Just keep swimming…

To paraphrase Dory, “what do you do when the world gets you down?”


Well, that’s me at the minute. The world is just getting me down, down and further down. I can’t really articulate what it is that is making me feel like this because it feels that it’s everything yet nothing at the same time, but let me try to unpack that a little.

I was on a couple of news websites last night before I went to bed and found that nearly all the news articles were reporting on cruelty, violence, hatred and division in one way or another. Stories of people doing unspeakable things to one another and to defenceless animals and children, or stories that perpetuate lines of difference and division between people and so on. But it’s not just that that is getting me down it’s the way that other people talk to each other about the things that are being reported.

For example, the “gay bakery” story that has been in the press for a little while and which was resolved last night (for those who don’t know what it’s all about, here is a link to catch you up to speed). There has been a massive debate about the rights and wrongs of the case, which in our society of free speech and “right to offend” is one thing, but the sheer hatred and vitriol that is injected into the debate has left me despairing of how we now talk to each other as fellow human beings. The thing that makes me despair most about this story is that Peter Tatchell, a leading gay activist and spokesman, has come under fire for his comments on the results of the appeal. The world has gone mad when one man says that free speech must be allowed to happen, even if it offends others. And this is from a man who speaks out on behalf of those offended by the actions of the baker. I despair, I really do.

I’m talking about the people who comment in the forums rather than the journalists in this case, but there are plenty of news stories out there where the journalists are just as guilty of driving wedges between people and celebrating the “them and us” mentality that is rampant wherever you look, and it’s an example of how the world is getting me down just now

Another example is the way that the people in Calais have been portrayed in the press: their so-called refuge away from a war zone has been dubbed a “jungle”, they are not talked about as people but as migrants in a pejorative way. It’s an issue that has polarised people, and we are now in a position where people who speak up (or speak out, depending on which way you look at it) are ridiculed and jeered at for saying what they think.

Take Gary Lineker. He tweeted that he thought the way some people were treating the refugees in Calais was “hideously racist”, and he has been absolutely lambasted for it. The Sun newspaper has called for him to be sacked immediately (full story here) on the grounds that he is a celebrity and therefore shouldn’t express his personal views, no matter what they are.


He is criticised for speaking out, he’s criticised for NOT speaking out. Everyone seems to have an opinion and if you’re not at one extreme end of the scale or the other then your view doesn’t count. Or so it seems. And it gets me down.

But it’s not just what people say about what people say that gets me down, it’s the situations that they are talking about in the first place that get me down too. Why do the people flock to Calais in the first place? Why do they have to leave their homes? Why is there war and conflict? Why do we supply arms to keep that conflict going? Why can’t we promote peace instead of war? What’s going to happen if Trump wins? Or Clinton wins?? And so on. It gets me down.

These things are on the world stage, but there’s things that happen locally that drag me down too. Why have the local kids vandalised our church grounds again? Why was my nephew beaten up just for walking down the road a couple of weeks ago?  Why do people do things like this and think that’s an acceptable thing to do?

It’s not just that though.

We’re coming up to Halloween – a bit of fun? Or a celebration of the dark side of life where it is acceptable to frighten people just because it is done in the name of “fun” (fake spiders, killer clown masks, knocking on doors and expecting sweets from strangers etc)?

There are already Christmas adverts on TV and on hoardings – whoah there, calm down! It’s another two months away yet!!

Year on year, Remembrance has been turning from something quiet and dignified into (yet another) occasion for people to outdo each other in the sentimentality stakes, and for each side of the “you shouldn’t glorify war” argument to polarise and have a go at each other. And yes, it gets me down.

X Factor – the cries of “it’s all a fix!”, and “another money making scheme for Simon Cowell”, and “I thought it was a singing contest so what is (insert current debatable act) doing still in it?” echo throughout the land. (“I say Honey, you say….”).

Strictly – “why is the BBC so racist?”, “why didn’t Anastacia have to dance in the dance off”, “how can Ed Balls hold his head up when better dancers have been voted off already”, and so on. It comes round year after year, but each time it does, it gets me down. It is supposed to be some lighthearted fun, a bit of colour and entertainment in the dark evenings of autumn and winter, with a bit of banter and some nice dancing. But no, we now have the annual slanging match that comes from people with nothing better to do than cause trouble and leaves a bitter taste in our mouths.

And guess what – IT GETS ME DOWN!!

Perhaps it’s me. Perhaps I need to grow a thicker skin. Perhaps I need to not engage with the world so much so it can’t hurt me and drag me down.

Perhaps I’m suffering from the “red car” syndrome. You will have experienced it at some time yourself too, maybe in a different way, but you will have had this, I’m sure. It’s where you don’t generally notice the colour of cars as they pass you, or in the stream of traffic that you’re in until you get a new car. Say it’s red. All of a sudden, it seems that there is a proliferation of red cars on the road. In fact, every second or third car is a red one. There used to be lots of silver or black ones, so where did all the red ones come from? Is this a major coincidence? Is it a world conspiracy that suddenly a load of red cars have flooded the roads just at a time you have just bought one yourself? What’s going on??

Perhaps it’s because I’m feeling so very down that all I can see in the world is misery and division among other people. It’s a different version of the “red car syndrome”, but one where I can’t see past the misery to see the good things in the news, on Facebook and in people’s lives because of my own viewpoint.

I’d like to think that I had the energy to do what Dory says, and “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”. What other choice is there?





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Bikers, Bells and Band

It has been one of “those” days today. You know the ones, where randomness happens throughout the day and you just have to shake your head and say, “well, that was a bit good!”

Well my day has been a bit like that.

First of all I went to Stay and Play this morning and saw absolute genius in action. One of our mums is blind, and she has managed her baby very well with the help of either her own mum or a carer who was there to help guide her around and to make sure that the baby was always looked after. The baby has now grown up a little bit and is toddling around quite happily on her own two feet, but today, the mum came without the aid of either her mum or her carer, instead relying on the help of one of the other mums (a friend of hers anyway) to get her into the church hall and to get her seated and so on. The genius bit was this:


A set of jingle bells round the little girl’s ankle so that her mum could hear where she was in the hall and could track her movements easily. We were all astounded at how such a simple thing could mean such a lot – that not only could the mum enjoy some independence, but that the baby could also enjoy running around without getting too far away from mum. Of course there are always lots of people watching out and interacting with the mums and tots in the group so there would never be any real danger, but how’s that for a stroke of genius to help them both enjoy a bit of living!

Nature was also having a bit of genius this morning too. How’s about these couple of beauties?






Still reeling from the gorgeous skies and cold, crisp air, came a demonstration of something deeply moving. At about 12 o’clock, there was an almighty roar of engines going past the church hall as a big group of bikers made their way noisily up the main road. About 15 minutes or so later, they all came back again, this time doubled in number, going half the speed and leading out a hearse and a funeral cortege down towards the crematorium. The flowers on top of the coffin were in the shape of a motorbike, and the flowers down the side of the hearse spelled out BROTHER in black flowers. What a sight, and what a gesture to witness. Here is a video of the tail end of the procession so you can see for yourself.

Then this evening, I had the utmost pleasure and privilege to sit and listen to the Pemberton Old Band as they were put through their paces at a rehearsal for an upcoming contest. I have been going there for the last couple of months with Ethan, who is playing bass trombone for them, and I have heard the piece they are playing take shape and get generally better and better each week. The band has a great sound and tonight they were pushed to really play proper pianissimo and fortissimo, which was fantastic to hear. There are another couple of rehearsals to go before the contest at the end of the month, and it promises to be a great performance. Looking forward to it.

So there you have it, a couple of things that have made up my day today. Random? Or simply a reflection of the eclectic life I have?!

Either way, today has been a good one.



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Recovering From Grief

Our regular study group at church last night was a little bit different, and we had a discussion around death instead of our usual Bible study and worship. We looked at death in today’s society and our experiences of it with a view to how it will help us in our ministry to those who are grieving or who are having difficulty moving through the stages of grief and bereavement. It might sound a little bit morbid, but to be honest, I found it a really uplifting and enriching experience and it wasn’t the least bit fearful or distasteful as it might first sound.

We looked at our own experiences of loss and grief, and then we looked at various aspects of death and, using discussion prompt cards, had a chat in small groups about a couple of them.

One question that really stood out for me was “Do we ever recover from grief?”.

My initial response was “yes, of course we do”. But then we got into discussion about it and after hearing a couple of other people give their experiences of grief, I realised that I was not really in a position to answer that question quite that easily, because I hadn’t lost someone very close to me such as a spouse or a child. I have lost close family members and I have grieved for the loss of them, but I am fortunate in that I still have both my parents, my husband and my two children alive and well alongside me. That means that my viewpoint of the question is slightly different from my friend H who lost her husband within the last two years, whose answer was “no, you don’t”. She explained that she has learned to cope with her loss but she doesn’t feel secure in the knowledge that she has “recovered” as such. I was moved by her explanation and it has given me a lot of food for thought today.

I talked about this question with my husband Kevin earlier, and we talked a little bit about how grief has affected us individually and how that the idea of “recovering” from grief very much depends on the person who has died and the nature of the relationship we had with them before they died.

After a bit more thinking and talking, we came up with this analogy:

crumpled-paperIf you take a piece of paper – clean, white, unspoiled paper – and crumple it into a tight ball, then open it up and smooth it down again, you could say that the piece of paper having gone through the grief process of being crumpled up then straightened out again is still the same piece of paper as it was before, only it has been changed by it. It isn’t quite the same; it bears marks and scuffs that show it has been through some sort of trauma, and while it can still function as a piece of paper, it has been changed by it.


Thinking about it further, I came up with another one that might explain what it might be like to lose someone close:

eggTake an egg, and plunge it into boiling water. When you take out that egg, it is still an egg and is still fully serviceable as an egg, but because of the boiling water experience, you can’t even begin to put it back to the state it was in before. The intensity of the boiling water did something to its internal structure and it cannot physically or emotionally be the same as it was before, yet it is still an egg.

And so it is with us. For some of us, recovering from grief may be a little bit like the piece of paper analogy. Yes, we go through some pain of being crumpled up, and for some of us the process of smoothing out again can be a further source of pain but eventually we get there. Not quite the same as we were before, but we are more or less as we were before we experienced loss. However, for some of us, recovering from the loss of a loved one is more like the egg. We go through the intensity of boiling water for any length of time and yet our outer shell might look the same as it was before, our innards have irrevocably changed and we cannot be the same people as we once were. We still have a function, and we still look and taste the same, but to say that we have “recovered” would be wrong.



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Manchester Storm

Wow! The weather in Manchester tonight has been AMAZING!

It started at about teatime when the sky went green – yes, green – and there was a terrific rumble of thunder. Shortly afterwards, the lightening started and we were treated to the best light show all year.

This was the view from the back of our house at 6.30pm:



This from the front showing the torrential rain and the grid which was struggling to cope a bit:


Apologies for the Manc accents on these, but two short videos I shot out of Ethan’s bedroom window:

The thunder boomed and cracked for about an hour (including the LOUDEST thunderbolt I have ever heard at about 6.45pm) before it started to ease off. The rain kept up for a while longer and the lightning was going for about two hours or so. Thankfully the thunder rolled off to the north – I don’t like it when the thunder cracks like it did tonight. It puts me in full Chicken Little mode!

There have been lots of photos shared on social media this evening including this one from “I Love Manchester” on Facebook.


As well as having an affect on transport around the city it also caused the Manchester City vs Borussia Munchengladbach match to be cancelled. The fans were prevented from getting to the stadium because the trams were stopped and the roads were gridlocked, but as you can see from this photo from the BBC, there was quite a lot of surface water on the pitch just before it was due to kick off. Not surprising really!


My favourite video of the night has got to be this one – it shows the Etihad stadium lit up by magnificent purple lightning. Awesome!

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Pressing Pause

For more like this please go to Toby Mac’s Facebook page. Blessings to you all.pause

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One Tough Mudder

I’ve got to share this – my daughter, Emma, one “tough mudder” indeed! dsc_0496.jpg

















In case you didn’t know, I’ve got a bit of an action girl for a daughter and this is her after a weekend of stewarding, camping out, then running the Tough Mudder challenge and more stewarding in Cheshire this weekend. How she does it is beyond me. She is physically very fit, constantly on the go, and loves being outdoors so this kind of thing is right up her street.

She’s a tough cookie in other ways too, having pushed herself to find work in this doom-and-gloom economy amongst other things. She doesn’t have it easy at the minute but she never complains (to me, anyway!) and she is always positive and ready for the next challenge.

She’s my hero really and I wish that I had more of her grit and determination. Good luck tomorrow on your first day at your new job, Emma. Show them you’re one tough mudder!



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Thought For Today

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Book Review – “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

outlander-blue-cover-198x300“Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon



This is the first book in a series of seven telling the story of Claire and Jamie. In this, we meet Claire, a 20th Century woman who accidentally finds herself transported back through time to 18th Century Scotland just before the second Jacobite rising. Without giving too much of the plot away, Claire is kidnapped by the English Dragoons, but is rescued by a clan of Highlanders where she meets Jamie Fraser. She is desperate to get back to the stone circle where she fell through time, and sets about trying to escape from the clan where she now lives. It is difficult though, and it takes time. Long enough time for her to be married off to Jamie against her will, but she gradually learns to care for him. When the chance to go back to her own time comes around, will she go back or will she stay with Jamie?

My overall impression?

Overall I liked this book, but there were so many anachronisms and things that just didn’t ring true that they began to grate on my nerves a bit and it took an effort to ignore those irritations and just enjoy the story for what it was. I was lucky enough to watch this on DVD as I was reading it. We’d taken the box set away on holiday with us and my husband and I watched a couple of episodes each night in our caravan, and – unusually – the TV version is fairly accurate and faithful to the book. Including in its anachronisms and mistakes!

I think partly this is because the author is American and she wrote a Scottish historical novel based on research and a romanticised view of what Scotland is and how the Scottish people were/are. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for me, there were too many Americanisms in it for it to ring true. Yes, I realise it is a fantasy because it involves time travel, but even so, if a writer of historical fiction is giving a character dialogue in a certain accent or dialect, then they have a responsibility to get it right, and not project their own (romantic) version of it. The same goes for naming your characters – Scotland is very different from Ireland even though they share a Celtic heritage, yet consistently, Gabaldon uses Irish names for her characters in this book. For example, the MacKenzie clan leader is called “Colum”. Now, more commonly, the name is “Colm” (pronounced “column”), but it is an Irish name, not a Scottish one. As clan chief he most certainly would have had a traditional Scottish name. Other characters with non-Scottish names include Laoghaire (Irish),  Rupert (German), Brian (Irish), Fergus (Irish)… I could go on, but you get the picture?

Also, I got annoyed with the American versions of the Scottish terms – for example, “plaid” is a North American term for what the Scots refer to as “tartan”, yet not once throughout the book is “tartan” used for the Highland dress that Jamie and his clansmen wore.

In terms of construction and narrative arc, it was OK. There was a beginning, a middle and an end – of sorts – but I felt that it was written very much with the rest of the series in mind and so it didn’t quite have the satisfactory “wow I wonder how this is going to pan out in the future” kind of feeling I would have expected from a story of this magnitude.  I would have liked to have had a bit of parallel storytelling so that we could see what Frank was going through in 1945 in looking for Claire, especially as one of the characters she meets in 1743 has a direct bearing on Frank’s very existence, but the book – probably quite rightly – was centred on Claire and Jamie.

I am a little disappointed to be honest because this book could have been phenomenal if only Gabaldon had gone a little bit deeper with her research and tried to be a little less American in her prose. The concept and story/plot are fantastic but for me it fails in its execution a little.

Who are the main characters?

The main protagonists are Claire and Jamie, but there is a multitude of secondary characters such as the clan members, other clans, the “red coats” of the Royal Dragoons and so on, and there are lots of other minor characters which can be a bit difficult to keep track of sometimes.

Where is it set?

It is set in Scotland in 1945 and 1743.

Will I read any more by this author?

Annoyingly, yes!  I am on to book 3 of this series and I am stubbornly sticking with it even though the Americanisms and anachronisms are getting more pronounced and Gabaldon has developed a propensity for using overblown vocabulary for the sake of it. However, I am keen to know how it all pans out with Claire and Jamie and whether the history books will reflect their life together or not.

Would I recommend it to my friends?

It’s a bit of nonsense reading really so if you are into historical romance/fantasy fiction then go for it, but it’s not really for those who prefer their historical novels to be accurate (even the time travelling ones).



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Share Your World – Week 36

I have Cee to thank for today’s post. You’ll find her at Share Your World

List 2 things you have to be happy about?

Food in my cupboard, and air in my bike tyres.

If you could take a photograph, paint a picture or write a story of any place in the world, what and where would it be?

I would love to be able to paint a picture of water, and my choice of location would be somewhere like the rugged Lake District in England, or maybe the stunningly beautiful Llyn peninsula of Wales. I am not any sort of artist though and any painting I made would probably not be fit for viewing. However, I would love to write about it. And with that in mind, watch this space! I have an idea for a story set in the 6th Century involving pilgrims on a journey through Wales to the holy island of Bardsey.

Should children be seen and not heard?

Hmmm difficult one this! I believe children have the right to be heard, but along with that right they have the responsibility to understand that so does everyone else. Children are naturally gregarious and boisterous, but they have to learn that there are times when that isn’t appropriate and adult time is valuable too. There’s nothing worse than trying to have a conversation with someone only for them to break off to answer their child who is pulling at them with “Mummy, Mummy” going on. Apart from being extremely rude to the person they are speaking to, they are giving the child the message that they are prepared to drop everything and answer them on the spot. Sometimes a quiet “in a minute, I’m speaking” is all that’s needed…so long as they don’t then forget to get back to the child! It’s all about manners and self-awareness for me, but no, I don’t think that children should be seen and not heard. They have a right to mix with company and be noisy if needed, just so long as they know that they are not necessarily the centre of attention and know when to be quiet.

List at least five of your favourite first names.

baby-nameAs a writer I’m forever trying to come up with names for my characters, and it can be a traumatic experience I can tell you! Some names conjure up a set of expectations and I try to match those expectations with my characters and sometimes I like to play around with them and name a character the opposite of what the reader would expect. However, my own personal taste – if I were to have the privilege of naming an actual child again – are very traditional. Here’s my favourites, in no particular order (the first two are my own children’s names!)


Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? 

I was very grateful to see a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen for several months. We had been very close for a number of years but there have been a few spanners in the works this year and we have drifted away from each other recently, so I was extremely grateful that we could spend some time on Friday catching up and just enjoying each other’s company again.

Coming up, I’m looking forward to Ethan going back to college and Emma starting her new job next Monday.



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Finding Purpose

It’s back to school this week in England and for the first time in nearly 18 years, I have not had to do any sort of stationery or uniform shopping for my children. I have watched Facebook light up with the pictures of my friends’ children on their first-day-back photos (or as some wag dubbed it, “National Stand In Front Of A Door Day”) and my teacher friends posting status updates about how they can’t sleep etc, and it has brought about very mixed feelings for me.


This time of the year always represents a kind of new beginning for me – always has done. September for me means new school year, new pens, new notebooks, new shoes, new winter coat, new start, renewed goal-setting. In some ways, September is more of a New Year than, well, New Year really. For me it’s the chance to start over, make new promises to myself, wipe that slate clean and get on with things with a new sense of  intention and enthusiasm.

As well as having this feeling because of my children and their school careers, recently I have experienced it for myself in the shape of my OU degree, where the modules begin again each September.

But this year is different. Emma has long since left university, my OU career is over, and Ethan is in his last year at college and he is studying music, so no need for the quick trip to W H Smith’s this year with him! It kind of makes me sad that it’s over, but there’s more to it than that and it goes a bit deeper.

This year, I feel that my own sense of purpose is being tested. As you may know, I don’t have a job and at my age and with my health record it’s unlikely I’m going to be able to just walk into one anytime in the near future. I no longer have any studies to look forward to, and my children don’t need me to mother them the same now as they did when they were at school. Emma is a fantastic, independent young woman now who, though she is still my little girl, she is a person in her own right. Ethan is almost a man now and has very firm ideas on what he wants to achieve from life, and neither of them need me to the extent they did before.

I do have hopes of my own, but a lot of that depends on a long and complex process within the church. For this week, this month, even the rest of this year, I have nothing to do and nothing to feel purposeful about. And it’s a scary feeling.

I wish I was one of those people who look at emptiness as an opportunity rather than a threat, or one of those who look at having no responsibilities as a life of ease rather than a life of boredom, but I’m not. Of course, there are day to day things that I’m involved with and that I enjoy doing but being fulfilled like that is not quite the same thing as having a sense of purpose. I suppose it’s a bit like the old “empty nest” syndrome of yesteryear, and it puts me in mind of Ria in Butterflies. Of course I’m not anything like her in lots of ways, but that sense of “what about me?” rings true with me at the minute.

Perhaps I’m impatient, and perhaps I’m showing a lack of faith by feeling that way because I know that the story is an ongoing one, and God hasn’t finished with me yet. But what do I do in the meantime?

meh2I have got a couple of writing projects on the go, but with no deadlines they are just waffly notes and incoherent storylines at the minute. I have got a couple of pieces of music that I want to arrange, but same thing, with no deadlines there is no need to get worked up about them just yet. I can’t settle to crochet very much (my eyes need testing and I don’t have a pair of glasses that I can see the stitches properly with unless I hold it right under my nose at book-reading length, and besides, it’s too hot still to be crocheting blankets or hats!) and besides which, I don’t have any orders outstanding so, yup, you guessed it, with no deadlines to hit there is no urgency in getting a project planned and prepared.


And there you have it. This September is most definitely a “new” time for me – an emptiness that I have only kind of experienced once before. This time however, I do have a couple of things that are keeping me going more than they did last time and I thank God that I do or else I wouldn’t know how to cope at all.

I’m not used to having my Septembers being so blank and empty, and I wonder what is going to come along and fill it all in the coming weeks. I hope and pray that when something does come along it will shake me out of this dip I’m in just now.

Anyone else feel this way when their kids grow up? I’d love to hear your take on it if you have experienced it or know someone else who is going through it. Drop me a line below and share your story with me.


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