Today I read an article in today’s Sunday Times that made me very cross. It was about people who can continue their work from home not giving due consideration to paying their cleaners who cannot work but are dependent on them for wages. Of course, many people do not have a secure income or are furloughed themselves in which case the situation is different. But the impression given by the article was that it was just not something that was being factored into the changed set-up affecting professional households. So I wrote this.


We’re stuck at home in lockdown
Compelled to quarantine
But choices still need making
So Do the Decent Thing

Last month, who did your cleaning?
Picked up what children fling?
They can’t do that from their home
So Do the Decent Thing.

We clap to cheer our heroes
Give pensioners a ring
But if you have a cleaner
Then Do the Decent thing.

The chance you made success from
The hard work you put in
Should help you see who needs you
To do the Decent Thing.

There’s plays to watch and Netflix
And schooling to fit in.
But if nothing else, then teach them
To do the Decent Thing.

The story of Rob, Robyn and the Robin and the day the wheel stopped.

Once upon a time there was a wheel whose spinning sustained the world. Everyone and everything was connected to the wheel, and, in turn, affected how it span. People had jobs, paid taxes, built and sold companies, bought houses and cars, went on holiday and pursued hobbies. The wheel connected everyone – including three characters called Rob, Robyn and the Robin.

Rob worked in a supermarket. He counted stock and stacked shelves. He wasn’t paid much and his hours varied. Robyn cared for sick people. She also wasn’t paid much and often the conditions she worked in weren’t great. But she believed in what she was doing. And the Robin – well, he did what Robins do – he bobbed along and sang. So, like everyone else, Rob, Robyn and the Robin depended on the spinning of the wheel. And whilst the wheel span fast, none of them attracted much notice.

Then one day…..the wheel stopped. It juddered to a halt. And the world stopped too. But Rob, Robyn and the Robin kept doing what they had always done. And when there was nothing else spinning the wheel, everyone noticed.

Rob stacked shelves and kept the food supply going. And, as if for the first time, people said thank you.

Robyn risked her safety looking after people who were sick. And, as if for the first time, people applauded.

And the Robin sang. And, as if for the first time, people sat still enough to listen.










Anchor Friendships

Friendship matters immensely. It comes in many forms and circumstances create all sorts. At its most fleeting it might be a momentary connection – such as a friendly opinion given by a stranger in a changing room that helps you decide on an outfit. Then there are the friendships of circumstance born of being thrown together on a daily or weekly basis. These have huge value. Without those connections borne of circumstance, our routines would be far more bland and self-serving. When we need help, it is the friends we know through our weekly routines that are often most likely to step in.

Some friendships go deeper – for a season of your life it might be that you could not imagine living without the input and mutual connection with a particular friend. Perhaps it might just be for that season; perhaps it might be sustained beyond. But either way, it should be treasured for what it meant to you at a particular time.

But anchor friends are something else – those with whom our connection goes far beyond the initial circumstance that brought you together.  You can’t see anchors but they keep you steady; You can tug on them every so often to check they are secure; and however, the times and tides change, you remain connected.

What makes an Anchor Friendship?

“A friendship that is taken seriously, even if there isn’t frequent contact.

A friendship that has shaped you in some way, and remains a reference point for your decisions: When you see each other – you can pick up as before because even though you don’t know the details of each other’s circumstances, you know how they will be approaching life.

A friendship that connects you to something important from past, or family or even your personality that might be hidden – but is kept alive through your friendship.

A friend whose interests and perspectives that you value in all sorts of aspects of your life – far beyond the context in which you met.

A friendship that stays in your head – experiences or stories that make you laugh, pause for thought or smile in affection – and for that friend you make a mental note of what they would enjoy or be intrigued by.

A friendship where things can be said or talked about that others could not express or would not dare to mention.

A friend who, when you think of them, or better still have spent time together, you stand more solidly on where you’ve come from, and walk more lightly in who you are because you are anchored in that  friendship.”

If any of my ‘Anchor friends’ are reading this –  –  this is in part to cherish you and thank you for what you mean to me!

And with that thought, I’m leaving off blogging until the Autumn now but thanks for reading this far and I hope to share more thoughts in future!


Does living simply mean simply being mean?

“They can’t just eat sawdust!” wailed one family member. “But it’s Christmas, – they like getting lots of presents!” protested another when I baulked at the volume under the tree.

It’s one thing to change your own consumption habits. I can now look at reduced packets of the specialist cakes and biscuits I am restricted to and not want them if they contain a lot of plastic or palm oil. A few years ago I would have hoovered them up without a thought.

But it’s another to impose yours on your children isn’t it? Shouldn’t they just be able to enjoy a ‘normal’ childhood? What we consume and how we parent is almost more than anything else governed by our expectations of what’s normal. But what’s ‘normal’ about resource use is currently changing. A few years ago I happily bought plastic foam craft kits in plastic containers with no thought but to the creative stimulation it would give my child (and the few minutes peace it would give me). Now, I see craft cupboards in institutional set-ups as the future contents of my recycling/rubbish bins.

There is an apocryphal story of a monk who said to a guest “let us know if there’s anything you want and we’ll teach you how to live without it”. Given that that’s my tendency as a parent, I’m asking for a sense check on my framework of what I think is OK to deny children as a way of teaching them that there are limits to our resource use that are not to do with how much they cost.  Some of these need a luxury of time (refilling bottles or looking in charity shops). Others have just been a change in what I see when I look at something. This isn’t trying to be a statement of virtue – there is an equally long if not longer statement of consumption I could make (I have done far more than my share of flying over the last few years). It’s a question about our norms. Can we break away from a childhood flooded with stuff, or will it always seem simply mean?

  • not buying magazines with plastic toys
  • hand-me down clothes and new ones from charity shops where possible
  • no ‘character’ toothbrushes or toiletries if we can find bamboo or refill bottles
  • choosing which presents (birthday or Christmas) they won’t keep before they get put in over-stocked cupboards
  • not buying ‘gimic’ toys that entertain for only a few minutes
  • only eating processed packet food like crisps and smoothies out of the house and in holidays on picnics
  • not buying fruit (esp berries) out of season even if it’s their preference
  • presents of toys/books/games from charity shops encouraged from others
  • not buying clothes with plastic in/on (sequins, glitter etc)
  • re-used craft materials and minimising plastic pens and plastic craft kits etc
  • no big one-off birthday balloons
  • re-using stationery from my childhood and writing notes in pencil rather than biro
  • jumpers are compulsory – thermostat at home is almost never above 19 degrees

I’d love to know what you think.


The world’s a mess. So, did the Christmas angels get it wrong?

The classic nativity tells a lovely story but the reality was a lot messier. Perhaps the message of the angels sounded as preposterous then as now, given the state of the world. What can we make of it? This is my attempt.

“Joy to the world”, sang the angels that night;
“Peace to all men”. And the skies shone with light.
But whatever came of that heavenly pledge?
For just here and now life seems right on the edge.

Where was the peace when to Egypt they fled?
What joy could there be as the babies lay dead?
Slain by the word of a paranoid king;
Witnessed by those who had heard angels sing.

I wonder if stories of thousands of years,
Of people and families, their joy and their tears,
Are enough for the message we can’t get it right;
For nothing and everything causes a fight.

We’re faced with two choices: Is this all that’s there?
Is it just down to us to decide if we care?
To do what we can for world, family and friends
And accept when it’s over that that’s where it ends.

Or….did the angels sing?

Did they point to a hope that lies deep in our soul,
That everything matters; we’re part of a whole.
We’re held by a love that is vast and immense,
Even when what we’re going through doesn’t make sense.

If true joy and peace isn’t ours straightaway,
They gave heaven’s pledge that it will be one day.
Their song was a promise that broke through the fear,
Proclaiming to shepherds that God was so near.

So near at his birth, through his life and his death,
Sharing our suffering, until his last breath.
And then when he rose on that first Easter Day,
His body was new, all the pain gone away.

He promised He’s with us still, though we can’t see.
And through Him we glimpse how things one day will be.
A new world: creation, restored to its soul.
All brokenness banished; just perfect and whole.

Now it is messy, of that there’s no doubt.
Love and peace whisper: Hate has a shout.
But even in darkness, His hope can shine through,
Kindness and love can show faith to be true.

We might feel connections that can’t be explained;
Love that forgives, though impossibly strained,
Friendship persisting whatever the cost,
All echo His love for the broken and lost.

So join with the angels, and sing out their song,
Peace still eludes us but they were not wrong.
The hope of the world came to earth Christmas night.
He asks us to trust Him, and follow His light.”


I saw this picture at a market stall in Greece in 2017 which seemed to capture what I was trying to say. Apologies for not knowing the artist – if anyone does, please let me know!


IMAG2224 (2)




The richness in the rhythm of the year…

There is a saying that Christmas comes but once a year. But it doesn’t. On the 21st October I walked past a busker playing Christmas carols, and saw shelves starting to fill with yuletide fare. If we all lived by that reckoning, Christmas and its associated paraphernalia would occupy one sixth of the whole year.

I have realised how much that means we miss out. For the last three years, I’ve lived in Greece – where each month, each season has its waypoints that are shared collectively. Some of them relate to the changing seasons – others are of religious, cultural or political significance or a mixture of them all. And together they give an immense richness to the rhythm of the year.

There is no way that shops can sell Easter eggs in January – there are far too many other experiences to be had in the meantime. Starting from New Years Eve but lasting most of the month is the tradition of ‘Vasilopita’- the cake of St Vassilis, aka Greek Father Christmas, that is shared (with a hidden coin for one lucky person) to mark the beginning of the year. Families, clubs, schools, all mark the first event in their year by sharing one. Then there is the run up to Lent – the two weeks before are ‘Carnival time’ – perhaps marked by processions and parades or just private parties and a tradition of dressing up – the parks in central Athens are full of children dressed up to go out just because it’s carnival time on the relevant weekends.

Just before Lent is ‘burnt Thursday’ where you enjoy an awful lot of grilled meat, and then Lent itself starts with ‘Clean Monday’. The parks and mountainsides are full of kites being flown – you see them everywhere as you drive even up the motorway. At no other time of year did I ever see a kite being flown – apart from perhaps the odd one at the beach. But on clean Monday, it’s what you do. It made me realise the difference between sharing and experiencing a tradition together, and just happening to take a similar decision to other people about what you feel like doing. We might decide to take a picnic to the woods and fly a kite on a sunny day – but we wouldn’t necessarily call out greetings to those doing the same.

Then there’s the big military parades, a public holiday and school processions for Independence Day on 25th March marking freedom from Ottoman rule. The nearest we would have is Remembrance Day here, but twice a year in Greece it happens on a completely different scale. Roads are closed, every school and civic organisation processes down the street. Then there is the week before Easter day  – called literally ‘Big Week’ in Greece. Again, alongside the traditional foods cooked and eaten in families, there are the two big communal experiences – the processions on Good Friday evening, and the big event -the midnight fireworks and lighting of the candles outside the church at midnight on Easter Saturday. Whilst Easter Saturday is bigger, I was probably with several hundred people processing the streets from the local church on the Good Friday I joined.

The richness of the rhythm continues the rest of the year, and is apparent even in day to day life – the greetings you use vary according to whether it’s the start of the week, the start of the month, or the season of the year. Similarly the strong tradition of celebrating ‘Name days’ brings people together with an awareness that they are linked to others, and linked to a person of significance in their culture. Many names with a strong Greek heritage are very popular – (Eleni, Alexandros, Dmitri, Irini, Eva) and there is still a prevalent tradition of naming children after grandparents.

I’ve mentioned before that I really valued the ability to eat seasonally – seeing a pomegranate fruit develop through the year on the tree next door and then buying them in the market when you knew they had matured was a real pleasure. And I, for one missed Sunday trading not at all (particularly as the bakeries were open where you could buy the most amazing desserts as Sunday lunch guests). I developed a real sense that in fact, it’s us that lose out if we eat fresh strawberries all year round – it’s not just about the environmental impact.

So, in the UK, apart from Easter and Christmas, we have Hallowe’en and fireworks night, Remembrance Sunday, Pancake Day, Mothering Sunday, and the remnants of May Day celebrations and traditions apart from the many local traditions in different places. But what are the  others we can envigorate? – the Sunday afternoon walk, the Saturday morning in the park, Christmas jumper day (Save the Children), Carol singing, the Big Get Together in June, the RSPB’s Wild Sleep Out – there must be many more.

Traditions and waypoints anchor us to who we are and provide a shared space to interact with others outside our normal relationships. Of course they can be used for negative ends at the wrong time and with the wrong leadership. And  yes, there were frustrations in  living in a culture with very strong expectations of what you do at different times (I was berated by a phone technician for not being at the beach with my children in August) But surely they can also help bridge divides, provide a focal point for those feeling more isolated, and situate us together in who we are, where we live and where we’ve come from and why we’re here.





A very good place

Sometimes you go somewhere and everything just fits. I mentioned Ktima Kokotou in my post about what I will miss about Greece. This is what I wrote for my friends who live there and run it.



There is a vineyard, set between three hills. And every way you look, it is good.

The wine they make fuels friendship and conversation and you taste it and it is good.

The events they host, the parties they hold are set in a place of beauty: the food is plentiful and it is good.

You can take just a few steps away from the busyness to experience the birdsong, the mountains, to notice everything and enjoy the peace. And it is good.

It is not just the vines that are cared for there. Everything good can find a place to flourish. The frogs in the pond, the birds in the woodland; Even the swallows get to share the eaves in the house.

In spring, the bees have their choice of the many coloured wildflowers, because nothing that would harm them is used there. The farmyard animals eat their fill of what’s left after the vegetable garden has yielded its good produce.

During the week, small children explore. They ride the ponies; they feed the animals; they touch and feel the plants and experience the changing seasons. Whether at pre-school, open sundays or holdiay camps they help to care for the place and understand their world. They come home with earth in their fingernails and ruddy cheeks. And that is good.

The goodness of the place is nurtured and nourished by the family who steward it; who care for the people who work on it, and welcome those who come to experience it.

There is a vineyard, set between three hills. And every way you look, it is good.


Farewell Greece!

The term has ended, the parties are over, the packing is upon us and the move has begun in earnest. What will I miss and what am I looking forward to?

First, the mountains; Mount Parnitha and Mount Pendeli are in my sights pretty constantly. They frame the journey to and from school. I can see at least one of them from all my favourite places; the vineyard, my balcony at home, Schinias beach and the local cafe terrace. And when driving back from a trip, the first sight of one of them is the signpost for home. I haven’t walked up them nearly as much as I would have liked. But I have loved the fact they frame my life.

The vineyard, Ktima Kokotou. Home to friends, great wine, a wonderful playgroup and holiday camp, and a place that never failed to feed my soul and restore a sense of calm. More on that in another post.

Graviera and fig jam. Frankly it is my ambrosia. In fact I will miss the abundance of dried figs, fresh herbs nuts and fruit in general. And the fact I could buy local, seasonal good stuff reusing paper bags and have a friendship with the ladies who run the greengrocers.

The wildness. When I first arrived I felt it was all messy. It still is, but I have learnt to appreciate the abundance of the natural life bursting out of anywhere it is allowed to flourish. Wildflowers on the verge of a roadside garage, birds and bats making their home in half built buildings. The tortoises and butterflies in the playground.The litter and graffiti are still an eyesore but there is something to be treasured in the way that nature is not managed into sterility. And how glorious to discover that next doors tree with bright orange flowers is a pomegranate tree, and to realise that fig leaves are actually quite big!

There two other aspects of my life I will miss most (apart from time to write!). The first is a sense of anonymity and independence from anyones expectations. The majority of my childrens friends are from a different culture and the expat community is diverse, and even the Brits here didnt know us previously. It has meant I could be very deliberate about how I lived and how our family worked. Having a big house thst others came to helped build my empire. Back home, we will be part of a family and a community with expectations that will again shape how we live and I will lose a bit of that control. Thats probably healthy!

The other sense I will miss is that of being more connected to the rest of the world. The Middle East is very close. Conflicts and refugee flows have very real consequences here. I was sent a picture of a Syrian refugee snuggled up in the baby cot my daughter had just outgrown and I had donated the day before. If you can look at your possessions and in all honesty know that if you give it away it will be used immediately, it brings home just how much we have.

What am I looking forward to?

Walking. Walking in my daily life, to school, on my commute, to the shops and also walking at the weekends. Climate and babydom have been the main constraints to doing more here but I have missed it a lot.

The National Trust. No really! Not just the wonderful places to enjoy spending time with the family but also the whole concept. The idea that a group of interested citizens can work together, often through volunteering to steward something of national importance, whether wild places or houses of heritage. I think its something we take for granted but we shouldnt. Its a national treasure in itself.

Online shopping and being able to buy groceries in one place rather than the three regular places I go weekly here! The convenience wont make up for the seasonal local fresh stuff though.

Daffodils, bluebells and blackberries and all my benchmarks of the changing year. Over time I learnt more about the plants here but I still dont feel connected in the same way that you can walk down a familiar path amd know what to expect. In particular I have really missed our family haven and the peace and connection I find there.

Anchor friends. People whose friendship helps define who you are. Mine are in the UK. They have done an amazing job keeping in contact and we have nearly 60 different visitors in our three years but it is time to live in the same place and reconnect again.

Did I mention car parks, traffic junctions and roundabouts? I will never take road planning for granted again!

There is so much more to say, and I havent done justice at all to the wonderful people who have been part of our lives here. But for now. Greece, Adio!


One place at a time..

We are moving back to the UK in the Summer. It is a bizarre process in some ways, particularly with small children, because your head is full of big life questions but their daily needs are still so dominant. I was told once that people either experience life as ‘in timers’ where they are distracted by the moment, or ‘through timers’ where they always have some thought directed to whats happening next. I am very much in the first category. This poem tries to express how it feels when you are preparing to move. It reads slightly surreally and disjointed. But then again, that’s how it feels.

One place at a time

“When you move countries, you live where you are living all the time…until you dont.

All the normal mechanics of life only ever happen in one place at a time. You shop, cook, wash, supervise homework, go to the playground in the same way you always did.

“When are you leaving? How is packing going?” is what you think about with other people. When you are on your own, it is just a list of jobs that need doing, sometimes more or less complicated than at other times, and sometimes it all feels overwhelming, but whatever happens in life, aren’t there always lots of jobs to do and decisions to make?

At the weekend you go to a mixture of places you have been before and you like, and places you haven’t been before, Just because you won’t go many more times does not mean you aren’t fully experiencing it: Just because you might not see someone much or at all once you move does not mean you don’t value them or appreciate their friendship now.  Life is always moving on, even if you stay in one place.

But once you do move, you are no longer living there. You will then be experiencing somewhere else. And all the normal mechanics of life will take place there. And it doesn’t matter where you were living the week before, apart from the things in your head, like the fact that you might keep thinking you catch sight of people who you knew in the other place.

People don’t see you leave. It is just that you are no longer where they would normally see you. They might remark to each other that they miss you… Or they might not.

People don’t see you arrive. One day you just happen to interact with them in the course of their lives. They might say it’s nice that you moved there…. Or they might not.

Because their day is happening, just as yours is, in the place where they live.”







Why I am not a fan of your Fan Club

My 7 year old is passionate about a particular make of toy animal families. She adores everything that goes with them and can spend hours absorbed in play. Last year she joined their Fan Club; a decision I was happy to support. However, six months in, I wrote this letter to the company expressing disappointment that their stated ethos is so undermined by their business model and the implicit aim of their fan club. For the sake of this post, lets call the toys Sylvantic Animals.

Dear Sylvantic Animals Fan Club,

Having been a fan of your toys for over 30 years, I was thrilled when my daughter starting enjoying them. They are the perfect fodder for her fertile imagination. She can spend hours creating scenes and stories like this one.


Dont you want to go on this holiday?

Last year, when she became aware of your Fan Club I was happy for her to join. However, having received emails and magazines now for several months, I am writing to tell you why I am decidedly NOT a fan of your fan club.

You claim the toys have a strong ethos about enjoying nature, and they are ‘evergreen toys’. This is not a term I am familiar with. However, the implicit messages you send out through the Fan Club communications is entirely at odds with a love of nature: It seems to be all about promoting sales. Here are some examples; Your emails seem to only feature product promotions, as a result of which I no longer show them to my daughter,; your events are marketed as a way for fans to buy the new products: (we will therefore not be going),; you profile fans who have amassed significant collections and say how much they love getting new toys; you use the magazines to showcase ever new products which are only a slight variation on the existing ones: My daughter has the otter family, (amongst several others). Now she wants the ‘splashy otter’ family because she saw it in the magazine.

This messaging seems to reinforce a business model based on promoting sales of new, packaged toys which are then discarded. The Fan Club appears to be a way to manipulate the childrens’ desire to consume, which, when magnified, is at the root of the over consumption that is driving the destruction of the natural world.

But that’s not all. The focus on acquisition is not only at the expense of nature but is also at the expense of the other values of creativity and family that you say you seek to promote. My daughter used to think up lovely names for the animals but since getting the magazine my she has to wait until she sees the name you gave them. Her desire to acquire more leads to dissatisfaction: she can sometimes spend more time poring over the products in the magazine she doesnt have than playing with her already extensive collection. And her desire for more leads to family tension: The toys are expensive. I don’t want her to consume for the sake of it. She already has a lot and my timelines are longer than hers. In a few years time they will be discarded and I will be left with the hassle of selling them on ebay for a fraction of their cost  and at no discernible value to you, the company that created them.

I am telling you frankly that at the moment, my stated aim is to minimise her acquistion of your products and persuade her not to rejoin the Fan Club. However, if you managed things differently, my purse strings towards your company would loosen significantly. This isnt just about my purchases, it is also about what her pocket money and what I encourage wider friends and family to buy for her.

What if the Fan Club operated more like a toy library? What if membership granted the option to borrow different families and buildings or accessories? (obviously with a provision for loss or damage). What if you could subscribe to your company for 4 or 5 years during which time you had access to all sorts of different toys? Then you as a company would get the value from the second hand use of the good quality toys currently lost to you via ebay. You could focus more on the imaginative aspects. Your magazine could have competitions for pictures of scenes, or stories or accessories created by the children so that it is creativity rather than consumption that is rewarded and celebrated. You would minimise your contribution to landfill whilst maximising customer loyalty and brand visibility. And you could promote your ethos of loving nature, family and creativity with integrity.

And some other requests; please please can you sell outfits without having to buy the toy that comes with it? At the moment the need to always buy the toy flies in the face of any commitment to nature or imagination. And as a visible commitment to reducing plastic, please can you adopt the playmobil aproach of cardboard packaging with pictures rather than vaccum packed. It would save a huge amount of space as well.

There is such a desperate need for toy companies to show leadership on protecting nature, to demonstrate that mindless acquisition is not the only way and that decent toys and good companies can be built on this. You would get far more revenue from me and others likeminded if you took a different approach. The children of your Fan Club now are the generation who will suffer from mindless consumption. Please help them forge a different path. And then I would be a fan.