Reading…

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Books have always been my escape… While mother battled her demons with noise and fury,  I ran across the road to the silent coolness of the village church opposite, and read. It was a safe haven, as were the books.

It’s why this painting, in its reclaimed wooden, gothic arch frame is so precious to me… it IS me (although I’m blonde, not brunette). Lost in an Enid Blyton adventure, borrowed from the mobile library, I was in another world, where no one shouted, no one screamed or threw things.

Being a reader is who I am, all I remember being from a very early age, which is why losing the ability to read after the stroke was THE cruellest blow. I didn’t mind the paralysis on my right side (I’ve never much liked my body, anyway), but to NOT read?! Who was I, if I couldn’t read? I was a non-person. I certainly wasn’t ME!

So the long, hard hours looking at pages with these black squiggles, which I knew meant something – if only they’d stay static long enough for me to figure out what it was – gave me an insight into just how complicated reading actually is. These marks are words, we say. We show c a t, and say the word ‘cat’, and expect the non-reader to make the connection…

At least I knew it to be true – that these marks on a page mean something – after reading for over 40 years (the stroke hit when I was 43), but non-readers have to trust that you’re telling the truth… And once they accept that, they have to deciper these strange squiggles and marry the shape with the sound. Believe me, it’s enough to give serious brain-ache and lead to deep frustration when the connection isn’t obvious!

Even now, 11 years later, I have to practise – certainly if I’m reading aloud to a gathering – to give my brain time to see the mark on the page, to say it silently in my head, then to form the sound in my mouth, then say it out loud…

Indeed, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but we need nurture and care and patience – that is to say, love – to become all we can be.

May we always remember this!

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Painting from here
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Here I am…

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Here I am, about seven or eight years old… It’s the summer holidays, and I’m wandering over the fields down to the village cricket ground. I walk with both arms outstretched so I can touch the tops of the tall grasses that line the pathway.

I clamber over the stile, pausing to listen… the birds, the nearby stream, the soft rustle of some creature in the undergrowth… I love it down here, I am in splendid isolation, but definitely I am not alone.

I jump from the stile, and run over the white boundary line, and flop down on the warm freshly mown grass. I close my eyes, I feel the sun on my face, I cannot help smiling – I love it here, when there are no other people around.

I open my eyes, and watch the few clouds lazily drift by, high in the blue sky. Again, my arms are outstretched, fingers splayed, feeling the stubbly, but gentle, grass along the sides of each finger. And oh, the smell! The intoxicating fresh, vibrant, green smell… I close my eyes again to listen… the music of the leaves in the tops of the trees. I know there must be a breeze, to make the leaves rustle so, but down here on the grass, there is no breeze at all – just a warm, soft stillness.

I push my whole body down in to the ground… I am part of this earth, I am part of this sky, I am part of the air, I can feel the blood in my veins flowing like the nearby stream. I am here, I am safe, I am held.

This memory is so vivid, it is beyond time, it is deep in my bones, an essential part of Who I Am.

When I was strapped down in the CT scanner, after the stroke – alone, frightened, confused – this is where I went… to this moment, to this part of Me,  and it was OK… I was safe. Whatever had happened in my brain to rob me of speech and movement in half my body, whatever was happening inside this machinery, I was not alone. I was held, I was safe – just as I had been over 45 years before.

Sometimes…

… you hear music that speaks into your longing…

Yes, often, it’s unsung music – classical, instrumental – but sometimes, a vocalist, a poet, reaches deep, deep down – Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Damien Rice – and now this singer…

I ‘found’ her at the weekend, on Youtube, pouring cooling balm on my too-hot body (this exhausting UK heatwave shows no sign of abating…), singing at her piano, accompanied by a cellist and a violinist, a magical company of gifted, life-giving women. And I was blessed! 

So…

… where to begin on these pristine pages? On the lined page, a poem describing the joy of raindrops finally falling after weeks of empty promises? On the blank page, a coloured sketch of the parched, brown grass in the back garden sucking up the moisture?

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Or maybe a simple WELCOME to this fresh, clean space where I’ll be sharing something of my quiet passions as mentioned in the About page, whenever the mood takes me…

But right now, Sleep is tugging at my sleeve, telling me it’s well past my bed-time, and we have a busy weekend ahead, so I’d better be sensible, and heed her call…

Night, night.

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