A brief update (and free books)

Hello friends! I hope you’re keeping well. It’s a funny old time – though I think perhaps it feels less strange for me as we moved house two weeks ago, so the general chaos of curtain rails and cardboard boxes has drowned out the background, global, disquiet. And we still don’t have broadband at the new place so I haven’t been online much.

However, I have seen that many institutions, artists, musicians and writers, have put their work online for free, to go at least a little way towards brightening the gloom or passing a few dull hours. And I thought I’d do likewise. The ebook versions of both of my novels can now be downloaded for free from Lulu. The price reduction should eventually filter through to the other online bookshops.

If you’re trying to come to terms with the sudden absence of sport from your life, try A Spoke In The Wheel. If your church, university, or both, has moved online and you’re missing the politics (erm…) you might prefer Speak Its Name. Feel free to download both if you like! I’m in the fortunate position of being in salaried work that I can do from home, so I won’t be disadvantaged by people reading my books for free. And, once I’ve got fed up with putting up picture hooks and painting walls, I’ll finish the next book, and you’ll be able to buy that one.

 

Pilgrims

that’s the way of it: you meet them
over and over, evenings, lunchtimes,
along the road,
at cafés, fountains, benches,
along the road,
you meet them, wish them well,
you move on
or they move on
along the road
you meet them, over and over,
meet them
along the road,
along the road,
you move on
or they move on
along the road,
you don’t know
the last time you meet them
that that
was the last time you met them
along the road

Going forward

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‘Well,’ my manager often says after some particularly unfortunate circumstance has come to light, ‘we are where we are.’

This post is going to be less about where we are (goodness knows we could argue about that for the next decade and more) and more about where I’m going to go from here. If you’d like to join me, I’d be glad of the company, but this is primarily a personal response.

I’m operating under two assumptions. Firstly, that life is going to get generally worse for people under the current government and outside the European Union. Secondly, that the referendum was not won on truths, or lies, or facts, but values.

If I’m wrong about either of those… well, it doesn’t actually make much difference. If life in fact gets better for more people, then I’ll be delighted, and the referendum is done, if not done with.

So what do I do with that?

I intend to work – to continue working – to make life better for as many people as I possibly can. At the moment I think that what that looks like is to continue turning up to my day job in trade union education, where we work to equip people with the skills, the knowledge, the confidence that the education system failed to give them. I think it looks like campaigning to rejoin the European Union. I think it looks like working damned hard to protect our rights in the meantime. In any case, I commit to responding to suffering with kindness rather than cruelty (and I think that means never, never, saying ‘I told you so,’ no matter how tempting that might be). I commit to operating from hope.

And I intend to talk more about my values. I believe in openness, open-mindedness, justice, kindness, equality, fulfillment, respect, redemption, transformation, hope, love. I think that I need to talk more about why I believe in those things, and what that means for me.

I find myself without a snappy line to finish this post off, and I suppose that isn’t really surprising. Because I don’t really know what happens next. I don’t know what the end looks like. All I can do is set a course forward.

 

December Reflections 30: thank you for…

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… surprising and exciting developments.

Perhaps they shouldn’t be surprising. When in the autumn we added up the balances of our various savings accounts and found that they made a mortgage deposit, that was after many years of channelling a direct debit in that direction.

What else?

The opportunity to serve on a Cursillo weekend. I wrote a couple of days ago about ‘the privilege of loving people’, and this was largely what I had in mind. Making tea for people, putting chairs out for them, washing their hands… it was wonderful.

Good progress on two books. The Real World is more or less there in terms of word count, and I’m looking forward to diving back in with a red pen in a couple of weeks’ time. The Rassendyll Kidnapping is a lot more nebulous, but a whole load of plot came together in my head at the beginning of December, and I got most of it down before I forgot it again.

Time with family and friends – particularly a week with my family at and around Ventnor Fringe, and a week with the in-laws on a narrowboat on the river Avon, and another week with my friend Anne in York. I’d like to see more of more people next year, though.

The chance to see the best cyclists in the world ride past me.

New people and new places. Theatre. Museums. Good books. Good food. A really interesting talk that made me think about food differently. (The very short version: delight and sharing.) Wide-ranging conversations, leading (I think) to interesting places.

2019 hasn’t been a year of fruition, exactly, but it’s certainly been a year of emerging shoots. And I’m thankful.

December Reflections 29: home

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Up until five years ago, I lived in places where the horizon was adorned with a decent border of hills, or where the land fell away and fell away and fell away to the sea. I lived in places where hills or sea or both played intermediary between me and the sky.

I’m still learning how to feel at home under this vast pearly, milky, sky; to orientate myself against a horizon that’s low and flat and at once remote and close; to measure myself in a landscape where the tallest thing is a tree, or was built by human hands.

But it’s the same sky: this wide blue-and-white sky; this low, sulky, grey sky; this deep blue, starred sky. It stretches over everywhere I’ve called home, and the places I have yet to call home.

December Reflections 28: my wish for 2020

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Ely.

It seems to be where we’re going next. We’ve had an offer accepted on a house out on the north-west edge. It has pear trees in the garden.

I should have taken a photo of the first sight from the south, the cathedral side on, rising up from the flat land around it. The Ship of the Fens, they call it. It doesn’t look very ship-like from here, the middle of town.

Even this year I’ve spent a lot of time in Ely, mostly doing Cursillo-related things. It’s been drawing me towards it. City on a hill, fen-bounded island, eely Ely.

One of my internet friends wrote:

Build a home, put down roots, grow stuff, eat pears

and when I read it something resonated inside me: Yes. This. This is what I want.

I felt something similar at the end of the Midnight Eucharist, very early on Christmas morning:

Go in peace. Proclaim the Word made flesh.

Yes, this. And how that works, how far I stay involved with my current church, what else I do, what lies beyond that, I don’t know. I can only trust that two apparently contradictory wishes are in fact taking me towards the same figurative destination. Anyway, this physical location seems to be the place to investigate things further.

Ely, then. May it be good to us.

December Reflections 27: 2019 taught me…

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… how to move past despair;

… that my understanding of myself and of the world can change quickly and then feel as if it’s always been that way;

… that riding a road bike is similar to, if not just like, riding a bike;

… that the closer I stick to a template for a talk, the more artificial it sounds;

… about the sheer privilege of loving people;

… about who I’m becoming.

December Reflections 26: delicious

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Boxing Day tends to involve a lot of food: either leftovers, or food that is not technically leftovers, but only because nobody got around to cooking it. And when you’re combining British and Polish traditions, you end up with two huge meals, and even more food that needs eating afterwards.

This morning I cooked omelettes topped with smoked salmon, which would have been the fifth or sixth course of Tuesday’s Wigilia (Christmas Eve vigil) meal, if we hadn’t been full after several other dishes of fish/soup/pierogi/carrots/more fish. And I meant to take a photo of them for this prompt, but between cooking them and then eating them I completely forgot about it. So here’s a slice of Christmas Eve bread instead.

It really doesn’t matter. Everything I’ve eaten over the last couple of days has been delicious.

December Reflections 21: I said goodbye to…

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I applied for a new job this year. I didn’t get shortlisted, though I did get some encouraging (and also useful) comments on my application. Considering I only decided to apply about thirty-six hours before the deadline, that isn’t bad going.

This happened during a very weird couple of weeks in which a whole load of things shifted in my mind. There had previously been a couple of assumptions in my head which had been stopping me applying for that post: firstly, that I didn’t have enough relevant experience; and secondly, that the grade it was at would be my ceiling, so it would be a pity to get to it too soon. Those assumptions dissolved with a day and a half to spare, and so I wrote an application and submitted it.

And that was just the beginning of a fortnight of unpicking all my perceptions of my abilities and assumptions about my future. Except when I went back and looked at everything I’d written over the past year, it turned out that I’d been tiptoeing around the subject for a very long time. My head had been there for a while. It was just that my heart had caught up. More on that next year, maybe.

Things I did get shortlisted for: two literary awards. The Selfies, and the Exeter Novel Prize. I went to both awards ceremonies, and was struck by how friendly and supportive all the shortlistees were, and by how different the two groups were.

The Exeter Novel Prize group were excited, enthusiastic, mostly first-time novelists with dreams of publishing deals. The Selfies crowd were also excited, pleased to have been shortlisted, but they’d seen it all before and tended not to be impressed by the publishing industry (which was all around, since the awards ceremony took place at the London Book Fair). Self-published authors tend not to give a damn about what anybody else thinks – you might say that it’s a prerequisite for self-publishing in the first place. We ignore the gatekeepers; we climb over the walls, instead.

And so I’m a little bit surprised to find myself open to the idea of walking up to the gatekeepers – a different wall, and a different gate, but it has its gatekeepers nonetheless, and saying, ‘Do you fancy letting me in?’ I’m not there quite yet; I’m still loitering in the road outside. But I’m thinking about it.