Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why I chose the NHB scholarship

I think there are always three things which determine what happens to you and where you go. One is the most obvious - what you do to prepare and achieve your intentions. The second is how your intentions align with who you are - for example, it would be foolish to apply for a job as a doctor if you hadn't done any training or any science since you were 14. And the last, and most important, is God's intentions for you. And I think God's intentions ca be split into two areas. One, his intention for the world and humankind, which you are part of. This of course, is his higher story that has danced over humanity since time eternal - the plan for us to be with Him in his kingdom perfect, sinless and saved, in unimpeded relationship with him. Two, his intention for each individual person and how he guides their footsteps and what they meet along life's journey - like how he guided Mother Theresa to India, and Brother Andrew in and out of Eastern Europe.

Often, seeing how God's plan for your life reconciles with his plan for humanity seems difficult.

'God, if you want us to be saved, to live happily ever after with you, to live a perfect life, why is my life so imperfect? Why do I face suffering, disappointment, confusion? How does this work?'

The difficulty in reconciling the two is often because our understanding of or faith in God's plan for our life on earth is blocked out by our desire for his plan to reconcile with our plans for our life. We're like those tiny Jack Russel Terriers who bark so loudly at the world and demand attention. 'See here, God,' we say, 'I've planned out the next 25 years, here's the blueprint: This is the university, here's the husband, this is the exact number of and genders of the children who are to follow, and this is the house in this place with this garden - if you could get it for me cheap that would help too thanks. When all this is done I'll submit the next blueprint for the next 25 years including a retirement plan, ok? Ok.' But really, all our sound is pathetic because we have no way of determining things so out of our control, and worse, that sound blocks out the music God is weaving into our lives.

Last year, I had a difficult time seeing God's plan for my life over my own micro-managing. I had a plan: Get a place in a UK University (Preferably Durham or Cambridge), get a scholarship to go there, go there. That was it.

'That's not much God, is it?'

Everything seemed to be going to plan. I submitted my university applications and got an acceptance quite quickly from Durham, which I was over the moon with. I applied for the MFA scholarship, and thought, ok that's the next 6 years after university devoted to diplomacy and international relations. Not something I'm deeply in love with, but I suppose the cultural side of it will be engaging. I can do it, I just need to pass the tests and the interview.

I went through the psychological test, the assessment center, and then the interview, and wasn’t sure that I had done well but prayed so hard that it was enough. But on the last day of my A levels, just as I was jubilantly happy about completing everything, I received a rejection letter from the MFA. I remember sitting on my parents bed, reading it and being first shocked, and then so angry with God. I had everything planned out, and (I thought) He had just ruined it! I was so angry that I began crying, and my Mum came in and tried to comfort me, saying what she usually says, which is that it is part of God’s plan, we don’t see why yet, but it is part of God’s plan. I was so angry at that time that I sort of sobbed out ‘Then His plan is WRONG’.

‘Why would you give me a place if you won’t let me GO there?’

Oh, I was so impatient, so blind, so human.

Isaiah 55:9

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In the process and the waiting of life when all seems discordant with how we want it to be, he is making melodies over us. It was a hard lesson to swallow, but by the time I applied for scholarships this year, I had this quiet rhythm in my heart 'God, you have already given me so much. Every breath is a blessing, every move is a miracle. Help me understand and accept whatever you have in store, give me faith for what is to come.'

In the NHB scholarship, God's plan really presided over th other aspects which determine what happens to you and where you go came together. Although I did prepare for the application process, reading up about the NHB and really thinking about what I wanted to do within it, I didn't do as much as I'm sure many other applicants did, probably having interned in mueums before. I didn't think that the NHB board would think I was the perfect fit for their organisation, because never before had they accepted a literature student for their scholarship - usually it was history of art, history or museum studies. But I thought, history is just stories after all, and, as Rudyard Kipling said

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

But I wasn't sure the organisation would see that, and I could only pray.

And of course, by God's grace, I was accepted by the NHB! I wish I could go back to that angry, sobbing, rejected girl in November last year and tell her  'Don't worry, He knows. You don't see it now, but His plan is so much better than you could think.'

'For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'
Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Accidents this week

1. Falling down the stairs.
2. Cutting my thumb on a walnut shell.

3. Cutting my middle finger while cutting a butternut squash.

4. Walking into the stair banister.

5. Cutting my pointer finger on basically air.

Just praying I'll make it back to Cambridge on 9 January alive.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


10 Dec

I am in Poland! All went smoothly in the airport, and I had more than an hour in the departure lounge, so I propped my feet up on my suitcase and continued writing my letter to Nat, a long overdue Christmas letter which will probably arrive sometime in January.

The airplane took off and we ascended through the first layer of cloud. From my window, it looked like a snow-covered landscape, with white ridges and windswept peaks. No matter how often someone tells me about water vapour and condensation, clouds are and always will be one of nature's greatest miracles to me.

Natalia met me in the airport and we drove off (on the other side of the road) as she told me about how she had forgotten her PIN umber for her Polish card after spending so long in Cambridge, and pointed out ugly grey box-buildings to me which stand out against the gorgeous red-brick of old Gdansk architecture. Built by the communists as fast and as cheaply as possible, Natalia scoffed at how the communist government had been 'so proud of something so shitty'. Many people still live in them though, including Natalia's family before they moved to their new place near the city centre. Communism is such a part of the recent past for Poland and its memory is still talked about. Natalia told me that recently on the radio a girl had told the story about how her father's new camera had been destroyed because he had taken a photo of the army officer's radiator! Her own family has passed down stories of queuing for food rations, including the funny one of her grandfather arriving home with coils of sausage wrapped all around his body because he had luckily been the first in the queue on the day of a new sausage delivery. Because the next delivery was so uncertain, people would buy as much as they could, when they could. Thinking about that uncertainty and scarcity now, when food lines our shelves, seems 'out-of-time' but it was less than forty years ago.

At Natalia's apartment, her grandmother greeted us (Dziendobry) and we also met her dear little dog who is so old that she sneezes instead of barks. We sat down for a (first of many) feast on pierogi, a polish dumpling with various types of stuffing, beetroot borscht (also a polish thing) and lentil dhal (which Natalia's mother had specially prepared because she heard I was vegan).

Because the sun was already setting, we decided to just take a walk around Natalia's place and walk her dog, which is where I saw a most beautiful purpley red, tongues of flame cloud sunset. We climbed a small hill and watched the city in darkness. Gdansk uses yellow (as opposed to white) lights for most of it's street lamps and buildings, which means you see snakes of golden glows tracing a road, or a cluster of them indicating a housing estate.

We managed to squeeze in two hour of worl before dinner, and partway through reading Astrophil and Stella I was very warmly greeted hugged and kissed by Natalia's mother. We had the same borscht, dhal, bread and roasted vegetables for dinner - so delicious, I am so spoilt here.

On the Sopot pier later that night we looked at the lights of Gdansk from another city, as well as the lights of Gydnia which, together with Gdansk and Sopot, make up what people call Tricity. We stopped for tea on the way back, and talked about the refugee situation in Poland. In England sympathy for the refugees is the norm, whereas in Poland, people are more doubtful. They see many refugees as opportunistic rather than desperate, coming to Europe for better jobs and pay -  young men who leave their families to take advantage of the great migration. It is such a hard situation to answer - although there certainly must be these opportunists, there must also be the needy and homeless and war-stricken among them, and even if they are in the minority, how can we turn our backs on a fellow human in need? My thoughts on this are in no way politically or economically thought through - for I am a bear of very little brain - but the refugee situation tugs at my heart.

Natalia's mother said letting refugees in indiscriminately would probably lead to a situation similar to when the Americans drove out the Red Indians in today's United States of America. Her concerns are a shadow of fear that many Polish people carry with them, Poland being a country with a history of war and tyranny, and now after a long time enjoying a precarious peace. Natalia's mother talks about 'World War III' as a very imminent reality, perhaps because Poland was the first country invaded in WWII, and the whole Crimea situation...Natalia's mother said that when Natalia was born her first thoughts were 'She looks just like her father!' and then 'I will be worried about her every day of my life now.'

Just before I fell asleep that night I heard a gasp from Natalia and she sat up and exclaimed - 'I remember my PIN number!'

11 Dec

It was a drizzly day of exploring the beautiful city of Gdansk. We went into Uphagen's house first, an ornate 18th century house which has an exhibition on the different sorts of houses and their architecture and ornamentation in the different centuries. The last heir of the house was reported lost in the second World War, and the house is now a museum.

We also popped into many churches, including St Mary's church, the biggest brick church in the world. Because it is not tourist season, it's tower was closed to visitors which was a pity, despite the fact that a climb in that day's grey weather wasn't awfully appealing. I was surprised at how much of a role the church had played in Poland's modern history - Henryk Janikowski was a priest who sided with Solidarity against communists, and involved himself in activities such as smuggling weapons for them! Religion and politics go hand in hand in Poland, but today it is no longer something that is seen as noble, perhaps because the priests are no longer fighting for freedom against a visceral oppressor, but still lace their sermons with politics. Natalia said that many young Polish people are being turned off by the heavily politically charged sermons of some churches, which blatantly instruct their congregations to vote for certain parties or leaders. It is a pity when the word of God gets muddied by the meddling of man.

Dinner was at Vegebar, a vegetarian/vegan place where you choose a main and then have a free choice of salads on the side. The portions were huge, bigger than my face - probably a face and a half worth of broccoli and cauliflower salad, rice with lentil dhal, carrot salad, cabbage salad, and two broccoli 'cutlets'. And that was just for me! Natalia had her own lasagna, and we shared a borscht between us and had tea each - and it all came to less than 5 pounds! It certainly dispelled my fear that eating in Poland as a vegan would be like the potato scene in 'Everything is Illuminated':

That evening we went to Mera Spa in Sopot again, and had a body scrub and massage, which was the perfect end to a day of walking. I was so close to sleep that when masseur told me it was done I had to gather the drifting clouds of my brain before I could mumble a very thick 'Ah, thank you'!

12 Dec

We went into the Amber museum first thing after breakfast. I appreciated how the museum told a story as you climbed it's levels - showing first amber in its found state, lumps of amber sometimes with things (like a lizard!) which had been unfortunate enough to get trapped within it, giving us a sort of time capsule view into years and years ago. As you walked up the steep wooden steps of the museum to each new level, you saw how amber, from its found state, can be manipulated into tools, or furniture, craft, jewelry, clothing. Some things were truly beautiful, like a tree crafted out of amber, each gold-red leaf (like the leaves on the way to Sidgwick in autumn) individually crafted and attached by tiny copper bands to the tree branches, so that they could move like real leaves, but I found others unnecessary, even ugly, like the rings of amber on string that was a necklace. I wonder what constitutes beauty - I thought perhaps it must be something uplifting, soul provoking, or at least follow our natural affinity to symmetry and complement, but then there is the question of the beholder...

We also looked at the history of the building, which is an old prison house, and there were exhibitions in a separate wing on the life and torture of the prisoners in its walls. In some windows you could see the carvings of past prisoners, and the torture methods were just so so ghastly and cruel. Yesterday we saw the old Gdansk Post Office, which had been a site of the German invasion in WWII, where so many died. It seems that humans never manage to stop being cruel.

After the Amber Museum we went to the Solidarity Centre, where a reconstruction of the strikes which took place in the Gdansk shipyard was being held. They used old military trucks, uniforms and even imitated the rationing system, with one civilian having rolls and rolls of toilet paper slung around her!

After watching the reproduction, we entered the solidarity centre and walked through its exhibits. We initially intended to spend about an hour there, but that hour turned into three, because it was a very comprehensive and engaging museum. It was laid out so well, showing the beginnings of strikes in the shipyard, and the men and women integral in sowing the seeds of solidarity before moving onto different presentations of solidarity in arts, media, religion and sport, and then the terrible years of martial law, and the final break through with the round table talks.

Perhaps the strongest impression you have leaving the solidarity centre is one of hope. It is a testament to People Power, how a generation could unite, rise together and (in the word's of Jean Paul) 'bear one another's burdens' to effect change. Oddly, the communist mantra 'Workers of the World Unite' came true - in solidarity, and spelled the end of communism as the Velvet revolutions began and the communist bloc in Eastern Europe crumbled. The exhibition ended with a large board of red and white paper spelling out Solidarity in Polish. Every little slip of paper had something written on it, in various languages, most expressing the need for unity and love. The room also had a large sort-of maze with the UN declaration of human rights written on it in various languages. How we have failed our predecessors' hopes and dreams for a world no longer plagued by war. There is always war - there are dinner table wars between families, there are classroom wars between children, there are drone wars, shrapnel wars, heartbreak wars, climate change wars, everything is fighting for its place here, and the thing is that, in fighting against each other, we are all losing. Written large on some of the paper pinned up were the words 'ONE LOVE'. Humankind already shares one love, which is the love of self. If we could only direct that to a higher love.

Think about it, there must be higher love 
Down in the heart and in the stars above, 
Without it, life is wasted time. 
Look inside your heart, I'll look inside mine 

Things look so bad everywhere 
In this whole world, what's fair? 
We walk blind and we try to see 
Falling behind in what could be. (Higher Love - James Vinent Mcmorrow)

13 Dec

It snowed on the way to Torun apparently, but I slept in the coach on the way there and didn't manage to catch it! Natalia, her friend Agata, and I were spending the day in Torun, a nearby city to Gdansk, and good thing too because the weather in Gdansk that day was forecast to rain all day, while Torun was going to be mercifully dry!

Agata's uncle met us at the Torun bus station, and brought us on a walking tour round the city, pointing out the idiosyncrasies and defining characteristics of the city he was born and bred in.

Some of my favourites were:

1. This fountain, which is a Polish spin on the Pied Piper of Hamlin. A fiddler solved Torun's terrible plague of frogs by hypnotising them with his beautiful music and leading them out of the city!

2. The surprising sculptures of people which would top walls and roofs of houses.

3. The 'leaning tower of Torun', a building in its brick wall which tilted to its side. It is said that if you manage to balance against it back of feet and body and head touching the wall, you'll have good luck! Natalia and I tried but weren't successful, although Natalia cleverly figured out that she could use her umbrella as a prop!

4. A 3D map of the city for blind people which was cast from metal melted down from keys donated by the people of the city.

After that, we visited a musuem and climbed a tower where we saw beautiful Torun from a very gusty view. Lunch was at a famous place which sold oven-baked pierogi. Usually I only put the photos I think have turned out well in this space, but despite the terrible yellow light on the pierogi, they are too good not to show:

I had potato and onion as well as sauerkraut and mushroom stuffed perogi, and three of them (after a mug of borscht) was surprisingly enough to make me happily full! They were incredible, real soul food, and a place I would certainly go to again. Natalia insisted on paying for Agata and I, and although we both tried to refuse, she insisted.

This seems like a good place to introduce you to the concept of Polish hospitality:

It must be one of the best in the world, because since coming here, I have been so wonderfully taken care of and just lavished with kindness. N and her family will not let me pay for anything if I can help it, cooked special vegan food for me before I got there (and so much of it! They say that before I go back to England they will stretch my stomach!), gave me a bed to sleep in and a warm coat to wear (they laughed at the one I brought over, calling it a sweater not a coat!) The whole family makes an effort to speak English to me and even to each other when I am there, and include me in their conversations and jokes. Their kindness is so overwhelming and humbling.

And so it was in the name of Polish hospitality that Natalia insisted she paid for our pierogi, although Agata said indignantly, with the sweetest malapropism, 'You don't need to hospitalise me!'

After our pierogi, we went to the gingerbread museum where first we made our own pierniki (mine was a slightly squashed angel) before going on a tour of the history behind pierniki, the ingredients used in it and the way it is made, and how production and marketing has changed throughout the centuries.It was dark by the time we emerged, and so we entered the warmth and light of an ice cream shop where I had blackcurrant sorbet, and then we bought pierniki from a shop Agata's uncle had recommended, before we walked back to the bus station, laughing along the way about how all grandma's - Polish or Chinese - make amazing comfort food and also try to make you eat more than humanly possible!

I went for my first Catholic mass that night in the Benedictine church that Natalia and her family go to. I couldn't recite the things that the congregation were reciting because it was in Polish and also because children in Poland learn those phrases from young, and so it is all recited from memory, without a book or slides or anything. Natalia did translate most of the service and recitations to me, and I was struck by the reverence of their worship. In my church, God is very much like and Father and friend while still being God, but sometimes there is the risk of treating God casually. In this service, God was treated so reverently, with much of what the congregation said meaning 'God we are unworthy to come before you, grant us mercy to come before you.' One man beside me beat his chest with his fist as he spoke, a sign of confession and repentence. The message was about mercy - how just as God forgives us in his mercy, we also then should have mercy on ourselves. That is, we mustn't wallow in despair over our sinfulness and shortcomings , but look back and joyfully see how far God's mercy has pulled us away from the mud and mire of sin. Certainly. we are still sinful, but yet we always rejoice, because Christ has overcome sin! Christianity then is not a dolorous, depressing religion of pessimism and dooms-day sayings, but a hopeful religion, recognising our ills but seeing that God's mercy covers a multitude of sins and will redeem us when he comes again! O Happy Day!

14 Dec

Natalia and I found ourselves back in St Mary's Church again today, this time to meet one of her father's contacts who would let us climb its tower! Not knowing who exactly we were meeting, I envisioned a fluffy white-haired old man with a big bundle of keys for unlocking the tower door. But instead, we were greeted by a young man with tousled hair, who looked stressed and tired and told us he was starving, so before climbing the tower we went to a cafe so he could have something to eat while he also filled us in on the amazing history of the church. I was most interested in how it naturally slipped from being Catholic to Lutheran as the religion of its owners changed, and then went back to being Catholic as a sort of religious revolt against the Protestantism of Prussia.

I was quite terrified of Tomasz Korzeniowski initially, because he asked me many questions which I couldn't answer, including what Joseph Conrad's Polish surname was. (I didn't even know he was Polish!) Apparently it is Korzeniowski - the same as his own, and so I could have been dining with the descendant of Joseph Conrad!

After he had finished, we climbed the 409 steps of the tower and saw first the star and diamond vaults on the chapel ceiling, and then a simply magnificent view of Gdansk from the top of the tower.

Natalia and I walked back along frosty, ice encrusted pavements and had some pierogi before heading out to Westerplatte. But first, we had to scrape the frost that had frozen on her windscreen in the most stunning feather patterns.

Like the post office, Westerplatte is another site of the German invasion of Poland in 1939. 30 men lost their lives there, defending Poland. We stopped in an old, bombed out garrison, The roof is caved in where the bomb fell, the stairs twisted like someone's huge hands wrung them out like concrete cloth, the floor cascades to the ground like a concrete waterfall. Everything screamed 'War! Wrong! War! War!' There were no survivors. Heavy boots.

This sign said 'Never Ever War', and led to the memorial monument built to remember all the places first struck by the Germans in World War II. As Natalia and I walked back, we tried to slide on every ice puddle we found, and Natalia showed me the little white berries she would pluck and jump on as a child, because they made a very satisfying 'pop! sound. We jumped and slid and laughed and had just maybe fifteen minutes ago walked out of the garrison because we felt like it would collapse on us. The world moves on fast from its tragedies.

We tried to catch the sunset on Stogi beach but with such quick days we just missed it, but enjoyed dusk on the cold cold beach as we crunched along half frozen sand and I tasted Baltic water for the first time - it isn't salty! The baltic sea is vast and dark and fathomless in its fathoms upon fathoms. Apparently in the very deepest winter and coldest frosts, the sea can freeze, and people can walk on its waters!

15 Dec

Natalia's mother told me about moving from the country to the city of Gdansk for her medical training, meeting her husband, and feeling homesick, as we drove to the airport. As we drove we also realised that the little raindrops that had been falling when we set out were now instead little pieces of snow falling, and she pulled over and told me to get out and have my first ever taste of falling snow! She's so wise and so loving, and I felt sad when I gave her a last hug goodbye in the airport.

The snow was falling more heavily when I walked from the departure hall to the airplane, heavy enough not to melt when it fell on and tickled my nose and eyelashes and coat. But it was gone by the time I landed back in England.


Today Auntie Sarah thought it would be a good idea for Grandma, herself and I to go round the supermarkets in Bury to scour the reduced aisle and between the three get our grocery shopping done. 

The sun today really was like a summers day sun, so bright that I hung my scarf over the window to stop the light shining in my left in a sort of doppler effect, but I kept pulling back my makeshift curtain to look at the countryside speeding past me. The pond was glittering, and the fields were Irish green, and only the leafless trees could have told you it was winter. Sometimes I catch myself falling into the strange acceptance that these naked, feather-like branches are what trees are and always will be, forgetting the lush greenness and leafness of trees in spring and summer. Oh, spring - I really can't wait for spring. Right now it is a season of anticipation and promise, everywhere you step the earth seems to whisper to you 'Wait, be patient, there is life trembling under the ground.'

For some reason, trailing round the grocery stores took hours - much longer than I anticipated. Perhaps it was because of my sore legs and bum after falling down the stairs yesterday! I made falafel for dinner and had time alone for a rare hour. I usually have time alone, but Grandma will be somewhere in the house too and I feel the need to talk to her and fill every moment I have with her. Tonight she was over at Auntie Sarah's house while I made the carrot and orange soup, and the falafel patties (folding in oat flour to the mixture and squishing our the burgers is such a satisfying feeling) and roasted tomatoes, sauteed spinach and sliced up some sweet little peppers. All that with hummous made for a completely satisfying meal.  

I realise I frown a lot when I do the washing up, which is probably why grandma and I have fallen into the symbiotic habit where I cook and she washes us, which saves her from eating tinned soup and cardboard bread all the time, and saves me from growing old before my time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Let this be our prayer

Yesterday I spent the evening writing down quotes I love in my diary. It’s the beautifully bound little brown book that Hannah bought for me when she was travelling all over Europe, and when I write in it I think of her walking through the streets of Santorini, giggling at buskers in Barcelona, and sitting down with football fans in Florence.

Some of my favourites were those by Marianne Williamson, and George Eliot. But one that struck me, as it always, always does, are these beautiful words by Hannah Brencher (which Luk Ching showed me):

God, reduce us to love.

God, make me so small and humble that all people can see is love.



I’m just so hungry to be long and everlasting love while my tiny feet are on this earth.

Let it not be for an agenda.

Let it not be for a status.

Soften my heart and make me not proud of  the things that deserve your credit.

Make my heart weak and woozy with a love that wrecks, rebuilds, and calls others out of darkness.

God, reduce me to love so that your will be done.

God make love famous and let me slip into the background.

Grandma’s sermon

Yesterday morning, Grandma and I took the slow walk down from her house to the village parish church for its 9.30am service. When we opened the doors, there was no one there at all! We were very surprised (since we were actually late) until we read an information sheet that told us that church service was at 3.30pm that afternoon.

We walked back along a different route that goes through the church cemetery, past the vicarage, along the river, snakes through a housing estate and then emerges right across grandma’s house. Along the way, we looked at the weathered, lichen covered stones that form so many of the walls and buildings in Suffolk. Grandma taught me what a fir tree was.

After a carol service in StAG, as usual Grandma and I sat back in her little kitchen with our dinner and started talking about everything under the sun. We covered everything from Seamus Heaney and the terrible treatment of Irish babies born out of wedlock, how she learnt about where babies come from, how parents should discipline their children or seek help when they can’t, Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’, and the story of a poor girl in her church.

What happened was that this girl (a very innocent, simple girl) had a child out of wedlock, and the Church Elders turned her out of the church. Grandma told me that it shocked her, and she felt so confused as to how these Elders who preached of God’s love and divine mercy could be so judgemental and unmerciful to a girl who committed one mistake, as we all do some time in our life. Many of the girls in church who knew the girl who had been turned away from the church kept in contact with her, Auntie Sheila knitted her baby little woolly clothes, and Grandma’s mother kept up her friendship with the girl’s mother (who was crushed by the whole thing) and treated her the same way as before, as if nothing had happened.

I felt so heartbroken by that story. It reminded me of the Irish mothers with their illegitimate children, often pressured by society to abort them or kill them after birth. It reminded me of George Eliot’s Silas Marner, turned away from all he knew and clung to in Lantern Yard, or Maggie in The Mill on the Floss, ostracised and cut off by her brother for giving into temptation and running off with Stephen though she later returned. 

So many people commit mistakes, and instead of loving them and acting as a shepherd, caring for them and steering them back onto the right path through encouragement and loving discipline, Christians often cast them out again into darkness, forgetting that we ourselves were called out of darkness by Christ, into his wonderful light. Often I think this is why Christianity gets such a bad reputation. Because, quite simply, Christians do not act in the way Christ called them to. But if we would judge Christianity through the reputation of Christ rather than Christians, these imperfect, always stumbling human beings, we would see a promise and a life more than worth living for. 

Grandma told me that the line from W. Faber’s Hymn often kept her remembering that there was a good God despite the cruelty she saw around her ‘For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind; And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.’ 

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.
There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.
’Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
It is something more than all;
Greater good because of evil,
Larger mercy through the fall.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.
Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?
It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

After dinner and dessert, Grandma and I prayed, asking God to help us be loving to other people, to never presume that we knew the whole situation and could judge them in our limited human capacity, but to always love, and be merciful, and look to God for direction on how to best love our fellow broken humans.

I grow old I grow old

Today I asked Grandma what she would write on her bucket list. It took her a long time to come up with anything, because she was worried about worrying and burdening other people, and only when I told her it was all utterly hypothetical did she say if she could do anything, anything at all in the world, it would be to have a bird’s eye view of her son (my Uncle Rog) in New Zealand and his family as they move into their new house, and to go to Singapore and see all of us. ‘Isn’t it funny,’ she said, ‘at this age your horizons are so limited.’

I grow old … I grow old …         
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.         

That part of The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock always makes my heart keen. Grandma’s days are so closeted. She eats the same thing for breakfast every day: porridge with prunes and yoghurt. My arrival means that I add diced apple and cinnamon to her porridge too (diced so that her teeth can manage it), a tiny inclusion which she looks on as a great adventure. Between breakfast and lunch, while I read the books on my reading list or go for a run, she sits in front of the television, not watching. Like Natalia’s grandmother, the television is switched on simply to fill the empty soundscape - she isn’t really interested in auctions and the prices of antiques. After dinner we sometimes watch masterchef together. Sometimes we clutch hands because of the suspense. Once, faced with a chef with particularly shakey hands, she covered her face and peeked out between her fingers in horror as he attempted to plate delicate desserts.

Our conversations often go in circles, because she has forgotten what we said in the first place. 

17/12/2015 Dinner conversation specimen 1, repeated from numerous other dinner conversations and conversations-in-the-kitchen:

Grandma [G]: And when is this young chap coming?

Miriam [M]: On the 22nd

G: And where will he sleep?

M: In the office, on the camp bed.

G: And how do you know him?

M: He’s from my church in Singapore, and he’s studying in Oxford and is staying in England for the holidays.

G: And when will he be here?


M: On the 22nd. 

G: How will he get here?

[I’d already explained this before and written out the details on a piece of card which she keeps in the kitchen, but often forgets that it’s there.]

M: We’ll take the train from London to Thurston.

G: Let’s write that on the calendar, shall we?

Things are always written on the calendar, little notes (Christmas cards / Fred himself? / Christmas cards? / Presents for grandchildren etc.) But she forgets that she writes them there. It must be so unsettling to forget and forget - the comfort and security of assurance and concrete plans is lost to the nebulous tides of the mind.

 ‘Is this the key to the back door? I don’t know if this is the key to the back door. I’m getting so forgetful!’

And yet, she is still my sunshine in these grey winter days. Every night I hug her goodnight and she says ‘God bless you, darling’ and thanks God for our day. Tonight as I showed her how to rub coconut oil into her skin as a moisturiser, she was glowing (with oil and excitement) and said ‘This is like food for our skin! We need some coconut oil for our souls!’ And when I say ‘Goodnight Grandma, God bless you,’ she says ‘He has, oh he has’

She just walked past me up the stairs on the way to bed and told me: ‘Wonderful starlit night -absolutely black velvet skies and the stars are like jewels.’

Small adventures that Grandma and I have gone on:

1) We escape to the tropics some nights as we rub coconut oil on our faces and arms and legs

2) Once we went to New Zealand on the backs of whales, as we watched Witi Ihimaera's Whale Rider

3) We took the bus to Bury on day, and looked at the children skating on the outdoor ice rink (and also got her a 2016 calendar)

4) Sometimes we travel all over England in her ‘a day in the life’ book of photographs of daily life from across the country, lovely, real, beauty-in-normality photographs

5) Or we travel through time when we look at the old photographs from Auntie Shelia’s house, of Grandma and Auntie Sheila when they were toddlers, or even of her Father as a young man in the army ‘Somewhere in France’ - Often weary, always cheery

Thursday, December 10, 2015

London for a spell

Wednesday 25th November, 8pm-ish

I walked down from college to Parker’s piece, with two big bags and my bright woolly coat folded over my arm. I caught the 010 national express to London, a 2 hour turned 2 and a half hour journey to Victoria coach station, where I met Yingying and we took the bus to Abbey Road, and tumbling into the warmth of Megan’s lovely house, which is just in front of the zebra crossing which the Beatles famously walked over.

It's funny but one of my best memories with Megan was when we were on out choir trip in Secondary 2 in Spain. I had brought along Mum's digital camera, and I had spent most days taking pictures of the architecture and scenery of the places we'd been to. It was a really hot day as I recall and I was wearing one of my favourite tops - a sunshine yellow cotton one from India - and Megan suddenly asked if I wanted to have my picture taken on my camera since I hadn't any pictures of myself on it yet. I thought that was so thoughtful, and so now I have a picture somewhere of myself sitting in front of a lot of flowers in the sunshine in my sunshine top, to remember Megan who kindly thought of me. 

It's incredible that despite Megan being in America, Ying ying in London, and myself in Cambridge, we could all sit on one bed in one warm room and talk until after midnight.

Thursday 26th November: 

I had 4 bananas for breakfast I think, or maybe 5, of maybe 4 and an apple. Anyhow, by the time Megan, Yings and I were near Leicester Square and had popped into a little Italian place for lunch, I still wasn't hungry. Megan had some sort of sea creature pasta that I think was oil based and yings had a cream based one. It's funny how I like to know which people prefer which pasta bases. I know Hannah likes cream based (carbonara in particular) and so does Tim I think. I was always a tomato based person. 

After that, we went into the very snazzy Picturehouse to buy tickets for 'The Lady in the Van'. I also got a little tub of vegan ice cream to take into the cinema, because why not? Maggie Smith was very good as usual, although I felt like most of the funny bits in the film had already been shown in the trailer or in film clips on Youtube, which was slightly disappointing. I found myself thinking of how different that old lady is to Grandma, who is much more docile and quiet. Sometimes I wish Grandma would be more assertive and live out the last few years of her life doing everything she wants to. I've asked her if she wants to come to Singapore next year when I fly back - perhaps she'll be able to see Ama and the Gardens by the Bay and have Roti Prata again, and dragon fruit...

We trailed around Oxford Street for a while, popping into Boots to get Yings some throat medicine, John Lewis to get Meg a hat and gloves, and the most wonderful vegan cafe, Vantra, for me to get lunch. I had the most delicious broccoli, thai coconut curry, chickpea moussaka and lentil dhal on a bed of wild rice. I also tried some 'sunflower seed cheese' which didn't taste anything like cheese really, but was still delicious! Meg and I bought a chocolate cake to have for dessert later on, and then we headed to LSE for a welfare party.

Since Meg and I aren't LSE students, we had to think of a game plan should our imposter-isation be discovered. And so Meg was supposed to be an economics student, and I a philosophy student, which is truly bonkers when you consider that I get Socrates, Plato and Aristotle mixed up, and can't even quote Wittgenstein properly (and the only reason I remember his name is because it sounds like my friend Samuel Wittberger)

Anyway, as I was pouring some mulled wine into a glass, a girl came up to me and said 'You look so familiar I'm sure I know you from somewhere.' I was so surprised I don't think I even gave an answer, but just smiled weakly and floated away, glass in hand. The second close shave was when I was introduced to someone else, and Yings told them I am 'studying Philosophy'. I had to stop myself from saying 'I am?' We left soon after that, Megan confessing she had been quite unfriendly to one girl who had been talking to her because she didn't want to give away the fact that she wasn't supposed to be there! 

Yings headed off for a debate, and Meg and I headed back, stopping to buy posters (Van Gogh's almond blossoms and a JAPAN poster) and dinner. In the dinner place, we overheard a lady at the next table being incredibly rude to her waitress, returning a dish she had ordered saying 'I'm not having that. I've had it before and it looks different.' Despite the waitresses patient explanations that it was because the menu had been overhauled and the presentation of dishes changed, which was clearly stated on the menu, the woman refused to be polite, insisting 'I won't eat this. I'm not having this.' The poor waitress had to take the dish back and get them to prepare another dish, and then she went outside the restaurant for a much-needed smoke to relax, poor girl.

I was dreadfully tired by then, and then last thing I remember was talking about Harry Potter houses, before drifting to sleep...

(Megan if you're reading this, I did the test that shows you your percentages of which house you're in, and got an equal majority (is that an oxymoron?) for Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, followed by Gryffindor and then Slytherin. But I was put into Hufflepuff!)

Friday, 27th November:

Megan had to leave quite early to catch her flight back to America, but before she left we trooped downstairs, Yings, Meg and I, and did the quintessential tourist-at-Abbey-Road task - the walking-across-the-zebra-crossing photograph!

Yings and I went back up to have breakfast, and I grumbled about how terrible ALDI apples are compared to Sainsbury's apples (Staunch Sainsbury's supporter here!) before we set off for the tube. I took the train to Westminster to meet Nathan. I was quite stuck into 'The Yellow Wallpaper' and since I got off the train a couple of minutes early, I waited by the side of the station with my nose in that short story, before realising that Nathan had been standing in the middle of the station for probably the same amount of time that I had been reading at the side of the station!

We went to see the Tate Britain first. The last time I was in London with my family I'd gone to see the Tate modern, which in all honesty didn't strike me as interesting. Perhaps I didn't know how to appreciate art yet or maybe it's just modern art which I find odd and unstimulating, but the art in the Tate Britain was incredible. You waft through galleries of different time periods, and see portraits and scenery and city scapes and busts and sculpture and more... 

In the gallery of the art of the 1500s I had a good laugh, because many of the portraits that were there were the same ones I sourced from google images back in 2012 for my project 'The Venetian Tribune' - where we created a newspaper based on Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. My group's newspaper had an obituaries section - and the portraits hanging in the Tate's galleries were the same ones we had printed in our obituaries! I laughed to myself as I looked at them, thinking not of the colours or the attention to detail in the dress and such, but rather of the things I had written in my newspaper 'Died of childbirth' and 'Died of fever'...

I also really liked the art depicting Mary the Madonna. One sculpture showed her so realistically - tired, her shoulders slumped, her face not pearly and smooth but rough and with the skin showing signs of age and weariness. Another painting showed her as terribly young - so so so young. To be given such a huge physical and spiritual responsibility when you were 14 years old... I know I hadn't the faith and fortitude of spirit when I was 14 years old to be made the Madonna.

We headed to Oxford street again, because my tummy was calling me to Vantra again (apart from the delicious food and the top notch dessert (Meg and I both agreed that it didn't even taste like a raw vegan cake, and Meg gave it top marks although she isn't vegan!) there was also the minor draw of a very handsome cashier - but unfortunately he wasn't there the second time I went!) Oxford street was packed because Black Friday sales were on, but I wasn't there for clothes - I was there for curry!

I stuffed as much as possible into my takeaway box, and then we headed to St James' Park for lunch. We sat on a bench near very many ducks and geese and overlooking a pond - I think London is lucky to have such large green spaces despite being such a big and bustling city. I had my curry and rice and Nathan had some pasta he'd made the night before. Just as we finished lunch, Nathan said "I hope you aren't too full for fruit" and, being me and being never too full for fruit, I said I wasn't. AND THEN (!!!) He pulled out a big plastic tupperware of DRAGONFRUIT!

I think my jaw literally dropped - I haven't had dragonfruit since I brought some over in September. They're a very rare find in England! They were such a thoughtful gift, and I was so pleased. After having about half of the box and then being completely full, I was replete, but Nathan sprung another surprise on me because he brought out 3 more dragonfruit, still in the beautiful pink skins! They were  a present ,but I felt I couldn't accept all of them, and so I took one for myself and one for Grandma, because I remembered how much she loved their exotic colours. That was a completely unexpected surprise.

The coach ride back took 45 minutes longer than it was supposed to, and I was very tired by the time I got back (and also late for my Chinese CF) but I met a lost Peterhouse student looking for St Edmunds college and so I led him through Medwards to the back gate of St Eds before getting into my room, throwing my things down (although in the case of the dragonfruit and my roll of posters very carefully laying them on my bed) and then tearing on my bicycle through bucketing rain to Pembroke for CF, and arriving looking like a drowned rat.

New experiences

Today I let Grandma try dragon fruit - she was so excited, and so enamoured by their pink skins. She savoured each spoonful and when we were done she washed out the skins and is intending to dry them and keep them to preserve their beautiful pink colour.

She actually has had dragon fruit before, when I brought it over in September as I was moving in to college - but of course she doesn’t remember, and this is once again a new experience for her.

Yoga with Grandma

After dinner, Grandma and I usually retire to the lounge to just rest and talk and watch some of the news or read something. Last night I began on Phillip Sidney’s ‘Astrophil and Stella’, which is on my reading list for Renaissance literature next term. After about 15 sonnets worth of professions of love, I felt rather saturated with love poetry and decided that now, if ever, was a good time to practice the headstands I had learnt in my yoga lesson last week. And so I carefully arranged my hands in a cradle for my head, turned myself upside down, and slowly drew my legs up so I was in a headstand.

Grandma watched my antics with the greatest amusement, commenting on my form ‘Your feet are ever so near the wall but not quite!’ ‘And all your weight must be on your arms and head - imagine!’ ‘Your tummy muscles must be quite strong to do that!’ As I wobbled and quivered and tried not to crash onto anything!

After a couple of headstands, I moved into a sun salutation (despite it being utter darkness outside) After three rounds of the sun salutation, I asked Grandma if she’d like to do some yoga, and so we both sat down on the floor and did meditative breathing, and then some stretching side to side, and then we stretched our neck muscles by drawing a big circle with our heads from the ground to the right side and over our heads and to the left. It’s funny, but when you are in that sort of relaxed and meditative state, you tend to recognise things you wouldn’t usually - such as the pattern on the ceiling. Grandma’s lounge ceiling is patterned in a way such that it looks like the painters threw the paint on the ceiling and made it dry in tiny peaks and waves across the ceiling. I can’t think of another way to describe it but a water dappled effect.

In fact, I told Grandma, it reminded me of what it looks like when you are under water, looking at the underbelly of the surface skin of a pool, as rain drops fall on to it. It has the same pricked, water-dancing look. That under-water-looking-at-rain feeling is such an odd one - you are completely enveloped by warm water, but if you venture near the surface, where the rain is, it becomes cold, because the rain is cold. And so you dive down into the warmth and stay there, safe. And strangely enough you feel almost dry, simply because you aren’t being touched by the rain.

Grandma told me then of how, when she was little, when it rained she would beg her Mum to be allowed out into the rain. ‘Oh Mum, oh mum’ and her Mum would wrap her in her mackintosh, make sure she was wearing her welly boots, and give her an umbrella, and she would sit, completely dry, with rain pouring down all around her. She mimicked her posture of holding the umbrella and sitting in the rain right there on the lounge floor, and from the brightness in her eyes and the grin on her face you could imagine she truly was there, a child in the rain.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My comic-timing God

I woke up in Grandma's house - late as usual, and so I had just enough time to gobble down a banana and bundle up before we walked down in the rain to the church for the 9.30 am church service.

I never know the hymns in Grandma's church, but it doesn't really matter if you sing out of tune because usually the person in front, behind, or beside you will be singing out of tune as well, and besides, God doesn't care what your voice sounds like, but what your heart sounds like when you worship Him.

I wanted to get back to Cambridge at 4pm so I would have plenty of time to get ready for the carol service St Andrews the Great (StAG) was having at 5pm. When I mentioned the Carol Service, Auntie Sarah was keen to come and I was so glad that she'd be able to see the church which I've been going to this term. To safely get back to Cambridge at 4pm, I said we'd have to leave between 3 and 3.15pm. And so when 3pm came round, I brought my cabin bag down the stairs, put on my coat, and sat with Grandma, looking at Edward Seago's art book. When, by 3.15pm there was no sign of Auntie Sarah, I asked Grandma if I shoul go round and check if she was ready. Grandma said we should give her till 3.30pm, and so we kept looking through the pictures.

At 3.30pm, I walked over to Auntie Sarah's, to find her still cooking lunch. 'Do you want some?' She asked. I reminded her that we needed to go, and she remembered, and we spent some time looking for her glasses, before we could leave at 3.45pm.

'Late, late, late,' my heart thumped, but I quietened, and, I don't know why, but the question sprung into my mouth and I asked Auntie Sarah when she knew, that is, when she knew knew, she needed Jesus in her heart.

Auntie Sarah told me that it had happened many many times. That, like Gomer in the book of Hosea, she'd run away from God multiple times (Like Gomer, like the Israelites, like me.) and had been called back to him when she was most desperate, when she most needed Him. The conversation was so beautiful, such a timely reminder of our Saviour for whom not even a sparrow falls without Him knowing, who holds me in His hands.

Perhaps if we hadn't been late, if we hadn't been in the car at that moment in time, that conversation wouldn't have had happened.

We drove into Cambridge at about 4.40pm and it was dark and rainy, and after depositing my suitcase in college, we drove into town to try and find a place to park near StAG. Unfortunately, as a cyclist, I am completely oblivious to road and parking rules, and all the places I thought were possible parking locations were not possible (unless you were a bicycle or a taxi), and we were going in circles round the Sainsbury's/Market Square circuit. We also drove into one-way streets the wrong way a couple of times. My heart was getting tighter and tighter as I watched the clock tick past 5 pm, to 5.10pm, o 5.15pm...

Finally, we managed to find a parking spot at 5.20pm, although it wasn't too near church, and so we walked and got into the warm at about 5.30pm. It was an incredible carol service. The church was packed, and when everyone stand up to sing 'O come all ye faithful' and 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing', the noise swelled and as such a warm sound. It didn't matter that we were late (I am such an impatient person), all that mattered was that we got there, and (as God said as He surveyed creation) it was good. It was so, so good. Auntie Sarah loved it, and as we sipped mulled wine afterwards, we decided we must bring Grandma for the carols by candlelight service on the 20th!

I got back to my room, quite tired and just wanting to go to bed, but I had volunteered as part of the organising team for Just Love's Secret Church event, which was happening that night. The Secret Church event sought to simulate the environment that the persecuted church has to worship in in countries like North Korea and Syria, to encourage us to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.

We'd managed (just the day before) to get a room in King's college, and had distributed buttons to those who'd signed up, as secret tokens allowing their entry. We'd memorised parts of scripture and parts of the Lord's Prayer in different languages, since it's impossible to get Bibles in the persecuted church. In Afghanistan, you'd have to show your commitment to the church by memorising Psalm 119 before you could even get on the waiting list for a Bible - that is, you had to memorise the longest psalm in the bible, without a bible in the first place, to get a bible!

The quiet, dim atmosphere of the room really helped me think about what I was there for. I wasn't there to run a programme or event, no, it was more than that. I was there to come before a God who, in the eyes of people in the persecuted church, is worth dying for. It is earth-shattering to realise that when God calls us to be like Christ, who died for us, we also should be prepared to die for him. It really puts that verse 'to live is Christ, to die is gain' into perspective.

We also took communion, but instead of having the usual bread and wine, we had pita bread dipped in olive oil, since wine is virtually impossible to get especially in the Middle East. We passed it around, that little packet of pita bread and cup of oil, in a circle very solemnly. I tore of my piece, dipped it in, and passed the cup on, all the while thinking how precious this was. How amazing that I had a saviour who would give us a way to remember him, a tangible way to remember how he gave his body and blood for us. I thought that having a tangible reminder like that would be so heartening for someone in the depths of despair. That little torn section of pita bread would be a huge symbol of hope, and a reminder for patience for Christ's second coming.

That morning, in grandma's church, there had been an old lady who tottered up to the altar to receive communion. She was shaking with age, and couldn't lift her head because of some ailment or another. I was so worried about her reaching the altar in one piece I couldn't concentrate on Jesus at all. As she knelt down, the woman holding the biscuit and wine dipped a biscuit in the wine, and instead of giving it into her hand like other people, pushed it right into her mouth. Oh! I was so afraid she would choke! I felt annoyed with the lady with the biscuit and wine - how could she treat that weak woman so roughly! My mind was completely gone from Jesus' sacrifice, and fixed instead upon a feeling of unfairness and worry. (The weak lady did not choke, you will be happy to hear.) I had the luxury of letting my mind drift during communion to the people around me - and terribly I spent it judging the biscuit and wine woman, when Jesus came to cleanse us from the judgement of our sins.

Sitting in the dark room with that little piece of pita bread, I had not another thought but Jesus on my mind. I think for people in the persecuted church, where faith holds such high stakes, to think of anything but the person you are willing to lay down your life for, Jesus, during communion would be a terrible waste. The persecuted church must take communion so much more reverentially, as it should be taken.

Oh God, whether in a car ride or communion, you always show me my weakness and faithlessness in the most timely way. Thank you for your reminders and I pray for more faith.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A vegan fair and a christmas fair

On the morning of the 28th, I woke up early to get some reading in before I packed and dragged my little faithful cabin bag out of Pearl House towards the train station. For the record, I am terrible at walking with a suitcase. I must have said 'sorry' at least 5 times to different people who received an assorted selection of suitcase over toes, suitcase bumping into them, or just being stuck behind girl who pulls along suitcase and takes up 3/4 of the pavement.

I stopped in at St Paul's church, to drop by the Cambridge Vegan Fair. I remember trying to get tickets on World Vegan Day, and being put on the waiting list because it was such a popular event! Thankfully, a couple of weeks later a spot cleared and I managed to get a ticket, which made me so so excited! It would be so great to go to a food festival where I no longer had to check the stall for the off-chance of a vegan dish.

I listened in to the sea shepherd booth lady explaining their work and the state of sea poaching (we will have fishless oceans by 2048 if the current rate of fishing remains constant - and it is predicated to rise as the world population grows), and talked to the people who run the UK vegan society. I think the amount of support vegans have here is so encouraging, and makes changing your diet and lifestyle so much easier, healthier and comprehensible. I got a apple, carrot and ginger juice from the Fresh juice stand, and had a chat with the stall owner about how to use the cold-press juicing machine (I always thought it would be a very complicated contraption, but it actually looks simpler to use and clean than the normal juice machines I've seen!) and also ideas for a vegan Christmas meal (hello nut roast!)

I bought a couple of Ombar chocolate bars from the Ombar Raw Chocolate stand, which had free tasters (I tried EVERYTHING before settling on the Ombar coconut and vanilla centered chocolate and the Ombar 60%) Ombar has to be my favourite chocolate - it's sweet with that tiny tinge of bitterness that I love, and it's made of raw cacao, coconut sugar, cocoa butter, creamed coconut and ground vanilla pods, all of which are so good for you. I know I sound like an advertisement right now and that's exactly my intention - everyone should try Ombar chocolates they are just the bee's knees.

I also bought a kofta from a man who thought I was either British or Australian, and then a chocolate fudge tart from a lady who told me that coconut oil is very good for the brain, and possibly helpful for Alzheimer's.

I rushed to the train station, then, with just 10 minutes to spare to get my ticket and rush onto the platform - only to find that the Cambridge-Bury train wasn't working that day and I'd have to catch a coach instead. It was a very comfortable coach compared to national express, although it was probably relativity given that I'd been on the national express coach for 3 and a 1/2 hours while I was only on this on for about an hour. I slept quite a bit on the coach while trying to read Mrs Dalloway, and as I blearily walked off the coach, someone from behind tapped me:

'You forgot your gloves.'

'Thanks,' I mumbled, taking the little black bundle from the kind stranger behind me. By the time my brain woke up and I realised that I hadn't brought gloves along and the little black ones I was holding weren't mine, everyone from the coach had dispersed and Uncle John was in front of me, saying hello.

The gloves proved very useful, however, because as Uncle John, Auntie Sarah, Connie and I walked around the Bury Christmas Fair, it was bitterly cold and my hands were snug in a stranger's gloves.

The fair was a symphony of lights and hot food stalls and local produce and art and Christmas merchandise. There was also fair games, including one which Auntie Sarah and I played where you threw balls at targets with strange names like 'Saucy Sue' and 'Naughty Nora'. I managed to hit 'Naughty Nora', but not knock her down, but the stall owner was a sweetheart and still let us 'Pick a prize, any prize!'

We also walked by a Dr Who display, including a robot which zipped around speaking in a crackly voice, telling one group of giggly children 'Listen to you parents - or you will be exterminated!'

The woman locked in a room

So my last essay for the term was on Mental Illness and its Presentation in Modern Literature.

Reading up on mental illness (especially schizophrenia) was utterly fascinating - '"delusional percept" - a relatively normal perception is experienced as having a special kind of meaning [...] a good example is a schizophrenic who noticed that people in a train car were crossing their legs from time to time, and then suddenly concluded that they were all performing some kind of play for his benefit.'

[Sass, Louis A., Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the light of modern art, literature, and thought, (Massachusets: Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 44]
I chose to write on Wide Sargasso Sea, The Yellow Wallpaper, Hangover Square and Mrs Dalloway. However, between gallivanting in London, visiting Grandma over the weekend, reading those four books and criticism on top of that, I only started writing on Monday, which meant that for a good part of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, I was locked into my room, typing furiously.

As I wrote I thought to myself how ironic it was that I was writing about how mad women were often locked up (Wide Sargasso Sea, The Yellow Wallpaper) to contain their mental excess, and here I was, basically locked in dorm room. My hypothesis that writing this essay would eventually drive me mad seemed pretty prophetic.

I managed to finish the essay THREE MINUTES before the deadline, and ran to Alex's room to print it out. And then I ran, in my pajamas, down the steps of Pearl House, through the corridor, hair in bun unravelling, loose papers clutched in hand, toward Leo's pigeon hole.

As I approached, I saw (horror of horrors) Leo at his pigeonhole, reaching in to retrieve the essays we were meant to have handed in,

'LEO!!!!!' I shouted, still running, and waved the loose papers in my hand at him.

Well. I think the confinement really did drive me mad.

Leo laughed and laughed at my pajama-ed state and told me to slow down, as I, in complete and abject embarrassment, gasped breathlessly at the porter 'Could-I-please-borrow-a-stapler-please?'

However, I did get my essay in, and nothing could stop me from smiling like an idiot afterwards.

That is, until Jenny walked past, looked me up and down, and said "Hello", and I said "Hi" weakly, before burying my face in my hands in embarrassment after she'd left.

So now two of three of my supervisors have seen me in my pajamas.

Monday, November 30, 2015

My November collection of sky

One thing I never fail to feel grateful for is the fact that my room has a westerly window. I get to see a sunset every day, and when I look at it I think of Grandma who also watches the sunset out of her kitchen window every day, and home where I would watch for the October sunsets from the balcony. Sometimes, if I'm on my laptop and there's a particularly striking sunset, I quickly make a short note of it. Here are some of my favourites:

-Today the sky was made of bubble wrap.

-The sunset rose from the bottom rather than descended from the top - weird. A huge black cloud rose from the horizon and covered half the sky like someone pulling up a blanket.

-The evening sky had a pink cloud scar cut across it.

-The clouds moved across the sun like my three year old self scraping a plastic toy fence through a pool of paint on paper.

- All blue and gold like that Van Gogh painting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Yoga in cambridge

I had my first ever Yoga session in Cambridge today. It was a beautifully sunny day as Alex and I cycled to Newnham (hello fellow women's college!) for a class in beginner's ashtanga. I haven't done any exercise at all for the past week because my body has been feeling quite tired, and so  I was looking forward to something slow and relaxing.

This was probably the best yoga session I've had in my life (Cambridge you have to stop doing this thing where you are perfect in so many ways. Stop. I'm falling in love with you.) Our instructor showed us how to do the different poses, and let us repeat them a couple of times in circuits, as she went round the room correcting or deepening posture and form. One thing I found surprising was when she asked us to put our legs against the wall, with our feet wide apart, and then, with a straight back, slowly lower our hands to the ground. Usually when I stand up and touch my toes I have no problem at all, but because you couldn't shift your weight back to counter balance your torso going forward, you really had to work hard to stay balanced!

At the end of the session, as we were all lying on the floor relaxing with our eyes closed, she came round and gently pressed our shoulders down and massaged some incredible smelling oil into our temples - and everything felt better, like her cool hands somehow dispelled any stress or tightness in my body.

I was so amazed at what the human body can do - God really did an incredible feat of engineering when he created us! We can twist and stretch and bend and control muscles in one part while relaxing another! I'm looking forward to next week's class, and next term!

I cycled back really slowly, savouring the last hours of sunshine.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Today as I was coming home I stopped in 'Save the Children' to pick up something for the Secret Santa swap my floor is having tomorrow night. You might think it very strange that we're having this swap since Christmas is a month away, but Cambridge celebrates something called Bridgemas, which is an early Christmas so students can get festive before we break up for the holidays at the start of December, since no one is in Cambridge at Christmas time.

I picked out what I needed for the Secret Santa swap, and also picked out a sweet necklace and a set of table spoon and tea spoon measures, before heading up to the counter to pay. There were two old women behind the counter, who had been having a conversation about staying home to 'take care of the children' and how 'it's not like that these days'. It reminded me of how Grandma is always asking Auntie Sarah 'what about the children?', ' the children need someone there'. It's interesting to think about the different attitudes to children in different countries and across different times, or even how the definition of what a child is changes - in medieval times the concept of a child as we understand it today was completely absent: children were basically mini-adults and that comes across in their art.

I put my items on the counter,and one of the ladies put the charge into the cash machine, while the other went to check the price on the necklace, since the price tag had fallen off. I talk to the cash-machine lady about school, and told her how I'd been enjoying my first term. She told me she was once a lecturer at Sidgwick site, teaching economics. The other lady came back with the price tag, and I asked if I could pay with my card, since I hadn't brought any money with me.

'Ah, you don't have any money?' The second lady asked, looking worried, 'You see, we've had problems with that before.' (Pointing to the little card machine, and eyeing it as if it were an armadillo rather than a perfectly normal piece of technology)

'I'm so sorry I didn't bring anything else.'

One of them looked under the cash desk and came up with a laminated list of instructions on how to work the card machine.

'Put in value...' they murmured, and turned to the machine. All my things together cost 6 pounds, and so the second lady hesitantly pressed the 6 on the machine interface (while the other asked her 'Don't you need your glasses?'), and '0.06' appeared on the screen.

'Oh dear, what have you done now?' The first lady asked.

'That's six pence,' said the second lady, bemused, ' I'll just press clear.'

That's when I asked if I could possibly help, since I'd operated a card machine when I was working in On The Table. I explained to them that I'd been a waitress and had to figure out that confusing piece of technology too. Then I showed them how to enter 6 pounds into the machine (6-0-0), and then how a customer should put in their card and enter their pin, and then how to check that the transaction was approved. I had to go over it a couple more times, and I assured them that I'd been just as confused over how to work it as a waitress, and had caused a long queue during lunch hour, and we all laughed.

'You'll have to come back and man the shop!' They said as I bid them goodbye.

I had a whole sweet potato, and courgette, and beetroot, as well as some hummous on rye for lunch (I couldn't finish all the courgette - it was just too much!) and then munched on the last of my chocolate granola (new recipe and it tastes like coco pops!) while watching harry potter...

Now I have to get back to Virginia Woolf and madness and modernism, but dinner is going to be curry spiced cauliflower with brown miso rice and cucumber, and tomorrow I go to London, and I am very happy.