How Did I End Up Here?

Since hitting a major birthday milestone 7 weeks ago, time seems to have been flying by at the speed of light and I’ve arrived in the New Year with my feet having barely touched the ground. Already, I’m bored with the tedious reminders of aging that are constantly bombarding me – or is it that they’ve always been there and I’m noticing them for the first time because I’ve hit my seventh decade? I’m almost three quarters of a century old!

YIKES!

How did that happen?

Me and hubby took a Twixmas coach trip to Blackpool Illuminations – or the Northern Lights as we like to call them – on 28th December, and it was so hectic that it was over in a flash! Three days gone in the blink of an eye yet a lifetime of memories were packed into that journey.

It was a strange trip.

We were the only two people on the feeder coach (mini bus) from Scarborough to Stockton-on-Tees for the pick up of another couple. We had to pass by Billingham, where my husband hails from, to collect a lost luggage item related to the driver’s previous run. Memories of my husband’s early life there, combined with our shared time of living in the area together, washed over us until we reached Darlington to join the main coach. Darlington was the changeover platform from our ‘courting’ days consisting of train journeys to and from each others’ parental homes. On our return journey from Blackpool we travelled a different route for the purpose of taking in the final planned excursion of the package – a couple of hours shopping in the centre of Manchester (where I’m from). There wasn’t enough spare time to meet up with any family unfortunately. We hadn’t know prior to the trip that Manchester was even on the itinerary. When we were stopped at traffic lights on the way out, I took a shot of a road sign just before we passed the top of my brother’s road and sent it via whatsapp just to say hello and that we were so near yet so far away!

Something that struck me about non-recognition (or denial) of my own aging process happened one night in the bar at the hotel when the family on the next table were discussing going downstairs to join the disco. The female teenager said in a loud defiant voice: ‘I’m not going down there to dance on the same floor with mums, dads, and pensioners!’

They would have been my words once.

I was tempted to turn to her and quote the words I heard said by Detective Tutuola in an episode of CSI I saw: ‘Sooner or later we get to play all the parts’ but then I thought she was probably too immature to think the sense of that through… or even care about it at her age.

I came across this beautiful piece of writing in one of my favourite go-to comfort books, Wisdom for our Times by Helen Oxley, which may explain better how I’ll cope with my newfound realization (admittance) of my new age.

To my delight, on the first day of this new year, the first day of the rest of my life, I woke feeling thankful to be alive when my new calendar reminded me that ‘This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.’ (Psalm 118v24 NLT)

And I have!

How can I not after the year in which my prayer for reconciliation with my brother was answered! (See my Happy Endings blog post from 2022 for a reminder)

The vision board’s law of attraction idea worked so well last New Year that I’m creating one for this year too… but with a difference. I’m leaving it completely blank for the whole of January to declutter my mind, body and soul as I wait in the stillness of the presence of God to hear what’s next for me.

(from another of my go-to comfort books: Thoughts for Every Day by Patience Strong

Wishing you all a Happy New Year full of love and good health for a long life!

With love for the journey,

Julie

Too Early For This?

You may think it’s far too early to hold a Christmas Carol Service on 4th December but think again. Have you seen how busy the high street is already in the run-up towards Christmas? And it’s not even December yet? We’ve had cards on display since the end of September, Christmas songs in the shops since October and TV ads all through November. I think the house church I belong to has chosen the perfect time to remind us what Christmas is all about during the…

CHRISTMAS RUSH

Traffic weaving
Shoppers heaving
Santa leaving
children screaming
mothers scheming 
fathers preening
and the real meaning 
of Christmas  
is forgotten  
in that last mad dash for a bargain

Every year, do you find yourself hoping for a Christmas card from a friend or relative you had a fallout with long ago? I wrote this many years ago as a prayerful wish that I’d receive a card from my estranged brother.

CHRISTMAS TRUCE

Did you hear bells or drumming thunder	
Clapping, ringing through the sky?		
Or choirs of angels trilling chorus	
claiming peace on earth was nigh?		
 
No - neither did I.	
			 
But the clatter from my letterbox
when your card fell to the floor so fast
disguised my breathless rush to unlock
the neglected memories of our past.

This year those words have great potential to come true!

After 18 years of daily prayer for reconciliation with my brother, my Christmas came early this year when we met up for a meal together with our other halves on 15th September. My only regret from that meeting is that we didn’t take a photo to mark the occasion. Too dumbstruck, I guess.

I’d purchased a brick to add to the Wall of Answered Prayer when he’d responded to my initial olive branch letter in January that initiated our meeting so it sort of makes up for the missed photo opportunity.

A great weight has been lifted from us through the act of forgiveness. I’m sure the rest of the family feels lighter too. I’m looking forward to Christmas being different this year. Instead of my usual moping about our separation, I’ll be celebrating the miracle of reconnection.

Have you had any prayers answered this year? Take time to write them down and send to https://www.eternalwall.org.uk/ My personal brick is number 16412 – Reconciliation with an estranged brother. The goal is for one million answered prayers to show a unique aspect of Jesus which will encourage others in their faith journey!

Rev Geoff Bowell from Scarborough Christian Fellowship says in his Christmas flyer: ‘Jesus is the light of the world. Whatever darkness you might be facing this Christmas, Jesus Christ is the light. His love brings healing, His message brings hope, and His death opened for us the way to heaven and peace with God. This Christmas, why not discover the light in the darkness that is Jesus Christ?’

I’d like to share this thought-provoking reflection with you, written by The Late Shirley Waite, a dear friend who passed away on 9.11.2018.

A REFLECTION ON CHRISTMAS TREES

My grandma’s tree came from Woolworths;
Eighteen inches high with a wooden trunk painted brown and a wooden base, painted red.
Each year a few more dark green plastic pine needles remained in the box when, on the Saturday before Christmas, the family gathered to decorate the tree.
Grandma unfolded each battered branch as we children opened the rusty tin storage box and gently unwrapped the hibernating glass ornaments from their newspaper nests.
Mum and aunties checked the thread was secure before hanging each little bird and animal on its own twig.
Paper lanterns we had made at school over the years and carried home to hand over with pride were examined until we had all found our own pencilled names inside. Once they had been admired yet again, we hung them in their designated spaces.
Grandad filled his pools coupon in, shutting out the increasing volume of ‘Do you remember?’ and ‘Careful with that!’ from the adults, as we babbled about what we had written on our letters to Santa, ready to post up the chimney that evening.
Once every ornament had been admired and hung, Grandma opened the shoe box and moved aside the tissue paper. There she was – our fairy; a six-inch plastic doll with a dress cut from an old petticoat, cardboard wings covered in tin foil, a lollipop stick wand with a silver foil star glued to its tip, and a matching crown
Every year Grandma greeted her like an old friend, both of them a little more wrinkled and faded with each year, and tied her to the top of the tree.
Finally, once the room had darkened, the finishing touch was the white wax candles in clip-on metal holders
We formed an admiring group as grandma lit each candle and granddad stood close by with a bucket of water and a Woodbine stuck to his bottom lip.
And once we had all said ‘aaaww!’ the youngest child was lifted up to blow out every candle
before we sat around the table to eat tinned salmon sandwiches and peaches with Carnation milk.

My granddaughter’s tree came from Amazon, in a large flat box with instructions in seventeen languages. It’s a six-footer, assembled in seconds (it says).
Just pull upwards on the branch in the centre and watch it spring to life, already decorated with 200 clear replaceable lights, gold satin ribbons and forty-six non-breakable, co-ordinated ornaments, fifteen velvet poinsettias, and a gold-trimmed bow tree topper.
With a flick of the wrist, it takes over the living room.
Plugged in, it dazzles and distracts all eyes from the TV screen (for at least eight seconds) until they all go back to their iPads and iPhones.
On which they are ordering yet more electronic equipment.
Amazon has replaced Santa Claus, delivering up to midnight on Christmas Eve without the necessity of a mince pie or a sherry.

I stand in the middle – make no judgements –
Looking back to the past, forward to the future, and wonder:
When my granddaughter is my age, will her tree be a hologram designed and decorated by a computer?
Will Christmas dinner be delivered to their door by a drone from ww.worldwidecuisine.com
Will the politically correct brigade have got their way and renamed it Winter Festival?
Will Christ be nothing but a swear word?

What better time than now to make sure you grab the best Christmas gift of all? Google a place of worship near you and join in with the festival of nine lessons and carols that portray the story of the first Christmas. 

Because you’re worth it!

With love for the journey,

Julie

PS Take time out in the Christmas season to rest in silent spaces.

Dear God, help me to find silent spaces.

I say ‘amen’, but I think again, 
and instead of rushing away 
to fill my day with this and that,
I stop. I sit. I wait. I stay.  
I listen to what you have to say
in-between the tick and tock 
of my life’s busy, noisy clock, 
and your voice fills the silent space.

Dear God, help me to be still in silent spaces.

I don’t say ‘Amen’.  I start again 
because I don’t want to rush away
to fill my day with this and that,
I want to stop. To sit. To wait. To stay.  
To listen to what you have to say
in-between the tick and tock 
of my life’s busy, noisy clock 
as your voice fills my silent space.

Dear God, help me to listen in silent spaces.

Dear God, help me to hear you in the sacred silent space.





Human Kindness

Take time to browse through the quotes at www.randomactsofkindness.org whenever you need your spirits lifting

There’s so much stuff going on in the world that I hardly dare to breathe in case my out-breath adds to the overwhelming chaos of it all, especially as my already chaotic mind is alive and kicking. I don’t know where to start with my writing projects because they too have been caught up in the whirlwind and are spinning off in all directions.  

In an attempt to bring myself back to some form of normality, I thought I’d write this much-belated blog, check in with you and ask if you’re doing ok yourself in this crazy time of political unrest.  

I’ve always thought that looking outside of yourself and thinking about others is a good way to calm yourself down so you can put yourself back together again. Well, enough so that you can actually function at least. 

Sometimes, it seems we are invisible in the great scheme of things and our lights can diminish under the weight of our woes, so I want to encourage you to notice an opportunity today, and every day thereafter, to shine your light on someone who looks like they need it – right at the very moment you’re passing by. A smile or a kind word can work wonders if you take the time to focus on someone else’s need.

Don’t let those who are so puffed up with themselves overshadow your beautiful light. It’s showing loving kindness in our thoughts, words, and actions that make the world a brighter place and offer hope in the midst of the cruel chaos.

Stephen Jay Gould said:

The Centre of human nature is rooted in ten thousand ordinary acts of kindness that define our days.’ *

Here’s something else worth pondering:

‘I had found a kind of serenity, a new maturity…
I didn’t feel better or stronger than anyone else
But it seemed no longer important
Whether everyone loved me or not –
More important now was for me to love them.
Feeling that way turns your whole life around;
 living becomes the act of giving.’

Beverly Sills, b.1929 *
https://bestlifeonline.com/free-acts-of-kindness/

If you’re stressing and striving right now to make your life count, this quote by Charlotte Gray, b.1937 may offer you a way forward.

 ‘Human beings who leave behind them no great achievements, but only a sequence of small kindnesses, have not had wasted lives.’ *

So, my friends, ‘in a world where you can be anything, be kind’.

With love for the journey,

Julie

(* quotes from Helen Oxley’s ‘Wisdom for our Times’, published in 1999)  

Environment

clipart-library.com

I attended a poetry workshop recently, alongside fellow writers, facilitated by local poet and tutor, Felix Hodcroft – hosted by Scarborough Writers’ Circle, whose members will be celebrating National Poetry Day at their October session with poems stemming from the workshop on the theme of ‘environment’.

The theme immediately brings to mind topical global warming connotations and Felix encouraged us to think outside the box, outwit our own inner Policing system (censorship) and go beyond those connotations.

And so, for my end-of-month blog, I’m sharing with you the musings I wrote at the workshop to get my juices flowing as a warm-up to creating poetry. The content covers aspects of what’s been uppermost in my mind this melancholic month as I consider the theme of environment as being something a bit ‘off the wall’.

It begins with three 2-minute speed writing prompts to outwit the censor that is our own self:

1. What I Remember (choose a memory)

Trying hard not to think about the nights we lay under the silent, coal-black sky as diamonds dazzled our eyes and we made snow angels at midnight in a garden we called home. We held on to each other, breathing deep to keep warm, remembering how the blazing sun of daylight had penetrated our clothes, and burnt our skin. The snow is melting, drenching us with tears, we are drowning in fear because we dared to go out into the garden.

2. Environment

I’m scared of the water but it fascinates me and I want to jump into the ocean before it swallows me. My choice. Not a choice forced on me by the water’s quirky nature. I do want to see the sun again. Not the burning sun. No. The gentle sun-kissed summer holidays of childhood.

3. Where You Live

I’ve been clinging to the corner of the ceiling for so long that no-one notices I’m there now. Not even the damp odour I give off attracts attention. On the rare occasion that someone does spot me hovering, they scrub me all over with bleach… rubbing, rubbing, rubbing so hard to make me disappear but I am too strong. I’m here for life. I don’t know how I ended up here. It could have been the steamy windows that caused it.

Three phrases I liked from the read poems… words are not necessarily from the poems or in the correct order.

  1. Yet this stone still glistens after my hands have dropped it. It will never die and other hands will hold it as I do.  (Similar to the ‘mould’ in previous note 3.)
  2. Another spring… moving in cycles… day and night… the water slides gently by us as we sit entranced.
  3. These things happen… suffering and the soul’s bliss blend together (LOVE THIS!)… the grass is wet with tears and the smell of roses in the night fills the air.

It all sounds connected somehow. It’s exciting when my own creativity flows freely from my subconscious and seems to connect to poems written by others. Automatic writing makes me feel so alive!

What is true and what we are told is true:

Environment: Questions and Uncertainties

I thought I had it sussed. This dying thing. I believe in God. It’s easy. I know where I’m going in the end. But, do I? Do I really? Truly? I watch my neighbours slip away meaninglessly, one by one, and long to ask them ‘what is so great about the direct cremation you chose for your ending?’ None of us can bow our heads, tip our cap, or whisper a prayer, as you whizz by our doors on your final journey. No one to mourn your passing in a rote fashion, with the passion of memories shared at a wake.  We remain, for a while anyways, staring at the empty space you’ve left behind. It’s not enough time to grieve your loss. The next tenant will move in long before your dust has settled.

We talked of serendipity which led to each person choosing a word in quick succession. We were asked to include two of the words within the next sprint.

I dreamed of gushing water, rushing past the bus as I gazed down from the top deck. My sister was in the water, flailing arms and legs, fighting for her life. ‘Stop the bus. Now!’ I screamed at the deaf driver as he carried on speeding down the road unaware of his surroundings.  I clambered down the stairs, two at a time, pressing the bell frantically at the bottom and screeched, ‘let me off! Now! My sister is dying.’ He opens the doors and I swim through turbulent ripples of blood-red water.

Hell! What is this? Where’s the serendipity I was promised?

All my words from the speed writing exercises are there on the page, waiting to be gathered together, played with, tossed back and forth, prodded and poked in order to come up with an 8-line poem about the environment.

Simples, right?

I came up with a sad little something about a single drop of rain on a rose petal, fiddled with it for part of the allotted 15 minutes, and heard Felix say ‘escape from your chains’ so I looked at a different take on it ‘lock me away, love…’, I began. Then Felix said,  ‘you can move bits around… lines… be aware of the ‘poetry rule’ by arriving late and leaving early.’

Edit your 8 lines thus:

Edit 1: Get rid of cliché, bring freshness, get rid of anything too decisive or dogmatic, have the attitude of show not tell, and use imagery well. Poetry makes you come face-to-face with your own fear/uncertainty, no need to preach, show the reader how difficult life is. Make the reader aware of something not fully explained, settled.

Edit 2: Is your poem the truth/or what you’ve been told is the truth? Your poem is YOUR beliefs and YOUR vision to the world.

Edit 3: Try taking out every alternate word. Reduce by a quarter. Am I telling what is already shown? Am I going on too long?

I fiddled around for what seemed an age and got as far as the first draft of 8 (very short) lines thus:

The blood moon moans

gathers flowers

from tormented dreams

of rainfall

on a single rose

whose luscious leaves

hit the ground

without a sound.

No idea what it means but… it’s the product of a 2-hour workshop that I thoroughly enjoyed! As are my previous streams of consciousness on this blog, which will not be wasted. Writing is always a work in progress.

I’ll conclude by saying that another piece practically wrote itself that night as I was reading through my notes in search of something else. Serendipity? Maybe. The jury’s out on that one whilst my inner Policing censorship returns to the poem to investigate the necessity of editing.

With love for the journey,

Julie

clipart-library.com

Sales Pitch of Disbelief

In a flurry of disbelief that companies can take advantage of writers’ works, I feel compelled to share this with you whilst offering humble apologies that it comes so soon after my last post.

It’s simply a tongue-in-cheek sales pitch of sorts… with a plea for your assistance at its close. 

I was googling my collection of short stories from 2015 to check up on something when I came across this:

£45!

I almost fell off my chair!

Bear in mind that I wouldn’t actually get paid anything for this purchase (if indeed someone is half-way to crazy enough to pay that much for a book with an original price of £6.50) as it has obviously been donated/sold on to the book shop by Dear Geoffrey’s next of kin.

Maybe it has something to do with my selling out of paperback copies so this work is only available to purchase on the black market or as an ebook now.

Who am I kidding?

*

The next listing of the same book from this link from Kriso.ee (whoever they are) brought me back down to earth… almost :

11,25 Euros – equivalent to £9.47p GBP

I wouldn’t get paid anything for this sale either, if they actually had it in stock.

I hate the thought of any of my readers being ripped off so here is the link you definitely want if you are interested in the eBook version. It’s as near to the truth as damn it and is free to read on Amazon Prime or to buy for £2.15 (and I do get a small royalty payment for this purchase!).

*

*

My second collection, published at the end of 2021 (which has been a long time coming and was written in recovery from a psychotic breakdown in 2020) is available in paperback from myself at the bargain price of £5, plus any necessary postage and packing cost.

Please drop me a line via the contact form on my Welcome page if you are interested enough to want to part with hard earned cash to own a copy of Alice… or, indeed, want further details of its content.

Personally, seeing as my books could potentially be worth £45, I think you should jump at the chance of owning this one, especially as a beautiful colour sketch adorns each story.

Be quick though. I only have a dozen copies left.

*

I think this may be a good opportunity to update you on my personal memoir writing progress, seeing as I want to ask a favour of someone who, within the next week or so, would be ready, willing and able to read and offer feedback on my first 8,000 words before it sets sail on a voyage of discovery to its dead-line submission.

This statement is both the update and plea in relation to it. Of course, there is no fee involved, as I am a penniless, unknown writer so haven’t made my fortune yet. I’m therefore appealing to the goodwill of my fellow writers’ empathy.

I look forward to hearing from you if you are interested in any of the above, all of the above or, in fact, none of the above.

Decisions, decisions.

With love for the journey

Julie

A HARD KNOCK LESSON

Some people mentioned that Paul McCartney’s album’s title, Memory Almost Full, is an anagram of “for my soulmate LLM” (the initials of Linda Louise McCartney). In an interview with Pitchfork Media, McCartney clarified, “There does appear to be an anagram in the title. And it’s a mystery. It was not intentional.” The album’s title was actually inspired by a message that came up on his mobile phone. He thought the phrase summed up modern life.

My thoughts exactly.

Like many people, I never cared for learning things at school that didn’t fully interest me and what little I did learn in biology and science have long been pushed to the back of the filing cabinet of my brain, or fallen out somewhere, never to be retrieved again… until a recent visit to my GP had me googling three things related to my sore throat.

Sore being an understatement as I had a small white ulcer on each side where my tonsils go. My throat was dry, red and painful when I woke up the next day and I couldn’t swallow my own saliva. I panicked and phoned the surgery. I relayed my symptoms along with what I’d seen in my throat and was told to go to the surgery at mid-day.

‘Open wide,’ the doctor said and I did. ‘You don’t have any tonsils. So, where am I looking?’

OMG!

I was so embarrassed that I didn’t even know where my tonsils were. I thought they were that dangly thing in the middle at the back of your throat. DER! He did say they sometimes disappear with age. I felt as ancient as the hills and couldn’t wait to get out of there to run away from my stupidity. There was no additional advice from the GP about what to do as I had already been doing the gargling with salt, taking painkillers and sucking lozenges best way I could with the pain.

So, I’ll just carry on with that then, shall I?

I concluded it must be a viral infection so checked with Google whether I was doing the right things, as my viral throat was still red raw with the white ulcer-like spot marks which the GP had obviously not looked at because they weren’t on my non-existent tonsils. They were in the place where my tonsils should be. Hard to spot (pardon the pun) because the tissue is soft there and loosely folded, which covers them slightly.

https://theconversation.com/what-is-a-virus-how-do-they-spread-how-do-they-make-us-sick-133437

On google, I discovered more info, as per link above, than I wanted to about viral infections in that no antibiotic can treat them, the main part I learnt being that it works in the same way as any other virus, ie, Covid 19. I immediately grabbed the LFT kit from my bathroom. NEGATIVE. I breathed a sigh of relief so fiercely that I had a coughing fit which sent an excruciating pain to my throat, warranting a salt gargle, painkiller and lozenge.

I went for a lie down feeling sorry for myself.

The other thing I looked up on Google (good old Google, eh, frightens you to death all over again!) was that tonsils can become more of a liability than an asset and, as the GP said, they can disappear with age.

It made me feel better to know he wasn’t having me on about that or, even worse, making fun of me, yet I came out of that surgery knowing, just knowing, that he would share the story about the consultation regarding my non-existing tonsils with his colleagues for a good old-fashioned laugh. Worse still, I think I confirmed to him that I may be a hypochondriac.

I didn’t dare mention that I thought the throat problem was connected to a new medication I’d been prescribed for angina a week or so ago as it had made my throat very dry. No problem though. My throat is far too painful to take that as well as painkillers so I’ve stopped taking it.

I could change my GP I suppose but I can’t change the HYPOCHONDRIAC diagnosis that is probably written in big bold letters across my medical record!

And I STILL have this raging throat problem! Tonsils or not!

Still, with my memory almost full again because of all the google learning I’ve undertaken to find a self-help solution, I’ll be able to delete the experience of the visit to make room for a better outcome next time, should I ever dare step foot in the surgery again.

By the way, that dangly thing is called the Uvula and here’s an interesting read of its uniqueness, in case you didn’t know.

Please take this blog post with a large pinch of salt, a couple of painkillers, an extra-strong lozenge and a gargle of giggles.

With love for the journey

Julie

LET’S TALK ABOUT DEATH…

I’ve been contemplating the subject of death for a while now as I’m not getting any younger (surprise, surprise!) and took the plunge to buy two funeral plans for me and hubby. This has done nothing to give me peace of mind as it’s resulted in sleepless nights worrying about how I’ll manage the monthly payments for the next ten years.

Ten years!

With the rising costs of our currently inflated climate, it’s becoming nigh on impossible to afford to live, let alone die.

I did get a good deal on the plans: £500 discount on both, £1000 allowance for disbursements and an insurance that stated, after twelve months payments, the company will foot the bill if I didn’t survive the ten-year term.

Still, ten whole years of paying for my end fills me with dread. Any disposable income will vanish before my eyes each month in the struggle to meet the payments.

Fortunately, I’m within the thirty-day-cooling-off period and am about to cancel the plans… but the problem of what to do with my remains, remains… if you get my drift.

I’ve considered donating my body to medical science to save lives and, of course, save costs but even this has limited options for me as they are ‘picky’ at who they use for this purpose. Read here for the gruesome details of what it entails… if you can bear it.  Even this method of disposal states that a funeral of some sort may still be necessary when they’ve finished messing about with the body parts.

An option which is appealing to me more and more (because it’s turned out to be the cheapest since researching the former two) is a direct cremation with no service at all. At least I have enough insurance to pay for that when the time comes plus there will hopefully be enough left for whatever my family want to do in my memory. I am penning a simple wishes statement and stuff to share for this which should provide a healing comfort for my family.

It would of course be wonderful if I could simply fall asleep in the forest.

Sleeping in the Forest
I thought the earth remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

(Mary Oliver)

Perhaps my obsession with death is connected to me picking up my memoir writing again after encouragement from fellow writer and friend, Dorinda Cass. The story is based around the relationship between the two elder sisters in a dysfunctional family unit. Many of the memories within the story are touching on lives of those no longer living, so it’s inevitable that I think about death as I write about them in their living form. It’s hard going at times and I’ve intermittently considered abandoning it altogether.

I’m a bit stuck at the moment as I want to place two major events within the same time period that will make a strong conflicting plot throughout – but it wouldn’t be the exact truth as they happened 18-months apart. The emotional truth of both events is necessary to the story and would still exist though it would need to be classed as ‘a fictional memoir based on truth’.  On the plus side, a fictional memoir would be a saving grace if a family member disagreed with my perception of the truth.   

Although it’s true that memory is an unreliable narrator and a memoir is ultimately story-telling, which involves a certain amount of creative licence, it cannot stray into lies.

‘Memoir takes a lot from the Novel, but it is ultimately something that is True. So, while we accept that a memoir might take certain liberties with chronology, conflate characters, reimagine dialogue, all with the aim of creating a vivid and arresting picture of the author and their experiences for the reader, it can’t stray into lies. It is a fine line between creativity and inauthenticity.’

Euan Thorneycroft, agent at AM Health Literary Agency
Memoir is Autobiography without the boring bits

And so, back to the drawing board of timeline accuracy I go.

It was a bit of a coincidence when local poet Felix Hodcroft’s latest blog announcement hit my mail box with ‘Different Kinds of Hell’ as a header inviting me to read it. I was intrigued by his insightful celebration of poetry which is always a great read on this site. It’s comforting to know I am not the only writer obsessed, nay… fascinated, by death.

All this talk of death could also be due to the upcoming milestone birthday both my husband and I will be celebrating this year. It’s always hard-hitting when there’s a nought involved. It’s like the end of an era reaching the end of a decade.

Now my ‘end’ is decided on, I’ll leave you on a high note with this relevant piece of sarcasm which I performed back in the day of Open Mics at Scarborough’s Woodend Creative Arts Centre, as it was known then, hosted by the aforementioned Felix Hodcroft in partnership with Helen Birmingham.

This is a revamped version that won first prize in The Leslie Richards Competition at Scarborough Writers’ Circle in 2021. It’s also earmarked for inclusion in my third collection of short stories, Curious Confessions (WT), out later this year.

It goes without saying that this fictional offering is an exaggeration of the truth (in parts) but I thought I’d mention it just so you know I’ve lived a colourful life.

ENJOY!

Dear Rev,

I’m writing to you now before…well, before the end comes too quick and surprises me. I don’t think it will be long as I’ve reached my allotted three score years and ten, as it says in the good book. I’m also experiencing severe memory loss episodes of late so felt I needed to set the record straight before I lose the plot altogether. I don’t want all and sundry running up to the lectern on my big day adding their own bits in to fill the time slot. To be frank, I’ve heard so many trumped-up eulogies at these modern-day celebrations of life, where so-called friends say a few words about the departed, that I often feel I’m at the wrong send-off. The deceased is barely recognizable from such utterings.

So, there you have the explanation of the purpose of this letter: to share with you my thoughts that will lead to the final message I’ll be leaving to the world. You know, rather than leave it to those who think they know me to sum up my life before I disappear behind the curtain. 

It’s not as daunting as I imagined. In fact, it’s offered me the perfect opportunity to redraft my life story. Thus, permitting a second chance to get it right.

It’s quite exciting choosing which bits of my life to put in and which bits to definitely leave out. Obviously, I won’t want it to be common knowledge regarding the drunken brawls I got into on Saturday nights– even if it was with my own family.

I remember my old dad saying: ‘You don’t know you’ve had a good night out unless you wake up in the morning with the hangover from hell, a bruise or two, and even a broken bone occasionally’. Oh, he was such a sweetie, my dad. He never mentioned the sick stains down the front of my dress– the one I’d slept in all night because… well, I couldn’t be bothered getting undressed before falling into bed in a drunken stupor. Mmm, yes. Maybe this type of little gem is best kept in the closet with the skeletons.

I don’t often blow my own trumpet but I think I’ll get away with that, seeing as it’s my exit event. So, I’ll disclose that I’ve done some pretty amazing things during my lifetime, in spite of the not-so-amazing secret skeletons. I daren’t include all my triumphs because it could make those attending the service feel like complete failures. They’ll be sick enough with this missive I am disclosing.

For instance, I’ve got the most enviable imagination and, because of this, I am a published writer of all things writerly: novels; short stories; poems; plays and articles. In all genres, I might add. In fact, you name it and I’ve probably written about it and had it published somewhere.

I’ve been an artist in my time too and painted beautiful canvasses that any wannabe Picasso or Chagall would be proud to claim as their own.

I also played the piano. To the standard of Liberace, no less. You remember him, don’t you? Fancy candelabra, lavish lifestyle, etc, etc. Yes, even Liberace, a master of the most complex of concertos, would stand in awe at one of my recitals.

I could sing a tune or two as well. Not just down the Karaoke on a Saturday night after a few bevvies either. No. I sang for the Queen at The Royal Variety Show– on more than one occasion. As well as in a choral choir, no less described by the Evening Standard as ‘like listening to a holy host of angels, with a soloist (Moi!) whose voice was so clear and pure it could cut through crystal.’

And dance? Oh boy, can I dance. Not just strictly ballroom, but ballet, burlesque and belly, to name a few. In fact, I can dance any kind of dance to any kind of thing you can play, hum or sing. Oh, yes! I’m known as ‘floorshow’ whenever I turn up to strut my stuff!

Anyway, that’s enough of me. For now.

I’d like to consider others in my eulogy too because I’ve done my bit for the community. Due to my dysfunctional family background, it became evident I needed help so I was referred for therapy. It was there that I became interested in training to become a therapist myself so I could help others– once I was cured, that is. It took years but I got there eventually.

As a counsellor, I brought together all sorts of estranged people, helping them heal past relationships to bring about a kind of mutually acceptable reconciliation. Sometimes, I found that self-reconciliation was enough and possible even without the forgiveness of others. The trick with that one is to forgive yourself.

My one regret is that my own family could never heal itself enough to break down the barriers to communication. Hence, my siblings and I haven’t spoken to each other for donkeys’ years– since Dad died actually. He was the last straw holding us all together.

I can just see them at my funeral, if they bother to turn up. They’ll be surprised at how well I’ve done. These are the people I mentioned at the beginning. You know, the ones who might feel like complete failures when they hear about my accomplishments. I’ll bet they’ll be so bitter that they’ll go directly against my wishes and ask the organist to play me out– knowing fine well how much I detest organ music. It always sounds like such a flipping dirge.

Still, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned in life it’s to be generous of spirit when dealing with others’ shortcomings. Therefore, the message I’d like to leave to my siblings, to you and to the world, is this:

May the grace (or the gracious hostility) of your God go with you this day and evermore.

AMEN.

Cue the organ. (NOT!)

Yours sincerely

Ms Gloria Swansong

PS There’s no rush for a reply because now I’ve passed the information on to you, I trust you to do right by me when the time comes. And if you don’t? Well, I won’t really know anything about it, will I? I think this may be a good time to remind you of your own words in a recent sermon you delivered in that ‘we all have to answer to someone at the end for our wrongdoings towards others’ and leave it for your conscience to decide.

© Julie Fairweather

That’s all folks,

With love for the journey,

Julie

IS LOVE REALLY ALL WE NEED?

Okay, so I’ve failed to write in my personal journal since 25th May when I was busy packing my glad rags into my suitcase for a long-awaited visit to see our son in Prague on 27th.

I had been filled with trepidation about the chaos reported at UK airports but needn’t have worried because, prior to our arrival at Leeds/Bradford Airport, there had been a fire alarm evacuation and the coast had cleared for queueing. Our experience was hassle-free with a 5-minute bag drop wait and a 5-minute security queue wait. We had ample leisure time to make the most of what was on offer inside the airport before the gate opened for our flight.

In my opinion this has to be a world record!

Home again now, feeling relaxed and happy, the angst I felt leading up to the holiday forgotten, apart from the ever-present concern in relation to the state of the world and its peoples age-old good versus evil battle. 

There’s not much I can actually do to resolve the conflicts of inclusivity in today’s world (apart from ensuring my own little corner is compliant) except hope and pray for change. Acknowledging that we belong to one another would be a good start.

As humans, we seem to have forgotten this.

I find more and more I am turning to the comfort of poetic thought. Rhyming poetry is finding it’s place in my heart these days as it offers a rhythm that soothes my soul somehow yet my personal choice when writing poetry is more prosaic in nature.

Before the end of May turned swiftly into June, I was contemplating this offering from Patience Strong’s Thoughts for Every Day, written for 30th May, which must have lodged itself into my brain to influence this current blog post somewhat.

Living the Big Way

Live in the big way, the way that Christ taught. 
Big in your judgements, your outlook, your thought… 
Generous, tolerant, thinking no ill. 
Lavish in charity, rich in good will. 
Stoop not to pettiness, things mean and small. 
Live in a big world – there’s room for us all. 
Cast off your grievances, start out anew. 
Live life the big way, and take the broad view.

This fit nicely into our visit to the Lennon Wall in Prague which lends itself to inclusivity.

(photo by Eric L Fairweather – visit here for its interesting history and amazing photos)

In front of the wall was a display of collective poetry and prayer for the Ukraine written by visitors from all over the world, full of heart-breaking yet heart-warming words of support in the midst of the tragic Ukraine/Russian war.

(combined photos of Eric L Fairweather)

It made for quite an emotional read. I was lost for words to write anything worthwhile to add to the wall but these were my thoughts as I sat by the river on the way back to the hotel. It’s a work in progress.

In the city of a thousand spheres, 
a million lonely voices sing out their souls 
from words written on a wall - a wall of peace and love. 

Words written in the midst of war’s hostility 
state that 'Love is all we need to live in perfect harmony.' 

The soulful prayers and poems displayed 
show support for all mankind, 
for as Ukraine fights for peace and love
to keep their promised land, 
they’re not just fighting for themselves, 
they fight for so much more. 
They’re fighting too for me and you 
in the threat of nuclear war. 
As Russia bombs and shells their homes 
yet still cries out for more, 

I imagine there’s no Heaven – 
that this Hell is it forevermore.

I offer the words displayed at the wall and my thoughts as a prayer of intercession for God to soften hardened hearts and believe that love really is all we need.

Talking of love.

On spending time with our son this holiday, after an absence of 2 ½ years, it felt like only yesterday we had been together. It brought to mind a nostalgic piece I wrote when he first left home… a long time ago.

Dandelions

The dandelions are dead.
Pressed between the pages
and lodged inside life’s book.

I’ll never see their yellow heads
sun-dance in the rain, nor will I see
the smile light up your eyes again.

Yet I still count the ‘one-o’clocks’
when the wind cracks its whip
across a cobwebbed storm
and I remember the time
you picked dandelions.

Playing its part in soothing the savage beast, for me, is reading my daily devotional from UCB’s Word for Today. I find each day fits perfectly with what’s going on for me and it keeps me walking forward with faith on the narrow path.  The reading for 13th June tells me that ‘the wise are known for their understanding, and pleasant words are persuasive’ (Proverbs 16:21NLT).

‘You can’t go wrong with somebody who’s hurting by simply showing up, giving them a hug, letting them know you care and that you’re praying for them. It may be clichéd, but it’s still true: people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. You don’t demonstrate the love of God by being pushy, opinionated and acting like a know-it-all. You only do so by being ‘peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, (and) full of mercy’ (James 3:17.NASB).’

If that doesn’t confirm that love really is all we need, I don’t know what does.

photo © Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

With love for the Journey,

Julie

MEMORY TRICKS

I’ve been in such inner turmoil during April because of a decision I’ve been forced to make which has left me feeling sad. I’m not ready to share the story on the blogosphere as yet, but I can tell you that I’ve been on such a long journey of faith this month that I need time and space to come to terms with my choice to walk a new path.

Hence, I missed my deadline for posting an April blog.

I hope the musings that follow serve as a sympathetic/empathetic ear to anyone who is experiencing any form of memory loss.

Saturday 30th April:

I relished an unexpected lie-in until 9.00 a.m. this morning and lounged about in my jim-jams for an hour until the doorbell rang, which reminded me that someone was calling to pick up the church keys from me. I was in the bathroom getting dressed and shouted for my husband to take the keys to the door. As I did so, a sudden thought flashed through my mind that I was supposed to be at someone’s memorial at 10.30 a.m. I’d made the association because both the particular event and the key-collector were connected to the same church. Fortunately, the service was just round the corner from where I live and, after a mad dash up the road, I was only 2 minutes late. When I arrived at the church, the doors were locked. I checked my phone calendar and it informed me the memorial was next Saturday.

Do you ever do that? Forget what day it is when you wake up in the morning or what you’re meant to be doing? If I’d looked in my diary, I’d have organised myself better but the lie-in had gone to my head a bit. 

My husband says it’s because I stuff my diary too full of things to do. I admit I do enjoy a social life of varied activities but I’m almost sure, in my case, it’s the new medication I’m on that’s causing the problem. Something strange has been happening to my memory since I started taking it a month ago.  I keep forgetting things and can’t recall information when I need it. It does say on the pack cognitive impairment may be affected.

Maybe I’m just making excuses.

I’ve been down this road before about blaming medication side-effects for various complaints I’ve suffered over the years, as you will see from this poem, which I wrote based on the enclosed leaflet that came with one tablet I was on at the time.

SIDE EFFECTS

These pills should make you better,
though you may feel a bit unreal.
They will help with your condition,
but your skin may start to peel.
They could block your nasal passages, 
thus tend to make you snore.
If these pills don’t work for you, 
please try a different cure.
You’ll bump into things and start to bruise, 
if you cut yourself your blood will ooze.
You’ll have sleeplessness, forgetfulness, 
muscle cramp and pain.
Sometimes, you’ll feel indifferent;
and sometimes, quite insane.
There could be temporary blindness, 
deafness and a stutter,
fumbling, mumbling, tumbling 
and falling in the gutter.
You’ll note a change in personality, 
nausea and constipation.
There’ll be some ringing in your ears
and a very weird sensation.
Your heart will keep on beating
(though thumping like a drum).
We don’t think that you should take them 
if you complain of feeling numb.
On the pack it says:
try them out for seven days.
For mild reactions: persevere.
Moderate: you can call us here.
Severe: then just ring 999.
We’re sure you’ll soon be feeling fine.
On rare occasions: 
a relative has by-passed this advice 
and simply called for an undertaker.

NB: To those not on medication, please be aware: 
some of the chemicals in these drugs are also used in foodstuffs

Thinking about the forgetfulness thing, I recalled to mind an elderly lady I’d sat with in a café last week. There were no empty tables so I’d asked if I could join her as I noticed her cup was empty. She told me it was her birthday and she was waiting for her daughter as they always met in that café on her special day before going off for lunch together. We chatted the usual small talk about the weather, our ailments, the state of the world, etc and, after ten minutes or so, a young woman joined us with apologies for being late. I assumed it was the daughter she’d been waiting for.  It turned out she was a carer and the woman had early onset dementia. Apparently, her daughter had died 5 years ago. I left the café pondering the sad emptiness of wondering which statement I’d prefer to hear from a carer if it was me sitting there: being told my daughter was dead or that she’d probably forgotten my birthday.

This memory failure incident led me to recall a conversation I’d had with friends at a singing for well-being class I attended. I was telling them of an event I’ve been invited to as ‘a significant other’ in accompanying my husband to high tea and entertainment in a marquee at a castle. Could I remember the name of the castle? No. Could I remember the name of the Lord and Lady who’d invited us? No.

The tutor of the class, who is involved in singing for the brain studies in relation to dementia, told us about a project that we could get involved in, if we were interested, where we would be able to complete an initial dementia assessment before commencing on the project. I thought it would be useful for me because of my worry over recent memory problems. Of course, as soon as I got home, I’d forgotten the name of it. Anyway, I eventually took the test and, apparently, I’m normal (ish).

The word hypochondriac springs to mind but maybe it’s just that I’m grieving the loss of my church and not thinking straight. Or it could be that I’m simply not that good at having a lie-in.

With love for the journey,

Julie

A word for today:

2 Kings 20:5: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.”

SPINNING A GANSEY

I was thinking about the way stress seems to overtake me quite easily these days. Obviously, the way I handle it now is a throw-back from my psychotic breakdown in 2020, but I wonder if it’s also connected to my being resuscitated following a heart attack in 2008; as a consequence of blood flow starvation to the brain during my unconscious state.

I remember being extremely confused for weeks after the episode and being unable to recall the names of simple things like, the fridge, for instance. This memory recall mirrors my state of initial recovery from the breakdown.

My brain seemed (and still does intermittently seem) confused and I can only describe it as a whirling dervish of chaotic thought swimming around in my head then fusing together into an overwhelming state of disorientation. I’m paralyzed by it for a few minutes until it sort of resets itself and remembers to stop and be still to allow the jumble to unentangle itself so I can be free to be me again.

COPYRIGHT

Spinning is a term the cardiac rehab program (and stress management systems) use to describe breaking point and their advice is to not spin so many plates at once by giving yourself too much to do because you’re no longer focussed on what you really want. In other words, don’t give each plate a life or death meaning of importance to your life and you’ll realize that it’s ok to let some of those plates drop and smash to the floor. Relax, take a breath, give yourself a break. Don’t be a people-pleaser or a high achiever simply to justify your existence. Be yourself and, most of all, be kind to yourself.  

My creative process has always lent itself to being penned as streams of consciousness, which helps me to find my way into the core of what I’m trying to say by releasing pent up emotions and angst. I find more and more that I am able to rattle things off without a real starting point, go all around the houses and back again, to an end that is never completely final; allowing me to expel outside influence and noise from inside my own head. I know that this creative chaos somewhat mirrors my chaotic brain activity when in a psychotic state but I don’t concern myself with that. Rather, I welcome it as being part of my creative self.

Every now and then though, the writing seems to grow a mind of its own and I am spinning so fast that I can’t stop. I get carried away with my thoughts, invoke too many ideas, lose my sense of time, and forget to break from writing until I reach the point where I know if I don’t force myself to STOP and STAND STILL and let one or two plates fall, the creative flow will cease and become a state of anxiety that is out of my control. 

It is so easy to slip back into old ways once you have experienced breakdown and allow negative thoughts too much space and, like a mantra every day and to stop those plates starting to spin, I must remember that ‘a thought is just a thought and not a fact’ so as not to ruminate on it and stop any negativity before it starts. This was reiterated by Lawrence Butterfield in his article on ‘Key Steps to Maintaining a Positive Outlook’ (Scarborough News, 19 February) when talking about that aspect of mental health where we can entertain a thought that becomes a worm in your head that keeps turning around and around.

I am grateful for the chance to have been able to exorcise some of my worms recently by utilising the resources provided by ARCADE’S workshops for the Scarborough Stories Project. It has been so good for my mind, body and soul to express myself in an honest and open way through creativity. 

In my last post, I promised to update on my progression of my textile piece from Jayne Shipley’s Poetry and Textiles Workshop. It’s about being lost and found which I suppose is what occurs in my spinning episodes.

One question that was asked of us in the workshop ‘what are you wearing in your story of Scarborough?’ related to personal ID and led to an explanation and discussion around a GANSEY. In brief, a gansey is a hand-knitted jersey made in a dark navy wool worn by fishermen, with a tight snug fit to keep the wearer extra warm, worn on top of under clothes and a shirt with a smock and oils over the top. Each port has its own pattern and folklore says that this is because if a fisherman’s body was ever washed up it would be taken to the port for identification. 

Whilst I do not have a true gansey to display, nor am I a fisherman’s wife, I used the information and inspiration from shared poetry during the morning to create my own form of ID from scraps of fabric, embroidering silks and woollen threads so that, should you find me (or my gansey) adrift in Scarborough, you will know who I am and can guide me back to where I belong.   

My Gansey ID

My gansey is currently attached to a large sail, alongside pieces by other participants in the workshops, for the purpose of ARCADE’s Scarborough Stories Project, which will culminate in a community performance of storytelling around the town in July.

I created a poem to complement the textile though have chosen not to inflict its morose tone on you here. So, in keeping with the theme of identity, I hope you accept this offering in its place. 

The Journey Home poem was inspired by this old map of Manchester No.109, Circa ’74 (apologies for the quality of the photo)

The Journey Home

Forty years on from Circa ’74,
I visit the city I lived in long ago
as I drag my finger along the map’s red line
and follow the old route of bus fifty-nine
to the place where I was born.

With the Manchester rain soaking my skin,
I seek out old haunts from that time.
The house is gone but the ghosts linger;
they stir when church bells start to chime

and a clock ticks; a cuckoo calls;
green finches sing from a tree;
the bell rings on a bicycle;
a young child shouts wait for me;

tyres crunch over a cinder track
riding fast under cornflower blue;
stones pebble-dash a trickling stream
where I once lost a brand-new shoe.

I pass through the village in Lancashire
where I was crowned as Rose Queen of May
and danced round a pole in the middle of a green
 with mother watching (in her quiet proud way).

I sneak onto a steam train that’s puffing and pulling
 towards fairground lights that are blinding, thrilling...
where I play on the slots with a shiny new shilling
then return back home for the inevitable drilling.

I spin in roller skates on a smooth road of tar,
hang round with friends who live near – and far;
tap-dance for granddad in black patent shoes
as he listens to the radio’s heart-breaking news.

The ghosts hide in corners of a trembling house
where dark shadows cover the walls
as the soot-black miners march all day
 and the women bake bread in the halls.

It’s the day before my father died;
the change in him makes me sad.
  I see his fixed face of pain all over again
that I wish he’d never had.

I write in my journal as I sit in my den
in the shabby old potting shed
until mother screeches at half past ten
 'young lady it’s time for your bed!'

I come from a place of knowing
 that the place I come from is gone
 though the journey’s different now
I want to carry on…
   
through the days of my youth
where the people I’ve loved
  are memories in my heart
 ’cos those days of my life,
 ’til my journeying’s done,
will always play a part
in bringing me home
to the place I was born

when I travel through time
along route 59
dragging my finger
through the map’s red line
as ghosts linger like snapshots
in the silent street
  and the Manchester rain
quickens my feet.

With love for the journey

Julie

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