Wednesday, 18 May 2011

This day shall be mine...

It's been an interesting few weeks. From the glory of a dawn chorus walk with friends and locals to the ups and downs of half-a-job-or-no-job and back to the glory of a prisoner who's started talking in iambics because he's read so much Shakespeare in the past month.

I'll start with the birds.

It's absolutely thrilling to stand in the dark listening to a wave of birdsong approaching from the east. You're actually listening to the day arriving - or listening to the world spinning on its axis. It happens very quickly and then suddenly it's right over you and all around you. A sort of musical massage, because your skin won't stop tingling. This should be in everyone's list of Things To Do before I Die.

We have two cuckoos near us again this year - both males. They fly side by side and call in unison. I don't know if they're the same ones who have returned, or two new ones. Last year I was convinced they were gay, but an RSPB expert thinks it unlikely. He reckons they're in competition, that they're trying to out-cuckoo each other. It seems to be a pretty amiable sort of competition, that's all I can say.

Closer to home, in my garden, there are about ten starlings that visit on a regular basis. Among them are four young ones. They're very hungry and are very partial to the coconut feeder and the endless supply of beetle larvae we put out.

Here are two of them:

There's something restorative about taking the time to sit down with a mug of tea and watch the birds. Just half an hour a day will teach you an awful lot about their habits and feeding protocols. I've noticed, for example, that a pigeon will never try to interrupt a starling feeding. It might be twice the size, but this seems to have no bearing on the pecking order. Even a jackdaw is loathe to get between a starling and its food. I've seen a whole row of them patiently lining up and waiting their turn.

And now the half-a-job business. The economic crisis is biting. We all know that. The Writers in Prison Network is bouncing back with all sorts of ideas for new funding streams. It's very much a watch-this-space time and I'm hoping to continue for another year, if not for another four. But another one of my jobs is threatened. People are cinching in their belts, that's for sure. Fewer people signing up to two creative writing classes means the classes will become one and so my fee will be halved. The fee is already half of what it should be, anyway. Thankfully, there's no shortage of work for me at the moment and, if anything, I sometimes have to turn jobs down. But taking a 50% reduction in fee is not good. It means you're undercutting other workers in the same field. It also means you're placing a lower value on your work. It takes years, decades, to get to a very high level of expertise and knowledge. It takes hours and hours of research. There's a lot of topping up that goes on behind the scenes. Artists don't just deliver a workshop and leave it at that. Or they shouldn't. I have met one or two who do and I wouldn't recommend their work to anyone. So...what to do?

I'm not one for standing still. I joined the Humanist Association today. I've been meaning to for a long time.  I want to work as a celebrant. Standing up and talking at the funeral of my sister who was killed nearly four years ago, I realized how urgent that desire had become. I've waited until now. I feel that some deep changes are imminent in my life. Time to assess where I've been, where I am and what is waiting for me. Not that I necessarily believe in fate. But things move subtly. They can be felt. There are undertows and currents. We are often instruments of these ourselves without ever knowing. My training application is in the post even as I write this.

Now here's an interesting fact. Just before my sister died, she mentioned to me that our great-grandfather had been a Humanist. He'd been an admirer of Robert G. Ingersoll. This is what my great-grandfather wrote:

    This day shall be mine. From the first gray streak of its early dawn till the last golden ray of its setting sun melts away on the horizon of the West, it shall belong to me.

    With charity for all, I will go my way, following the dictations of my own conscience; and strive with all my power to lift my fellow-man from the darkness that surrounds him.

    I will live so that should tomorrow dawn, I may look upon to-day with a feeling that I have added my humble mite to the cause of Justice and Humanity.

    And it shall bring me much joy.
                                                                         - Thomas Heath Flood

Evidently, I'm following in good footsteps.

Here he is with my great-grandmother:

And finally...talking in iambics. I had to laugh. I didn't believe him at first, but the prisoner told me he'd studied three Shakespeare plays in a row last week and, as we were reading through Macbeth this week, he really was. In fact, he's developed such an acute ear for Shakespeare's language and metrical values, I really began to wonder about immersion theory. Perhaps this is a technique that schools should be using? Extraordinary. 

What a week.

And now for some links, bloggers. Go forth and explore:

I'm reading at Witney Book Festival 
on Friday June 17th at 7pm
at St Mary's Church, Witney

....I know, I know...I'm a Humanist...but great buildings are for great poetry readings, and I intend to give one. Put it in your diary!

The British Humanist Association
Lots of really interesting people are members. Thinkers and doers. Have a look. 

The Writers in Prison Network 
are currently advertising 
for writers to work in four prisons. 
Check it out.

Get writing! You know you've always wanted to!


  1. Lovely post, Pat! All of it.

    I have been a Humanist, though no longer a member as such.

  2. BTW the poster looks very good. Maybe we could have it as an attachment and then put it up locally?