Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Two Faces Of Janus

Did you know that January is named after the Roman god of gates and doorways?   that's right... Janus... he with the physiognomy that faces two ways, backwards and forwards, to the past and to the future.   he symbolised home, family, civilisation.  the doors of his temple were closed in times of peace but wide open during war to show he was no longer in residence... let's face it, a huffy deity doesn't have to hang around when neighbours start squabbling, he can just up and off at the first whiff of animosity, no mortgage or rent for him to worry about like us mere mortals.

We can blame the Romans for the tyranny of New Year's Resolutions too. their officials would publicly vow to stay loyal to the Emperor on the first day of the year then have a knees up, toasting the hob nobs and throwing the hoi-polloi to the lions... those Italians and their superstitions... i think it's their retaliation for all those years patrolling up and down old Hadrian's separation barrier in the bitter North East winters.   mind you, i totally see their point... vineyards, baths, underfloor heating or... sheep, wind, more sheep, more wind, sheep with triple layer fleece to cope with triple strength wind...  i'd be cranky and impose impossible habits on the natives too.   yeah yeah, i know all about it having abutted the border for nine years, i learnt all about sheep, wind, more sheep, more etc. etc. etc. 

After one particularly difficult year when my children were young we created a Happiness Jar.   the idea was to think of one good thing every day, no matter how mundane or simple, such as a nice lunch or an answered prayer, write it on a slip of paper and pop it into the jar.   the plan being to empty it at the end of the year and look back.   well... it was overflowing by Easter !!  it seems thankfulness and optimism are like a muscle, if you don't consciously exercise them they atrophy, wither and become pathetic examples of their original glory.   knowing "The Jar" was waiting for it's offering each evening stimulated us to search out or create examples to tell each other and  we discovered  the universe is full of little wonders waiting to be found and enjoyed, shared and celebrated.   
My resolution for 2016 will delight those of you who read this blog regularly... i intend to invest in a copy of English Grammar for Dummies and work to overcome the shortcomings in my early education. understanding WHY my punctuation is non existent and grammar occasionally metamorphoses into gobbledygook should only be the beginning of revelation.  it's a reason, NOT an excuse and there's nothing except apathy stopping me from addressing it. these areas of lack only define us if we don't strive to overcome them, it's never too late and we are never too old to learn or change.   perhaps you will be kind and leave a comment if you perceive improvement so i can take the next step and start on maths ???

Do you have plans to join Janus at midnight and look over your shoulder as one year passes into history and then peer into the unknown of the future with it's inevitable joy and despair, health and sickness, life and death?  or are you like me preferring to climb into bed with that good book you treated yourself to at Christmas and a mug of cocoa, making a conscious decision that living the moment is enough hard work for one year? 

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Papuan Greetings

It doesn't feel very wintry in the North East.   No white stuff falling or drifting into crooks and nannies, no chilblain inducing minus degree temperatures, no icy puddles for kiddlies to crack, no frost, no freezing winds howling off the Siberian steppe.   yesterday it was 15*.  FIFTEEN DEGREES ... IN DECEMBER !   most disconcerting, too clement, no hoof-holds for reindeer, and definitely no sublime chocolate box Christmas scenes.    

I've been dithering for days over this blog-post as i find myself with a dichotomy.   you see, i LOVE everything about Christmas... the glitter and glitz, the giving and receiving, the carols and candles, Nutcracker and orchestra, the lights and liturgy, they all find a fit with my personality and, for me, the two thousand year old legend we ostensibly celebrate has meaning... its evolution in the telling doesn't negate the possibility of seeds of truth.   we don't hold all of Darwin's theories as gospel yet, with the knowledge of the time, he discerned a kernel of fact that we have built on as our knowledge has increased.

So... here i sit, surrounded by tinsel, fairy lights and extravagantly wrapped pressies contentedly feeling as though i must be one of the most blessed humans to inhabit this fragile lump of rock as it wobbles merrily around it's oblivious star... let me rephrase that, I AM one of the most privileged of humans, i know that and strive not to become complacent or feel entitled as i know how tenuous life can be.

Yet, i don't forget the many friends and family who endure rather than enjoy Christmas, who would prefer undergoing root canal dental treatment without anaesthetic to facing yet another rendition of Jingle Bell Rock jangling from every loudspeaker in town... actually i am in total agreement with you all on that and speak as a committed dentaphobe.

How hard it must be to wake in the morning broken hearted or downcast with grief or pain and know the world and it's mates are going to expect you to be merry and bright, the manager at work is going to command you to wish your customers "HAPPY CHRISTMAS" with a radiant smile, the bus driver wearing antlers will bluster "cheer up mate it may never happen", only "it" did happen, and "it" happened to you.   

And what of those who will be working this Christmas?  one million of us Brits will be putting in a shift on Christmas Day (see link below) and many million more will be expected to work on Boxing Day.   a lady i love can't go home Christmas Eve until she's cleared the seasonal stuff and has to be in early on the 26th to start the sale... she's had to do that every year i've known her... just so we can shop !!!

So my dear friends, you who are the bereaved, the hurt, the lonely, the working, the homeless, the agoraphobics, the alienated, know that while i'm revelling in the season i'm also with you in spirit, feeling for you, thinking of you, remembering what it is to be you...that's the dichotomy.

May i leave you with two greetings?

To those who, like me, are privileged and enjoy this season... Happy Christmas.

To you who are struggling... Dabal Bagarap ... as they say in Papua New Guinea Pidgin English.   It loosely means to find yourself in a bad situation and is pronounced

                                 !!   DOUBLE  BUGGER  UP  !!

Hope that raises a smile through the pain.     Jeni


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Help For The Helpless

Well, Hexham has recovered from Storm Desmond....just !! at it's height the river ALMOST reached the top of the bridge, the royal mail sorting office was under 3 foot of water and 17 of their vans were thought to be a write off.   homes have been flooded, roofs lost, roads closed.    the beck at the back of my flat coped magnificently, though it was surreal to be woken in the early hours by flashing lights and loud voices.  four hazard jacketed men, waist deep in the water, wrestled with tree branches and random debris as the rain hammered down and the torrent roared.

As i snuggled back into the warmth and comfort of my duvet i offered a prayer for those who didn't have a roof to lose, or a home to flood, or a bed to retreat to...and then i remembered...

a barn, rats rustling in the dark, condensation dripping off a corrugated iron roof, prickly points of hay poking through a sleeping bag...

a camp site, cold wind, hard ground, the outside of a tent against my back...

a shop doorway, smell of pee, rain, footsteps, fear...

a beach in Cornwall, cold damp sand, the sound of waves, incoming tide lapping at feet, black velvet sky, diamond bright stars...

Oh yes...i remembered...i will never's impossible to forget.

There is a prevailing attitude that associates homelessness with alcoholism or addiction, that it's self inflicted and those losers need to "get a grip" and "pull themselves up by the boot strings", that they "brought it on themselves".    it's a way of thinking that the tabloid media mines in self righteous indignation and it stifles compassion by encouraging the lie that it could never happen to you.

None of the homeless i've known, and i've known and given a bed to quite a few over the years, chose that life of unremitting precarity.   behind every vagrant is a story of rejection, abuse, domestic violence, mental  illness, emotional vulnerability, family breakdown, bankruptcy, sudden redundancy, eviction, maybe even un-insured flooding or fire.   oh COULD happen to you.

In the musical universe of the Mamas And The Papas "the darkest hour is just before dawn".  it's also the coldest and loneliest, the time where despair can lead to suicide, or the bottom of a bottle....what came first the depression or the drinking?   the fear or the self medication?   the vulnerability or the eviction?   does it even matter?   the original cause is often buried under layers of recrimination and justification or fogged by delusion.  if long standing, untreated mental health issues are present it may never be possible to put together a coherent history, as the past may be shrouded in psychosis.

Strong winds have returned, it's going to be a wild night in Hexham again and maybe where you are too.    Do you know where the homeless in your town will sleep?   Do you know if there are hostels where a bed and a shower and a hot meal can be found?   do you know how they are funded?   where the food comes from?   who runs them?

Perhaps this winter you could show you care by helping to provide a meal or shelter over Christmas for those out in the cold.   Crises At Christmas and The Salvation Army are just two of many charities who step in when the world steps out....will you step up ???

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Go, Go Girls

When early retirement came knocking over a decade ago my bookshop was at the height of it's success.  popular with the young,  a good reputation, solvent and bizzy bizzy bizzy.   closure wasn't unexpected as the Metro Centre had always coveted our site for reconstruction along with higher rents, so it was no surprise when we received notice to quit.   nor was it totally unwelcome on my part so i was spared the trauma inflicted on my team who found it hard to let go.... if you are reading this all you 'The Ocracy' boys and girlies, you were brill, the best EVER !!! and i've  missed you every day since.

Bassett The Wheelchair hadn't put in an appearance at this point but anyone watching would have known it was inevitable as i was in constant pain and even walking beyond the end of the mall felt as daunting as Scott's trek to the Antarctic sans ponies.

As preparation for a life of leisure i  set myself Five Commandments Of Retirement.   shamefully the only one i remember came in at number four :
              Thou shalt wear nice clothes daily, whether 

                                 going out or staying in.

A simple action that felt laden with significance ...

i may be retired but ...  i'm NOT  OLD

i may be retired but ...  i'm NOT LAZY

i may be retired but ...  i'm STILL  FEMALE

i may be retired but ...  i STILL CARE HOW I LOOK

When wheels became a necessity it felt as though all the above could no longer be taken for granted and i had to fight even harder to retain my individuality, my personhood.   in a wheelchair even the young-ish don a cloak of invisibility :

i am in a wheelchair therefore i am  ...  asexual

i am in a wheelchair therefore i am  ...  infantilised

i am in a wheelchair therefore i am  ...  non-sentient

i am in a wheelchair therefore i have ...  no style

So ... it was with great delight that i stumbled upon these wonderful young fashion bloggers on the BBC disability page who refuse to accept they can't be beautiful or fashionable or stylish or YOUNG just because they are paralysed or unseeing.

Go, go Gadget Girls, i'm proud of you ...