A Quiet Mind

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I was staying with a friend recently and as we were catching up on one another’s news she said something that really made me think.  She’s usually very active on social media so it was a surprise to hear her say, “I’m checking my emails and Facebook just once a day”.  “How is that better?” I asked, rather mystified. “I save masses of time,” she said. “I make a list in the morning and somehow seem to get a lot more done.”

Talking to my friend made me realise that I spend a huge amount of time checking my emails and looking at social media. “Perhaps I should try that,” I thought and immediately had palpitations. But the idea was clearly niggling away and Continue reading

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Link Eight

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It’s September, the month of new beginnings, and so this week I’m going to mark that by doing something different. I want to tell you about a project that I’ve been working on for a whilemy chain interviews. It’s a simple enough ideaa series of interviews with each interviewee passing me on to someone that they find interesting and inspiring. That way, I’m pretty much guaranteed to talk to some fascinating people, and so far I’ve done eight interviews. I’ve heard some moving and thought provoking stories and am constantly being surprised. Each interviewee shines the light of personal experience onto important issues, and I’ve learned a lotclimate change, asylum seekers, pornography and the media, dignity in dying… I’ve even changed my views on some things.

At their core, all of these stories are about people who have stepped outside their comfort zone and done something special. You can read, below, about Liz Carrington, and how she found herself working in India, despite huge initial misgivings. The way she told the story made me laugh, and I was full of admiration for the challenging work she has done in her long career. The other seven interviews are all on the chain interview page, and there are more in the pipeline. I hope you like them.

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Liz Carrington–the eight interviewee in my chain interview experiment

Liz was introduced by my seventh interviewee, Helen Jackson who talked so movingly of her time working in a Romanian orphanage after the fall of the Ceausescu regime. She said: ‘Liz is a physiotherapist and friend of my Mum. Through her work in India she inspired me to look at volunteering myself and that’s how I found myself in Romania.’

I met up with Liz at a cafe in York. She told me about the strange coincidences that led to her work in India, her life in international physiotherapy, and the busy time she’s been having since retiring from her profession.

How did you get into physiotherapy, Liz? Continue reading

The Cathedral in the Woods

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I reread a favourite book recently, and as well as being immensely enjoyable, it was interesting in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. ‘After You’d Gone’ by Maggie O’Farrell is a searing and beautiful story of loss and if you don’t know it, I thoroughly recommend it.

On one level it was reassuring to find constancy—despite growing older I still love this book. At another level it reminded me that I’ve changed—life pummels our empathy into altered shapes and gives us new, raw rims. I was moved by it fifteen years ago, and now in a much changed life, it moved me again. But the resonance was different because some of the things I care about are different—it was good to revisit, and to update my relationship with it.

I’ve done another bit of updating recently as part of my walking treat – the 630-mile South West Coastal Footpath. This time Continue reading

Take Five

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I’ve recently returned from a four-day visit to St Petersburg—a birthday treat for my husband.  He was delighted to practise the Russian that he learned at university over forty years ago and I was delighted to visit a city that’s been high on my wish list for a long time. I knew there would be lots to see with numerous palaces, museums and cathedrals, and we did our best to scratch at the surface of this intriguing city. But my memories will inevitably fade and so, in an effort to hang onto something, I’ve chosen five ‘objects’ which represent different aspects of an extraordinary history which swoops and soars like the imperial double-headed eagle.

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Our first day was spent at Peterhof. This was commissioned as a rival to Continue reading

Blind Spots

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I’ve been filling in some gaps recently and it’s been immensely satisfying. That’s the upside—the downside is that in sharing those gaps, I shall have to confess to an embarrassing level of ignorance. It’s not that I don’t know anything. The problem is what I know about. Like most people I’ve accumulated a lot of random knowledge on my way through life. I can tell you how knickerbockers got their name, that the Dutch are the world’s tallest people, and that elephants reach puberty around the age of eleven. But thinking back to my school days, and despite gaining a respectable clutch of O-levels and A-levels, there were deserts in my learning. Maths, science and languages were quite well taught but I studied the Appalachian Mountains for what seemed like months and was never sure why, and history was particularly disappointing. It should have been my favourite subject but it was presented as a collection of unconnected events that made little coherent sense and left me feeling thoroughly confused.

I first became conscious of these shortcomings about fifteen years ago when my four children took up most of my time and energy. It was exhausting, rewarding, constraining and happy all at once—and there were times when it felt like my brain was turning into a doughnut. However, unknown to me it was quietly fighting for survival and I found myself Continue reading

Festival Takeaways

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Two years ago in ‘Parkus Interruptus’ I wrote about how I had lost all pleasure in reading. Since then, several friends have described how grief has affected them in a similar way. I’ve had many suggestions for what might help me regain my enjoyment but perhaps the most helpful has been to focus on non-fiction. I manage to read quite a lot by doing this, but where I once had a hearty appetite and a mixed diet, I’m picky these days and only occasionally snack on fiction.

This week, though, I’ve been immersed in the world of books at the Hay Festival. This tiny Welsh town with its population of 1,600 and thirty bookshops, has just hosted its thirtieth annual literary festival and its global reputation means that it can attract the biggest names in literature, the arts, politics, broadcasting, and science. Over the course of ten days there were more than six hundred events. I was there for a week and went to twenty-three of them. Mostly they were entertaining, informative and thought-provoking. I’m left with a random collection of snapshot memories, odd facts and the beginnings of a better understanding of topics ranging from Islamic fundamentalism to medical sniffer dogs, time, the early days of London Zoo, and carpe diem. And now that I’m home, I can reflect on what I’ve taken away.

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As with so many things in life, some turn out to be different from what you expect. Continue reading