Sunday, 21 October 2007
I think I said the other day that I was getting fairly tired - it's been a very busy few months. Well, at the end of this week's teaching, I picked up my glass and took a sip of water. Someone asked me a question, and I opened my mouth to answer it - having forgotten to swallow the water first. Dribbling down your chin just isn't a professional look...
So I'm off on holiday today - I'm hoping to have internet access while I'm gone, but if not, I'll see you in about 10 days. Hopefully my brain will be functioning again by the time I get back.
Friday, 19 October 2007
Yesterday she was confronted with the evidence that she had not been confining her drawing to the paper. Her arms were covered in red ink from a marker pen, and she had drawn various pictures stretching from her wrist to her elbow.
My sister said, "How many times have I told you that you're to draw on the paper and not on your arms?"
My niece looked down at her highly-decorated arm, shrugged and said, "Oh well, these things happen."
I went over to see them yesterday with a party hat and a 'Happy 1st Birthday' helium balloon. Her 3-year-old sister's eyes lit up covetously, and she said, "She won't wear that hat, you know."
To prove her point, she manhandled her little sister, got her in a headlock, crammed the hat down on her head and pinged the elastic under her chin. The moment she had managed to wriggle away, the baby tugged at the hat and pulled it off.
"You see," said her big sister, in tones of great wisdom. "I knew she wouldn't wear it. But don't worry. I'll wear it instead."
I can't remember how she managed to take possession of the balloon as well, but I think I've been well and truly ambushed...
Thursday, 18 October 2007
The test involved jumping in at the deep end and then swimming eight lengths of the pool. I was a slow swimmer, but could plod along for hours if I chose to - and that day, I did choose to. Having done my eight lengths, I kept going, and didn't get out until I'd swum 100 lengths.
On hearing about my 100 lengths, my second brother had to go down to the pool and beat my record. He has always been very sporty and competitive and was a strong swimmer. He set off like a bat out of Hell, and after about 60 lengths he was flagging. Fortunately for him, at that point everyone was required to get out of the pool for some sort of routine maintenance, and having caught his breath, he got back in and did another 60. That 120 lengths tested him to his absolute limit.
The next day, I went down to the pool again. In my slow, plodding way - a girlie breaststroke in which I failed ever to put my face in the water - I knocked off 123 lengths. When I got out of the pool, my lips were blue, but I was deeply satisfied with my achievement.
My mother wouldn't let my brother try again - she knew how competitive we both were, and how unwilling to admit defeat, and my brother had really struggled to complete his 120 lengths. She put an end to the competition before one of us drowned rather than give in to the other.
The memory of this long, pointless swim has stood me in good stead many times in life. I know I'll never be the fastest or the best at anything I try. But I also know that, like the tortoise in Aesop's fable, I'll plod along until I complete whatever I've started.
This time last year, I was training for a marathon. I was overweight and unfit, and when I started training, I had never run more than half a mile in my life.
I completed the marathon in a little over six and a half hours. I walked most of the last six miles, and even when I was running, I was so slow that I was being overtaken by walkers. But I completed the 26.2 mile course within the time allotted (the course closed after eight hours), and I got exactly the same finisher's medal and t-shirt as the super-sporty people who finished in half the time.
My mother always tried to teach us that talent and knowledge alone are not enough to make a person successful, and that what you really need in life is application.
As a teacher, I've absorbed that lesson. I'll give hours of my time to a student who is prepared to follow advice and put in the effort needed to pass their exams, and I'll do everything in my power to try to help them to succeed.
But at the moment I'm frustrated. I have one student who is failing. My colleagues and I have given this person endless amounts of time, energy, concern and sympathy. In return, we get lies, excuses and missed deadlines.
Maybe it's time to chuck her in the pool and tell her to start swimming.
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Over the next two weeks, my parents will be visiting one of my brothers in the US, I'll be visiting another brother in South Africa, my youngest sister will be coming back from her travels in Europe and will probably end up living in my house for a while, I'll be spending two days babysitting my nieces before leaving for South Africa, and numerous e-mails, phone calls and text messages will be exchanged around the family. We'll also be celebrating the birthdays of one of my brothers, one of my nephews and two of my nieces and the baptism of another of my nephews. There's never a dull moment in a family like ours.
And the thing is, a loving family can't help attracting more people to it. When my Nigerian friend lost her own father, she adopted mine. Several other friends of various members of the family have unofficially adopted one or other or both of my parents.
When each of us has married, the entire family of the spouse has been absorbed as well. So tonight I had dinner with my sister-in-law's two sisters, and whenever I'm in the US I see or speak to my other sister-in-law's siblings. And over the course of dinner, I took a phone call from a godson of my father's (no blood relation), who is going through a hard time and phoned to talk through it with me.
The greatest gift that you get from being part of a large, loving family is the knowledge that there's always room for one more person, and always time for one more person, and that making that room and giving that time is one of the most important things you can do. Being part of a large family teaches you that any investment in a relationship will be rewarded a thousand times over, and that people and relationships are more important than money and power.
I'm exhausted tonight. I taught all day, then rushed home to give the house a quick clean and cook a special meal. As soon as we sat down to eat, the phone rang, and by the time I got off the phone, my food was cold and everyone else had finished - but they enjoyed the meal, had a good time, and appreciated why I needed to take the call and not put him off till a more convenient time. Despite everything, I've had a satisfying evening, and I feel truly blessed. I love my extended 'African' family.
Sunday, 14 October 2007
When I lived there, I often complained about the noise level, the number of people who arrived late, the aura of chaos that often seemed to descend whenever there was a 'special' Mass - a First Communion, Easter or Christmas vigil, visit from some group or other...
It's true that the church is often chaotic, and that we used to be driven mad by the use of 'African time' by members of the choir, which meant that choir practice could never start on time. But you know what? The reason they were working to 'African time' is because they're African. And they're the ones who were running the Legion of Mary, turning up week after week (albeit late) for choir practice, producing huge cauldrons of food for the parish socials, and volunteering for all the little things that make parish life tick over.
They would bring their families to Mass, and their children would invariably be beautifully dressed - as would the parents.
They brought to the parish the African habit of celebrating the feast of Mary, Mother of God with a Mass at midnight on 1 January - the perfect way to bring in the New Year, and one which I will miss in my new parish (unless they do it here too...?).
I noticed a family in front of me this morning, all of them bowing deeply and reverently whenever the priest said the name of Jesus. It reminded me that this was the first parish I ever lived in where you could actually see the entire congregation bow during the Creed.
Immigration brings new life to the Church here in the UK - Irish people (including my grandparents and New Man's parents - yes, I suppose I must declare a vested interest in immigration), Africans, Sri Lankans and Poles in particular have been absorbed into parish life in large numbers, and each brought gifts of simple but profound faith which were sometimes at odds with the 'sophisticated' English Church.
As I watched people leave after Mass today, I realised how much I learnt from this community in the ten years that I lived there - about showing reverence in small, simple ways, about never being ashamed to let people know that I believe, about generosity of spirit and cheerfulness in the face of adversity, and above all, about what a great gift immigration has been and continues to be for the Catholic Church in this country.
I'm not saying I'm entirely responsible for the results this team are getting. I mean, obviously the 15 men who are actually on the pitch play their part as well. But let's just say that throughout this world cup, every time I've been watching it's gone disastrously for England. I watched the whole match against South Africa in the group stages, when England lost 36-0. And I didn't watch a single minute of England's win against Australia last weekend.
Tonight, I started trying to watch. Josh Lewsey scored a brilliant try in the second minute (the fastest try in world cup semi-final history, I believe), and I thought the jinx might have ended. But when England went behind 6-5, New Man banished me from the room. He had the telly on loud enough that I could hear some of what went on, and about 70 seconds before the final whistle, I knew England were ahead and set off back downstairs.
As soon as he heard me, New Man snapped, "Get back upstairs NOW!" As he explained afterwards, France were in an attacking position, and 70 seconds is 70 seconds. I mean, look what happened in the Six Nations this year - first France scored a last-minute try against Ireland to beat them at Croke Park in February, and then France scored a last-minute try against Scotland to win the Six Nations championship on points difference. And who were England playing today? France.
I immediately retreated - and the French player dropped the ball. And England won the match.
So as I said, next Friday the England team can rest assured that once again, I shall do everything in my power to avoid watching the match.
Saturday, 13 October 2007
This morning I thought of a brilliant idea for a post. It was an angle on something that I'd never seen before, and I was sure a lot of people would have agreed with it. As I stood in the shower, I thought about exactly how I would phrase it.
As the shampoo disappeared down the drain, I realised that I would have to put a disclaimer at the beginning of this post. Despite the fact that my intention was not at all to upset anyone, there was a possibility that some people might be offended at what I wrote. I restarted the post in my head, with the words, "I hope this doesn't offend anyone."
Then I realised that if I need to say that, I don't want to write that sort of post. I know I've written things in the past that have offended people, and I've no doubt I will in the future, because different people have different sensibilities and different life experiences.
But this isn't consciously that sort of blog. I don't set out to stir up controversy, to act as devil's advocate or to start a debate. There are plenty of other blogs out there which do have that aim, if people want to be shocked or challenged. Any post that needs to start with a disclaimer is a post which I don't need to write.
So I'm sorry, but this morning's post will not be seeing the light of day. You'll have to wait until I think of something nicer to say...
Friday, 12 October 2007
Thursday, 11 October 2007
At some stage during the night, I was chatting with a colleague, and he offered to teach it for me. He was quite insistent, saying that he was really interested in the subject and would love the opportunity to practise it a bit. He didn't even want a copy of my notes, as he said he knew the topic inside out. Eventually, I was persuaded and accepted his offer, as I still have quite a bit of preparation to do for next week's course (on a completely different topic).
If nothing else, the fact that he offered to do it without seeing my notes should have alerted me that it was a dream - but it was so real and vivid that when my alarm went off this morning, I turned it off, rolled over and went back to sleep.
Good job I set more than one alarm and was a bit more compos mentis when the second one went off, or I'd never have made it to the class in time. But as I'm teaching again tomorrow, I think I'd better have an early night...
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
Public voting is open until midnight on 28 October.
H/T Red Cardigan
Colleen's Green Grass
Gem of the Ocean
Shoved To Them
View From The Pews
Also, Florida Wife has a new blog, the Roving Medievalist has moved again to here, and Jen of Et Tu has a new blog in which she posts links to interesting posts she has read.
With all that lot to check out, you don't need me to post anything else today...
Tuesday, 9 October 2007
He doesn't ask for much, does he? I mean, I know the theory. I try to be generous, to do things for others, to give up my time, energy and other resources when they're needed, and on the whole, I do it willingly.
Monday, 8 October 2007
Sunday, 7 October 2007
I printed off messages from other members of the family who couldn't be with us and some family photos, and a couple of my aunts also brought photos of my grandmother to go on the walls with them. We drank to Granny's memory, many stories about her were exchanged, and there was a lot of laughter and fun.
This morning, my niece went to get into the car and found that her car seat was missing.
"Daddy, where's my seat?" she asked.
Her father explained that one of my aunts had travelled home from the party in the car last night (my nieces were already in bed back at the hotel, with my mother). He said, "I had to move your seat, because Great-Aunt X was sitting there."
My niece thought for a while about the implications of her seat being moved. Usually, there are only two reasons for this to happen - if it has been put in someone else's car so she can travel with them, or if the cover needs to be cleaned. She knew she hadn't been travelling with anyone else since arriving at the party.
Light dawned, and she asked in her piercing 3-year-old voice: "Did she wee in it?"
Saturday, 6 October 2007
I'm guessing you'll score higher than me on this one...
Friday, 5 October 2007
Then my brother produced the clincher - the point with which there could be no argument, the absolute winning statement: "Well, my Daddy can make black fried eggs!"
The story tells you most of what you need to know about my father - his children adore him and are inordinately proud of him, he enjoys being around his children, he loves telling a good story, and he's humble enough to tell that story even if it's against himself. I have to tell you, though, that it's years since he made a black fried egg, and he's actually quite a good cook these days.
He has always been a family man - although his job took him away from us for long periods of time when we were growing up, he kept in touch by sending us recordings of his voice that we would listen to until the tape was practically worn out, sending each of us postcards with pictures of the places he was working in long before we could read, and exchanging long and newsy letters with my mother.
A few years ago he said, "You know, I always thought I loved children per se. I don't think that's true. It's my own children and grandchildren I love." He has a very special relationship with his grandchildren, who all adore him. His sons look up to him and see him as a role model. His daughters love him and seek his advice on everything in life.
Our friends love him too, because he's always welcomed them to his home and made them feel special. One of my friends "adopted" him as her surrogate father after her own father died, and he always asks after her and refers to her as "my other daughter".
My father can't stand carrots. I only discovered this comparatively recently - for over twenty years, as his children grew up, my father regularly ate carrots without complaining whenever my mother served them up (probably about once a week), so that we would grow up unfussy eaters. I could give you so many examples of sacrifices both big and small that he made uncomplainingly to give us a happy and secure childhood and help us begin to make our way in the world.
We always tease my father about the songs he sang to us at bedtime, and continues to sing to my nephews and nieces. He doesn't always have a good handle on the tune, and hardly ever knows the words - but we still love hearing his gentle, loving voice as he sings the old familiar songs. And we sing them the way he did, with "la la la" and "dum di dum" in all the same places, because we learnt them from him.
There's one song he never got wrong, though - our special little song which he would sing just for me: "Darling, darling, sweet Elizabeth, say you'll be mine, for ever be mine." The answer was always yes - and it always will be.
Thursday, 4 October 2007
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
I'd just like to defend myself against the charge of republicanism. I am a loyal subject of Her Majesty the Queen, and not some left-wing rabble-rouser. Honestly, if we didn't have the queen, who would be our head of state? Tony Bleurgh?
After their marriage, my grandparents came over to England and settled in Lancashire, where they brought up their seven children. They had high and low points, and through them all Granny prayed for her family. She was particularly devoted to Our Lady, and when there was an illness or other crisis in the family she would often 'bribe' Heaven with the promise of a daily rosary for the rest of her life if her prayers were answered. By the time she was in her 90s, most of her spare time was taken up with praying the rosary.
When I was growing up, every time there was an exam, an illness, a new baby, or anything else going on in the family, the person concerned would receive a card from the nuns of the Cen.acle Cru.sade of Prayer, saying that Granny had enrolled them in the Crusade and the nuns would be praying for success in their exam, a speedy recovery, the health of the new mother and baby, or whatever. With seven children, 22 grandchildren and increasing numbers of great-grandchildren, Granny kept the nuns busy.
Granny was tiny - a key stage for each of us in growing up was when we overtook Granny in height, and it usually happened around the age of 10. But she was strong, firm and loving. She only ever smacked three of her grandchildren - and as my mother never ceases to remind me, I was one of the three (clearly a case of mistaken identity, I believe).
Having nursed my grandfather through Alzheimer's, Granny survived him by almost 20 years. We all thought she would live for ever - she would always say, "I'll just hang on until the next baby's born", and there was always another baby on the way somewhere in the family. My mother prepared a family tree for my grandparents for their Golden Wedding anniversary - a picture of a tree with my grandparents at the roots and all their descendants branching off the trunk. Every so often, she would update it, and there were always several new members of the family to add to the tree.
By the time she died at the age of 97, Granny was survived by six of her seven children (all still married to their original spouses), 22 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Since then, several more have been added to the family, and her latest great-great-grandson was born two weeks ago in Australia.
Her descendants have lived in Australia, the US, South Africa, China, France, Germany, Holland, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Romania, Chile, Oman, Belize, Ireland and the UK. Most are practising Catholics, and all have inherited from her an appreciation of the importance of family and a love for their own extended family.
This weekend, 30 or 40 of her descendants will be getting together for a party to celebrate Granny's 100th birthday. One of my cousins can't make it to the party, but he'll be visiting her grave and putting birthday flowers on it from all of us. Granny loved a good party and was devoted to her family, and I know she'll be there in spirit and loving every minute of it.
Monday, 1 October 2007
"Mathetes is the Greek word for disciple, and the role of the disciple (per the Great Commission) is to make more disciples. I'd like to take the opportunity to award five other bloggers with this award and badge for acting in the role of a disciple of Christ. These five all share the message in their own creative ways, and I admire them all for what they do.
In the spirit of this award, the rules are simple. Winners of this award must pick five other "disciples" to pass it on to. As you pass it on, I just ask that you mention and provide links for (1) this post as the originator of the award (Dan King of management by God), (2) the person that awarded it to you, and then (3) name and sites of the five that you believe are fulfilling the role of a disciple of Christ.
If you know of other deserving recipients of this award, and would like to start a new string, then please post a link to where you've started in in the comments to this post. I would love for many deserving bloggers to be blessed with this recognition."
I'm sure I don't deserve this, but I'm very flattered. I hope I can live up to it...
I'd like to give it to Esther and Mac, but they already have it. That means I get to choose seven people - here are the other five: