Tag Archives: Dalai Lama

The future in the distance

100_0404I know I said this would be the last instalment of my autobiography, but as it turns out, there is one more chapter to come.

 When I was in the army as a twenty- two- year old lieutenant, I had to take a detachment of my girls to help at a local fete at Stratford-on -Avon. My job was to look after John Mills, the film star, and his daughter Juliet, also a film star. They were opening the village fete.

When this not-too- onerous task had been completed, I was free to wander round the fair ground, though feeling somewhat conspicuous in my dark green army uniform. I ducked inside a fortune teller’s tent for fun and sat down in front of her crystal ball. She took my hand, and peered at it. “There’s writing in this hand,” she said. “you’re going to start writing and you’ll never stop. It’s all through the rest of your life.”

Nothing was further from my thoughts at the time, and I dismissed it as a fortune teller’s fantasy. It took another seven years before her prophesy came true, and I’m still writing! During the years of Patrick’s retirement when he was still churning out a weekly column and editing a grey power magazine, I was still writing too.

Not only did I write for his magazine – interviews, columns, and cookery articles, (all unpaid) helping him design covers and acting as courier to and from the printers, but I also checked his books before they went to the printer, thought of titles like: ‘Sons of the Sword’, ‘Dangerous Journeys’, and provided material to give them extra depths like the extracts from the Mahabharata about a nuclear explosion, when he wrote of Hiroshima in ‘Sons of the Sword’.

When he ran out of ideas for his column, I’d cook up a reader’s letter for him to discuss, or find and research a topic for him, and as he grew less able, I’d check over every column trying to re-write confused sentences and connect unconnected trains of thought. He used to get very angry with me at correcting his work, and I dreaded doing it every week, but it had to be done to maintain his credibility.

A publisher commissioned me to write sixteen illustrated books on New Zealand, I wrote for a parent’s magazine, and for my pleasure also began writing a book called ‘The Sound of Water.’ Through all the sadness and despair of the last years of our marriage this writing energised me and gave me pleasure.

Patrick had six major operations during this time, and they were always followed by complications. When we could still afford private care, it was daunting to discover that once the operation had been completed, and paid for- we were out on the street! Not even any help into the car with a severely disabled heavy patient, and there was no follow-up care.

When we had to fall back on the state health system, the follow-up care was meticulous and took a great weight off my mind; but we still had the long treks into the pain clinic, the geriatric department, the heart unit, operations for cataracts, endless visits to the hearing clinic for hearing aids, and regular trips to the doctor… I was now facing what so many women who marry much older husbands have to cope with.

When he fell over, a frequent occurrence, I would have to ring the local volunteer fire brigade for help in lifting a heavy and inert old man – it would take four men to get him off the floor, and then onto a stretcher and into an ambulance to hospital.

The army of medical practitioners involved in his care all told me that now was the time to ask for family help, ‘you can’t go it alone’. But like so many other families, mine too was spread around the globe or coping with their own burdens.

Though I was frequently ambushed with depression in this time, and so stressed that heart pains made me wonder if I was having a heart attack, the support of friends, coffee, lunch or little get- togethers kept me going. And now I discovered opera, becoming an afficionado of the New York Met’s filmed operas which showed at our local cinema regularly.

Back home I’d compare different versions on Youtube, and found solace and stimulation in this new passion. And then blogging became a hobby too – more writing! And because I always looked bright and efficient, loved my garden, books, music, clothes, good food and friends, no-one ever thought I wasn’t coping.

Once I organised a two week stay of what was called ‘respite care’ in a nearby retirement home, paid for by the health service, and Patrick’s children were appalled at my callousness. During this time, I was so exhausted I slept most of the time, which I’m told is typical for carers. I began to wonder guiltily if I would ever have any life left to enjoy, when this long period of illness and frailty was over for a husband – who in spite of all his operations and constant illness was still, it seemed, indestructible.

I began to seek comfort in the words of people like Ibsen:

‘ELMER: But this is disgraceful. Is this the way you neglect your most sacred duties?
NORA: What do you consider is my most sacred duty?
HELMER: Do I have to tell you that? Isn’t it your duty to your husband and children?
NORA:I have another duty, just as sacred.
HELMER: You can’t have. What duty do you mean?
NORA: My duty to myself.’

I found the lines in Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem gave me courage:

‘… I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.’

And Hillel’s words written two thousand years ago: ’If not you – who? If not now – when?

So in the end, after giving him a rousing eighty-fifth birthday party which all but two of the children were able to attend, I decided I had to make a decision. Three weeks later, with my doctor’s encouragement, I told him I couldn’t go on any longer, and that I’d found several good retirement homes for him, which of course he refused to consider, saying he was not ready for that yet.

It happened, and I incurred odium and ostracism from all his family and most of the people connected with him. Even during the first year on my own, struggling with too little money, a burden of guilt, and legal woes, I was happier than I’d been for years.

Patrick lived in a luxury retirement home, where his daughter was the manager. He was immediately assessed as needing to be in the hospital wing, which I felt justified my decision. Family and work associates all made the trek out to see him regularly, though no-one had bothered to do this when I was looking after him!

He was still collecting Japanese artifacts and still writing his monumental and unreadable history of Japan and the Pacific War. I moved to the Coromandel peninsula, a four hour drive away, and when I received a phone call one evening three years later, saying he was ill and unlikely to last beyond the next day, I drove through the night to see him.

He was unconscious, and I sat by his bed for three hours until I felt his daughter wanted me to go. I bent over to kiss him and say goodbye, and he opened his eyes and looked straight into mine.

He had been twenty-one when he joined his beloved Auckland Star. On its masthead back then were the lines:

For the cause that needs assistance,

For the wrong that needs resistance,

For the future in the distance,

For the good that we can do.

He faithfully and steadfastly lived those words for the next sixty- eight years of his life until he died at nearly eight-nine.

At his funeral, as the hearse was about to pull away, an elderly man stepped forward and placed a flower on the coffin. It was Arthur Thomas.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 This is a wonderful lunch dish for a special occasion. I found it in a magazine a few years ago, and now that spring is here, am about to dust off my quiche tin for it. Having prepared and cooked a short crust pastry shell, the recipe suggests to cook six sliced red onions in two tablesp of oil and four tablesp of brown sugar until soft. When golden leave to cool. Mix five egg yolks with three hundred g of crumbled blue cheese, 22 g mascarpone, six slices of prosciutto or thin streaky bacon and eighty g of pine nuts. Stir in the onions and spread the mixture into the pastry case. Bake at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until cooked. If the top starts to brown too fast, lower the oven to 160 degrees.

I like it with half cheddar and half blue cheese, use cream instead of mascarpone, and chopped fried  streaky bacon – still good…The magazine recommends six small onions, and the quiche is double the normal size I cook, serving ten people. When I make it in a normal sized quiche tin for five/six people, I use two onions, and 100g of blue cheese plus several ounces of cheddar and a good helping of cream.. I also use five whole eggs. Hope this answers your query Nicki, from Expat Alien… I’d feel the same if I saw those amounts recommended by the magazine !

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The world – our village

100_0841 - CopyWhenever we hear the sound of a helicopter circling overhead, we know that someone is in trouble in our little village. The helicopter lands on the school playing field, and the one in need is whisked away to hospital.

Last year it rescued an elderly resident who’d slipped down a cliff, the year before, a village teenager with broken legs and arms after coming off his new motor cycle.

This time it was a profound tragedy when a young mother was suddenly rushed to hospital with a killer illness that struck out of the blue, and who only lived for another two hours. Everyone wants to surround the family and the small children with love and care and food and anything that would assuage the grief that can never be assuaged.

That’s how a village works. When I had a car accident many years ago, the family were swamped with food and help both while I was in hospital and afterwards. My daughter- in- law has the beautiful knack of creating a village wherever she lives or works, whether it’s a block of flats and her work place in London, or her suburban street and her children’s school here in New Zealand.

I’ve often wondered how she does it… I think it’s a mixture of care, interest in everyone around her, a willingness to become involved with their lives, and a sense of responsibility to the world and to her neighbours, however you define neighbour. And tolerance.

I think of other villages where those were the things that not only defined the village but made them unique, and two spring to mind immediately.
At a time when France allowed over 80,000 Jewish men, women and children to be deported to concentration camps, the community of Le Chambon- sur- Lignon in France hid some thousands throughout the war. This tiny community of only several thousand themselves, took Jewish children and families into their homes, and though most were poor, and hard put to feed themselves, they fed and protected their charges throughout the years of Nazi occupation.

No-one was ever turned away. The Germans knew this was happening and several times tried to intimidate the villagers and their leader, Pastor Andre Trocme, arriving with buses to take the Jews away. Whenever the Germans came, the villagers hid their refugees in the forest, and when the Germans had left the villagers would go into the forest, and sing a song. The Jews would then emerge from their hiding place and go back to their homes in the village.

Later one of the villagers said: “We didn’t protect the Jews because it was moral or heroic, but because it was the human thing to do”.

One other village in Occupied Europe also did this human thing. In the tiny village of Nieuwlande in the Netherlands, every one of the one hundred and seventeen villagers took a Jewish person or family into their home and kept them safe throughout the Nazi occupation. The pastor’s son, Arnold Douwe was the moving force behind this act of compassion and unbelievable courage.

The people in both villages showed incredible moral and heroic fortitude, not just for a day or a week or a year, but for years, never knowing how long their ordeal would last. Philosophers may argue about whether altruism exists, but as far as this naive human being is concerned, this was altruism of the highest order.

These apparently ordinary people put themselves and their families in mortal danger, and coped with daily drudgery too – would you want the inconvenience of sharing your home with strangers indefinitely? They did this for no reward except for knowing they had done their best for other human beings, and in doing so were themselves truly human.

Such generosity and compassion in a community can still happen. We all saw on the news the loving welcome the people of Germany offered to the tragic human beings who arrived on their doorstep in the last few days, after their months of unfathomable misery and un-imaginable hardship.

The heart-rending picture of one small boy lying dead on a sunny beach has reached the hearts of most people in the world, and shown us once again that we really are a village. The actions of western governments and power plays of western nations have destroyed these decent, ordinary people’s lives and countries, their towns and their villages. So now perhaps it’s time for the world to remember that it is a global village, and to show with action the loving compassion of village life in societies all over the world.

Maybe every village in the western world could pledge to share their peace and plenty with a refugee family…

And maybe, like Cecil the Lion, whose cruel and untimely death raised the consciousness of the world about the value and nobility of animals, these terrible scenes of refugees struggling to find safety and peace for their children, will raise the consciousness of the world too. These lines of exhausted refugees, and frail boats filled with desperate families, sinking in the sea, are reminding us of our common humanity.

They are reminding us of all that we have in common – love for our families, a love of peace, a longing for freedom, enough food, and education for our children – blurring the lines of division, whether race, religion, nationality or gender.
These strange times could be a turning point in the history of the world if we could use this crisis as an opportunity to bury our differences, and work for a common cause… which is peace on earth and goodwill to all men, women and children.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

One of my favourite dishes is risotto, and I have lots of variations. This one is a very subtle version, using leeks instead of onions. Rinse and chop two medium leeks very finely and gently cook them in butter. Don’t let them brown, as they will turn bitter. When soft stir in a cup of risotto rice, I use arborio, and then a glass of white wine or Noilly Prat.
Let it boil up until the alcohol has evaporated, and then add the hot chicken stock in the usual way. When cooked, stir in a knob of butter and four tablespoons of grated parmesan.
Meanwhile grill six rashers of streaky bacon or pancetta if you have it, cut it into small pieces, and when the rice is cooked, stir them into the mix, and serve with more parmesan.

 

Food for thought

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama

 

 

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The real Dalai Lama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100_0314That Christmas, when they were seven and eight, I had sent the children to the other side of the world to see their father and grand-parents. Instead of cancelling their daily treat of chocolate milk, I gave it to the children who lived around the corner with their single mother and cat called Mehitabel.

I lived in a big old white verandahed house next door to a park, and sometimes when I looked out of the window I would see them trailing dispiritedly past in single file, mother in front, and three small scruffy children aged seven downwards, straggling behind her, followed closely by the cat.

One warm summer night, the eldest, my son’s friend, with the unfortunate name of Ezekiel, came rushing into my flat, and said: “Mum says ring for the ambulance!” I did, and a few minutes later he was back, saying: “Mum says cancel the ambulance. The police might come too. She wants you to come. “

As we ran I tried to find out what had happened. His father was a drug addict, who had recently, according to my horrified son, “stomped” his mother in law when he was high. As we hurried towards the house, I worried that I might get stomped too. When I got there, Melanie was waiting. At the door-step I had to step over the cat Mehitabel who’d been speyed that day and was mewling in pain, while at the same time her kittens were clamouring for milk. Not a good start. My heart sank. The smells and the squalor turned my stomach.

Melanie whispered to me in terror that the ex-husband had taken an overdose, and because he was on a methadone recovery programme was furious when he realised she’d ordered an ambulance, as it could get him into trouble with the police and wreck his programme.“He’s just coming to now,” she agonised, “and I don’t know what to do.”Neither did I.

I could hear heavy dragging footsteps moving across the uncarpeted wooden floor overhead. All the family cowered, and I stood in the hall facing the stairway with them behind me, as a tall heavy man lurched round the bend in the wooden stairs. To my astonishment, as though I was at an English garden party, I smiled, stepped towards him, stuck out my hand to shake his, and heard myself say: “How d’you do, we haven’t met, I’m Valerie …”

His blank blue eyes focussed, he took my hand, returned the greetings, and a sigh seemed to emanate from the three small children and his wife holding their breath. We discussed the cats, let a few other polite nothings pass between us, and with everything seeming to be quiet and normal, I left.  And shortly after, he did. In the years that have passed I’ve often thought about this unconscious knee-jerk conditioning which was so banal and mundane that it lowered the temperature immediately. Would I do it differently now that I’m older and more conscious?

Ten years later when I was doing hard labour on a consciousness – raising  course in Australia – with nearly a hundred others – one of the charges laid against me by the course leader was that I was gracious! He said it stopped me being real, and was a defence mechanism that didn’t serve me. I didn’t get it then, and neither did some others who came up to me afterwards, and told me they liked me the way I was. But as time went by, I did get to see what he meant about avoidance and being real, and also to understand at a deep level, the truth of these well-known, lovely lines from Margery Williams’ classic, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit.’

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you ….
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Being real to me, is about having the courage to be honest, never hiding who we are, never being ashamed of anything we are, accepting who we are  – and most important of all – being vulnerable. When we’re vulnerable we don’t fear being hurt, but know that great gifts can come out of risking ourselves. And somehow when we are real and therefore honest about our feelings, others can respond at that level of vulnerability and truth.

Being vulnerable is about having an open heart, and being available to both spontaneous joy and un-regretted sorrow. There’s a freedom when we start being real, we dare to be adventurous in spirit, and calm and confident in adversity. We don’t have regrets, because we know that there are no wrong paths. “Paths are made by walking,” as the Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote.

One of the most real stories I’ve heard is about the Dalai Lama, who has never been anything but authentic, honest, wise, and now – I realise – vulnerable, spontaneous and real! A friend had spent the weekend with him (and a thousand others), studying Tibetan scriptures. The Dalai Lama read them aloud in Tibetan, and then someone else translated them into English, and he discussed them.

At the end of the second day, when they had reached the end of the programme, he held up the book, and said to his hearers something like: if you found this useful or enlightening, then you can read it every day.

“If not,” he twinkled, with his wide wise smile, “Fuck it,” and threw the book over his shoulder! There was a moment of disbelieving silence, and then everyone roared with delighted laughter.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’ve been battling with the damage the dentist inadvertently did to two good teeth some weeks ago, and am now about to have two root canals, so I’m eating ‘soft’ food. Yesterday I remembered a dish we used to call: ‘convent eggs.’ It’s comfort food – creamy mashed potatoes, and hard- boiled eggs covered with cheese sauce – simple, cheap and easy. When mashing the potatoes I pour cream or milk into the pan with drained potatoes, and as soon as it bubbles I take it off the heat, and mash with lots of butter, salt and pepper. At the end I quickly beat the potatoes with a wooden spoon to make them fluffy. Put the potatoes on a warmed plate, cut the hard -boiled eggs in half and press into the potatoes, then pour the cheese sauce over. That’s the quickest way. But the same layers placed in an ovenproof dish, and grilled until brown adds a dimension of crunch and taste.

Food for Thought

Absurdity is a very powerful tool for waking up. A good situation comedy is a wonderful Buddhist teaching, because it’s a parody of suffering. The cause of suffering is attachment to outcome, attachment to income, attachment to the world being a certain way.

Steve Bhaerman – Swami Beyondanandal – the Cosmic Comic

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The longest journey

100_0404I’m sitting by the wood fire with the rain falling steadily outside onto the green garden. It’s fragrant with the scent of all the cyclamens I bought this year to put in pots. I hadn’t realised what a beautiful perfume they had. I picked some roses before the rain drenched them, Monteverdi’s exquisite lilting Vespers – trumpets and choirs –  is playing, and I had for lunch a delicious helping of the grocer’s bargain Gorgonzola Dolce with fresh sour dough bread.

And coffee. My coffee tastes entirely different now that I’ve learnt to put the milk in first, thanks to the coffee drinking bloggers who commented on the blog I’d written about tea, and how Milk in First – so frowned upon by the pukka – is actually more delicious than milk poured in after the tea. So I’m now drinking coffee milk in first.

I’ve been watching a blackbird pecking at a red apple nailed to the fence outside the window. The sparrows love their grain in the swinging blue and white bowl suspended from a tree near the bird-bath. As I watched them, I was amazed to see a host of different birds in the garden, so unusual in this country.

There was a wood pigeon sitting in the guava tree in its approved partridge in a pear tree fashion, three pink-breasted grey doves pecking on the grass, a couple of tuis frisking in the bottle brush tree, sparrows in the feeding bowl, fan tails flitting around between plum tree and bird bath, a couple of lime-green and grey wax- eyes flickering among the leaves, and to my astonishment, a gold finch pecking around the green copper with pink cyclamen – the pink and the gold, and the verdigris of the copper a delight.

The tiny wax-eyes or silver -eyes, which are half the size of a sparrow – would top the list of NZ birds I love. Victorian Walter Buller, the earliest NZ authority on birds, called them silver-eyes. They ‘re supposed to have arrived in New Zealand in June 1856. Buller wrote: ‘…in the early part of June of that year, I first heard of its occurrence at Waikanae, a native settlement on the west coast, about forty miles from Wellington. The native mailman brought in word that a new bird had been seen, and that it was a visitor from another land.

‘A week later he brought intelligence that large flocks had appeared, and that the “tau-hou” (stranger) swarmed in the brushwood near the coast; reporting further that they seemed weary after their journey, and that the natives caught many of them alive’. Buller tells us that they were then seen in numbers in Wellington, and greatly welcomed as they ate the aphis known as American Blight which was ruining the settlers’ apple trees. The little silver-eye has flourished here ever since its epic thousand-mile journey across the Tasman.

Why did they come, flocks of them, not just a few blown by the wind? What a great heart in a tiny frame, and what impelled each one to embark on this huge migration across an ocean? Flocks of them sometimes clung exhausted to the masts of ships in mid-ocean. How did they know that a land, New Zealand, was awaiting them at the other side of the trackless sea? And how sad, that at the end of the endless journey, tiny wings beating against the winds, they were so exhausted, that many were caught by hand by Maoris and ended their lives precipitately in the Promised Land.

Whenever I see the tiny green creatures flitting in and out of the birdbath, sipping the honey in the bottle-brush tree, and nibbling the apples I put out in winter, I remember their great journey and noble hearts. Was their quest a search for a better life, like so many of the settlers, who in those same years also sailed across oceans for six months to reach here, surviving perils which included drowning, sickness and starvation?

This quest of men and birds took not just courage but a leap of imagination, and I wonder if these are the times now when we must all also take another leap of imagination and courage to save the dear earth that we know – to take, in Christopher Fry’s words, “the longest stride of soul men ever took”.  Eckhart Tolle has warned that all the structures that we’ve always known will start to crumble, and we are now seeing trusted institutions, organisations, freedom, democracy, justice, free speech, free press, the environment – all under threat.

So this must be the time to take that long stride of soul – to create new ways of living on this planet, salvaging the best, and joining together to share peace and goodwill, as well as food and resources.  The Dalai Lama has said that meditating is not enough – we need to act – and Thich Nhat Hanh has warned us that we can’t go on the way we are doing.

He says otherwise: “there is no doubt that our civilisation will be destroyed. This will require enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening. Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction.”  So enlightenment, it seems, is a journey which we can’t delay, and however difficult this may seem, and whatever it means to different people – as Lao Tzu so famously said nearly fifteen hundred years ago – a journey of a thousand leagues begins with the first step.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets 

As a threadbare gourmet, I pride myself on getting at least eight meals out of a chicken, so I put the legs into the deep freeze to take out when I wanted them. After de-frosting and taking the skin off, I added them to a pan in which I’d sauted garlic and chopped mushrooms in butter and cream. I also crumbled a chicken cube in a little boiling water and added it to the mix to boil up and thicken. Then I stirred in half a teasp of Dijon mustard, some nutmeg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sometimes I serve this on pasta, this time I served it with buttery, creamy mashed potatoes, peas, and carrots.

Food for Thought

Life is an endless struggle full of frustration and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like!

 

 

 

 

 

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