Category Archives: environment

Time has told, Small IS Beautiful

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They don’t make it easy, to quote Megan Markle speaking on quite another subject. I was actually trying to wrest the immoveable foil covering off the plastic milk bottle, and as usual was giving up, finding a sharp pointed knife, and prizing it off.

I thought of the good old days, when we had shiny aluminium tops on glass bottles, which were washed out every day to be exchanged for a fresh bottle of milk the next day. It was usually delivered by the milkman driving his horse and milk cart – the horse, so familiar with the routine – that he stopped and started at each house, while the milkman ran in and out of each gate to leave the milk bottles on the door-step.

He was an un-official social worker as well as a milkman, and if the milk went uncollected for more than a day he’d check in the house or alert the neighbours, and many an old person was rescued from illness or accident in this way.

Before the aluminium tops, we had cardboard lids on the bottle with a little cut-out circle indented in the centre which we pushed open, if the sparrows hadn’t got there before us. They enjoyed the cream as much as we did – yes, we had cream in our milk in those days, you could either pour it off to save and consume as cream, or you shook the bottle up, and distributed the cream throughout the milk.

Sometimes at school, instead of drinking our half pint of milk given to us every day by a benevolent state, we shook up the bottle for fun until we’d made a knob of butter from the cream, and later spread it on our lunch-time potatoes. We also used the cardboard circle from the bottle to wind wool round and make bobbles, or thread on a ribbon and paint for Christmas decorations

Prising the top off the milk isn’t the only strongman feat I’m forced to perform every day. If I want to open a bottle of vitamins there’s a tight clear plastic wrapper bonded to the bottle and the lid. When, with a pair of nail scissors I’ve managed to break into this casing, and unscrewed the lid, there’s the same sort of stiff foil lid stuck irrevocably to the bottle as with the milk. More jabbing with knife or scissors, and when I finally wriggle into the jar, there’s a long wad of cotton wool to drag out into the light of day. The pile of plastic rubbish from just one small bottle of vitamins is outrageous.

A packet of bacon? Plastic wrapped cheese sweating in the casing? A new toothbrush – that truly is the worst – it’s almost impossible to break into all the wrappings, both plastic and cardboard, that bar entry to a simple toothbrush.

I waste hours of my life trying to gain access to items of food and household products which were once sold loose, but now need equipment in order to eat, drink, use or cook.

When I used to read the Manchester Guardian in my salad days I was transfixed with wonder, when a woman wrote to say she was tired of trying to break into biscuit packets. Back then in 1965, it seemed like a miracle that biscuit manufacturers got the message, listened to a woman and provided consumers with a tab to pull, so as to gain entry to said biscuits. We really can be heard, and can change things, I gloated, somewhat prematurely it seems.

For today, health and safety and hygiene requirements, techniques for packaging to extend ‘shelf life’, marketing strategies to make products seem more desirable, have meant that most food items are now locked away behind plastic, unless it’s an unwashed potato . So even though we virtue signal with plastic bags banned in our supermarkets, we still have mountains of plastic rubbish after each shopping trip, be it a new shirt, or a bag of rice. The sort of plastic rubbish that pollutes oceans and clogs up the stomachs of whales and sea-birds, fouling the oceans and killing the wild life.

And speaking of potatoes, in my youth we bought muddy potatoes in a small hemp sack. The mud preserved the minerals in the spuds, and the darkness of the sack kept them fresh, so even at the bottom, the potatoes were still good to eat. Washed potatoes in a see-through plastic bag, the very opposite of mud and sack, means that the soil around the potatoes which preserved them has gone, so they go stale and lose much of their nourishment, while the clear plastic lets in light so they deteriorate quicker. And what about parabens?

So I buy unwashed potatoes, and being somewhat lazy, I now get the mud off by washing and scrubbing them with pan scourer, kept especially for the purpose.

A friend gave me some of her new laid eggs from her hens and brought back long forgotten childhood memories as she wrapped each egg in a small piece of torn newspaper, before laying them in my little basket. There was something very sweet in the gentle handling and detailed care with which she wrapped and packed them. It felt a world away from the dull supermarket routine of shopping in bulk.

Before the coming of super-markets, we shopped every few days, meeting and greeting neighbours and other shoppers as we walked to the grocer, who was often ‘on the corner’. It’s now acknowledged that this simple routine was a wonderful boost to everyone’s emotional well-being as they connected with neighbours, and nodded to strangers who became familiar during the regular shop. We took baskets and string bags and no-one expected a shop to wrap everything we bought.

Shops had regular hours, so when you ran short of sugar or needed an onion, you had no 24- hour dairy or superette to fall back on. Instead you fell back on your neighbours, and a child was often dispatched to borrow half a cup of sugar, or a jug of milk. These small inter-actions and friendly connections stimulated a sense of community. The sharing of garden produce, small helpful deeds and kindnesses, borrowing and returning, nourished human relationships, friendships and neighbourhoods, fostering small societies, and creating villages within villages.

And back then there were plentiful bus services and little local railway branch lines, so people didn’t need cars. It was easy to move from village to town, or town to city on reliable public transport, and there were no roads clogged up with parked cars or traffic jams of weary people. I don’t remember pollution either…

When we all get down to the serious business of becoming carbon free, and relinquishing our right to car ownership, maybe the powers that be will re-instate these antiquated forms of transport. The one thing I do hope no-one suggests, be they government agencies or climate campaigners, is to use a horse and trap, or other animals as beasts of burden. The blessing of the motor car was that we gave up exploiting animals to get us around, flogging them to death, with overwork or not enough food.

Yet at the moment we still seem to have a mind-set which involves the right to own our own transport. The car industry estimates that there are 1.3 billion cars on the road at the moment and projections rise to two billion by 2035. Cars are a passion, both in the first world and the third world, and technology is forever coming up with new ideas for a driving future. Yet all this effort, which is now going in the direction of self-driving electric cars, seem self-defeating to me, since each such vehicle requires the equivalent of 40 desk top PC’s in energy consumption for the computer brain. Then there’s the energy needed for the battery. So much for reducing carbon emissions.

Maybe the challenge of tackling transport, climate change, pollution, the plague of plastic and all the other problems of our wasteful throwaway and over packaged society is to find a way of life which is as simple as the one I remember. It was a way of life in which we lived ‘care-fully’, buying food in small amounts so we had no wastage, a way of life in which we used public transport and helped each other in small, kind and ‘care-full ways’. ‘Small is Beautiful’, Schumacher’s creed, now overtaken by globalism, may be the answer to the huge problems of over-consumption, wasteful habits and huge soul-less cities, whether buying the family groceries, owning a car, or finding a happy home.

A Guardian article some years ago wrote that; ‘Schumacher warned against exactly the issues we are now dealing with as levels of mental illness – depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress – rise and the World Health Organisation predicts that depression will be the second most common health problem in western developed nations by 2020.This was what Schumacher feared, and his answer was “small is beautiful”.’

Schumacher’s thesis was that we should go back to the human scale: human needs and human relationships. He felt that from that small scale would spring the ethical response of stewardship to the environment.

And as we re-create such small kind communities, I’d be grateful if we could also solve the plastic crisis, and mountains of resulting rubbish. The wasted hours spent tackling the menace of packaging could be used for so many other small and beautiful pleasures. Dwight Eisenhower once remarked that in his childhood, “Our pleasures were simple – they included survival”. That could well be the case in the future.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Though I love leftovers, leftover slices of slices of breast from a roast chicken can be boring. My way round this last night was to combine leftover mushrooms, cooked in garlic, cream and parsley, with the chicken. To top up this mix, I added more garlic and parsley, and the essence poured off from the hot chicken the day before. A little cream to make it thick and delicious, and the chicken was transformed. Eaten with mashed potatoes, peas and fresh spring asparagus it was as good as the original roasted chicken.

 

 

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Filed under cookery/recipes, environment, happiness, philosophy, pollution, sustainability, technology, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life

A merrier world and a beautiful one

 

Tropical islands poised to benefit from ocean power

The story of a sixteen-year old fighting climate change always moves and excites and inspires me.

Jadav Payeng has been planting a forest single-handedly since 1979 when he saw a pile of dead snakes and realised they had died for lack of both water and shade. Jadav Payeng, the son of a poor buffalo trader from a marginalized tribal community in the region of Assam, India, is now a poor farmer; but he has let nothing stand in the way of the task he set himself. He’s planted a tree a day in the forty years ever since. Elephants and tigers and all the indigenous wild life of the area have returned and are inhabitants of the forest he’s planted, which is now bigger than Central Park in New York.

I can’t help contrasting his story with the story of another sixteen-year old, an angry frightened Swedish teenager.

As I watched her speaking at the UN, I wondered, not for the first time, where her parents were to protect her, and also to help her to get some balance… yes, climate change is real, but no-one has stolen her childhood, living in a privileged western society like Sweden. While on the other hand, millions of children elsewhere are starving, enslaved and truly hopeless, and the millions of us in WW2 and other times, as well as children growing up in fear of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, could claim to have had our childhoods stolen… except that self- pity and blame gets us nowhere!!!

And it isn’t just climate change which is a problem for the future… we face polluted oceans, destruction of the world’s forests, over-population, the extinction of other living species, and many other pressing issues. Yet the future is not actually all doom and gloom, and I wish someone would help Greta see the other side of the story.

After watching a video called 13 Misconceptions about Climate Change, I began to feel a lot better about the future, while there are other signs of progress which make me feel truly hopeful.

For starters, there’s the so-called destruction of Pacific Islands by the rising ocean, which the UN Secretary General described when he spoke after Greta at the UN. Actually, the story of the Pacific Islands is fascinating. A research team, which included a professor from Auckland University, have been studying the problem, and their findings show the gloomy forecast of flooding and inundation is unjustified.

Previous research by the team, which used aerial photos going back as far as 1943 to track changes to the 101 islands that make up the Tuvalu archipelago, found that overall there was a net gain in land area of 2.9 percent or 73.5ha over the past 40 years.

They found that the height of the atolls increased at the same time as the rising water, that sand and sediment shifted as the atolls responded to the environmental changes: that the elevation of the atoll crest – the highest ground – mirrored the rise in sea levels, which suggests sea level may be an important controlling factor on island elevation.

Co-researcher Dr Murray Ford, also from the University of Auckland, says the study shows islands are more resilient than previously thought, able to change shape or physically adjust to higher sea levels and more severe storms.

Then there’s the Great Green Wall of China where they are planting an area of forest bigger than Ireland every year, and have drafted in 60,000 soldiers to help with the planting. While they have had their problems and are still working on them, the project is heartening, while all the re-wilding and regeneration going on in England, Scotland, Denmark, Spain and other European countries is setting a new paradigm.

Great tracts of land are being returned to their ancient state – at Knepp Farm in Kent for instance, they’ve pulled up all the fences, sold all the farm machinery, and introduced as many original species onto the land as possible. No aurochs now, which used to roam the land in Neolithic times, so they introduced the nearest thing – long horn cattle, Exmoor ponies instead of wild horses to keep too many trees from spreading, three species of deer and pigs. Nature designed each animal to have its own function, they all graze differently, while the pigs rootling in the hard clay soil open up spaces for seeds to germinate. The results of this system include improving soil quality, flood control, water purification and pollination.

Rare bats, birds, butterflies, insects, flowers, fish, which haven’t been seen for centuries, are returning to this paradise, only a short way from London. The cattle are gently led – no violence being chased by dogs or motorbikes to round them up – and culled and sold as the highest quality meat, so there is no over-grazing in what is still an enclosed space, with other traditional farms around, hemming them in. This was the mistake made in the celebrated Netherlands project, where the animals flourished so well that in a hard winter many died from starvation, so now some animals have to be culled to maintain the health of the others.

As the years have gone by at Knepp Farm, swamps and wetland have returned, trees and scrub and rare wild flowers have spread, birds sing, butterflies dance over blossoms, and the whole area exudes a sense of calm and beauty. Glamping has become an off-shoot of this wonderful experiment.

The famous return of wolves to Yellowstone Park has shown that by introducing the top predator, the whole ecosystem can heal and regenerate. Rumania has one of the last and biggest swathes of forest, where vast areas are flourishing with all the wild creatures roaming, , which have disappeared elsewhere in Europe, and though during the Communist rule the forests began to be logged, they are now protected.

In Scotland where a number of philanthropists and trusts have bought up huge areas of land, they are re-wilding or regenerating the land in other ways…John Muir, of the John Muir Trust, one of the largest landowners, said that: ‘thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity’. This is why of course, that eco-tourism is on the rise which may or may not be a good thing, with concern over carbon footprints.

Modern factory farming, with all the attendant soil erosion, animal cruelty, chemical poisoning through the use of herbicides, pesticides, and anti-biotics, and water degradation, is also being addressed by dedicated experts. In the wonderful half hour documentary called ‘Unbroken Ground’ we learn of efforts to breed strains of grain which don’t require annual re-planting with the resultant ploughing and soil loss. Another farmer has transformed the over-grazed barren waste of his land caused by cattle grazing, by introducing bison, the original inhabitants, and their presence has restored the eco-system, while their meat is organic and unsullied by anti-biotics or other modern methods of increasing yield.

In fact, farming like this turns out to be more productive than modern farming methods, while respecting the land and the animals. All over the world farmers are taking up ‘re-generative farming’, letting the land dictate the results, allowing trees to grow for shade for animals and to prevent soil erosion, increase the world’s stock of trees, and as a by-product make the land both beautiful and productive.

This method of farming aims for topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing eco-system services, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.

And even fishing is being tackled by one co-operative fishing company on Lummi Island in the States. They’ve perfected a way of catching salmon without stress, returning the unwanted catch to the sea unharmed, and treating the salmon with gentleness and respect. Now that scientists have proved what many of us have always believed, that fish can feel pain, it’s a great step forward to see that fishing can be humane; and perhaps in our brave new world, we will see this respect and care for all living things, including our planet, penetrate the consciousness of us all.

This revolution in our thinking towards the world can start at home. In small town gardens and plots, where gardeners grow native species, or plants that attract bees, or birds, they create tiny oases in urban deserts. A balcony or a window box, a bird feeder or a bowl of fresh water can attract insect and bird life, and even leaving dandelions to flower, the bees favourite food, is a small gift to the planet. We don’t need a farm or acres of land to do what we can to nurture nature. Some people plant road-sides, railway embankments and waste land in cities… sometimes they’re called guerrilla gardeners, and they are among the unsung saviours of the planet.

So if I could speak to sad and anxious sixteen year old Greta, I would give her the words of Max Ehrman in Desiderata:

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste … Speak your truth quietly and clearly…  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

The beauty is a gift, but happiness is a decision I sometimes think… remembering the words of the anarchic Monty Python gang in The Life of Brian – always look on the bright side of things! And much happiness for me is to be found chopping and stirring and beating and eating in the kitchen… hence our Tuscan binge after reading Frances Mayes…’Giusi’s hen, hunter style’ was our first go at peasant cooking, and not having the guinea fowl required in the recipe I used eight boneless chicken breasts. We started with ‘odori’, which is a base made of two carrots, two stalks of celery, one onion, 2 cloves of garlic, and parsley. Chop them finely, saute in olive oil and put aside.

Saute the chicken for ten minutes, add salt and pepper and the odori. When the mix looks golden, pour in a glass of white wine. When it’s almost evaporated add two cups of tomato sauce and cook slowly for another twenty minutes. I took the advice and let it sit until the next day.

There was enough for two meals, the first we ate with creamy mashed potatoes, and the next day with pasta, accompanied by green beans – and of course a glass of good wine.

Being inclined to short cuts these days I used grated garlic in a jar, and a tin of tomatoes. It still seemed pretty delicious even with these non-Tuscan deviations!  And as that wise old man Tolkien once said:” If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Light footfalls in the Forest

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I’m back… after a lull and a few health issues, can’t resist coming back to blogging. I’ve kept up with reading all my old friends, under the radar, and am up with the play on the health and antics of various cats and dogs and pigs, and people! And thanks to the magic of technology, the internet has kept me up to date on the strange happenings around the world. I hesitate to put a name to the events which fill today’s headlines.

Here in our remote rainforest, politics and pollution, carbon footprints and climate change feel a long way away. Though I did calculate our carbon footprint today, and since we make one trip into town a week, amounting to fifty kilometres, catch our own water from the roof, and purify it, don’t waste water since we have a compost toilet, build our house with re-cycled windows, doors, kitchen bench, neighbour’s cast-off extractor hood and other donations, and only use electricity for heating, our footprint is fairly light.

D, my love, has used skateboard wheels to create a sliding door which purrs every time it’s opened, while a steel knitting needle and some big beads from a necklace have been used to fashion a light fitting that can be adjusted and moved above the dining table depending how many guests we have. He’s made exquisite sounding bells from divers cast off tanks which function as warning bells for us, and become presents for the people who are enchanted with the sound of the bells, and want one too.

A friend gave us an unwanted Italian stone plinth which, with a great, perfectly round concrete ball cast by D for me for Christmas, has become the focal point of my new garden; another friend delivered a ten foot pallet he wanted to dispose of, which has, with a few extra pieces of wood nailed on, become an elegant trellis barrier painted black and swathed in white wisteria, honeysuckle and star jasmine, dividing drive from garden.

Along the top of the trellis are ranged a row of perfect round black balls. They were once the feet of an armoire, and so ugly that I had them cut off, and have carted them around for the last nineteen years, hoping to find a use for them someday. That day has arrived. Painted black, and augmented with a big central one made by D, they have come into their own. The honeysuckle was grown from cuttings taken from the side of the road. The stubs of used candles are melted down and blended together to make candles for the storm lanterns down the drive when friends visit.

Arum lilies, dug up from a field at a friend’s farm, and roses grown from cuttings, fill the urns and pots, and on finding half a dozen miniature pink buckets in an op shop, I filled with them with pink cyclamens and lined them up on the steps to the house. I fill any gaps in the garden with big white marguerite daisies grown from cuttings – the original plant I bought back in 2003, and have kept supplies of these generous sized daisies ever since. At this moment in the porch are twenty- four flourishing little green rootlets waiting to be transferred to wherever they are needed. Ivy cuttings are also rooting quietly after a walk past an overgrown wall.

A raised vegetable garden is the next step… to be tackled when D has finished inserting two beautiful coloured lead light windows into the bathroom wall which looks out into the forest. They came from a dresser we bought for a song at the local rubbish tip shop. The hinges on the doors and handles would have cost more than we paid for the whole dresser if he had bought them new, D says.

And as well as the hardware, we have the lead light doors to the cupboard now transformed into windows, and the bottom shelves, divested of doors, painted white and flossied up with a bit of moulding, matching another sturdy bookshelf the other side of the room.

The satisfaction of this way of life is immense. Though we are surrounded in the forest by splendid architect designed dwellings furnished with architect-speak fashionable furniture, black leather Mies van der Rohe-like loungers, cow-hide rugs, low backed sofas, I am unmoved by this elegance. I still love my ancient seven-foot sofa, bought from an acquaintance twenty- five years ago when it was already twenty- five years old. New feet gave it a new lease of life, and loose covers made from hemp twenty years ago are still as good as new.

My antique French Provincial arm chairs are still comfortable, even though the cat appropriated them all the years of her life, and the old painted peasant looking chest of drawers gives me as much pleasure as our walnut and rosewood antiques of yesteryear. Pretty china, rugs and cushions, lamps and books have been the same companions for the last four decades.

And books continue to find their way in. Last week it was a book on Tuscany found for a dollar at the local rubbish tip shop. It’s a big illustrated hymn to Tuscany by Frances Mayes, whose other books on finding her Italian house have always enchanted me. This one is filled with exquisite pictures, disquisitions on art and architecture,  wine, and food and recipes. She tells us that when children are born in Italy, they say they have entered the light. The poetry and beauty of this idea of emerging from the darkness of the womb into the light of the world I find very moving.

Mayes says that Italians have the lowest rate of suicide in the world. She puts it down to the contentment of living amid so much deeply satisfying beauty. She also says that Italians are very low on obesity scales compared with other countries, and she puts this down to the fact that they eat such nourishing delicious food, that they feel satisfied and don’t need to fill up with junk food and sugar treats.

So needless to say, I bustled into my kitchen, and began experimenting with her take on Tuscan food, which doesn’t rely on fancy ingredients, and at a quick glance just seems to require good olive oil, good bread, fresh vegetables, including garlic, fennel and mushrooms and devotion to good food! That devotion I have in spades.

Watch this space!

 

 

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Frogs and Tigers and Us

Image result for pics of archey's frogs

A full moon shone through the tree-tops, and apart from the hooting of a distant morepork, and the autumn cricket symphony, not even the careful movements of the four silent searchers disturbed the peace of the forest.

Then a hushed excited exclamation came from Charlotte: “I’ve found one – it’s a baby!”  The other seekers carefully stepped across the lines of coloured string which separated them, and gazed at a perfect, tiny jewel-like creature, smaller than the size of a thumb nail, half hidden beneath a frond of fern, the first find of the night.

A baby Archey!

This is how the two researchers from Auckland Zoo, on their annual visit to monitor our resident Archey’s, began their silent night of seeking for these precious creatures – living fossils – which are among the world’s oldest frogs, and almost unchanged since their 150 million- year- old relatives flourished here.

There are now only two populations left in the world, and one of them survives here in the protected forest where I live. Two zoologists, specialists in frogs, have just been here for four nights monitoring both frogs and our rare striped and forest geckoes. Sara, a resident and our own indefatigable discoverer of so many frogs and rare geckoes, and an expert at both detecting and recording them, organised the searches.

Using coloured string Sara has measured out into four sections a ten-metre square grid on her property. She and the experts from the zoo re-visit this site just once a year to check on the frog population, as to do so more often would be too invasive. (Our friends from the zoo also return four times a year to count and measure and monitor the rare geckos which live here).

By searching the same area each time, they are able to assess the size of the Archey’s population and hope eventually to discover whether it is thriving or declining, as sadly 43 per cent of all such creatures are declining in this country.

Finding these tiny and elusive creatures is challenging. They are usually hidden by fern fronds or leaves, and as in the case of the first find of the night, are often so tiny they are almost invisible. Their camouflaged colours vary from mottled greens to rich browns and pale sandy markings. However, the eagle-eyed team are now experienced enough to spot them.

When they do, they use a surgical glove when holding the frogs so as not to contaminate them, and a separate glove for each frog. They mark and number where they found the frog, and gently slip the tiny creature into a see-through plastic bag, giving it the same identifying name. The bag is then pinned to a nearby tree, until the search is ended, when they are all gathered up. The time, temperature, weather conditions and GPS co-ordinates of each frog’s whereabouts are also recorded.

Back at base, each frog is carefully placed within a protective canvas square, and photographed using mirrors, so as not to disturb the frog, yet capturing all angles in a single shot. It’s then moved to be weighed on very sensitive scales, and then measured. When this careful record has been completed, the frog is taken back to where he was found.

Archey’s frogs don’t need water like most frogs, and produce their tadpoles in a gelatinous sac. When they’re hatched, the male frog carries the froglets around on his back until they have full metamorphosed. The minute exquisite froglets we saw were complete.

To watch the dedicated researchers carry out their painstaking task – first finding their quarry using their torches in the dark forest, then carrying out the incredibly detailed and meticulous procedures laid down by the Department of Conservation (DOC) was so impressive. Anyone handling these precious creatures must have a license from DOC to do so.

Beginning the search at nine o clock, they ended at six in the morning. They did this for four nights, as well as searching, finding, recording, measuring and going through the whole procedure with the rare Coromandel Striped gecko which also survives on the estate.

Geckos are slightly easier to find since they are bigger, and they are just as beautiful. Like the frogs, each one has different markings so they can be recognised from one monitoring session to the next. They have the same sort of protuberant eyes as the frogs, and like the frogs too, tiny exquisite little fingers on their feet. Geckos also have ‘sticky’ feet: their toes are covered with microscopic hairs that allow them to climb sheer surfaces and even walk upside down across a ceiling.

As a somewhat ignorant observer, I felt so privileged to see these rare and ancient creatures who live amongst us as they have done for milleniums, and who are struggling to survive with so many enemies like rats, stoats, possums etc who feast on them. Our predator control programme is absolutely vital to their survival, and our whole community is dedicated to the government’s hopeful policy of a predator free country. Our residents also continue their commitment to our precious wild life with their constant checking and setting of predator traps all over the forest.

To be there with the little research team – even for only one night  – gave me such a profound insight into the richness of our environment, not just the Archey’s and geckos, but insect life which included spiders with beautiful markings as they spun their webs, long legged ones picking their way delicately through the fallen leaves, millipedes which curled into a tiny round ball looking like a large blue-berry, young wetas, and the background of crickets serenading us.

As I write, I look out on a peaceful vista of trees stretching across to the top of our forested mountain range. I watch green silver eyes feasting on insects clinging to the bark of the karaka tree beyond the veranda, and watch the tiny grey warblers and black headed tits flitting among the foliage, looking for lunch, and green finches perching there. Bell birds sends their melodious notes floating across the green valley, and it’s hard to realise that I am in fact sitting here in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction, the worst such destruction of species for 65 million years, and one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the earth, according to scientists.

They point to the disappearance  of billions of plants, insects, animals, reptiles and amphibians all over the planet, saying the Sixth Mass Extinction has progressed further than we thought. It’s caused by over-population, loss of habitat, hunting, use of poisons like pesticides, climate change, pollution and in some cases, as in the case of NZ’s Archey’s frog, by disease.

There are so few of our frogs left here that they are number one on the list of endangered species, which is why we are guarding and monitoring and cherishing them. Just as saddening is the knowledge that in the last fifty years tigers, for example, have declined from 50,000 down to three thousand – a thought that fills me with terror at the thought of losing them all soon.

Scientists fear all big cats will be extinct in less than a hundred years, and point to lions as a symbol of what has happened to our world. They remind us that lions used to live and roam all over Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East right up to north-western India, and yet now, there are only small parts of Africa and tiny populations in a few other places.

While hunting and habitat loss is behind the loss of so many creatures like the big cats, over-eating is the problem that most frogs face! In the US alone, three million kgs of frog meat are imported every year. This is roughly 26 million frogs – mostly from India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Germany, France, the Netherlands and Africa are also keen on eating frogs’ legs. Luckily for them, our Archeys are too small to be a tasty morsel for homo sapiens – (if only we were truly homo sapiens).

It’s easy to feel discouraged when facing a global event of such momentous proportions, and one which in the end could mean our mass extinction too. And when it is such an enormous and profound happening, we can only fall back on the only thing we know – love. By loving and reverencing every creature, plant and sentient being we can feel at least that we are doing something positive. Giving in to despair or hopelessness is not the answer. Nor is burying our heads in the sand.

The words of a children’s hymn printed in 1864 which my grandmother taught me, come into my mind.

We are bidden:”… to shine with a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

………..                                           all around
Many kinds of darkness in this world abound:
Sin, and want, and sorrow—we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.”

So yes, I will light my candle in my small corner.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’ve always been keen on cakes that require very little effort, and I’ve used this one several times recently, and it’s never let me down. All you have to do is stir all the ingredients together and bake – no beating, creaming, or separating! The ladies from the Zoo loved it when they came for afternoon tea!

Grease a cake tin and line the base with grease-proof paper. Set the oven to 180 degrees. In a large bowl, tip 100gm of melted butter, a generous 100 gm of brown sugar, three eggs, a 100 gm of self- raising flour, a 100gms of ground almonds, a tsp baking powder, four tablespoons of milk, and a table spoon of honey. Mix them all together thoroughly, tip into the cake tin, and bake for just over 35 minutes  or until a skewer comes out clear.

I made lemon butter icing using the juice and grated peel of a lemon. The cake did n’t last long!

Food for Thought

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”

JRR Tolkien This favourite quote seemed like the most appropriate one for this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

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Fifty Shades of Green

Image result for greenfinches

 

It was a term of derision thirty years ago when someone referred to me mockingly as a ‘brown- rice greenie’. These days however, eating brown rice is respectable and being green is mainstream. But I’ve just discovered there are different degrees of greenery!

Feeding the birds has always been a pleasure of mine, but now I find I’m feeding the wrong birds!  This can be construed as non-environmentally friendly since it encourages non- native birds in a place where only native birds are valued… meaning places where others are trying to return the area to its pre-European pristine purity.

Ironically, the increase of non-native species where I live is a result of an ongoing and increasingly successful predator control programme which has meant many more fledglings survive since there are now fewer rats to prey upon the bird populations. But my feeding of the wrong birds – green finches, quails and chaffinches around our little potted garden –  is sometimes perceived as a problem!

So though I thought our environmental footprint was a reasonably small one, in that we have a compost loo, which means using at least thirty per cent less water than if we had a normal loo, we only run one car, we don’t use up jet-fuel by travelling overseas, so don’t participate in producing the prodigious gas emissions of jet exhaust, we ‘re not really very green in other people’s eyes.

We eat very little meat, tending to the organic chicken spectrum and free-range eggs, and I never buy fish since we over -fish the oceans so dreadfully, but in the scales of green virtue these private attempts to preserve the planet don’t seem to balance out the detrimental practise of feeding introduced species of birds.

I was staggered to read that during a recent typhoon China recalled its fleet of more than 18,000 fishing boats in the interests of safety. My mind boggled! Eighteen thousand boats going out every day to strip the seas!  Then there are the fishing fleets of all the other seven countries surrounding the South China Sea, not to mention the vast fishing fleets that range across all the other oceans of the world.

When David Rothschild replicated the voyage of the Kon-Toki across the Pacific a few years ago, they couldn’t live off the ocean like Thor Heyerdahl’s crew seventy years back … there were no fish left to catch. In the waters surrounding this remote country, Japanese, Taiwanese, South Korean and Soviet fishing vessels trawl perpetually … the Japanese still indulging in whale hunting to the despair of many who live here.

The fishing fleets of Europe have so denuded the waters in the north Atlantic, that cod, once the cheapest and most plentiful of fishes when I was a child is now a delicacy… so yes, in this household, fish is off the menu.

Much of our house is built of re-cycled materials, even the foundations are concrete set in the big plastic water bottles in which we had to buy water when we first came here, and were waiting for a water tank to arrive. Whenever neighbours undertake renovations, we’re the often recipients of their unwanted or extra insulation, wood, kitchen fittings, etc.

My partner uses an environmentally friendly manual earth re-structuring implement for all his earth-moving work on site, which requires no fuel to operate, makes no noise- polluting sound and cost very little compared to a digger. This spade is one of our most useful possessions, and has slowly changed the contours of this building site with no impact on the environment.

But degrees of green-ness mean that in some doctrinaire eyes we probably aren’t green at all. I grow flowers instead of vegetables, and try not to feel guilty about it, telling myself that it’s good for the bees anyway. But this brings me to another degree of green-ness.

Being a vegan is not an option for me, attractive though the idea is, of being able to exist without exploiting any form of life. (I can’t digest soya beans, which provide much needed nutrients in a non- meat, non- egg non-dairy diet.) But now I read that even vegans can be up against it in this strange interlocking world, where so many natural processes now seem under threat from our various polluting or destructive modern practices.

The vegan – vegetarian options of eating avocadoes which provide so much badly needed protein in a vegan diet, drinking almond milk in preference to exploiting cows for dairy food, and eating almond meal for those needing gluten free options are now suspect apparently.

Because both avocadoes and almonds for western markets tend to be grown in California, where bees are now rare forms of life, bee-hives are carted around from different growing areas to pollinate the avocado and almond trees. No-one is sure at the moment if this is detrimental to the well-being of bees, but it’s a good guess that they may be conscious and dislike these upheavals. So if you’re a vegan because you don’t want to exploit or cause distress to other forms of life, suddenly there’s a new dilemma.

Up till now I have withstood the muted dis-approval of supermarket check-out staff when I opt for plastic bags instead of using my collection of hessian shopping bags and old baskets. This is because I use those despised plastic bags to line wastepaper baskets and for non-compostable rubbish to go into the rubbish bin, including the endless plastic wrappings which come with everything, from jars of vitamins to cucumbers and bread, packets of bacon or biscuits.

Now plastic bags are banned from our local supermarket I ask myself what we wrapped our rubbish in when it went into the dust-bin before plastic bags exploded into our lives, and I realise we used sheets of newspaper. But newspapers are almost as environmentally unfriendly as plastic bags in that they require acres of trees to be chopped down every day. World demand for trees for paper has risen by four hundred per cent per cent in the last forty years – two and a half million trees are cut down every day.

In the USA in one year, two billion books, three hundred and fifty million magazines, and twenty- four billion newspapers are published. To get the paper for these books requires consuming over thirty- two million trees. And those figures don’t include the huge output of books and newspapers everywhere else in the world.

The average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees. This amounts to about 2,000,000,000 trees per year! Apart from papermaking, unbelievably, more than two hundred thousand acres of rainforest are burned every day. That is more than one hundred and fifty acres lost every minute of every day, and seventy-eight million acres lost every year!

The profligate destruction of trees is so awful that I rarely buy new books any more, and second hand book-shops are my go-to place for reading matter – just finished John Mortimer’s ‘Paradise Postponed’ from the St John’s Op Shop, and before that a fascinating book about Mary Magdalen found in the re-cycle shop at the local dump. Gibbons ‘Decline and fall of the Roman Empire’, from the Cancer Charity Bookshop is waiting in the wings! Can I justify writing any more books myself? Better stick to blogging.

Trying to reconcile the conflicting claims of environmental correctness is one of the ethical challenges of our day, and we all have different points of view, depending on whether one is a western greenie, a third world farmer, a fisherman, a miner, or even a writer! Intelligent, sensitive and aware people who compost, grow vegetables and native plants, support environmental projects and live on a green moral high ground, yet can own several cars and enjoy a rich calendar of overseas travel are as inconsistent as I am.

I feel that my environmentally incorrect pastime of feeding non-native birds can be seen as another facet of the green debate in these times of the Sixth Great Extinction. (Greenfinch populations have plunged by 59 per cent in the UK in the last ten years)

Yet feeding the birds has also been found to be good for emotional and mental health according to an article in a bird watcher’s magazine. So that’s good enough for me… preserving my emotional and mental health is one of my top priorities. Green is a state of mind and there are myriad shades of green! Vive les differences.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’ve discovered this tasty recipe in an old scrapbook for a sauce to eat with raw vegetables or a baked potato… all it needs is quarter of a pint of mayonnaise, half a green pepper chopped very finely, two sticks of chopped celery, a cup of finely chopped cucumber, clove of garlic, crushed with some salt, six table spoons of tomato sauce/ketchup, and a table spoon of horseradish sauce. Mix all the ingredients together, add salt and pepper if needed, and chill before serving.

Food for Thought

“I saw a Divine Being. I’m afraid I’m going to have to revise all my various books and opinions.”

A.J.Ayer, British philosopher and atheist

 

 

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Heaven is a Place on Earth

TLot18againOur home in the forest

This is the last instalment of my autobiography before I resume my normal blogs

I asked the Salvation Army’s Missing Person’s Bureau to find my mother when I was nearly fifty. It took them three years, and when they did, I immediately flew to London to see her.

We met on neutral ground at the Tate Gallery, and sat on a leather bench in front of a masterpiece. I have no idea what the picture was, but the pattern of the red brocade wall- covering surrounding it is stamped on my memory forever. We stayed there for hours until the gallery attendant gently told us they were closing, and then we paced the Embankment trying to catch up on a lifetime.

In the end we never did bridge the gap of that lost time as she only seemed to remember the good times we had had, while I remembered the bad times, but what I learned about her broke my heart over and over again. Her father had left before she was born, and two stepfathers died of cancer.

When she was eight months pregnant with my younger sister she lived through the angst of waiting for her husband to return at Dunkirk. He didn’t. He escaped two weeks later. Two years after this, when he returned to do his officer training she became pregnant again, and gave birth to that child on her own as well.

And now, she met a farmer from the Channel Islands, who was working on Pluto – Pipe- Line Under the Ocean, a top -secret invention to supply fuel to the armies at D-Day. They planned to marry when the war was over and take us children to live on his family farm. There was an accident and he was killed. My mother was pregnant, and in despair she fled.

She couldn’t afford to keep the baby, adopted her, emigrated to Australia to start a new life, and eventually re-married a man she’d met on the voyage out. Back in London she had a daughter with her new husband, and when that baby was a few months old, this man went into a sanatorium with TB and when he recovered, never returned to her and their child.

She brought up that child alone, and became an efficient civil servant. On her retirement she sold her house in order to move and buy a house near her sister. Shopping for a new sofa, she learned from the hushed gossip in the local shop that her solicitor had hanged himself after embezzling all his clients’ money including hers.

She had a few thousand pounds left, which she blued on a trip to China, to fulfil at least one life’s dream. She had whiled away the long lonely years by learning Chinese, attending cookery classes, playing chess and listening to opera. And when I met her, she was living in a council retirement flat. She was a gentle, refined woman, and never at any time when I met her at intervals before her death, made any complaint about her life; and though she was sad, she was never bitter.

After a forty-year silence, I met my stepmother again too. And the weeks I now spent in her company were amongst the happiest in my life. All the dislike, hostility and coldness she had shown me had dropped away. And all the hurt and pain and anger I had felt at being rejected also dissolved. The love between us was so complete and miraculous, it felt as though we had transitioned to the next plane of being, when we see each other clearly, and recognise the love and beauty of each other’s soul.

My father died fifty years ago. He shaped the person I am today. Back from the war when I was aged ten, he used to stop at a second- hand book stall set up by his bus stop on Friday nights. There he chose his old favourites for me, like Lord Lytton’s ‘The Last Days of Pompeii,’ and ‘Harold’, Kingsley’s Westward Ho and my very favourite – read and re-read – Hypatia, the Greek woman philosopher and mathematician who came to a sticky end, thanks to men! Then there was David Copperfield and so many others.

When we moved to Catterick, he shared the books he was reading then, which included Sir Nigel and the White Company, Conan Doyle’s historical romances set in France in 1366, C.S. Forester’s Hornblower Books, and Napier’s History of the Peninsula Wars. And every night, when I’d finished my homework, he read aloud to my eleven- year- old self from H.M. Trevelyan’s ‘English Social History,’ setting up my fascination with history.

Still eleven, he taught me the value of money and compassion. Sitting at the dining table I had suggested my stepmother buy some sheepskin boots because her feet were cold, “they only cost five pounds,” I blithely chirruped.

“Look out of the window,” my father ordered. A worn working man with a deeply-lined face and shabby clothes covered in grime from a building site, was dragging tiredly past. “That man earns five pounds a week to feed his family”, my father grimly pointed out, and lectured me on extravagance in words that would have profited Marie Antoinette.

Later in Malaya, when I was sixteen, and we entertained the Indian quarter -master to tea with his wife in her colourful saris, and I had to give them my books on the Royal family who they loved, he demonstrated tolerance and the opposite of racism.

Back in England in the mid- fifties, he taught me to accept homo-sexuality at a time when it was scarcely mentioned. I commented on a strange man on the bus who wore a brown striped suit with flared trousers, a wide brimmed brown felt hat and thick makeup. He laughed, told me he was a wonderful old ‘queen’ and was such a punishing boxer that no-one dared jeer at him.

He demanded respect for all his soldiers, telling me they’d fought through the war, were bringing up families on a pittance, and were fine decent people. Like Abou Ben Adhem, he ‘loved his fellow men.’

Later when I was twenty-one, he suggested that my outlook was a bit narrow, and that I should read The Manchester Guardian. Back then it had a reputation for fine writing, tolerant humane values, and wide culture. I became a sensible feminist, reading Mary Stott on the women’s pages, learned about good food, enjoyed witty TV criticism, discovered avenues of musical appreciation, and acquired a burning social conscience, which cut me off from all my family and many of my friends!

When he retired from the army at forty-five he commuted/cashed up his army pension to pay for his youngest son’s expensive schools, and so condemned himself to working to support his family for the rest of his life. But he died in 1968 at fifty-four.

I wonder if anyone will remember me, fifty years after I am dead? At the moment, I am far from dead, and know that he would have loved to know what risks I have taken to live my life as fully as I can and to be able to love as deeply as I do now.

When I began blogging, I inadvertently stumbled on an unusual blog when I was looking for some poetry I’d enjoyed. When I left a comment on this rather beautiful blog, which was not poetry, the writer replied with such courtesy that I was enchanted. In the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s words – I ‘grocked’ him. Which meant I felt I knew him, and recognised him, and understood him at a very deep level.

We began ‘following’ each other, and our comments reflected a mutual admiration. My new follower wrote exquisite remarks on my blogs, but when a rather malicious stalker I’d attracted from the day I first began writing, began sneering at my “followers massaging my ego,” I feared that he might recognise the underlying message of love in the sensitive, perceptive words my new friend wrote on my blog. I feared that my stalker’s spite could spoil this friendship.

So I wrote to my friend, suggesting that we write privately instead, to avoid any unpleasantness. Two years and two thousand letters later, my friend – now my love- left his country, his home of forty- five years, the job he loved at a world-famous observatory, his family, and his friends and came to begin a life with me.

I read recently:”I don’t think genuinely falling in love is negotiable. The heart goes where the heart goes. Age has nothing to do with it.” This is true – he’s much younger than me, cherishes me the way I’ve never been cared for before, we share the same spiritual values, and revel in a life of love and freedom.

Like me, he had left behind not just his home, but most of his assets too, so we looked for a place where we could afford to live, that would give us the environment we both wanted. It was waiting for us. Just as out of over eighty million bloggers we had  found each other, so we discovered the perfect place that we could not only afford, but which turned out to be a haven of beauty, peace, and community.

We bought a tiny one room log cabin set on forty acres of covenanted podocarp forest, where we look across a valley like an amphitheatre and gaze up to our own mountain. We listen to our streams tumbling over rocks below, and hear birds singing from the dawn chorus in the morning to the moreporks/owls through the night. Our property is home to various almost extinct species of frog, lizards, geckoes, to more than three hundred species of butterfly and moths – or lepidoptera as I’ve learned to call them – and to rare plants and trees. People come from the universities and world-wide societies to study these precious vanishing species in this time of the sixth great extinction.

Our neighbours, hidden in the forest, have a shared environmental commitment to keeping the sprawling hills and ranges free of pests and to nurturing the creatures who’ve made their homes here for milleniums. These neighbours come from all walks of life – an architect, a musician, zoologist and landscape professors, a geologist and several engineers, a restauranteur, a painter, a therapist and others. They are all nationalities, Swiss, English, Australian, Belgian, Dutch, Maori, Russian, Mongolian, American.

Behind our high wrought iron gates, we share a civilised social life, and work together to preserve the forest. On our property, we’ve extended our original tiny dwelling, planted fragrant flowers, created architectural flights of steps, made melodious bells from diver’s tanks, re-cycled doors and windows and other found objects, and live a blissful life of creativity and harmony.

I wake in the morning and look out of the window to where the dawn shines gold on the peak of the mountain. I turn to my love and whisper, “the sun is on the mountain.” And another day begins of a quiet mystical life of love and beauty.

The end

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 I love Indonesian food, and a friend gave me a little booklet of recipes years ago. One page in particular is stained and dog-eared… with the recipe for sambel goreng telor on it – this means eggs in coconut milk.

For two people hard boil four eggs, cut them in two and put in a deep dish. Fry a chopped onion, and when soft add tomato, clove of garlic, half a red pepper, a table spoon of brown sugar and salt to taste. When they’re soft, add half a cup of coconut milk, heat and pour over the eggs. Delicious with plain boiled rice.

Food for Thought

 Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death.

We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion, gentle hands and kindly words.

Make us ourselves to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

Albert Schweitzer, doctor, humanitarian, writer,  musician, organist and organ restorer

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Closing Circles

Image result for valerie davies nz

The penultimate instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

A year after Arthur Thomas’s pardon, a Royal Commission condemned the policeman who’d planted the cartridge, and said Arthur should never have been charged. I sat through the weeks of testimony, crocheting a colourful rug from all the scraps of wool I had, and I think driving the male chauvinists around me quite mad!

I was back home towards the end when Patrick took time off from his office to hear the last stages of the inquiry which was all based on his findings. He rang and said they were being asked to put in a claim for what the investigation had cost them, and Jim Sprott was claiming $150,000. Patrick said it didn’t feel right climbing on this bandwagon of claims… so I told him about the painter Whistler’s damages of a farthing in England when he sued Ruskin for defamation in 1870, and suggested Patrick likewise claim a dollar – otherwise you’ll be written out of the court’s findings, I said.

So he did claim a dollar. Arthur was given a million dollars in compensation, and Patrick was rewarded with an OBE. The following year the Queen presented it to him, at the same time that my daughter received her Gold Medal from the Duke of Edinburgh

While all these dramas were playing out, I resigned as Woman’s Editor of the Star, feeling that the increased attacks and hostility from feminists would lose their sting if I wasn’t there, and the women’s pages might become unmolested!

I took the children to England for a holiday, and when we returned took up writing my columns again, and was commissioned to write several books. I once calculated that fifteen years of writing two columns of a thousand words a week, probably added up to about 780,000 words, and that didn’t include all the articles and interviews I wrote in that time as well. At least half as much again, I suspect.

A column which covered vivisection and the experiments and horrible operations that people like South African heart surgeon Dr Christian Barnard performed on animals, caused huge repercussions. It revived the moribund anti-vivisection society known as SAFE, (Save Animals from Experimentation) and Patrick and I became president and vice-president.

This column also triggered a big meeting of angry doctors at the Medical School at Auckland University where they reportedly discussed: ‘What to do about Valerie Davies’. At the time I had also castigated the practise of every medical student having their own rat to kill – they  bashed it on the table by holding its tail, before dissecting it.

They sent my article to Christian Barnard in South Africa, who’d become a high-living celebrity by then, and he responded by sue-ing me and the Star. The Star cravenly paid up the money he demanded, but I refused, telling my solicitor I’d rather go to jail. The children were devastated, and my son even had tears rolling down his cheeks when I explained what I was doing.

In the event my clever lawyer wrote told Barnard’s solicitor that my defence would be that I’d found all the hideous boasts about making a two headed dog, and the screams of a baboon wrenched from his mate to take his heart for an experiment, in Dr Barnard’s own autobiography, and a TV interview. We heard no more!

I continued writing columns that enraged people, writing of the barbaric treatment of calves in modern farming, to the use of 245T (a dioxin based pesticide) the indiscriminate felling of trees, and other environmental concerns. After a column on climate change and the ozone layer, a university professor wrote a scathing letter to the paper calling me a ‘knee-jerk environmentalist’, while a professor of paediatrics, rang me at home he was so furious when I wrote that babies should never be left to cry as it broke their trust in their parents.

Now all the research into brain function has proved me right. Child psychology preaches the benefits of cuddling and of feel- good pheromones  connecting in the brain, and the dangers of cortisone building up in the brain if babies are left to cry, which leaves them prone to depression and a host of problems as they grow older…

Sometimes, in the rain and misery of the Springbok winter, traipsing in and out to the Royal Commission in the city- an hour’s drive each way- struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, living on willpower, not energy, seeing the miseries of modern farming as I drove past fields with bleak herds of cows deprived of their new calves, stopping the car to untangle desperate goats tied up and used as lawn-mowers on the road-side, I used to wonder what was wrong with me.

Why was I so out of step with everyone and everything? And then I discovered a group in England called Women for Life on Earth, and I knew I wasn’t mad after all, and that my concerns were those of many others too. Knowing this restored my confidence and gave me heart. (This group morphed into the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, and their historic resistance to nuclear weapons.)

My illness had got worse. I couldn’t bear light, and had tortoise shell rattan blinds on every window as well as curtains, I had difficulty understanding speech and used to exhort the children and my husband to speak clearly. I couldn’t bear any music except formal baroque tunes, and was in constant pain.

Somehow, I kept up with driving the children around, having friends and Patrick’s family to stay, his other four children and their friends for meals, walking the dogs twice a day, cooking decent nutritious food on time, fulfilling numerous speaking engagements – teachers conferences, school prize-givings, parents groups, schools, Rotary and other clubs, even the annual lunch of accountants – to mention a few – writing the columns which generated so much controversy and so many letters to answer, not to mention the dreaded housework. I paid the teenage children to help… my daughter to do the washing, my son to clean the bathrooms.

And at the end of this hard, sad winter we left our dream home in the country, where no-one had waved or spoken to us in over a year, and moved back to town, where friends welcomed us, strangers called in with fruit and flowers and cakes, and we felt we had come home.

A young, unprejudiced and open-minded woman doctor friend dropped in to see me, while I was having an episode of CFS. Mimi introduced me to Re-birthing, a system of connected breathing which was all the rage at that time, and this was a turning point for me. The breathing got me on my feet, and I was now strong enough to become involved with a personal growth group, Self-Transformation, which I helped to establish in this country.

It grew exponentially. This was the early eighties, when groups like EST were breaking down so many barriers, and people all over the world were ready to start their journey towards self-actualisation. Jung was often the starting point, his book and his theme ‘Modern Man in Search of his Soul’ in tune with the new age.

Abraham Maslow, Ken Wilbur, then Dipak Chopra, Jean Houston, Caroline Myss, one after another, names and techniques came crowding into our consciousness, and people like me couldn’t get enough…meditation, yoga, Reiki, shiatsu, rolfing, holotropic breathing, aromatherapy, sweat lodges and other methods of bodywork we explored put us in touch with our emotional blocks and old traumas, and kept us busy for years.

Buddhism, the Essenes, Hawaian Kahunas, Shamanism, gurus from Ram Dass to Sai Baba, Raj Neesh, and the Dalai Lama held many in thrall – though gurus were not for me – and this is only to touch on a few of the influences, techniques and people who influenced my friends and I as we journeyed on. I sold most of my precious things to pay for all this… silver from my first marriage, oriental rugs I’d collected over the years, a precious French provincial table… it was worth it.

It was all a mystery to my husband, who called me a New Age Nutter, which didn’t bother me at all. I tried often to explain what I was doing, and it didn’t matter how often I did, he never understood or remembered.

He had a different journey. He had ten jobs in twenty years, travelling from radio back to newspapers, then magazines to public relations, radio again, magazines, to teaching journalism and back to newspapers, finally becoming editor- in- chief of a group of suburban newspapers when he was in his early seventies. They were years of financial insecurity, when he was badly paid, and I was glad to still have some money from my writing and then the counselling practise that I managed to operate for all those years until I was in my mid-seventies.

In every job he found, pressure would build-up, and he would be unable to see eye- to-eye with his boss, just as he had been so often at the Star. It’s only as I look back that I realise that this was his modus operandi.

He’d come home and I’d sympathise and take on the angst and the anxiety. We moved house often, buying old wrecks which I restored and beautified, each time hoping that by reducing the mortgage or making life easier at home, with less travelling, or some other excuse, it would reduce his stress. It never did.

He had also become obsessed with Japan, and apart from writing books about it, studying its history and customs, and collecting anything Japanese, he became an expert on samurais, Japanese sword-play – kendo and eido- and antique Japanese swords, which were hugely expensive. He was always buying more and more precious ones, as he learned more and more about them, and went to Japan half a dozen times.

As my car fell to pieces, because we couldn’t afford to replace it, he was ‘investing’ he assured me, in his swords, which would pay for our old age, so we didn’t need to save or pay off the mortgage. I believed him.

And so we came to the end of our roads. As Paul Coelho wrote: “It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”

Next week is the last instalment of this series. The Who-dun-it of the Thomas case will be told in an Appendix the week after that.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 

As we talked about our go-to puddings over a nice drop of affogato in our favourite restaurant, one of my closest friends asked me for the recipe for my hot chocolate sauce for ice-cream I was boasting about. This is for her.

It comes from good old Mrs Beeton, and my children loved it over ice-cream, while I serve it for guests now with pears baked in wine plus ice-cream.

Blend together a rounded dessert spoon of cornflour, two rounded dessertspoons of cocoa powder, and three rounded dessertspoons of sugar with a little cold water measured from half a pint. Boil the rest of the half pint of water and pour on the mixture. Pour into a saucepan and boil for two minutes, stirring all the time. Add three drops of vanilla and half an ounce of butter. Simple and  delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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