Funeral Reading About Laughter

One of the things that we miss most of all when somebody dies is sharing a really good laugh with them. After my sister died I recalled all sorts of crazy fun we had… from her climbing into a dress in a shop changing-room and getting stuck in it, to making me put on her giant hat in a funeral, so that it fell over my eyes, making me look like a mushroom. Thinking about the laughter we shared I wrote this, which has now become one of the most frequently used  funeral readings. Here it is:

We Will Laugh Again

It seems to me
That sometime
We will meet again
If only to share

It seems to me
That once more
We must do
Funny stuff
Silly stories shared
Whispering, lisping

We need to giggle
At the wrong moments
Parties, wakes and funerals
People dressed up weird
Hats too big
Clothes too small
And laugh out loud
Quite unexpectedly
In moments
That should be silent

We need to meet again
And smile
At silly things

The memories
Of our laughter
Make me cry
Yet this I know
That laughter
Good and strong
Its echo and its power
Doesn’t die away
And that is why
I know that
We will meet again
So we can share
Real laughter

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The Gallivant: My Mini-Holiday Starring Real People

And so I decided to find somewhere far away from the rest of the world, but close enough to be easy to get to for a couple of days. In my search I found a hotel, called The Romney Bay House Hotel which looked like a touch of sepia glamour out of an ancient magazine of yesteryear, found in a doctor’s surgery 50 years ago. It was far from anywhere, just a right-hand drive along the coast, to the further regions of East Sussex and the Romney Marsh, a barely populated corner of the country, a real contrast to Brighton. It looked suspiciously as though the bedrooms had barely made it out of 1952. It looked great. A merry trip into the land of Agatha Christie.

But it seemed that we had missed the boat. This hotel relic of another age had just been sold to another hotel, in Camber, called The Gallivant, which was busy doing up the old place. So we went to The Gallivant instead which was located in Camber on the very edge of East Sussex. Camber is about as exciting as a cold cup of tea; it’s only memorable for one of the country’s most vast and characterless sandy beaches, which goes on for mile, after mile after mile, and attracts zillions of people at the height of summer. Rye next-door, by contrast is definitely OK.

The Hotel was a big surprise. It wasn’t cheap, but few places are these days. It was just great interior-wise – very tasteful and all that – but the real charm and joy were the staff. Cursed with pancreatitis for the rest of my days plus being coeliac makes my diet choices as electrifying as a mouldy boiled potato. But the good people of The Gallivant made everything real fun. The staff were all totally engaged, from the bar staff to the chef, from the chef to the cleaner. Kindness is a special quality in the hospitality business, and a rare one. The bloke that owns and runs the place is committed to looking after his staff, and rewarding them for their work, and trust me he is an unusual and wonderful being. Ever since companies stopped using the word personnel, and replaced it with human resources, the value of people, and their importance and individuality as employees has faded into oblivion. 

The news of the Prime Minister’s dubious fate broke while we were there; it was a weird reminder of a Government that has lost sight of the 67 million humans who occupy this country, and have real needs of every possible kind. I just thank goodness for those inspired souls that respect those they employ, and work with. 

So when you go to stay in a hotel, in a land contaminated by Brexit, take pleasure in something better than a pretentious menu, more soothing than Egyptian cotton sheets… it’s the people that make it all lovely, and going to a posh hotel and meeting people who have the time and enthusiasm to be happy and enjoy what they do is a genuine privilege. 

Posh and Peaceful

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Getting it Right. Have You Met the Moment?

What have taking a photo, doing heart surgery and winning a grand slam have in common?

Have you ever experienced a moment when you knew that everything had gone right? It was what you wanted. I bet you have… most of us have had those moments, at least once. For some of us it may be the moment when we completed a tricky task – a complicated heart operation – a perfect photo – a grand slam – a delicious cake – a painted room. Whatever it is, you will recognise the moment, the moment of spiritual resonance when you “got it right”. 

This arriving at the moment is so special – it’s not the same as falling in love… it’s much closer to fulfilling a personal passion or exercising a skill.

When one trains as a hypnotherapist there’s a superb exercise where one hypnotises somebody and just says to the subject “that’s right” “that’s right” “that’s right,” over and over again. You need to do it fairly slowly, and you may change your voice and the emphasis with which you say it. It’s the most potent and beautiful exercise for both the hypnotist and the subject. Your subconscious just loves to know that you have got it right and getting it right for real is not a common occurrence, but when it happens there is a something splendid about it; witnessing that moment is also a privilege. It’s so healthy to know that we have got it right, and to be told so, and also tell oneself. We all need that feeling. 

Recognising those moments in other people or animals is something I love. I cannot help but feel that when I see a giant cat – a panther, jaguar, cheetah or lion hunting down their prey (on film) that they are in their moment of self-truth in “getting it right”. Our perception of hunting has contaminated us. Our idea of hunting is taking a bloody machine and mindlessly killing something after pointing a gun at it… but the deep experience that involves hunger, smell, taste, sight, judgement and a thousand other things including that kind of empathy one needs to have with one’s prey, are practically unknown to us. We no longer need to hunt in our world; real hunting to exist and survive bears no relationship to an idiot with a gun.

Last night I listened to a TV interview with Emma Raducanu, the English tennis player who has inspired so many young people since she won the US Open. While she was talking, it was pointed out to me that she said something that I had commented about her before. It’s her enthusiasm for Grand Slams, an enthusiasm that may be her only key to win inspirationally. The adrenalin kick, the fear, the reality of the moment which may only work for her at a vast and special occasion. The grand slam is the moment that brings her alive, that ramps up her innate skills; it’s a pleasure she may share with an elderly gentleman on an allotment who discovers that after years of trying, he has finally created a beautiful new kind of rose. Both experience the piquancy of the moment that resonates with their own unique spirit.

When I write I long to believe that I have produced a combination of words that work so perfectly as to produce the moment of recognition… but I also feel that language is a tricky thing, unless one’s name is Shakespeare, Austen or Dylan Thomas. Maybe it’s enough to keep up the optimism and keep saying “That’s right… that’s right…that’s right…” And that in itself will be enough.

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An Unexpected Prayer for the Mayor & Councillors

As of yesterday – May 26th – Brighton has a change of mayor. The outgoing mayor was Cllr Alan Robins who presided over Brighton during the pandemic and did a great job over two years.   He chose the Interfaith Contact Group (IFCG) as his chaplain and we supported him during this time in a number of ways. We held a memorial service for the 500 people in our City that died tragically during the pandemic and ran various events, including an art exhibition of photos taken during this sad time. It was also the task of the IFCG to present different faith groups to deliver prayers before Council meetings.

Yesterday was our last day as chaplain to the mayor. Rev Martin Poole and I went to the Town Hall for our final prayer session. Martin read two beautiful readings by John O’Donohue. I wrote a prayer and blessing for the mayor and the councillors. The reference to Dr Who was definitely unexpected. We were presented with a spectacular bunch of flowers as a token of appreciation. The prayer is below. 

In this hour of change
We ride a wave of uncertainty
It sometimes feels like an adventure
At other times it’s a bad trip on a clapped-out ghost train

Yet our City holds us tight
Amidst great twists and twirls of time and tide
Swept up on air, sea, wind and water
Stacking bricks, bungaroosh and mortar
Crescents, curves and minarets
We ride together
Painted in cerulean blue
Printed in nostalgic sepia
Attacked by a hungry seagull
Splashed by the kindly waves
Home to bargirl, busker and beekeeper
Refugee and poet, prince and pauper…
The wandering tourist will never know
That you fashioned the changes and the charges

And as for my pals… the bratty kids
We paddle, laugh and play
Gliding and riding along the front
While you… our custodians
Look out for us all
And knowing this I turn to you
And say thank you
For while the billionaire gambles
And the humble homeless sleep
The Council takes care of us all, day and night
And a councillor’s work is not easy

Today in this congenial chamber
I ask you to cherish our City
Caring for it like a friend
One that ages without much dignity
Wrapped in leather, tattoos and tweeds 
Dressed in purple dungarees
Unless its August
In which case it’s all the colours of the rainbow…

This is a moment of gratitude Mr Mayor
For your own brand of compassion and care
That held so many of us
During these two years of turmoil…
May your replacement be equally loved and venerated
Different and regenerated, like Dr Who
And like the good doctor
Unique throughout the cosmic universe 
For she will be the Mayor of a magic City

In closing… Let us celebrate our optimism, colour and diversity
And being the representative of the Interfaith Contact Group
I offer up best wishes to our Mayor
And thanks and blessings to our councillors
And all the people Brighton and Hove
May we always feel connected
May we always belong
And may we always welcome those that seek out
The kindness and goodwill of this, our beautiful City

Thank you

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Animals might make you feel good, but plants take you everywhere

OK… just open Facebook and take on board endless films of fluffy things, doing fluffy stuff. We all love it. I have owned fluffy things in my time, and one cat loved above all others, but plants take me somewhere else… plants take me everywhere… across the world and back again.

Today I am tending two clivia plants, which are both producing flowers. They will soon be magnificent. They came from two seeds that I took from the garden of Anna in Bondeno, near Ferrara in the Emiglia Romagna. Her lovely garden is wild and overgrown and full of leafy plants and ferns and hungry mosquitos and buddleia and heat. I put the two seeds in a soap bag and forgot about them, and when I unexpectedly discovered them, they were sad and shrivelled and dry, and looked unloved. So I potted them, and now they are massive and spectacular, and some experts might say they are big enough to split, but I say leave them and let them flower and flourish because they are magnificent.

Every plant has a story, particularly the ones that were given as gifts. The rubber plant seems a touch naughty. It was originally a gift from my sister, some 20 years ago. It got tall and taller like Jack’s beanstalk and I felt uncertain believing I couldn’t looking after it properly, so I gave it to a friend, and as she manoeuvred it out of the door, a branch fell off. I kept that branch and put it in water and it grew roots. Despite the apparent suitability of my friend’s conservatory, the original giant died, but the broken branch flourished. I trained it to grow up the walls of the bathroom, where it now dominates that space in glory, and sometimes has to be trimmed down when it gets too big for its boots, from time to time.

And what about the money plant, given to me as a teeny weeny thing many years ago, by the fabulous Carol Kirkwood? It is now vast and fine with the promise of living a very long life, and deserves to do so. It’s a succulent, and comes from the KwaZululu-Natal and Eastern Cape province of South Africa, and not from the far East, as I thought. The money or jade plant is everywhere, and popular everywhere, but when I look hard at it, I see it flourishing in the doorways of Chinese restaurants from here to Chinatown but I can also still see its modest and charming origins. There it is… growing in hot dusty lands, shining green and glorious amidst the golds and browns of dry foliage and parched earth…. There is no doubt… plants take you everywhere…

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Funerals that make Connections

Sadly, many funerals are fixed and truly dead. They are full of words repeated over and over again by priests and celebrants who do a job, and aren’t very interested in the person that died. Their prescribed words bear little relationship to the person who died… and these occasions can be the most tragic funerals of all. The joyful funerals are the ones that honour the individual to the full – they are powerful and meaningful and those attending get a genuine feeling of connection. 

If the funeral works one should imagine that the deceased attended, and enjoyed it.  Maybe they are enjoying the words of love, the music, the memories and the readings. I believe that when one gets the funeral right, whoever died, be they Buddhist, Christian, Jew or Atheist, it is the correct ceremony of departure that resonates with the person that died and the funeral attendees. That resonance is recognisable and perfect.

Funerals reveal fascinating patterns of human behaviour. The younger the person that dies, the more people that attend. Older people get families that may or may not love them, who may or may not attend but when they are there, and contribute, this can be inspirational. The death of a child is particularly tragic, because it’s about the death of potential. The death of somebody who was very popular, like a celebrity is always interesting, but equally powerful and interesting are the funerals with very few attendees. One of the most powerful funerals I have ever conducted was a Buddhist funeral that involved just me and the best friend of the deceased. His friend had a massive knowledge of Buddhism, and could speak passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead in fluent Tibetan. I found some astonishing readings and also some beautiful chants and bells and used my own Buddha to oversee the service. Although we were not allowed to burn incense, the chapel attendant overlooked the matter of lighting candles. Somehow the friend and I got it right. It seemed that the little family chapel was suddenly full of spirit, sound, love and connection. The deceased was there… but then the deceased should always be there, whatever you believe. Here’s a lovely Buddhist reading:

It is not the end of the world,
when it is the end of a life
it is the beginning of another life,
in ‘another’ world.

The best way to honour a relationship
is not by despair that it is lost,
but to be grateful for what it was worth.

It is not the end of a relationship,
when it is the end of a life;
it is but the temporal suspension of it,
till another time.

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Scammers From Hell

Congratulations!!! We wish to inform you that the UN / WORLD BANK ORGANIZATION
facilitated around-table meetings which just ended some days ago, and it has been agreed upon that compensation payment of US$8,355,000.00 should be paid to scammed victims and individuals whose Name and E-mail have been chosen through an open E-mail ballot system. Your email was included and that is why we have contacted you.

Oh man, how bird-brained do you think I am? These emails just drive me completely crazy, because they target us all, willy-nilly, particularly it seems, good trusting individuals. They dismay me so much because somebody out there is going to swallow this load of dreadful claptrap. Let’s face it… We all have a few friends who have been taken in by somebody, somewhere — on line, in the street, at their own front door, it can happen to any of us.

The problem is that those of us that become utterly sick of on-line madcap schemes, begin not to trust any kind of communication, and not trusting generally is just as sad as being over-trusting, in a different way.

As well as being offered trillions by the UN Bank, I have also been promised money by the CIA, not to mention every UK bank that exists. Also today I got an email from the very wonderful Which Scam Alert service, which I subscribe to. Which told me the Council Tax rebate scheme was one of a number of new scams, along with Fake Iceland and Morrisons pages and Facebook Posts. If I recall Covid vaccinations and testing kits have also been used as ways to wheedle money out of us all. The most terrible things about these scams is that they are using our receptivity and trust as a way to cheat us, but then, this is the mind-set of all confidence tricksters.

I have these fantasies about glorious super-powered hackers that know ways to tackle these scummy scammers – luring them on-line to a point where they witness the evil-doers rubbing their hands in glee, celebrating yet another sucker about to be taken to the cleaners… when very suddenly…. something absolutely shocking and horrible leaps out of the computer screen and bops them – shockingly and unexpectedly. It could provide a great opportunity for either a comedy or horror film. If a comedy they will get a really stinky red-nose glued to their face for a week or two… and if a horror film… well… I leave this one up to you. I just want scammers to be sent to hell in a hand-cart, in company with all those over-paid and emotionally bankrupt politicians who want to send refugees to Rwanda. And with this thought I leave you, wishing you a lovely, peaceful, jolly weekend.

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When Leadership Dissolves… Stuff Happens

There was a time when the idea of leadership was to lead, to take responsibility and to guide. Sadly this country we share, this aging empire, has not seen leadership prevail for some time. When David Cameron put the Referendum to the nation because he was afraid of Nigel Farage (a man who was not even a member of parliament) the country became the victim of a weak leader’s fear. And so the leadership of this country dissolved, and since then we have witnessed a scenario unfold revealing a leadership that has no interest in leading, no interest in the welfare of the country, no interest in anything except hanging on to power and the money that goes with power… at all costs.

         But there is an interesting upside to this. Despite the terrible decisions, the dreadful poverty and despair… many people show that they are still prepared to be law-abiding, dignified and responsible even if the leadership is a lying, double-dealing, lawless mess. The dignity of so many people is inspirational and beautiful.

         When people decide that they have had enough, they will move to remove the lawless mess, in a law-abiding way, proving that the people are better than their leaders. If they become impatient they will remove the lawless mess in a lawless and messy way, and this also could happen… 

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A Daffodil Speaks Out for the First Time

A Daffodil Speaks Out

Hi folks. With Easter and Passover and other seasonal springtime celebrations, It looks like the daffodil season is coming to an end. Or as William Wordsworth said:

Fair daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay
Until the hasting day
Has run
bla de bla

So what do the Daffodils feel about William’s words? We’ve heard the Oysters put their view in the Walrus and the Carpenter, but we’ve never heard just what the daffodils think about Wordsworth. In an attack of investigative nosiness I put the question to a fading daffodil last week and got this unexpected reply:

 “Look, we come back every year. It wouldn’t be the same if we hung around for weeks like a bad smell. Just look at the bigger picture… and tell William to stop whinging. On the other hand, if he hadn’t whinged about weeping to see us fade away, 10 trillion school kids wouldn’t have learned his tasteful poem about us… so I suppose there’s always a bright side to everything.”

And there you have it for the first time. A daffodil’s point of view. You can’t say that I don’t love you.

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A Prayer for Peace in Time of War

This evening the Dialogue Society holds its annual Iftar Dinner in The Grand Hotel. I am usually asked to read a prayer, and this time I wrote one honouring the lives lost in the Ukraine war, and elsewhere.

Join me in prayer…
In a country lane
Where bees visit sleepy lavender
The crooning blackbird is pitch perfect
And the leaves are twirling in the breeze

Join me in prayer
In a laboratory
Where the efficiency of a cluster bomb 
Is statistically evaluated
The fruits of its achievements
Are found near our country lane
Where we meet the ghosts of travellers 
Children, women and men
Muslim, Jew, Christian and Buddhist
Innocent, each and every one

Join me in prayer
And let us say together 
Stop the machinery of war
Those that make arms
Those that use them
Those that give orders to deploy them
Stop them all

This is why we pray together… now

Join me in prayer
For a world where peace
Is utterly irresistible
Where killing machines are an abomination
Where you and I hear the sound of the wind
The birdsong, the buzzing of bees in the lavender
And we know in our hearts
That our prayers have finally been answered

Thank you

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