Monthly Archives: September 2013

Is That All There Is?

I think I was about fourteen when I first heard Peggy Lee sing that song.

Is That All There Is? she asked and I experienced a profound melancholy. God didn’t visit our house, I was brought up by a lapsed catholic and an agnostic and while there were many lively and thought-provoking conversations, there was no sense of faith or belief. I don’t regret that. I’m a full-blown atheist now. I was then, really. I refused to kneel or close my eyes during prayers at school assemblies or when forced to go to church because I felt the whole idea of religion to be a nonsense. I was a very opinionated child. I was also a very sad child.

Looking at the world around me, I saw life as a long, hard road of endless travail. From the secret alcoholic next door with her bottles of cider hidden in a shopping basket, to the posh, elderly woman around the corner caring for a husband who’d been afflicted in middle age by an illness that left him prone to wandering around the village in his underwear with a dazed and confused expression on his face. No one had it easy. Wherever you were and wherever you were from, the only variable was the degree of difficulty. I knew all this at fourteen and when I heard Peggy lamenting that she might as well just keep dancing, I became depressed. She was confirming my world view and not contradicting it. You are born, you marry, you breed, then you die. I felt trapped. Claustrophobic. Rudderless.

I’m very fond of that song these days. It’s lost none of its meaning for me but I have become more philosophical about life – or have I? Wandering the countryside with my dog, watching the cycle of life and death turn through the seasons, I’m OK with the idea that one day I’ll be dust like the summer-scorched grass or the car-flattened badger. I don’t think my spirit will wander or ascend to some higher realm but my dust will always exist. I once heard Professor Brian Cox say that all our precious metals, here on earth, originated from the heart of a dying star. Everything that is will become something else. That is the miracle of our universe, I believe. But what of life? What about the ordinariness of every day existence? I plod through life, struggling, grafting and getting by. I still have ambition but a lot of time has got behind me,  the future is shorter than it was and hope has become tarnished by reality. Am I really more philosophical or simply more inclined to shrug and sing along with Peggy?

Sandwiched as I am between the shiny-faced excitement of my teenage niece and her friends and the watered-down compromises of my age group, I look from one to the other and wish it wasn’t so. With or without a god in your heart, life is bloody hard work. A friend of mine is an evangelist christian whose only topic of conversation is God. She firmly believes that if I accepted the Lord Jesus into my heart, I would be happier. Life would have meaning. My soul would be saved. This comes from, probably, the unhappiest, least fulfilled woman I know. God may move in mysterious ways but, crikey, he’s taken this poor creature all round the houses and back again and she still doesn’t know if she’s coming or going. It will be OK though because she’s going to Heaven. That’s the pay-off isn’t it? Life is a bitch but there’s always the afterlife …

I haven’t written this post with any idea of knocking religion, or sneering at people’s beliefs. I only mention it because I want to preclude anyone from telling me that it would all make sense if I just believed. No it wouldn’t. Life is life is life and it is tough whether you believe that there is a purpose to it and a reward at the end of it, or you don’t. I don’t.

Two days ago, my sister, St Francis and I delivered a small second-hand couch to a friend that St F has known for years. They worked together back in the days when they were both young, free and single. When the light that I see in my niece shone in their faces. Now St F is a single mum and her pal is a weekend dad living in a tiny bedsit in the city. Both are grey-faced with fatigue and clench-jawed with the stress of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Of solving problems for themselves and their kids, of hiding their fear and frustration.

‘I love you, mate,’ St F said as she hugged her friend goodbye.

‘I love you too,’ he replied holding her close.

Standing off to the side, I watched as he put his head on St F’s shoulder and closed his eyes. In that moment I saw the utter misery in his face as he drew strength from my sister’s embrace. Then, they drew apart and he was the kind, funny, decent guy we know and love again.

And in the back of my head, Peggy Lee sang, Is That All There Is? Is That ALL There Is?


Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Family Life, Musing


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Weekly Writing Challenge – Backward.

Tits on the Fo’c’sle

‘I’m dragged out of a warm bunk, sent out on deck to moor up with ropes that won’t bend because they’re frozen and it’s dark and I can’t feel my fingers and it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and you know what? I bet when we go to the pub someone will say to me “Oh, so you’re a sailor. Do you like your job?” Hah!’ Sam blew across the top of her mug of coffee before taking a sip. It was a pointless gesture – the coffee was already cold. It had arrived cold.

Huddled against the bulwarks to avoid the wicked blade of the January wind, Sam and I faced each other across the fo’c’sle. Two indistinct shapes in the early morning dark, we barely resembled human women with our layers of old sweaters, woolly hats and ratty, cargo dusted coats but my sister, St Francis, picked us out against the backscatter from the lights on the canal banks. She too was cold. She too would rather have been in her bed but she had an advantage over Sam and me. Her mooring station was aft, right by the back door into the accommodation. Right next to the galley. St F could go inside and get warm. Bless her for thinking of us up front. Bless her for bringing us a hot drink. Or at least, a drink that was hot when she started out on the seventy metre journey to the bow.

‘Just inside the locks,’ our captain had said. The berth that we had been assigned was just inside the locks. He lied. Or, if I’m feeling generous, he was mistaken. Either way, Sam, St F and I spent two freezing hours out on deck waiting to tie up. We didn’t dare to leave our stations because we didn’t know where we were going. You could bet a pound to a bent hat pin that should Sam or I have headed aft for a warm up or a pee, the berth would mystically appear right in front of us. On a tatty old tramp coaster we didn’t have the luxury of a VHF radio to communicate with the bridge. Colin, the captain, could come out on the bridge wing and shout instructions at us but he wasn’t leaving the relative warmth of the wheelhouse to let us know what was happening. Bastard.

Back in the locks, all had been brightly lit and busy. Ships, barges, rope men and three tired, bleary-eyed women forcing heavy, iced ropes around the bitts to secure their ship to the quay. There had been the usual ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ among the rope men when we had entered the locks but Belgium, even as far back as the late eighties, had been a more enlightened place than England and so we didn’t have to endure the usual obscene gestures or innuendo-laden comments that our countrymen inflicted on us when they saw a female deck crew. Or maybe we just didn’t know the Belgian for ‘Ooh look, there’s tits on the fo’c’sle!’

Ten minutes the other side of the locks. On the seaward side with the freshening wind and the peak and trough of the swell, the pilot had clambered up from the deck of his cutter to guide our ship into harbour. It wasn’t a long climb, our ship wasn’t that large but he looked nervous. He swung his leg over the gunwale, ascertained that I was the mate and looked around at Sam and St F.

‘Is the captain also a woman?’ he asked.

Once, I was warm. Toasty warm. Laid under my duvet, half on my front with one leg drawn up to counteract the rolling of the ship, I may have been dreaming but if I was, the images broke and skittered away when the knock came and my cabin door opened.

‘Lorraine, it’s time to get up,’ said the captain. ‘We’re picking up the pilot in five minutes.’

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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Shedward Seawards


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Autumn Has Landed

Just like that!

UK weather forecasters predicted rain and flash floods. Our area had amber alerts for adverse conditions but we awoke to blazing sunshine and unbearable heat. We watched news reports of rain-lashed, wind-tossed northern towns and went off sniggering behind our hands to splash around in my sister’s giant inflatable pool. Oh what jolly fun. Then, yesterday morning, I opened the back door and invited Eric to go out for his morning pee. He looked at me. He looked at the rain hammering down on the swamp that was our little patch of lawn and he refused to budge. It takes some doing to lift your foot up to the backside of a 40kg dog and shove him out the door but I managed it – eventually. Four feet have more traction than two but I’m bigger than he is and equally as determined. Out into the downpour he went and, because the wind was cold, I shut the door on him. Oh! Now I can really appreciate the expression ‘hang dog’!

I’m not sorry though. I’d rather mop up giant, muddy footprints from my kitchen floor than a yellow lake, if you get my drift. And anyway, aren’t Dobermanns big, tough, fierce animals? No, sorry, got to stop typing – laughing too much. Oh the tears …

Besides, I’m a nice doggy guardian. I have made a throw especially for the couch that he likes to sleep on. That way I don’t have to endlessly wipe off paw prints before a human can sit on it. I just whip off the throw and ta da! Nice clean seat. I even – wait for this – allowed him up on to said couch when he finally did come in out of the rain. And I cuddled him. And I thought about getting him a blanket if he was cold. He sulked for a bit and huffed and grumbled but he forgave me in the end. He had to. Of the two of us, I’m the one who knows how to light the wood stove.

Yes it’s that time of year. No more long days and short nights. No more keeping all the windows open to let in night breezes (and half the insect population). Heat seeking spiders the size of Volkswagens are appearing in the nooks and crannies of my house (and are being helped out again with glass and paper) and instead of trying to move away from Eric when he takes up residence across my bed, I huddle up to him. For the warmth. Strictly for the warmth.

Oh yeah, and cos I love him.


Posted by on September 9, 2013 in Family Life, Nature


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