Sanding and Gritting

Trog, dog of the blog! Jazzy from Edmonton, eat your heart out.

Just having a bit of fun. I’d not want any cat fanciers to have their whiskers bent out of shape due to lack of cat photographs. Which reminds me of a cute cat event I witnessed the other day. Sadly I’d not got my camera with me at the time.

A new postulant was being instructed by the Head Novice. They were sitting in the novices common room gazing intently at a piece of paper on the table. Sitting on the table was Smudge, the novices cat. He was gazing at the paper intently too! It turned out that this was instruction on how, when and where to salt and grit the paths around the monastery. More signs that winter is approaching, not that we have that much snow. Ice, yes. Smudge will be out there stalking wildlife in the snow and ice, given half a chance.

A member of Trog’s extended, human, family has recently died. This posting is offered in memory of the newly past on one, and for his family.

O to Be a Senior – At Last

We met in the laundry room. Uh! My eyes hurt, it feel like I’ve got sand in them, I said. We do tend to suffer from dry eyes, I’ve a spare tube of Viscotears you can have. We? A moment’s pause. Ah yes, WE and our common concerns that come on with advancing age. I’d not have it any other way.

A couple of years ago I was in Redruth in Cornwall buying a train ticket, Are you a senior? No. Fast catching on to the chance of a reduced fare I ask how old do I have to be. Not old enough unfortunately but quite soon my time will come. Soon I’ll join the ‘we’ of my hero’s and heroines. Many of them are seniors like this woman from Scotland.

Jeanne Day greets the morning cheerfully. Up by 6.30am, she pulls on her tracksuit and heads out in to the bracing Fife air to walk a couple of miles over St Andrews’ farmland. Then it’s back home for some meditation, floor exercises and a breakfast of fruit. Between 9am and 6.15pm, she is available to teach but if she’s not fully booked, she’ll take in another long walk or do a spot of gardening, followed by a light supper and more gentle exercises on a cross-trainer. After 8pm, she’s often on the phone with family and friends, or keeping up with her emails. Jeanne is 88 years old.

Defending One’s Self

This evening we watched Downfall. The story of Hitler’s last ten days as seen through the eyes of Gertraud “Traudl” Humps his youngest private secretary. She stayed with him in the bunker until almost the last moment and was present when Hitler shot himself. The film ends with Traudl walking through the invading troops, hand in hand with a small boy. How things went for her immediately after her escape was, in actual fact, a very different story.

Her death came close after the publication of her book and the premier of the film. Othmar Schmiderer, the producer of the documentary Blind Spot, was among the last people to speak to her. He quoted her as saying: “Now that I’ve let go of my story, I can let go of my life.” From the Traudl Humps Obituary in the Guardian.

We see the now elderly secretary being interviewed* at the beginning and end of the film. I didn’t see her defending herself, she was obviously disturbed and found it difficult to forgive the young girl of her past. As she said, she was letting go of her story…at last.

*The interviews were part of Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary, a 90 minite documentary directed by André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer.

Over the Hills and Far Away

The woman behind the counter at Boots the Chemist had yellow fuzzy ears on. Owww! she said they do pinch. They’re giving me a head ache. I’ll ask them in the dispensary if they’ll give me something. All in a good cause though. It’s the BBC Children In Need fund raising day. Oh, and here’s a £2 off voucher for hair care products. I’d got my hat on but she knew I was a monk. Well sometimes you grow some, don’t you? Finally I agreed to accept the voucher and give it to somebody who could use it. At the electrical shop the man knew right away what size night-light bulbs I needed. The good people of Hexham know us through and through. I enjoy the familiarity of strangers, their kindness and their openness.

And later, after a Chinese lunch back at the monastery, back on the road again south to Harrogate. My chance to sample the tranquility of Northumberland. Perhaps however a tad more solitude than I’d intended having entered into yet another adventure with the TomTom satnav. Climbing up a thin ribbon of black, single track, tarmac out of Weardale I did wonder if this was the fastest or the shortest route I’d chosen. A distinction that is really important when it comes to travel in these parts. As the high moors opened in all their bleakness I’d have been glad of some familiarity of strangers, anybody even a sheep!

I last traveled this road over from Weardale to Teesdale on Good Friday 1990. I remember it well. I remember the stopping and opening and closing of gates, three of them this time! Even then the gates where potent symbols. I was on my way to Reading to be introduced into the ins and outs of running a small church, priory as we called them. That day marked a huge change, from living in the middle of moors to living in a notoriously rough housing estate. Thankfully I came to know that practice is not dependent on tranquil surroundings, I even came to see beauty in the litter blowing in the street.

A good friend is heading off for a big adventure tomorrow. I hope she experiences the kindness of strangers, and chooses the fastest route to return by. I’m still not sure if it was the fastest or the shortest route I took to Harrogate but it certainly gave me enough time and space to contemplate my friends adventure. In the end I chose not to say goodbye. Just good fortune.

To Leeds tomorrow for a day retreat and then back to the moors.

May We Within the Temple of Our Own Hearts Dwell*

At some time in the past our local village, Allendale, was dubbed the centre of England. But that honour has now been claimed by Haltwhistle. It is a fairly ordinary looking place, neat with a couple of places to drink tea, a couple of shops for groceries, a revamped post office. Under the surface however more is going on.

Back in the summer a couple of our monks were invited to set up a publicity stall with photographs and leaflets of the monastery. This was part of a larger event put on to inform the judges of the Calor Village of the Year Award about what’s available in the area.

Only recently did I hear that Allendale won!

Here is what they say: “The Calor Village of the Year competition is a great opportunity for rural communities to celebrate their vibrant and dynamic community spirit. This year we were privileged to visit five villages across England that did this in spades. I was so impressed by the energy, passion and leadership of these rural entrepreneurs – they love their communities. They managed to pack their village halls with literally hundreds of different people, activities, societies and community groups; at times there was hardly enough room for the judges. These villages successfully demonstrated their huge wealth of community spirit and determination to make their communities confident, cohesive and special places to live. The Plunkett Foundation believes in dynamic, vibrant and inspiring rural communities. We need to support the wealth of talent and local leadership that is still thriving deep within our rural villages and towns, as so ably demonstrated by the finalists in this year’s Calor Village of the Year competition.”

Mean while over on Teeside, Middlesborough has a claim all of its own. “the worst place to live in the UK”. At least one reader tells me he is glad the place of his youth has some kind of claim to fame.

And as if this isn’t enough over at Lonely Planet they are talking about the North East as one of their must visit, must-see destinations in England and have dedicated a chapter about us: The book praises North East England, describing it as “the most exciting, beautiful and friendly region in the whole of England,” with the region’s rejuvenated cities, fascinating history as well as the dramatic Northumberland wilderness identified among the region’s biggest draws.

Which all goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and entirely dependent on who is looking, why, and what at!

*This is a line from a scripture we sing in the evenings. Just a reminder of where to live, and make ones home.