Ahmadu Bello University, forgiveness, God, Jesus Christ, packing, travel, Uncategorized

Not wanted on voyage

Always, before a trip, packing comes last and I drag my heels. I make lists, and piles of clothes on the bed. Fish out cases and bags… and go and make a cup of tea… leaving the mess behind.

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I used to pride myself on travelling light. In the seventies, working at Ahmadu Bello University in Northern Nigeria, my physics lecturer husband and I used to spend the three months of the summer vacation attending conferences and visiting friends and family all over Europe. It was my proud boast that I could do this comfortably with only one suitcase (and not an oversized one either!).

I learnt how to thanks to an amazing American book called Europe on $10 a Day – the perfect guidebook to fabulous travelling, lightly and cheaply.  I’m not sure I ever got down to the extreme minimalism of the author. Her idea of the perfect all-occasion outfit was an indestructible, crimplene, little black dress… but I did learn that shampoo would double as detergent for washing clothes, and most cheap hostelries were pretty relaxed about festoons of damp undies pegged to strings hung from the picture-rails!

I loved travelling light – and as I get older, I’m learning that there are other valuable ways of travelling light: not lugging around the burdens of disappointments, dead hopes, hurt feelings and, heaviest of all, unforgiveness.

I came across a quote from Gandhi this morning: ‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.’ Well, I certainly don’t consider myself strong, but I know I want to ditch the unbearable burdens of any unforgiveness that might be lurking and holding me back. To paraphrase St Paul, ‘I can’t do this on my own! I’m too weak. Who can help me? Thanks be to God… Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (Romans 7: 24-25)

And maybe I can take less with me in the way of extra clothes, shoes etc… I always take too much, but there is something about a wide-open car boot with the back-seats down that just invites you to throw in another coat or pair of boots, just in case!

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Jesus Christ, Scotland, Uncategorized

Home is where…?

So I’m back… home?

I moved house twice last year. First from a three-bed terraced house with its microscopic garden:

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Then from my gorgeous garden apartment in the old house (some of it dating from 1792) with the amazing garden:

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To tell the complete truth, I was evicted! The elderly lady who owned the house died and the legatees wanted vacant possession so they could sell. So I and my fellow residents were ousted. Each of us, I’m glad to say, found somewhere else to go. But I can’t say where I am now feels like home – and my three-week trip to Scotland has raised questions for me about ‘home’.

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I always used to say I was like a Snail, carrying my sense of home with me, able to make ‘home’ wherever I landed. Which is just as well, when one considers that the move to the current place is my 22nd move!

Suffolk is very beautiful. Scotland, as this blog has demonstrated, is also very beautiful in a different way. Both have offered me places to live and grow and I am grateful to both.

There’s an old song: ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.’ And that’s true. Home will always be temporary on this earth.  But for those of us who have entrusted our lives and our eternal futures to Jesus Christ, there’s a security in knowing that ‘home’ is sorted now and in the future – short-, medium-, and long-term!




Jesus Christ, Uncategorized

Day Ten: Going home

Home! After a 365 mile solo drive (if you don’t count Jesus) from the borders of Scotland down through England to Cambridge, then a sharp left turn till you almost hit the far eastern coast. Home. Whew.

And glad.

Sometimes, to paraphrase T.S.Eliot, it is necessary to take a wander back through the past and check it out and discover what it means now. And then look at where you are now and discover just how good it is – and recognise it for what it is: in my case, that where I am now is home.

Home means lots of different things to different people. I have a nomadic streak and I love new places and overnight billets – lovely hotels in locations like at Annandale Water. Waking up to beauty fills me with delight.

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View from my balcony at Annandale Water this morning

But home: that is something deeper, richer. Long ago, I put my roots down in the rich soil of Somerset, letting them go down deep – which made the pulling up when my husband died in 1994 and I had to move the more painful. I haven’t had the courage to ‘settle’ properly anywhere since then.

But driving into Westmoreland this morning, past the sign that said ‘Welcome to England’, I realised I have lived in England for 38 years. More than half my life. More than anywhere else. England is home, and Suffolk, and the town where I live, and the street, and the little house on that street with my cat waiting for me and the friend who was feeding her for me, and my church this evening, and … This all constitutes home.

And I’m glad. And grateful. And it’s time to let my little roots unfurl and go down into the welcoming soil of Suffolk. And, to mix the metaphor, it’s time for some nesting – nice things for the house to make it more ‘home’. Nice things for the garden… maybe some herbs… salads, tomatoes… food!

Home. Welcome home. At last.

Books, fiction, God, Jesus Christ, Mizpah Ring, Novel, Social history, Uncategorized, When the Boats Come Home, Writing

What’s it all about?

The good news is that I’m 26,525 words into the new book, Part 2 of The Mizpah Ring.

Mizpah-Ring cover final

The bad news is that I haven’t written a new word of it since 7th March.


I’ve given a number of talks on Mizpah Ring 1 and must admit to some discomfort, compared with the ease and joy of giving talks on its predecessor, When the Boats Come Home.

When the Boats Come Home cover

Basically I’m a story-teller, and the story I like to tell is the good news of the Lord Jesus. This is what I do in the pulpit (that’s right – story not sermon!). That’s what I do at women’s meetings. And that’s what I was able to do with talks about Boats – because Boats is really about the good news of new life and second chances offered by Jesus Christ.

But I discover I’m not so comfortable talking about Mizpah Ring – and feeling a bit blocked about Book 2. Till I read Steven Pressfield’s blog Writing Wednesdays: The Hero Embodies the Theme and suddenly I had a handle on the problem. What was Mizpah Ring all about?

It’s taken some time chewing this over, because I thought I knew – when I started writing Book 1. There was an inciting incident that set off a trail of consequences through three generations – and three books. There were bad guys who got badder, and good guys who slipped up and messed up. There were good girls and bad girls and not-quite-sure girls. And some of them went the way of all flesh, and others got turned round.

It was all a lot grittier than Boats – including  the locations. The ‘worst’ location in Boats was a pub and a dark alley. Mizpah Ring has a brothel and gambling dens!

But I’m still telling the good news of Jesus Christ- because He wasn’t afraid of mixing with prostitutes and others unacceptable to respectable society – and He loved them and came to save them too.

And so my story is one of redemption – for those who will turn round and take it. And it tells the truth about those who make other choices – something else Jesus was clear about when He walked this earth. We all have choices. We all have free will.But our choices have consequences.

And that’s what Mizpah Ring is about. Book 1 showed the choices of the first generation – and the results, bad and good. Book 2 shows what the next generation makes of it.

But that’s not all – because that’s never all there is to it. Because there is another character active in the story and in the lives of the characters: and that’s Jesus Christ Himself. And where He is, anything can happen!

So now I know, I’m grounded again and can get back to work!




Books, Jesus Christ, Scotland, Uncategorized, Writing

Beloved voices

My mother smoked. Dad had been one of those soldiers introduced to cigarettes during the war and he had duly brought the habit home. In those early days, folk thought it was glamorous, little knowing the horrendous damage it would do to skin and lungs and other organs.

Mum had been a glamorous young woman with dark hair falling provocatively over one eye like a movie star. And she was talented. From an early age she had been in demand as a singer and I recall her beautiful voice.

But the cigarettes took their toll and her voice deepened and deepened till her beautiful voice was completely destroyed and she could barely manage to reach any notes. For someone who had loved to sing, this was purgatory indeed.

On Monday night at Bible study group, a friend gave us a very lovely gift. Instead of us reading round the group, she invited us to relax and close our eyes and listen as she read the complete passage in her lovely soft Scottish voice.

I joke that my accent strengthens after a phone conversation with my sister, then I have to tame it so folk down here in Sassenachland can understand me! Maybe it’s my accent that makes my voice recognisable – so I hardly need to say who I am when I ring friends.

And I wonder does that come across on the page? One of the delights of opening a new book in a well-loved series is that sense of familiarity with the author’s voice, like the voice of a friend.

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Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd and His sheep know His voice (John chapter 10, verses 1-16). The voice of a loved one is very special. I remember once missing my beloved so much I kept ringing his office number when he was away so I could hear his voice on the answermachine message! Afterwards he commented on the number of calls where the caller had left no message!

Having given up Facebook for Lent, maybe I’ll have more time to just sit and listen out for Jesus and see if I can recognise His voice.





Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ

Maps for the road

My planned journey is a 1500 mile round trip. It’s pretty easy to navigate: get onto the main road and drive north. Stop when you reach the sea.

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My road atlas was battered and out of date so I sprung for a new one. But it doesn’t fold flat… And maybe I’ll need a little more detail to find the homes of friends in Edinburgh and Dundee, so I decided I’d need to use my satnav. I bought it in 2006. So I decided I’d update it.

I duly found my password and user name, and logged on to the relevant site. I discovered I hadn’t registered it. So I did so now. I waited for email confirmation and then took myself to the website and discovered the update would cost £49.99. It’s a necessary business expense so I paid up.

But when I came to download, it turned out my laptop didn’t have quite the right software so I needed to download something else first.

To cut this saga short, I still don’t know whether I’ve managed to download the update.

Three things occur to me:

First, will computer frustrations never end? Is this perhaps a glimpse of hell?

Second, how much better it would have been if I’d registered my satnav when I’d first bought it, and subscribed to the update service!

And third: isn’t this just like life? Buying the satnav is a bit like my first commitment to Christ. At the time a great and wonderful discovery. And one of the loveliest things about ‘the Holy Spirit is like a satnav‘ analogy is the voice which responds to my wrong turns by saying quietly ‘Recalculating’ before gently but firmly pointing me in the right direction or reorganising my route to get me where I really should be!

But it struck me today that we need to keep our spiritual and moral maps as up-to-date as the satnav ones. Our world changes. New temptations lure us off the path. We need a satnav that works and keeps us from the dead ends and blind alleys of sin. Our commitment to Christ is in effect a lifelong subscription – but we need to make the effort to download the software to keep us up to date each day. And the only way to do that is by spending time reading the Bible and praying.

‘Your enemy the devil prowls round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ 1 Peter 5:12. In the old days, maps had written on them: ‘Here be dragons’. We need internal maps that say ‘Here be moral and spiritual dangers. Beware!’

Books, fiction, God, Jesus Christ, Novel, Uncategorized, Writing

How to have the most fun writing

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This is such fun! How could I ever have forgotten? Terry Pratchett used to say on the author details on his books that writing was the most fun you can have on your own. True, true, true!

So even though it’s a grey November day and it’s still raining, I’m one happy bunny. Because it’s NaNoWriMo Day 2 for me and the word count so far is 4491 – 7 chapters already! Oh wow. Hitting my targets. But that’s not all. The story has me in its grip. My characters fascinate and delight me. And it feels more like watching a video while I’ve got my hands on the keyboard and words just seem to keep appearing on the screen!

I suppose what’s really making it such a joy is the embargo on judging what I’m writing. Almost an embargo on thinking too much. Left-brain anyway. All I’m allowed to do is open the door to my story and let it out, and that is sheer joy.

And I’m so looking forward to December – or whenever the first draft is complete – so I can go back and flesh out my plot-driven skimpy scanty prose.

This summer I’ve been learning a lot about trust. My morning Bible study time has been in the Book of Psalms and day after day the message has been – very clearly – trust in God. Lay down your burdens and lean on Him, rely on Him, depend on Him to deal with everything, to provide what I need.

You might have thought this would be a nice easy lesson, in fact, one I should have got at least a pass mark on many years ago. Looking back, I can remember a time when trust came easy – when I was first a Christian in my late teens. But a series of dodgy relationships/disasters/life events that rocked my little boat to the point of capsize ate into that trust and now it’s something I’ve had to give a bit of attention to.

But it makes a difference.

Jesus said we should be like little children in the way we trust and depend on our Heavenly Father – and I’m discovering the amazing joy and freedom of doing just that. One of the great benefits is approaching my daily writing stints with the glee of a little child, because children don’t judge their creative output the way adults do. They just get on and enjoy it.

Which is what I’m doing. And I hope all the other NaNoWriMoers out there are too!


dementia, God, Jesus Christ, Uncategorized

Water, water everywhere

I used to live on the Somerset Levels, halfway between Taunton and Yeovil. And yes, there was a certain amount of flooding every year but nothing compared to what people are experiencing at the moment. Today I spent the morning with friends in Bungay, 15 minutes north of here. My friend’s house is high up with stunning views of the Waveney valley. And the floodwater is encroaching here too.

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There’s something scarily inexorable about water. Once it escapes riverbanks and drainage channels, there seems to be no stopping it.

I feel a bit like that about my husband’s dementia. I visited him yesterday afternoon. To continue the water/flood metaphor, it was as if the water had been safely/neatly channelled in pleasant manageable channels on my last visit. I’d even enjoyed the previous visit (though maybe the glass of white wine provided with my lunch helped!) – but this time it was as if I had been one of those overconfident Charlies who attempt to drive their cars through deepish water and get surprised when they’re swamped. And yes, this last time, I got swamped. And stupidly surprised.

It’s now almost 24 hours since the start of my visit. How could I forget it takes me 36 hours to recover? Just because this home is a much nicer place, a really good quality specialist provider of the care my husband needs, it doesn’t take away the fact of his dementia nor its destructive impact on us both.

But I’d forgotten. And as a result I have to sit in my swamped car and await rescue. My friends do their level best and I am grateful – for the lovely hugs, the phone calls, the Facebook messages, the thoroughly excellent caring advice. But there is no Fire Brigade or big farmer’s tractor coming to pull me out of the flood. The flood is where I am. All I can do is wait for the waters to go down. And they will. Till the next time.

One of the big problems for both the Waveney Valley and the Somerset Levels is that the land has become so saturated by so much rain for so long, that it takes very little more to create disaster rather than minor inconvenience. And it’s the same for any of us stuck in long-term situations where our emotions and our ability to cope went under a long time ago.

David Cameron promises dredging – when it’s safe enough – as a preventative for next time. Unsurprisingly, Somerset folk aren’t holding their breath!  For those of us who know that the waters aren’t going to go down – maybe for years – there are few answers.

I am a Christian. A woman of faith in Jesus Christ. But I’m finding it tough, I admit, to believe in a God of love and mercy who wants only the best for my life – while, frankly, I feel like I’m in a living hell. And as I look at my husband – and the other people in the home who are further down the dementia road than he is – my faith is sorely tested. Where is the mercy in this?

I can see the love – for these people are being looked after as lovingly, as kindly, as well as possible. And amazingly, I can feel God’s love for me, alongside me, right in the middle of the floods.

Stuff happens. He gave us free will and we made a hash of it. As a result there are horrible diseases, broken families, bad things in our world, and few if any of us manage to avoid at least some of them.

But God is still there. And He cares. He really does. So as I sit in my swamped car in the flood I drove into, I reckon the only thing to do is shift over into the passenger seat and let Him take the wheel.

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.’ ” Isaiah 43:1-2a

dementia, God, Great Yarmouth, Jesus Christ, Uncategorized, Worship

After the storm

Thursday night, the worst sea storm in 60 years hit East Anglia. Friends had to be evacuated from their homes, roads were closed, only opening this afternoon. So I took myself down to Southwold for a walk along the beach to enjoy the sunshine and see the damage.

Storm-damaged beach huts, Southwold, 7/12/13
Storm-damaged beach huts, Southwold, 7/12/13

This is not uncommon. The beach huts are very close to the edge of the promenade and frequently get battered by winter storms. Each year repairs are essential, but it’s sad to see people’s holiday delights so tattered. Especially when you remember the crazy prices these beach huts fetch nowadays: over £60,000 each!

Today there’s still a bit of splash on the sea, catching the afternoon sunshine.

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And when I reach the south end of the beach, the Gun Hill Cafe is open for hot drinks so I can sit outside and sip a black coffee.

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As I walk back along the beach to my car, I spot a gull standing motionless on a post with the waves splashing around him. He’s not bothered. He knows he’s safe and can fly away whenever he wants to.

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And me, walking through this season of storm in my life, I’m reminded there’s a Rock for me to stand on and sheltering wings. And that makes all the difference.

Books, God, Great Yarmouth, Herring fishing, Jesus Christ, Novel, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wick, Writing

The novel with no name

This afternoon I completed the last revision of the novel. Last but for a few nit-picky things. Now all I have to do is write the synopsis. I also want to do a back-cover blurb and what I call a ‘Publish me because’ which sets out the case for publishing this book. Oh, and I also need a title.

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When I was a child, I always fancied being a Dame, or being awarded an honorary D.Lit. Dame Dorothy… has a ring about it. But that’s not the kind of title I’m struggling with. My novel needs a title. A handle.

It’s had a few, admittedly rather poor attempts. In fact, some rather dreadful! Here are a few examples:

  • Homeward Bound
  • Encircling Love
  • Send the Fire
  • Under God’s Banner

The book is aimed at the Christian market, mainly female readership, probably aged over 45. People who like a good story, a family story, with heartache and struggles, family secrets, tragedy and romance, with a happy-ever-after, and some laughs as well as tears. It’s meant to be uplifting – to cheer and encourage and strengthen and build up faith.

And it needs a title. It feels so cold to keep calling it ‘the novel’ like a baby languishing for days, weeks, with no name!

It’s set in 1921 and centres on the Fishermen’s Revival in Great Yarmouth in East Anglia and my home town of Wick in the far north of Scotland so it needs a title that gives a taste, a flavour of the salt sea, the herrings, the Scotch fisher lassies, the rough-spoken evangelists and their Lord who called them to be fishers of men. But it’s also the story of one family and a young widowed teacher who finds love when she thought it would never be possible again. A story of hope and redemption, of truth winning out and bringing reconciliation and healing, of steadfast love – human and divine. “Steadfast love” ?

Oh dear! I’m still working on it…..