#DotheDecentThing

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.

#DotheDecentThing

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One

 

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 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.

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The meaning of Easter- in fuzzyfelt

The Christmas story has an easy sell – angels, a donkey, a baby, lambs and kings all make up an accessible story for children. (Never mind that the reality was family rejection, birth amidst squalor and social ostracism!) The challenge is making it more than a story.

But the Easter story struggles to get past the first hurdle. Cruelty, rejection, death don’t feature highly in many children’s plotlines, and even if you have explained the story, the question still hangs “But why did Jesus have to die?”

Faced with an array of small children, I struggled to find some way of capturing the totality, the completeness, the now and forever-ness of the cross and resurrection in a way that made relevant sense.

 

 

 

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I’d love to know any feedback.

On the story itself, I have always loved making Easter gardens. There is something about the beauty of using spring flowers and the fact that all the parts go back into the garden afterwards that really reflects the truth of the story. Here’s one we made a few years ago with pipe cleaner figures (they didn’t survive!) and a beautiful card made for the Easter gardens we made at a vineyard open day here.

 

 

 

 

 

Wishing everyone a very blessed and Happy Easter!

 

 

What to do when you grow up…

Next week I have the privilege of taking part in an Upper School Careers Fair, manning a table for the development and humanitarian sector. I really enjoyed it last year; it’s always interesting hearing young people’s plans and thoughts. It seems to me that for those tiny proportion of careers that feature in childrens books about what people do ‘when they grow up’ (musician, ballet dancer, acrobat, explorer) etc, the choice is made from an overwhelming compulsion, but for most of us, it’s a more prosaic process of weighing the options. I am sure there is masses written on how to do this, but here’s my penn’orth.

I think there are four key aspects of any job that are helpful to think about beforehand because they affect most how you feel about it when you’re in it. I can’t claim it as an original analogy, but if you imagine your job satisfaction relying on a set of ‘springs’  (thanks to Rob Bell in ‘Velvet Elvis’), when one isn’t going well, there are still others to hold you up. And their importance will ebb and flow at different stages in your life.

A lot of people are rightly motivated by the Purpose of what they do, wanting to ‘make a difference’, which is what leads many to look at international development. Whilst I entirely agree it is important, there can be dangers in placing too much emphasis on the stated purpose of the organisation. When I graduated, I had little understanding of how key parts of economy and society interacted and I don’t think I am alone in that. By restricting yourself to looking at organisations with a purpose that fit your ideas, you can miss opportunities in those that could ultimately have a much more significant impact, for example in the way they drive employment conditions, environmental impact, etc. And you cant entirely rely on it all the time.  Either the purpose can seem a long way away from the messy bit you in, or a hard grind on the frontline that can seem frustrated by decisions you have little control over.

The best piece of advice I was ever given at a Careers Fair was by a solicitor who worked for The Red Cross. In response to my naive questions she said that unless she found reading and analysing vast numbers of legal documents interesting, it wouldn’t matter  who it was for. It made me realise that the day-to-day Process of what you do is probably the most important factor in whether you find your job interesting. For many graduates, that process will require several more years of acquiring job-specific or professional skills. If you restrict yourself to roles immediately available in worthy organisations, you may find yourself frustrated in a process that isn’t really a good fit, and less able to contribute as you would like.

Frankly it’s your colleagues that make or break your experience of being at work. I am always fascinated by the way different organisations or roles attract different types of People. The nature of the work, or the purpose of the organisation, or the operating environment perhaps means affects who is attracted to it in the first place and who is rewarded within it. No set of colleagues are perfect, but the organisational culture, the way decisions are taken, the type of people in senior leadership makes a massive difference. It’s a truism that if you are rejected from a job then perhaps it wasn’t right for you, but I am sure there is truth in it. I think whether you aspire to be like the people ahead of you is crucial to your career aspirations. When perhaps the process is boring, or the purpose unclear, it’s your colleagues that are likely to give you positive motivation, not just because they can make a difference to you, but also because of the difference you can make to them.

And finally, the underpinning of your relationship with work is the Package (pay, conditions etc). If your life satisfaction relies on a particular level of renumeration, then you have to restrict yourself to the jobs that will provide it. Idealism is fine if you are prepared to take the consequences of what your ideal job will pay. Flexibility can become a massive issue in the years when you have older or younger dependents and is perhaps worth a lot of other considerations. And at the end of the day, in any job, when it’s not going well, you can console yourself that if you enjoyed all of it then you wouldn’t need to be paid! I learnt the hard way that passion about a role is all very well, but a bit of pragmatism and perspective goes a long way.

So, before I sit at the table next week, I am keen to know what you think.. And then maybe I will start thinking about what I will do when I grow up!