Love like Nun Other

I bought myself Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede for Christmas. I had thought Rumer Godden was a recent discovery, but now I realise I had read this book at school, and I think probably Black Narcissus as well, without remembering that they were written by Godden.

In This House of Brede is the kind of book you wish you could live inside forever. It's so rich, so wise and so fascinating - and it's about nuns! On one level, it's the story of Philippa Talbot, a successful 40-something civil servant, who turns her back on her old life to enter the abbey; and it's the story of several years in the life of the community, the incidents and accidents, the disasters and blessings that visit them.

But In This House of Brede is also an unflinching examination of community life. The ninety-six women of the abbey are all very different personalities, with different backgrounds, and they are far from perfect. They remain people - striving for holiness, working hard to help each other, but flawed, rubbing each other up the wrong way, irritating, sometimes clashing outright. Rumer Godden captures the pinpricks and rewards of life in a community where there is no escape from your companions. Dame Beatrice is sentimental, Dame Agnes sharp-tongued. Abbess Catherine is strong, but weighed down with the burdens of her office as leader. Sister Hilary is slapdash, Sister Cecily perhaps too joyous, too sure of her vocation? Dame Veronica is weak, Dame Maura rather frightening. The characters are vividly drawn, their struggles very real.

And perhaps most importantly, the book draws us into the spiritual life of the abbey - the whole purpose of the nuns' lives. They are an enclosed order, separated from the world for their work of prayer, study and song. To a non-religious person, there is something slightly surreal about the notion of all these women dedicating themselves to an endless cycle of prayer and praise, hidden away from the rest of the world. It could be argued that it's a criminal waste of their talents and energy to spend all those years sending up one-way messages to their imaginary friend... And I'm very sure that an abbey like Brede would struggle, these days, to attract several new postulants a year, as they do in the book.

And yet reading this lovely, passionate account of religious life, it's impossible not to be moved by the nuns' dedication, the rigour and the beauty of the life they've chosen. I can't help feeling that the wisdom and the peace that they earn, their work of prayer and music, does have value, even if it's difficult for a modern agnostic to understand.

Even, perhaps, if there is no God.


After School

Mum, I'm hungry.
Mum, I'm hungry.
Mum, can I have some more onion rings?
Mum, can you put this back in the fridge?
Mum, I'm hungry. Can I have an icy pole? Can you help me pull it up?
Mum, can I try that pure sugar thing [halva] again?
Mum, can I have some more onion rings? Can I have my icy pole back then?
Mum, can I have a jelly? Can you open it for me?
Can you play - can you read to me outside?
Can I have a chocolate digestive?
Can I watch You Tube on the lappy? How do you spell You Tube? How do you spell Horrible Histories?
Mummy, can you push me on the swing?
Mum, Evie's not going away!
Mummy, can you read-y?
Can you push me on the swing?
Can you peel and cut up this apple for me?
Can you tell Alice to stop watching the internet, cos it uses up too much bandwidth?
Can I have some Stingose?
Can I have some of that sugar stuff?
Can I make the lasagne? Can I make it the way I want it, not how you want it?
Can you pass me the fish oil tablets?
Can I please have some lemon cordial?
Can I have some more lasagne?
Can you push me?
What's for dessert?

Can I build a zoo?


From Argentina, With Love

I received a lovely email last week from Noel in Argentina:
I'm writing to you today to tell you that I had always wanted to plot out a Map of Tremaris to hang on my wall, so finally after some time I decided to go on with the idea. My mother and brother helped me out so it ended up being a family activity we all really enjoyed.

The image I'm attaching in this e-mail is the finished version. It's done on fabric and the actual size is about 100 cm x 160 cm.

How cool is that? I wish I had one, too!

I'm sure Beth Norling, who did the original artwork, would be proud.


Ssh... Don't Tell Anyone, But...

Alice is reading a book.

I almost don't want to talk about it in case I put the mozz on it, but... She has been reading in bed every night for the last week or so, a chapter or two at a time. It's our old favourite, The 101 Dalmations, which I have read to the girls three or four times, so it is quite familiar. She says the words aren't jumping around as much as they used to; also that the old, yellowed paper makes reading easier, because the contrast between the white space and the print is less.

Last night she had a choice between staying up to watch TV, and going to bed and reading, and she went to bed with her book. Of course, being Alice, she won't tolerate any hint of coercion. I can't tell her to go to bed and read; I can't talk about it to other people (so keep it under your hat, and please don't tell her I told you!) But at ten and a half, maybe we're turning a corner. Maybe.

All I have ever wanted for Alice is that she might be able to partake in the enormous pleasure of curling up with a book, and it has broken my heart that she hasn't been able to do that. Cross fingers - it might be here at last. The sight of her sitting in bed, absorbed in her book, makes my heart flutter with joy. And now all I can think about is, what can I give her next?


Five Jobs I Quite Enjoy
1) Hanging out the washing.
2) Wrapping Christmas presents.
3) Ironing; it just takes me a while to get started...
4) Vacuuming.
5) Proof reading.

Five Jobs I Loathe
1) Shopping for Christmas presents.
2) Dusting.
3) Making school lunches.
4) Weeding the garden.
5) Cleaning gobbets of hair and slime out of the bathroom basin.

Your favourite, and least favourite, household tasks?


2nd December

2011 (age 45)
Whole family sitting around this morning when they're supposed to be getting ready for work and school, watching 'Ra Ra Cleopatra' from Horrible Histories. We are all unwell to varying degrees, so the room resounds with coughs, sneezes and sniffles. Lovely.
2007 (age 41)
Alice: Henry and I are going to rob a bank. And it's okay, because Henry did some research and you can't go to jail until you're ten.
Evie: I'm sad. Sad plus cross. And that makes GRUMPY.
2006 (age 40)
Evie (pushing Alice off Mum's lap): Is NOT two people, is ONE people! You sit on a chair! Is ONE people! (tears)
2004 (age 38)
Mum: Don't you like kisses any more? Alice: I do sometimes but sometimes is not today. I want a different mummy and daddy who are nice. (stab me in the heart, why don't you)
2001 (age 35)
Alice rolls over and back again for the first time; very pleased with herself. Try to get her to stay up and watch educational TV about Henry VIII but she's poking her eyes out with tiredness.
2000 (age 34)
Nausea seems to be getting stronger. Threw up on Wednesday and almost did last night at the cooking smells. Bloody baby, you'd think it would want food!
1997 (age 31)
Went to kd lang with Tays, he cooked me dinner first. On the way home he said, 'Strictly for convenience, it would have been better to stay at my house,' to which I replied, 'Yes, but can you be trusted?' & he said, 'No.' Of course I was tormented all night by thoughts of what might have been, but never mind, never mind...
1996 (age 30)
Finished 'Whole of the Moon' today. Severely depressed about it... Nothing happens, it's not even interestingly written. It just goes on and on in its tedious fashion, I felt like shouting WHO CARES??? when I was reading it through today.
1992 (age 26)
The Naked Tarot
1991 (age 25)
Vienna. C and I got U-bahn to meet Mum and Dad at Franz-Joseph station - late, because our map is totally stuffed... Walked for miles and finally got into our gallery (for free) - why? Because none of the bloody paintings we wanted to see were there! Cranky. C tried to post letters and had much trouble.
1989 (age 23)
Here, in my windy garret, my little flat, my wuthering heights whose windows won't stay open, my Alcatraz in the gum trees, here I can watch the sky. I never get tired of the sky.
1987 (age 21)
Landed at Gatwick at about 7.30am. Cold, damp, foggy, green. D & I took the bus to London. Lugged our stuff from Victoria coach station past a bomb scare, Buckingham Palace, down the Mall to Nelson's Column. A flock of pigeons flew directly at us, worse than the 'The Birds'! Tried to find Youth Hostel nearby but it didn't existed... Jet lag finally hit, too tired even for shower though disgustingly dirty and smelly. 
1986 (age 20)
Still feeling miserable and funny. Did domestic things. Went to meet D at the supermarket but because the arrangement was so vague, he didn't come. Ironed B's shirts and felt motherly. C came over and cheered me up. 'Age' employment tomorrow.
1985 (age 19)
Lazy day. Had another driving lesson. Can do handbrake starts. Improving. Rang J. Bed at 1am.
1978 (age 12)
Mummy went to the dentist's. In the afternoon, K & E invited us over to swim in their pool. Mr V threw me in. K was mean to Hilly.
1977 (age 11)
I did all this week's work, and all my Tutors and Graphs. We had Clean-Up, and redecorated. I'm glad it's Friday. Weather: Gurias!!!*

*earth tremors