Things I’ve lost and the art of growing down


I am one of those people who sometimes puts things down and can’t find them again – lesson plans, cheques, small children. I once left my  son in the meat aisle in a supermarket while I popped round the corner for salad, then couldn’t remember which meat aisle (Chicken? Beef? Delicatessen?)  He turned up eventually, in Cold Meats and Pies standing obediently exactly where I’d left him, looking a tiny bit resentful.

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I confiscated a watch from a child in class. It was one of those bleeping ones that goes off randomly every few minutes and has a touch screen that is tempting to play with rather than listen to your very engaging teacher (you could probably go on-line with it too). I put it on my desk and carried on extolling the virtues of fronted adverbials until Break. After Break it had disappeared. Now this kind of thing happens to me from time to time – with money for school trips or offerings for the Tooth Fairy – and things always turn up so I wasn’t unduly worried. Until a week had passed and it had not reappeared. Even after the Robbery talk ( “I’m not accusing anyone of taking it, but if they had, it would of course be stealing”) Or the Accidental Robbery talk (“We all understand how a person could try on a watch, admire it on their wrist and then, on the spur of the moment, almost without meaning to, just…slip it into their pencil case. But it’s still stealing.”) A bit like the difference between manslaughter and murder, I always think. Anyway, I had to go grovelling to the – fortunately very lovely – parents, insisting that I pay for it and to let me know the make/brand etc. Another two or three weeks went by and nothing happened. The child came into school with a new, rather less sophisticated watch, for which I was grateful. When confiscating other things, I made sure to put them safely in the bottom drawer of my desk, behind the defunct stapler. Then it rained one day and the watch turned up! At the bottom of the Wet Play Box between a a piece of Lego and a one armed action man. It must have fallen off my desk into this unexpected place.

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I apologised to the child about the watch. I felt bad about it having been missing so long. It turns out it had been a birthday present.

“I only intended to keep it ’til Home-time,” I told him, “Then it went missing. It must have fallen into the Wet Play Box…” He gazed back at me seriously, “You know…at Wet Play,” I added. He has brown eyes, this child, the size of rolos. They looked straight at me for a while, considering. Then, very slowly, he put out a hand and touched my arm.

“It’s alright, Mrs Jenkins,” he said, “You didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident. And you say we learn more from our successes than our failures..” He stared meaningfully at my bottom drawer where I currently held two friction pens and a ball. “Anyway we’ve found it and now I have two watches!” His eyes lit up with the pleasurable realisation, “I never thought that could happen!” And off he went happily, to meet his Dad.

This is why I work with children. Their faith in human nature is remarkable. It drives me to write lists.

Things I often lose during the week

Combs, cardigans, my sense of humour, the art of forgiveness

Things I find at weekends

Baking beans (under the kitchen units), jewellery (in hidden places), a sense of perspective

Things I’ve never lost

Buck teeth, coffee-love, a fascination with children

I went into teaching because I love children – they are the funniest, craziest, wisest little people, who put a smile on my face every day. They are trusting, forgiving and kind. They see the best in things. God made me like that too, but I sometimes wonder whether I’ve allowed life to squeeze it out of me a bit. They say that as you age, your child-like tendencies re-emerge. I’ve seen this in older people who burp loudly and laugh a lot, forgive quickly and are grateful for small things (“Now I have two watches!”). God planned this rather well I think. Forget growing up – been there, done that. Now it’s time to grow down.

Must remind my child inside to live a bit – lie on the floor with the cat, let things go,  laugh inappropriately. I might even join in with a game of Tag on playground duty.

And stay alert, in case some of the things I’ve lost turn up in unexpected places.                             .

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The Blessing of Good Signage


I’ve had a revelation. About signage. It happened the other day at a church in the middle of Derbyshire. Despite the cold, and slicing rain, the approach was beautiful – a thumb of stone, a fist of graves and  beneath the lychgate, crocuses.  Inside did not disappoint either. There was amber light, wood and brass, and slabs of paving as soft as upturned faces. It was one of those places that fills you with stillness.

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But I do not remain still for long. I spend most of the time, as usual, in front of the noticeboard. I see that there is All Age Communion on the first Sunday of the month at 10am. (Regrettably there are no 9.30 or 11.15 services on these days). I wonder briefly if that punches a hole in anyone’s routine. A bit of an upheaval perhaps if you are a creature of habit. I see that there is, “… a fine choir which sings at 9.30 or 10am each Sunday and occasionally in the evening”. that there are regular organ recitals, bible lectures and rambles and that I need to contact Alison for details of the Chattabox group. But best of all, there’s an advert for a talk at a neighbouring town.

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Isn’t it wonderful? These are the things that matter to the people who live there. They would matter to me too; remembering which Sunday the kick-off’s at 10 instead of 9.30 or 11, on which evenings the fine choir sings, and to book my ticket for the Pie and Pea supper. There’s something gloriously togetherish about these things. Who needs the Odeon or the West End? Give me the Pack Horse Routes of Derbyshire any day…

But this is why I love signs and notices. They say more about the person who put them there than anything else. This one, in a well known British supermarket, for example –wpid-20150314_100813.jpg

A snappy piece of signage. The sub text? We’re going to make it impossible for you to make this saving because after reading the terms and conditions, you’ll be brain dead anyway.

Then there was this one –

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The sub text – I care about Facebook likes and being thought of as adventurous and you must do too, or you wouldn’t be on this plane in the first place  (Wrong. I have to be practically drugged and carried onto planes these days.)

But there are other signs too – the ones that tell you things without saying very much at all.

I brew beer, I'm a Christian and I have a sense of humour

I brew beer, I’m a Christian and I have a sense of humour

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In or out? I’ve done both several times in ten minutes. Not sure I’ve made the right decision though…

There's beauty in dead places

There’s beauty in dead places

Life returns, even in graveyards

Life returns, even in graveyards

When you see the rainbow, you forget the rain.

Rainbows – my speciality

I’m a firm believer in signs. I think life holds more of them than we realise. We have to watch for them. Often we have to wait too.

But I think they say more about the Person who put them there, than anything else…

 

I follow a talented blogger, Ellie, who paints pictures of the signs she sees and writes about them. It’s well worth a look if you’re into signage 😉

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  https://propheticpostcards.wordpress.com/

There are so Many Ways to Die!


The older I get, the more people I meet and the more often I go on London trains and have direct, unintentional access to The London Evening Standard, the more I realise that there are so many ways to die. (Sorry to begin your New Year like this, but it’s just true).  You can get a disease, you can ski off a mountain, you can die in a gas explosion while you sleep in your bed. You can get mauled by a stag while on holiday in Scotland. If none of these get you, then high cholesterol might. Or blood pressure or a stroke. You can die if you don’t drink enough water of if you drink too much. Or if you eat too much red meat. You can die from eating the wrong things or eating too much of the right things. Frankly, it does my head in.

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Then, to cap it all, you hear reports of people “dying peacefully in their beds”. The people who tell you this – newsreaders or relatives or friends – nod their heads and spread their hands with relief, as if it is a good thing. What? You say goodnight to your husband or your dog or valued other, you clean your teeth and fetch water and put your jim-jams on. Then you do all those other routine jobs – feed the cat, put the bins out, make sandwiches – that indicate you fully expect your life to carry on the next day as it always has. And boom! You’re dead. How can that be a good thing? Of course what they really mean, is that compared to all those other nasties, it’s a better way to go. Well, maybe…

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To be honest I know I’m a minster’s wife and all, but I’m a bit iffy about illness and death. It’s not something I like to think about much. In fact when anyone is telling us about a distant relative or friend of theirs who has developed some kind of unpleasant condition, while I am genuinely upset for them, saying things like, “Oh poor thing! How dreadful!” my brain’s going tick, tick, tick and I’m thinking, “How would you know you had that?” It dismays me that there are so many awful things you could get that I’ve never even thought of worrying about.

My husband, cheery little soul that he is, often says that the only certain thing in life is death. He says this quite matter of factly, even with a certain amount of relish, as if his being right about it gives him huge satisfaction. It does nothing for me.

But this does; the other day I met an inspiring woman. She was beautiful, with glossy hair and dark eyes. She talked animatedly about her daughter who is friends with my daughter and about the joint birthday party she wants to host for them. She goes to a local church, she’s excited about the new minister and the Mums and Toddlers group, she invited me round for coffee. Nothing remarkable about any of this, except that this woman has MS. For two years she could hardly talk or swallow. She is much better now but she still can’t sit for long periods of time and finds it challenging to go out. She requires the help of a daily carer. I’m sure she has her moments, but she came across as overwhelmingly positive and kind, and forward-looking about life.

Meeting her was like being given an unexpected gift on a grey post-Christmas day. It gave me a burst of energy even stronger than the one given by all the other wonderful, able bodied family and friends peopling my Christmas. Why? Because she reminded me of something I often forget; we have one life and it’s now…

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One of the dictionary definitions of the word, life, is “vitality, vigour, energy”, the soul of what it is to be alive. The longer I’m here, the more people I meet and the more I read inspiring books like Dr Seuss and the bible, the more I realise there are so many ways to live. And by that, I mean, really live, not just take up space in the world. Here are a few: –

Smile at a stranger, give something away, bake a cake for a mate. Learn to sing in tune. Buy a sad person chocolate, or flowers, or one of those crazy little cup-cakes with eyes on.

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Say something nice when everyone’s having a moan. Encourage a child. Notice how the rain makes street light kinder. And your house inviting.

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Do something unselfish for the people who love you, more often and more obviously. For Brits this is awkward. But do it anyway. No one knows the size of their L.Q. (longevity quotient). Or anyone else’s. Be nice to an enemy. It will make you feel better about both of you.

Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself. God isn’t, and how would you feel if something you wrote or made entitled itself, “A piece of worthless junk”? God, who put you on this earth for a time such as this, has good that only you can bring to things, in small ways and quiet, because you know about them. Like the woman I met the other day who brought a dead day to life…

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There are so many ways to die. But there are more ways to live.

It’s a New Year. Let’s live…