POPPY

Knitting a poppy wasn’t as easy as I’d anticipated. I had to keep my wits about me, concentrate on counting and, for once, not try and multi-task. The result was a slightly lop-sided flower with a black button stuck into its centre. It now adorns the local Guildhall, along with thousands of others, on this Remembrance Sunday.

There are four red poppies still blooming in the garden, remnants of the wild flower mix that attracted bees and butterflies throughout the summer. The poppies, being buffeted by the wind today, and out in the chilly air, are an apt reminder of the men and women who, with minds and bodies concentrating on the task before them, sacrificed their lives to secure peace and freedom for us.

This afternoon, in order to justify sitting for a couple of hours watching Federer on TV, I got out my knitting needles. The pattern was complicated and, as I knitted, I made mistakes because I was trying to concentrate on two things at once. I unpicked several rows and, while doing so, missed crucial points in the match. Trivial, I know…

Knitting a poppy could have been a trivial pursuit – unless it reminded me of what that poppy represented: Focus. Commitment. Perseverance. Skill. Sacrifice. For each person who gave their life that others may live, I’m grateful.

 

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IN THE FOG

Is it silly to say that I feel more alive on autumn mornings than at other times of the year? What is it about autumn that causes such vibrancy? The brilliant saturated colours of autumn? The juxtaposition of orange and blue? The crisp cold frosty air of this very morning when sun and moon appeared at opposite ends of the sky, round and large and dominating the dome above a wakening earth? Possibly… Probably… But the feeling is there too when it’s foggy.

“Go out and take pictures in the fog,” said my tutor on a photographic course. Daft idea, I thought, but no – it turned out to be an exercise in observation, contemplation, quietness, and even cosiness. The enveloping greyness wasn’t oppressive or sinister, just another facet of weather to marvel at. Think of the objects that are enhanced by fog: spiders’ webs, water droplets suspended from leaves, monochromatic images of old-fashioned lamp-posts, cathedrals, seaside piers…

Metaphorical fog in life can make us wonder whether life will ever become bright again. Burdens, anxiety, bewilderment can oppress the shrouded soul, bruised body or numbed mind. But, just as there is an invisible sun in the silence of the fog, so too – in the screaming silence of our personal fogs – there is an invisible yet all-seeing and compassionate God who offers his companionship, not necessarily to alleviate the fog but to be in it with us.

COFFEE FIX?

Once upon a time I worked in a coffee shop. It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. A queue of people waiting for their drinks, the constant clatter of cups and hissing machinery, and a complicated till that I never got the hang of… were enough to make me quit the job before I was sacked for incompetence.

I could never be a barista. Let me make instant coffee in a mug at home! Let my life be uncomplicated – and quiet, at least some of the time.

‘Listen’ is an anagram of ‘silent’. In a world of constant noise and busyness where caffeine keeps us going, it’s good to find times to be silent – and listen. One day last week I went out with my camera before dawn. There was little traffic to pollute the air with fumes and noise. I heard the beating wings of swans flying overhead, the calling of geese as they pierced the sky in a v-formation, and then the plaintive call of a peregrine. I felt leaves falling on me from bronzed beech trees, I watched brown trout in the river and observed early morning light playing patterns on the slow-moving water. Calm and invigorated, I walked home contentedly to make… a cup of tea.

 

GOOD LOOKS?

Do you look good for your age? An impertinent question, perhaps, but one to which ‘experts’ are keen to provide answers. They suggest how you can: whiten your teeth, remove facial ‘blemishes’, have toned muscles in a perfect body, a beautiful smile, shining hair…

Is nobody content with the body they have? Doesn’t the ageing process happen whether we like it or not? Is life only about looking good and feeling good? Aren’t there more important questions: Why am I here on planet Earth? Where am I going? How do I relate to other people? What am I doing with the life I’ve been given?

3000 years ago a prophet was sent to choose a potential king from eight brothers. He went to the eldest of the bunch – a tall, handsome chap. Ah, this must be the one. No. The prophet inspected each brother in turn. None of the first seven was chosen. The eighth and youngest son was called in from tending sheep in the fields. Yes! This was the one. Why? Because God, who had sent the prophet, said, “I do not judge as man judges. Man looks at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”

Age and looks are less important than character. Is that a relief or a challenge? God looks. But not necessarily for good looks.

 

 

 

LOOK UP, LOOK DOWN

How observant are you?

Last week the harvest moon rose in early evening to dominate the sky in its luminosity and largeness. Before its appearance the October dusk darkened daylight’s objects, to reveal slowly but steadily the things of night. At first the stars were tiny pinpricks of light then, as darkness progressed, they were revealed as an apparently random scattering of bright lights flung by an invisible hand into the space above earth. I stood outside, head tilted back and gazed in awe. Then the moon rose and the stars became less bright against the backdrop of the massive moon.

When my head eventually returned to its normal position I continued my moonlight walk, but then had to bend my head downwards to avoid tripping over tree roots and… a random hedgehog. Yes, a hedgehog! I hadn’t seen one for years – not alive, anyway. I stood and watched it snuffle its way across a patch of grass in search of supper.

The immensity of the universe – moon, stars… And the minutiae of tiny creatures – hedgehogs, worms, ants… Life is out there to see and wonder at, day and night – if we look. W H Davies wrote, “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” Let’s make time to look and be thankful.

PS ‘Berry Nice’ photos are on the Photo Gallery of the website.

PIGS, COWS AND LIONS

It’s pannage time in the New Forest. Hundreds of pigs are let loose to hoover up acorns, doing a favour to ponies and cattle whose stomachs can’t cope with such delicacies. It’s fun to see pigs out and about in their couple of months of freedom.

The dong of cow bells rang out over green pastures below snow-capped mountains – a thrilling introduction to the beauty of Switzerland on my first visit to Europe many decades ago. The cows have freedom – but within certain boundaries. Thanks to the bells worn round their necks, farmers can locate their animals.

Lions in captivity are kept – one would like to think – out of human reach and their muscly power and handsome looks may be admired from a safe distance.

In each of these happy scenarios, however, there is a caveat. Beware! Yesterday’s newspaper revealed that a pig bit a man in the Forest, a handful of people complained about the noise of cowbells, and a rugby player who decided to try and stroke a lion, got more than he bargained for.

Life is lived within certain bounds for pigs, cows, lions – and people. Human beings like to be free but tend to function most effectively within certain boundaries. Who sets those boundaries? “All the animals in the forest are mine and the cattle on thousands of hills,” said God. He wants people to enjoy, respect and care for his world. Just try to avoid being bitten.

 

 

HALF AND HALF

Half and half. My computer screen is split down the middle: info on the left, this post on the right. Neat. Tidy. Satisfactory. Like the Autumn Equinox. The science of the sun and its position over the equator at the equinoxes is complex; Google it if you wish… but as far as ordinary punters are concerned it means we have approximately 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Half and half.

Last Wednesday there was a new moon. It was a clear night and the stars were spectacular – visible across all parts of the sky, bright and beautiful and totally awe-inspiring. I stood in the garden, head tilted back, and pondered the wonder of the created universe, recalling the Bible verse that always makes me chuckle thanks to its spectacular understatement: “He also made the stars.”

The next day the sun came up with a mixture of blue sky and puffy white fine-weather clouds. The stars had gone. But of course they hadn’t. They were still there; just invisible. Looking up at the sky it was hard to imagine their existence. My focus was on what I could see, rather on what I couldn’t see. ┬áDay and night – two halves of the whole.

The presence of God, the Creator of the rolling spheres, isn’t a half-hearted phenomenon. The heavens, the Bible says, declare his glory – day and night. He is ever-present – trust me. Or rather, trust him.