Tag Archives: life and death

Officially sanctioned ghosts

Image result for battle of edgehill

 

I learned about ghosts when I was a twenty-one- year old army officer stationed in Warwickshire. History seemed like the present in such a place – Banbury Cross was still there, Warwick and Warwick Castle were nearby, Stratford-on-Avon not far away, while behind our camp at Kineton lay the village of Warmington, which was near the site of the Battle of Edgehill, one of the first important battles of the English Civil War, fought in 1642. The Royalist army under Charles 1 (sometimes called Cavaliers) met the Parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell’s troops here. (they were nicknamed Roundheads from their short chopped hair-do’s)

Nearly every English child back then, used to know the Prayer of Sir Jacob Astley which he murmured here after positioning the Royalist infantry which he commanded, on the morning of the battle: “Oh Lord, Thou knowest how busy I shall be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me”.

The Royalist army  – 18,000 on foot and horseback- trumpets blaring and drums beating, had straggled through Warmington village on its way to the battlefield. (It was only Prince Rupert who used the new-fangled method of marching his troops in those days). People in the gracious grey stone manor house, and from the many gabled cottages still standing from that time, stood and watched the army go by.

After the indecisive but bloody struggle, some of the dead were buried in the churchyard, but many, both Royalist and Roundhead, died and were buried on the battlefield.

The Battle of Edgehill seemed to dominate the memories of people in the area, even though this was 1960. Or rather, the ghosts of the Battle of Edgehill. The site of the battle encroached onto army land, and there was an area where the guard dogs refused to patrol, or if they were dragged into it, they growled and barked, and their hackles rose. A single- track railway line was used to carry ammunition to various points (this was an ammunition depot), and at night, to convey the guards and their dogs to the perimeter of the camp, which covered some miles.

One of the legends of the battle which continually surfaced in people’s conversation was that anyone who saw the ghost of Sir Edmund Verney, Charles 1’s standard bearer, who was killed in the battle, would be involved in some disaster. The latest such victim was a man who had seen the ghost as a boy growing up in the village of Warmington.

As a man, he drove the train carrying men and goods around the camp. One foggy winter’s night, he thought he saw the ghost again, just as the train he was driving, carrying men and dogs on their way to guard duty, inexplicably left the rails, killing and injuring some of them.

It was no wonder that the memories and the legends of the battle should surface so often. Most of the people who lived in that place were descendants of the country people who had seen the event – Prince Rupert’s cavalry charges into the Roundhead infantry, and the flight of panicking, bleeding soldiers through their village. The villagers had lived through the long, cold frosty night of Sunday, October 23 when both sides stayed where they were on the battle field, the dead and the wounded around them.

They would have heard the groans and cries of wounded and dying men lying in the muddy fields which those farming folk later ploughed and planted, reaped and harvested for the rest of their lives. The memories of that day and that night would have stayed with them, and would be revived wherever and whenever they walked and worked over that land in the succeeding years, and those memories would have been passed onto their children and their children, until they reached us over three hundred years later.

The reliability of folk memory has probably not been scientifically proved, but for example, the country people in Turkey and what used to be Persia, still threaten their children with Alexander the Great if they are naughty. His conquest of their ancestors in 331 BC is still part of their reality today.

So the people in the villages and farms around Edgehill, Kineton and Warmington were never far away from their history either, and the anniversary of the battle was always remembered in those parts. The actual date, October 23, had become confused, owing to the changing from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 in England. The Julian calendar had over-estimated the length of a year by some minutes. Over the centuries, the minutes had built up to some thirteen extra days by 1582, when Italy went into Gregorian time.

The changeover was always accompanied by the same sort of resistance as the 20th century opposition to decimal currency, which is why it took another two hundred years for England to change her calendar. (The old calendar is still in use in Mt Athos monasteries) It took some calculation to work out what the original October 23 was in the new Gregorian calendar, but the members of the Society for Psychical Research had been up to the challenge, and one of their number turned up the year I was there.

He brought a tape recorder, in the hope of recording the sounds of battle which were often heard on the anniversary. There was also the hope of seeing the Standard Bearer, to try to clear up the mystery of why his feet seemed to be below the surface of the fields, for he could only be seen from the ankles upwards.

The Society rather thought that the land must have risen by about six inches since 1642. This theory was based on the fact that when a group of ghostly Vikings were sighted hewing and slashing away in battle on some island off the coast of Northern England, they could only be seen from the knees upward, and geological evidence showed that the island had risen by some eighteen to twenty inches since then.

The researcher sat in my sitting room, and told me all this one night before the date of their enterprise. He also explained that ghosts needed exorcising, and that the Society had a team of tame priests who practised the rite of exorcism. He told me lurid stories of possession, of candles being seized by invisible entities, (evil of course), and priests standing fast, holding up the cross, chanting the Lord’s Prayer, or calling on His name.

It was only when I encountered a medium and healer nearly twenty years later in New Zealand, that I discovered that exorcism didn’t need to be a dramatic ceremony with bell, book, and candle.

This man who I’ll call Colin, worked with a tiny group of other mediums, doing what is known in his trade, as “rescue work”. They deliberately go into other planes of energy or consciousness, to find the lost souls who are what we call ghosts. According to him, and to others who quietly do this work, these ghostly energies haunt the place they have known when they were alive, or, in the case of people who have died suddenly, from accident, murder, or war, they remain trapped where it happened – so suddenly – that their consciousness hasn’t realised the body has died.

Colin explained that it’s very delicate work, because often, if you tell ghosts they are dead, they either don’t believe you, or they become so shocked and panic-stricken, that they remain stuck where they are, and the whole point of the exercise is defeated.

He told me about the ghost of a little girl who’d died before World War One. She had been searching for her kitten, when she heard it mewing from the bottom of a dis-used gold-mine near Waihi. Trying to rescue it, she fell in too, and was killed. Colin worked with another medium, a local traffic policeman, who gave up the work after this, in case word got out, and his career was endangered. The traffic cop was able to convey what the little girl was feeling, lost and lonely waiting to be rescued at the bottom of the mine.

” It was weird hearing this great big man talking in a frightened little girl’s voice,” Colin reminisced.

” We didn’t dare tell her she’d been dead for years. We also had to be careful about what we said about heaven and Jesus, because she remembered everything she’d been taught at Sunday School, and she had some mighty strange beliefs.

” It was real touch and go, winning her confidence, and then not saying anything that would upset her, in case we lost contact again.

” We nearly had her ready to go to her new home, where people she loved were, and Jesus too, when she suddenly remembered Sooty.

” ‘Oh, I can’t leave Sooty”, she cried. “They won’t let me take an animal to heaven’.  Well, we worked on that, and convinced her that Jesus would welcome a kitten to heaven, and then we heard her voice slowly fading, and then we heard her excitement when she saw someone she recognised. When I brought Tim back, we were exhausted. It had taken several hours. We were so relieved we were practically in tears.”

On the strength of these stories, I did my own exorcisms when needed, which I’ll write about next week, as this blog is already rather long. I’ll be fascinated to know the experiences of others too.

These thoughts and memories were inspired by a blog on ghosts I’ve just discovered: https://bookemjanoblog.wordpress.com/

Googling the battle I found this postscript : ‘Uniquely though, as a result of the Royal Commission’s investigation, the Public Record Office officially recognises the Edgehill ghosts. They are the only British phantoms to have this distinction’.

Food for threadbare gourmets

 

We were watching a car rally go past our gate, in the company of our neighbours, and we all gathered for a pot lunch afterwards. I had made a big plate of ham sandwiches, using beautiful ham off the bone, and when I brought those that were left home, I decided to use them for a quick supper.

I’ve mentioned them before, but some readers might like to be reminded. I dunked the sandwiches in a couple of eggs whipped up with milk, and then fried them in olive oil. Some had mustard on the ham, others were just bread and butter and ham. They were delicious, and seem quite different to ham sandwiches when cooked like this, Since they’re piping hot, they need to be eaten with a knife and fork.

 

Food for thought.

Sometime I like a good joke, and ‘1066 and All That’  by WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman is one of them.

They wrote about the Civil War that : The Cavaliers were wrong but romantic, and the Roundheads were right but repulsive.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

30 Comments

Filed under army, consciousness, cookery/recipes, history, humour, life and death, military history, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

Heaven’s scent

100_0542

The first time I smelt it was at sea. One of my dearest friends had drowned there a few days before with her baby and two small children. Her husband’s ship, trading between New Zealand and the Islands, had caught fire in a heavy storm just off the coast not far from here, and they had had to take to the life-boats. Their mayday signal was never picked up, and the life-rafts, which are reputed to be safer near the coast, had broken away. So my friend and her children didn’t survive the mountainous waves.

Her heroic and tragic story before this happened, is too long to tell here, but her partner, a French sea captain, did survive. He came to stay with us for the next few days until the body of one child was washed ashore.

We all trekked up to Northland, and after the heart-wrenching funeral, Jean asked us to take all the flowers to a nearby bay. There, a police launch was waiting, and with a few close friends we loaded the flowers into the cabin – then thankfully shut the door on the overpowering scent of freesias, jasmine and other spring flowers, and took off for the bay where my beautiful friend had died.

When we reached the spot where she had slipped from his grasp, Jean stopped the launch, and then, in an old Breton custom, went to toss the flowers into the sea. As the launch stopped, the sun was shining, the blue sea was calm, and the line of golden sand on the shore, still guarded by a watching policeman, lay ahead. Only another mile from here, but a mile too far for my friend.  We sat silently and breathed in the heavenly fragrance wafting around us. Exquisite. Then the door to the cabin was opened and the scent of the flowers inside was entirely different.

When we talked about this to a friend, he told us about the writer Rosamund Lehman, whose daughter had died suddenly – of polio, I think – in Indonesia. A heavenly fragrance permeated the hall outside Rosamund’s flat. People didn’t believe it until they went to visit her, and then were overwhelmed by the perfume.

A few years later, we began to experience the same wafts of flowery perfume in our sitting room. I searched for the source, but it came from none of the flowers in the room. The scent cut through the smell of the coal fire, and every other momentary odour. In the end, we gave up, and just accepted, as a friend said, that we had angels there. After a week of this, one of our cavalier King Charles spaniels was diagnosed with an untreatable disease. We gave ourselves five agonising last days with him, and then took him to the vet for the last time.

When I got back home my nine year old daughter was waiting on the veranda, home with flu. She couldn’t wait to tell me. “The flowers came from that patch on the floor where Sheba used to lie to get cool,” she cried. (Sheba was an afghan who’d died the previous year) “She was warning us about Benedick.”

When we went inside, the fragrance had gone, but later, as I sat by the fire crocheting and wiping stray tears, I suddenly smelt a strong scent of lavender. Knowing well that I hadn’t got any, I still searched my knitting basket for a bottle of lavender. I called through to my daughter in bed – ‘have you spilt some lavender water?’

Then we realised that my son had picked a bunch of lavender and camellias to go with Benedick on his last journey… the scent was a last message from his little dog.

Since then we’ve heard of other instances of these heavenly perfumes. In her beautiful account of a year living in the Blue Mountains, Australian poet Kate Llewellyn, describes sitting next to two nuns on a train, and their gentle simple conversation with her. After they had left, she felt that she could smell violets… “the odour of sanctity,” she called it.

The Catholic Church calls it the ‘odor of sanctity’, but always associates it with the bodies of saints who have died. But these heavenly scents are like a gift sent from who knows where, and have nothing to do with sanctity. Rather, they are like gifts from a benevolent and loving source who for some reason allows these emanations of beauty to visit and to comfort. No-one has to be holy or to deserve them, they are simply a manifestation of another order of beauty and wholeness that we may be conscious of, but can never see or grasp.

They are the moments that we can hold onto in a world where man can create so much pain and misery. Beyond this world created by man is this other level of love. And how exquisite that it’s the fragrance of flowers that delivers this message of hope – that the world doesn’t have to be the way we make it – that there are other worlds of truth and beauty and peace that these fragrances remind us exist.

Rabindranath Tagore talked of the air filling with the perfume of promise… sometimes I wonder if that is what these flowery messages are – both a consolation and a promise.

Food for threadbare gourmets

With a family of gluten free addicts, I’m always looking for recipes without wheat. This is a lovely chocolatey treat. I melt 125 g of butter and 150 of dark cooking chocolate gently in a large saucepan. Stir in half a cup of sugar and a teasp of vanilla. Next, stir in three egg yolks and a cup of ground almonds. Beat the egg whites until peaks form and then beat in two tablsp of sugar.  Using a slotted spoon, gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Line a 20 cm cake tin with a base of cooking paper, and bake at 180 degrees for 25 minutes. The cake will come out soft, and will sink and firm when cool. It’s very rich, so a sprinkling of icing sugar on top is all it needs.

Food for thought

In a rich moonlit garden, flowers open beneath the eyes of entire nations terrified to acknowledge the simplicity of the beauty of peace…

Aberjhani, American historian, novelist, poet and blogger

45 Comments

Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, flowers, great days, life and death, love, peace, perfume, philosophy, poetry, spiritual, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Ancient Rituals and a Modern Valkyrie

100_0117As I write I can hear soft rain falling, punctuated by the larger sounds of drips from overloaded leaves, and the swishing of the sea on the rocks below. The pink-breasted doves are cooing contentedly, bringing a sense of peace– all eleven of them,  who now enjoy two free meals a day. It feels as though the village is in rest and recovery.

 A few days ago a man died just beyond our village boundaries. He was the Maori chief and landowner for this area, and had great mana. He was a noble, handsome man respected by everyone, and had a striking, beautiful Pakeha (European) wife, whose dignity and courage matched his. Their marriage was a triumph; she accepted and lived by the local Maori customs, as well as keeping her own integrity, and creating a life of art and culture, warmth, and hospitality. She introduced visitors to the long, empty, pale gold beaches on their land, edged by the rolling blue Pacific; and she kept a herd of nearly a hundred horses, for tourists and locals to ride. She worked hard the way only those whose lives are committed to the wellbeing of horses will know.

 The chief was buried at the Maori marae, which lies across the harbour from where we live. The marae is the spiritual centre of Maori life, and the tangihanga – the funeral – is the most important ceremonial that takes place there, taking precedence over every other activity. The body lies on the marae for at least two days before the day of the funeral, and is rarely left alone. Friends, family and members of the tribe come from near and far, dressed in black, and the women often wearing green leaves in mourning wreathes around their heads. They look wonderful. They will talk and sing to the person lying there, recalling both good and bad things about them, laughing, joking – all expressions of grief are encouraged and accepted.

 The person who has passéd is commanded to return to the ancestral homelands, Hawaiki,  by way of ‘the spirit’s journey’ –  te rerenga wairua . Close kin do not speak. On the last night, the ‘night of ending’, the pō whakamutunga, the mourners hold a vigil and the coffin is closed. Then either at night or dawn on the third day, the funeral service is conducted, and when the burial rites are complete, a hakati – feast – is served. Everyone who attends brings their share, or gifts called koha.

 And when it’s over, the home of the dead one is ritually cleansed with songs, chants and prayers called a karakia and desanctified with food and drink, in a ceremony called takahi whare – ‘trampling the house’. That night, the pō whakangahau  – ‘night of entertainment’ – is a night of relaxation and rest. And after these powerful and therapeutic rituals  the widow or widower is not left alone for several nights following.

 So when our chiefly neighbour died, mourners travelled from all over the country, including the famous and powerful, to participate in the tangi. The ceremonies on the last day took from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. At the same time, another villager died. He too was a distinguished man, a Pakeha, but he had no children and no family. He wanted no ceremony or funeral. ‘So we can’t say goodbye,’ sorrowed an old, old friend…

 While this has been going on, I’ve joined for the first time, the annual village winter ritual of having the flu, and as the second week dragged on found myself irritated that I couldn’t even have flu to myself, but had to start nursing my husband as well. Late last night after a second bad fall, I couldn’t move him, so called out the Volunteer Fire Brigade, the local version of guardian angels. It took three of them to get him off the floor, and I then began a chase after the ambulance to hospital an hour’s drive away. Leaving him to be diagnosed and pumped full of drugs, I drove home to bed at three thirty in the morning.

As I made the most of this drama to the statuesque and very beautiful young woman who comes to clean, I asked how her week had gone. Not as exciting as yours, she disclaimed modestly, before regaling me with the story of her horses. She has two. This particular night she had joined friends at a farewell fancy dress party, and worn, she told me, a glittering sequinned body stocking for the first time in her life, accessorised with a net skirt covered in sequins. As the party raged, she received a text saying her horses were loose, and had last been seen galloping in the sea at a nearby village.

After several nerve-racking hours, with reports of them all over the place, she finally ran them to earth in another bay. Abandoning her car, she rode bare – back on one, leading the other by a halter, body stocking glowing in the moonlight, sequins glinting, and net skirt billowing in the wind. ‘I was just glad no police ever clapped eyes on me,’ she said, ‘they’d have thought I was high on something!’

I wish I’d seen her, a magnificent, glowing Valkyrie beneath the shifting clouds and silver moon. As we laughed there was a knock on the door, and there was one of the firemen from last night come to see how I was, one of many others , family, friends, neighbours who’d rung or enquired how we all were.

Life and death, laughter and rain… the village is breathing, the rhythm of the sea encircles us, the in-breath and the out-breath of the universe continues, the heart-beat of life and death still pulses. The ancient rituals ease the transitions, the soft rain cleanses and refreshes; we are in rest and recovery, and the unknown road still stretches mistily ahead for us all. ‘We may not be taken up and transported to our journey’s end, but must travel thither on foot, traversing the whole distance…’ And in this small world we live in, we know we are in good company.

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Wanting something light and easy, I found an old recipe for ten minute cheese soufflés. Separate the eggs and yolks of two eggs, and mix the yolks with salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne and a little mustard. Mix in two dessertsps of grated cheddar cheese, and then fold in gently the whipped egg whites. Fill two thirds of well greased individual soufflé or ovenproof dishes, and bake in a hot oven for six to eight minutes until well risen and golden brown. Serve at once. This amount makes three to four small soufflés. I’m thinking they’d be a nice easy first course for dinner with friends.

Food for Thought

I loved this foodie thought from writer Lawrence Durrell ( 1912 -1990): ‘The whole Mediterranean.. all of it seems to rise in the sour pungent smell of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.’             Just reading these words makes me feel the heat, smell the scent of thyme and rosemary, and long to savour some strong red local wine beside a lapis lazuli sea….

53 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, great days, life and death, life/style, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life

Bloggers Addictions

I’m going through what can only be called a life crisis. Looking at my stats this morning I saw in that funny place called search engines, two separate entries, one saying ‘Valerie Davies died abroad’, and the other ‘Valerie Davies dies abroad’.

I tried to click on it to find out more about my death, feeling somewhat as Mark Twain must have done when he said that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

But it won’t let me click, so perhaps – since I feel very much alive – I’m in that place called limbo, where I gather, we spend some time reviewing our lives and our mistakes and our decisions.

This feels quite a familiar place to me, having spent or wasted quite a chunk of my life reviewing my decisions, and regretting my mistakes, and now I’m doing it in Bloggerland.

It’s four months since in blissful ignorance, I posted the first blog. If I’d read any blogs first, I might have started differently, but since I knew no better, when my friendly printer said he’d got my blog ready, and now all I had to do was to write, I believed him. Four months later, having worked my way through the most obvious Blogger Complexes, I’m now swimming in deeper waters.

Yes, there is that Bloggers Delight, when a reader writes a comment that blows your socks off with its intelligence, perception, kindness or goodness. There is also the Bloggers Delight of discovering a blog that sings to you, so you click the follow button without more ado. This can happen with both photos and the written word.

Then there are the Bloggers Friendships, when a select group of like minds read your blogs regularly, and leave comments that range from encouraging to loving – a unique form of friendship, in which goodness and mercy float across the aether, blessing him that gives and him that takes.

Bloggers Dilemma is the apparent randomness of whether a post is successful or not. The blogger writes a post, anticipating a nice spike in the stats, wall to wall ‘likes’ or a rash of interested comments, only to find a flat plateau, and few ‘likes’, and nothing much in comments. This leads to Bloggers Heart-searching: was it too long? Was it too short? Why didn’t they like it? Am I writing too often? Am I writing enough? Longer or shorter gaps? Should I take it off now, or leave it a little longer?

In its most extreme form, this Bloggers Angst is likely to deteriorate into Bloggers Breast-beating:  am I a bore? Do I kid myself in thinking that what I have to say is interesting? Am I old hat? Am I irrelevant? Was it a mistake? Should I stop blogging and get myself a life again?

Looking on the bright side of things is Bloggers Fancy, the logical conclusion of that wonderful hobby of Blog Hopping. Browsing through a blog and its comments, the wit, intelligence or humanity of a comment invites you to trace that blogger, and having found her and read her stuff, finding another like minded comment, jumping to that blog, scattering ‘likes’ and ‘follow’ with gay abandon. Which means that when one of these bloggees asks how you found him or her, you have no idea by what zig-zag path you got to them.

Bloggers Fancy can thus trigger a certain amount of over-indulgence, which begins to add up to Bloggers Burden. This is when the blogger opens her e-mails and finds dozens and dozens of tantalising titles, subjects and topics, all must- reads, all demanding her attention, and too little time on her hands.

Suddenly meals arrive late, ironing piles up, business gets pushed aside, weeding is forgotten, books are unread, nights get later. This is the stage when blogging slides from a Bloggers Hobby to a Bloggers Complex, before flowering into a full blown Bloggers Addiction.

And this is when we become defensive about the amount of time we spend on the computer. We hastily switch off when partners come into the room, pretending we’ve just been reading a book, or checking something. We find ourselves making meals a little more ordinary, no time to spend slaving over a hot stove any more, whipping up some fresh mayonnaise or concocting a tasty rice dish.

Pasta becomes popular, as it’s quicker to cook than potatoes when we’ve forgotten the time. Saucepans get burned as we slip away to the computer to catch up on just a few more blogs, while the eggs boil, or the soup heats up, or the potatoes cook. Sometime later the soup is stuck to the bottom of the pan, the boiled eggs are hard as cannonballs and about to explode in an empty smoking saucepan, and the potatoes are an un-mashable soggy disintegrating pulp.

This is the dark side of blogging! There are also Bloggers Challenges. I inadvertently stumbled into an impassioned defence of guns between a macho group of far right extremists, who all agreed that Jefferson had said they could all carry guns and defend themselves, rather than that he meant they could carry guns to defend their homeland. The Challenge was to move on before becoming either depressed or dismayed by an alien culture. There are, I discover, plenty of alien cultures in Bloggerland.

But the Challenge is a necessary stage of the Bloggers Rite of Passage, when we discover that though we all share the same planet, we actually live in different worlds. Bloggers Challenge then, is to find our own world. And the funny thing is, since birds of a feather actually do flock together, we do all find our own community of kindred souls. Not quite heaven on earth, but better than limbo. And it’s called Bloggers Blessing.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

While still plying my husband with steak and the like, I’ve given up eating meat myself in the hope of easing my arthritic hands, having tried everything else, like giving up sugar and giving up carbohydrates. Still eschewing the sugar, and hoping that the meatless regime will help. So this is one of the delicious non-meat dishes I’m enjoying.

It’s an Indonesian dish called Sambel Goreng Telor, which means eggs in coconut milk, and though it may not sound very promising, it’s actually delicious (and cheap).

This recipe is for four eggs. I use two, but still make the same amount of sauce. While the eggs are hard boiling,( and no clandestine checking of blogs) finely slice an onion, a large clove of garlic, a tomato and a red pepper. Fry the onion and when it’s beginning to soften, add the garlic, tomato, pepper, some salt and some sugar to taste, and continue to cook. Lastly add half a cup (I use a bit more) of coconut milk, and finish cooking. Slice the eggs in half and pour the sauce over. Serve with rice.

This recipe was adapted for westerners. I think that the original recipe would have used palm sugar rather than sugar – it also specified a tablespoon of sugar – this seemed a lot to me, and I used less.

Food for Thought

I love the juxtaposition of serious and ridiculous, so this parody of Kipling by Catholic priest and English writer Ronald Knox 1888 – 1957 just fits the bill:

The tumult and the shouting dies,

The captains and the kings depart,

And we are left with large supplies

Of cold blancmange and rhubarb tart

74 Comments

Filed under addictions, bloggers, complexes, cookery/recipes, food, great days, humour, life and death, life/style, The Sound of Water, Uncategorized

Living her Dreams While She Danced With Death

Soraya was not her real name, but it’s close to it. She was as beautiful as Persian Queen Soraya, and also had some of the fine-boned quality of that Queen’s successor, Farah Diba . Strikingly beautiful however you looked at her.

She came from one of those Asian countries like Uzbekistan. Her husband came here alone to set up a new life for his wife and daughter, and went back after 18 months to fetch them.  Two weeks after returning, he left them. She lived with their daughter in a tiny student type flat, and mother and daughter shared a mattress on the floor of the bedroom.

She crossed my path when she met someone close to me, through the internet. The friendship didn’t last long, as he found her rigid Muslim beliefs hard to stomach.  But a few weeks later I had a shattered phone call saying she’d rung to tell him she had breast cancer. He couldn’t cope, so I told him I’d see to it.

I rang her to say I would help her, and then spent a day on the phone ringing every sort of agency to try to get advice, support and friendship for her. She was always outside the area, or didn’t qualify. Finally I found a church group, who also felt the situation wasn’t something they couldn’t assist with, but I hung in, until I got them to agree that they would become responsible for getting her little girl to kindy, so that Soraya didn’t have the long journey to and fro on public transport twice a day.

I lived too far out of town to be able to do anything practical, but I went to see her. Her situation was shocking. She had just started chemo, and had spent the night vomiting, with the little girl crying in fright beside her. The second time I was there, an elderly lady arrived from kindy with the daughter. She was the person I’d spoken to on the phone, but was too distracted to take in my presence.

The next step was my daughter. Eugenie is the most capable person I’ve come across, simultaneously starting the international Arts Festival in this city, which she now chairs, being on the City Council, first woman on countless committees and boards, as well as editing and writing parenting magazines and being president of kindergarten organisations and a dozen other pies, bringing up her children and supporting family in countless ways. She’s also kind and intuitive.

I arranged to bring Soraya to meet her for lunch in a restaurant in the park. We sat in the sunshine with my daughter who, to my amazement, was wearing a long chestnut wig instead of her own dark hair. All became clear when she began talking to Soraya about chemotherapy, and how it’s okay to wear a wig, and still look beautiful.

Eugenie then took charge of the situation. She badgered the welfare authorities until they found a charming little two story cottage for Soraya in a nice area near a good school, and arranged all sorts of subsidies to help with transport and all the extra expenses outside her hospital treatment. (Thank heavens for free medical care)

She texted the mothers at her son’s school, and gathered together furniture for the house, while an interior decorator mother lent her van to move the stuff. One morning some of the fourteen year olds in my grandson’s class came to transport Soraya and her things from the squalid flat to her new home. I taxied her and her little girl, and did homely things like providing curtains, bedding and fridge. We made a pretty girly bedroom for the little daughter.

Eugenie took Soraya to hospital for her operations, wept with her, hugged her, and set about finding people to support her. The lady from the church kept in touch, and the church rallied round and came to visit and help where they could. Soraya was very dubious about getting close to Christians, and I would endlessly tell her that the test of being with people was how loving they were, not what name they gave to the Creator, whether it was Allah, Jehovah, God or Great Spirit. Their kindness eventually wore down her doubts.

It was election time, and they took her to a meeting of candidates. There, among the other men who swooned when they saw this exotic beauty in the little church hall, was a rich lawyer, well known for his good deeds, who made a bee-line for her. He courted Soraya, and wanted to marry her, but she was so brave that she refused because she didn’t love him. He never gave up, and was always there for her for the next five years. She made friends and did the things she had only dreamed of doing back in her poverty- stricken country. She even shopped till she dropped, found another house she preferred, and lived her life every minute of every day in between the debilitating spells in hospital.

When we moved to this place, I was too far away to stay connected, but kept in touch occasionally, especially when she was in hospital. Finally she did fall in love, and moved into a luxurious house, which gave her enormous pleasure. But the lawyer was still part of her life, and a few weeks before the end he took her to a grand party at Parliament House in Wellington. They ended up going to lots more grand parties, because someone else fell madly in love with her, and invited them to everything that was going. Soraya was in seventh heaven. In spite of all the pain and misery, she felt she was living a glamorous fairy- tale life. From a standing start she’d created this for herself in just a few years. In the photographs she blazed with happiness and joie de vivre.

Back home, she was on the last leg of her long journey. When she died, and Eugenie and all my family went to her funeral, held in the church which had taken her in, we found it was full. Her first husband was there with their daughter, and in one of the mysteries of life, told us how Soraya had been his best friend. His second wife was still in hospital having given birth in the same hospital as Soraya, on the same day that she had  died.

One by one each person told the story of their time with Soraya, and the elderly lady told hers, how this persistent social worker had rung her, and because she wouldn’t give up, finally she’d agreed to involve her church group. Afterwards I told her that I was the persistent person, not a social worker. The pastor was there, and was fascinated at having found the missing link.

I said to him sadly, that I always felt that I never did enough for her. You and everyone else, he replied. Everyone gave what they could, and then when they faltered, the next person was there in line for her;  each person told him they felt guilty that they hadn’t given enough, and yet what they had to give was perfect, and the timing was right for them and Soraya. He gave me peace of mind, as I’m sure he gave others.

Soraya was, and is, a reminder of the inscrutable mystery of every person’s life and how we can never know the meaning of another’s journey.  She was so vulnerable and frightened one moment, and in the next, so determined to wring the last ounce of joy out of life. She was infuriating, obstinate and single minded, and generous, gay and gorgeous. She faced her devastating challenges with courage and unquenchable spirit.  What magnificence.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets.

When I made the pear and almond tart the other day, I was disappointed with it. But the pastry, with no rubbing or rolling was all that I’d hoped for. This time I’m going to make it and use it for a tarte au citron, for my husband’s birthday lunch. This is the easy- peasy pastry recipe.

The trick is the melted butter. You need 125 grammes of the butter, and when melted and cooled, pour it into a bowl with 100 grammes of sugar,  two tablespoons of ground almonds, a pinch of salt, a few drops of almond essence and a few drops of vanilla essence or half a teaspoons of vanilla sugar. Stir to combine, then mix in 180 grammes of self raising  flour. Press out into a nine or ten inch tart dish which has been buttered and lined with baking paper, or buttered and floured. You don’t need to prick it or weight it. Bake at 180 degrees for about ten minutes, or until the dough is just slightly puffy and a very pale brown. Take it out and fill with your chosen filling, and bake as directed. Make sure there are no holes or cracks, or the filling will run out!

Food for Thought

I celebrate myself…

I am larger, better than I thought.

I did not know I held so much goodness.

Walt Whitman. 1819 – 1892   Controversial American poet, who served as a volunteer nurse during the Civil War.

34 Comments

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