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.

20190207_065827

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The slideshow needs javascript so here are the images.

 

Slide1Slide2Slide3Slide4Slide6Slide5Slide7Slide9Slide8

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!

 

 

“Chasing after the wind”

Another post that came from a bedtime story. It is probably also on the line between profound truth and trite cliche. The image is in no way original – it appeared centuries ago in Psalm 1.

“A little tree grew on the edge of a copse on a hillside. From where it stood it could just a see the top of a small clump of trees on the other side of the hill.

There was always a breeze around the hillside. In springtime, it would whisk up the blossom from the rest of the copse and whirl their petals round to the little tree. And when the leaves came out, the wind brought the little tree the whispering of all the others branches.

The little tree would sigh to the wind: “I wish I grew in that clump of trees” she said. Their blossom is prettier, their branches sway together and more people come to sit in their shade.  “Yes”, said the wind. “Look at their petals I bring you; listen to their whispers. They are surely better and happier trees than you are. If only you were like them, then it would be your blossom that would dance with the others, and your whispers I would carry around the hill.” “I would so love that”, sighed the little tree.

One night, there was a storm. The rain flooded down the hillside and took with it some of the soil. In the morning the little tree found that all the swaying in the wind had wriggled one of its roots near the top of the soil. “Hurrah for the wind”, it thought. “It is helping me to get free.”  As it continued to bend and sway, the root came right up and the two on either side started to work their way out as well. The tree started to list to one side and the wind urged it on.

The next night there was another storm, and more of the soil was churned up. The little tree had really started to come away from the earth. It started to notice that its leaves  were fading  – the roots couldn’t draw up what they needed. The tree started to feel quite unwell. But the soil continued to move.

Later that day, the farmer who owned the hillside came up to inspect the damage. He went to the clump of trees first, and took down some of the intertwined branches muttering that there were “growing too close”. Then he came round the side of the hill where the little tree was.

“Little tree!”, he exclaimed, digging the roots back in again. “How will you ever grow fine blossom, strong branches and broad leaves, unless your roots are deep and strong? Don’t be swayed by the wind! It will only urge you on and on. Everything you need to flourish is right here; where I planted you. The wind is strong. When it whistles you must push your roots in more deeply or you will never be still long enough settle and grow.”

The storm had given the tree quite a shock. For a moment, it had felt what it was like to be really blown by the wind and feel its roots give way. And for a time afterwards, it still felt a bit unsteady. Every day it continued to feel the wind, even if it was just as a light breeze, taunting the tree with the sounds and smells from around the hillside. But the farmer kept coming back, securing the roots in a little more firmly each time. And over time, the tree learnt to brace itself against the wind, dig deep through its roots and draw up all the goodness it needed to blossom – just where it was.”

 

 

 

 

“I saw a bargain today”

As a child I thought shops made the things they sold. The idea that toys were made the other side of the world seemed outlandish. With online shopping it seems almost like magic. But, as Fairtrade Fortnight highlights, everything we buy is made and put together by real people, living real lives, every step of the way.

“I saw a bargain today”

A fabulous dress;
A pair of shoes:
Much cheaper online
How could I refuse?
Arriving tomorrow, at no extra cost.
I hurried to ‘click’, before it was lost.
But just as I hovered, I heard someone say
“Let me show you who paid for your bargain today”.

She showed me the fields where the cotton was grown;
And the pitiful payment the farmers took home.
She showed me the rivers where pesticides flow;
And the fields alongside them, where crops barely grow.

I covered my ears but I still heard her say:
“There are others who paid for your bargain today”

She showed me the factories away in the East,
Where shifts are the longest and wages the least.
She showed me the workers too scared to protest
As the contracts must follow the cheapest, not best.

I told her “Enough!” but I still heard her say:
“Yet others will pay for your bargain today.”

The packers from warehouses, too tired to stand;
The child breathing fumes from the couriers round;
The fish eating fibres washed down to the deep;
The families who live near the burning trash heap;

Then my children looked up and I heard them say:
“How long ’til we pay for your bargain today?”

I saw a bargain today.”

After this poem appeared on http://www.joyinenough.org in February 2021, Izzy Barrett (https://www.instagram.com/izustrations/) shared this  fabulous picture.

More family poems…

In November, a new nephew arrived just a few weeks before his brothers 3rd birthday, so I wrote this for him about the new arrival.

My Baby Brother

I have a baby brother,
And he looks a bit like me.
Now my family is different
From how it used to be.

He’s soft and he’s wrinkly,
And he wriggles when you touch
And his eyes are small and crinkly
And sometimes don’t open much.

I can let him hold my finger
I can show him all his toys.
I think there’s some that I had
‘Cos they’re all for little boys.

But he’s always needing feeding
Or he’s doing a big poo,
And he has so many cuddles
When I want to have them too.

My Mummy’s still my Mummy
But she’s now his Mummy too,
So I can’t do all the things I want,
Or what we used to do.

But I know that he’ll get bigger
And there won’t be all the fuss;
And then with my little brother
There won’t just be me, but US!

And this one was for my niece who turned ten last year. She has very long, very lovely hair.

My Hair

Long hair; Blonde hair; How to wear my hair:
French plait? Dutch braid? Pony Tail?
Too staid.

Half up? Half down?
Triple plaits round the crown?
Fishtail? Pull through? Boho-style?
Who Knew?

Blonde hair, Long hair, Fab hair My Hair!

A Parkrun for Wildlife?

Sir David Attenborough made headlines at Davos last month with his interview with the Duke of Cambridge. His pitch was clear. The ecological problems we face spring from our disconnect from the natural world.

“There has never been a time that more people are out of touch with the natural world than as now”,  he said.

But he wasn’t just concerned with  problems on the macro scale. He spoke movingly about how the natural world is one of the greatest sources of delight, pleasure and beauty in the whole of the world, and that caring for it brings joy and enlightenment which is irreplaceable. If we lose sight of that, we lose a great source of joy.

There are all sorts of reasons why we have largely lost sight of this joy in the UK. And there are any number of problems on a national scale (such as mental health, obesity, loneliness) that show we need it more than ever. The urgent question for us now is how to reconnect?

The opportunities are there. Organisations like the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts put on excellent activities. But they mainly take place (obviously) in places where there is wildlife, so you have to be interested in wildlife before you go. Perhaps the biggest conservation attempt nationally is the Big Garden Birdwatch, that took place this weekend. But, because it takes place in your garden, you have to want to do it before you do it. September’s March for Wildlife made an important statement, but it brought together those who cared already.

Reconnection means reaching out on a much bigger scale. We need something that engages people for all sorts of different reasons, and in the process, reconnects them with their everyday natural world. Something as public, accessible and ubiquitous as Parkrun, something that can become as much of an institution as the Brownies and as sociable as watching major sporting matches. For the sake of argument, call it ‘Park-life’.

What if  ‘Park-life’ took place at the weekend, in public recreational areas, offering families, individuals or groups of friends the chance to participate together? What if it was accessible for all members of the community? What if it had a simple, replicable format; perhaps something to observe, something to learn and something to do? What if it was done hand in hand with the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB whose brilliant activities are already there waiting to be scaled up? What if, like the Brownies and the RSPB, there were different badges or awards you could earn? What if it enabled management of our public spaces so that wildlife could flourish?

‘Park-life’ has a lot to learn from Parkrun. The whole UK Wildlife Trusts together ran c. 10,000 events in the UK in 2018. A conservative estimate would put the number of Parkruns at double that. Its success is astonishing (from 13 runners in 2004 to 5 million in 2018) and it deserves massive credit. Perhaps its most significant success is the fact that the events are volunteer-run – utterly bucking the trend that most organisations are finding it harder and harder to find volunteers. If the set-up is right, people will want to do it.

Building the health and happiness of a community, as Parkrun has set out to do, is an important and admirable goal. But their formula for their success could be used more widely. What if someone like Sir David or the Duke of Cambridge spearheaded a major national initiative, in our parks and open spaces, that helps to reconnect us with the natural world.

Perhaps then we might understand and nurture the wildlife we still have; we might build a constituency of citizens wanting policies that protect the natural world; we might prevent ourselves from continually dealing with greater and greater consequences of our disconnect. And, most of all, we would rediscover that joy and wonder at our incredible world.

 

 

The Battle for the Brownie

I watched Incredibles 2 over the holidays. What a great film! And how amazing that they could so perfectly capture my toddler’s tantrums without ever having met her! My children might not have super powers but they certainly have different identities. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground, or average day. They are either brilliant or dreadful. This is not an original observation. We used to say that they both lived up to the curls in the middle of their foreheads, as the nursery rhyme goes.

So this poem was prompted by my 7 year old who, soon after starting Brownies, stormed into the house one evening declaring she couldn’t be a Brownie and announced she was a Frownie. And proceeded to be one all evening! I don’t think she’s the only one.

Brownie or Frownie?

I have just joined the Brownies: It’s all very cool
With the badges and toadstools and hoodies and all,
There’s Snowy and Brown Owl who tell us what’s what
And games where you all take a name from a hat.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie, that’s me!
And it’s all going to be such a fun thing to be!

Now at Brownies we learned we should all lend a hand;
To do a good turn and to share the things round;
To think first of others before of ourselves
And to help out at home like we’re true little elves.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie, that’s me!
What a perfectly lovely and good thing to be!

So I tried it at home when I cam back from school
But at teatime I felt not a Brownie at all.
Why should I do dishes instead of just play
After all, I’d been working at school all the day.
I’m a Brownie, a Brownie, a Brownie that’s me.
But it’s not always easy a Brownie to be.

So I stomped up the stairs and I went to my bed.
And d’you know what was running around in my head?
Am I really a Brownie if I stamp and shout?
Or is there a Frownie that needs letting out.
Am I Brownie or Frownie? A puzzle, that’s me
Cos I don’t always know which one I want to be.

When Frownie says “Yes” then the Brownie says “No”
But I can’t seem to stop when the Frownie says “Go!”
When Frownie’s in charge then it makes people sad
Then when I’m a Brownie I feel really bad.
I’m a Frownie, I guess I’m a Frownie that’s me.
But I’m really not sure it’s who I want to be.

Now at Brownies we learn we don’t do things alone
And I know that the Frownie won’t go on it’s own
It might need a cuddle, to chase it away,
And help win the battle for Brownie to stay.
If it’s Brownie or Frownie, it’s Brownie for me
But I need you to love me, whichever you see!