Wednesday, 30 July 2014


Last week I went to see Richard Linklater's epic film Boyhood. If you like action adventures, don't go. I loved it to bits.

Nathaniel, writing in says this:
Boyhood is less about its narrative than the experience of making one's own story through living, romanticizing, examining and sometimes confronting life itself.
Making ones own story. We can find ourselves wasting our lives trying to get a walk-on part in someone else's story when in reality we are starring in our own show right now, just like Truman in The Truman Show. We are real, but only when we are not playing a part.

We should be celebrating at every twist and turn because this is our life. We are not waiting for it to start, we cannot disown the bits we don't like, they are all what we are.

There is a beautiful scene in Boyhood, where the boy Mason's Mum casually advises an immigrant labourer to go to evening classes and learn English because he deserves better in life. Years later she is served by him in the restaurant he now manages, having gone to class and made good. She is struck speechless. She realises that in her preoccupation with her career and her relationships, much of her life has gone by unnoticed.
"You know what I'm realising? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones. Getting married. Having kids. Getting divorced. The time that we thought you were dyslexic. When I taught you how to ride a bike. Getting divorced... again. Getting my masters degree. Finally getting the job I wanted. Sending Samantha off to college. Sending you off to college. You know what's next? Huh? It's my fucking funeral!"
It has been said that life is what happens while you are making your plans.

We should all celebrate the life we have. It may not be exactly what we wanted, or what we were expecting, but it is ours and it is precious. One day our story will end. May it be a good story. May it have a happy ending.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

What's happening to me?

Guardian Spirit Quickremix by dj4star
A year ago I finally turned my back on my career in Social Housing. I had been trying to make my way within an organisation that was trying to reinvent itself, but actually tearing itself apart. This was a painful and bruising experience for me, and I wondered how on earth I had ever got involved with it in the first place.

I had decided to dedicate myself to Social Housing as a way of doing something worthwhile with my life after 20 years of writing computer programs. There were good times working with wonderful caring people to help make life better for some of the less fortunate in the social mix. This made it worth the grind and the knocks, but only just. Being used for target practice by interdepartmental snipers was not a part of my ideal.

But it's an ill wind, etc., and this kicking gave me the impetus finally to cut my ties to Housing and to follow my bliss, and so I got my life back on track. I sold the boat I had bought when the computer work dried up, and enrolled on celebrant training with Green Fuse.

Cut back to the present. I've changed. I'm still changing. As my course work progresses I find myself being drawn into increasingly spiritual realms. I have been watching old interviews with Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and Alan Watts. Poetry, prayers and songs weave patterns of meaning in my head, and I resonate with the rhythms of the stars. I walk on holy ground. Sometimes it feels almost as if I could stretch out my arms and take flight. What's happening to me?

In my head I hear Abba:
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream
I have a dream
...or Spirits Having Flown by the BeeGees:
I'd like to take you where my spirit flies
Through the empty skies we go alone
Never before having flown".
I think of the prayer attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh:
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Book Review: Passages Of The Soul

Passages Of The Soul: James Roose-Evans, Element Books, 1994

The title of this book refers to the transitions, or passages, that occur between the various phases of ones life, and the fact - as stated in the cover notes - that "in our modern world... our own celebration of these fundamental events often amounts to no more than brief, superficial ceremonies", if they happen at all, which in most cases they don't. The author holds that "ritual is an essential part of a balanced, meaningful life".

Roose-Evans, now 86, was a theatre director of some renown with a number of impressive productions, initiatives, books and collaborations to his credit. In this book he writes about his experiences working mainly with young actors and dancers coming through their education in the USA of the 50s and 60s. 

In the opening chapter he sets the stage, drawing on the ideas of Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and Meister Eckhart. The inner world is just as real as the outside world. "If we are in Tao - that place where all opposites are united - we have an inexplicable effect on our surroundings." This is all good stuff, which fills the reader with excitement and anticipation as he turns to chapter 2.

This is where it all falls down. The whole of the rest of the book is concerned in one way or other with exercises in self-expression for those in the performing arts. Roose-Evans, an inveterate man of the theatre, has fallen into the trap of mistaking theatre-land for the real world. The groups participating in his sessions are required to make meaningful gestures in a rope circle, to spontaneously express their feelings using only their hands or by carrying a bundle of bamboo canes and dropping them. We are told in ecstatic terms of how a singing group established a rapport with a remote African tribe by singing "ah" very loudly. For actual or aspiring performers this must surely be gripping stuff; for the rest of us, the most we can hope for is a fascinating insight into the thespian mentality.

If this had been intended as a primer in expressive dance it would have been a success. Since it set out to be about rite-of-passage rituals it has entirely missed its purpose. We read that you can't just make up a new ritual, that it has to arise from the collective unconscious to be truly meaningful. There follows a list of made-up rituals, some improvised. Roose-Evans seems oblivious to his own pomposity. He tells of how a woman once told him she was going to use his ritual in her workshops: "I was struck speechless because it is an exercise that requires handling with skill and sensitivity".

In fact there are sections and paragraphs here and there that on their own make the book worth looking at for anyone trying to make sense of life. If my criticism is harsh it is only through disappointment; it could have been so much better.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Time Out

Quite recently I attended a funeral for a civic dignitary. The service was exactly what you would expect from the Church of England at its best: a big congregation, organ, hymns, priests, prayers, fulsome praise from family and colleagues. The one whose loss they mourned was a true individual, the kind they don't make any more.

The last few weeks I have been reading, writing thinking and talking about funerals as part of my study to become an independent funeral celebrant. Of late I noticed that on social occasions I would have nothing to say, and end up staring blankly into the distance, as if the whole scene was one I had watched so many times already that I had got bored with it.

By yesterday afternoon I had had enough. Death is like an insidious grey fog that creeps silently over the landscape of your mind, gradually thickening and cutting you off from other people, leaving you alone with your grey thoughts.

It's true that in confronting death you find life, and know it for the first time. But my advice would be this: having found life, hold fast to it.

I do not for one moment regret my decision to embark on this course. Being a funeral celebrant is a huge privilege. To bring comfort to the bereaved, to honour the life that has now gone out, to be the one to commend that soul to God, to eternity, to our memory, is to be human at a level of reality that is beyond the reach of most mortals. I will walk over fire and water. I will go up to the mountain.

But I will also celebrate life, in all its hope and fear, all its richness and trouble, all its beauty.
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances
But they're worth taking
Loving might be a mistake
But it's worth making...
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I Hope You Dance lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

In his book "Passages of the Soul", James Roose-Evans says:
We have no rituals for pregnancy, for a miscarriage or still-born child, for a broken marriage, relationship or home; none for a girl's first menstruation, or a boy's coming to puberty; none for the elders of our society. We have let ritual - its power and vitality, its deeper value and significance - almost disappear from our lives.
My task, as I see it, is to put it back again.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A tale of two cemeteries

On Monday I visited two local cemeteries. It was a cold and blustery afternoon, the sun struggling in vain to be glimpsed through the grey.

I drove to a nearby cemetery, and through the stone gateway on to a dead straight service road between rambling forgotten gravestones. On my left a Victorian Gothic chapel loomed, and then another identical one on the right, a couple of hundred yards away. They were each the size of a village church. Tyre tracks around the outside showed they had been attended, but the doors looked resolutely closed, no lights showed, and the phrase "Abandon hope all ye who enter here" sprang to mind.
Another cemetery

I parked the car and strolled around. From a distance a resident cat eyed me suspiciously. The place had the air of a ghost town. One monument about six feet tall was leaning at an angle of 30 degrees, the whole of the grave having subsided alarmingly. No flowers showed their faces this cold Spring day.

I took a pathway beyond a line of trees and found myself in a different area. Here were plenty of new plots, all laid out like slabs of meat in a butcher's shop window, scarcely an inch between them. Flowers kept vigil over the stones like silent mourners. I felt uneasy.

I suddenly realised that it was late afternoon, I was alone, the gates could be closed at any time and I would be locked in, so I headed back to the car with respectful haste and departed, exiting the gates with a sigh of relief.
Cemetery Gates by LknPL on DeviantArt

But I felt sorry that my visit had been so perfunctory, so I drove on to a village cemetery a few miles away.

Holt  cemetery stands opposite the church at the edge of the village. Nonetheless it is a municipal cemetery, not a church graveyard. The sign on the iron gateway says it is  the "New" cemetery, but the headstones are dated at least as far back as 1936. It is not large, but there are still some empty plots.

Graves nestle over a grassy bank, all tended with care. Daffodils were in bloom in clusters and strings, and many of the graves had fresh flowers or growing flowers. One had evidently been only recently filled, loose earth and cut flowers in a mound. Another stone for a man who died at the age of twenty showed the emblem of a motor-bike. Was this his passion, or the one that killed him? It doesn't say. Birds sang, the church looked on.

As I came away, I felt a deep sense of peace and tranquility. If I had to spent eternity anywhere, it would be here. This feeling persisted for hours after, and I was put in mind of the custom in the East to venerate the tombs of holy men. The tombs of the great Sufi poet Rumi, and of Hazrat Inayat Khan, who brought Sufi wisdom to the West, are visited by thousands of pilgrims, who simply want to be near to the resting place of these saints, to taste their beautiful persisting presence and peace, to be inspired.
The tomb of Hazrat Inayat Khan

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The local crem

Yesterday I popped over to the local crematorium, since I'd never been there before.

It was late on a Wednesday afternoon and the place was practically deserted. It was neatly laid out with paths and trees, and a number of different types of memorial: there were name tags on trees, name plaques lining the walks, some larger gravestones and so on.

A fair number of the markers had recent flowers placed by them, showing that they were regularly visited.

Despite the fact that a main road ran alongside, there was an air of tranquility about the place. I liked it. I went on and peeped through the door of the chapel. It looked empty so I went in. The chapel had no religious markings, so there was nothing for anyone to object to, whatever their belief.

©West Wiltshire Crematorium

As I entered I almost bumped into the chapel attendant, a cheerful young lady called Anna. She introduced me to the manager Richard. I told them I was a trainee with Green Fuse, and they were very interested and friendly. I met the resident organist, and talked about the music system. I tried out the acoustics, which were really good - I could hear my voice bouncing back from the walls.

I was mindful of the fact that I have never visited the crematorium where the mortal remains of my own mother and father lie scattered. There is virtually no record of their names there, so not worth the 100-mile journey. But somehow, in this place, surrounded by plots dedicated to other mothers and fathers, I felt a sort of common bond with all the sons and daughters making their way onward alone. It seemed that in visiting their resting place, I had also visited my parents' resting place.

Because of course my parents are not in Eltham or Semington. They might as well have a stone laid in Semington as anywhere else. They may be in Heaven; they are certainly in my heart and in every second thought, but you can't touch a thought, you can't bring a thought flowers.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Facebook Memorials

What happens to a person's Facebook account when they die?

I have occasionally wondered what would happen to all my on-line accounts if I were to die unexpectedly. On Facebook, for example, would my smiling face still come up on lists of 'People You May Know'? Would I still get friend requests from people who hadn't heard the news of my death? 

Fortunately, FB have already thought of this, and the story of how this came about can bee seen here:

Incidentally the policy has today changed so that the privacy settings on the account remain unchanged after death. So, depending on these settings, you can still see all those embarrassing snaps taken at the party or the photos of them lying on a beach in Crete. You can still see their timeline showing what they did on FB, as well as all the books, films and TV shows they loved and the causes they supported. And you can write your tribute on their wall.

In short, you have a virtual shrine dedicated to them.

I wrote in a previous post that we need memorials to friends and family who have died. This does not have to be a gravestone though. Imagine a memorial park where each person's name is linked by QR code or Bluetooth to a memorial Facebook page. You could sit in the tranquil setting where their remains are laid, looking at their old photos and videos on your mobile phone, and using an app (not yet developed), leave some virtual flowers to mark your visit.

Isn't science wonderful?

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

10/02/14 Life Goes On

Sunday of last week was Candlemas. In the Christian Church, it marks the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and is celebrated by the lighting and/or blessing of candles. The day is also known as Imbolc, Groundhog Day, and Brigid's Day, among other names. Brigid is the Pagan mother Goddess; the name Brigid is related to the word 'bright' and the root 'bel', meaning fair or beautiful; the pagan day marks the rebirth of the sun after Winter. In terms of the seasons, the day is half-way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, the point where the year turns to look towards Spring. In agricultural terms, it marks the return to work on the land, when the first shoots are starting to show.

At this time of year, Wiccans will light multiple candles. It is traditional upon Imbolc, at sunset or just after ritual, to light every lamp in the house - if only for a few moments. Or, light candles in each room in honour of the Sun’s rebirth.

While this practice is rare today, it can still be seen on December 13th in Sweden, St Lucia's Day.
Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia's Day (or St. Lucy's Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means 'light' so this is a very appropriate name.

December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old 'Julian' Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia's Day.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used!

The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter. Schools normally have their own St. Lucia's and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung.

A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and old people's homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out 'Pepparkakor', ginger snap biscuits.

Small children sometimes like dressing up as Lucia (with the help of their parents!). Also boys might dress up as 'Stjärngossar' (star boys) and girls might be 'tärnor' (like Lucia but without the candles).
 Here is a beautiful clip of this ceremony.

The words mean:
Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth's valleys.
So she speaks
Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

There is a deep innate sense hard-wired into all of us that, for every Winter there will be a Spring;  for every end there will be a new beginning; for every despair there will be new hope; for everyone left alone there will be new love.
When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong,
just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed that with the sun's love
in the spring becomes the rose.
 "The Rose" Amanda McBroom (sung by Bette Midler)
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Gods Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins 

We know about the carbon cycle and the water cycle; we know the Laws of Conservation of Mass and Energy; Syd Barrett paraphrases the I-Ching: "Things cannot be destroyed once and for all." Even the cells of our bodies die and are replaced while our lives carry on. In astronomy. stars and planets are born out of the dust of supernovae, and if the planets have life, that life is made of stardust. How inspiring that our beautiful Earth and all its plants and animals were born out of the death of a star.

We know that when we die, our children and all the generations to come will continue to live as we lived, breathing the same air that we breathed.

Since ancient times, wisdom has held that our lives continue after our bodily death. Sufis believe that we pass through a lengthy recycling process, eventually returning to live once again on this planet.

Or do we just end? Are we destroyed once and for all? Does it even makes sense to expect a factual answer when we have a far greater Truth?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

5/02/2014 From ghoulies and ghosties

From ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night
Good Lord deliver us.

One of my brother's friends had a case of things going bump in the night. Doors slamming, to be precise. There was no rational explanation. Other things happened. Very often the kettle would turn itself on at the electric point. Objects were moved from one room to another. Things became worse as he was about to take a contract in Holland. Something had to be done.

Following a recommendation, he travelled to see a specialist in hauntings. The medium didn't even have to visit the property; she told him the whole story of a woman deserted by a lover who had promised to return but never did. This ghost had now formed an attachment for my brother's friend, and didn't want him to leave. So the medium arranged for spirit 'on the other side' to provide a safe escort to enable the ghost to move on.

This is all a lot of tosh, right? There are no such things as ghosts. What you see is what you get. Ghosts are for the gullible.


But the doors never slammed again, and the kettle stayed off.
Not the house I stayed in
I have stayed in a house that seemed perfectly normal in every way. On the semi-basement level there was a dining room and kitchen, and a door to the back garden. On the other side of the stairway was the playroom. The odd thing was that no-one ever played there. In fact, no-one went there at all, unless they had to get something. The other odd thing was that you didn't linger on the stairs outside that room. You got up those stairs as fast as possible. You didn't spend much time alone in the dining room either, but if you had to, you stayed on the side away from the playroom. There was no story to explain all this; that was just how it was.

A recent lottery winner had dreamed of winning, every night for a week, before he won.

There are many accounts of Aboriginal Australians suddenly leaving on foot with the words "My brother is sick. I must go to him", and returning after three months having walked 500 miles, tended the brother, and walked back.

Whole books have been filled with real-life stories like these. You'd think we would learn. How many trees do we need to count before we see the wood?

Human life is not grounded in facts or in science, although we are rather good at it. We live on another level, the realm of feelings, emotions, courage, belief, love, sensitivity  - the list goes on - but we don't learn these things on the national curriculum. What we are taught is that none of them exist, and so all our humanity is squeezed out of us until nothing is left but this shell we call a body.

What we need is more mystery. We need ceremonies and rituals for all significant occasions in our lives, from being born, being named, coming of age, and so on right through to death and burial. These rituals will link us to one another, our history and our future, to the earth and the stars, to all of our hopes and fears, to the one life that lives in everything for all time and beyond time. This is what it means to be alive. To be really alive.

Friday, 31 January 2014

31/01/14 Heaven and Hell

The closer you get to the meaning
The sooner you'll know that you're dreaming
(from Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath)

Let me tell you about a couple of dreams I have had. The first was when I had a bad reaction to Prozac, following the death of my parents. In one nightmare night, punctuated by frequent violent awakenings that felt like electric shocks, I dreamt I went to Hell.

I felt myself being dragged at speed by an unseen hand across a black scorched landscape towards a precipice. At the last moment I was roughly pulled back from the edge and I was shown what lay beyond. I saw, far, far down, another even darker plain, a land of infinite blackness, a land from which there could be no return. I was permitted only a few moments to take this in before being forcibly taken back the way I came. I awoke with another wrenching spasm, cold and perspiring.

The other dream was a few years ago, after my first career had hit the rocks, and my second was about to crash. It was a three-part dream. In the first part I was killed while trying to escape urban warfare. In the second, I was making contact with something that looked rather like one of a number of distant moving dots. In the final part I awoke to find myself on a bench positioned on what seemed to be a quay which curved gently out to sea, although the sea was only guessed at. When I stood up I saw that someone had been quietly waiting for me. All I could see in the middle and far distance was suffused in white light, which gave everything a misty appearance, and I realised I was in Heaven. "Ah" I said to the other, "so it's true, there really is a heaven". It's hard to describe the scene because I experienced it in ways beyond my five senses. There was an infinite peace, but not a dead silence, more a matrix of infinite possibilities. Night no longer followed day; day would last as long as I wanted it to. The peace was all around and the peace was in me.
I didn't know what to say next, so I started to thank my host, but at that point the dream dissolved.

What do I make of all this? Do I believe in Heaven and Hell? I have often pondered this question, but I still can't bring myself to believe in Hell, even having seen it with my own dreaming eyes. I think on both occasions I was shown what I needed to see. I had needed to confront the depth of my despair in order to overcome it. I had needed to be reminded that there was more to life than just my career.

My own view is that, if there is an afterlife, it will be in the place we have prepared in this life. So it won't be a shock; it will be exactly what we expected. I think the Kingdom of Heaven starts here and now, it is within touching distance as Jesus said.
By the way, if you click on the Harry Potter picture you will be taken to another blog. Click on the link "The Head Project", and on the page that comes up there is a video, which I recommend you watch.

Thursday, 30 January 2014


  • 1 million people across the globe die by suicide each year. That’s one suicide every 40 seconds.
  • More people die by suicide each year than by murder and war combined.
  • It’s estimated that approximately 5% of people attempt suicide at least once in their life.
  • Between 10% and 14% of the general population have suicidal thinking throughout their lifetime.
  • Suicide is the second biggest cause of death worldwide among 15-19 year olds.
  • 100,000 adolescents die by suicide every year.

"Don't kill yourself" Fat said. "Move in with me. I'm all alone"...
"It would really make me feel terrible" Fat said. "For the rest of my life, if you did away with yourself". Thereby, as he later realized, he presented her with all the wrong reasons for living. She would be doing it as a favour to others. He could not have found a worse reason to give had he looked for years. Better to back the VW over her. This is why suicide hotlines are not manned by nitwits.
Valis by Philip K. Dick

"Everybody hurts, sometimes" R.E.M.



  • 08457 90 90 90 * (UK)
  • 1850 60 90 90 * (ROI)

Monday, 27 January 2014

27/01/14 Not so much a program, more a way of life

Ubuntu is a computer operating system derived from Linux, which is a variant of Unix. Microsoft is going to withdraw support from its popular XP operating system later this year, forcing the millions of XP users to buy Windows 7 (querky) or worse still, Windows 8 (a complete disaster). Ubuntu on the other hand is free.

Ubuntu is also a socio-political philosophy with its origins in Southern Africa. The name roughly translated means "humanness". At its core is the idea that our lives are not our own. Rather they are built up from the reflections we see in other members of our community. This is nicely expressed in the book "Cloud Atlas": 
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others past and present, and by each crime and every kindness we birth our future.
The ramifications of this are many, from the idea of sharing and the common good, to the practice of restorative, rather than retributive, justice. I see Ubuntu as a timely counterweight to the rampant individualism and materialism we now live with.

It occurred to me that if our lives are not our own, then it follows that our deaths are not ours alone either. I was very moved when I read recently that after the death of Lawrence Anthony,who bravely rescued wildlife and rehabilitated elephants all over the globe from human atrocities, a total of 31 elephants patiently walked over 12 miles to get to his South African house. They stayed for two days and nights without eating. Then one morning, they left, making their long journey back home.

It has often been said that when someone we know dies, a part of us dies with them. But the converse is equally true: as long as we live and remember them together, the one we knew still lives among us. Jesus said "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

I think I might get Ubuntu, but I wouldn't want to keep it to myself.

Saturday, 25 January 2014


Written 12th September 2006, Jimena, Andalucia

This is the snapshot of the moment.

I'm sitting on the tiled roof, a few shirts listlessly rocking in the quiet air.

Above and on my left, the old Moorish castle walls crumbling defiantly while chickens cluck and cocks crow.

Below me and on my right the jig-saw pieces of mottled tiles and white walls lie strewn and seemingly forgotten down the hillside to the centre, where the church tower clangs mechanically to an absent audience.

Beyond the town, fields and trees, green and tawny gold, barking dogs, snoring cars sleepily following some distant purpose of their own, reduced to the scale of ants by the mountains which rise is a grey-blue haze to the white-whisped blue warm sky.

This is a snapshot of me in chains. For as long as I strive to capture the moment, to have it and hold it, to freeze it and dry it, to pin it on the wall and admire it, for as long as I try to own the view, I shall never be a part of it. Every line I write is a line drawn between me and my desire. All my snapshots are scenes seen from the bars of my cell.

Just as your true-love can never truly love you until you give her freedom, so no picture, no music, no moment can be saved for a rainy day; it will fall through a hole in your pocket; it will turn sour. Love is shown in the letting go. So let these times sing for you, dance for you, then let them leave the stage. Drink the wine while it is warm and drink ye all of it. Gather the manna while it is fresh and save none for later. God is in the downs as well as the ups; he is in the valley of the shadow of death and on the banks of Sheol. He is on the mountain top. The moment sits like a dandelion seed in the palm of your hand then you blow it away with a wish and it is gone over the wall and out of sight.

How can you have a holiday that lasts forever? How many sights do you have to see before you can sleep in the sand? How many postcards to buy, how many sangrias to sink? One morning you wake to find yourself at home though you have not moved, and you cannot think a clear thought for the confetti of casual acquaintances, and you cannot see out for all the sights you have taken in.

First then, for the holiday of a lifetime, you must give away the holiday and then go. Enjoy the flight out; enjoy the flight back; enjoy the sun; enjoy the rain. Enjoy the friendship of others; enjoy the friendship of yourself. Find peace in the noise; find a poem in a drop of water.


Now I am in the garden. Pen in one hand, beer in the other. It's warmer now. Water clatters into the pool while the fountain motor whirls. I sit in the dappled shade of an orange tree, my feet on the cool cobbles. Curious friendly ants explore my arms and feet. A fly fidgets forgetfully before flying off. I look down the dusty red-flagged steps to the dark cool of the house, where, out of sight on the couch, a guest ginger cat sleeps insouciant, head back, eyes narrowed to a smile of bliss. I immerse myself in the moment, screw it up and throw it away; a moment later it comes back, having freshened up. Such is the grace of God.

Friday, 24 January 2014

24/01/14 Breathe

Well that was exciting. 

18/12/13 Moved into house.
25/12/13 Christmas
11/01/14 Sale of boat finalised
12/01/14 Still living out of boxes
21/01/14 Bought a desk from Ikea. Assembled by half past midnight
22/01/14 Started research for Assignment 3.

That's the abbreviated history anyway. I haven't yet had any further feedback on the length of Assignment 2. This is a problem because if you discuss six purposes, then how they apply to a good funeral, then how they apply to a bad funeral, it leaves you with 50 words per purpose / funeral with little room for anything else.

Now I need to expand the shifting mood of a ceremony into 1500 words with reference to a funeral I have been to. The last suitable funeral I went to was about five years ago and I have pretty much forgotten it. Oh well.

When my mother died, one day I was talking to her, a week later she had vanished from history. After the house was sold, nothing remained to testify that she had ever existed. The only trace was in my not very reliable memory and a few old photos. Each day the crem shows a list of names of those who were cremated on that day. Big deal. What about the rest of the year? If I want, I can go to the spot where her ashes were scattered, but what's the point? It's just a bit of grass. There's nothing there. I can stay at home and look at grass.
Photos kindly supplied by Geograph, and may be reused subject to this creative commons usage licence.

So I went on-line and looked at what real people had to say. I went to a forum for bereaved mothers.
When my daughter Hope died I was afraid to go but I was drawn to her grave because I couldn't let go. A friend set me up with a friend who lost her daughter to a fire. She helped me with going on her birthday and I release balloons with messages from my friends and family. Then we come home and have a birthday cake and I donate toys in her honor. I also go alone and read the first book I ever bought for her. It helps me because now my kids who never got to know their sister also feel connected and I don't feel quiet (sic) so lonely. Also know it takes time !
I'll spare you the ten or so others like this one.

The point is - we are human beings, not productivity engines. We can't just flick a mental switch and carry on. Caring for our loved ones is what marks us out as humans, and we can't just stop because they are inconveniently dead. But love cannot exist in a vacuum; it has to be expressed. There has to be a ritual. This can be visiting a grave and talking to the person buried there, or leaving flowers or toys. It may make a mess but it is not 'wrong'. This is being human at its best.

A written marker testifies to the physical existence of a person, when all other traces are gone. It is like the teleporting telephones in The Matrix. It is a touchstone, a point of contact. In the same way that you need the right number, so you need a marker with the right name or it will be meaningless.

A memorial transcends time. Future generations will journey across the world to visit the gravestone of a long dead ancestor. Bath Abbey receives a regular trickle of visitors seeking records of their ancestors' burials. As a society, we belittle these things at our great peril.

We need permanent anchor points that connect us to our loved ones and ancestors. The form these take is a matter for our sensitivity and ingenuity.

See also:

6/12/13 Blowin' in the wind

I was reading the course notes, and a news story from the USA about the trend away from 'production line' funerals, towards a more person-centred procedure.

And then I realised that this is not just about funerals. For example there is home education and Small Schools ("more like a family, less like a factory"); there is the trend away from hospital births to home births; then there are self-build homes. But running directly counter to this is central government and the Establishment. I wondered how long it would be until our lives were governed more by community councils and less by central bureaucracies.

Bath Small School: More like a family, less like a factory.
The small school exists to provide a holistic education for 10-16 year-olds in a human-scale environment.
Because classes are small the curriculum can be adapted to suit the needs of the students.
Lessons are not confined to the classroom; visits to exhibitions, the theatre, ecological projects and adventure training form an important part of the curriculum.
Students learn in an atmosphere of friendliness and mutual respect that allows their individuality room to grow.

3/12/13 This is it

So. This is my journal.

It's now nine days since I left Dart Mills. The three days there were extraordinary. The sun shone, the scenery glowed gold and green and blue. I felt exhilarated.

The people I met, I would be happy to call them my friends for life. I felt engaged with the learning with an intensity that I have rarely experienced before.

It took me at least two days after returning to come back down to planet Earth.

Since then I have completed the Eulogy. I was surprised at how, when I actually put pen to paper, the words flowed and the piece took shape. I had expected to go through several revisions but in fact I had to make fairly few changes to the first draft.

It was harder for me to maintain a sufficiently sensitive tone in my dialogue with the student whose uncle I was describing. This was a salutary reminder to me that it was she who 'owned' her uncle, not me. In the end though, we were both happy with what I'd written.

Now I would like to concentrate on the course and follow up lines of research that I find interesting. Instead I will have to devote much of my time to selling the boat. I now have an interested buyer as well as an interested renter. All I need now is to seal a deal. So we are at the negotiation stage.

Selling the boat is part of the strategy of becoming a celebrant, which began last April when I started to give  the boat a face-lift. Since the logistics of boating make it difficult even to pursue the celebrants course, let alone enter upon a new career, I have to sell up. This is a good time in my life to move on, as I am getting older and the rigours of boat life are harder on me than before. The proceeds of the sale will also enable me to fund the start-up phase of my self-employment.

I have also been able to raise the course fees by taking a cash lump sum from an old pension fund.

This is however all a vexation and a distraction from focusing on the funeral  work, and the sooner it is all behind me the better.

As a new starter I'm finding the course structure - in terms of assignments and activities - rather bewildering. I trust it will all become clear as I go along.

I am particularly interested in the idea of so-called DIY funerals and would like to find out more about this area, and about how my services might possibly fit in with it.