Thursday, 30 June 2016

Days of Gratitude - Smushing Away with Laughter, Liquorice, and Liberation

So here we are.  It's the end of half a year.  Happy new half year to you all.

I've kept this up for six months.  I never expected that.  I thought I'd probably manage it for a few days.  And then it came to April and I thought the diary would soon be stopping, that the Sunday Assembly group would be dead, having died the death of half-heartedness, a good idea that didn't quite happen.

I'm glad it's lasted this long.  Posting something (nearly) every day has been good for me.  There have been plenty of wonderful days.  And they have been plenty of days too which I could have marked down as being pretty crappy.  I could have just put them in the "bad days" drawer and felt bad.  But instead I've had to find things to be grateful for on those days and that's helped me.

I've been quite faithful in the gratitude group.  I am the most faithful member.  And I'm also the annoying one who doesn't just post a sentence and a photo but posts paragraphs and multiple pictures.  I've tried to post every day.  And I haven't succeeded.  In these six months I have not managed to post on 9 days.  Out of 182.  That's a 95% success rate.  Woo hoo!  I think I pass the gratitude practical examination!

Yes, it's been a good six months.  I end it in a better mental state that I had at the beginning.  I end it having experienced people, events and places that I had not experienced before.  I end it with several thousand more photos - some of which are actually pretty good.  I end it more comfortable with myself.  I also end it by taking more psychiatric medication than before.  That seems to be helping too.

I began the year as a regular church goer.  Then made the decision, somehow, to take a break from it.  And then made the decision not to return to it.  That's like ripping out the centre of the meaning of my life and not knowing how the gaping wounded hole can be filled.  It's like jumping from a cliff without knowing if there is any safe landing, or any form of landing at all.  But I believe it was the right decision.  Not knowing the answers is very liberating.

So happy new half year everyone.  Wishing you interesting times for the second half of 2016.  In some circles that's a curse.  But may it be interesting anyway - even if the interest leads to dark places those places will be ones in which we can grow in love.  I for one still have much growing in love to do.  But where there is the opportunity for growth, there will be found hope and new life.

Here goes.  The final four days of June.  Who wants to place bets on whether I'll still be doing this at the end of December?

27th June

Grateful that it's not forever.

Nothing is forever.

Be like Blob Thing.

Hold onto the laughter.

I say no more.

28th June

Grateful to have got through it. Tough head day.

Grateful for liquorice.

Some may consider that this amount is excessive. They may be right.

Katjes Kinder, Joris Zouts, Joris Rounds, Toms with 7% Ammonium Chloride, and lots more.

Plus plenty of our favourite salty liquorice toads.

Grateful too for Blob Thing. Everything he represents to me. And that though it may be slightly odd writing he is at least inspiring me to free write at least something every day.

And of course to post it at

29th June

Grateful today for having wandered into St. George's, Jesmond for the first time.

It wouldn't have happened if I had remembered to get off the Metro in the right place and gone somewhere entirely different!

Also grateful for replacement certificates that arrived in the post.

They have my name. Yay.

And that I bought lots of ingredients in the market for smushing (pronounced smwshing because I have to say it in a particular accent).

Tomorrow I will attempt smushing in the smusher that turned out to need a LOT of cleaning.  It hasn't had a lot of use in

Who needs a Nutribullet?!

30th June

Grateful to have sheltered from the noise by drinking tea in the Lit and Phil. I have never drunk tea there before.

Blob Thing enjoyed it too and he found some friends to talk with.

He should be able to come to Sunday Assembly in July. Another adventure.

Also grateful to have been typing these things for the past six months and to be in a better space than I was at the beginning.

I think the photo shows just how much more sane I am now.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Days of Gratitude - Why? Friendship and Freedom in Greater Manchester

And the gratitude continues.

These were good days.  Another of my trips to stay with Amanda.  I love that part of my life.  She was working quite a bit - which is good.  It's great to watch her life continue to blossom even if it does mean I may get to spend less time with her.  I was able to use the time apart well and to enter more into what will eventually be a pretty wide exploration of Manchester.   Twice I walked from Manchester city centre and found good directions to travel.  Even with a duff knee that keeps hurting every step I enjoyed the experiences.  And Blob Thing got to visit the Blue Peter garden too and was extremely happy about it.  He'll blog about that sometime.

22nd June

Grateful to have travelled back to Manchester/Salford for a few days with Amanda.

We went to the theatre in the evening to see The 39 Steps. Cast of 4. 138 characters.

Afterwards the light in Salford Quays was brilliant and the temperature still warm.

It's good to be here.

23rd June

Grateful to be able to spend the day with Amanda, relaxing in Southport and buying much liquorice.

Grateful to lie under the skies and watch the bubbles from our bubble guns.

Grateful to play on the beach and have moments on which nothing matters at all except for being together.

 Grateful for having so many more photos than these.

24th June

Grateful that it didn't rain hard for too long and there was somewhere nice to shelter.

Grateful that it turned into a good day walking in central Manchester and then along the canal to Salford Quays.

Next time, a lot more of the canal waits.

 25th June

Grateful for a full day with Amanda.

She came up with an advertising slogan for Fleetwood:

Fleetwood It's a Bit Shit.

[Honestly: She just said "It's a bit shit" and I said that could be the slogan on an advertising brochure.]

Actually there were things to enjoy in Fleetwood and the ferry to Knott End was fun.  I felt a bit sad walking in the main street mid-afternoon on a Saturday to see it almost totally deserted.  It's certainly got a lot more deserted in the years since I moved away.  Hopefully one day the fortunes of the town can improve again.

So tired by the end and the world is very hard work for both of us. By the end, it felt far more shit than the most shit part of Fleetwood, wherever that may be.  It was tough.  Very, very tough.

Many times it would be far easier to not live than to live, to hide each day. But we have determination to live as fully as we can. And part of my determination arises from her example.

26th June

Grateful for a morning of quiet, alone with Amanda.

Grateful to walk through the afternoon beginning at Manchester Victoria railway station and following the River Irwell.

In the rain. In a cute short-sleeved top but no jacket or anything waterproof.

Grateful to find pretty things even by the centre of Manchester. And very pretty things as I walked further. Some will need proper return visits.

Another time the walk can continue from where I ended, Clifton Park and on another occasion I can return to Drinkwater Park too. Looking forward to those days.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Days of Gratitude - For Food, Friends and Fellowship ... And Unexpected Meetings


Some more days from my gratitude diary.  I am immensely grateful for the diary.  After nearly six months I can say that it has helped me a lot.  It's not the only thing that's helped me in the first half of the year.  The biggest three helps - all of which either didn't exist six months ago or were very new six months ago are this diary, the realisation of how much I can do with a bus pass, and my friendship with Amanda.  Without each of those three I would not be as well as I currently am.  I am immensely grateful for them all.

I have come a long way in the first half of this year.  My mental health has improved a lot, especially since the middle of April.  I'm actually quite proud of having reached the point I am at now as I was a long way from it six months ago. It feels good.  Or at least it feels good when it's not feeling bad!

So here we are.  Four more very varied days.  A couple were very quiet.  A couple were very busy.  And one of them went in a brilliant direction that I couldn't have predicted if I'd had all the astrological skills of Russell Grant and Mystic Meg combined and if I lived in an alternative universe where such astrology actually works.

18th June

Grateful for a quiet day and for friends.

Grateful to have had the time to write blog posts for Blob Thing who is getting increasingly thoughtful at times.

Grateful to have learned more about quick photo editing on this phone. On the old one I could do nothing.

Although it turns out that negatives can be almost terrifying!

Grateful to have the confidence in me to go out unshaven and dressed in a short skirt and a panda top complete with panda hood.

Beth's friend saw me and called me adorable. Yay!

19th June

Grateful to visit the Quakers today for the first time in ages. It was nearly silent worship but I go away with things to think about.

Today they unveiled this colour wheel. Each crayon is next to handwritten text, adjectives that members of the meeting had written about Quakers and being a Quaker. Each crayon has a specially made label.

It really is rather a special thing.

And afterwards there was a shared lunch.

Very glad to have been there today.

20th June

I went for a short walk today. But plans changed quickly when I encountered these people crossing Monkwearmouth Bridge. Grateful to have joined them and walked with them to North Shields.

Grateful too for the good people at The Sage this evening singing songs to protest Nigel Farage and the UKIP event.

Glad to actually have the mental health today to stand with them, hold a placard, and sing out.

21st June

Grateful for this £1.99 box set from Oxfam. I just finished season two and am almost in awe at it. This was 1984. Tea-time children's television. Yet it was THIS show.

Probably the best Robin Hood version ever. I can rave about it.

And grateful to look at my photos and other people's photos from Monday.

Many good people.

Pleased with how this picture worked out for me.  I took it on Marsden Beach if anyone is wondering.  Just before this we made a friendship circle round the rock stack.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Jim Palmer's Inner Anarchy And The Certainties of A Sikh Preacher

A couple of days ago I travelled on a coach.  A normal kind of activity.  During the journey I began to read a book that I had been wanting to read for over a year but had only just got round to ordering.  It had arrived in the post the day before my journey.
The book is Inner Anarchy by Jim Palmer. I keep sharing his Facebook posts because I like him a lot. Even if he does talk about Jesus!  He talks about a lot and even presents a Jesus who I like.  And Jesus who I can get on with and a Jesus path that I could follow in some way.  It's a path that is in many ways far more challenging than that proposed by the various Christian sects, even the most radical ones in terms of discipline.  If you use Facebook I'd urge you to follow Jim Palmer.  But don't follow him as a guru or religious authority or any other kind of authority.  He wouldn't want that.  Read him as a person who can help you teach yourself and trust your heart.  And dismiss whatever doesn't resonate with joy and with compassion and passion.
A Sikh man had got on the coach at the same time as me and he was sitting on the seat behind me.  I had read enough of the book for the moment and set it aside on the seat next to me.  The Sikh asked if he could take a look at the book because it was obviously about God and Jesus and, being a Sikh, he likes those two subjects.
I sat back and relaxed.  I listened to some music and then began another book that had arrived in the same parcel as Inner Anarchy and was also strongly related to God and to spirituality.  That book was book one of The Masnavi by Rumi, translated by Jawid Mojaddedi.  It's poetry of course, and I confess I find reading poetry difficult, but so far I'm enjoying it.  It's a long poem - about 26,000 verses - so will take some getting through but if it's all as beautiful as it has been so far then it'll be worth perseverance.  Rumi believed in some things that I don't.  But his mysticism and teaching is profound and touches me.

The Sikh had read enough and asked me if he could come and sit with me.  He then began to talk with me (or at me). He said the book said exactly the same as the Sikh scriptures. He should have read a little more and would have discovered that while there are similarities there are big differences - like Palmer wanting to do away with the myth of a sky God person in control of everything.  

The Sikh raved about how we should admire God and then God will love us as give us things. [I think it's a shit God if it only loves us if we admire it] He raved about the 90 year old he was on his way to look after and encouraged me to chant in Punjabi several times a day and be like the 90 year old who got up at 2am every morning to do it and had a wonderful life.  He encouraged me to find a big sheet of note paper and write the words Wahe Guru along the top row four times.  Then to fill each row of the paper with the same words.  And then to chant them every day.  With attention and with true adoration of God.  He said that there are forty benefits of admiring God written in his holy book and that chanting or praying in this way every day, several times a day, would mean that these benefits would come to me.  He talked about how in the Gurdwara in Birmingham and in Leicester they were using chant prayers from the Guru Granth Sahib as a meditation form and how that meditation was leading to people being healed of incurable diseases.  The Sikh told me lots of interesting things about his faith and his concept of God.

I tried to tell the Sikh that I don't believe in the sky God myth any more but since he tells everyone he meets about admiring God with every breath [a laudable aim, especially if that god is not the sky God] my non-theism met with a brick wall. A bit like if a non-theist or an atheist would have talked to me about God a few years ago.

He talked about how God has limits. How Hitler and the Nazis failed eventually because God didn't allow him them to take over the whole world. God controlled everything they did and then stopped them. I didn't like to point out that his God was in control of the murder of millions of people by the Nazi regime - and countless millions more people by other regimes he mentioned and that really any God who is all powerful and eventually steps in after watching so much horror is a very crap God indeed.  In my opinion.  The problem of suffering is a toughie for all theists and even in my strongest evangelical days I knew that there was no theistic answer that quite satisfied.  "God works in mysterious ways" and "It'll all be for a greater good" seem like utterly empty platitudes in the face of the cruelty humans sometimes exhibit.  And in the face of natural disasters we can't even give the equally empty platitude of "You can't blame God for the actions of humans.  It is our free will."

The Sikh man was very pleasant though.  I disagree with much of what he said but that's fine.  I am glad that he sat with me and talked and I learned a little more about his faith and the reasons why he counts himself as very blessed to have such a faith.  He was obviously a good man.  One doing his best to walk in the light - and one almost certainly doing a better job of it than I often do.
I have to say that I haven't yet met a Sikh I couldn't get on with.  And I know that there is much that the Sikh faith has that is highly commendable.  For example: When he had earlier pulled out a bottle of water to drink he asked the people around him whether they would like it.  He wouldn't drink it until he had offered.  His reasoning, from Sikhism, was that others around may have been more in need of the drink than him, more thirsty.  And since God is in every person, to offer the drink - to offer anything selflessly - is honouring and pleasing to God.  I like that.  But I would like us to be able to move beyond God and just to learn to offer selflessly anyway, just because it's a good way to live rather than to please a supernatural deity.
I like the Sikh teachings on selflessness, humility, service, hospitality, community and so on.  I like the way this Sikh said he had learned to not ask God for selfish things but to just admire God.  I don't know the teachings well at all but what I've heard of them I like.  I like the fact that Sikhism isn't exclusivist.  They firmly believe their way leads to God.  But they also believe the other faiths lead to God too.  So there isn't a need to convert the other religions or to save a Christian from Hell in the way an evangelical Christian might want to save a Sikh from that damnation.
I have enjoyed the few times that I have visited the local Gurdwara, the Sikh temple.  I've been able to sit in the quiet and it feels good.  And then I've been able to eat - and to help out too and to talk with people in the Gurdwara at that time.  If you want a theistic faith, the Sikh one is pretty good.

Yes, it's a decent religion.  But I can't say I will be getting up at 2am to chant for hours.  And I won't be returning to my old version of the sky God, or to any other sky God.  I have been set free from that myth.

Set free.  Yes.  But maybe, just maybe, Jesus can free me even more.  Without chanting Wahe Guru for hours each day.  And without praying Christian prayers to mythical beings or to their saintly followers for hours as I used to.  I am free from that.  I believed it was life and there was definitely a lot of light within the myths.  But in the end it didn't bring me such life.  How can it bring abundance of life when the central tenet is that we are fundamentally bad, fundamentally fucked up so much that we are completely lost and without hope unless somebody else dies an agonising death?
I am glad that I am now finding freedom.  Immensely glad of my decision, made just four and a half months ago, to make a break with church, a finality.  Bye bye liturgy of the sky God.  Bye bye prayers to the sky God.  Sky God, your followers are good people and many of them do wonderful things.  In that loving place I can gladly walk with them.  But I no longer can walk with them in the following of you.

And books like Inner Anarchy and Jim Palmer's previous couple of books, which I now want to read even more, can show me how to become more free.  Inner Anarchy is a Jesus book that anyone can read and be touched by.  It doesn't matter whether they are Christian, of some other faith, or an atheist.  This is a Jesus I am excited about.  Even while looking at Gnostic Jesus versions and finding much light within them, I didn't think I would ever be this excited by a Jesus again.

[1671 words.  Sorry!]

Relaxation on Referendum Day From A Folder Labelled "Various"

I'm looking at old photos again.

The day this will be posted is also the day of the European Union referendum.  Will the UK remain within it?  Or will we leave?  I don't know, but like you I have my hopes and opinions about the best option.

Blob Thing's post yesterday talked about refugees and about those wanting to close British borders to them.  Today he has more to say on the subject.  He's got a lot to say about many things, which is as big a surprise to me as to anyone else.  After all, he's just a small pink hand made soft toy.

I don't want to talk about the referendum myself today.  You can decide for yourself and don't need me to try to persuade you of anything on this blog.

So for today, something entirely relaxing.  Or at least relaxing to me.  Some of the photos from a folder I've just looked at.  It's labelled "2016 January to March Various Places."  There are other folders of photos from those months.  I've posted from many of them here - street art in Manchester and Blackpool, Vamos! Social in Newcastle, and the few walks I went on in those months.  And then there are these.  The other advantage for me of course is that this post doesn't need writing, it being just a set of photographs from my old, cheap phone.

A miscellany of pictures on referendum day because sometimes we need to relax and not devote our minds or even our hearts to serious matters.  The result of today's vote will affect us all, for good or for ill and probably for a mix of the two.  But for this moment, let go of the serious and indulge in photos.

The selection even starts with a picture of a cat.  This really is the restfulness of the internet at its best!


This particularly friendly one lives in a charity shop in Fleetwood.

A view from near home.

With my new camera I could have made a panorama shot and included the full rainbow.

This glorious creature lives with its friends in Heaton Park, Manchester.


This simple art hangs from a ceiling in a Manchester art gallery.

One of the ideas I borrowed that day - and I haven't done anything with any of them yet.

One of the many creatures adorning buildings in Manchester.

What words would sum up its facial expression?


Where, quite a lot of years ago, I used to live.

I was visiting someone there when this was taken.

Tea at Heaton Perk cafe in Heaton, Newcastle rather than Heaton, Manchester.

Looking across to Newcastle from the bottom of student accommodation that sits above Tesco in Gateshead.

I totally failed to get to a meal in one of them that night!

North Shields, looking out towards the sea.

North Shields again, looking across to the pier at South Shields.

A couple of pictures from The People's Museum in Manchester - worth a visit.  Plus it's free which is always a bonus.

And finally, a cyberman on a wall in Newcastle that most people probably wouldn't even notice.  This one has already appeared in a gratitude post but here he is again, assimilating us all.

There you go.  A strange mix.  Which sums up my life.

Tomorrow we will know the direction our country is going to take.  I hope we can walk through the political and social fallout, wherever it lands, and do so with love and compassion both for those within the UK and for those without.