Volunteer Army

They are cutting back our regular armed forces and relying more on territorial army reservists. One rationale for this is that the US army and European forces makes for more use of part-time reservists than we do. The Israeli army has a whole nation of post conscript reservists constantly at the ready to return to the fight.   The idea is to give more training and equipment to the TA , but I think it will further militarise our national thinking and public policy, not soften it. 

Apart from many other misgivings, this made me think more about the nature of attachment and commitment, and how it will diffuse or under emphasise the extreme nature of soldiering in its effect on the psyche. Post traumatic stress and suicide among ex soldiers remain at an unprecedented high. Not only might you suffer irreperable damage to body, but your brains, nervous system and emotions can be fatally scrambled by active duty. 

Can someone sustain the adrenalin levels needed to become a hired killer, in and out of civilian normality?  Are we natural fighters and killers, so switching into attack mode is relatively easy, or is it a matter of turning off natural pro-human kindness and gentleness and reluctance to shoot someone’s  guts out?    Violence is so atavistic and hormonal, but it can also be a controlled stream of venom. It has become institutionised by politics for centuries.   Thinking about this is very heavy on the head and heart.   People have died in Oslo over the last twenty four hours, through a car bomb and gun attack.  I watch the pictures while eating my wheaty-bang breakfast, and pray for their parents.

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Layer cakes

I have come to a small degree of self knowledge over the years and realise that one of my traits is to triple layer my cakes. If I have one heavy project on the go, requiring maximum mental concentration, then my immediate response is to balance another equally knotty problem on top of it, and with miminum encouragement, when sleepless nights beckon, balance another on top of that.

So at the moment I have the £million pound seven partner assessment to complete by early August, compounded by a second one , of similar size. I then have the final weeks’ work of my sabbatical cover job to complete, and tidy up, with several pieces of work involved. Then I have promised to complete editing David’s book on God, and have just decided to forge ahead to write a screen play/ first episode treatment for a TV series on the aid business!

My bossy brain is so much too big for my little boots that it is hilarious.  In the meantime I am catching up with my dear little blog. You, sweetie are my solace and side salad, in more ways than one.   Sunny Saturday morning here- singing at a wedding later, and shelling broad beans.  I am a firm believer in the adage. “Before enlightenment- chopping wood. After enlightenment- chopping wood.”  Our latest buzz word in the upper echelons of coping with global misery is “granularity”. It’s good to slip it into conversations if at all possible.    Well, the broad beans are the granularity in my life. Good for them.

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Rainy Sundays

Peace and quiet – much needed rain, and a sense of acceptance. The importance of living in the moment.  It’s been an interesting week.  We had a concert last night in Ashbourne, which was a pleasure to be a small part of.  Good music – nice people.

The allotment has been producing strawberries every day for the last three weeks, and the garden does the same in raspberries.  July is a fat month for home grown veg.  You really can live off the land, from now till the end of September at least.

Out of a sea of confusion my Mum suddenly said yesterday morning, ” I was thinking about Wordsworth. ”  ” Yes?”  “You know he wrote, ‘I was never so close to God as when I was a boy . . ”  “Huh??”  Well, do you think he was saying that a child is inherently close to God, or that he hadn’t made any progress since boyhood towards being close to God?”

It is moments like that, with little conversations, which revive a sense of glory in life, one which Wordsworth did write about so well. I must go back to The Prelude and look for the quote.  Where did Mum get that from?  Yet she truly cannot remember which day it is half the time.

But there is nothing better to help when you are caring for someone in the last decade of their life than living in the moment, without dread of tomorrow, or regret for the past.

Lots of that in Boston legal actually as well.  Series 4 has just ended on the TV.  Watching it has almost become a theology, – or a sexology!  100 carat stuff.  Watching William Shatner and James Spader feed each other’s nuances is a spectacular experience.  Roll on Series 5.  I know how it finishes though.  A treat to be savoured.

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Boston Legal

My time delay switch has been at it again!  Why have I only now discovered this wonderful gem of a series, – the very best of intelligent America?  I adore it.  The supreme rhetoric of wonderful Alan Shore, the flawed genius, into whose mouth David E. Kelley put such superb oratory, the wonderful bonkers Denny Crane, the only  republican with whom I could ever fall in love , – the humanity and joyous madness of his and Alan’s mutual love and and subversive romancing. No wonder there was pressure on ABC to axe it after only four  and a half series. It cut far too close to the bone.  The episode I have just seen , on euthanasia, was the most moving exposition on the subject of terminally ill suffering I have ever seen.  In the middle of all the phone hacking scandal of intrusive press and political snooping, wars and mayhem, this is an oasis of sanity, – every night at 9pm on CBS Drama over here in the UK.

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Pets-R-Us

Another action packed Sunday!  For me it started at 5.30am when I started preparing a lunch for ten guests.  I had picked a pound of black currents and the same of red currents, and decided to use them up as a fresh summer dessert, making two little purees and then filling champagne glasses with stripes of red and white. I mixed yoghurt and cream to prevent it being too cloying, and it was a success for once!

I then adapted a recipe from the Evening Standard paper I’d picked up for free in London this week, which had been for guinea- fowl and fennel. Well, mine was for chicken, and only one fennel bulb, which was all David could find, but butternut squash, onions, satsumas, carrots and red peppers as a carpet to roast two birds on, with loads of herbs and lemons in the middle. It fed ten of us in the end easily, with loads of new potatoes and salads picked five minutes before eating!  Easy way to entertain really. The guests included our preacher for the morning, Richenda Leigh, Roger the guest organist, and six others, including my mother.

After this dawn patrol to get the food prep out of the way, I then had to tank off to a choir practice for the service.  I had suggested we sang Elgar’s Ave Verum which is a favourite of mine, and so  Joe taught it to the others in ten minutes and we sang it, along with the Karl Jenkins Benedicite, and a few other short pieces while people took communion.

Straight out of church to put the chickens in the oven, and entertain our visitors, and then in the afternoon at 4pm, we had a pets service, which produced a great collection of dogs, two tortoises, two guinea pigs, some stick insects, and a shetland pony!  I took Pip, who was transfixed by a puppet show which Phil Moncur, the Diocesan Director of education, did with two large hand-puppet cheeky crows.  These birds sang a hilarious song called “I’ve lost my sheep!” , aimed at four year olds, so Pip fitted in. He quivered with excitement, and anxiety I think, about this lost sheep, who finally appeared on the pulpit lectern.  Pip is a remarkably observant dog, but worries a lot about toy animals. He can’t seem to tell the difference from the real thing, especially when they sing or move. All the animals received a blessing, including two twelve week old labrador pups, for whom their owner told me it was their first public outing. All in all, a lovely little service, organised by Hazel, the school head teacher, and no body or animal bit or quarrelled with each other.  I think it was probably the first time a pony has come into Edensor Church!

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Open Gardens

It has been a frenzied week of activity here in little Edensor, so apologies for no blogs lately!

To start with, we’ve just had our “Hidden gardens” event, with 16 gardens open to the public, an old fashioned garden fete on the green, and loads of traditional happenings.  Jane has been poorly with a throat infection for several days before, and we both had a huge scramble to get the allotments into visitable order.  I constructed some hanging labels for the various sections to show the varieties of vegetables and fruits in each border, which interested people. At least there were some crops to look at! The broadbeans and peas are ready for picking, and the strawberries looked organised, turning red in their little kilner jar protectors, (almost my own invention) which certainly saves the berries from some mouse, vole and slug munching, and turns them red more quickly.  The beas swarmed on the morning of the show, which was a very interesting but slightly terrifying event, and Jane stayed on the allotment with some friends during the day to make sure they didn’t do it again. (well she could not stop them swarming of course, but if they did, she could get everyone off the plot quickly!) 

 Our gardens at the Vicarage were open  as well, and a few hundred people trooped in and out of my little plastic greenhouse to seriously consider my ten tomato plants, one cucumber and one pepper!  David wrote labels for the various poultry runs, so they all could see the hens and chicks as well. It has been the year of the cockerel here, with 80% of the hatched chicks being male.  – bad news really.

In the event, the whole day was a great success. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny in the upper 70s, and the people just kept pouring through the gate!  I had sent a press release to Radio Sheffield the week before and they did a live phone interview with me on Friday, which might have helped, but we had the signs up all around Chatsworth and beyond any way. 

 The day raised a stunning total of £8000, to be divided between our local C. of E. primary school, which needs to raise £17000 as 10% towards its new extension, (otherwise funded by the Diocese), and Church funds, focusing on the  churchyard, which takes £4000 just to keep the grass cut.  It’s St Peter’s tide, our  patronal festival, which is why we always do this on July 2nd or thereabouts. 

With Holymoorside silver band playing on the green, a hog roast , beer and Pimms tent,  cream teas in the church – which made £800, hand bell ringers, a barrel organ man, Punch and Judy, and loads of stalls, it was a classic day out.  I was running the plant stall with some good assistants, and we did a steady trade. The inevitable leftovers can easily be absorbed. The whole village and church congregation pulled together, (which does not  happen automatically, as the estate people have a tradition of not attending the local church!), and loads of people worked really hard to make the day a success, notably Helen Marchant,  DDDof D’s secretary, who is a stunning organiser.

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Midsummer’s Day Blisters

Last Sunday was Father’s Day and Tim arrived, bringing a card, a No 1 Dad mug, and his lovely self for lunch. He came to Church as well, which was especially nice. My Mother enjoyed seeing him as well, and I knew David was delighted.   The days are so long just now, that he set out around his usual going to work time and was here by 9.30am.  On Tuesday, which was Midsummer’s Day, Tim and three friends were up at 4am to start a golf marathon in order to raise funds for the Macmillan Nurses, who cared for his father- in- law in his terminal illness last November.  Four rounds of gold which is 72 holes in one day.   They finished about 10pm, having walked a minimum of twenty miles . Tim said that the others had friends to caddie for them or had electric trolleys, but he pulled his clubs himself all the way round.  He had terrible blisters on his feet by the end, as he must have walked a lot further than twenty miles, in golf shoes,  chasing golf balls off in the rough !  I’m very proud of him, as he says he’s far from a crack golfer. He’s raised nearly £1000 for the good cause.

Funnily enough the Macmillan head office is in the same building as Comic Relief, and Marie Curie Cancer care in London, by Vauxhall Bridge. We had a fire alarm on Thursday and the whole building’s population poured out,, a sea of young people all in leggings and mini skirts and little cardies, (and that was just the men!). It made me realise that the NGO sector must employ so many young graduates in London. Those of us over 40 were less than 10%, and as for those of us over 50!  I don’t know where all the longevity is- it certainly isn”t in the London working population!

My musical opportunism this week led me to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank to a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, following Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto and Parry’s “I was Glad”. The choral society celebrating its 30th anniversary had learned it all by heart which helped their concentration. The pianist, Tom ?  (I begrudged paying £4 fior a programme and hence remained in ignorance about most of the names|) was a delightful febrile young chap, and the soloists for the Verdi included Sir Willard White whose bass voice does have a most spine tingling quality.   I walked home along the Thames. These trips to London do increase my exercise ratio, not quite twenty miles, but at least two!

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Gongs and gongs

While I was in London on Wednesday evening I went to a free concert at the Royal College of Music, in the Parry room at the very top, of Javanese Gamelin music. linked in with some Debussy and Satie piano music which was influenced by it. The students and friends  – about fifteen of them at least, all played the strange collection of golden gongs, big gongs and wooden keyboard like xylophone instruments. The whole thing took up about 32 square feet.  The music sends you into a trance.  What would Parry have thought?  It was a worthy codicil to Monday’s funeral, as Barbara studied there, and might have played in that room, sixty years ago or more.

 Then in the extended interval they served tasty and filing food from Indonesia for  £2 donation. Hey what a find. I think I will link in more with the RGM, as tomorrow’s genius players are there in all their youth and vigour, and the productions are many and various. If I sign up as a friend, then I get in to see even more!   By the way, the powers that be have made Jenni Murray a dame. Hooray!

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Pottering on

First new potatoes this week! a small meal but encouraging after the drought to think something is in there!  The runner beans have started to run up the poles at last, and the peas are in flower.  Several good heavy showers this week have really helped everything grow, so my weeding hoe has to come out. It is the best tool, a tiny dutch hoe about three inches wide, which can get between the onion rows and doesn’t accidentally cut them in half!

At last I have managed to disperse most of my plants from the care home greenhouse and everything is beginning to move towards summer. Jane and I met on the allotment on Friday and cleared the herb beds in the middle of all the poppies. We have salads in abundance, and I took the tops off the runner beans and steamed them.  Spinach too is in good fettle.

The time of the opening of the gardens fast approaches, so I have to hack down all the weeds and nettles at the top and bottom of the plot. The red currents are hanging like scarlet jewels in the bamboo fruit cage, and I have mulched the strawberries witrh straw and pu t them under plastic cloches. It stops the birds but does nothing to prevent mice vandalism which has been a real problem all year.   But a good time to garden.

A great quote pinched from a US source.  “From the earth we come, to the earth we return, and in between we garden.”

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Passing shades

On Tuesday I returned to Gloucestershire, to see my father just before his eighty-fifth birthday and to attend the funeral of Barbara Thorley.  David came with me, and it was a pleasant , mild day with sun and no rain, after a torrential downpour on Sunday. I felt a whole network of emotions, in pastel shades of melancholy and the memories of my childhood, but I was  pleased I was there. Painswick Church was full for a very long funeral, devised by Barbara herself, with readings from Donne, Joyce Grenfell, and two passages from the bible. Carolyn Cooke sang “I know that my redeemer liveth”, and the scratch quartet of Val and Robert Wicks,  and a couple of others from our little coterie of music specialists.  I think, though, despite the very  normal and friendly arrangements made by her sister and extended nieces and nephews, and the concentration of music, good hymns, (mainly Parry) and organ playing from Chris Swain, that it did not quite catch the essence of her. The vicar, the too elderly retired vicar of Stroud muddled the liturgy dreadfully, and his sermon said nothing of any merit either about Barbara or the readings, or about the situation. Even the committal and commendation were muddled. I can imagine what she would think, as she was such a perfectionist.   They sang the final chorus from The Dream of Gerontius  and the coffin disappeared out through the door, to go to the crem.   I think very few  there probably knew her as  well or as long as I did, and remembered all the other aspects of her life.   But music lives on. They carried in Sir Edward Elgar’s conducting baton, which her piano teacher, a good friend of EE’s had given to her. David had a little hold of it during the tea afterwards, which was a religious moment for him!  When I came home later I phoned Chris Baines who told me she had lingered for four or five days in hospital longer than they expected,  didn’t speak during those days,  while the niece and nephews  kept a vigil at the bedside. I wonder what she was going through during those last days. In the church I did have a strong feeling of Hope Senior waiting somewhere for her.

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