Tag Archives: village

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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Life’s Like That

My life, like many, is not so much a drama as a tale of tiny things. But in the end they add up to a life. This is the tale of a few days of this week.

Tuesday          When I walked through the cemetery to the marble bench to sit in the sun, the grass seemed to be sprinkled with flowers like pink confetti. They were bright pink with yellow centres, the size of primroses, but only growing half an inch from the ground. I sat on the warm bench and looked over the turquoise harbour.

A monarch butterfly floated across and came to rest on the purply-blue flower of a creeper in the tangle of shrubs leading down to the water. I watched the orange and black wings spreading over the amethyst flower, and watched it lift off again, and swoop and flutter in a wide circle before coming back to the same flower. It then drifted to another flower head, before settling on the grass, presumably to digest its meal.

When it rose again in the air, it dropped down to a shrub where another monarch was already feasting. The two rose in the air, fluttering and dodging around each other, until my butterfly was driven away, and did a wide arc halfway round the cemetery, before coming back and settling on another bush.

I drifted back home, missing Cara the cat, and realising that when she had stopped coming with me but sat by the gate, and then, didn’t even cross the road, but sat by our path, waiting for me to return, she wasn’t being cussed – she was obviously too weak or weary in those last months to come springing across the grass with me, her tail held high, and perfectly straight.

Wednesday          Went for a walk to get away from the problems besetting me in the house. I passed a monarch butterfly fluttering on the pavement. It’s wings were almost completely chewed away, presumably while still in the chrysalis by a voracious praying mantis, but its head and body were intact. It lay there, fluttering the fragments of its ragged wings. I put it in the grass, and went for an illegal wander round Liz and Richard’s empty beautiful garden looking over the harbour.

On my way back I looked, and the butterfly was still struggling. I nerved myself to carry it to the pavement so I could stamp on it and put it out of its misery. I laid it down, and it spread its pathetic little rags in the sun, and I had the sense that it was enjoying the sunshine. I just couldn’t bring myself to stamp the life and the consciousness out of it. So I carried it gently back to the grass, and laid it in the sun.

The colours today are like summer, aquamarine sea, and snowy white foam as the waves dash onto the rocks below. The sun shines, and a bitter wind blows. It seems to have been cold for weeks, so we’re chomping through the walls of logs piled up in the garage.

It was hard to go out tonight, but I’m glad I did. Our monthly meeting when people talk about their life. Journeys, we call them. A woman who lives nearby told us how she had dissolved her three generation family business in fashion, and looked for somewhere in the world to serve. She ended up teaching in a Thai monastery, where her experiences there and at various healing sanctuaries were life- changing. She was glowing.

Thursday          Another bitterly cold day with the sun shining brightly. But the oak tree is shimmering with its new spring green, the crab apple has pink buds peeping out, and nasturtium and arctotis are beginning to spring up in their lovely untidy sprawl through the other greenery. A clutch of tuis are sucking the honey in the golden kowhai trees across the road. They are all covered thickly in their hanging yellow flowers along the roadside, and always seem like the heralds of spring.

Yesterday I got my sweet cleaning lady to help me rip down the white sheets which serve as a canopy on the veranda in summer. Have n’t had the strength in my arthritic hands to do it myself. I’ll wash them and use them to cover things in the garage – not sure what, but there’s bound to be something that will benefit. She told me the four ducklings she’d rescued sit cuddled up to each other at night and cheep for ages. “ I’d love to know what they’re saying to each other”….

Before going to Tai Chi, I rang Friend to thank her for lunch on Sunday, and found her devastated. They’d taken Smudge the cat to the vet because he’s dribbling blood and saliva. He has cancer of the jaw, and they’ve brought him home to try to eke out a few more weeks with him….

Tai Chi was freezing in the scouts hall. Coldest night for a long time. I noticed how pinched all our frozen old faces were by the end – and even the few young ones!

Friday           I rang Friend, she was struggling to get the cushion covers off the sofa, where Smudge had taken refuge from the icy night. They were covered in blood and saliva, so I promised to get my sheets from the veranda washed and dried by tonight so that she can drape them over the two sofas. Then took her for a consolatory coffee at the Market, where we gorged ourselves on good coffee and delicious lemon cake well blanketed in whipped cream… so much for diabetes and arthritis!

As I was writing this, I heard the noise of many children all chattering at onceGot up to look out of the window to see why, and saw two little girls making their way down the steps. I got to the door as they did, and was assailed by both of them talking at once as loud as they could. They were collecting for an animal charity, and the commotion was simply two seven year olds talking at once, and neither listening to the other. I emptied my purse of change and they went on their way well pleased.

So this is life, what happens between getting up to make a cup of tea to take back to bed in the morning, checking the e-mails and reading blogs, keeping the fire piled high with dry logs, and going back to that warm bed at night, with the electric blanket on high, a tray of tea for last thing, and a good book!

This is the raw material, and whether we make a silk purse out of it, or see it as a sow’s ear, it’s up to us. It can be satisfying or it can be boring, but the choice is ours. But as I go through my gratitude list at night before slipping into sleep, there seems much to thank the God of Small Things for.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Friends dropped in for glass of wine, and apart from a tin of olives stuffed with anchovies, which is a waste of good olives and anchovies to me, I had nothing for the wine to soak into. (I’ve taken to heart the advice to always have a few bites of something first, so the sugar in the wine doesn’t go straight into the blood stream. I also find the wine tastes much nicer if it isn’t sipped on an empty stomach). A dash to the village shop, and I came home with a little pack of the cheapest blue vein cheese, and a carton of cream cheese. Mixed together they make a lovely spread on little chunks of crusty roll, or any good water biscuit. It was enough.

Food for Thought

We thank God then, for the pleasures, joys and triumphs of marriage; for the cups of tea we bring each other, and the seedlings in the garden frame; for the domestic drama of meetings and partings, sickness and recovery; for the grace of occasional extravagance, flowers on birthdays and unexpected presents; for talk at evenings of events of the day…

From Christian Faith and Practise in the Experience of the Society of Friends.

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I’m Crazy for Power

Yesterday afternoon I was thrown out of the cinema. Friend and I had gone to see our favourite film before it went off. Quarter of an hour into the familiar dialogue, chuckling at the jokes we’d laughed at before, the film disappeared and a weak little light appeared at the top of the stairs. We waited for them to fix the tape, but instead a girl appeared and said it was a power cut. Great gnashing of teeth. I was thankful for the feeble light by the stairs, imagining what it would have been like to have been plunged into total darkness, and a stampede for the only exit at the bottom of the stairs.

Sitting around outside, they finally told us to go home. Couldn’t give us a refund, because the till wouldn’t open without electricity. So they gave us another ticket.

Before going home, I said I’d just get some tomatoes for my husband’s supper – cold – since I was going to Tai Chi. The grocery was in flat panic. Dark, with no lights, blinds down over the open chilled shelves. I asked to give them some money for the tomatoes, but they had to go to the back and find the key to manually open the till. Then they didn’t know how much they were, because the price would have come up on the till… so off they went to the office to find the list of stock prices, and finally I managed to buy the tomatoes. Thank heavens I didn’t need any petrol. The whole little town was buzzing in despair and panic, no-one could even go to the loo.

Back home, I thought about The Great Storm of four years ago. Most of the country had been blacked out, but power was restored over a few days. In our neck of the woods however, where concrete power poles had been crumbled all over the road  like biscuit crumbs, and a tree had come down over the generator across the road from us, we were powerless for five days.

A different world opens up. We catch rainwater on the roof, store it in a huge tank, and pump it into the house. But no electricity equals no pump, equals no water. No water for drinking, washing, washing clothes, washing dishes, flushing the loo. No power meant no cooking, no lighting, and no TV or stereo. Luckily we could open our garage manually, but some friends had no other way of getting into their garages, and were marooned with their car behind the immoveable garage door.

So I boiled water on a camp fire and on the wood burning heater, fried eggs and bacon, and boiled soup. Didn’t dare open the deep freeze for fear of losing the still frozen contents, and resented opening the fridge for butter, milk and the like. The village store was in darkness, their fridges going on a generator, the garage was closed. No help at the fish and chip shop. Unwashed dishes piled up. Unwashed clothes accumulated. We had to get used to unwashed bodies. Some people cooked on their barbecues, some people had no form of heating except electricity, and froze.

After a couple of days we began to gingerly adjust. I drove to a nearby town which had the power on, and bought water and lots of extra pairs of underpants and panties. My husband thought of using buckets of water from the swimming pool next door – my daughter’s holiday home – to flush the loo. I never got used to not having my electric blanket, but at least we had a hot water bottle. Candles made the house look and feel beautiful, but the light wasn’t good enough to read by at night. Some neighbours used miners’ lamps, clipping them round their heads to go to bed and read. It worked apart from the large circle in the middle of their foreheads from the pressure.

I read today that the Blessed Bill Gates has offered a prize for a loo that works without water, electricity or a septic tank – all components of our system here – a loo that costs only five cents a day to run, preferably captures energy, and discharges no pollutants. A number of brilliant solutions have been invented. And the idea is to provide safe sanitation for the 2.5 billion people around the world who don’t have it.

I think we should all be able to buy these loos. Our over-crowded world desperately needs sustainable solutions like these for everything. We need alternatives to electricity, oil and coal … we need a dozen more Bill Gates’s to find solutions that involve the sun’s sustainable energy, the wind, the waves. For a few days, we in our village experienced a few temporary discomforts when power was unavailable, but were able to get outside help from places that did have power.

But there will surely come a time when there won’t be enough of anything. The world’s population is estimated to grow to between nine and ten billion within forty years – the lifetime of our grand-children. Two hundred years ago the population of England and Wales was eight million, compared with 56 million now, and it’s the same sort of increase  all over the world. So we urgently need more solutions like Bill Gates’s loos.

This is not cause for despair, for all is not lost. Mankind is brilliant at creating marvellous inventions, and resolving problems when it wants to. I’m reading a book called ‘The Great Disruption’ by Paul Gilding about how you and I can do something to help resolve these problems. Watch this space – I’ll let you know!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Having had lunch with a friend in her bay window overlooking a long, white, empty beach nearby, and then afternoon tea with a couple of friends to swap books, I hadn’t really thought about what to feed us in the evening. Something quick was wanted, so I fell back on my old standby, my un-orthodox version of kedgeree, made with a tin of salmon – cheap too.

A cup of long grain rice on the boil, two eggs on the boil, half a cup each of sultanas and frozen peas soaking in boiling water, and I was ready to begin. After gently frying a chopped onion in oil until soft, I added a couple of cloves of garlic and a chopped up knob of fresh ginger (you can always use powdered, but fresh is nicer).

When the garlic is soft, sprinkle a teaspoon of powdered cumin, turmeric and a bit less of coriander into the pan, and let them cook gently. I sometimes also use some made up curry powder as well, and vary the amounts of the spices depending on how hot I want it. Better to start with less, and increase it, than find it’s burning the roof off your mouth (I have been known to add some brown sugar to take the edge off a too hot curry).

Now open the tin of salmon and drain, and add it to the mix in the frying pan. Drain the peas and sultanas and stir them in. Add a knob of butter if it needs lubricating. Drain the rice, and add this, gently stirring with lots of chopped parsley. I always find that adding another generous knob of butter improves the taste. Pile onto the plates and chop a hardboiled egg over each helping. Usual caveat – serves two greedy people generously, and three to four well-behaved people – add an egg for each person.

Food for Thought

Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth.

Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.

Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.

Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

No, not the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, but a translation from the Upanishads by Satish Kumar  Born 1937.  Jain monk, nuclear disarmament campaigner, founder of Schumacher College, in Devon, England which teaches green values and sustainability, and present editor of Resurgence magazine

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