Stitching For Sanity

image

I learnt to sew at primary school. We started in the infants and worked our way painfully from basic stitches and hemming through samplers to decorative aprons, finishing off with reading a pattern and making a blouse at 11 years old.

I never again bothered with these skills till I was 48 years old.

I can remember the day exactly.

I was hugely stressed. My daughter was pregnant with her second child. Instead of blooming, she was always horrifically ill during her pregnancies so my toddler grandson spent a great deal of his time in my office (I had a tolerant eccentric workplace – people brought their dogs in too).

One day I was hurrying past an art shop when I glanced at the window display of cross stitch materials and charts. I suddenly knew what I needed. On impulse I went in and bought a simple kit. Then, after a gap of 40 years I simply took up my needle and started stitching.

Thereafter I never went anywhere without my work. I stitched on the tube, on planes (it was before terrorism & no sharp objects), in hospital waiting rooms, at conferences, discreetly at the back of lecture halls and boring meetings. I entered a new hidden world of stitchers, secretly continuing a centuries’ old female tradition.

I could see why it had continued. Stitching got you through. It looked virtuous and was a creative outlet menfolk couldn’t object to. It was an absorbing object of skill and pride that let you escape the pressures and tedium of domestic life. It got you through the months when your menfolk were at the crusades or on the high seas or off hunting with their mates or about important masculine business.

It took time and patient concentration. It involved the satisfying feel of the materials, the painstaking selection and organisation of threads. There was the designing, choosing and following a complex plan. And the faith that it would come together at the end.

image

Because stitching is never a complete picture until right at the end. The different parts of the design don’t achieve a pleasing balance until then. You have to struggle through the tedious, confusing, frustrating bits to reach the finished article.

But, of course, all this stopped when I started blogging for #107 days and #JusticeforLB. I now have a selection of unfinished (possibly never to be finished) work!

I have forsaken tradition for technology.

Though, on thinking about it, the actual processes of patiently acquiring the skills and faithfully sticking to your purpose in order to bring something together are still the same!

image

Love Has Brought Me Around

image

It’s a sad day and a low time of year.  When living and working in towns and cities, we don’t have much time or opportunity to study the skies. We forget how the seasons lift us up and pull us down.

Yet surprising things can help us through the lows.

For me a new love came into my life quite unasked and undeserved.

It was my granddoggie.  I never did anything to merit his adoration. I didn’t feed him, except on the odd mercy mission when his family were held up in traffic. I didn’t keep the roof over his head or take him for walks in wintry weather.

Yet he just loved me. When I came to the door he would rush from wherever he was comfortably snoozing and go into an ecstasy of tail wagging and welcome whimpers. When I finally sat down he would leap onto my knee. It was a source of huge entertainment and amazement to the family.

Of course I loved him in return.

He’s old now and he was never particularly clever, but he was long-suffering and forgiving. He put up with all the silly costumes the grandchildren made him wear, the endless idiotic tricks they taught him.

Even now in his more tetchy, less energetic old age, he welcomes every day in the world with cheerful anticipation.

Here he is, forever puzzled but patiently accepting of the strange things life throws at him, trying to lick up a frozen puddle in the park.

Yes, in unexpected ways, in life’s bad places, love has brought me around.

image

Blogging for the Common Good

On finding a voice and learning by doing

image

I’ve lived through an educational revolution in England and I didn’t experience it as a good one.

I trained as a teacher in 1973, and my dissertation then was on Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.  I also referred a lot to Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Postman & Weingartner and Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Try doing that nowadays in UK teacher education. Nothing to do with delivering the National Curriculum? Forget it! We can’t waste time encouraging our teachers to think, or worse still, dream! Why, it might rub off on the pupils, and what mischief might that lead to!

Whatever and whoever I taught, I wanted them to think. I wanted them to question. I wanted them to experience places and people outside their own limited surroundings. I didn’t want them to be trapped by fear of the unfamiliar, or intimidated by dogma or deceived by marketing and spin. I wanted them to be the best they could be. To be ready to take on the world. To know they mattered. To have their own confident voice.

I still want that.

I can’t change my ways. I’m obviously a bad old person. I won’t accept that I should just bow out of active life, shut up and wait for kindly euthanasia. I still value the sheer enjoyment and frustration of learning by doing, of jumping into new experiences, of finding out with the help of enthusiastic mentors and the company of others along the way.

While I may not be going out into the forest any more to plodge around in muddy streams and discover strange living things, I’m exploring the online world of blogging and social media, and encountering all its weird life forms, its good angels and its monsters.

And, by so doing, still playing my little part in fighting the grim Mr Gradgrinds in their dingy classrooms and their endless “Facts! Facts! Facts!”. Fighting for creativity and joy in learning and in valuing others for their unique humanity, not for what they can deliver to the economy of an all consuming state.

image

Starry, Starry Night and the Magic

Advent 8 On the power of story

image

I was brought up in the cold, grey north where winters were dark and grim. The culture was pretty grim too, in those days. Bars were for the men and they shut at ten o’clock. Respectable children were not allowed to play out on a Sunday.

My friend told me that when she started school, it was arranged she would walk back to her grannie’s for her tea, before going home. On her second day her grannie asked her how her day had gone.

“I didn’t enjoy it very much,” she ventured timidly

“Enjoy!” said her grannie sternly. “You’re not put on this earth to enjoy! We’re here to suffer and be judged!”

That about summed it up really.

So it wasn’t until I was well into my teens that I encountered the magic of light and joy in a well enacted story.

One Christmas Eve a gang of us teenagers went along on to what was known in Scotland as the Watchnight Service. We weren’t particularly religious. It must have been because one of us was the minister’s son and was under orders to go.

I had never been to anything remotely symbolic in a church before. No gilded statues or lavishly decorated altars for the United Free Church of Scotland where I had gone to Sunday school!

But, at the Watchnight Service in this strange cold church, there was silent darkness until, at midnight, the candles were lit as the words of the King James bible were read out and the old story of new life coming into the world was retold.

It was magic!

The symbolism of the midwinter feast was lived out before us. The darkest time of the year just past and the earth turning again towards the sun with the promise of renewal, survival and spring.

Even nowadays, however much killjoys try to wean us away from magic and the power of stories, we still rebelliously trail strings of pinprick lights over our hedges and around our homes. In the midst of the shopping spendfest we still fall under the spell of flickering candles and starry skies.

Somewhere underneath all the cynical commercialism still lurks the ancient desire to celebrate new life and to welcome the rebirth of light into a dark world.

And discover, in the face of all the grimness of existence, a spark of hope.

image

Skating On Thin Ice

Advent 7: Cheap and cheerful winter sports for the adventurous

image

The upside of bitter weather while growing up in the 1950s and 60s was that we could go skating for free.

By the time we became teenagers almost all of us could skate.  We spent our Saturday mornings at the skating rink in the nearby town. This involved a journey on the local train, a bus ride and finally a walk to the rink, but we made the trek on a regular basis.

Skating rinks were rough places. I imagine they still are. Daring boys on speed skates wove dangerously in and out of circling youngsters wobbling on blunt, well worn, hired figure skates. Dire warnings were issued about the necessity of wearing stout gloves, because if you fell and somebody skated over your bare hand, they would cut your fingers off!

Pop music blared out of echoing loud speakers. The refreshment area served up unhealthy treats in grubby surroundings. You had to stumble there on your skates across ancient stained felt carpeting torn by generations of blades.

It was great fun.

Our ambition was to have our own skates. I got a pair for my combined Christmas and 13th birthday present. Once you had your own skates, you could skate outdoors when the ponds and fields froze.

The pond where we skated was a private duck pond in a walled estate, surrounding a large house.

image

Local children were allowed access in freezing weather.  The impressive front entrance gates to the estate were at the very far end of the village from our street. It was a long walk after a day at school and a hurried tea, carrying your skates. There was however a much shorter back route.

This involved following the single track railway line which ran across the fields. It wasn’t that dangerous. There weren’t that many trains and it wasn’t far. You could time your walk to ensure the track was clear. In any case you could hear and see a steam train coming miles away.

At one point, where the field ended beside a road, I seem to remember we had to climb over quite a high back gate into the estate. In the dark. (It must have been the gate in the photo). But it did cut out a long, boring walk, so we didn’t mind, it was worth it.

At weekends in the daylight there was another place you could skate when the circumstances allowed. One of the fields in a dip some distance behind the village was prone to flooding.  When this froze you had a natural ice rink, which was smooth and unrutted. We only managed to get there on rare occasions, but it was a bizarre experience, skating in the middle of quiet, frosty, deserted fields, with no houses or other people in sight.

The only image I could find of anything approximating to it, was of winter in Lithuania, where people are apparently still in the habit of creating their own homemade ice rinks wherever the lie of the land allows.

Your own private winter playground, for free.

Happy days!

image