Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Halloween and that guy, Guy Fawkes

I thought that we didn't used to do Halloween, in England, but as explained here: Info About English Culture, in many places we did.

When I was young, the 31st October was something the church referred to as All Hallows Eve and Halloween, as celebrated now, had yet to be imported from America; exposure to American culture then being largely confined to comics and televised Tom & Jerry cartoons.

In England, childrens' attention was focused on the 5th of November and the short evenings, after school before it got dark, leading up to Bonfire Night, were spent collecting for and building the bonfire.

'Guy Fawkes Night Hambledon' - watercolour by Richard Mitchell

Many customs surrounding relatively recent events in history recall older customs founded on ancient religions and ceremonies, and perhaps bonfires and lit effigies or guys, were merely assimilated into the commemoration of the 1605 attempt on the Stuart King's life and Parliament.

For us, the evening of the 31st October was Mischievous Night, when children old enough to play out of doors in the safety of the village streets during the darkening autumn evenings, made a Guy out of old clothes stuffed with newspapers, and hawked him round the houses, reciting "Remember, remember, the Fifth of November" and asking for a "penny for the Guy". If we were rewarded with a few coppers (pre-decimal pennies), they were collected to buy fireworks, or the special Bonfire Toffee only available in the corner shop at this time of year.

If we were unrewarded, we thought it reasonable to do a little mischief, which was innocent and merely annoying; lifting gates off their hinges and swopping them around with neighbouring gates - this only possible then when small gates led to front garden paths, in the days before every house had a car parked out front. Or we took their empty milk bottles left out on the door step for the next early morning delivery, to use for launching the rockets the big boys lit on Bonfire Night. Or just banged on the door and ran away, as you do.

Today, through the letterbox, the parish magazine reminding parishioners that: "On 5th November we call to mind the happy deliverance of King James I and the Three Estates of England from the intended Massacre by the Gunpowder". So that's all right then.

The Stuart King called for a sermon to be preached on the first anniversary of the 1605 attempt at treason, and the Church of England does it still, but for us heathens we have this rhyme, today culled from the website of the Yorkshire Firework Company

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent,

To blow up King and Parliament,

Three score barrels of powder below

Poor old England to overthrow

By God's Providence he was catch'd

With a dark lantern and burning match

Holler boys, holler; make the bells ring,

Holler boys, holler: God Save the King.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Q: When is a Dearth not a Dearth ?

A: When it is a chronic, not an acute, insufficiency.

Of Men, that is. The male of the species. The necessary opposite of female. Chronic, not acute. As in: always, not just recently. The essential opposite of the female; in daily life and in the psyche. So, the insufficiency has had to be filled by alternative masculine input. Masculine input that I could relate to, however impersonal was their way of relating to life; through music, words, the visual arts.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Poet

I discovered T. E. Lawrence ( Click for T E Lawrence Society ) long before I came to Dorset, where he hid. His friends the composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, used to visit his Dorset cottage deep in the woods and would sit of an evening, listening to recorded music, as I am doing now. He is buried at Moreton in Dorset and someone, anonymously, leaves a posy of flowers on his grave for his May birthday. His effigy in his Arab robes lies quietly, stately, in Wareham church.

T. E. Lawrence (Augustus John - Tate Gallery)

My neighbour died last week. He was a male constant in my daily life, hammering away in his shed, muttering to his dog, grunting to his wife. Talking, like some men do down here*, in incomplete sentences; beginning in the middle, leaving the ending unsaid. Expecting the hearer to know dutifully what was his bidding; answering everything with "eh ?" so it had to be repeated, to give him time to formulate a reply to his/the cleverer quicker female.

(*Down here being Dorset; 'up North' they (men) have their own local variations.)

Nonetheless, he was benign. Until the frontal brain tumour, un-benign, began to take effect on his sense of right and wrong. He it was who banged on my front door one dark and quiet night at 11.10 pm, when I blogged it ( Click for Don't Panic Sally ! ) because I was frightened, because I didn't know who or why, when I dismissed the possibility of it being a neighbour and called the police. Sat in the dark blogging and waiting for my pounding heart to be slowed by beta-blockers and common sense. Was re-shaken remembering the neighbouring farmer who, I found out on holiday on Crete, was serially violent; remembered the childhood fear from father.

Why me? Why bang on my door? Because I am a woman living alone, so therefore without a man to keep her in check. So seen, by some, to be an affront to all that is right and proper in the order of things in this rural idyll. (I was rocking with some 70s rock on the telly.) Coming south to live in Dorset twenty years ago was like stepping back in time by thirty years (1985 - 30 = 1955) - and no, not to Thomas Hardy's storytime either. ( Click for Thomas Hardy Society ) I was never milk-maid material, but recognised that the place where he placed his stories, here in the Blackmore Vale, was where I found myself.

Thomas Hardy and friend at his home Max Gate, Dorchester


Another neighbouring man didn't have to look far when his wife died some years ago; there I was across the road, visible from his window, single. Obvious choice really, for him. Every time I came out of my door, it was to see him. Every time I did some work in my front garden, it was to see him. Every time I went to a village event, it was to see him. It took some carefully planned avoidance and seriously bad rudeness from me direct to his face to get through to him that, No Actually, the last thing I wanted in my life was the boring, selfish, patronising husband that my dear friend over the road had to put up with, before she died.

I am a child of the 50s, now in my fifties in the 21st century. When I was a child men were men and worked in the coal mine. It took me until about my fourth birthday to stop being afraid of growing up, because I didn't want to go down the mine, to realise that I was a different being and would grow up into being a wo/man not a man. My brain has always been too washed with testosterone, or something, that made me think too much and argue and fight, with words, and generally not fit in, thankfully, which is what got me out and away to London when all my northern friends were becoming couples and settling down, instead of thinking and reading and following, even finding, careers.

The female hormones eventually did get a look in, possibly aided by the new-fangled Pill that became readily available, if you answered the doc's questions in the right way and made up a 'hearts and flowers' story about a proper boyfriend with a proper job saving up for a proper marriage ceremony; all hearts and flowers.

So a few glorious years living in London, working with and socialising with clever, intelligent, capable men and women. Discovered sexual attraction and uncovered a desire for home-making (which I still enjoy) and baby-making (now thankfully too too old). I settled into being the sort that fitted in and had a good life and a nice wedding and produced a wonderful offspring. Then the Pill had to go because it was making me spotty and neurotic, so hubby had the snip and suddenly my hormonal balance tipped ever so slightly back to being me again, with a thinking demanding questioning brain in gear and at full tilt I wanted to go places, meet people, be someone, do things, and he didn't want me to. This picture then split

Life as a single working mother was hard financially and culturally, but time passed and I had more Me time and a few lovely encounters and one very restorative relationship but he died. Inbetweentimes I retrained, had a bad fall, and ended up with two good men in my life, both of whom I had to pay money for; the osteopath and my Jungian training analyst.

Carl Gustav Jung

And for quite some time they were the two men I most appreciated in my life. Over many years the osteopath unravelled all the old injuries and took on the imbalance and generally dizzyness in my physical body and the analyst did the same over seven years with me and my psyche. They both were in stable relationships and that was a good foundation for the professional understanding that enabled the friendship between us.

But that was when I first noticed the Dearth.

It is not deliberate on my part, I am open to new friendships and potential for relationship, but I guess the answer to 'Why the Dearth?' lies somewhere in all the above, and the fact found in another neighbour's new relationship: when he came out of mourning for a feisty rotund wife, he found himself a thin quiet blond who has the appearance of being half his age. Men !

The Dearth in my life continues. Until that imbalance rights itself, here is another favourite Dorset man, a man of letters and many languages, sometimes called the Dorset Dialect poet. ( Click for William Barnes Society ) I salute him for his love of all things Dorset every time I see him.

William Barnes - Poet - watching the people go by on Dorchester High Street

(Edwin Roscoe Mullins)

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Saturday, 13 October 2007

Growing Up

A bit of a jumble this post; after recovering from the physical and emotional load of 'There and Back Again' I have been waiting until my thoughts sorted themselves into various blog topics, but more kept piling in, so this is a bit of an off-load. And I am trying to do this at 8pm while watching the England Rugby team crucifying the national anthem. Well, bless them, its going to be a tough one, so up and at 'em boys. Who described it as "a game for ruffians, played by gentlemen" ?

First, the pic of Sally above, after who I have named myself. She was such a sweetheart, a companion for twelve difficult years, but she has been gone for just as long. My current profile picture of four year old me, sat down in a frilly frock, felt appropriate when I added it last year but no longer feels representational of where I am. I am maturing, and the fringe is growing out (from the skull surgery) and the current steroids mean I am standing and even walking a bit more. This picture will (hopefully if I get the url right) replace the younger me on my profile, but I am so much older than that picture there is little chance I will be recognised from it, even in this rural village called Dorset. And the spectacles have changed dramatically, needless to say !

Now, the big news is the weight is dropping off me, thanks to Neris and India. Those in the know will know who I am referring to. So I feel no embarrassment posting the pic of me taken more than a decade ago because although no diet on the planet can role back the ... (What a start Josh Lewsey - a THUNDEROUS try ! Yeah !! Come on Johnny .... .... oh well, five points in 2:44 minutes - nice one.) ... can role back the years, I feel tremendous confidence. Thanks Neris and India. That is all I will post on the subject for yonks, so don't ask.

Maturity. The visit up north (last visited in 1998 for my father's funeral - you may not remember, that was his last typical act, the funeral ending on the day and at the time of the eclipse) ... (I like brackets, so did Virginia Woolf, who didn't use brackets, but this stream of consciousness is a result of reading her's) ... to my mother, who I have not seen for six years or so, and who I didn't speak to for eighteen months, after her last massive betrayal of me.

(8:29 minutes and England are leading 5-3 against France)

Mother was on her best behaviour. There were a number of contributing factors: She is now in her mid-80s and a little frail. I was not staying with her (Oh I LOVE CentreParcs) so she had no opportunity to have control over me, in those small devastating ways of hers. Also, in order to make the trip (250 miles) and be safe away from home and home helps, my PA did the driving and stayed with me for the week, so she accompanied me most of the time I spent with my mother. So mother was on her best behaviour, with only a few small slips.

(Prince Harry looking a bit nervous in the stands watching the line out ... its ok Hal, still 5:3 to England.)

So, I was able to a 'good-enough' daughter to my mother. We have been friendlier to each other during the last year or so on the phone, and during the visit I felt genuine affection for her, which is the appropriate place to be in when one's mother may be slowly coming to the end of her days. That she feels less of the need to put up barriers and fight, (with everyone, not only me) and is able to expand into herself since my father's death, was at least a 50% contributing factor. She opened up about family history, where in the past she has kept it to herself as if it had a value she was not prepared to give away.

(bugger, 17:53, Eng 5 Fra 6)

On the last night of our stay, I had what Jung would call a 'big dream'; a dream that showed there had been a massive shift in the unconscious psyche, making unconscious contents conscious. That is what psychodynamic psychotherapy teaches - the psyche's own dynamic at work. The big dream is too symbolic to make any sense as a reported dream story here, but it was about pulling in more positive anima into my consciousness, allowing the feminine to be integrated; not needing to be quite so animus driven to protect myself against the negative feminine, when that anima is coloured by a female's first experience, her mother. Who most definitely was not a 'good enough' mother. So, I am maturing - (about bloody time I hear the Freudian super-ego commenting).

So, after the swop of pics this replacement profile pic will reflect the optimism I feel. The current optimism is not, I am pretty confident, only a result of the steroids. A side effect of big steroid doses is more firing of the brain synapses, so I have to prepare myself for the crash that comes as the steroids leave my system some ten weeks or so afterwards. 120 mg in my butt lasts a long time.

( ... "Johny Wilkinson needs to be at his immaculate best at the moment" - so come on, stop missing the goal !!)

So, steroids and no WAV for a week (oh dear, more later) meant all that energy was used in clearing the garden ... well, steroids and some new light-weight high tech ratchet loppers - instead of tidying up the overgrown shrubs around the front door and windows, I just cut them off where I could reach from the wheelchair. Dramatic size reduction in the garden too !!! Very therapeutic. No vehicle to take the chopped off branches away, so I used them to stuff in the front hedge. Got you, you little b.....d cats, who sit in the hedge, waiting for the birds to settle into swiping distance. I saw the two neighbouring cats actually walk round from the road-side front of the hedge, up my drive and along the garden side of my hedge, to have a look at why they could no longer take that short cut into my garden, or find the gaps they used to sit in wait from. Truly, I do like cats. I had one years ago, a huge ginger stripped old lady who came to live with me, unbidden, and keep me company when I was pregnant. Twenty eight years ago! I like cats I know, who have chosen to make friends with me. I hate the cats who diminish song birds in my garden.

( ... its still 5:6 and approaching half time ...)

Whether its the steroids (which undoubtedly do lift the mood) or part of the maturing process that allows me to relax about the Dragons at Dorset County Council, I don't know but, despite the six months that have passed since I asked the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate DCC Social Service's five year delay in providing wheelchair accessible adaptations to my home, I am not worried, anxious or concerned about that process. It is out of my hands now. The Ombudsman will decide. And eventually let me know what he has decided. I'm waiting on the Ombudsman finding maladministration and injustice arising from that maladministration. Fingers crossed.

What I have learned from the Ombudsman process, is that those in authority at the local authority are not necessarily more competent, intelligent, informed or capable, than I am. They may be incompetent, uneducated, ignorant, incapable, yet still have jobs that determine the quality of life of disabled people. Now, that IS maturity. Maturing from expecting the 'grown ups' to sort it out. Maturing from expecting the service providers to look after me, as a child expects the parents to put its needs first, before their own. Learning from this long five year process of delays, that I have to put my needs first, not be afraid of demanding what I need. Not being understanding of why they have not supported me, advocated for me, ensured my eligible assessed needs are met in a timely way, despite their bosses demands that The Budget is the most important factor.

Last week I had a meeting with my DCC Social Worker, (who is capable, intelligent and qualified) and a Finance dept. lady from DCC Exchequer Services for a Fairer Charging Assessment. Fairer to who ! is the obvious response. To determine if I am liable to pay a charge to DCC for the home care (home helps) and day care (personal assistants for a socially inclusive life) services I receive. Bear in mind I am dependent on means tested benefits and currently nursing a little overdraft at the bank.

(48:13 minutes - Eng 8 France 9, missed it, how did they do that?)

It was a positive meeting, in that it was fair and followed government guidelines and gave me the opportunity to let off steam about a few things: when the Finance lady explained that if I had any queries about my benefits, she could look into it for me, I was gob-smacked. Does that mean instead of interminable waits on the end of the phone, or gobbledegook replies from the Department for Work and Pensions (the old D of Social Security) to my letters, I can just email you ? Yes. And you can access 'the system' and sort it out ? Yes, we have a partnership agreement to provide this service. Since when, I asked ? Since two years ago. .... Erm, why didn't I know about this. How are service users told about this service from DCC. That is such a helpful service. How have you publicised it to service users ? Er, we haven't. We can't. We have over 2,000 service users and if they all contacted us we would spend all our time answering emails.

Now, just wait a minute here. (said I) Are you saying that DCC have entered into a formal partnership agreement with the DWP and get central government funding to provide this partnership service to service users, but you are not telling service users ? (I didn't wait for her reply; she did look very uncomfortable.) You have to tell your bosses that they need to give your department the resources to provide this service to all DCC social services service users and tell the service users about it so they can ask for it. Your bosses are getting the money from central government for this partnership with DWP but you they are not providing the service ? ! ? ! Am I the only one to think of this ? Why do I have to be the one to point these things out. You have to look after me, what is going to happen to me in 5, 10, 15 years time when I am too tired or too ill to recognise these failings or do anything about them, like I am telling you now. What is going to happen to me when I cannot do it anymore if you are not going to look after the interests of me and other service users. Non-committal silence, significant respectful understanding looks exchanged between the three of us, but nothing said.

(... there's more ....)

At the end of an exhausting but fairly positive two hours .... "I just need you to sign this form Ms Sally ..." Three statements on the form I was asked to sign. Tick one, tick two, hang on a minutes, I am not signing that last one. It says: I undertake to pay DCC any Charge I may be assessed as eligible to pay (or words to that effect). I am not signing that; how can I sign that statement until I know what the result of the assessment is. And another thing ... If I am assessed as having to pay a charge I will appeal the decision. Hasn't any one else spotted this flaw in the form. You cannot ask anyone to sign that statement. Anyone has the right to appeal a Fairer Charging decision, so it is wrong to ask them to state that they will pay the charge before they know what the charge is. I am telling you now, because your bosses who designed and worded this form obviously don't understand service users' rights, that this is wrong and you are wrong to ask service users to sign the statements, without telling them they have the right to appeal any Fairer Charging decision. I am tired of being the one that points out the wrong things that DCC social services keep doing. I need looking after. I need you professional DCC social service employees to look after your service users. Now I am very tired, emotionally exhausted and I am going to cry. And I did. !!!

And that was a very mature thing to do in the circumstances. I did not let them off from their responsibility to this service user, their duty of care. Whether it will have any effect, create any ripples up the hierarchy, I don't know, but they know that I know that they know that the Local Government Ombudsman is creating a bit of a stir at County Hall.

(70:55 minutes, still Eng 8 Fra 9 - Andy Gomarsall, scrum half, needing a bit of attention, and he gets it ... and is looked after and has his needs met, and there is a parallel in there somewhere.)

( 73:59 Penalty - " dangerous tackle - takes it high - not malicious, come on Johny .. .. .. ..
deep breaths" (says the commentator) " England go in front ! And its Doctor Wilkinson !!!"
Only 5 minutes to go.)

77:40 minutes, Wilkinson ..... Oh yes, " no anaesthetic now for the French" .... Eng 14 Fra 9 ... Commentator gleefully - "they're nearly there!"

Prince Harry must be bursting up there - away from the cameras.

(... but not from the newshounds - msn uk news)

Proud England, not without a fight, despondent French ... swelling song ... " Swing Low Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home".

There is encouragement in that.

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