Other men’s Flowers

On my birthday a few weeks ago, a friend sent me an elegant doorstop with a note saying she hoped this would not prevent her coming through my door again. When I wrote back I included the words of an invocation my nine year old son had learned, and used to recite when we sometimes had family prayers. Since we were attending the silent Quaker meeting at the time, I worried that they would have no words of comfort, poetry and beauty to fall back on when they needed it, like the store of beauty and strength I had inherited from the Anglican prayer book, so we learned some poetry and prayers together. This was his favourite prayer:
Oh God,
make the door of this house wide enough
to receive all who need human love and fellowship,
and narrow enough to shut out
all envy, pride and strife.
Make its threshold smooth enough
to be no stumbling-block,
but rugged enough
to turn back the tempter’s power:
make it a gateway
to thine eternal kingdom.
Amen
It was written by Bishop Ken, described as a ‘man of unstained purity and invincible fidelity to conscience’. He became a bishop after refusing to allow Nell Gwynne, Charles 11’s mistress, to stay in his house when the King was visiting Winchester.
When the next bishopric came up, Charles directed that ‘The good little man who refused poor Nell his lodgings’ should be appointed. He became the King’s chaplain, and ministered to him during the long week the King lay on his deathbed … two of my favourite people –  one for his gentleness and goodness, the other for his warm and generous open heartedness, his kindness, and his love of Cavalier King Charles spaniels – I’ve had six of these adorable little dogs.
Bishop Ken’s later career was a chequered one, including imprisonment in the Tower, all his vicissitudes being caused by his refusal to compromise his conscience, no matter what it cost. There aren’t many people like that around – either then or now..
In my early teens when like many another teen, I experienced deep despair, these words by someone called Frederick Langridge kept me going: ‘Two men look out through the same bars; One sees the mud, and one the stars’ , and later, twice as old now, in my late twenties, stranded in a foreign country, with no money, two children and no family, I turned to William the Silent. He fought the Spanish to gain independence for his country, the Netherlands, during the time of Elizabeth 1. He didn’t succeed, and was assassinated by a Spanish supporter..
But at the start of every day at the newspaper where I was so poorly paid, I turned to his words written in my pocket diary:
‘One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere’. These grim stoical words gave me the backbone I needed to keep on keeping on.
A few years later, in happier times, life still demanded courage and tenacity and I used a Taoist verse to keep me going. During this time, many people wrote to me or contacted me, as a result of the columns I wrote every week. One particular woman rang with what seemed like a convoluted problem to ask my help, so I referred her to a helping agency. A week or so later she came back, saying she was still up against it, unable to get help. So I sent her in another direction. Again some weeks later she was back, sounding even more desperate, so I suggested her MP as a last resort. But no… no go.
She always rang in the early evening when I was preparing our evening meal, and when I was at my most exhausted coping with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and beginning to feel as desperate as she was by the time she rang again. I also began to feel that perhaps she was the problem, rather than the circumstances as she told them.
So finally I said, I could give you some words which I find helpful when I don’t know what to do, and she leapt at the idea.
I gave her these words from the Chinese Tao:
 
Close your eyes and you will see the truth,
Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit,
Be gentle and you will need no strength,
Be patient and you will achieve all things,
Be humble and you will remain entire,
 
I never heard from her again, so I hoped they did help her as they helped me.
Some of my favourite words have lasted me all my life, like the Sanskrit poem :
 
‘Look to this day,
For it is life,
The very life of life.
In its brief course lies all
The realities and verities of existence…….
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today, well lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope,
Look well, therefore, to this day.
 
Life being what it is, there are always challenges to be met and overcome, and this was my fate yet again, a few years ago, when I had to decide whether to take a great leap into the unknown, or settle for safety, comfort, and an easy conventional life.
I fell back on James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, another of my favourite people and his words:
He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
That puts it not unto the touch
To win or lose it all
 
Having put my fate unto the touch, I find I’ve won it all, and learned yet again, that when one trusts to life, and steps into the unknown, the Unknown supports the adventure…
 
And now, seven years later, living in the bubble of joy, peace and happiness which resulted from taking that momentous step, ( reckless, some called it ) I don’t really need words of steel or beauty or comfort any more, but nevertheless love to savour them when they come my way.
Kahlil Gibran is famous for his book ‘The Prophet’, one of the most widely read books in the world, but these words of the Lebanese poet come from his other writings. They came to me the other night as I read a book on Lebanon –  that tragic place where descendants of ancient Phoenicians still live amongst the descendents of so many other later civilisations.
Gibran wrote:
Remember, my brother,
That the coin which you drop into
The withered hand stretching towards
You is the only golden chain that
Binds your heart to the
Loving heart of God.
 
Words like these, that connect me to the beating heart of the world, are precious, and as I look back at these verses and poems and prayers that have sustained me, they remind me of a quotation from Montaigne. One of my favorite anthologies of poetry is WW2 hero, Field Marshal Lord Wavell’s book, called ‘Other Men’s Flowers’. It’s a thick book, and contains every poem he had loved, and could recite… a humbling thought that he knew every word of this thick book by heart. He begins by quoting Montaigne, the very loveable French philosopher:
‘I have gathered a posie of other men’s flowers and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own’, said Montaigne.  
And that is true of this entry of mine into the logbook of humankind’s experiences.
 
Montaigne’s work is ‘noted for its merging of casual anecdote and autobiography with intellectual insight’, and as in the case of so many great men and great writers, as well as others as obscure as myself. has influenced and encouraged writers to be true to themselves. That his influence  is still so potent, even today, nearly five hundred years later, is proof of the power of words to strengthen, inspire, comfort, and educate, to open the heart,  broaden the mind and inspire the spirit.
 
The words that I hope will accompany me on my next journey were written by a Roman who no-one is quite sure whether he was Christian or Pagan, but his words can work for anyone who believes in a First Cause, or Divine Source, be they Pagan, Hindu, Christian or Muslim:
The last three lines of Boethius’s  invocation are:
” To see Thee is the End and the Beginning.
That carriest me and Thou didst go before.
Thou art the Journey and the Journey’s end.
 
I don’t plan to rest in peace, I shall be journeying and adventuring into new realms of light and love and beauty…’ Light and more light,’ as Goethe is reputed to have said as he died – more poetic words to take me with me into the next worlds….
 
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
 
I had to take an offering to the AGM of our community on this remote forest estate where I live, and didn’t have the energy to bake a cake. Along with the kedgeree that I’ve posted before, I took an old favourite of my children’s.- simple, easy and didn’t need baking.
 I slowly melted 200 grams of dark chocolate with 75 grams of butter, and three good tablespoons of golden syrup. When this is all melted, stir in as many cornflakes as will absorb the mixture. Pile into individual paper cake cases, and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Even adults devour these chocolate  indulgences.
 
Food for Thought
 
Nelson Mandela said ” Our world is not divided by Race, Colour, Gender or Religion. Our world is divided into WISE People and FOOLS.. and Fools DIVIDE themselves by Race, Colour, Gender and Religion”

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What princes can learn from frogs


The last time I wrote on this subject I was called bitchy by someone I like and admire so I’m treading carefully today. I’m referring to the current soap opera that I follow with fascination – no, not the busty beautiful Armenian family who seem to rivet the States, but a family nearer home ( mine!)

The arguments for a republic versus a monarchy are not my domain, but in passing I’d say: do the third of the world’s population who belong to the Commonwealth and accept Elizabeth Windsor as their Queen, really want to swap this benign system for one in which one’s country is both ruled and represented by a Macron or a Sarkosy, or going further afield, a Berlusconi or a Putin? (I’m sticking resolutely to Europe for these comparisons rather than looking across the Atlantic to another controversial power situation.)
A minor point would be the sheer expense of changing all the millions of letterheads and signs, from the Royal Mail, to Her Majesty’s forces, even to a commission to serve in the army – I still treasure the wording on mine: “To my trusty and well-beloved”..
So I dip my toe very cautiously into the waters of controversy that I’m probably about to stir up as fiercely as they’ve already been muddied. I have both questions which will never be answered, and thoughts which may well be labelled bitchy again!
The world-wide airing of family linen by a woke American TV hostess provoked many of these thoughts, one of which was why didn’t the aggrieved pair who did the shaming and blaming to the whole world, just talk it over with their family?
It’s fascinating to analyse many of the extraordinary statements made, so many of which turned out to be untrue. The first of which was the smiling bombshell dropped, that the happy couple had had a private and secret ceremony three days before their wedding – that splendid ceremonial ritual for which the Royal family and the British taxpayer paid millions. It felt as though Harry’s wife was saying that spectacle was just for the peasants, but the real thing was our private ceremony, saying she “called up the Archbishop” , conjuring up a picture of the Primate of all England picking up his cassock and scurrying over to their garden for this touching little ceremony.

We have the certificate framed and hung on our wall’, she informed her gullible interviewer. Well, I’d like to see a picture of this  document in its frame, hanging on a wall in California. The Archbishop, interviewed in an Italian magazine, has said that to have conducted such a misleading ceremony without all the legal provisos of witnesses,  certificates, and legal processes would be “to have committed a serious criminal offence”.


So we can all breathe easy, the wedding which millions of people watched with such hope in their hearts Was the real thing, not the sham that Harry’s wife was suggesting. So we were not hood-winked after all. But why did she want to? Did she feel too grand to share her vows with the public and family who were paying for it?

Then there was the brushing away of the question from Oprah that perhaps the new arrival had been welcomed into the family, showing a picture of Catherine and her sister taking Meghan to Wimbledon. ‘Things aren’t always how they look’, said Meghan evasively. No wonder she was evasive. That picture had been taken the day after Meghan had turfed forty tennis lovers out of the seats they had paid for, so she could sit with two friends in grand and conspicuous splendour uncontaminated by the great unwashed. She had sent her security men to forbid two other tennis fans from taking pics of her, the only problem being that one, a former Wimbledon player, was taking a selfie with Roger Federer, as was the elderly immigrant of many years attendance at the matches.


The next day, Catherine mounted a rescue operation to try to save Meghan’s face. She roped her sister Pippa in, to make it look like a casual girls afternoon  together, and they sat among the crowd, Catherine and her sister observing the Wimbledon requirements to dress up, while Meghan just wore a casual shirt and skirt.Similarly at their very last engagement in the Uk, the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, when everyone is asked to wear red, white or blue, Harry’s wife ignored the convention, and wore the Kermit green outfit which has since become such a talking point. And strangely all through the service, where the camera focused on the faces of the Royal family listening solemnly and sombrely to the sermon and the service, Meghan is smiling brightly and inappropriately all the way through… why, I wonder?

There hasn’t been much attention paid to one of the reasons Meghan was accused of bullying, but I find it fascinating. Apparently when Harry had a shooting party at Sandringham for his friends, Meghan had ordered red blankets for each of the guests. The staff got the wrong red, according to statements made about bullying. But why Was Meghan doling out red blankets? Was there not enough bedding in the bedrooms at Sandringham where generations of Royal family had slept? Or did she feel that the decor was so fusty or whatever, that she’d improve it with red blankets?  Either way it was a subtle criticism of the Queen’s home, and disrespect for the generous grandmother who had lent it to her grandson.


And talking of Sandringham, one of the public criticisms of the “family Meghan had never had” in Harry’s words, was that the couple felt  unwelcomed. Yet they turned down invitations to spend Christmas at Sandringham with the whole family, and refused to go to Balmoral for the traditional summer holiday with everyone in the family. Instead, Meghan flew to New York for the weekend to watch her friend Serena play tennis. The Queen bent every rule she had applied to other engaged members of the family and included Meghan and her mother at traditional family gatherings, including the big Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace for cousins and more distant family members.The public airing of so many petty grievances, imaginary slights, exaggerated claims and outright untruths was a strange decision for a couple who had said they were leaving their duties and their family in order to enjoy privacy in California.

These and many other thoughts filter through my mind as I watch the soap opera which continues to play out. The dignity and sadness of Prince Phillip’s passing is once again being muddied by Sussex decisions – the day after he returned to the US, Harry driving ninety two miles to lunch with an elderly Californian billionaire on his just bereaved grandmother’s birthday; the re-issuing of the infamous tell- all ‘Finding Freedom’, which will now include the Oprah Winfrey accusations, and all the angst and arrows directed at the Royal family and the British public with which the alienated pair have so freely wounded them.

In a recent blog I used the headline ‘Truth Matters’, and to see how destructive it has been to watch two people give ‘their truth’ in order to have revenge ( what for) or to justify walking away from commitments and responsibilities has been deeply saddening.  The self-serving attempts by privileged adults to undermine the reputations of well meaning people, trying to trash and dis-respect an ancient institution, and bad mouthing a whole country and it’s customs are neither kind, nor compassionate or any of the things this woke couple keep preaching about. Such ingratitude was all the more surprising from a couple who had enjoyed privileges, palaces, and private jets, couture clothes and continual luxury holidays, while the people they patronisingly lectured about saving the planet, got on with the daily drudgery of earning just enough money to survive. Meghan complained that she was only surviving but not flourishing – yet this is the fate of many others too.

In fact, Prince Harry and his wife are a constant reminder to me how imperfect I am as a human being because they evoke in me such enjoyment of schadenfreude. As so many people have commented, it’s like watching a train crash, but sadly as in any train crash, there’s a lot of damage. Maybe the lesson the terrible two are teaching me is the necessity of integrity, and the value of non-judgement.


And as Marcus Aurelius said nearly two thousand years ago: “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine…”


While the pain of Harry and Meghan’s attacks on family and country was unfolding, his ninety-nine year old grandfather died. The world has learned from all his eulogies what a magnificent life he lived, full of good deeds, duty, and devotion to his wife, family and country. I wrote to a friend in the US:
“Have been feeling rather sad today about the death of Prince Philip, a much maligned man, especially in the nefarious and destructive Netflix episodes. He was a fine man, and I was fascinated to learn that among the two thousand books in his own library, were 650 books on birds, nearly five hundred on religion, several hundred on horses, and over two hundred poetry books. He was also a talented painter, an interesting, clever and kindly man, very good to Diana, much underrated and un-appreciated… married to the Queen for 73 years, and loyal and faithful, in spite of all the untrue nasty gossip hawked around by Netflix et al. RIP”


And I shared a moment which was so typical of him… my daughter’s godmother, who in her retirement was a guide at St George’s Windsor, had sent my daughter a silver chain and pilgrim medallion struck to mark some historic anniversary.  She wore it to receive her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Medal from Prince Philip at Government House in Wellington. He immediately noticed her chain and talked to her about it, having recognised it was a St George’s souvenir…How many men, in all that crowd, would have noticed and recognised what one of the teenagers was wearing?

duke.jpg

I met him at a function on their Jubilee tour, he was a gorgeous man, and so relaxed and friendly. I told him I worked from home, and he agreed that it was a great system, saying he too worked above the shop!
And I loved this story  from my oldest friend, from when we were both twenty, wrote to me.


“I must admit to quite a few tears, it is so sad, he was an amazing man, now at last the public will find out his true  value.My father took a polo team to Windsor one year, calling themselves ‘Low arrow cottage!’ They were four middle aged men who loved their hunting and their horses and enjoyed their polo, although not that good! They joined the tournament, and  one of their number got injured, Prince Philip strolled over to my father and said , “I see you are a man down, would you like me to play for you?” Which he did, until they got knocked out, how kind  was that !” You see, Harry and Meghan, as Kermit once said, “It’s nice to be important but it’s important to be nice.”

Food for Threadbare Gourmets


What no recipe, several readers queried after my last blog! That was some time ago, as my computer collapsed, taking everything with it, and I’m still gathering the lost chords, including my blog, addresses, and all the other blogs I used to read…
However, I have still been eating, and here is a dish I gave to my vegan granddaughter, which I also enjoy.
Take a cup or so of green puys lentils, pour two cups of vegetable stock over them ( I use chicken stock if I’m cooking these for myself ) and start them boiling. Meanwhile, in a tablespoon of good olive oil, saute half an onion, a carrot and a courgette, chopped very small, and add garlic and thyme to taste. Tip them into the lentils, add some tomato puree or a dollop of soya sauce, and cook till the lentils are soft but not mushy, adding more liquid if necessary. I serve these with salmon, or grilled sausages, and even enjoy them on their own, with a sprinkling of extra olive oil on top… almost calorie -free good protein …

Food for Thought

Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments. Rose Kennedy

Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. Rose’s son

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. Him again.


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Light Footfalls in the Forest

dresser.jpg

I’m back… after a lull and a few health issues, can’t resist coming back to blogging. I’ve kept up with reading all my old friends, under the radar, and am up with the play on the health and antics of various cats and dogs and pigs, and people! And thanks to the magic of technology, the internet has kept me up to date on the strange happenings around the world, though I hesitate to put a name to the events which fill today’s headlines.

Here in our remote rainforest, politics and pollution, carbon footprints and climate change feel a long way away. Though I did calculate our carbon footprint today, and since we make one trip into town a week, amounting to fifty kilometres, catch our own water from the roof, and purify it, don’t waste water since we have a compost toilet, build our house with re-cycled windows, doors, kitchen bench, neighbour’s cast-off extractor hood and other gifts, and only use electricity for heating, our footprint is fairly light.

D, my love, has used skateboard wheels to create a sliding door which purrs every time it’s opened, while a steel knitting needle and some big beads from a necklace have been used to fashion a light fitting that can be adjusted and moved above the dining table depending how many guests we have. He’s made exquisite sounding bells from divers’ cast off tanks which function as warning bells for us, and become presents for the people who are enchanted with the sound of the bells, and want one too.

A friend gave us an unwanted Italian stone plinth which, with a great, perfectly round concrete ball cast by D for me for Christmas, has become the focal point of my new garden; another friend delivered a ten foot pallet he wanted to dispose of, which has, with a few extra pieces of wood nailed on, become an elegant trellis barrier painted black and swathed in white wisteria, honeysuckle and star jasmine, dividing drive from garden.

Along the top of the trellis are ranged a row of perfect round black balls. They were once the feet of an armoire, and so ugly that I had them cut off, and have carted them around for the last nineteen years, hoping to find a use for them someday. That day has arrived. Painted black, and augmented with a big central one made by D, they have come into their own. The honeysuckle was grown from cuttings taken from the side of the road. The stubs of used candles are melted down and blended together to make candles for the storm lanterns down the drive when friends visit.

Arum lilies, dug up from a field at a friend’s farm, and roses grown from cuttings, fill the urns and pots, and on finding half a dozen miniature pink buckets in an op shop, I filled with them with pink cyclamens and lined them up on the steps to the house. I fill any gaps in the garden with big white marguerite daisies grown from cuttings – the original plant I bought back in 2003, and have kept supplies of these generous sized daisies ever since. At this moment in the porch are twenty- four flourishing little green rootlets waiting to be transferred to wherever they are needed.

A raised vegetable garden is the next step… to be tackled when D has finished inserting two beautiful coloured lead-light windows into the bathroom wall which looks out into the forest. They came from a dresser we bought for a song at the local rubbish tip shop. The hinges on the doors and handles would have cost more than we paid for the whole dresser if he had bought them new, D says.

And as well as the hardware, we have the lead light doors to the cupboard now transformed into windows, and the bottom shelves, divested of doors, painted white and flossied up with a bit of moulding, matching another sturdy bookshelf the other side of the room.

The satisfaction of this way of life is immense. Though we are surrounded in the forest by splendid architect designed dwellings furnished with architect-speak fashionable furniture, black leather Mies van der Rohe-like loungers, cow-hide rugs, low backed sofas, I am unmoved by this elegance. I still love my ancient seven-foot sofa, bought from an acquaintance twenty- five years ago when it was already twenty- five years old. New feet gave it a new lease of life, and loose covers made from hemp twenty years ago are still as good as new.

My antique French Provincial arm chairs are still comfortable, even though the cat appropriated them all the years of her life, and the old painted peasant looking chest of drawers gives me as much pleasure as our walnut and rosewood antiques of yesteryear. Pretty china, rugs and cushions, lamps and books have been the same companions for the last four decades.

And books continue to find their way in. Last week it was a book on Tuscany found for a dollar at the local rubbish tip shop. It’s a big illustrated hymn to Tuscany by Frances Mayes, whose other books on finding her Italian house have always enchanted me. This one is filled with exquisite pictures, disquisitions on art and architecture,  wine, and food and recipes. She tells us that when children are born in Italy, they say they have entered the light. The poetry and beauty of this idea of emerging from the darkness of the womb into the light of the world I find very moving.

Mayes says that Italians have the lowest rate of suicide in the world. She puts it down to the contentment of living amid so much deeply satisfying beauty. She also says that Italians are very low on obesity scales compared with other countries, and she puts this down to the fact that they eat such nourishing delicious food, that they feel satisfied and don’t need to fill up with junk food and sugar treats.

So needless to say, I bustled into my kitchen, and began experimenting with her take on Tuscan food, which doesn’t rely fancy ingredients and at a quick glance just seems to require good olive oil, good bread, fresh vegetables, including garlic, fennel and mushrooms and devotion to good food! That devotion I have in spades.

Watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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reviews

     Readers’  Comments on ‘The Sound of Water’

‘A sense of looking in to life rich in family and friends… wonderful descriptions of birds and animals, and flowers and food…  makes me feel more contemplative about the life I am living, which is a great gift from a writer to a reader’.

‘A truly descriptive and romantic writer’

‘laugh-out-loud-moments with your out –of –the side- of –the – mouth humour’.

‘Turns small experiences into gold.’

‘Loved the honesty and the humour’

‘a warm and elegant and intelligent writer’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Radio NZ interview about The Sound of Water

This is a recent interview which our very own popular Jim Mora conducted in his usual friendly way:

http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/remote-player?id=2514578

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The Sound of Water by Valerie Davies is on the web!

This site is brand new! Peter Harris who uploaded the ebook of The Sound of Water, will be populating it tomorrow. Meanwhile, thanks for visiting, click on the Follow button and be notified by email and watch this space!

Update 05 07 12: Valerie is now blogging merrily on her author blog at  http://www.valeriedavies.com Well worth a visit.

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