Mothers’ Day, Mothering Sunday, who do we include?

Anyone who’s read my books, Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon ...)
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon …)

will know they feature families and several different kinds of mothers. Professional women struggling to juggle the work and the family; a pastor’s wife expected to mother the congregation as well as her five growing children; a mother who has escaped a violent teenage marriage, been forced to abandon her child,  and worked in a women’s refuge … Though all are western mothers, and only one has suffered the trauma of the stillbirth of a malformed baby.

This Sunday is Mothers’ Day

or as it used to be known, Mothering Sunday. The middle Sunday in Lent, when (as you may already know), domestic servants had a day off to go and visit Mother.

Hedgerow spring flowers
Hedgerow spring flowers

Many of them would be just kids, really: girls the age we now count legally as children, girls who’d now be in school, girls too young to marry, and who we count as being too young to be seduced into sex. Sent out to earn a living as young teens, some as young as twelve, living in a servants’ attic, eating in the servants’ kitchen surrounded by adults. A visit home to Mother and the sisters and brothers was a real treat. They might take Mother a bunch of flowers, picked from a hedgerow along the way …

In fact, it’s a day about showing love.

So, here we are on Mothers’ Day
Me and my daughter, summer 1981

with cards, shop windows and catalogues of possible gifts, and for churchgoers a service where little  bunches of flowers are given out to the mums.

The churches have also, so as not to leave out the childless, so as to be inclusive, led the way to this becoming an all-women’s day.

It’s a good intention: but is there actually a reasonable argument for keeping this day to specially celebrate and be thankful for mothers? For what they do, for what they go through to produce, nurture, and protect, children? Hoping not to hurt anyone’s feelings, I think there is.

Every-Mothers’ Day

We might up-date celebrating mothers by being aware of mothers world-wide.

Well off, well educated, mothers in Western countries, aren’t in the majority of women on the planet. And we have health care to ensure that (usually) pregnancy, birth, and the post-natal days are safer than ever before. Clean water, a warm home, an income, maternity leave, all work towards happy motherhood. Postnatal depression can be treated.   

Most young girls here have not gone through FGM, with all that does to intercourse and giving birth. 

Most have not, at puberty, had an arranged marriage, which nicely puts an end to education, can lead to pregnancy  before they are fully grown and developed, can lead to dangerous childbirth, or at worst to death.

Most western women do not develop a fistula from going through complicated, protracted labour and delivery in a poverty stricken area without enough doctors, nurses, or trained midwives: for us, the minority, there are maternity units with skilled staff who can perform a safe caesarean.

But all these events give a very realistic picture of being a mother in, say, somewhere like Afghanistan, or many African countries..

Mums in the refugee camps in Europe
Remember this? But most are in camps under makeshift shelters
Remember this? But most are in camps under makeshift shelters

Having fled war, mothers living in makeshift shelters are having keep an eye on their young girls. Living in a tent, or substandard group housing, girls are vulnerable to abduction, presumably to be used for sex. It isn’t nice: it’s a terrible worry for parents. Especially for mothers, who know what sex with an older, maybe roughly forceful, man would be like for their young girls.

So, it’s a day about love?

I would really love to see Mothers’ Day become a day when we think about the reality of being  mothers. While being thankful to our mothers, and for our own safe birth, let’s do more than that. 

That’s not to say we need to deny ourselves giving and receiving flowers, chocs and hugs … But whether or not we are mothers, inclusivity might mean showing empathy to mothers less fortunate: giving to an organisation which cares for women as mothers.Let’s make Mothers Day about love and generous inclusivity 

Find out about fistula, FGM, and other related topics:

Information on FGM, and other related topics

What is a fistula, how are they caused, why are they so dangerous and excluding? 

AUTHOR EVENT:

Celebrate books and reading:

It will soon be time for the second 

 Hawkesbury LitFest … Saturday 23rd April, all day

at Hawkesbury Upton … author readings,

talks, poetry, children’s activities … in a Cotswold

Village setting 

Christmas Greetings, and a Star from way back when

We’re almost there – Christmas – but for 2 more days we’re in Advent, the time of waiting …

winter dawn/sunset over PortMeadowAdvent aching, towards the light

When the darkness is thickest

Then we await the light

The light becomes unimaginable

And the light must come

Penetrating the veil

Seeking out our gasping brains

Darting, but staying,

Blazing, not burning,

Misunderstood

Illuminating …

Now we have had the Solstice, the light should slowly increase, posting IMG_5235towards spring, summer, and affirming life …

Today  I have seen another promise: the Star  of Bethlehem shining in the sky.

How unencumbered it is to be a child at Christmas, implicitly believing all the miracles: the Star, the God-designed birth, the angel choir. And that the Star returned each year, shining even from our Northern sky, visible over our Northern land.

And here it is, the Star, huge, bright, shining alone up there, towards the south, no small ordinary stars surrounding it.

No matter a star is just another Sun, a ball of flaming gasses. Though this looks more likely to be a planet, so bright and large.

Hold these two together, it can be both …Whatever, it hangs there like a sign, a promise …

Because it is simply part of the Universe, because it is just another planet, or a bundle of flaming gasses, can it not also be a sign, can it not also play its annual role?

What is truth? And must reductionism always follow as we grow…?

Wishing P1060770you 

a very Happy Christmas and all best in 2016

                                               and hi to 3 new followers!

xmas choc cake

 

hellebores

A Writer’s Christmas: Perspective of 2015

So, the writer is about to write the Christmas Letter.

The quite awful letter where parents kvell (I think that’s the word?) about the kids and what’ s

What the kids are doing ...
What the kids are doing …

been achieved in terms of music lessons, exams, and riding a bicycle.

Only, as the kids are grown, thankfully we don’t need to join the party with that kind of stuff …

DO I FEEL ‘CHRISTMASSY’ AS CHRISTMAS APPROACHES?

No. Advent maybe: the time of watching and waiting.

 

Once, we waited through Advent, we kids, trembling, almost, with expectation. Gradually the seasons drew nearer and nearer, until on truly magical Christmas Eve, the tree was bought and decorated. We looked up to see the Star of Bethlehem shining once more in the navy-blue sky, over a frosty city, smelling of coldness and slightly of petrol.

The Tree in today’s front room … (2014)

My earliest Christmas memory is of  standing in the doorway of our front room, and there was this amazing sight: the Tree, covered in glittery ornaments.  They turn, slowly,  reflecting the many-coloured lights. The room’s suffused with a gentle warmth. I am stunned, totally. Later, at my grandparents’ house, aged six, I  feel no disappointment or surprise on waking briefly, the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, to see a parental hand placing presents in my stocking.

After all, presents are presents, and secrets kept on both sides so as not to disappoint have a thrill of their own … We all kept up the myth, and Father Christmas/Santa continued to get his sherry and mince pie for many more years.

But oh how deep the disappointment of not having a ‘part’ in the nativity play, aged 7.  Oh how much I wasn’t deceived by the sop of being ‘in the choir’! Of course, we were obviously a group of left-overs … (was that really true? Probably.)

Everything was one: cards, tree, F.Christmas/Santa, crib and carols
Tree Decorating

With the King’s Carols on the radio, as time went by, I got to decorate that tree and create the magic. Cards were displayed on every flat surface: bookshelves, windowsill, mantlepiece. Mostly of the famous mother, father, and baby-in-the-manger. Simplicity, profoundity, replicated in many styles and colours. Delicate Medieval drawings from Books of Hours, High Renaissance paintings, bright sketches by contemporary graphic artists.

The Magi travelled on camels towards a stylised Middle Eastern town, pictured against a pink dawn (or sunset).

The shepherds on their hillside were staggered to witness an angel choir.

Christmas past, the years of security.
P1180619
Star Cookies

This year the cards we’re sending will be secular: winter scenes, robins, holly, nothing ‘religious’. Not the crib, the stable, the angels, or the little family far from their home: even though that’s horribly relevant this year. It’s all come apart: not personally, but societally. The base-line story, from the food, presents, parties, and Santa (secret or otherwise). Yes, I enjoy the annual get-together of neighbours, and the once–a-year catch-up with far-flung friends and relatives. But  the excess, and expectation to indulge, first communally and then, in the sudden silence of the most magical day, as a nuclear family. It’s no self-indulgent sadness, that today (having avoided the BBC News today) my priorities have been to get some work time, and some peace (to study the MSF website as it happened).

 It’s  more about the watch and wait of Advent
Knitted Nativity
Knitted Nativity

Whatever will be happening on 25th December this year, a pretty picture of the Holy Family isn’t going to solve anything. Realistically viewing the world in December 2015, Christmas pictured  in those cards is a reassuring myth. Maybe I should’ve designed my own cards: ruined apartment blocks, broken lives … under the Star of Bethlehem. That was the reality for Mary (a terrified teenager) and Joseph and their baby – blessed to be born alive, and grow up healthy, despite soon to be running away from a hostile government. The Middle East isn’t a pretty town against the sunset … most of the world isn’t – some of us live in a little corner where some of it is, sometimes.

Flying Angel with Tinsel

Which is an eternal (or at least historical) truth. As a group, humanity hasn’t yet solved the problem of living together under one sky as one global family. Card-wise, there’s the problem: the traditional Nativity scenes belie what we see on the News, turning religious Christmas into a false promise.

As a fiction writer, I engage with this as I work on the third story of the Mullins family. Love You to the Moon attempts at exploring what we mean by love … and what love gone wrong looks like … as in the wider world, everything moves nearer and nearer towards what feels like a worse chaos, rather than a new beginning.

Watch, and wait …

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it …

(This was written during the Commons debate 2/12/15:  #prayforSyria)

 

 

 

 

How to spend a Bank Holiday Weekend: Selling and sorting

BB, H for H, TLY
Late summer bank holiday isn’t known for its predictably splendid weather, but we HULF Pop-Up LitFest people were hoping.
HULF Indie Authors arriving and preparing the marquee
HULF Indie Authors arriving and preparing the marquee

Here’s some of us at the Hawkesbury Village Horticultural Show showground, preparing our marquee, and hoping that our location – next to the Pimms Tent and opposite the Local History Society stand, will attract customers!

Saturday’s weather was fine, bright and warm …

There were lots of stalls and attractions …

and floats from the carnival procession (this one won 2nd Prize in the competition)

We’d thought we’d do some readings from our work to attract the customers … but look at the opposition!

the oppositionjpg

The marquee was also opposite the biggest, loudest, screamy-est fun fair ride!

We abandoned the readings idea (next year we’ll find a quieter spot maybe with the Teas)

But, we made some videos of readings, and we sold books!

What drives sales?
ALLi authors and their partners, selling briskly at 4.30pm ...
ALLi authors and their partners, selling briskly at 4.30pm …
  • Good covers,
  • a blurb that hooks the reader in …
  • enthusiasm from the salesperson (in this case, we were all there as authors selling our own books) …
  • belonging to a supportive community (we were all members of ALLi, re-meeting after the LitFest for World Book Night back in April, at the Fox, and re-meeting each other – authors Ali Bacon, JohnLynch, Ellie Stevenson… and more I’d not met before… ).
  • Glasses of Pimms from the Tent, and later cups of tea – all brought round by Debbie who’d organised our appearance at the Hawkesbury Show …
  • wanting to succeed …
  • and keeping on until the end … in the last hour, we all made more sales than through the previous three and half.

Find out more about Hodge Publishing at http://hodgepublishing.co.uk/about-us/ – where you can buy our books, Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year 

‘… just finished The Labyrinth Year and want to tell you I thought it was a super read.  Baby, Baby was good but the sequel is even better!’  (review extract)

Monday, typically, it rained

Back home, Monday was dark, damp, and drear. But the plan was already in place!  It was time to do some attic clearing …

Files of course notes, assorted mugs, roller skates, random clutter, and possibly that thing you've always been wondering where it went ...
Files of course notes, assorted mugs, roller skates, random clutter, and possibly that thing you’ve always been wondering where it went …

There’s always something which has gone past the sell-by date of memory lane stuff … 

Despite the rain, and the effort, a welcome day of family involvement and catch-up, plenty of stuff taken to the Dump, and plenty more for the charity shops …

A Bank Hol of Boots and Books ...
A Bank Hol of Boots and Books ...

A good late-summer weekend!

And now, back to the desk and the Mullins family, and what does ‘love’ mean?

10 Vital Signs That Show the Hot Weather Has Got to You

Well here I am  on holiday, and after a few computer and internet free days we’ve managed to persuade BT that we are genuine holiday cottage residents and we have the permission, the correct password, etc and we are at last ON the Net again!

Having also learned to love the computer-free, wi-fi-free life, while the wonderful AppleCrumble computer shop in town (Penzance) has been carefully giving my laptop a much-needed going-over, I am back as a digi-addict writer … not really what hols are for you might say.

So, rather than tell you all that here in West Cornwall we are having a cool-ish sea-misty day (yesterday was hot by Sennen Cove standards) I’ve re-blogged my ALLi-friend Carol Cooper’s lovely piece on the Great British Heatwave. You can also find a great piece on the hassle and tussle of being a writer full  of creative ideas, by Debbie Young at Debbie Young’s writing life, which is what I’d have written if Debbie hadn’t. Don’t you love the shower gel illustration she’s posted?

Below two holiday snaps: the Farmers’ Market and Whitesands Beach. Stupidly, I forgot to snap pics of the huge yummy home-made macaroons we found to eat with our morning tea at Penlee Gallery yesterday – enormous, delicious, gluten-and-dairy free – congrats to the chef at the cafe!

And did you see the alignment of Jupiter & Venus last night? especially wonderful here as we hadn’t read it was happening, but suddenly observed it in the very clear sky.

farmers market 2 sennen beach 2

Pills & Pillow-Talk

The heat is of nostalgic magnitude. This is London, but for me there are echoes of summers long past in Washington DC, where pavements glued to your feet, or perhaps vice versa.

By TheAgency (CJStumpf) 20:34, 9 February 2007 (UTC) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I got my DC driver’s license on just such a day, with my mini-skirted backside welded to the plastic seat of the VW Beetle and a dozen or so empty Coke cans rattling around in the back, a testament to the hours of practice I had put in for the test. The official Department of Motor Vehicles photo taken just afterwards shows sweat dripping off a victorious 16-year old face.

There was no respite by day, but sundown would bring honeysuckle-drenched evenings and the sweet sound of soul.

But, as I say, this is London 2015.  The UK Government has already put out advice on dealing with the blistering heat wave (known in other countries as ‘summer’).

Grantchester

I…

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Writer’s retreat – 2

Writer’s retreat: creativity and ‘procrastination’?

Still I have not begun to plan the 3rd novel in any detail … the merging or not of the Mullins family saga, and an unfinished piece from 2002 may work … but then again, it may not. Procrastination would be putting off the decision: this is plain waiting on what the decision might be.

The importance of spending time doing something else, somewhere else

wedding cake
The Wedding Cake

Meanwhile, we have been travelling. Back and forward in time. There was the family celebration, and a journey to the North East. Family wedding is a place for meetings, re-connections, informations and speculations. 

  • We met second cousins we’d never met before …
  • We reconnected with those we’ve kind kept up with … how much had we all changed?Underneath, are we the same?
  • We gathered and exchanged and updated information: where do you live, what do you  do… what will you do…?
  • We speculated: who looks like whom?  Do we all match? What is the genetics here: the relatives who all go back to Charles Henry Wheeler and Maria Sakilariou, who married in 1873 at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Sophia in London through their son Alexander … and the name (Alexander) is still passing along down, from my grandfather to my father, to my cousin (the bridegroom), and my son Alexander Ben …

It was a grey day, the day before the Summer Solstice. In honour the occasion, the sun appeared almost last-minute, late afternoon, and everyone relaxed.

All very appealing to the fiction writer, this exchange of news over time, and possible futures, and how lives pan out … and where they meet and where they come from (Charles Henry from Hampshire, son of a harness and saddle maker, Maria from Tinos, Greece, lady’s maid to Euphrosyne Cassavetti, of Constantinople and Kensington).

  • We enjoyed, we celebrated, we ate and we went our ways … Family Saga reality show carefully recorded for future viewing … We took a day exploring the area, and the countryside and a walk in the late evening sun.

    soltice evening walk
    Summer Solstice Evening Walk near Durham

Sharing time with friends

And then, back home, there was a meditative walk with friends, (‘the family you choose’ – is that a quote?) 

  • There was our Franciscan friend, who lead the walk. And the friends who turned up: all of them the least expected: one back from California, one a busy Mum almost straight from the surgery to the meadow, and two who’d read about our group and come along to find out more.
  • We walked and read and thought about St Francis’s Song of Creation, and the sun and the moon were both there, white clouds floated in a wide high evening sky, joggers ran past and couples pushed babies in buggies … we stood on dry ground where in very wet seasons a lake forms and migrant widgeon over-winter in hundreds. And there was a poor stiff stoat lying prone on the allotment, symbolising how all creation eventually returns to the earth.
  • And we sang Francis’s Song.
  • I took no pictures, which is unusual for me, and was a deliberate kind of discipline.

The light bulb moment

For some reason, today the idea, the link, the merging, slipped itself into my brain. You could do it this way, with those characters …holiday reading

Meanwhile, hoping to read widely while on holiday … more wild and woolly creepy crawlies to blog about later! (Be prepared for caterpillars, and snails …)

On the Wild Side: the Writer’s ‘Retreat’

A Writers’ Retreat?

Into the Wilds! Woodland path, Oxford
Into the Wilds! Woodland path, Oxford

Being ‘too busy’ is bad for creativity: I awarded myself a writer’s Retreat.  A retreat from writing. To re-group the creative mind: to paint, bake cakes, encourage the garden.

Book Reviews are on hold.  I’ve joined the 30 Days Wild project  (http://www.mywildlife.org.uk/30dayswild/)… as anyone who’s read Baby, Baby or The Labyrinth Year will  know,  Jenny and Daze investigated wildlife as children, and so did I …

Probably un-clubbable like most writers, I do actually believe in joined-up-ness. As in joined-up projects, community activities, and making creative connections. It’s fiction-writerly thing: joined-up-ness yields plot. Getting back  to really looking at nature is joined-upness with my childhood, having once been a child!

And after giving my computer an upgrade … could  use another retreat from that techie, not  writerly, project. After several days working on, and adjusting to, the upgrade, I’m back with the Wildlife.

The MyWildLife Project – 2 walks and what’s in the garden

The idea is that as many of us as possible get outdoors studying and relating with the natural world. They suggest many ways and your own choice: own choice for me is being out there to record what I see photographically, then do a bit of research to find out more.  

Here’s the results for the past week: be prepared for creepy, crawly, things …

Oxford Evening Field Walk:

P1200295
Wildflower Meadow

Fields and wooded paths run along the back of the University Parks, Lady Margaret Hall, The Dragon School, and Wolfson College, towards Marston Ferry Road. The paths run beside sports fields and a farm, and are edged with a huge variety of wildflowers and grasses.

  • Slugs:  I was photographing a bee on comfrey, and nearby sat a large black slug. Our
    Black Slug, Arion Ater, hermaphrodie
    Black Slug, Arion Ater, hermaphrodie

    garden slugs are usually tiny grey/white (British, and dangerous to plant life) or big and brown/orange (continental recent-ish newcomers, less of a pest). Joined-up-ness: I decided to take more than a destructive interest in our black slug and looked up Latin name and details (see right under photo).

  • Their vile mucus (quote Wikipedia, It is somewhat difficult to wash off) as well as helping them move along, is a defence.  Apparently it stinks and tastes so horrible that they have few predators, and unlike snails, have never been added to the human menu, though hedgehogs well eat them. Bring back the humble hedgehog … we used to see them around here.
  • The wooded path home, lined with sycamores, filled in a knowledge gap from when I was a kid and observed how susceptible sycamore leaves are to an acne-like rash of small scarlet pustules. I used to find these creepy and never researched them. Joined-up-ness:
    Red galls on sycamore leaf
    Red galls on sycamore leaf

    this time I’ve looked them up and discovered they’re “galls’” caused by a mite (official name Aceria cephaloneus). The females lay their eggs inside: the developing mites live inside them. (So what exactly is a mite? A bit like a tiny tiny spider which bites? Mites: ‘small arthropods belonging to the subclass Acari and the class Arachnida’ (Wikipedia)

  • Masses of wild flowers are out in June. Ragged Robin was a great find, I haven’t seen it around
    P1200280
    White deadnettle
    P1200296
    Ragged Robin
    P1200288
    sorrel
    P1200281
    Purple Veitch

    here before.

  • Bracket Fungi were found on the trees.

wick wood infoEast London Afternoon walk:

This was in Wick Wood, Hackney, a wood planted about 20 years ago on what used to be playing fields to provide a wildlife habitat, right beside a raised section of the A12. Two gatekeeper butterflies were flying around and settling on beech leaves.

Gatekeeper, Hackney Wick Wood
Gatekeeper, Hackney Wick Wood
  • The undergrowth – blackberry bushes – are flowering and come July/August anyone in the know will be able to pick berries and make jam.
  • Here’s a bee in one of the flowers: sadly not a worker making honey but some species of ‘bumble’ either solitary or maybe, as we found on another walk in Oxfordshire, a member of a ground-based colony living in a hole (possibly abandoned by rabbits or dug by a dog).
    Bumble Bee on Blackberry Blossom
    Bumble Bee on Blackberry Blossom
    Blue or prickly comfrey (S. asperum)
    Blue or prickly comfrey (S. asperum)

    A clearing had been cut in the wood, and a hedge woven from branches. It’s probably part of a schools project. In Oxford it would’ve been made from the willows which grow everywhere here, but I’m not sure what had been used for this one.

  • Wild flowers were woodland types such as these blue comfreys which grew at the wood exit. The trees were mostly beech, there was an avenue of planes (good London trees): as this isn’t a natural wood, these trees were probably selected to grow happily in a polluted environment.

Yesterday’s observation and more to come …

(made seated on the grass as suggested in the Notes, and while eating a bun):P1200352

  • A large green, iridescent, beetle, busy eating the nectar in a rose… This seems to be a Rose Chafer, well known to eat petals and nectar. The larvae live on rotting wood and compost (maybe in our compost bin?)