Coleridge Dingley White

On this day 140 years ago in Penzance my great-grandfather was born. This makes me an eighth Cornish, which is about as exotic as I get as things currently stand.

Coleridge’s father was a music professor and organist from a line of esteemed musicians and his mother was originally a Dingley, a family with many east Cornish connections, who ran hotels and banks. For a time they lived in a hotel which can still be visited, although it is no longer in the family.

After studying at Kelly College in Tavistock in the late nineteenth century and becoming a trainee surveyor in Penzance, Coleridge went on to become a town planner and engineer, based mainly in Newton Abbot in Devon. He was an older father, having been widowed once and remarrying; he met his second wife, Katie Stone, in an orchestra he was conducting. She was a violinist and also from a talented musical family from Dorset including a number of church organists. They married in Greenwich while Coleridge was working for a short time in Hanwell in London. My grandpa was born in 1924, and my great-uncle, now nearly ninety, was born when Coleridge was already fifty. As a Victorian father he wasn’t afraid to instill discipline through beatings, but the impression we get of him now is a man who was very much respected and admired. He paid close attention to detail and could even draw a straight line without a ruler.

I am still researching the work Coleridge did as a town planner in Newton Abbot for many years, but I know that he was instrumental in planning the war memorial there and insisting an old oak tree was removed, which was shown to be diseased when it was done. This was the unveiling in 1922:

Postcard view of the unveiling ceremony in 1922.

Coleridge did not live to see his son’s wedding, as he died of Weil’s disease in 1947, contracted when he was inspecting sewers as part of his work.  He did meet his future daughter-in-law though, my granny, who took this photograph of him:

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I would hope that Coleridge’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren would have made him proud in our various endeavours. Some of us are musical. Some have an aptitude for numbers. Some are happy to challenge things and come up with original solutions. Some are strict. We are more widely spread but we have this united Cornish heritage we can be proud of.

Happy 140th, great-grandpa!

Still time to talk

Last Thursday marked ‘Time to Talk’ day. For some time beforehand I had told myself that it would be a good day to blog again to get people up to speed with my own health.

Then, because of my own health, I was not up to it on the day. Yep.

And, because of my own health, it has taken a disproportionate length of time to get this done at all. Ah, yep.

You may not be bothered about reading about mental health, or interested in why I behave the way I do these days. Please don’t feel any obligation to read on. I am not fishing for sympathy or even trying to make excuses. I would like to put down my thoughts on this blog, however; it is a difficult subject to bring up and worthy of some attention. Mental ill health is an invisible condition.

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Since I got very ill in 2013, I have learned that I fail if I rush. I fail if I push myself too far. I fail if I get in a cycle of negative thoughts, eating habits or lack of discipline. I succeed only if I carefully pace life, keeping at things, finding the positives, respecting myself and living by faith, so it is still worth putting this blog post up even on the wrong day. Especially on the wrong day.

Every day can be a wrong day when you battle with the non-newtonian fluid that is time with a cloudy mind. I have no idea what day it is normally; it isn’t so important if you can’t juggle more than one thing well. To counter this I have lists and routines to ensure children are fed, dressed and delivered to and collected from school or clubs. Not knowing the day is like a mist that many of us experience when we’re busy. This state however is what my own mind is like most of the time. A dense fog. It’s out there, but I don’t know where to look – when I cannot see where I am going, I go to autopilot for many tasks. I cannot see where I have been either, as my memory is very patchy.

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I make an effort to make myself remember things, but you may see me struggle to recall something from last week, last year or childhood, which may then suddenly come back into my head days later with real clarity.

That can be frustrating, unless I see it for what it is and allow myself longer to remember things; I only hope I’m not called up in court to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ when what is available to me is ‘the whole truth as I perceive it today, although there may be more I cannot yet access’. When I’m on a roll with an activity or in the zone mentally on a specific project I can sometimes stay focussed for far longer than usual, but as soon as I stop, that’s it. Gone. At other times I struggle to concentrate on a TV programme or a film or a book I’m reading. I don’t know why this is.

So when I do push myself too far, what does ‘failure’ mean? When my mind clouds or my memory or plans don’t make sense, that is. It is a sense of being lost, but it is also a lack of being able to function or be present in the moment. It is as if large parts of my mind are frozen. I can see tasks all around me but not only can I not arrange which order to do them in, but I cannot see how to do any given one. I have to reduce my focus intentionally and heavily against the flow of my wandering mind to one specific activity, and then hope and pray nothing comes along to throw me off. As I have a naturally divergent mind this can be quite draining mentally. If I am low emotionally it just costs too many spoons to achieve much in a day.

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My daily spoon allowance is probably around 20 going by the chart here (which is not entirely accurate for me, but gives a general idea). My limits are nothing like as serious as dealing with the effects of ME, fybromyalgia or any of many other invisible illnesses, but it is real. If I give you my time, I will honestly think it is worthwhile doing so. If I don’t, it may well be down to self-preservation.

As an introvert, I love people, but I just don’t always love being around them. Being with people saps my mental resources very quickly. When I am very ill I cannot be around even my immediate family until I’ve recharged (currently this happens at least twice a day), and being in groups pays a very heavy toll; I need to make time to be alone on my own terms for several hours if I have had to be around a large group or in a space where I could not get away from people. This limits going into town, social events, sports, potential work situations and affects the rate at which I can do voluntary activities.

I get anxious internally, panicky and confused. Really confused. I may mess about or be facetious just to manage to remain in a place with others. Or I might hold one of my children close so that I don’t need to take responsibility for anything I can’t focus on. I forget things and my mind needs stimulus without saturation – so I find my foot tapping or my fingers moving about. I start to believe that I am not capable or that my slow pace of progress on tasks will mean I cannot achieve good things without a lot of support. The idea of making a phone call fills me with dread; even answering one can take a spoon or two from that day. I remind myself that I used to be a high-achiever and try not to blame myself for the slow going I find in my life today. I am writing a book. Even aside from the regular discipline needed for writing, I am having to be kind to myself when other things crowd in and use up the resources I have on any given day. Perhaps this will change in time, but until then I have to be content with baby steps and finding purpose and affirmation instead in the trivial and mundane activities I do at home or the exciting and useful things I do at church or out and about.

When I burned out nearly four years ago I was able to access counselling which was wonderful for talking over areas of my life that had caused hurt and working through some irrational thinking patterns. This has helped enormously. However, despite the counselling, and despite loving friends and family, an understanding doctor and appropriate medication (I tried to live without it for a year and am now back on it), I have realised that my mental health may be something which colours a huge amount of what I do. Where I was once highly attentive, I am frequently now oblivious. Where I was able to focus, I find I get overly tense and exhausted easily. I open many tabs in my mind (and on my computer) so that I can feel some sense of accomplishment, but do not finish all the tasks and forget what I am trying to do when I have to go off and collect the children or cook or see to the pets. As a result I start lots of ideas and struggle to maintain them.

I survive on cups of tea, on kind words, on prayer, on the promise of a book to come, on incremental improvements, on medication and on each of life’s many joys.

In the fog, joyful events and sad moments can each come as surprises. But I can also lose the sad moments more quickly as they get forgotten, and enjoy what is good by focusing hard on them and planning good things which will come around and surprise me.

The experience is like walking by trust with little sight, unaware of quite how the next chapter is going to unfold. It is not an experience I would have chosen, or would want to remain in any longer than I need to, but it is familiar now and I can work with it.

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(photo by Ian Furst)

 

Don’t stand on the baby!

Anyone who has had children will have stories to tell about scrapes they have got into. The summer before last, my son Joe had a nasty fall. He had been playing in the garden, ran in without looking and cut his eyebrow quite deeply on the corner of a chair. He was in some pain but his screams shook the panic out of me as I had to calculate how to comfort him, how to get to A&E, where to take his sister and what to do about the injury.

I am a mum, so I got on with it. I even took photos. Even as my adrenaline kicked me into auto-pilot TLC I wished that I knew more about what to do. Some years beforehand I vaguely remembered having completed a couple of basic first aid courses, but this was real and immediate, the blood was actually dark and runny and horrifying; in the event my mummy-brain just gave up so I put on a brave face, ticked the boxes the best I could and tried not to blame myself too much.

In due course at A&E Joe was seen by some wonderful nurses and glued back together; today his scar has silvered and hardly shows. But I see it whenever he snuggles in close. For me it’s a reminder of when I didn’t know what to do to help my child.

 

Right now of course he’s fine and I’m so glad he’s over his little adventure safely.

I’m also pleased that I have a much better knowledge of first aid. It took me a while, but this week I got around to it, by attending a Mini First Aid course run by Ruth Wilson. Ruth is a friend of mine, so I set aside my fears and excuses and agreed to come along in order to learn more and to blog about what she does. Ruth has lots of experience in nursing, health visiting (the ‘good sort’) and child-minding, as well as having five children. She is calm and encouraging, conveying lots of useful and practical information in a thoughtful and interesting way, with plenty of humour in the mix.

You need humour if you’re going to learn about injuries. I don’t think I’d ever before been taught:

 

“don’t stand on the baby!”

…but then I don’t think Ruth had ever had to teach that before either. I do have a knack of bringing up rather ridiculous ideas and questions. It helps me remember.

(For the record, it is acceptable to stem blood flow from an open artery in order to save a limb by applying your full weight to a pressure point. I can picture a small medic standing on a big patient for this purpose. Not so good, however, for adults treating babies.)

Sbaby-and-child-first-aidome first aid may seem obvious of course. But what about the correct equipment for a home first aid kit, or where you should really keep it? I have not got any hypoallergenic plasters for visitors; that was a take home action point for me. And I took my car first aid kit out years ago and haven’t replaced it. Oops. I do have an app on my phone (Red Cross) since Joe fell, except I haven’t really studied how it works.

I guess most of us would think we have a basic knowledge of first aid. I can summon up the recovery position. Also, I do know what to do for a nose bleed and where I keep disinfectant (certainly) and safety pins (probably). But, for all the half-remembered ideas in my head about what to do in the event of an emergency and why I might even need safety pins, I have to admit I was lacking crucial knowledge and skills. How many of us are up to speed on what to do in the event of choking, burns, broken bones or shock? Once I’d stopped and thought about it I realised there’s not much of an excuse, really. Courses are widely available now and Ruth’s 2 hour mini first aid course is only £20, which is very reasonable. There are others, but the format of this one, which included her baby and child props for CPR and other procedures was very well thought through and friendly, with nine of us meeting in a church creche room.

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Not the real Tintin

Many, or perhaps most of my friends raise children or work with children. Even others, including teenagers and grandparents babysit. Adults runs clubs, groups and events for children and at these times most of us probably hope that someone else is the qualified first aider. Like me, you may not enjoy dealing with blood. But we also host other people’s children in our homes, mind our nephews and nieces, and are the responsible adults for those who live in our homes for a huge amount of their time. The times when they climb a bit too far, times when they spill hot drinks, times when they run into walls or trip and bang their heads.

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Or have their heads banged for them.

The others in the group seemed very keen to take lots of notes, but I wanted to remember everything I could. There was a lot to take in, and the course notes to take away did help, as well as being able to ask all sorts of sensible (and less sensible) questions. I’m now far more confident about when I would take a child to a doctor or to A&E and what order to do things in, in an emergency. I hope I never have to use CPR, but now I feel like I would be able to give it my best shot.

And God willing, I don’t have to rush Joe to hospital again with another nasty cut. But if I did, this time I’d know about applying pressure to it.

Rather than telling you all the other things I learned and revised, I encourage you to make time to do a first aid course yourself if you haven’t done one recently. Mini First Aid have courses around the UK, if you find yourself looking after little ones.

And, whatever you do, please don’t stand on the baby.

 

Mum…

I turn in my car seat and look at Joe. He is six and a half now, and one furtive ‘big tooth’ is pushing up behind his first wobbly incisor. His hair is a mousy scruff and his eyes curious.

‘Er, mum……’

‘Yes, Joe?’

‘Well, do you think, ink, think, um, do you think…’

‘Yes Joe? [spit it out, boy!]’

I turn back in my seat.

‘I have to keep driving, Joe. What do I think?’

‘Joe?’

‘Joe, you were asking me a question, what do you want to know?’

‘Oh yes, I know. Mum, do you think, ink, um… what’s that thing again?’

‘What thing?’

‘Do you think I have that thing?’

‘What thing Joe?’

He turns to the window and starts doodling on the glass with his fingers.

‘Joe?’

‘Joe, are you listening?’

He clearly isn’t.

‘Er, mum, do you think I have that thing, ing, that thing?’

‘What thing, mister?’

‘That thing where you get really, um, distracted*?’

‘Mum?’

‘Well, that’s hard to say Joe. I didn’t use to think that… ‘

Hmm. So now I need to investigate whether his levels of distraction are beyond the typical for his age. When I can get around to it, I mean. It’s most likely genetic in any case probably.

*He cannot pronounce ‘distracted’ and most likely said ‘extracted’, for what it’s worth. Other Joeisms include sumbarines, dymanics, and his favourite grace: ‘Ear God, Thank You For Our Food And AMEN’.

I should think he’s well in the running to be president some day.

 

Not Forgetting Auld Acquaintance

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Ha ha ha, this story really does run and run.

Many blessings on Chris King and his new wife in the years to come, from all of us here. Glad your best man was canny enough to contact us so that Lily could write you this in time.

The Virgin and the Promise

‘Do to me just as you promised,’ she says. Words from the mouth of a young girl in ancient Israel, a virgin, never married, facing news that would shake her to the core.

However, this isn’t the story we expect. She is not Mary. Instead, a girl we don’t know; I wish I knew her name. We know a little of her story from Judges 11 and our hearts ache when we read it. Her story was told and retold for thousands of years: after her father’s battle victory he had to fulfil a conditional vow he’d made. A cruel and foolish promise that he would sacrifice in thanksgiving a burnt offering of whatever came out of the door of his house on his return to greet him first.

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Perhaps a goat would run out. A lamb. Or a working animal, like an ox. How did this military man not calculate or expect his only child, his daughter could be the one?

That she would run to meet him singing?

What is the sound of victory if it costs you all you have?

So his heart broke. If only he had vowed differently. If only an animal had come through the door first. But now the doorframe must be painted with the blood of his daughter.

For a couple of months this unnamed girl goes away with her friends to weep. She is denied her future and she asks for the opportunity to grieve. I don’t know how she does it, but she accepts her fate. In her words I heard echoes of Mary’s words in Luke 1: ‘May it be to me as you have said.’

Two girls, two futures changed by events outside their control. They each get a few months to ponder and get away. One stops singing to grieve what is lost and the other learns about pregnancy and birth, singing and silence.

The sacrifice of the warrior Jephthah’s daughter comes after a victory, and although it seems senseless to us, in his eyes it must have felt connected. The sacrifice of Mary’s son many years later looks senseless as well, but is a necessary step in a victory too.

The grief and the love go hand in hand. The victory and the sacrifice.

Today we see the children of Aleppo being sacrificed and we grieve lost futures, lost hopes and foolish promises. They did not opt in to this. Their sacrifice is not necessary. Their blood on doorframes is a violation and an outrage. What kind of victory can possibly happen here?

‘Nothing is impossible with God,’ the angel tells Mary.

‘He has lifted up the humble,’ she sings later as she understands.

God alone turns things around from chaos to order and from despair to hope.

O Lord God, lift and bless the children of Aleppo today. Free them from the fighting and the fear and the mess and the madness. End this senseless war and plant peace, deep, life-giving and fulfilling in every heart in the region. Show us doors of life instead of broken buildings. 

 

 

Sizewell

Fifteen years ago today I was at Sizewell Hall, sitting down to a fish and chip supper, when I heard a quiet voice in my head telling me I was about to meet my husband.

I was on an away weekend with a friend who had dragged me along so that she could find a husband herself, and having recently decided I was finally ok with myself and not in any way desperate for a relationship, I was somewhat stunned when this happened. Keeping it to myself, I took a look and realised that there was only one guy on the table I was at all interested in. The chap diagonally opposite had himself been brought along by a friend. He too had recently finally decided he was ok with himself, having spent a month travelling in Australia. He introduced himself as Matthew, definitely not Matt.

The following day, after a drive in his car (he asked his friend to let me sit in the front) and a walk at Dunwich Heath where we were able to chat further and almost hold hands stumbling through the trees, we found ourselves back at Sizewell Hall playing Taboo with a number of others, realising that we were thinking along exactly the same lines and shared the same sense of humour. We found more connections as we talked and I learned that he worked at BT and had studied Engineering at Cambridge. I did an internal double-take. God must have realised that pairing me with someone who had (a) gone to Cambridge, a personal unrealised dream I’d had since I was eleven, and (b) got a degree in Engineering, a subject I worked at in industry and then for a year at university was something of a divine joke. Here was someone who epitomised my perceived failures in life. The fact I felt more comfortable with myself mattered here. I could see things in a more measured way. Having worked and studied alongside engineers for a couple of years, I had a good idea about the way these strange people think and how to relate well to them. Optimising. Worst case scenarios. Odd jokes.

The following day, the Sunday, as we prepared to leave, I got Matthew’s number and his surname: Robinson. I remember flirting badly and then being given the third degree from my friend on the way back, who hadn’t picked up any numbers herself.

We emailed for a few weeks, started dating and Matthew visited me in Prague where I was studying part-time that February.

We were married in 2003. We’ve only been back to Dunwich once (on our twelve-and-a-halfth anniversary) but we’ve had fish and chips quite a few times since. I am constantly grateful that I’ve got Matthew and that God instigated it all. Marriage takes effort and a lot of communication and commitment, but God knew what he was doing putting the two of us together.

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