fear  and condemn them.

One of the basic differences between the East and the West according to Erich Fromm, philosopher and psychologist, is that the Christian ethic is based on what we think, while the eastern ethic is based on what we do. (I think he was thinking of Buddhism)

If we didn’t think the right way, in the past, it has meant burning, and torture and outlawry… it was very dangerous to think differently, no matter how virtuous your life. I don’t think there is a similar history in the east of being killed because of how you think. And yet we still have conflict between Muslims and Hindus and other religions.

Queen Elizabeth the First refused to go along with the hostility between Catholics, Protestants, Puritans and others, saying she didn’t want a window into men’s souls. She was right, our souls are our own business. Our actions are what matter, even if they are reduced to the lowest common denominator of the Golden Rule.

‘Do unto others as you would do unto yourself’, is a dictum which sounds a little like self interest. The other injunction,’ love your neighbour as yourself’, has  a deeper resonance… if it means what it says, it means we love ourselves, no ifs or buts, no inner jabs and put-downs: “ you shouldn’t have said that, you should do this, you ought to , you didn’t “…

I love the words from Rose Macaulay’s Towers of Trebizond: ‘One mustn’t lose sight of the hard core, which is do this, do that, love your friends and like your neighbours, be just, be extravagantly generous, be honest, be tolerant, have courage, have compassion, use your wits and your imagination, understand the world you live in and be on terms with it, don’t dramatize and dream and escape…’

Later she writes; ‘Life, for all its agonies of despair and loss and guilt, is exciting and beautiful, amusing and artful and endearing, full of liking and of love, at times a poem and a high adventure, at all times noble and at times very gay; and whatever ( if anything) is to come after it, we shall not have this life again.’

Yes, life is to revel in – no ifs or buts or second thoughts!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Needing something to cleanse the system after all the rich foods we’ve been eating over the holiday period, I went to this drink at the back of my recipe book. The blueberry has lots going for it, including a function of cleaning up damaged proteins which can reduce the brain’s efficiency by interfering with the sending of nerve signals. This amount is enough for six.

Tip into the blender, 125 gms of fresh blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries with 400ml of cranberry juice. Add two cups of de-seeded and cubed watermelon, blend until smooth, and drink at once. I sometimes use frozen fruit, and also vary the berries, blueberries being the constant.

Food for Thought

I don’t know where I found this, but it always makes me giggle… some twitchers-as birdwatchers are known – travel all over the world to complete the list of birds they want to see, and establish records for having seen the most birds…the most famous is in his nineties, with the longest list completed!

*Epitaph for a hurricane-chasing birder (not original):
Here he lies
A little wet
But he got
His lifelist met.


Filed under cookery/recipes, great days, happiness, history, life and death, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Summer Days and Thirsty Hedgehogs

It’s high summer in our village, the sea is postcard turquoise blue, and scored with white wakes from little fizz boats having fun. I watch the big game fishing boats with tourists going out with tall fishing rods at the ready, poised to hunt giant marlin and other innocent creatures of the deep – and disapprove. All around me holiday houses are filled, and laughter and calls of children punctuate the buzz of lawnmowers.

Yesterday a homemade cricket match with children and adults on the grass across from our oak tree, filled the afternoon with joyful noise. The click of ball on bat, the shouts, the laughter, the groans, the cheers, the guffaws sounded like the archetypical holiday games of childhood that fertilise the memory, so that looking back in later years, all summers seemed sunny and filled with laughter.

This morning I sat outside in the sun having my breakfast, and watched monarch butterflies flirting, fluttering and feeding among the pink flowers of the mutabilis rose and lavatera, and rose-red cannas. Reading Anne Dillard I learn that monarch butterflies smell of honeysuckle… do they really, or was honeysuckle the last flower they’d been sampling when the researcher sniffed their beauty? The other side of the garden where it’s shady, blue hydrangeas are blooming amidst the foliage of acanthus and queen of the night, the blue African primrose is flowering profusely on the edge of the ivy, while blue agapanthus spring out of the greenery further away.

Pale blue petunias echo the colour of the faded painted wrought iron chair on which their pots rest. A tiny green silver eye dived determinedly past me and into the trellis where wisteria, honeysuckle and red and purple fuchsia tangle with each other. He rustled noisily and industriously among the leaves, eating aphids or grubs, and then flew into the plum tree and wiped his beak on a branch… didn’t realise that eating aphids was a messy business for birds!

And now, as I write this, a speckled cream-breasted thrush has just quietly hopped past the open French door, followed closely by a bumble- bee, buzzing and bouncing along the ground in an irritated sort of way. Ever since I got home from Tai Chi the neighbour’s black cat has been purring, first at my feet, then on my lap, and now on the chair beside my chair. What with the gentle susurrations of the wind in the flax bushes and the pururi leaves, the whirring and clicking of cicadas in the trees outside the window, and the receding low-tide sighing softly across the exposed sea-weed – though there is no sound of spoken word – it is not a silent world this afternoon. And since every sound is the sound of the earth getting on with the business of being, it is sweet and satisfying.

The wind which has blown across the Tasman from the terrible forest fires in Australia, has been unceasing, and the ground is dry and hard. Ponds are drying up, and birds are spending much time not just at the bird bath, but also at the dog’s drinking bowl outside on the road. Thirsty birds as well as dogs keep me busy re-filling it.  Yesterday when I went up the path with a jug to top it up, someone had dropped three one dollar coins in the bowl. I love it  – a random act of fun – and yet obviously my bowl is very tempting because it’s the fourth time in the last few years that I’ve found coins in the water!

I’ve heard several people talking about finding hedgehogs in their swimming pools, unable to get out… they don’t seem to realise that they’re looking for water. As I drove back down our road after shopping the other day, I saw a hedgehog weaving an unsteady path across the road. I stopped the car, jumped out, and picked up the little ball of prickles, and carried it home. As I delicately carried her, so as not to be impaled on the prickles, she uncurled, and I felt her warm leathery legs hang down. I stood her in the flat water bowl in the garden, so she knew in her confused state that water was right there. I left her there drinking, while I walked back to retrieve the car.

She’d shuffled off (into the piles of dead leaves, I trust) when I got back, but I’m putting out cat-food, in the hope the hedgehog gets to it before any other wild-life – like rats. I’ve also now got shallow plant pot holders all over the garden filled with water for little creatures. I hope the little thing sticks around…I like the thought of a hedgehog in the garden.

They are amongst the oldest mammals, fifteen million years old. They have between five and six and a half thousand prickles, and beautiful quizzical little faces framed by their prickles. Anyone who grew up on Beatrix Potter is unable to resist them – shades of Mrs Tiggywinkle and Fuzzypeg –  there are hedgehog hospitals in the UK, and patrols to rescue hedgehogs trapped at the bottom of cattle grids. Conservationists in this country don’t like them as they eat native birds eggs as well as all the garden pests. I am a one- woman Society for the Protection of Hedgehogs.

I found a pair of snails crawling up a big deep bowl of water I always have in the courtyard, and to my amazement, found them at the water’s edge some time later. Wasps also drink from the dog’s water bowl. With streams and ponds covered over in towns and cities, there’s little water for thirsty creatures. A hundred and fifty years ago, an English millionairesse and philanthropist, Angela Burdett-Coutts donated horse troughs and  fountains for animals in English towns … but if anyone tried to do the same now, I could imagine the red tape and town planning regulations and resource management restrictions preventing anyone from re-instating drinking places for thirsty animals.

When I lived in town I always had a drinking bowl on the pavement outside my gate. It was a big deep blue and white china bowl I’d brought from Hong Kong, and everyone told me I was mad, it would get stolen as all the students on their way to lectures, and cleaners on their way to hospital trailed past our house. But it never was, and even late at night I’d see cats drinking from my bowl, the only water around.

When we moved I asked the doctor who bought the house if he’d keep it filled if I left it there. He promised, but when I met him six months later and checked that he was still filling it, he told me it had been stolen two days after we left!

Here in my village, everyone respects my drinking bowl, except the birds who bath in it, so I’m always changing the water because it gets so dirty. Who knew that birds were so dusty! I see dogs straining at the lead to get to it – they know it’s waiting for them. And being a village, people stop to talk to me sitting in my garden, and thank me for the water. And then there are the ones who drop coins in it – I hope they make a wish as they do!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This is a lovely summer starter, and cheap withal! I’ve used it since I was a very new wife fifty years ago, so you could say it’s stood the test of time! You need one orange per person and some black olives. Peel it so that all the pith has been removed, cut it in half, and then slice thinly across, keeping the juice, and taking out the centre line of pith.

Arrange the slices in individual dishes, dot with olives and then pour this vinaigrette over. For the vinaigrette peel and finely chop an onion, chop two to three tablesps of mint, and one of parsley, and make up the vinaigrette – one third wine vinegar, two thirds olive oil. Mix all the ingredients together, and add salt and black pepper to taste. I add any orange juice that has run out, and only pour the vinaigrette over the oranges just before serving.

It’s summery and refreshing, and the mint and onion with the orange is tangy and different.The oranges and black olives and green mint look beautiful too.

Food for Thought

Education is identical with helping the child realise his potentialities. The opposite of education is manipulation, which is based on the absence of faith in the growth of potentialities, and on the conviction that a child will be right only if the adults put into him what is desirable and suppress what seems to be undesirable.

From The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm  1900 – 1980 social psychologist, philosopher and writer.


Filed under animals/pets, birds, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, happiness, life/style, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, wild life

A Much Maligned Hero

If there is a list of less than attractive characteristics, my hero is on that list – alcoholic, psychopath, megalomaniac, autistic, faults and addictions, these labels are all heaped upon his well-known head.

He didn’t have an easy start in life – his American mother, a famous society beauty was too busy socialising to spend any time with him, or visit him at school; while his father was too busy with his brilliant career, and finally too embittered by his terminal illness to have any time for him at all, and never once visited him when he was packed off to boarding school at seven. His mother required him to write to her in French and frequently returned his letters unread, saying his French was so appalling that she had no intention of reading them. The wounds and scars from beatings on his back, administered by a sadistic head master between the ages of seven and nine, finally convinced his parents to send him to another school.

The one person who loved him was his nanny. He loved her  until the day she died, and was with her at her death-bed. At his schools, he was unpunctual and unconventional, and no-one had a good word to say for him. He failed his military exams, and when he finally made it into Sandhurst was broken-hearted that his father had died before seeing that at last he had succeeded in achieving something. Because his father had died young, he always felt that he would too, and since he always felt that he had come into the world to fulfill some great purpose, he felt he didn’t have a lot of time, and had to hurry!

He had a brief and brilliant military career, earning medals and commendations, and took part in the last great cavalry charge in history at Omdurman against sixty thousand dervishes. Leaving the army he became a newspaper correspondent, and while reporting on the Boer War was captured and had a famous escape, which brought him to the notice of the world. Back in England he went into politics like his father, and having by then educated himself with massive reading programmes, and developed a great gift for words and oratory, he was very successful. In the First World War he unfairly took the blame for the disaster at Gallipoli, though he was merely one of a group of people who’d been behind the scheme, there being no scope for dictatorship by second ranking politicians in the English constitution.

His career apparently ruined, he went and fought in the front line on the Western Front. After the war, returning to politics with some success, he was then vilified and disliked by most people, because he warned about the inevitable war with Germany all through the thirties. While in politics, he had worked for an old age pension for every-one and for better working hours for men and women. With an intelligent powerful wife like Clementine, he supported votes for women, but not the methods of the Suffragettes, especially after one militant feminist tried to push him under a train, and his wife only just pulled him back in time. During this time in the wilderness he supported his family by writing and lecturing.

When war was declared in 1939, no-one in politics really wanted him, from the King down, in spite of him having been proved right about Hitler and the dangers of appeasement. But the people did, and he became prime minster at the time of the greatest danger England or the world had ever faced.

For the next two years, Winston Churchill held the free world together. He not only united his country in the face of fighting a war they could well lose, against a foe whose brutality and inhumanity had already been demonstrated all over a devastated Europe, but he sustained the people in all the defeated countries. They risked their lives to listen secretly to his speeches on their radios, knowing that if they were discovered they would be shot.

“There goes the British Empire”, the American Ambassador heard a workman say as Churchill conducted him around the smoking ruins of a city hit by the Luftwaffe the night before. He was there to report to President Roosevelt on whether he thought the British were going to be able to stand up to Hitler. When the US finally came into the war when Japan attacked them, Churchill knew that with America’s might they could win the war, however long it took. But for two years he alone bore the whole burden of the war on his shoulders, and people waited to hear his speeches to raise their spirits and inspire them to hope even in such hopeless circumstances.

When night after night, London and all England’s other great cities were bombed, its citizens sometimes buried in mass graves, as in Coventry, and irreplaceable architecture, homes and churches destroyed, Churchill’s words kept the nation and the free world going.

People who worked with him were devoted to him. He was very affectionate and treated his staff like his family, inviting them to share all his family meals  when they came to stay every weekend, while Churchill worked – usually until 3am. They were part of the family, playing cards, croquet and going for walks. He had a wicked wit.  When Lady Astor said to him at dinner, “If I was your wife, I’d put cyanide in your coffee,”  he famously replied, “If you were my wife I’d drink it”. When Bernard Shaw sent him a ticket for the first night of Pygmalion, writing : “Bring a friend if you have one”, Churchill replied: “ Cannot make first night, but will come to second, if you have one”. He described an opponent (fairly accurately) as ‘a modest little man, but then he has much to be modest about!’

His capacity for work was prodigious as was his eye for detail … he sent a memo to the top navy, army and air force men telling them to give dignified names to operations, saying if a mother heard that her son had been killed in a battle with a silly name like ‘Operation bunny hop’, it would diminish the dignity of her dead child. He began every memo to his staff:  “ Pray… could you …etc.”  He cared about people, and was devoted to his wife and family after his miserable childhood. He was a talented painter as well as writer, who won the Nobel prize for literature for his four volume series  ‘The History of The English Speaking Peoples.’

He was often inconsiderate and sometimes arrogant, but never mis-used power, his proudest boast being that he was the servant of Parliament and the English people who elected him.  And when his party lost the election as the war was ending – in spite of the love the people had for him – he told every-one that they had to respect the will of the people.

And in old age he could still laugh at himself … when a nervous MP whispered to him that his fly buttons were undone, he replied ‘Never fear, the dead bird never leaves the nest.’ His beloved private secretary Sir John Colville said that he never saw him drunk, though champagne and brandy were his favourite tipples. And as for the other labels … I’m sure he’d rebut them with that old English saying; ‘ Sticks and stones  may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…’

What a man!  I think he’d prefer: What an Englishman! And yet he was deeply proud of his American ancestry too. When his dark- eyed, dark- haired mother died, it was reported that her face bore: “all the hallmarks of a native American inheritance”. His descent from another great Englishman and soldier, John, Duke of Marlborough, was the inspiration for his belief in his destiny … which could be summed up quite briefly – to save the free world.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Hot summer days, and heaps of fresh vegetables – many from the gardens of my lovely neighbours. So today, it’s crudités with that lovely mayonnaise made with my new mixing stick in the last recipe.  Fresh batch today with garlic added, making it aoli, to be eaten with hard boiled free range eggs, fresh raw baby carrots, tomatoes warm from the sun, new potatoes from a neighbour’s garden – cooked with fresh mint –  cucumber and a jar of artichokes. We’ll start with some sweet corn dripping with hot butter, the corn almost pearly, it’s so fresh … fresh purple plums with that dusty bloom on their skins to end with … a summer feast ….

Food for Thought

History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience. The only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.

Extract from his tribute to his old opponent Austen Chamberlain on his death,  by Winston S Churchill 1874 -1965  politician, writer, painter, visionary leader


Filed under cookery/recipes, great days, history, humour, life/style, military history, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, world war one, world war two

The Magic of Sychronicity

There’s something truly fascinating about synchronicity.

On my coffee table is an exquisite grey stone. It’s rather bigger than the size of a palm. It’s been polished so that it feels like silk to touch, and through the middle are three bands of some translucent substance so that light shines through these bands. It’s by a famous New Zealand sculptor and is called the Light-stone. People can’t resist picking it up, and holding it.

It was a gift from a friend who seemed to have every material need  met- her husband featured on the country’s rich list, and when it came to Christmas I never had any idea what to give her. I managed mostly, but this particular year I was stumped. Then one afternoon I was browsing through a book store and I came on a book by Annie Dillard, who I’d never heard of until then. The title was so intriguing that I explored the book, and decided to buy two copies, one for me and one for my friend.

When we met and swapped presents, I unwrapped her precious stone, and she unwrapped my book which was called ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’.

There was something so perfect and complete about this moment. It was a glorious unexplainable coming together of thoughts and feelings and objects… these sorts of moments given an extra dimension of mystery and magic to the material world. What other glorious happenings can take place in a world where the unexpected and inexplicable solves problems with such leaps of imagination?

When a patient was telling Carl Jung about a dream with a scarab beetle in it, there was a bang against the window, and a green-blue scarab looking beetle hit the glass. Jung called this sort of incident ‘synchronicity’. If he hadn’t given it that label, would we recognise it as that, or would we be reduced to the lesser word, coincidence?

So at a lunch party yesterday we were talking about Wikipedia… I mentioned I’d tried to get an entry corrected which wrongly condemned a doctor based on the controversial findings of a very biased newspaper report. My attempt to correct the entry failed – I was told Wikipedia would only accept my facts if I was a relative or legally appointed representative.

But today, a sceptical guest who had queried what I had said, sent an e-mail… which told me that at the very time we had been talking about it, the doctor had been exonerated by the Court of Appeals in the UK.

The unexpectedness of this news and the timing, was so exquisite that I felt quite awed. And these inexplicable events happen more and more often, not just to me, but to everyone.

Back in the eighties, Peter Russell wrote a book called ‘The Awakening Earth’, and he had this to say about synchronicity: “ What we regard as curious chains of coincidence may likewise be the manifestation at the level of the individual of a higher organising principle at the collective level – the as yet rudimentary social super-organism.

“As humanity becomes more integrated, functioning more and more as a healthy high energy system, we might expect to see a steady increase in the number of supportive coincidences. A growing experience of synchronicity throughout the population could, therefore, be the first major indication of the emergence of a global level of organisation”…

Which means to me, that as more and more of us become aware and integrated – another of Jung’s terms, meaning ‘whole’ – our more open hearts, and lack of fear and aggression will create a world where the highest good of everyone starts to emerge.

Whenever another synchronicity makes itself known, I feel a sense of awe as well as joy… it seems to mean that life is flowing, and all is well. This morning I found I had a client coming for an appointment later today, when it wasn’t going to work for me. I rang to ask if she could postpone it, and she said she’d already left a message on my answer-phone to say she couldn’t come this afternoon!

One of the gifts of synchronicity is the timing. It always seems to work for all the people involved. Peter Russell also called synchronicities benevolent co-incidences. The word benevolent seems to sum them up perfectly, they always work for the good of every-one. No-one is disadvantaged, everyone is better off for a synchronistic event.

And this is the magic and the miracle of it. Some days I say to myself, I would like a really exciting synchronicity today… just as a little reminder of how wonderful life can be… and sure enough, the magic spills into the day in a totally unexpected way.

So may you and me both, enjoy a continuing stream of that magic and benevolence in our lives, knowing that it’s a gift that makes the world go round more happily!


Food for Threadbare Gourmet

First – a correction from an apologetic threadbare gourmet. I left out an important ingredient in the salad Nicoise in my last blog. I should have added some hard-boiled eggs to the list… and I should also have said that I rarely use anchovies in it, as I find the pickled walnuts and olives give it enough tang.

Today’s recipe is the result of a Christmas present. A friend gave me a stick beater and a recipe to go with it. The easiest fresh mayonnaise I’ve ever made. In the beaker that comes with the beater, break one whole egg – both yolk and white – plus salt, pepper, a good slurp of white wine vinegar or lemon juice and a good teasp of mixed mustard. Pour in some grape oil or other gentle tasting oil but not olive oil, to just under half the height of the beaker, and then press the button! Whizz, whizz, and mayonnaise is ready!

It’s important not to use olive oil in this mixture, as the process spoils the taste of the olive oil – alright to use olive oil in the old-fashioned way with a wooden spoon, but modern whizzing spoils the taste. When my friend demonstrated this method to me she used an aromatic sherry balsamic vinegar, but I would use something less distinctive. The more oil you put in the beaker, the thicker the mayonnaise, so if you want a thinner one, use less oil.

Food for Thought

A loving person lives in a loving world.

A hostile person lives in a hostile world.

Everyone you meet is your mirror.

Ken Keyes,  1921 – 1995  Inspirational writer on personal growth




Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, food, great days, happiness, life/style, love, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

The Young Lead The Way

Growing old isn’t exactly a show stopper, but somehow one doesn’t have a choice.

I’ve just been to see Dustin Hoffman’s film Quartet, about four elderly opera singers living in a retirement home for musicians. People were fiddling and blowing and singing away somewhere all day… and the music was delicious – it was just the sort of luxurious old folks home I wouldn’t mind ending up in – they even had their tea in blue and white Old Chelsea pattern china cups and saucers – which would do me.

The four main oldies in the film, in real life ranged between 78 and 70. Since I’m right in the middle of this age range, I spent a lot of time examining their wrinkles and comparing them with mine, and I have to say that my wrinkles came out on top… they obviously had all spent a lot of time in their youth lying on fashionable beaches like St Tropez … apart from Tom Courtenay who always looks so bleak I can’t imagine him having fun anywhere.

On the other hand, Maggie Smith’s elegant figure cast mine into the shade, so it’s no good gloating about my wrinkles or lack of them. At the end of the film all the extras in the home, who were actually real musicians, were named, and a photo of them when young was shown on screen, side by side with them now, sagging chins, bristling eyebrows, broken veins –  the lot. It was rather moving seeing pictures of these gorgeous young men and women, with thick shining hair and pearly teeth, looking out from their youthful photos filled with life and vigour. Their young selves were almost unrecognisable from their older selves.

On their older selves life had carved furrows in their cheeks, faded their hair, expanded their waistlines and blurred their vision. But it had also softened their faces, smoothed away the thoughtless arrogance of youth, and chiselled kindness, humanity and acceptance into their expressions.

They were all still beautiful. The funny thing is, the older I get the more beautiful everyone seems. I look at young people and think oh, you just don’t know how beautiful you are. I see the golden hairs on their arms, the rim of black lashes round blue eyes, the sweetness in an expression, the sheen on straight hair, things that when I was young I never considered valuable at all.

I look at old photographs of friends and family and think, oh I didn’t realise how beautiful you were. And hindsight of course is a wonderful thing. I look at those pictures before marriage and divorce, childbirth and illness, heartbreak and depression had begun their long slow teaching process in each life, and marvel that the human spirit survives, chastened in some cases maybe, but surprisingly chirpy in most instances.

The children of today are different to those ingenuous ones I see in old photos. For a start they are much more savvy about the things that my age group agonise over. Just as in the early days of radio, adults struggled, and the young took to it with skill and know-how, so today, even toddlers seem to be born knowing how to use things like TV remotes, computers, mobile phones and all the rest. Twenty years ago when my daughter had had a new electric system fitted at her gate, and just as she was saying the two year old won’t be able to open them now, he leaned out of her arms and his little fingers pushed the right combination and the gates opened, fifty yards down the drive.

But more than the technological instincts, many of today’s children seem to be born with inner wisdom. We used to judge intelligence on a crude system of how good children were at maths and language and general knowledge. Educationalists now recognise other forms of intelligence, which include physical intelligence, artistic and musical intelligence, and probably more important than anything else, emotional intelligence, and spiritual intelligence – which includes an empathy for animals and a concern for the planet and the environment.

I’ve heard youngsters saying things like, “no I don’t see much of so and so these days… not much E-Q .” They take it for granted that emotional intelligence is an asset in life as well as in relationships, a concept that my generation had never even thought of.

Many children today are born with these sorts of knowing, which add up to wisdom and compassion. They have an innate integrity, as well as piercing intelligence. Some people have termed this group of children Indigo children, and you can even Google them, and read about them. They don’t necessarily have an easy time in a world which is only just beginning to adjust to new ways of thinking and being, but I meet them all the time, in surprising places, like the teenage hitch-hiker I stopped for, who talked of these things until he got out again.

Many years ago a friend wrote in a card she sent me after staying with us – ‘love is the hope and salvation of the world’. She changed it to ‘children are the hope and salvation of the world’. And children born with these special kinds of intelligence, will be the ones who do change the world – what Jean Houston, visionary and teacher -called  ‘the people of the breakthrough’. Aren’t we lucky that we can be with them at the start of their journey, and fill their backpacks with love and support and understanding?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

At this time of the year – summer for us – I love salad Nicoise. Everyone has their own theory and recipe about this classic, but I compose it the way a Frenchwoman in Hong Kong taught me over forty-five years ago. She and her husband had a classic French restaurant in Kowloon, and she also taught me yoga, which she’d learned at Sai Baba’s ashram in India.

Anyway, to return to our muttons – as the French might say – all you need for her recipe is a fresh lettuce, a tin of tuna fish, one hard boiled egg per person, cooked potatoes, tomatoes and lightly blanched French beans. The really authentic ingredient which is sometimes hard to find, is pickled walnuts. If I can’t find any, I use juicy black olives.  Slice, chop and mix whatever needs it, put it all gently together in a bowl, and toss with vinaigrette just before serving – one third good vinegar to two thirds virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper, a touch of mustard and a tasting of sugar. Crusty bread and nice wine is good with it, and Madame gave us a chocolate soufflé afterwards…  Souffle recipe another day!

Food for Thought

Folks is as happy as they decide to be.    Abraham Lincoln 1809 – 1865, is reputed to have said this.


Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, happiness, life and death, life/style, music, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized