Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A trip to Iona

Oh, I'm bored and missing that lovely Scottish island in the middle of nowhere.

A group of us from Richmond went up to Iona at the end of June for a week's programme led by community leader Kathy Galloway and artist Joyce Gunn Cairns, and to enjoy the Abbey. This has been my first visit since leaving at the end of 2006 and there is a world of difference in being a volunteer or being a guest. I quite enjoyed staying in one of the rooms I cleaned so many times, but generally it was really odd. Kind of knowing about the behind-of-scenes work but not being able to access it!

Iona is still gorgeous and amazing - even in the less than completely sunny weather that we had... I loved walking around so much familiar territory and seeing it all again. The special quality of that place really seeps into you and, again, it was a wrentch to leave. It was fun being up there with a group and there were plenty of interesting people to get to know over the course of the week.

We had a Deaf group with us and I think everybody learnt quite a few signs e.g. please/thank you, tea, coffee and milk, and the signs for Otter, Puffin, and Seal. Everyone gets assigned to one of these three groups for a meal and their task (I was an Otter) and these were repeated every meal so watching the signs via the interpreters made learning them almost inevitable. It was exciting having signers around and it definately rekindled my desire to carry on with learning more British Sign Language. One of the women from that group is an ordained minister and she and Kathy co-celebrated the last service in Iona Abbey, which is a communion service, and it was really beautiful. Hannah preached (with a voice over) and it is quite something to see a sermon!

On a trip to Staffa island we saw puffins! They are remarkable birds and always are so much smaller than I remember them to be, and a lot cuter too. The puffins like the humans around as we scare the gulls away and come out to pose for the cameras. I was also lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse of a corncrake on Iona. They are loud birds and keep up an fairly constant croaking but it is rare to see them. Even the RSPB website say they are "secretive"... When I was a volunteer on the island we had a weekly A4 publication called the Corncrake Crier so it was really fun to see one.

The programme we were on was called Dancing in Fire: exploring feminine images of God and people brought a lot to it and made it very interesting. It was so nice to meet interesting, opiniated people and do something completely out of the daily routine!

I miss being there.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Congratulations to Wales on becoming the first Fairtrade country in the world!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Birds and frogs

This is a very media friendly heron that was hanging out by the path at the Wetlands Centre. It took no notice of the massive lenses pointing at it (and my little dinky one from a camera I "borrow" from work whenever I forget to return it...) and kept a look out for frogs and other tasty morsels. There are a fair number of these grey birds around my neck of the Thames and at least it's easy to identify. I still struggle enormously to identify all/any of the wildfowl at the Centre despite having been there for over a year. I try to comfort myself with the fact that I rarely see them as we're always busy with the kids programme, but it is still a bit embarassing...

Here's a funny little fellow that lurks in the shed over the winter and gets (literally) wheeled out in the summer to entertain and edify. I helped wash it down the other day and it is quite remarkable. It has several boxes under the frog that store items like dead beetles and egg shells etc to bring out and show the public. It's quite heavy to get moving but once you do it's a lot of fun. As long as you aren't too distracted by a mammoth frog following you!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The joys of living by a river

I like this picture! It's taken by a friend and is quite magical. Next to the cars - under the water between the wooden posts and the scrub poking up from the water - is a footpath and the cars are in the Ham House carpark. It also has a slight feel of a car tv advert where the cars are poised before surfing in the waves or other such foolish things.

The Thames is tidal and a remarkable number of people do get caught out by that, myself included on a memorable occasion where we got stranded on a bench for several hours as the waters lapped around our feet. Keeping an eye on the tides is always a wise move.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A day on a boat

Throwing ropes like Shirley Bassey, the Lightman's Hitch also known as a Tugman's Hitch, Thames Hitch or Brentford Hitch, risk assessments in term of slot machine lemons, cups of tea, and a quick impromptu trip to empty the sewage tank at the neighbouring commercial boat launch...

These, and lots more, were part of the crew training day on the Richmond Venturer last Friday. It was such a fascinating day and I learnt loads. The two other new crew members I was training with had an amazing amount of experience of working on and with boats and could launch into all sorts of technical (ie. incomprehensible) talk at a drop of a hat which was rather intimidating at first. I have been on a few boats and even helped sail one, but that was years ago and I couldn't properly remember how to do any knots! But there was still a lot they learned too, and they were very friendly and kind to the boat novice (and didn't laugh at questions like "what is 'boat' for the back of the boat?" The answer is 'stern/aft'.).

I'm even more excited about going out on trips with the project now and hopefully I won't have to wait very long. The furthest upstream that the Venturer can go in Windsor Castle. After that the bridges get too low for her to go under. On day trips though she won't go that far up, usually up to Walton on Thames or there abouts. And our skipper is licensed to take the Richmond Venturer as far down the river as Putney. That is quite a range. And I'm ready to explore as much of it as I get the opportunity to do!

The training day didn't originally include any trips but we got a bonus little jaunt upstream under two bridges (from one side of Kingston to the next) and I got to throw a rope onto the jetty we came alongside. That was only a little thing but it felt such a responsibility! Thankfully I was able to execute my task with honour:)

Actually, the next time I'll be on a boat is next week Sunday when I'm going on a Batty Boat trip. We head out in the evening on a boat and look for bats - another of my current obsessions! I've been helping out on Bat Walks at the London Wetland Centre and learning loads there. I am looking forward to seeing and hearing what we will on the Thames.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Richmond Venturer

My next grand adventure will commence on Friday the 30th as I undergo a day's training to become a volunteer crew member of the boat Richmond Venturer. She is the main ingredient of The River Thames Boat Project and I'm increadibly excited about the whole prospect. Here's a shocking fact: I have spent just over a year now living next to the Thames and I still haven't made it onto the river!

This hopes to address the imbalance and dreadful state of affairs and it really is volunteer work in a direction that I want to be exploring. A recent trip to the London Aquarium left me feeling like the lapsed marine biologist that I am and added to the growing conviction that I want to do something about it. The Richmond Ventura takes school groups and other groups on board for trips and river education and is fully accessible to people with disabilities, so on the whole it sounds tremendously appealing.

I am going to have to practice my starboard from my port and start calling the kitchen the 'galley' and the toilets the 'heads' and all things nautical with weird names.

I wonder if "Ahoy matey!" and "Aye, aye Captain" are acceptable phrases on board...

Visits abroad

I'm licking the last remaining sugary goo off my fingers from a fragment of Brighton Rock that HM1 brought back with her yesterday from, well, Brighton. It's been ages since I had any, and it quite nicely rounds off a lovely weekend.

I trained it over to "Swampea" (as the predictive text on my phone calls the place) on Friday for a few days of catching up with friends and enjoying a joint 30th birthday party in a field. I went to the their joint 25th birthday party which makes me feel like I've been in the UK a really long time now... I had tasty Indonesian food on Friday and thoroughly enjoyed the warm sunny Saturday that I spent wandering around Mumbles and then onto Murton on the Gower.

I managed a visit to the Red Cafe to see them in action (ie overrun with toddlers!) and to fit in a years worth of news into an hour with one of the managers. A couple of weeks ago my flip flops came apart as I was cycling. This was a tragic event, if not entirely unexpected, as these were my favourite shoes and I had worn them almost exclusively for the past three summers. It can be very hard to replace items that command such respect but while in Mumbles I had a wave of genius: why not go to the same shop I bought the first pair from and get another... I am now the owner of another pair of flip flops and in the process of introducing my feet to them and I have high hopes of them lasting the next three years!

The party took place in glorious sunlight, with a lovely bbq, great massive tipii with a sound system and decks, a fire, lots of lovely people - and no bloomin' planes flying over my head! I felt completely relaxed and like I was on holiday plus I had a good dance. In fact I stayed up till the last song and saw the dawn come in. The music was a crazy mixture of childrens songs early in the evening, a live folk band, and whatever music the dj's fancied playing into the night. It was lovely to have so many families with children in the early afternoon/evening and see them all running around - about the same height as the grass - and pretending to be like the pigs on the land.

London really does have a sad lack of tipiis in fields and big open fires to gather around.

On Sunday I got the grand tour of two allotments of my University friends and I think I might have a grave case of "allotment envy". Although it did show up how very little I do know about gardening in general. I hope something will grow out the back in my titchy, tiny patch...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Roller coasters are definately not my thing

HM1 organised a youth trip to Thorpe Park today and we had a minibus full of people. I was roped into going along to the theme park as a "responsible adult" (he hee), which I don't object to per se. It's all them roller coasters that I'm not so keen on! In fact I hate most of them. Which does tend to make things a little tricky. I volunteered to go with the group that doesn't want to do the scary rides - but they still chose a whole bunch of rides that terrify me. I think I must've missed the bit in the youth worker training that taught one how to do roller coasters (along with the skill of playing pool - another excrutiatingly important youth worker skill that I never quite mastered...)

Another co-worker today made a passing comment about willingly facing up to one's mortality in these extreme moments. Okay, I can see where he's coming from just about. But I'm still struggling with the "why"... Now teacups, on the other hand, those I do like, but I'd be hard-pressed to find much morality in them! Youth worker or no, I still don't like roller coasters.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Our new patch

As part of my rather domestic day (including making some kiwi bread) I spent a couple of hours clearing ivy off a patch of the border in the garden. This grand patch of a garden is mostly grass and looked after by some gardeners, but as they don't do anything with the borders I'm reclaiming it for a vegetable patch!

Not that I know anything about growing vegetables but this should be a good time to start. It'll be small and close to the house and if it all goes horribly wrong then I can always let the ivy grow back:) I am extremely grateful for some offers to dig the patch and I also managed to borrow my neighbour's tools for the time being so that's good too. We don't know what we're doing but HM2 and I are particularly keen to give it a go and see what happens. Should be fun! And lots, and lots of digging.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The End of Suburbia

I have just watched the documentary "The End of Suburbia". I thought I had seen this before as I was very aware of it when it came out in 2004, but I hadn't actually. It discusses the declining energy supplies in North America and what effect that might have. I believe this is doing the rounds and one of the oft-mentioned films when groups are looking at issues of declining oil and natural gas supplies and the concept of peak oil.

I can't say any of it was particularly new to me as I do have the advantage in moving in such circles where issues of these sorts are talked about and taken seriously. But I can see how it might be an effective wake-up call of sorts. Personally I was slightly less inspired.

I'm still committed to the concept of peak oil - but I think despite of this documentary rather than because of it. I, and others around me, are looking into the Transition Town model and reading Rob Hopkin's Transition Town Handbook. There are at least 30 copies spread out in the borough due to the work of the REN coordinator who is very enthusiastic about this idea. It looks at the twin problems of peak oil and climate change, and then proposes action in the form of encouraging local resilience and powering down our dependency on a substance about to get increasingly expensive. This is a massively inspiring take at community design done by a community and not forced on them. It is definately something I want to be a part of!

My main gripe with "The End of Suburbia" is that the only people interviewed are white men aged around 50. Fair enough, they've got something to say. But what about the rest of us who are going to be equally effected? Don't we get a chance to dream and vision a different future too?

This is the time for grassroots networking and getting the idea of Richmond becoming a Transition Town/Borough off the ground. The time to get groups grappling with the idea of what we would like to see happen - and then try to do it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Squatters on the move...

A different take on the daily London (tube) blight: 'The Metro'.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Egg Watch

Last Saturday I was at the Wetlands Centre and we've got some Indian Runner Duck egg's in an incubation chamber. Some of them were starting to hatch while I was there which was a little distracting in the process of running the weekend activities for children. I had to keep popping upstairs to see how the four ducklings were doing and coo over them... I learnt so much about eggs and the hatching process on Saturday. I've never seen anything being hatched before (being a city-girl most my life) and I found it so remarkable standing there watching them. I can't believe they can fit a duckling into an egg!!

The weather was freaky - hail followed by bright sunshine followed by rain followed by sunshine stc - but we still managed to orchestrate an egg race that involved families building a chariot to pull their egg along in. It was technically a children's activity, but the parents got involved straight away and seemed to enjoy themselves too.

The ducklings should be outside in a little run by next Saturday (which is when I'm next in) and the Ed team has got joint responsibility over them so we'll get to feed them and clean the pen. Can't wait!

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Quiet Day

Today, as a household, we went for a quiet day to Worth Abbey. This is the place "made famous" by BBC2's show 'The Monastery' in 2005. I haven't seen any of that show myself but it was an interesting place to visit regardless. The picture shows a view of the Abbey from the Quiet Garden. And it is in a beautiful area of West Sussex among the trees and the hills whichwere striking if only for their not-Londonesque quality (I may have been in London for too long...)

The day started off with Father Stevens ( a former abbot of the place and resident since 1961) leading a Lectio Divina for our group and then we spent the rest of the day in quiet - absolutely divine! Life has been particularly full-on at the moment with very little space so I really appreciated today. And I think that's true for all three of us, and it was generally quite a fun thing to do as a household. The Quiet Gardens are particularly lovely and I had a gorgeous walk following the stream down through the forest in a glorious peace and did not see another human until I emerged again. My soul was too happy to care about all the mud I was walking through...

Not really knowing what to bring along to a monastery for a quiet day my bag was rather full but actually I found that what I really wanted was to walk around doing nothing else. Suddenly a week long silent retreat makes a lot more sense to me now as a concept as i could have easily carried on and only felt like I had started at the end of the day... Maybe next time? :)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sunflowers and snow

The weather really has been all over the place. From flip flops on Friday to snowmen on Sunday and then back into a sunny spell! It was quite something seeing 'our' Narnia lamp post and the magnolia tree behind it covered in snow. There was lots of talk about seedlings and how they would cope with the snow and general pitying of the flowers... I'm pleased I know so many people who are growing their own food. It vicariously feel like I'm doing my bit too even if all I've got growing at the moment in a pepper plant, some kitchen herbs, and a sunflower!

Our friend down the road has declared a sunflower growing war with us... He planted his sunflower the same time HM1 and I did and the whole thing has degenerated into a competition. Actually, to be fair, it did start off in-house with HM1 placing a Buddha statue next to her plant and hers is doing better than mine...:) This must be a well known principle as when I went to a garden centre the other day there were several Buddha statues scattered around amongst the plants! However it has now gone wider and is Sandover House vs York House.

It kind of reminds me of my friends' wedding. They wanted lots of sunflowers at their wedding and asked several of their friends to grow some, so during the run up to the wedding where ever you went people had lots of sunflowers everywhere! It was lovely!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

It's Marathon time of the year again

HM2 is running the London Marathon this year. He did it last year too, which obviously wasn't enough to put him off doing it ever again. I've been admiring him and his running regime. He's gone out in windy and cold and rainy weather, run round Richmond Park TWICE etc. HM1 and I agree that it's challenging enough running to catch the bus so we are very impressed with him indeed.

The day of the Marathon is coming up soon, April 13th, and I just hope it's not going to snow or anything horrible like that! HM2 has managed to raise a lot of money for Christian Aid on both years and that is an excellent reason for doing the run - although it is still well beyond me. :)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Endless Airport Expansion

This morning saw the first flights arrive and take-off from Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport - the latest addition to that particular monstrosity. I went over to have a look this morning and I might just happened to have put on my bright red "Stop Airport Expansion" t-shirt as I got dressed. And I might of felt like taking my coat off at 11 am when loads of other people around me did too (who had also happened to have put on an identical t-shirt to mine). The sea of red in the Arrivals Hall looked quite impressive. The assorted police, BAA staff, and media seemed to think so too!

Most everything is illegal according to Heathrow bylaws, including singing, but at least wearing a t-shirt is still allowed and thus a flashmob (NOT a demonstration) was formed. I bumped into a few local people I knew there and I just generally enjoyed the whole experience. It's been a while since I've been involved in such a direct action and they can be such fun and it is heartening to see other people taking action and believing in the good cause. Despite the massive police presence there was a calmness about the whole event which was lovely.

The arrivals area of T5 is rather boring and the departure area is far nicer and lighter. However there were problems with the baggage while we were there and the tube was 20 minutes late leaving from T5 towards central London. Once it did come, it was fun going back with all these people in the tube wearing red t-shirts. A nice sense of solidarity. Until the next time folks!

Monday, March 24, 2008

My Easter Weekend

Since Friday morning it has been:

Food - Church - food - Church - food - sleep - food - walk - food - Church - food - (3 hours sleep) - Church - food - food - (walk) - food - Church - food - sleep.

No wonder next Sunday is called low Sunday and no one goes to Church! We're all knackered...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Almost the end of Lent

It's almost the end of Lent and the end of our Lenten experiment. When we started it felt like we'd never get this far but there are only a few more days to go until a double dose of Easter Vigils to truly end in style. Very similarly to last year we'll be going to an Easter vigil on Saturday evening followed by wine and chocolate at the Rector's house and then the hardy among us will get up for the dawn service too:) HM2 has already adamently said he's not getting up for that one, but he is happy to organise our champagne breakfast for slightly later...

As a household we have agreed that it's slightly against the point of what we've been doing if we've all got a long shopping list written down for Tuesday, although I have a sneaking suspicion we've already got a small mental list going! I've heard talk of new sofas and fireplaces, and I've been meditating on bicycle helmets... On the whole I think we've all survived pretty well and, more than that, managed to use this time to change a few habits and spend time reflecting. It might even be difficult to go back to having to monitor all my own money use. Towards the end this has just become more naturalised and it has felt perfectly normal and reasonable to go to a common pot for some money. I think I'm also going to miss my pocket money! At first it did take me back to being a small child but I have valued the money just to look after myself in a small but fun way and have a bit of money earmarked for myself that doesn't get swallowed by worthy causes (as good and necessary as they are).

Tonight a friend of ours who sings in the London Concert Choir is performing Beethoven's Missa Solemnis at the Barbican so Botanist and I are heading over. It's been ages since I've been to London, and I have only ever been to the cinema at the Barbican so I'm looking forward to it. It has been ages since I've been to a classical concert and part of me is slightly nervous that it'll be "too difficult" or whatever classical music is supposed to be, but I do hope not! I guess I can always pretend that I'm bettering myself.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A chance to ask questions

Today I found somebody who qualified as a drama teacher and he knows a dance teacher who is starting to do some work with the Special Educational Needs department at a local school that I could get in touch with. I am so happy!! Any ideas and thoughts and anything really is welcome at the moment as I try to make sense of the Something To Say project in my head. If everything goes alright I guess I'll have lots of opportunities to ask interesting people who do interesting things all about what they do - which is actually quite an exciting prospect!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The things I say "yes" to...

...are numerous and sometimes rather odd.

Like, for instance, agreeing to lead a dance and drama group for people with learning disabilities.

Not entirely sure how that happened! But it did. And I've led my very first session of the drama group this afternoon. I know nothing about drama so the whole thing was rather stressful and I am rather euphoric now that it all seemed to go well (nobody's dead at any rate!). The group is called "Something to Say" and today was it's first meeting with me as the person facilitating the experience. The group as such has been going for over a year with a slightly different membership although it felt a bit like starting from scratch as there was only one volunteer who had actually been part of the group before. The rest of us were newbies. I decided playing a fair amount of games was a good idea - and thankfully that is something I can do after all this youth worker training I've done. And in all fairness I even enjoyed myself - although I'm still recovering from the shock of having done it. (And trying not to think about next week's dance group...)

We are concentrating on the theme of relationships so when I opened the floor up I got given the idea of East Enders. In some ways I guess that is a pretty good idea as what are soaps if nothing but full of relationship drama. I can already see the potential areas to explore. However, I'm also hoping there is a good Wikipedia entry on the said EE as I really haven't a clue of what goes on in it!:)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

There's an elephant in the way...

This is amazing!

Curry Night

HM1 is taking a group of young people, about 15, to India this August and so we had a curry night last night as a fundraiser. A church hall was booked, tickets sold, lots of curry made, and 80 people showed up for good food and a chance to get to know each other. It was a really successful fundraiser too as the group managed to raise over £1,000! Not bad for some curry... I think it was a valuable event too as people got a chance to see the young people who are actually going and so they aren't a vague concept anymore but living breathing people off to India for a fortnight. They will be going to a charity in Puna called Deep Griha where HM1 spent six months teaching English so she does know the charity quite well.

We've had some other pretty innovative fundraising ideas including distributing (full) Pringles tubes to people and asking them to eat the Pringles and then bring back the tube with money in it! That worked too:) And in a couple of months time there is going to be a Grand Auction and I am wracking my brains to figure out something to offer for it. Somehow I don't think I can quite compete with the offer to stay in someone's holiday home in the south of France for a week, but I haven't quite given up on producing something.

We've got a random assortment of leftovers in our fridge now although there really isn't as much curry left over as I feared there might be. And I also have a lovely henna tattoo on my left hand which was a pleasant surprise this morning (I had fogotten about it completely when I went to sleep). I used to do a lot more playing around with henna at the Red Cafe youth club in Swansea so it was kind of fun to decorate my friend's hand. I had a very obliging guest stay this weekend (she's on her monthly course in London although she lives back in Swansea) who, bless her, kindly agreed to be dragged along to a fundraising dinner and pay for her food.

Anyway, it feels like the concentration on India has gone up a notch. I'm trying not to get too jealous!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A heavenly night

Last night I cycled through Crane Park Nature Reserve and it was utterly beautiful. The still winter-bare trees were silhouetted against the fading dark blue sky, dusk was hovering down low, there was no one else around, and I was cycling along listening to strains of Miles Davies wafting in my ears courtesy of the iPod... Last time I cycled through it in the evening there was a bright full moon lighting my way and a fox darted across the path. I'm beginning to get very fond of the place.

I also felt like a proper grownup cyclist in my flourescent yellow jacket! Goodness knows what it'll feel like when I actually get a helmet...

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Yesterday as I was making paper with some children I managed to put my right foot in a bucket of water.

I was absorbed in the intricate details of explaining how to squidge water out of the paper pulp when I noticed a funny sensation in my foot and looked down to see my foot (and shoe!) soaking up loads of water. As a professional I merely shrugged inwardly, pulled my foot out and carried on making paper. Afterwards we all laughed, of course, as that really is a rather stupid thing to do! And to manage to get my foot wet without noticing I was doing it - that's quite something.

My shoe is still very wet.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Moore at Kew Gardens

Yesterday afternoon after a house Sunday lunch we ambled over to Kew Gardens in the glorious sunshine and ambled right through the Lion Gate as Botanist waved us past the attendants with his staff card. It's an exhilirating feeling going into somewhere as expensive as Kew without having to pay a thing!

There is an exhibition of Henry Moore's sculptures dotted around the Gardens at the moment and you can go around taking in as many of them as you wish while still looking at the trees and plants everywhere. I really enjoy the interaction of walking up the the sculptures and walking around them and seeing them from all angles, and also how they did work in the settings they were placed in. Some worked brilliantly, but there was a particular sculpture that I disliked in "real life" as it felt all angles and slightly aggressive. But when I saw a picture of the same sculpture in a different location with far more space around it it looked as if it were dancing and I took to it immediately. Actually, I didn't even realise it was the same sculpture until HM1 pointed it out to me.

Several of Moore's sculptures explored the space and tension between related but not touching parts of a whole. Some of them were almost like a rubik's cube or other such puzzle in the way the separate parts joined together, and the gaps managed to frame the Gardens in a wholly different way too as you peered through the circles and curves of the scultpures. Several of the sculptures looked so climbable and inviting to climb I had to restrain myself! And having looked after a young person a few weeks ago at Kew who was sorely tempted to do exactly that, I know it can't be just me... Sadly, there were plenty of signs telling me I really ought not to climb them! But I do find that quite an interesting response in me. I imagine it extends from exploring the sculptures and following the lines and curves round the bends with my eyes, but them being so enticing that my tactile senses wanted to get involved too:)

The afternoon light was perfect for enjoying outdoor art, and it also worked brilliantly in the palm tree house. One of my favourite colours is the green light that you get as sunlight shines through plant leaves, and there was plenty of that going on yesterday. All in all, it was a lovely afternoon.


My life seems to revolve a lot more around food at the moment. Eating it, making it, thinking about it...

It is probably due to our Lenten experiment, but I currently feel like I might be simultaneously going down the Maslow's Hierachy of Needs (towards the need to meet the physiological needs like food) and up towards the Self Actualisation by attempting to live what I believe. It is a very interesting balancing act.

So far we've had three dinner parties and I'm very pleased we're keeping up with offering hospitality. For one of them we only had to purchase an additional £2 worth of food to feed a two course meal for 8 people! (Our friend kindly brought a scrumptious pear and chocolate crumble to round the meal off.)

I've also started making lunches for myself again, a habit I had slipped out of. Now, I've not always been very impressed with what we've had in the fridge and the resulting lunch I've ended up with, but I have discovered a positive side to making lunches. It is a chance to reflect on the day ahead and it is an act of taking care of myself which is something I can be very bad at. Other things that I've restarted, like sprouting beans and baking, have a similar effect of taking longer but somehow helping a more holistic approach to my life. There is also a pleasing amount of creativity involved when faced with a red cabbage and some left over mayonaise from a school retreat HM1 led and creating a very nice red cabbage slaw...

I've been surprised by things, thoughts and ideas being tossed around my head since we started Lent. It has been a real vehicle for prompting memories and thoughts from the past as well as aiding a reflection on my daily life. It has also been a far more public matter than I had originally imagined and I am most definately placed out of my comfort zone in terms of people outside our Flat knowing what I am doing with my life!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Last Will and Testament...

We are currently sat round the living room and talking about our funeral plans and testaments. HM1 has bought a make-your-own-will kit, asked us to witness her will and we've been talking about our funeral wishes. And we've shared where we keep information, ie passports and addresses of next in kin, just in case we should die. It is a rather surreal conversation to be having with your breakfast. I don't think I've ever had this conversation with other housemates before.

My lack of assests have meant that I've never really considered making a will (and would thus die intestate...I'm even learnt some legal jargon this morning), and I guess I want as green a funeral as possible. But I think that's about as far as my thinking on the matter has got to!

HM1 has just handed me a photocopy of her blank will just in case I want to fill one out too. Perhaps I should give this some thought...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Eating out

Our friend celebrated her birthday today with a meal with lots of people in town (ie central London). Which is all very fine and good until you have to start explaining to everyone there that you can't actually contribute a 16th of the bill and will only pay for your own food... It sounds very antisocial, and it feels it too! But there is only so far we can stretch the £13 handed to us from our communal pot at the beginning of the evening. It is a bit embarrasing though, although I guess it did provide a conversation starter with other people on the table. However, once that bit was over with the meal and company were very nice.

Being awkward in a social situation is quite difficult to do.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Our Lent Experiment

This Lent period my flat will be living at income support level. The three of us will contribute £59.15 each into the weekly budget and we will be paying for our food, transport, utilities, and other small random things out of it for the six week period. The money that we "save" (ie the difference of what we might normally spend) will be donated to our individually nominated charities.

We started talking about doing this ages ago, even if Lent starting tomorrow seems a bit too soon, and I think there are a whole variety of reasons for us taking this sort of action. We are trying our best to be an intentional community and I think this is part of the larger community experiment. What will happen when we are so dependent on each other's actions? Iona community members are accountable for their use of time and money and I think this will make us be more accountable to each other about our use of money, something that hasn't happened much so far. And it isn't just our little community, but the bigger one around us. We've been fairly public about our plans so I hope others will be interested in what and why we're doing - even if they aren't taking part in this crazy experiment themselves!

It's also about our ideas of justice and simplicity. They are very complicated ideas and sometimes feel difficult to live out but I'm hoping this will provide an opportunity for it. Lent is also a time of taking stock and focussing on where we are and where we might want to be. In a pre-Lent buying spree I finally got round to buying two bread tins. Not difficult to do, nor that expensive, but it's something I've been meaning to do pretty much all year but never quite got round to doing it. (There's nothing like an impending spending cut for a bit of focussed panic-buying...:) Somehow that exemplifies for me what Lent/life should be about: living life fully, intentionally, and not always putting stuff off until later.

I agree with what we're doing and as an experiment I think it'll be fascinating to do. However there is also a part of me letting out a little sigh. I've just spent the majority of last year on income support or unwaged and having finally got a decent paycheck I've suddenly agreed to voluntarily cut my spending. The most boring thing about being poor is having to think about money all the time. I'm also slightly worried that my previous simplicity was more to do with frugality and not having any resources rather from the high moral ground I thought I was on!!:)

Nonetheless, the challenge is exciting and I'm ready to be creative with what we've got and what we do. As was said in our house meeting: "We'll just have to drink more gin." Our wine consumption will probably have to become more moderate over the next few weeks, but as we have a fair amount of gin and in the spirit of using up what is in the house we might just have to make do with that...

So I think it will be frustrating at times having to make awkward choices. But I am looking forward to it all too, as a chance to reflect on my own priorities as well as the household ones, as a challenge, and as a chance to make a difference.

I'll keep you posted...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Australia Day

Last night HM1 & 2, and myself went to an Australia Day barbeque. The only thing is: it wasn't Australia Day (that was on the 26th). It wasn't a bbq - more like grilling food in the kitchen. And our hosts had no real connection to Australia.

Brilliant excuse for a party! Hats off to that!

My very social weekend also included sitting outside (!) on Sunday for about three hours. Quite impressive in January even if I say so myself. The sunshine was lovely and the lunch and red wine and company were too. I was frozen by sundown, but it was worth it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A weak vegetarian?

After a morning/afternoon full of meetings I helped staff a trip with a group from a SEN school. We took off to Kingston to see Alvin and the Chipmunks (the music is very irritating!) and a meal in a chicken restaurant. Not so PC after all the ranting Jamie Oliver is doing on TV - and also not particularly vegetarian friendly. Most places manage at least a half-decent veggie option but it was truly awful here: processed junk that leaves a horrible after taste. It's such a shame we took our young people there even if we are constrained by a budget.

Pulling into the bus station near my flat at the end of our trip I was unable to open the mini van door prompting disparaging remarks from colleagues about my choice in diet! Not much to be said in my defence though, as I did feel pretty awful after that meal:)

Hooray for our fully organic veg and fruit box my flat gets every week. What a blessed relief it is to eat real food.

And the walls came tumbling down

The images of the wall between Palestine and Egypt laying down on the ground with people, carts, and animals streaming across are a sight to behold.

And there are so many people crossing the border back and forth that there seems to be very little that could be done either practically or politically. Go people power!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Training, training, training...

I love training courses and I've been lucky enough to go to loads of interesting ones over the past year. I am especially lucky in one of my volunteering placements where I tend to look for an interesting course and then my manager will just stick me on it. It's brilliant! (Currently I'm looking for a course on how to grow vegetables:)

This week has been almost over doing it though as I've spent the past three days in training. One was a child protection course (always heartbreaking) and the past two days have seen me in the first section of a course on sex and sexuality work with people with learning difficulties. It is absolutely fascinating. And very thought provoking. Being new to this area of work there are a lot of things I've never really given much thought to, and this is definately one of them. There can be a very unfortunate tendency to view people in the terms of the disability they have rather than as a human in their own right, a human fully alive. Ignorance can never be good with such a vulnerable group so anything we can do to increase knowledge and empower people we work with can only be a good thing. I guess increasing my knowledge and allowing space to reflect on these issues is very helpful too.

The scariest thing about this particular course is of course the implication that once I've finished it I'll have to deliver it others... At least I've been doing the course with a colleague so we can share this task, but I'm glad the next two days next month will deal with the more practical side of things of how to deliver such work to our clients.

In some way this is very typical of my work where I am, as the American's would say, flying by the seat of my pants. Not exactly blagging, but then again not that far off either. It keeps you on your toes - and is so exhilirating when you pull it off!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ethical Questions Prompted by Free Newspapers

Walking back from the Lyceum Theatre along the Strand our group, along with every other pedestrian, was bombarded by hoards of people thrusting the free newspapers into our hands. A number of the young people were happy to take the newpapers and we ended up at Waterloo clutching newpapers left, right and centre.

As we were standing waiting for the Responsible Person to tell everyone else which platform we were headed for one of the young boys wandered over to a stand selling paper and took one. Fortunately I saw the event and was able to have a discussion and we returned the paper to the lenient paper seller, but it was interesting trying to explain the differences between free papers and one that you have to pay for, and then also the reasons for the difference. "Would you steal anything from a shop?" I got asked, "Would you steal a chocolate bar if you had to?".

My mind conjured up all manner of situation where I might HAVE to steal a chocolate bar while I was busy saying "No, I would not steal a chocolate bar."

When I questioned further for a rational about why I might have to steal chocolate, a revealling: "Because your friends told you to" came out. What an opening for a discussion on ethics and our rules of engagement with each other! That's one thing I love about youth work: the creative opportunities and the thinking on one's feet that any engagement with young people offers.

"What would you do if you saw a fiver on the street? Would that be stealing?" was slightly more tricky. But I turned it round with the get-out-of-jail-free trick of just asking the same question back and carrying on the conversation from there!

The Lion King

Another work trip, another musical. This time round we took 15 young people to a matinee performance of the Lion King. It involved a rather complex set of logistical maneuvering to get everyone to the same place at the same time, but things like this have a tendency to fall into place somehow. I only got to see the second half of the musical due to being paired up with a delightful young girl who was not interested in seeing the Lion King at all. But what I saw I did enjoy! The set design, costumes, and lighting were very clever and I thought the giraffes were particularly brilliant.

However, I cannot wait for our adult social club trip - that has got to be easier I reckon.

On Monday I got given a more definate area of responsibility, volunteers and volunteering, which is helpful. At least I've got something else to say that "I don't really know" when people ask me what I do at work... We also got told that working unauthorised overtime is going to become a disciplinary action which is a novel approach (in my experience) to the pervasive problem in the Third Sector of people working 50-70 hours a week while being paid for 20. Okay, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but probably not by much.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Taking myself out for lunch

I'm celebrating the end of two+ months of unemployment and no benefits and feeling hugely excited about actually receiving a paycheck at the end of December! Because I got perilously close to the red line I feel euphoric to have money in the bank again. So on a whim I popped into a cafe and had a proper sitdown lunch today in between work. It's so nice to not be counting pennies every time I walk out the door. Although given the price of food around here I might be back to square one soon!

A change in language

Britain drops 'War on Terror' label. I didn't see this widely reported, I was alerted to it by another website, but I do think this is really interesting. And not before time either.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Wretched birdfeeders

Having returned safely back from Finland, today has been full of activities around the house before I disappear back into the world of work. Having ascertained which plants had been moved around and where to, I was ready to get to business (HM1 has a habit of periodically moving the plants around the flat). I tend to job share the filling up our two birdfeeders with HM2 but as he works the usual working week and only has time during the weekends it falls on me to fill the feeders during the week.

The feeder that holds the nuts is a personal enemy of mine. It was placed way up in the branches by HM2 (who is significantly taller than me), and while I do need the little stepladder to reach both feeders, the nut one is a particularly precarious endeavour. I balance on the top step and cling to the feeder while trying to undo the bottom to refill it and not let the branch whip back upwards and out of reach... It must be amusing to watch me for any of our neighbours. This morning there was a biting wind which chilled my hands and I had to keep stopping to put my hands in my pockets for them to carry out the task required. At one point the branch did swing upwards and out of reach and I had to resort to tying my housekeys to a bit of string and fling it over the branch and then haul it back down to my height. I'm surprised I got the feeder filled and back on the branch at all! Thankfully the seed feeder was - in comparison - far easier, although there was a moment when I thought I was going to unceremoniously fall off the ladder and onto the whirligig laundry drier.

The birds appreciate the feeders at anyrate. These are not shy country birds that take weeks to adjust to any new feeder, oh no! These are town birds who know exactly what a birdfeeder is and what to do with one. Satisfyingly, there are plenty of birds eating our offerings. Satisfying at least until the feeders are empty again. Fingers crossed that happens on the weekend!