Meditating with House Plants

Wow! This sounds dreary… but it’s not… it’s cosmic. Whenever you feel close to the point of screaming — taking on the horror of the news— listening to the arguments of all sorts of people, arguing in an argumentative way— hearing about acts of ugliness elsewhere in the world… just take yourself off and meditate with the plants. Trees will do, but they are difficult to get in the house; plants are usually more accessible. It has fallen to me to look after the plants in this house, while the more experienced and knowledgeable gardeners lay claim to the gardens in the front and back, and on the roof.

The roof terrace. I’m not allowed to plant anything here, but I do enjoy it every day.

I think the feeling may be that I am not to be trusted in the open, and they may be right. It’s true to say, my family has a lot more gardening experience than me. So, let’s get back to meditating with houseplants. First of all, I do believe in the loving power of a plant in the bedroom; it’s particularly nice if it’s visible when you go to sleep or wake up. It’s like a fairy or an angel keeping an eye on you as you snooze. In the morning a plant will greet you with an air of calm and peace, and it doesn’t answer back or demand to be fed. If you feel relaxed, your mind might drift off to other lands where this plant has been in a previous life. Just think about it, plants and their leafy relatives have been everywhere — exquisite ornamental gardens in sunny climes, formal gardens, wild gardens, dingles and dells and fabulous jungles occupied by exotic flora and fauna.

The plants that wake me up in the morning

One can also meditate as one waters the plants, and it’s a good idea to talk to them as well. They are very responsive to a loving conversation, and unquestionably flourish when spoken to. My plants grow particularly enthusiastically when addressed in a loving way.

It’s quite easy to get lost in the foliage of plants. One can easily imagine oneself poised on a leaf or sitting on the top of a rubber plant. Many of my plants have acquired personalities attributed to them from their origins, as gifts, or in the light of their popularity. My sister, who died 11 years ago gave me a rubber plant. It was tiny and grew as rubber plants do, becoming a giant tree-like thing. I gave it to a friend who had a conservatory, but it was a mistake. She killed it;  luckily a leaf fell off as I was taking the plant off to the plant-killer, and I propagated that fallen leaf… and now have two magnificent rubber plants, one in the bedroom, one in the bathroom, reminding me that death has no dominion. I also have some other plants, that are sometimes memorable, special and even contentious.

Carol Kirkwood’s money plant aka crassula ovata

I have a wonderful money plant given to me by the wonderful weather girl, Carol Kirkwood, and a great many spider plants, that are held in utter contempt by my family, and my neighbour, who says that they are dated boring plants of the 70s… which may be true. But I love them, they remind me of cascading waterfalls, and apparently, they are very powerful when it comes to absorbing all sorts of toxic stuff in the air.

Spider plant, a lovely thing but not popular in my house

Plants are gentle, calming and inspirational. One can use them as a starting point for a meditation in many ways and we don’t always need to eat them. Sometimes they are just perfect as companions, keeping us company.

For the Love of Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a 55-year-old child going on 2,000. His mother, Auntie BBC, is a crumpled, cramped, neurotic old fart who was born on the 18th October 1922, which means that it will be her 96thbirthday this week. For many a moon, Auntie lumbered along under the guidance of white Anglo-Saxon men from public schools in high office until suddenly the real world hit her, very hard, and rightly so. And that little knock proved to be a very good thing. The doors of Auntie Beeb’s abode were prised open, making those dull, white middle-aged controllers wheeze and choke on the fresh air provided by a great wave of unexpected talent that came from women, gays, people of ethnicity and others… and we started, very slowly to witness a bit of a change for the best. Yes indeedy, Doctor Who is the child of the awful old crone that we revere – the Auntie who had good stuff but also allowed  Eldorado to appear on our screens, and series as bizarre as Help Me Anthea, I’m Infested, starring Anthea Turner and an exterminator (along with sundry mice, rats, moles and cockroaches).

But Doctor Who was of another order. Doctor Who was and is great, and I have watched it since I entered my teens, from the time when it appeared in black and white, starring William Hartnell through to the glory years of Tom Baker in 1974. Tom Baker was, of course, the greatest incarnation of them all. By the time Tom Baker appeared I was in my 20s, but I still loved my mummy sooo much for knitting me the Doctor’s stripey scarf for Christmas. It was a very special present. It was a sad day when Tom Baker went… I found it tricky to even accept the Doctors portrayed by Peter Davison, Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy.

And years passed, and the aged Auntie (who by now had come to her senses) revived the good Doctor, and although Christopher Eccleston appeared when I was a mere babe in my fifties, it seemed exciting that such a great hero should return. And of course, David Tennant was truly wonderful, the family just loved him, and Matt Smith rather less so. I personally adored Peter Capaldi, but some of the episodes seem to leave much to be desired, and a certain tiredness crept into some of the scripts… particularly the stinker concerning the Doctor repeatedly banging his head against a stone wall for thousands of years ‑ an interesting metaphor for a script writer clearly bereft of ideas.

But now great changes are in the air and afoot and around, and we have yet another incarnation of Doctor Who – Jodie Whittaker, and let’s face it, she looks very much like the best since Tom Baker and David Tennant. Sadly, I am at choir practice this evening, so I won’t be able to catch up with the latest antics of the Doctor until later tonight, but I will do so. It all looks very promising, the companions are lovely, and there is only one thing missing — I just feel a bit discombobulated until the Tardis reappears.

 

 

Felines, Fun and Funeral Readings

A warm and wonderful welcome to the Antbeat blog on this sunny day in autumn. Sad to say, the beautiful summer is fading away, and also sad to say my blog does not leap onto the electronic page with the regularity and wit that I would wish. I do admire those people who blog away all the time, by night and day, constantly churning out breath-taking wit and pithy remarks. But here is some news… I have launched a new website of funeral readings – called www.funeralreadings.org and I hope it will prove useful to those good people and celebrants who have had enough of Henry Scott Holland who has been telling us for the past century “What is this death but a negligible accident?” Excuse me, but this negligible accident happens to us all… so why does everyone go on using this morbid little reading all the time? Maybe there are just not enough heartfelt and varied funeral readings around.

The two latest additions to www.funeralreadings.org  took umpteen years to write, but I hope they are a touch fresher than “Death is Nothing at All. One was inspired by a scientist who wanted a reading for his wife that reassured him that consciousness doesn’t end with death, it’s called What If,  the other is for a cat, because I know how upsetting it is to lose a pet. I am a cat person, which is OK, as Facebook and the world are awash with cats. Sadly the cat population is effectively seeing off the bird population, which is why I don’t have a cat anymore. My much-loved cat died many years ago, and I only had to think about him, and his crazy sense of fun, to appreciate how special he was. I’ve been told that the result is very sentimental, and that said I am (sadly) reminded of what Norman Mailer said about sentimentality, which is that ‘…sentimentality is the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment’ to which I can only reply that somebody, somewhere also said… ‘sentimentality is a disease you can catch from the Americans.’ If that’s the case, I reckon I watch far too much American Schlock and do too much of the music as well, so I am well and truly infected.

Anyway, sentimentality apart, here is my cat reading… and a picture of the neighbour’s cat, which is very glamorous. It is a very English cat, but I don’t know if it voted for Brexit.He keeps trying to get into our house. If only my nephew wasn’t so allergic to felines this place would be populated by zillions of neighbouring cats, but thereby hangs another tail….or tale…

Cat, Friend and Companion

Life goes with scrapes
Doors, dogs, dicey streets
Happy holidays, sad workdays
And those skipping spirits
That cannot be ignored
Padding shared paths

Laughed and loved
Soft fur, loud purr
Teased and fluffed
With fleas and stuff

Saucers, special bowls
Impatient whiskers
Wicked ways
Pawing and bluffing
Yelling for nothing
Except food

My cat was a friend
And everywhere we went
My friend went with me
Even 100 miles away
Even when freer than free
We had connection

You will understand
When I say
I lost my best friend today
A small friend
Whose dancing spirit
Has curled up
Gone to sleep
And now holds a place in my heart
Gone, just for a moment
Never forgotten, never apart

 

 

 

 

Valued and Valuable – Restriction and Respect — Aretha and her glorious music in the 1960s and beyond

In 1968 I bought Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved a Man The Way Love You’ at enormous cost. I was a student living off 10 shillings a week, and that album was priced at £1/12/6d or maybe more, a small fortune at that time. Later on, the albums went up to £1/17/6d. I don’t know how I and others like me (millions of us baby boomers) managed to get our hands on those albums — ‘Aretha Arrives’, ‘Soul 69’ and ‘Young Gifted and Black’ as well as all the other pop stuff… well, I do know, we used to do all sorts of work to get our hands on those sounds, which meant that the value of that music and its power was incalculable.  After a year of being a student in 1968 I realised that I wanted more music and more life experience and more fun, so I dropped out of undergraduate life and went to work full time… and I suspect that Aretha’s music contributed to those potent feelings about independence and adventure that drove me up and away from university.

Radio Caroline – a breath of fresh air at the time

We had been starved of pop, R & B and jazz until the late 1960s. There is no question that when you have so little, something like access to music in that way is a privilege, and its role in one’s life takes on a new meaning, which would be difficult to explain today. Music represented freedom for real. Because of trade union restrictions about playing non-live music, The BBC only started to play recorded pop music in September 1967, and that was still restricted. Before that we accessed the dicey sounds of the ever-cheerful pirate stations broadcasting off the East Coast – Radio Caroline and Wonderful Radio London (1964 to 1967) with its Fab 40. Before that we had to fight to hear the pop music and jazz we wanted to hear – we shared albums played by travelling friends, and weekly listened to the strains of Radio Luxembourg’s top 20, heard every Sunday night under the bedclothes as it faded and returned on a borrowed and cranky transistor radio.

The cranky transistor – essential for Radio Luxembourg


Today music is everywhere, and the scope and shape of that music is vast and has become underlined by the music video. We are that much poorer. The power of sound alone means that I can recall wonderful, strange and even intimate moments in my life simply by association with certain pieces of music. Music videos interfere with that poetic way of thinking. 

The power of Aretha Franklin’s soul sounds belong to me and my generation, and helped form our ideas about race, harmony, understanding and of course… respect. The Queen of Soul – that glorious girl — helped to define us all with her harmonious gifts of brilliance and beauty.

 

Love something that everybody hates? Hate something that everybody loves? I love it.

As the rain sploshed down and the prospect of sliding all the way to the allotment was rejected, I sat down with my family and watched a film. It was none other than the loudly lauded Phantom Thread. For the first two minutes we were all entranced, and then (I and everyone else in the room) started to feel both uneasy and queasy… about everything to do with this flick. Eileen, my sister in law, who is a master tailor said “Hmm that dress is not very well made, at all,” a scary comment from one who knows so much about tailoring – historical and otherwise. Eileen, who was trained by Norman Hartnell and has made clothes for many a royal being, has two companies — one an exclusive couturier wedding dress company, Qiana Bridal, the other is a specialist clothes maker for TV, film and theatre, Qiana Costumes. For TV the margins of error for historical costume don’t exist, because of the close-ups involved — so the standards of Qiana are high, very high indeed. The much-praised clothes of Phantom Thread didn’t do it for Eileen, and as far as I
was concerned, this depressing little film, was the perfect example of dicey style over vacuous substance… and yet it has been awarded five stars over, and over again!

The following night we sat down, to watch a little film called A Little Chaos which came out in 2014 and did fairly badly; the Guardian gave it one star, whilst others three. It featured Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts and Alan Rickman, who also directed it. It was one of his last films, and it was a delightful, unpretentious period drama and romance about King Louis IV and the gardens and gardeners of Versailles. I watched it because I loved Alan Rickman, and was so surprised how witty, well-filmed and elegant it was. Half-way through Eileen walked in and said – ‘Now those costumes are so good, really amazing…” It’s a good film all round… and charming.

People, the media especially, constantly tell me what is, or is not good, and I have to admit, I dare not tell you how many recent Oscar nominations… I think… really stink.

But there is one silver lining to this little story. The DVDs of those that remain unloved go straight to the charity shop, so somebody else can either love them, or be infuriated by them… and if you want to see A little Chaos, it is currently available on BBC iPlayer, so catch it while you can.

A little number from Qiana  for Mr Selfridge…

 

Sarah West — Film-Maker Extraordinary

Sitting in the library, trying to sign up people to be interested in the Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove is an education in patience. On the other hand, the Angels in our City project made this year’s library stint seem a doddle, but three years back I found myself stuck like a lemon, as people strolled past, determined not to see the Interfaith Contact Group’s (IFCG) leaflets or posters, least of all the message we wanted to convey. They were utterly determined not to relate to anything that might make them think… a weird discovery given that people go to the library to discover stuff.

Waving leaflets for good causes led me to discover that it’s mostly creative people who are gifted with curiosity, because they’re the ones that have a real hunger to know about new things. So, three years back, while I sat ‘lemon like’ in the library, a lively woman came up to me and asked what I was doing there, and what the IFCG was. In no time, I started to tell her about the organisation, but also about myself and my own interests and passions… like death. Instantly we started to talk… endlessly… for she too had a powerful interest in the subject of death, and within seconds it was clear that the books, the ideas and the teachings of so many – from Elizabeth Kubler Ross to Sam Parnia and Pim van Lommel were also names that were familiar to her. The curious and animated person I had encountered was none other than film-maker Sarah West, and because I had been keen to find a way to get the IFCG to have its own film, I was interested to discover just what kind of film-maker Sarah was. Sarah is an ethical film-maker, from her nose to her toes.

Art is a wonderful thing, and the kind of mind that is drawn to powerful causes and seeks to reveal human nature at its most beautiful and truthful is a rare and special one.  The skill that allows people to talk for themselves is a selfless and receptive talent that is not to be found easily amongst film-makers, who usually want themselves in the frame, either indirectly or directly.  Sarah’s gifts include the technical stuff one needs to know plus the vision and insight to appreciate a world where people are seeking inspired ways to tackle serious and often frightening concerns. For all this, her vision presents a truthful and much more optimistic world than the one the media wants to drop on us right now.

The film Sarah made for the IFCG six months after I met her lies very close to my heart. It is the IFCG Interfaith Service for 2016, and this little film reveals how people were moved to tears as they attended the service; it reveals how the people of Brighton and Hove, and its Jewish community opened the doors of its synagogue and their hearts to the local Islamic, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu communities. In this way everyone shared the joy of each other’s spiritual experience. She has adjusted it many times for us (some of the people in the film have reasons to be fearful) adjustments that reveal her own patience and generosity. The number of hits it has received on YouTube is in reality far, far greater than it would appear for that reason. Being ethical is also about being compassionate.

There are zillions of wonderful causes out there that should to be revealed in all their glory by Sarah, but the one I am waiting to see is the subject I know so much and so little about — death. A great documentary that looks at a subject that fills so many of us with abject terror, needs a very special film-maker. If there is anyone out there with the power to make this film happen, please make it happen. We need this story to be explained afresh, we need the power of new technology and a documentary film-maker with the ability to tackle the greatest mystery of mysteries without fear, but with insight and integrity.

 

Links: Sarah West      Interfaith Contact Group 

 

A Funeral Reading for a Football Fan

For the past year I have been nearly killing myself trying to write a funeral reading for one who loves football. It has been truly tough. I wrote one that was called ‘How He Loved the Game” and it was so spectacularly bad that I couldn’t even bring myself to paste it into the Funerals Today website. If anybody asked for a funeral reading for a football fan, I would pull it out and then apologise… for the twit who might have written such a gruesome little thing. I think one family used it for their grandad, in desperation, because there wasn’t anything else in existence. Then the other day, some crazy words started tinkling in my brain, and it took off. I gave it a shove and a kick, and the following reading for a dear departed footer fan unfolded:

A Fantastic Football Fan

What’s with this game
That made you feel so high?
Was it your team
Your mates
The offside trap
And then that lousy shoot-out
Nearly made you cry?

What’s with this ball
That they could kick so high?
It meant the world
To you and them, so why?

It’s all about expecting
And then throwing in
It’s all about the winning
But not whining – not giving-in
The square, the short and long ball
The pals, solid as a rock
The unexpected tackle
Sudden shock

You felt the roar
And saw the lucky chip
The crossbar stopped the goal
That you were willing in

And in the end
At injury time
When you went deep and deeper
You didn’t find the goal
Or spot the sweeper

Then at the very end
When they were on their knees
You still walked tall
And like your mates
You claimed to take it all…
The penalty and the strike, your way
The win that set your heart aflame
The game, the pitch, the offside rule
The love that took your heart
Your final match at home — your ball.

The Believers Dinner Party Game

When newspapers run out of ideas to shove in their ‘lifestyle’ pages, they like to resort to dinner party games, and one of the favourites is to ask somebody — a passing fly, bat or a so-called celeb – who they would invite to their dinner party.

I was thinking about this one for myself and according to the rules of this game, you have five guests, and they can be alive or dead, so I went for a mixture of the two. I started out with Noel Coward, because of his elegant use of language, music, and wit. A beautiful and fascinating contrast, with mastery of words in a different way would be Carol Ann Duffy, our great poet laureate, whose compassion and humanity are in a class of their own. The late John O’Donohue, is undoubtedly the next one to be seated at the table; his writing, spirituality and understanding of beauty are a constant source of inspiration to me. Caroline Lucas has to be there, because she is of this world, right now. But choosing the last guest was tricky, because I want lots of people at the table – particularly all sorts of dead and delightful souls — my sister Professor Julia Briggs, Jane Austen, Bill Evans and Elizabeth Kubler Ross, to name but a few. In the end I chose Kubler Ross.

Noel Coward

Carol Ann Duffy

So why do I call this the Believers Dinner Party Game? Because all these people knew or know about belief in one way or another. The son of a piano salesman, Noel Coward only went to school for a year or two but was the epitome of literary creativity and sophistication, he said “I believe in doing what I can, in crying when I must, and in laughing when I choose”. Duffy decided to be a poet when she was 14. Apparently, John O’Donohue became famous because he believed “we should all transform our fear of death – and that would enable us to fear little else.” Caroline Lucas and I share the same beliefs when it comes to the survival of planet, and she would be a good thing at such an eclectic gathering. The great Elizabeth Kubler Ross just knew so much about life and death and lived it so courageously. She made ground-breaking changes to the way we deal with death in the West. I know this from experience, having witnessed my father’s death as a child, when nobody was allowed the dignity of knowing that they were going to die… and then, in contrast, just over 10 years ago, watching my sister die so beautifully, so elegantly and so spiritually prepared, thanks to the legacy Kubler Ross.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross

Caroline Lucas

John O’Donohue

In the Hour of Uncertainty, We Need Gardens

Today I found this poem and it reminded me, that all good people love gardens, and need gardens. This is the season of gardens. The earlier version of this poem was quite depressing, about cement, death and destruction. I am happy to say that this one is preferable, but it still turned out to be one of three or four versions, so I have lovingly input it several times. I do so hope you like it…

I See Only Gardens

I see only gardens
Old, new, famed and hidden
The Garden of Gethsemane, Eden and Babylon…

Glades where great woods
Once offered shelter for fairies and elementals — Peaseblossum, Mustardseed, Moth and Cobweb
Places loved and overlooked, past and present
Magically entwined

Today I see another garden
Where flowers blind me with colour –
Red, orange, blue and purple
And a thousand, thousand different shapes
Displayed in glory
Offering safety and splendour
for butterflies, bees and birds…
For even if there are lost gardens
This garden of now
Is enchanted and enchanting
Embroidered in faith, coloured by history
And each blossom is distinct and perfect
Each spirit powerful in nature and belief
Each life a legend told by a believer

Born out of past adventures
Now revealing beauty and delight

I see only gardens
And this most magic plot tells me
There is harmony in difference
And difference in harmony

Today we share all this
In our most special garden
Watered by wisdom
And nourished by compassion
As we stroll this path together
We can only marvel…
Knowing that it will never end
And whatever we encounter
It will always take us
To a place of eternal love.

 

 

Angels in Our City

The Angels in Our City Project is now taking off. I have to ask the angels to give me and the project a bit of a shove from time to time, hence this blog. The idea behind all this Angels stuff is to make people think about angels and think about creating an angel for Brighton and Hove, an angel that could only represent this City.  The competition we have launched is also designed to help us appreciate that angels feature strongly in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, not to mention others, like the Baha’i and the Zoroastrian.

It seems that angels were flying around long before the Abrahamic religions. They swooped into the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian and Greek traditions and played an important part in their mythologies. Possibly they have been around for as long as we thought about things in a spiritual way.

The Peace Statue

The Angel Project has been a real adventure from the start, but once it got going, it took on a life of its own, as if helped along by a few divine beings. After the idea had been mooted, myself and a couple of other executive members of the IFCG (Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove) zipped off to the Brighton Museum and put it past a curator, who loved the idea, and gave us a date for the project and competition launch – February 10th. Angel Day at Brighton Museum was a resounding success, things have never been quite the same since. Do have a look at the film on the front page of our website.

Now we need lots of people to create an angel for our City. What about you? Take a look at the IFCG website – http://interfaithcontactgroup.com