Monday, 12 November 2012

A Bird Does Not Sing Because It Has An Answer

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song - Maya Anjelou.

Have you got a favourite song that seems to follow you around through life's ups and downs? Bringing you joy when everything's going just hunky dory? Bringing you a glimmer of hope when everything seems to have gone pear-shaped?

Music can soak up the colours, textures and flavours of your life and serve them up when you most need them in a form that touches you in the deepest places. A time machine, a magic carpet, a comfy old shoe, a poke in the ribs!

One of my earliest memories of a song is "Rock around the clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets. I associate this with my dad, who when I was a toddler, rigged up a makeshift swing for me in the doorway between living room and kitchen in our cottage near the little Yorkshire station where my dad worked as porter and shunter and my mum as ticket clerk when they met in the 1950s when this song was a hit.

It used to be playing on the old Dansette record player, smelling of hot static electric as dad pushed me on the swing, with me giggling and shouting him to go higher and higher! It was probably one of the first ways I learned to count. It became a part of who I am and I've loved it ever since.

Similarly at the other end of the decade, "Abergavenny" by Shannon (a pseudonym for Marty Wilde) was my favourite song in the hit parade in those endless sunny summers when my mum and dad and I would go on holiday to the Yorkshire coast, riding up through the Dales and Wolds, in our motor bike and sidecar.

To me the happy simple lyrics "Taking a trip up to Abergavenny/Hoping the weather is fine/If you should see a red dove flying free then you'll know she's mine" seemed to be all about the way I felt. Nothing literal. We never went to Abergavenny! Just making sense to my soul. Soaking up into the sponge of my childish consciousness and nestling there in a place of delight.

Overnight in January 1970, my dad had a series of severe strokes and those carefree sunny holiday summers came abruptly to a halt for ever. No more motor bike and sidecar. No more healthy, strong, playful daddy to scoop us up for a ride through the countryside, spontaneous and thankful.

Mystifying, crushing illness in the house day in day out. Spelling things out laboriously on my old blackboard I'd played with when little, so my dad could make us understand what he was trying to say. Commodes and drinking cups, pulleys and hoists and a huge hospital bed taking up the whole of the living room. Humiliations of poverty and life limiting, awkward sickness, suddenly the poor relation in the extended family and the child in the class with a daddy who couldn't come to parents' evening, speak clearly or walk without struggling and toppling over.

Now when I heard "Rock around the Clock" and "Abergavenny" it was their lyrics and harmonies, the feel and pace and pulse of them that carried me back to my happy place, reminded me of who my dad really was, still,  inside this stranger who lived with us now and seemed sometimes more of a child than I was as I grew.

Songs like these and many more from that era always make me smile, or take me back, or remind me how much joy and blessing there is in life, even when circumstances throw us into confusion.

Similarly in my teens and twenties, as a young Christian, one of the hymns that seemed to ring my bells was "In Heavenly Love Abiding" by Anna Letitia Waring. It always seemed to be somewhere in the service on days that meant a lot to me or my faith was strengthened by tragedies or triumphs.

When my mum bought me a new hymn book before I travelled to the other side of the world to work in Bolivia, she typed out the words of this hymn for me on her old typewriter with the "e"'s filled in with ink in the worn-away keypads. She stuck it in the front of the book and signed it with her love as I went away to face new challenges and dangers far from home:

-words by Anna Letitia Waring (1823-1910)
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?

Wherever He may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My Shepherd is beside me,
And nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waketh,
His sight is never dim;
He knows the way He taketh,
And I will walk with Him.

Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me,
Where darkest clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free;
My Saviour has my treasure,
And He will walk with me.

Whenever a fresh situation arose through my life, as a teacher, as a mission partner, as an interpreter, as a dorm-mother, as a friend, as an archivist, as a worker in a care home, as a mentor, as a  Methodist minister, as me - this always helped to bring me back to the truth, for me, that while ever I can walk thankfully and humbly in the compassionate way of God that gives me hope and a future, nothing on earth should make me afraid. Of course, you will have your own songs that are special and your own beliefs, whatever they may be, your own truths you choose to hold on to, to sustain you or strengthen you or help you move forward or pause for a moment.

We don't often sing songs these days that revert to the "thees" and "thous" and the verbs with their "-eths" and archaic endings that were written, like this one,  in the Victorian era. I hadn't heard it for a long time, I realised yesterday, when a visiting preacher chose it as part of a very moving and challenging Remembrance Day worship service in my local Methodist church. 

I found my eyes stinging with tears as we sang. It brought up so many memories and raw feelings. My heart ached to remember how the words used to speak to me of being able to go forward to stand alongside people all over the country, all over the world, in impossibly difficult and sensitive situations. Days when my life was filled with hurdles and bridges, transformations and movement. My throat tightened with grief as I sang the lines that have meant so much to me: My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free.

Since I've been invalided out and wounded in action, my path to life doesn't always feel so free as it did. I realised a new truth. It's often even harder to face periods of life when you are laid aside from 'doing' and 'activity' and 'pioneering' and 'planting' by chronic illness and all the loss of confidence and direction that can bring. Harder than the hardest of the things you can face when obviously punching above your weight, doing new things, meeting new situations without a safety net but pumped full of adrenalin and purpose.

The still small voice hasn't suddenly tuned out to another channel :

My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free,
My Saviour has my treasure,
And He will walk with me.

He's there for me when walking is lying flat on my back. He's there for me when my path to life seems stalled and stagnant.

Wherever he may guide me,
No want shall turn me back.

Slowly, even after all these years, I am still taking baby steps in learning that He is still guiding, even in chronic disabling illness when I feel I've somehow stumbled unwillingly up a blind alley to a dead end. No end can be a dead end with my living, loving Lord! No want (or nausea, agony, weakness, autonomic dysfunction, postural orthostatic tachycardia, sickening exhaustion, twitchy muscles, ringing ears, blurry vision or brainfog!) shall turn me back! 

Each year, as Methodist Christians we remind ourselves in the Covenant Service:

I am no longer my own but yours.   Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
   put me to suffering (i.e. enduring);
let me be employed for you
   or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
   or brought low for you;
let me be full,
   let me be empty,
let me have all things,
   let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And this covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

Being "laid aside for you" "empty" or "brought low" isn't a rose garden for any active lass! But it's something we don't need to face alone or fight against as if it's some hideous mistake. There are many of us in this boat, Christians, non-Christians, extraverts and introverts, gay and straight, young and the elderly young-at-heart brigade, people of all faiths or none. Life happens. In every shade of the rainbow.
The song goes on.
I may lose my voice from time to time, but I never will stop singing!

Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway - Emory Austin

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

For my long-vanished twin: song of a wombtwin survivor

Vanished twin, I still miss you.

I love you.

You are always with me and always have been.

You always will be, treasured twin of my heart.

Wombtwin survivor, born an only child.

I dreamed you and felt you deep in my gut in unspoken places. I asked about you. I traced you with my feelings and fears, my missing piece. 

Together we were “fearfully and wonderfully made” in mum's womb. Conceived together in love. Awaited with expectation, trepidation, excitement.

“I have to tell you, you might be expecting twins!”

That first appointment, when the midwives palpated mum's stomach to find out about us, they caught the whisper of both of us, in the fragile fluid that cradled us in our amniotic sacs.

No ultrasound in 1961. No man on the moon. No TV in our house. The steam trains thundering by at the bottom of the garden. But you know that. You were there, where you were meant to be. A heartbeat away with your heart that never saw the light of that October morning when I broke through, head first, large domed skull, tearing mum's tenderness, away from you.

I'm so sorry you couldn't come with me. But thank you that I carried you out with me, unseen as mist, like a deep taste of the ocean beyond and the constellations above us, pricking out radiance through the autumn sky. That you let me live.

I smelled you in the bonfires and heard you in the crunch of the autumn leaves, I know I did. Even though words would not reach you. I tasted you in the exciting glow of those early birthday candles that lit the front room in our cottage when the world was dark by five o'clock. The sweetness of icing and the creaking polished stability of the old sideboard.

Those mirrors, the space between the bubbles in the bath water, always gave me a rush of terror. Reflecting lightbulbs. Kicking away stability like the sky was rushing in and I was marooned on another planet. In my panic I closed my eyes. Was I afraid not to see you there, mirroring me? Half a century later I still tilt the mirrors down where they can't mock me that you're still not here.

From the earliest days I was always fantasising being other people. Usually characters that caught my imagination. I had a whole invisible galaxy of animals who were my invisible friends. To understand people I became them. I always have. Acting out in my mind the actions and reactions of others. Whole families of children named every breathtaking beautiful name I knew, and some I didn't.

Telling stories as I waved grasses quietly in my hands where nobody could watch me, down our garden, behind dad's garage. Singing songs that never ended. I was caught in the world where you should have been to play the other part. I needed nobody else, though they seemed to require my presence. I was happy alone. Because you were filling the lack like a swan's bent neck staring back from the glassy pond at it's happy image.

Once in my teens, on a bus, I heard a baby cry. Somewhere deep inside, in the quivering place in my stomach, I heard a baby's cry, on and on, that refused to be comforted. Sadness that went so deep it was a tear that couldn't mend itself. I know that was you. Part of me, but wholly other. My mirror and soulmate from the first day I breathed in life's potential.

“Are you in pig?”

That hurt my mum. Some drunken bloke mouthing off near the Horse and Groom, in drink and seeing her pregnant. Were you already absorbed into the warm silence, by then? I feel so protective to you and mum. That was ok for me, but not for you two. I wonder if you heard that?

We would have been inseparable. Sampling Granddad's cabbages down his allotment. Making him think of his mum and his younger brothers, each of them with their twindom that had shaped his own consciousness, running across the summer fields and over the stiles towards Hoyland at the end of Victoria's reign.

You weren't in the physical world to share dad's bike with him, the man things, the boy simplicities, direct and compelling and blunt. So inside I was both daughter and son, girl and boy. I never wanted to coddle dolls or dress up like a queen. I loved the wild outdoors and knowing and naming every plant, creature and corner of the landscape. The places we would have explored together, I investigated and claimed for both of us.

I saw the pegs and the line and put more and more pegs in. Extra and over till the line was heavy and full with wood, like so many birds on a wire. Some for me and some for you. Because I didn't have you to play with. Yet in my soul I did, somehow.

We were conceived in January. Maybe somewhere in the middle of the month when the nights were freezing. Those old sash windows, they used to get ice on the inside and when snow came it drifted half way up the yard wall on the entry side and huge icicles hung from the back of our outhouses where the outside toilet pipes dripped. By Easter, I guess you were gone to all intents and purposes. But not to me.

When I was little, I dreamed about a little dog who would be my shadow, to be with me like you should have been with me. I met him when I was thirty six and he was perfect. My little man. The dog I saw in my dreams all those years ago. Just as you are real to me, as if you had been born fifty years ago, holding my heel or me grasping your fingertips, sibling and sister.

I always craved a soulmate. But in reality nobody can carry that and not be your twin. They would always fall short or be smothered, or misunderstand that need for wordless symbiotic merging. You are my other half and you have never left me, not for a moment. I cannot need somebody else like I needed you, so I am still that singleton. Whole apart, yet wholly partial, filling in my own silent blanks, making my own peace out of the chaos of our brokenness.

Some words say things for us. We understand them with our spirit.
I hear the words of this song that Leona Lewis sings and it says so much of how I miss you, it always makes me cry from that deep wound you left when you lost the fight to be fully formed. I'm so sorry I flourished because you stepped back into the still sea of before. But I know I can and must survive this, strengthened eternally now by our twinship, by the love and healing tenderness of our Maker, for which I will be thankful every day of the remainder of my life.

“RUN” -words by Snow Patrol, sung by Leona Lewis around 2009 when my beloved pet dog died, bringing up all these age old feelings. Here I am, singing this my way, for my vanished twin as I move on without him.

I'll sing it one last time for you
Then we really have to go
You've been the only thing that's right
In all I've done

And I can barely look at you
But every single time I do
I know we'll make it anywhere
Away from here

Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you dear

Louder louder
And we'll run for our lives
I can hardly speak I understand
Why you can't raise your voice to say

To think I might not see those eyes
Makes it so hard not to cry
And as we say our long goodbye
I nearly do

Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you dear

Louder louder
And we'll run for our lives
I can hardly speak I understand
Why you can't raise your voice to say

Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you dear

Louder louder
And we'll run for our lives
I can hardly speak I understand
Why you can't raise your voice to say

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Feather Canyons Everywhere

Joni* sang them bittersweet
Pinned her passions to those sunny stacks
Sixties summer clouds in fleet
Cathedrals of confessions

Vapour can't be cabined quaint
Clouds reinvent themselves by stealth
Beyond our metaphor power to paint
Squish or squeeze into boxy verses

They rephrase us and resketch
We gaze into their radiant rhythms
We squint and shade, crick-necked
While they risk to juggle rainbows

Between their fingers hold air blue,
Sunsets of apricot, bent birds homing,
Letting the wind think itself Picasso
Serendipity into symbol smudging.

If you love clouds as I do, you can join with others who feel the same here> The Cloud Appreciation Society

*Joni Mitchell, Canadian singer, songwriter, painter and musician who wrote the song "Both Sides Now" (1970, which won her a Grammy) from which my poem's title is taken. You can listen to it here>  Joni Mitchell sings "Both Sides Now" (1970)

Thursday, 12 April 2012

New Blogger Layout...what the...oh,'s okay!

"Blogger will be changing in April."

Passive aggressive to the eleventh hour, I read and resisted those "try now" invitations.
As the songwriter Jimmy Webb wrote:
"Tomorrow comes, but it will keep"
As a callow teen, I found that lyric such a comfort, the night before a test at school!
Still pretty comforting at 50.
So I didn't rush into the irreversible tomorrow of the latest layout changes right away.

Until today.

After a week of hardly having strength or cognitive powers and concentration to read, let alone write, this week my body's generously letting me read more than a couple of sentences at a time and occasionally remember what I've read, as a bonus!

So I decided to take the plunge before I was pushed.

Did the same with Facebook.

Twitter changed without asking, which frightened the cr*p out of many. Both actually seem better in the end. I'm a laptop user rather that an iPhone juggler, which no doubt would bring a different perspective. People with iPhones seem to have a lot more trouble connecting and adapting to recent changes, though that may merely be because more people are using iPhones, of course. My old banger of a phone thinks predictive text is futuristic!

While some are still whining and lamenting over the new Facebook timeline, I actually find I quite like it, with the dramatic new "cover" photo.

The rest of Facebook is still just as irritating at times with its mindless "like and move on" mentality, depressingly focused ads ("Over 50? Try these frumpy fashions, dearie! Still got your own teeth? Try this stunning state-of-the-art teeth whitener, available near where we know you live! You clicked "like" for "dogs"? - here's pet insurance-r-us at competitive rates") and the photos of tortured cats and battered babies often photo-shopped to get the unwary
a) clicking on dodgy links
b) wasting energy on thinking they're making a difference to the tragedies and injustices of the world
c) both

But the timeline's okay by me.
Whether it is or not, it's not going away any time soon. I choose my battles, these days.
Better get used to it!
Put up or shut up.
So I took a deep breath and started to use the new Blogger interface and dashboard.
Guess what?
The world didn't stop turning.
Like moving house, once you learn where you've put things, you'll eventually stop opening the wrong cupboard and leave the coffee cups on a hook where you can easily find them!

The new Blogger looks cleaner, like anything does when it's pristine and new.
I can find my posts.
I can check my stats.
I know how to change my layout, as and when.
My reading list of other people's fabulous blogs is still there. Just as long and impossible to keep up with on a daily basis.

The labels feature is so much better. Before, blogger often switched to the (wrong) previously used label. The window showing the labels was so small, I often couldn't change or check labels till the post was published.

Now there's a way to drag the label window wide so you can get in there and rummage around to your heart's content. You can more easily choose from your saved labels. Scary to see them all there, actually. I'm a quirkier tagger than even I realised! Ball-pein hammer? Harlequin Rasbora? Pseudoacacia? Doubt half my tags EVER get searched for!

I'm glad my quirky, unfocused, but house-trained little blog is still here to pour my many interests into. If they connect with other people in random, happy ways, as they often seem to, all the better!

Yes, I know "Pinwheels & Rainbows" ("Pinny" to its friends!) defies all the rules! It doesn't deal with one narrow subject, as it was my firstborn blog. It's a crazy catch-all. Just as it says in the subtitle "Sense and Serendipity". More serendipity than sense, usually, and plenty of dippy but who's counting?

I'm just very grateful and glad for all of you who keep finding your way back here, one way or another!
Thank you, and watch this space!

Come on in, the water's lovely!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Cher-tee Tee-cher

Sun has blown the top off winter
Letting the shock chills through

Among the twigs, Great Tits
Spritzing and spooling

Learning a new generation's brogue
Lisping "Cher-tee" "Cher-tee"

While perched over gravestones
The parent birds tut

"Tee-cher" "Tee-cher"
Best learn this quick

Before hawk and kestrel
Hear callow tweets and tango

Down from the blue all talons
To take your fragile feathers

Fresh from the egg and nest

Lilting the timeless song
With sore thumb variations

But the babies flitter up bickering
Through razor edge pearl hard air

Tonguing their mutant rhythm
Play twig-tag, risk and skip

Wondering if the tower is heaven
Or just another tree

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Cormorants & Constellations at RSPB Old Moor

Spent a beautiful winter's afternoon and twilight today at RSPB Old Moor in the Dearne Valley.

The "Cormorants & Constellations" Event started with a spot of guided wildfowl watching. Then as the sky darkened, a glimpse through some powerful telescopes provided by the local Mexborough & Swinton Astronomical Society as Venus and Jupiter came out to play between the rolling clouds. This stargazing was timed to coincide with the BBC's Stargazing Live programmes. Some enthusiastic young astronomers in the making were there with their families today, enjoying all that Old Moor and the MSAS have to offer to the Patrick Moores and Professor Brian Coxs of the future!

Thanks to the all wonderful staff at Old Moor, including John and Jeff who took us on guided walk No 2 to the Wader Scrape as the rain swept down and the wind buffeted the water.

Started by seeing Bullfinches and Blue Tits from the visitor centre and then wandered into the play area before the walk, where a cloud of Magpies sat in a treetop before flying rattling exuberantly over our heads.

In Wader Scrape, we looked across towards Darfield church tower, past a stormy scene alive with wildfowl and other birds battling the elements. Flocks of Lapwing, a Great Crested Grebe in its winter plumage, Goosander, Mute Swan, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, a Great Black-Backed Gull sitting dominating an island, Little Egret, and a male Pheasant scuttling across in front of the hide. Many more, including Carrion Crows, flocks of Starling in the distance over Darfield way, and, of course, a row of Cormorant, proud to know the day named in their honour was going so well!

Jupiter with its moons and Venus shining bright, the evening star in all its splendour, made the stargazing part of the evening a joy in spite of encroaching cloud cover. The Gannets Cafe for a warm cuppa and a bite to eat warmed us up nicely again, with accompanying footage of the earth from the International Space Station. Over in the Classroom, another film was showing, very popular indeed, you had to be quick off the mark to secure a seat! Shows how popular Old Moor is, and with very good reason!

The whole visit was a delight as always. Reminded me how much I love Old Moor, how it's been too long since my last visit, and how good it will be to head back there as soon as health and opportunity permits.

Our friends Sue & Col, and my mum arriving for the fun
This wind turbine sounded ready to take off in the gusty January wind!

Me, three layers of thermals (TMI!), bins, silly woolly hat and walking stick with inbuilt seat affectionately known in my house as the "Ironing Board" for its rather-bulky-but-comfy design. Vanity's not one of my many vices, obviously!
Magpies flocking. They're like Marmite - love 'em or hate 'em. I adore them, the zany clowns of the crow world!
The free giveaway info cards to tie in with BBC's "Stargazing Live"