Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Holiday of the Mother of God and of Thunder

Nunc Dimittis

No more weathering this storm
No more battling the storm
Clouded sky clears on a world washed white
At the end of my life, the beginning's in sight.

My life's boat is still on the waves
My boat rests on the still waves
My heart stops on the still water.

My heart stops still on the water
My saviour appears on the water
My saviour comes over the water

No more sailing through this storm
No more battling the storm
Rainbow appears on a world washed white
For a life just beginning, the end is in sight

For a life there's beginning
A saviour in sight

Slow Cooker Poetry

Sometimes, writing a poem is exactly like cooking with a slow cooker.

I wanted to write a poem for Candlemas, which falls on the 2nd of February and will be celebrated on Sunday.  I already knew the story: Luke 2: 22-40, in which Christ is presented at the temple and prophesied over by Simeon and Anna, including the Nunc Dimittis prayer (Lord, now let your servant depart in peace) which I associate mainly with evening services in Christ's College chapel, and a certain Taize chant.  Simeon goes off to die, joyfully and peacefully, while Mary is left pondering her newborn son's death, and the idea that a sword will pierce her own heart too.

So much for meat, a main ingredient, tasty but familiar and rather boring by itself.

I thought I would do some more research, so I turned to good old Wikipedia (correct 70% of the time since 2001) where I found the following ingredients:
  • Candlemas has to do with purity: the Virgin was being purified 40 days after giving birth.
  • It is also associated with pre-Christian customs such as jumping through fire in order to be purified before conceiving.
  • In Poland, it is called (loosely translated) "The Holiday of the Mother of God and of Thunder".
  • Traditionally, candles were blessed in churches and given out to families, who used them to put lights in their windows during storms.
  • The Gospel reading set for this Sunday if Candlemas is not being celebrated is the calming of the storm.
  • Candlemas is traditionally the last day of the cold winter, but only if it rains on that day.  If it's sunny, winter will go on for another six weeks.
Having written all those ingredients down, and stirred them for a while, I poured two more stories into the mix: Jesus walking on the water, and Noah's Ark.  I wanted to include Moses in the Bullrushes as well, but there was no room in the pot.

Then I switched the slow cooker on, and left it for a while.  Sure enough, when I came back to it, there was a poem: each ingredient had shared its flavour with the rest, and found a common language to unite the whole.

The only problem with slow cooker poetry is that sometimes I worry that the ingredients have all become so mushy and indistinguishable that nobody will be able to work out what any of them are or where they came from.

Perhaps it has to do with how long I leave it in the pot?

On the other hand, perhaps that is where the analogy breaks down...

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Maybe it's because I had a baby near Christmas, and maybe it's simply to do with bringing up children, whenever their birthdays are: but there's a place that I go to in my imagination to ask unanswerable questions about first times.

I wonder about Jesus's firsts.

When Jesus first smiled, I wonder who he was looking at?  When he first crawled, what was he trying to reach? What was his first word, and did anybody other than his parents understand it?  When he drew his first face, whose did he say that it was?  (Abigail's was Thomas the Tank Engine.  So much for sentimentality.)

I wonder what Jesus's first taste of solid food was, and whether he liked it.  I wonder what it was that made GodOnEarth give his first laugh.  Which song was his first attempt at singing?  Who was there to witness his first steps?  Which earthly object was the very first one to be pointed out by God's pudgy human finger?

The thing that I love about all these questions is that they all have answers.  We will never know the answers, but because GodMadeMan existed in a physical time and place on this planet, the answers to those questions exist, too.

That's why asking those questions has the same effect on me as my first visit to Pompei did.  I was about fifteen.  I remember standing in an immaculate, almost complete building, surrounded by beautiful wall paintings, and being told that the building had been standing for about a hundred years before the volcano erupted in 70AD; which meant that it had been standing for thirty years before the birth of Christ.  It made me think, "It wasn't that long ago".  And, although the place had nothing archeologically to do with Jesus, it made me think, "It really happened.  He was really here."

That snapshot of memory returns whenever I hear the words, 'Emmanuel - God with us.'

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Snow Day

Abigail's never been very sure about snow before, and this is the first year she's really participated.  Even so, it took several days of snow before she was willing to stay out in it, walk on it, and touch it.  

It may have been the fact that she was finally enjoying herself in the chilly white stuff, or it may have to do with the fact that, every night since before Christmas, she has drifted off to sleep listening to The Snowman on CD; but my suggestion of building a snowman was met with great enthusiasm from Abigail, who brought large armfuls of snow and patted them onto the mound.  She soon had the hang of it.

Then Mummy's imagination began to get a bit carried away.

 What's it going to be?
 "What's this stuff?  Snow, you say?  Doesn't taste of much.  Bit cold.  What are you doing, Mummy?  Is it dinner time yet?"

Snow me snow me...


This is not a conventional snowman, Mummy.  Not like the one in the film.

But I like it.

After that, I showed Abigail what a snow angel was and that was it, she didn't want to come indoors!  She plastered herself all over the remaining fresh snow, making oddly wingless snow angels.  The problem was that she was flapping her arms on the vertical plane in the air, rather than horizontally on the ground.  It was hilarious to watch.

When she finally came in, sopping wet, there was a log fire courtesy of TheRev's freshly chopped logs, and a chicken and leek pie courtesy of Sainsbury's frozen pastry.

Best day.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Isn't 'Ohrwurm' a great word?  It's German, and when I first learnt it, the Germans seemed to be the only people to have such a useful term for 'getting a tune stuck in your head'.  Recently, though, I've noticed the word 'earworm ' on Twitter and the like, so evidently we've adapted it.

Ohrwurm, I've discovered, is a real hazard of parenting.  Right now, Jeremy is sitting beside me playing with a toy which emits a highly irritating tinkly tune that gets stuck in the mind instantly.  Just when I've forgotten it - after days sometimes - one of the children finds the toy again.  There's another one in the bath, and several more on the toddler-friendly app that Abigail enjoys using on my phone.

And then there's television.  That's even worse, because if you're humming a theme tune, you're advertising the fact that you watch that particular programme to every other poor, blighted parent in the supermarket - and probably sending them home with the same ohrwurm!  And it's always the worst tunes, from the worst programmes, that are hummable.  Iggle Piggle's song from In The Night Garden is instantly catching, even though we only ever watch it by accident.  Timmy Time is another one, right down to the exact tone of the irritating 'baaah's.  Abigail seems to suffer from Ohrwurm too - she's already showing herself to be very musical, and quick to pick up tunes accurately, which is lovely -  but if there's anything more irritating than inadvertently humming "Once I caught a fish alive" in public, it's having a toddler telling you to hum it on repeat: "Mummy? Cos my bit my finger on it?  Mummy?  Sing that song!"

This is anther reason why Cbeebies' Show Me Show Me is currently in my good books. (Yes, Abigail is obsessed with Momo's Rainbow Song, but I can just about live with that one).  Many of the songs they use repeatedly are designed to be adaptable, so that each time they use them, the words are different and suited the theme of the day's show; and it's actually rather easy to do.  At least when I have one of those stuck in my head, I can be a bit creative with it.  Now when I'm cleaning the kitchen, I'm singing,

"Can you do it?  Sweep the floor,
Can you do it? Mop the floor,
Can you do it? Scrub the floor,
Abigail can do it, too!"

Or when we're hunting for one of TheRev's dog collars:

"Guess where it's gone?  Daddy's collar,
Where has it gone?  Daddy's collar!
It's long and white
And he needs it in his shirt,
Guess if you can!"

Cooking takes on a somewhat sinister note:

"Guess what I'm making? It's boiling!
Guess what I'm cooking? In my pan!
They're round and brown
and they have little eyes,
Guess if you can!"

Of course, to an outside observer I still look like a complete lunatic, but that hasn't changed much since before I had children.  At least there's enough variation and mental exercise that my brain doesn't atrophy completely.  So Show Me Show Me is regular viewing; and if I end up with a persistent Ohrwurm of Momo's rainbow song in the supermarket?  Well, that's where being a ventriloquist can come in very handy...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Mummy Reports 3

My Mummy has now been my Mummy for seven and a half and a bit months.  It's time I updated my ratings of her performance as a Mummy.

Availability: 5/10
Mummy is beginning to learn that it's no good trying to leave me anywhere by myself for very long; I can lean and reach things quite far away now, and if she wanders off, all I have to do is grab something small and bring it to my mouth and she races back again.  I am working on being able to crawl so that I can chase her, but by then I might have her so well trained that I won't need to.  She is spending quite a lot of money on wraps to carry me on her back, all in different pretty colours.  Although this is silly behaviour (I really don't mind what the thing looks like!) I encourage it because the more expensive the wrap, the longer she will have to use it in order to get away without a guilty conscience.  Her newest one should keep us going for at least another year.

Food: 8/10
At last, Mummy let me eat what she eats!  She gave me my first food about two months ago.  I can eat anything now, so long as it is not so small and pesky that I can't get hold of it.  I never realised that food could be so much fun!  Everybody else is so boring when it comes to eating!  I like to rub mine into my hair, see how much of it I can hide under my chin, drop pieces inside my babygrow to save for later (especially fun in those onesies with feet) and use it to paint the kitchen alternative colours.
I have to say, though, that Mummy does not quite reach full marks on this one, because I have noticed that what she serves has become quite samey.  I'm sure she has repeated several meals more than once, and she seems to show a dislike for anything sticky or brightly coloured.  Odd, because those foods would be the most fun to play with.

Physical Care: 3/10
I still have no clothes.  Sometimes Mummy leaves me in a sleepsuit all day - it's not dignified.  I've also spotted her putting me in outgrown stuff from my sister.  Someone needs to let her know that's not on.  I don't care if Abigail did wear a lot of blue; if it has puff sleeves, it's not for boys!

Environment: 7/10
We've been getting out and about a bit recently.  I like that - different things to look at. We visited Nanou and Papy, so I had a whole new house to explore.  Can't say they let me explore it much.  Can't say I agree with Nanou that knitting needles make bad teethers. For a while I thought Mummy had really got the hang of improving things at home, because she brought in an enormous tree and covered it in flashy lights, but then only a few weeks later she took it away again.  Odd.

Entertainment Value: 10/10
I live in a family of stand-up comedians, but Mummy is the funniest.  You should see her doing the Groovy Moves from Show Me Show Me when she thinks no-one's watching.

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Epiphany always reminds me of the story of Baboushka.  It's not just because the story centres around the journey of the Magi, but also because the end of the day of Epiphany has the atmosphere of Baboushka's own visit to the stable: she is the one who sees the aftermath.  She's too late.  The stable is empty, the special baby has fled to Egypt.  It's the atmosphere produced by a bare tree, decorations in boxes, white-looking walls where the cards used to hang.

In one of my favourite moments from Les Miserables (I must see that film before it leaves the cinemas!) Eponine sings passionately about the beauty of the starlit river as she walks beside it imagining herself with Marius.  A few lines later, she stops dreaming and sings "He is gone; the river's just a river."  So it is for Baboushka: he is gone, the stable's just a stable.  The animals have gone back to chewing the cud, the angels have flown, the star has moved on, and much as she might try to grasp some of the holiness of the place, Baboushka knows that she's missed out; and the innkeeper leans impatiently in the doorway, wondering whether his stable might become enough of a tourist attraction that he can start charging people to see it.

Without the glitter and excitement of Christmas, the house feels like just a house.  Every year I face the same challenge: how can I at once allow myself to go with the all-important waxing and waning of the seasons, fasting and feasting, celebrating and contemplating, while at the same time remembering that the person whose life I am following is everlasting and consistent?  How can a season-dweller worship an unchanging God?

Baboushka gets up and continues seeking the Christ Child (and the song that I've known since my childhood goes, "Baboushka, Oh Baboushka, you'll find him in your heart", but she never seems to listen.)  As for me, our family chalked our Epiphany blessings on both doorposts of our house today.  The house is not just a house after all: it's a place where children will grow, where friends will be found, where creativity will blossom (well, that's the hope!) and encounters with the living Christ will be had.

Happy new year!