Banishing Thugs

There’s something about stairs. They’re kind of magic because you walk up them and you’re somewhere else, usually on the first floor of your house. But it’s amazing isn’t it? I mean, you’re standing in the same place as your kitchen sink but you’re…well…up. We never had a proper landing in our old house so I love my stairs. The other day I curled up on them in a stretch of sunshine. It was an odd place to sit but strangely comforting.  I looked up the stairwell at the banisters and the hanging light-thing, and I watched the sun skim unfinished wood. And I thought, I should sit here more often.

Last weekend I had a ball. In Northampton. With about eighty Baptist Ministers’ spouses. (If you think the words in bold are basically incompatible, please rethink your version of reality.) We came from cities and villages, big and small churches. We had grey hair and dyed hair and that lovely young hair that’s all swingy and sleek, like in adverts (sigh). We wore jeans or glasses or hearing aids or all three. We brought guitars or drums or knitting needles. And we talked. Boy, how we talked. Even the men. All three of them (but one was the speaker.)

The weekend made me think. Being human is hard. When you’re young, you’re going to make your mark on the world. Then one day, you wake up middle-aged to find the world has made its marks on you, including neck wrinkles and sticky out veins and the fact that Leo Sayer will never be Number One again. Then there are people who believe in God (and I always absolutely do, apart from sometimes), that He will help with this. Bit unpredictable how, but it usually involves bringing along the right person or the right thing at the right time in the right way. To make things better. And then, when they are, the whole Maybe I can change the world thing, comes back, but this time more modestly in small ways but quiet, like ants.

Anyway, on this weekend we had the most gracious and lovely speakers called Nigel and Judy Wright who have been in ministry over 40 years and have both made a mark on the world. They spoke on how to live the Jesus life. They talked about slavery and wisdom and how to live well. Nobody escapes scars but you don’t have to grow old with them. Embrace simplicity, endure, refuse to recycle evil. Don’t forget to pray, and breathe, and surprising things will happen.

Well, I prayed and breathed, and surprising things did. I relaxed and slept and didn’t think about work. I read a bit and walked a bit and ate a lot. There was the chocolate fountain and the cocktail bar and the quiz. We made jewellery or origami or scrapbooks. We ate cake. And on the Saturday evening we entertained each other – with stories and tea towels. And a uni-cycle (You had to be there really…)

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And the reason I love these weekends is because they remind me to pay attention. To things that really matter, instead of that procession of thugs marching through my mind in hob nailed boots –  email this person, ring so-and-so, do school work, pay trip money, prepare Sunday School. Hurry, hurry, so you can get it all done double quick…

So if you haven’t been on one, you really should. Of course you might not be married to a Baptist minister which is a bit tricky (I have heard there are single ones, though I’ve never actually met one). But then there are other inspirational/pampering things you could go on. Maybe now is the time…

And if, like me, your time and money is limited, you could always try sitting in places in your house you’ve never sat before. Or walk upstairs and admire your ripe garden.


There are other places to banish the thugs. This one is good.


Or this one


I quite like this one (different perspective)


I’ve been meaning to sit here for a while. It saves getting up after  putting your socks on.

Interesting that when I’m busy writing blog posts, and taking photos, the thugs don’t stand a chance…

What helps you to relax and take your mind off things?



Welcome to my new home.


The front entrance

 Not the easiest place to get to but you can cross at low tide. It’s only 3 miles along the causeway. You should note though that the island is cut off twice a day when the sea returns and the road disappears under pleated water. You may wish to look carefully at the Tide Tables. Otherwise you might end up like this:

You approach the island from the north so you get your first glimpse of the place beyond the village. A huddle of houses, a spire, a ruined priory. Then you see it – Beblowe Crag, a jagged tooth of whinstone and perched upon it a fairy tale castle.


View from the village

Holy Island or Lindisfarne is a tiny island off the coast of Northumbria in the North Sea. The Vikings liked to invade it and so did the Scots, so it was fortified around 1570 and remained defensive until Scottish James 1 became king of England in 1603. The two kingdoms were combined and the castle became a garrison, a naval store and then a coastguard station.

At the beginning of the twentieth century a tourist went for a walk, found it and fell in love. Luckily for Edward Hudson, as founder of Country Life Magazine he had the money to indulge his new passion. When he bought the lease from the crown in 1901, he declared, “I want to have fun with the place.” His friend Edwin Lutyens was a gifted architect and together they refurbished the castle in the seventeenth century Dutch style – simple, beautiful, understated. It’s like walking straight into a Vermeer painting.


The landing


My bedroom

Now owned by the National Trust, the rooms remain fully furnished as if the owner’s just popped out for a bit. You can wander round with your nose in the air, mentally clad in a bustle and crushed velvet, pretending the old man behind you is your butler. Any minute, with a swish of your skirts, you could swing round and declare in your best BBC accent, “I thenk we’ll teek tea in the Droring Room today…”

I don't even know who these people are. They followed me right in!

I don’t even know who these people are! They followed me in…

I love the whole castle but I think my favourite parts are the kitchen…

Imagine peeling potatoes with a view like that! You'd probably hurt yourself...

Imagine peeling potatoes with a view like this! You’d probably hurt yourself…

…And the Upper Battery (roof terrace)


The view from the Upper Battery

You can see hundreds of seals from here. You can also see the priory, unused since 1550 when Henry VIII disbanded it. Since 635, through the work of Aidan and Cuthbert and later the famous Lindisfarne Gospels, Holy Island and its priory had been the cradle of English Christianity.  Henry had the stones from the priory used to build the castle.

A wise friend once said that our longing for beautiful homes is really a hunger for heaven. I love that. A home in heaven that won’t get old and cruddy. On earth you have to spend so much time and money to keep stuff looking good. Hudson found this with Lindisfarne. Having bought it in 1918, he sold it three years later. He simply couldn’t afford to run the place.

It would still be my dream home. But it might be a pain if you run out of milk and need to borrow from the neighbours. And I bet the delivery charge on a Tesco’s shop is scandalous.  The winters are pretty grim too. According to a National Trust employee who stays there, it’s no fun stumbling around at night in a power cut looking for the loo.

Perhaps I’ll stay here for the time being. After all I haven’t actually told the National Trust I’m moving in yet.  I suppose my Saturday lie-ins might be a problem in the tourist season. I could wear my silk pyjamas. They’d fit right in. If I’m lucky no one will even notice I’m there…

If you could have the home of your dreams, where would it be and why?