About Me

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Farwell to a 'Starlet'

Yesterday I said good bye to a former colleague. Kath Fry, who on retiring from teaching maths at the college in 2010, discovered she had lung cancer. She kept a grounded yet (and she'd so hate me writing this) inspirational blog in which she charted her ups and downs in a clear eyed, dispassionate way, to keep friends and interested parties up-to-date with what was happening. Early in May, her daughter informed followers she had passed away. Tributes would follow in the Manchester Evening News. This turned out to be unintentionally amusing when Sir Richard Lees, head of Manchester Authority was misquoted. He described her as a 'stalwart of the Labour Party', which was printed up as 'starlet of the Labour Party', which I'm sure would have ticked Kath.

Although non-religious the funeral was incredibly spiritual. It honoured the spirit of a unique individual in a unique way. The singing of the choir was incredibly moving and their secular rendition of 'Freedom is Coming' sent shivers from my knees to the top of my head. Given that Kath's name was Fry (old English for 'free') it seemed all the more fitting.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


In my last random rambling I mentioned the idea of making reparation for errors of the past. Actually, it's not that easy to do. Asking for forgiveness has to be in context or appropriate. For all of those instances where it's way too late, then it's more a case of developing a contrite attitude and moving on.

But it's not always others we hurt, quite often we can also hurt ourselves. As human beans we don't always know what we are up to. Our shadow can emerge when we least expect it and learning to distinguish our shadow from what might loosely be termed our real selves, seems to me to be a lifetime's work. I do believe, however, that when we behave in ways which are contrary to our true selves we eventually realise - or others will let us know - and we return to where we should be. I suppose that makes me sound quite old fashioned, a bit like Thomas Aquinas with his idea that once we recognise that which is truly good, we will follow it. And as for what is good, then the best answer to such an abstract question is that which we intuitively perceive to be so, or the nearest we can come to that.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Moving on with the story

L.P. Hartley famously said the 'the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.' It's not difficult to see what he means. We are no longer the same as we once were. Our actions, our behaviour, our appearance, our attitudes will have changed, sometimes drastically, sometimes subtly and yet who we once were is part of who we are in the present - what we have become.

Recent events have caused me to think about the way we move through time...we have no choice but kicking, screaming or dancing to move through the moments and the hours. Without time we would not move, we would not create, we would not co-operate in the narrative of our life.

I was in the library yesterday and came across a book in which some American self-help writer was giving advice on how  to live an authentic life. All well and good I thought, flicking through the pages, but then I came across a statement which said that the cause of all our problems is believing in the stories we tell ourselves. I have to say, I didn't like her choice of language. I suppose the writer of the self-help book was referring to 'negative' ideas rather than 'stories' in the way I use the term. Describing negative expectations as 'stories we tell ourselves' totally devalues the whole idea of story. If we read good stories and if we recognise and value our own stories then I think we act creatively. To me the word 'story' is a very powerful word: it has characters and settings and mysteries and twists in the plot that we are not meant to be known in advance. It helps me to see life as a process in which we participate, and even co-operate, but which we do not design. Through our story, our own personal and communal narratives, we have the opportunity to grow, to become....to be in the moment, as it moves through the past and into the future...never stopping, never fully in control but, hopefully not out of control either...In my imagination, as each moment passes I am in the process of being written.
When we look back at out past, it's a little bit like reading a well thumbed novel. We might try and grasp motive and character and twists of fate and pinpoint where we acted wisely, messed up, enjoyed, felt miserable and so on...but we cannot rewrite it, we cannot change it but, maybe, if we are lucky, we learn a little.

As I leave the past behind and move into the future, I trust the author has my best interests at heart and that maybe there's some happy chapters here and there but I have to be prepared to trust and recognise that I really don't know how it will all pan out. It's a process forever under construction.

Hmmn.. I appear to have lost L.P. Hartley. The image of a foreign country is a good one but I can, if I want to, actually visit foreign countries and examine their the culture, the customs, the works of art, the slums, etc. But the only place I can visit the past is through the memories inside my head and when I look back it's not really foreign at all - I recognise it all too well and am reminded that I ought not to linger there too long - for once I have made my peace and my reparations, I realise it is the present that really needs my attention.

Monday, 2 May 2011

To set before the queen

A lovely, lazy time with family, the odd walk and no work. Coming home via London, we only saw dribs and drabs of the wedding crowd but we were well out of the way on the Euston Road. A few of the faithful shared our railway carriage as the Virgin Pendolino sped north. 'Well,' said one, a Girl's Brigade leader with a Merseyside twang, 'I didn't get to see much but at least I can say I was there.' I can't get my head around whatever it is that motivates people to love the Royals in quite such an irrational way.

Twenty odd years ago, I ended up performing as part of a community show in front of the Queen. It was very odd. Though not perhaps as odd as the council thought we were. I can still see the expression on the council leader's face as he watched the opening number of 'Strange Spooky Town* - a celebration of 150 years of local government', already selected by his underlings as part of HRM's itinerary. Mystified? Slightly horrified? Confused? Whatever, whoever co-ordinated the local media coverage did their best to keep our too late to cancel open air performance in the town hall square from the press and the TV cameras. Which was a pity, as not only did the local BBC reporter express disappointment that they didn't get us on film but the Queen was impressed, or so we were informed by a palace press release to the local paper a week or so later.

My main impression of the Queen was that she was petite, looked much better in the flesh than on camera and exuded a distinct quality of good health and glow that must surely have derived from a combination of enormous wealth and copious quantities of Royal Jelly. This was a few years prior to her annus horribilis.

*Not quite its real name!