Friday, November 29, 2013

A Slob's Life

Sometimes you have to take a long hard look at yourself.

Sometimes you have to say away with the excuses: and name yourself as the person you really are.

Yes I'm busy; yes I have been running in and out of the house lately. But there has been time to deal with the detritus that has built up on my desk at home - a desk, incidentally, that I call mine but in reality is shared, so that others in the house now have to put up with this state of affairs.



So what's on the desk?
And why?












1. Carol Service script. Written, still to be rehearsed. So not sure why it's sitting here.
2. Camera. Almost always sits on the desk, almost always holding photos awaiting downloading.
3. Camera download cable. See point 2.
4. Passport, belonging to youngest offspring. Has sat there for a month. Awaiting new application form, which will be completed as soon as she is 16 next week so that I don't have to pay for a 5-year junior passport. Apparently she's an adult at 16, according to the Passport Office. I beg to differ.
5. Timings of all 5 carol service dramas. See point 1. Also no longer needed here but elsewhere.
6. Methotrexate monitoring proforma, draft version. Work brought home, completed 2 weeks ago. But you never know.
7. Costa coffee loyalty card. I aspire to register this, in the hope that the extra points that will ensue will translate into a free coffee by, say, 2027.
8. A sock. I think this was clinging to my person when I arrived at the desk fresh from hanging out wet washing. Three weeks ago.
9. Parking tickets. Used. For Milan. Souvenirs?
10. Christmas lists. Ah, genuinely useful and in the right place. Though I had to hunt for them. Too much stuff on my desk.

And so on and so on...I only showed you one third of the desk, and only discussed the top layers of detritus...it's like an archaeological dig.

My name is Tracey, and I am a slob.
Is there some self-help group I could join?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Who are you calling mental?

What the ..........????!!!!!!

I was sitting on the sofa idly scrolling through my twitter feed last night when I came across a  comment relating to this travesty in the Asda online catalogue.

By the time I caught up with what was happening, Asda (Walmart to any US readers) had already withdrawn their advertisment for a 'mental patient fancy dress costume', which featured a torn straight jacket, fake blood and a meat cleaver.

All day long there had been complaints bouncing around social media sites, but it took until 11pm at night before an official apology from Asda was posted on Twitter.

Sorry or just found out?

What fascinates and appalls me about this story, quite apart from the obvious horror that in the 21st century a company - or indeed any human being - can think this sort of typecasting stigmatisation is in any way acceptable, is that so many 'thinking' people will have been involved in the chain of events that led to the item being displayed on their website.

It would have been commissioned, designed, and marketed. People whose job it is to imagine what it is the public want will have signed off on this.

Well, the public have spoken. And it's a no from us, I'm afraid.

And yet it still took Asda, and indeed Tesco who sold a similarly ghastly product, until late in the day until the damage control was set in motion - including a promise of a sizeable donation to the mental health charity 'Mind'.

I imagine there are a few uncomfortable meetings taking place within their walls today.

The only good to come of this, apart from that donation, is the realisation that society as a whole has come a long way on this issue - judging by the public's reaction. Clearly there is an awfully long way to go however before the 1 in 4 of us who suffer some sort of mental health issue can feel comfortable enough to express such problems openly and without fear of reprisals or derision.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Travel Insurance

'Hello, may I help you?'

'Yes, I'm ringing for a quote for some travel insurance. I need to declare a pre-existing medical complaint.'

'No problem at all. Can I just check that none of you have a terminal illness, or are awaiting surgery?'

'I'm awaiting surgery. But it will be done well before the trip.'

'What's it for?'

'A trapped nerve. But as I said, it will be done well before the trip.'

'Unfortunately we will not be able to cover you for the trapped nerve.'

'Well, that's OK, it won't be trapped by then.'


'No, but if you need to cancel because of the trapped nerve, you won't be covered.'

'Er...OK.'

'Do you have any other pre-existing illnesses?'

'Yes. I have systemic lupus.'

'Oh, right, OK. I just need to ask the following questions. How many medications do you take for the lupus?'

'One.'

'Is it 0-2, 3-4, 5-6 or more?'

'It's still one.' There is a pause. '0-2.' The pause this time seems to have taken on a slightly disbelieving quality. 'Well, I do take a further two medications but these are to protect me from the effects of the one.'

'So you take 3-4.'

'No. I take one drug for the lupus, prednisolone. I take another drug so that the prednisolone doesn't irritate my gut, and another so it doesn't weaken my bones.'

'Oh, OK. So you take 0-2 medications for your lupus.'

'Yes!'

'And you take one for your  gastric reflux.'

'Yes!....no, wait. I don't have gastric reflux.'

'Is the drug one that ends in "...azole"?'

'Yes...omeprazole....' (feeling that I am walking into a trap)

'Then you have gastric reflux.'

'Ah, no, you're misunderstanding. You see, I don't have gastric reflux, never have had, because I am on omeprazole. Not the other way around. It's preventative, you see. Trust me, I'm a nurse. Next thing you'll be telling me that I have osteoporosis, because I'm on bone-protecting medication.'

'And you also have osteomalacia, for which you take 0-2 medications. That's not so bad, it's just softening of the bones.'

'I definitely don't. I've had scans. My bones are stronger than yours, I'll bet.'

'I'm sorry, Madam. You are on this medication. Therefore you are classed as having these conditions. Therefore we must charge you extra.'

'So I'm stuffed for being cautious and sensible'.

(brightly) If you come off any of these medications before your holiday, you can let us know, and we may be able to reduce your premium.'

'So I'd be rewarded for putting myself in a position where I'd be more likely to develop a medical problem whilst on holiday.'

'Now, is there anything else? No heart problems? Is anyone on blood pressure medication?'

(Thinks: actually, my blood pressure has been a bit high of late, years of taking the prednisolone are catching up. But playing safe by seeing the GP to start medication is clearly going to cost me.'
'No, nothing that way at all. Fit as a fiddle.'

So...the moral of the story is: if you want to stay healthy, keep taking the tablets. But if you want to keep the insurance premium down, stop. Which of course makes it far more likely that more people, having a strong disincentive to start / continue on preventative medicine, develop problems that in the long run put up the premiums for us all.

Bit of a wobbly system, isn't it?

Friday, June 21, 2013

I can see clearly now...(well, soon)


I have worn spectacles since I was seven years old. After discovering that I couldn't see anything the teacher wrote on the board, I was whisked off to my first optician's appointment and asked to read random letters off an illuminated board before choosing my very first pair of NHS finest. This will mean nothing if you live outside the UK. NHS spectacles for children came in three or four choices of horrible, only one of which looked remotely feminine, all with a stretchy bit that wrapped round your ears quite uncomfortably and smelled of dirty coins. Mine were pink. This wasn't a good thing.



In the following years I have had to increase my sight prescription on average every 2 years. I've long since passed the stage where I could read anything other than the large letter 'A'. I dread to think what this has cost, once the NHS stopped providing me with standard issue frames. When I was 16 I flirted with contact lenses, and put up with horrible scritchy-scatchy sensation for a few years before reverting thankfully to spectacle-wearing once more.

If you don't need glasses you probably have no idea what the problem is. Surely you just pitch up to the optician, tell them how far down the rows of shrinking letters you can read, then choose a pair of cool frames? If only...

Sight tests have gone mad these days. It's probably a combination of technology, physiological understanding and my increasing age that necessitates more and more tests; but each one feels like an assault course for the eyeball, coupled with an intelligence test. Oh, and there's the mild torture, too. Click the button when you see the light in the corner of your eye. Put these ridiculous and painful joke spectacles on and read the letters far away - now close up - now moving towards or away. Is the red or the green circle brighter? The up or the down line stronger? Look up - left - right - down. Focus. Blink. Blink again. Now keep still whilst I blast your eyeball with air. Or drop stingy yellow drops in your eye. Ooh, yes PLEASE...

Apparently I have a complicated prescription - or at least, that's the line when I say 'how much??!!!' to each preposterous lens bill. Very short-sighted with astigmatism, I have to pay extra to get the lenses made thin enough not to look comical. Since last year I have had to resort to varifocals for reading (the alternative was to carry around a long pole with a bookstand on the end of  it). And then one has to find frames. Surely it's just a matter of taste? Oh, no...it seems my ears are too near the top of my head. And my nose is hardly there at all. The net effect is that I look straight over the top of most frames. Every time I try around 60 different frames, squinting into a mirror that I can barely see through the totally useless lens-free specs, only to reasise that my true choice is between That One and This One - the only 2 pairs in the shop designed for mutant ears and invisible noses.

When I first donned my new pair of varifocals last year I was invited to read something. Definitely better; so long as I held the book tight against my body, kept my head erect and looked down. Well, that's normal. I then looked across the street at a shop sign..which was totally blurred. I was told I had to get used to them, but should return if I really felt things weren't right.

Now, you need to know that I am an idiot. I knew I should go back, within a month. Instead, I went on holiday, and then...sort of forgot...only not really, because things obviously weren't right...particularly the way the TV screen went 3D every time both red and blue were major features of the picture....nor the way I had to manually lift my spectacles in order to read at distance...but I accepted what was given me, by experts. I thought, that's how life is. And it's fuzzy.

I returned for an annual sight test 2 weeks ago. My reading prescription had changed, so new lenses were suggested. So then I mentioned some of these other problems. The staff all looked slightly incredulous, and agreed to send the lenses off for testing. And guess what? I just got a call to say they were wrong, all this time.

So now I'm looking forward to finding out if life could become a bit sharper. A bit brighter. A bit flatter, in certain circumstances - having Ian Hislop jump out of the TV at me was a little surprising. And perhaps, just for once, I won't have to fork out for the pleasure.


Friday, April 05, 2013

A Wife of Noble Character

I got up early today to make bread.

I haven't baked anything that required kneading for a few months, due to a trapped nerve causing pain and numbness in my left hand. Kneading bread is not, for me, a unidextrous activity. Now much improved, I enjoyed getting stuck into some dough - first cinnamon buns, then a couple of white loaves. Everyone else came downstairs to find me up to my elbows in flour and yeast.

We then set about tidying the garden, which had never been properly 'put to bed' for the winter owing to the floods of last Autumn. I'm a fair-weather gardener. Today's sunshine brought me outside, and I spent a happy couple of hours waging war on buttercups and the mint that had invaded the vegetable patch.

We paused for hot coffee and cinnamon buns, steaming from the oven.



It is a longstanding joke of ours that The Man, on finding me in full-on domestic mode before he has had chance to wipe the sleep from his eyes (to be fair, he is on holiday) will call me his blessed wife. It refers to an amusing passage in Proverbs (chapter 31 verses 10-31), which describes the ultimate 'having it all' woman. I used to think it made out that the perfect wife was a domestic slave; rereading it today, I am struck by the description of a woman who is skilled both in the home and in business. So how am I measuring up?

She gets up while it is still dark, and provides food for her family.... Check.

...bringing her food from afar. Clearly this passage has not got the concept of food miles.

She selects wool and flax, and works with eager hands... well, I have yet to succumb to the current trend for knitting, though I rather like the concept of yarn-bombing. I do make quilts though, so She makes coverings for her bed is, um, covered.

She has no fear for her household, for all are clothed in scarlet...she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Note to self: must stop buying grey clothes.

Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat amongst the elders of the land. Does a recent trip The Man took to London to lobby the education minister count? I think so!

She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. That's me off to the garden centre later.

Her lamp does not go out at night. Is this a euphemism?

She is clothed with dignity. Um...

She speaks with wisdom. Er...

She does not eat the bread of idleness. I refer you to point one, M'lud.

I'm not doing so well on the business bit, although nursing makes 'extending arms to the needy' pretty much compulsory. And then there's the last bit: yes I think my family are grateful, and say so. But I'm not sure this culture allows me to think that fleeting beauty is as unimportant as the writer of Proverbs believes.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.
"Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."
Charm is deceptive, and beauty fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

In our culture the 'complete woman' is a success if she does most of the above - being a domestic goddess is fine, so long as we also succeed in our chosen profession, in an appreciation of culture, in some sort of spiritual pursuit - albeit in a self-serving, wishy-washy kind of a fashion - in altruism, and in beauty. You may not be born beautiful: but by golly there is a price to pay if you don't work hard to make the most of what you've got. Constant grooming is the order of the day, coupled with the ability to dress well for any occasion, like a walking talking Barbie doll. One with flour beneath her nails, obviously.

So, here's to failing spectacularly. Here's to wearing a grubby grey tracksuit all day, and forgetting to wash your hair. Here's to bad bakes and soggy bottoms. Here's to buttons that fall off, and hems that fall down. Here's to inappropriate laughter and spare tyres. Here's to lie-ins and slobbing around for half the day in your dressing-gown. Here's to generous hospitality that forgets to tidy up first.

And here's to significant others calling us 'That Blessed Woman...'.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gethsemane

While I was sleeping,
you cried.
While I shifted position to take more comfort
you threw yourself to the ground, shouting for mercy.
Even as I sank deeper into slumber
you dissolved,
Begging for some shred of humanity
from those who would see you tortured and maimed.
I covered my eyes,
lest the light should disturb; you walked
deeper into darkness, far from home;
far from rest.
I put my fingers in my ears, drowning the sound
that would drag me from repose; your sobbing
masked
by my indifference.

So what would you have me do?
My role is little
A little power, a little wealth; but my desire for sleep
is overwhelming. See, here it comes again:
the lassitude,
that blankets any impulse to be of help.
I barely hear the screams, these days;
the growling stomachs, the whimpering children,
the muffled shrieks of outrage silenced
by brutal power.
My own unconsciousness
is all I crave; let me not know.
Let me sleep, now; my dreams lie
undisturbed.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Palm Sunday

 This was written for our fortnightly 9am service yesterday. Sorry it's a bit late!



In the dewbright morning, we waited.
In the stillness of dawn, we paused
to catch our breath. The day began
in silence. Then came a rumbling,
A clattering, a movement
in the air; He was coming.

We stripped branches from the trees
Tore the clothes from our backs
Expressing both our penitance
And our praise. We inhaled the Spring air
Filling our lungs with its sweetness
Ready to shout; ready to sing.
The stones at our feet chittered, stirred
by the steps of so many.

And then he was amongst us; and we felt
the wonder, the wonder, the wonder. We cried out
‘Hosanna!’ and ‘Blessed!’ – our language inadequate
to welcome the Word made flesh. We sang
until our throats were raw – wanting more breath
to revel in He who breathed life into this poor dust.
We threw our coats before him, wanting somehow
To cocoon and swaddle him, embracing the man
Who came stripped of all dignity
Who journeyed inexorably towards his death.

And then He was gone; passed by
Whilst we stood there, waiting.
This moment had been but a pause before a storm
A moment of mayhem, that was somehow
a moment of calm. We had wanted a little longer
Time to come to terms; time to understand.
Time to align our desires and passions
With His. We are still waiting
Waiting
Still.

TAW Easter 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013

Wedding Speech

The kids cleared out the old videos yesterday, finding a few gems along the way including our wedding video.

Now in our defence, Your Honour, we got married at the end of the 80's. This was the decade of meringue dresses, peach bridesmaids, white stilettos and double-breasted suits (rarely together). So the emotion we felt watching this was more a collective sense of shame, rather than an individual culpability. We were all implicated. We had, however, also managed to tear down the Berlin Wall that year and were busy digging the Channel Tunnel (I'm talking collectively again; The Man and I had very little to do with either event, personally), so no wonder that our eye was off the style ball.

However, I must admit that there were other atrocities we inflicted upon our poor witless guests, and ultimately on each other. So in a spirit of contrition allow me to confess our Wedding Day Crimes.

1. Double-breasted suit: check. Peach bridesmaids: check. White stilettos: check - completely understandable for the bride, but did I have to wear them when leaving for honeymoon - and was it really necessary for the bridesmaids and the bride's mother to wear them, too? At least the dress was fairly un-meringuey.

2.  The length of the service. The thing was interminable. And there didn't seem to be any signs for the toilet.

3. The worship - which was a major cause of point 2, above. We started innocuously, luring people into a false sense of security with 'Crown Him with many Crowns'. Then we let rip. Song after song, each sung over and over until people were fainting in despair. The bride shuffled awkwardly; the groom did a half-leg stomp with hearty clapping; the best man went for the full Nazi salute; and the lead vocalist pogo-ed up and down the platform. People dressed in wedding finery should probably not do these things. Even funnier on fast forward, as the kids discovered yesterday.

4. The sermon - the second reason for point 2 - was given by a man in a leather jacket with a red tie. Nuff said.

5. My favourite bit was the two singers during the signing of the register. When, ironically, the bridal party was out of the room.

6. The photographs. Every conceivable angle of every contrivable grouping. The bride, looking up / down / sideways. The bride and groom, likeways plus kissing. The b&g plus bridesmaids. The b&g plus parents, hers then his then both, with and without bridesmaids. Looking at the ring. Looking at each other. Looking at  a small child holding (inexplicably) a doormat. The b&g plus wider families, church friends, other friends, everyone together...and so on and so on. And what did we do to keep the guests happy whilst this went on, and on, and on? Did we provide champagne? Beanbags? A travelling circus? Valium, to numb the pain? Oh, no...we served cake. And non alcoholic fizz. The colour of which was, of course, peach.

7. Talking of alcohol...it was a dry wedding. Which caused some members of the groom's family to make their own entertanment during the photographs by shuffling off to the pub next door. Fair enough.

8. The reception packed 120 guests back into the same room where the ceremony had taken place, now transformed into a catering venue (ah...so that's why the photos had to take so long...). I make no apologies for that. But the seating plan was carefully engineered to place people with similar interests near each other. Needless to say everyone only talked about how long the blooming service was and had anybody found the toilets yet.

9. The speeches. The bride's father played the timeless role of embarrassing his daughter. The best man read out cards, a practice which must surely now give way to projecting text messages. And the groom delivered a nailbiting rollercoaster of a speech, that he had only just written during the meal on any paper he could find - actually the name cards on the table - during which he managed to suggest that he had lived with half the females in the room.

10. The lack of any chance to let one's hair down afterwards. No disco. No ceilidh. Instead, a string quartet played hits from the Baroque period.

As we approach our 25th anniversary, I would guess that anyone getting married at around the same time as us would find their videos a little embarrassing, though perhaps not for the same reasons. However, watching it again reminded me of a few things. The incredible effort made on our behalf at a time when we had no money but wanted to share our special day with as many as could come. So despite my whingeing for comedic purposes above, thanks are due to those who led the ceremony and the worship, who decorated the church, took the photos, served the drinks, cooked the food, made the Herculean effort to turn a church into a restaurant, and then waited at tables. To all those who took the trouble to travel often long distances to be there. To my parents, who masterminded so much of the behind the scenes stuff that seemed to go like clockwork but involved - I am sure - many sleepless nights, especially for my mother who was still pulling all the strings on the day but yet managing to look serene and beautiful.

Oh, and to Debbie: thanks for wearing the peach, even though every fibre of your being must have been screaming No. You wore it well.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Lore


Went to see the film Lore on Saturday, with daughter no 2 (who is enjoying being allowed to see age 15 films now). Philip French described it as 'not exactly profound', and I kind of know what he means - at times it feels as though it is grasping at something just underneath the waters, but not quite reaching it. But two days later I am still thinking and wondering. So it stays with you.

The film follows a teenage girl and her younger siblings as they attempt to walk to their grandmother's house near Hamburg, at the end of WW2. Their parents have fled, presumably imprisoned, for Nazi war crimes. Lore begins the film as an innocent; but events and her own piecing together of what she knows and what has been hidden gradually reveal to her the awful truth of Germany's recent past, and the part her parents played in that. Her own initial reactions to a young Jewish man they meet on the road betray her; she becomes complicit. Yet there is something of a child's sense of justice that also drives her, and her reactions become muddled, and difficult to predict.

The film has a langourous poetry about it. The cinematography is stunning, and takes its time. We are invited to suppose what is going on in Lore's mind as she contemplates the Jew; as she remembers her parents; as she gazes at images posted by the allies of concentration camp massacres. Saskia Rosendahl as Lore is believable and beautiful, emerging throughout the film from a cocooned child of the Third Reich to something altogether more complex and likeable. Her face carries the film, and it is her expression more than any other image that stayed with me. Interestingly she had no acting experience, but was a dancer; she brings this graceful quality, where each movement seems intentional.

Above all Lore takes its time. Not in an art-house, life-is-complicated, where-will-it-all-end kind of way; but in a manner that allows the watcher to worm their way into the thoughts and feelings of the characters, without ever totally betraying them. The scene where Lore looked and looked at the images posted by the allies, tracing her hands across them and eventually tearing one image down, switched to a close up of her fingertips - now tacky with the paste used to stick up the pictures. She plays with the glue, pulling the threads apart between thumb and forefinger; then tries to rid herself of the evidence, wiping her hands on her skirt fruitlessly. The childish fascination with all things icky and sticky gives way to a horror of all that has taken place, a horror in which her parents participated; and a desire to rid herself even of the memory , to distance herself from a stain that will not be easily wiped clean. This is the scene that replays in my mind.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Checking Out


This year is the fiftieth since the death of C S Lewis. His writing continues to fascinate, inspire and educate; the more I read, the more respect I have for a man who led a sheltered academic life yet managed to reach out to so many, adults and children alike. It seems a great pity to me that his death was overshadowed by other world events at the time.

22.11.63



So quietly you exited:

Slipping through the fingers of the world

as it looked in another direction. Winter encroaching

the Texan bluesky muted by the small black and white television

that chattered incessantly. The air was filled with facts and suppositions

as we learned new words: ‘motorcade’, ‘depository’, ‘knoll’, ‘gunman’.

You knew none of that; instead



Your dreams were filled once more with visions of the stars

Of melting snow, the ice of the ages dissolved into chattering streams.

As we stretched our minds wider to allow for a time where this was possible

you left,

your mind already expanded to allow for talking beasts and dancing trees.

The colour drained from the world’s eye, leaving only

a speck of vivid pink against the grey; whilst you

set out, umbrella in hand, to find

the golden brightness of a lion’s mane.




TAW 1.3.13

Friday, February 22, 2013

Into the wild

Pilgrim's Way, Lindisfarne
 


Mouths beyond dryness, we stared
at the vast face of a featureless plain
shifting under our gaze, the dust of a thousand stars
reflected in its brightness. Too fierce
the sun beat down upon heads governed by the ticking clock
and the exacting schedule.
Here in the midst of nothing, we were cast adrift
by the empty echoing voice of the wild; yet still
we found the voice drowned out by others, clamouring.
Before us lay the endless desert that called to us across the ages;
while we could only see the sand
that counted out the minutes and the months.

I'll admit it: I find the notion of the desert experience terribly romantic. 

Looking back at some of the poems I have written over the past (harrumph) years, there are a few words that feature again and again. These are the words I roll around my mouth and thoughts, drawing on them to express something deep and hidden.

Breath.
Dance.
Fire.
Wild.  

Wild in the sense that God is untamable (in the imagery of C.S Lewis), unpredictable, existing in a state of liberty that we cannot imagine; and wild in descriptions of uncharted places, where the rules that govern our ordinary lives no longer reign - for good and evil.

Deserts are stripped-down, bare spaces where the elements of sand and air overrule the rhythms and seasons we live by in the everyday. Where there is no true silence, as the rocks moan at the circling winds; but where a silence of the soul may be found.

Yet when we speak of  'wilderness experiences' we often mean something negative - a painful time when we are set adrift, characterised by (if we are fortunate enough) a long slow walk back to God.

During Lent many of us seek to place ourselves in the desert, through time set aside to pray, and through self-denial. Not unlike the example of Jesus, who was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. Led, not pushed: interesting. Some of the time we spend may feel fruitless; perhaps we doubt that we have managed to make the journey into the wild at all. But generally speaking it feels good; a time to regenerate, and do business.

So what of the times we find ourselves in uncharted territory, and it is not of our making? When the sudden tragic event, the illness, the crushing disappointment of life, or the gradual cumulative pain due to whatever circumstances leaves us feeling far from home - and God? What of this wilderness experience - how can it be beautiful?

Colorado

This is where I find the romance. The sense that the darkest hour, the most painful experience, can be transformed - but only if we allow ourselves to wander in the wild for some time.  To return too quickly to the everyday would jar, and the sense of dislocation become acute.

For me, this Lent is both a chosen journey and one of painful footsteps in a direction I had not forseen. Events and the ecclesiastical season have chimed both beautifully and distressingly. 

But that's OK: I'm out here in the desert, where I should be. I'm listening to the wind, and  gazing at the stars. 

I'll come home at the right time. 
 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Just because


I watched the latest episode of the BBC's 'Africa' series last night, with awe and wonder. I don't often have the patience for wildlife programmes; I like ten minutes or so, but after that I find them a bit dull. But this series has been extraordinary.

Two species in particular grabbed my attention with their unexplained behaviour. First the mysterious kingfish, a man-sized hunter inhabiting the waters off the coast of South Africa where the constant pull and buffet of two currents meet. For most of the year they swim alone, solitary predators in the blue expanse. But for just a few weeks each year they gather behind a leader at the mouth of the river, then swim upstream for several miles through the relative calm of river waters.

At an unknown signal their pattern suddenly changes: instead of swimming upstream, they begin to circle. Slowly, majestically, nose to tail and several fish deep and wide (it looks like around 150 fish together), they create a huge loop of shining scales, the sun glistening on their wet bodies at each revolution.

David Attenborough's commentary was perfection. Admitting that biologists have no idea why they do this, he spoke of an annual 'pilgrimage' - and indeed, this is what it most resembled: Muslim pilgrims at the Hajj, the devout body of worshippers creating a vortex of faith as each believer completes his seven-lap encircling of the Kaaba.

Fish with faith? No, I'm not really suggesting that. But these creatures are not swarming and swimming to breed, nor to hunt. There may be a reason yet to find. But at the moment it looks as though it's...just because.

The 'just because' theory seemed also to fit the behaviour of the Springbok. Africa showed these delightful, spindle-legged creatures leaping and bucking in slow motion (it's called 'pronking': an ugly name for a beautiful - if ridiculous - action). They weren't being threatened, nor were they attracting a mate - even the youngest amongst them was giving it a go. The sun was out, the flowers had opened and the fresh spring grass was ripe for eating. They live in one of the most beautiful spots on Planet Earth: why wouldn't they leap for joy?

How many times do I do things 'just because'? Just because life is short and the day is beautiful. Just because any effort made is repaid by the elation from joining others in their dance. If fish and antelopes can figure out that life goes better with a few pointless expressions of happiness and community, perhaps I should reconsider priding myself on my 'excellent time management skills' and do more stuff, 'just because'. Blogging may be included.