Author Archives: Andrea Corrie

About Andrea Corrie

Author, writer, poet, reader, photographer, walker, jogger, runner, wife, mother, stepmother, sister, daughter, friend, reflexologist, Reiki master, massage therapist, pacifist..... Organised, impatient, intolerant, empathic, happy, sad, yes I know they all contradict, don't we all?

Grief, loss and stepping into a New Year

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As 2017 closes and the New Year approaches, it is a time of mixed feelings for many of us. What lies ahead in 2018?  The year will arrive as a fresh, empty page, ready to be filled with a potpourri of joys, achievements, happiness and sorrow, over the next twelve months.

This time last year, Shaun and I were contemplating a move to the West Country, with an equal mix of excitement and trepidation.  A year on, and our move has happened; we are settling into a different, countryside life in Devon, our time filled with the prospect of new adventures.  We are very fortunate and the turn of the year is a good time to take stock and feel gratitude for what we have, never forgetting the links we have left behind us.

But having lost my brother to cancer this year, I know that turning the corner from 2017 to 2018 will have its difficulties too.

Looking back over 2017, Peter was here; looking forward into 2018 … he is not.

The memories I have of him are mixed as we had periods of estrangement, but I find it easy to focus on the better times we shared, particularly over the past few years.  I know too, that as time passes and the loss becomes less raw, I will be able to share and enjoy some more family memories with my nephew, Ben.  Peter’s spirit lives on in his son, which is immensely comforting.

Losing James 12 years ago has taught me many lessons about living with grief and loss, and the turn of the year feels like a good time to reiterate some of them, to help those who are grieving the loss of someone dear …

 “How can I face a new year without him/her in it?”

Try not to resist the New Year.  There is comfort in living in the past, that’s true, but endeavour to see the opportunities that may present in the year to come, and embrace them in memory of, and on behalf of, the person you have lost.  Know that he or she will be proud of you. Don’t be afraid to draw strength from those who offer it … sometimes you have to accept that you need that input.

“How can I dilute the pain of my loss?”

Writing or talking about different aspects of what has happened may help.  As time passes you will find that you don’t need to go into so much detail.  Soon after James died, I wanted to tell everyone I encountered that I had lost my son, but I gradually became more selective.  Every telling and re-telling of your story can help to reduce the impact.  Eventually you will be able to do it without tears.

“What will help me to feel positive about the coming year?”

Each challenge that comes your way, whether it is simple like grocery shopping or major such as a job change, has to be faced differently without your loved one.  I can remember the early days of loss when I would tell James out loud, as I was driving home, how well I had coped at work that day (probably this would be a day I managed to get through without weeping).  The cumulative effect of constantly trying to achieve milestones, big or small, helped me to feel better.  And indeed, this still works.  If you can visualise your loved one(s) at your shoulder, encouraging your efforts, this can really help.  I always try to ‘see’ James walking in my shadow, and I often sense my mum around me … intangible and difficult to explain, but helpful support nonetheless.

“Where do I find the practical tools that will help me through grief?”

There are many different options for self-care and self-help.  If you tend to think negatively, making positive affirmations can help.  Soothe yourself with music or treat yourself to something that uplifts you, such as a beauty or complementary therapy.  Boost your endorphins by walking or working out in the gym.  Spend time in nature.  Buy yourself some flowers.  Make a spiritual connection through meditation or prayer.  Light an incense stick.  Draw a picture.  Write a letter. Bake a cake.  Really, anything goes! The only rule is that whatever you do must comfort you and take you off the grinding treadmill of grief for a while.

“How do I trust in the unknown that the New Year represents?”

You need to have faith and hope to move forward when you are grieving.  Faith that it will get better.  Hope for the future.  Hope also for the gift of a future that does not contain your loved one, yet is enriched by his or her lifetime and what they brought to their own life, and yours.

Somehow you will come to know what it takes to have the courage to live for the future by working through one day at a time and living in the present.

It may help too, to consider the best characteristics of the person who died, and try to emulate them.  For instance, James possessed a wealth of compassion in his persona and I believe I hold deeper compassion for those who suffer since he died.  I feel that I have acquired this quality from his being and I owe it to him to carry it forward on his behalf.  When someone dies, it behoves those who are left to carry the baton for them, and this is particularly true when you lose a child and know that you are living the future that has been denied to him or her.

You may feel guilty that you are here, and they are not.  Don’t be afraid to kick guilt out … smile, laugh and look forward to tomorrow with as much joy as you can.  You are doing it for your family, friends and those who are still living, as well as those who are not.

“How can I bring my loved one into the New Year with me?”

One of the hardest things about the turn of the year, and particularly the first New Year after loss, is the knowledge that your loved ones are not coming with you, at least physically.  You might need to mark their presence in a tangible way.  Lighting a candle and proposing a toast are simple options.  Talking about the person can be helpful, too.

If you are with someone who is bereaved, never, and I really mean never, be afraid to say his or her name.  You will not make someone feel worse by mentioning the person who died.  You are not ‘reminding’ them, rather you are showing empathy, and that will be appreciated.  Trust me!

In closing, I remember those whom I have lost and also hold dear those who remain, my cherished and loved family and friends

I wish everyone a peaceful, happy and healthy 2018.

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links:

The Compassionate Friends    https://www.tcf.org.uk/

CRUSE Bereavement Care        https://www.cruse.org.uk/

 

 

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Observations on Advent

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Sometimes I wake in the night feeling thirsty.  It’s pitch dark and I carefully sit up in bed so as not to disturb my husband Shaun.  I reach out for the glass of water on my bedside table, and although I cannot see it, my hand unerringly closes easily around the glass. I quench my thirst, and then I use my other hand to locate the edge of the table so that I put the drink down safely.

This small event may seem insignificant; but it carries an important message.

Though I cannot see the glass, I know that it is there and what is more, I can trustingly reach out and grasp it whenever I want, even when I am only half awake and bleary-eyed.  What a brilliant example of faith! – in fact it’s blind faith in the true sense of the word.

I’m exposed daily to minor miracles which I take for granted.  For instance, it may be easy to explain the practicalities of the process, but I am always amazed by everything that happens in the few seconds it takes to start my car.  All elements have to be correctly aligned before that spark of energy fires the engine, and yet they come together every time.

I am sure I am not alone in trusting in many things I can neither see nor understand.

At this time of year, when the days are short and the darkness can seem impenetrable, literally and figuratively, I am grateful for the time of Advent.  The spiritual aspect of the weeks leading to the festive celebrations is a good antidote to the frenetic preparation, shopping and cooking for Christmas get-togethers and precious family time.

Advent is in itself a period of reflection and anticipation.

Advent provides opportunities for stillness and serenity with an added air of expectation.

Advent promises the light after the darkness.

Advent offers the culmination of something special time after time.

Advent is a season that understands the emptiness of grief; it is a time that can begin to provide the filling of that emptiness and the repair of that which has been broken.              For those who are grieving, the simple act of lighting a candle in remembrance offers the comfort of light to help in dispersing the darkness of loss.

The true essence of Christmas lies in the fulfillment of the promise of Advent, culminating in the telling and retelling of the story of the arrival of the much celebrated baby boy.  Jesus was born all those years ago in Bethlehem and his birth may perhaps take the prize for ‘most renowned in history’.

We cannot see those long ago people now.  We cannot hear their voices exclaiming,      “How wonderful!” as they must have said when they gazed into the crib.                               We cannot feel their awed emotion, or taste their food, or drink their water.                         But what we can do is rejoice with our own faith that what they saw, felt, ate and drank laid many of the foundations for how we feel, eat and drink today.

Christmas is not just about the presents, it is also about the presence – the demonstration of belief and trust that happens year on year. 

For relatively new Christians like me, the discovery of the anticipatory joy of Advent brings with it the excitement of learning the biblical background and understanding its messages. Advent and the arrival of the light of Christmas allow for a sense of renewal, restoration and replenishment of the spirit, ready for the turn of the year that is soon to follow.

Stringing the lights, wrapping the gifts, singing the carols and adorning the tree all carry the messages of light, joy and hope that are there for all to enjoy, however you choose to celebrate.  If the enforced, collective jollity that is engendered by the run up to Christmas is not for you, then you can embrace your own ways of getting through the season.  It’s a personal choice.

Perhaps you too will reach out for your own glass of water in the night and recognise how this reflects your personal view of faith and trust.  It is all too easy to take the basics of life for granted. But they are underpinned by something truly ancient, immensely special and universally generous.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas!

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An Excellent Visit to Exmouth

 

An Excellent Visit to Exmouth

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The title of this post gives you the clue as to where I took the photo above … This particular engine, looking like a cross between a design by Wallace and Gromit and Heath Robinson, serves a very special and unique purpose.

The engine belongs to the tractor that drives the Shannon class RNLI Lifeboat at Exmouth Lifeboat station, where Shaun and I were invited to visit.  The state of the art lifeboat, the R & J Welburn, is the first of its kind in the South West.  It is described by the RNLI as “the latest class of all-weather lifeboat to join the RNLI fleet and the first to be propelled by waterjets instead of traditional propellers, making it our most agile and manoeuvrable all-weather lifeboat yet”.

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The invitation followed my recent talk at the RNLI College at Poole during which event I met Sarah Beresford, a Youth Education Manager for the RNLI.  This very personable and enthusiastic member of the team asked if we would like a tour of the station, particularly as we have recently moved to Devon and thus it is fairly local.  We accepted with alacrity and last Wednesday 23 August saw us arriving in Exmouth, a place neither of us has visited before. We enjoyed a stroll along the seafront, even a turn on the big wheel to enjoy the views and lunch at a local café, before heading off to the lifeboat station.

We were made very welcome on arrival and were introduced to Steve Hocking-Thompson, who in his voluntary RNLI capacity is a Coxswain at the Station. He was our very informative guide for a personal tour of the Shannon boat.

Entering the cabin of the Shannon is something akin (I imagine) to stepping inside a space ship.  Each seat has its own computer screen in front of it, and the technology is at the highest level of specification.  The very air inside the cabin has an electric, futuristic feel.   It smells of leather and sea and adrenalin, if you can imagine a scent for adrenalin!

Steve took us through many of the more basic functions on the screens such as the nautical equivalent of satnav, and before long our minds were reeling with the variety and scope of what is available on the boat to the Coxswain and crew when they are out at sea, whether inside the cabin or outside on the deck.

However, I found one of the most interesting aspects was when Steve said,

“When we are out on a service, I always remind the crew that despite their ability to track practically everything on their screens there is still no substitute for using their eyes to look out of the window”.  This was a salutary reminder of how, historically, life boatmen used to go out on perilous rescue missions with so little to guide them, and yet they still effected many brave rescues.  However, of course it is obvious that the sophisticated communications and technology are far more effective and fit for purpose.

After the fascinating tour of the Shannon and the equally interesting statistics relating to the way in which the new boat is propelled by the water, we duly admired the amazing engine and tractor that ensure the Shannon can be safely launched after crossing the sand banks along the Exmouth shoreline.

We were then introduced to Andy , a crew member and mechanic who has been with the RNLI for 21 years and who is another person who exudes enthusiasm and a vocational commitment to what he does for the organisation.

He showed us the inshore D Class lifeboat, the type of which is familiar to us from our visit to Teddington. The Exmouth boat is named George Pearman II in memory of the donor’s grandfather and Andy described it as the workhorse of the station.

The Exmouth lifeboat station itself is only five years old and we were told by the operations manager, Kevin, that it is a “vast improvement on the old Portakabins at the other end of the  beach in Exmouth”.  Certainly the facilities are impressive, and ethically sound, the lifeboats being washed down with recycled rainwater after exercises and service.   The building is heated by a modern cost effective solar powered heat pump system.

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Finally we were pleased to catch up with Sarah again who had been helping on a (fortunately successful) search for a missing child on the beach.  As always with the RNLI, we met with nothing but courtesy, a warm welcome and a willingness to share information with us.

We felt very privileged to have a personal and in depth tour of the facility and the lifeboats and it is perhaps understandable that we didn’t think much about the reason we were there in the first place.

But later on as I was thinking about the visit, I realised that once again it was emphasised to me that, unfortunately, no amount of personal intervention or technology could have prevented James’s accident at the time it happened.

Sadly, his scenario is not uncommon and is another good reason for promoting increased awareness of personal safety around water.  More and more this is shared by the committed work of all the organisations  who reinforce the messages of drowning prevention and increase the level of education to all.

This reinforces to me the crucially important but simple message to everyone to always Respect the Water.  It matters not whether you are near lake, swimming pool, reservoir, quarry, river, or ocean, the message is still the same; enjoy yourself, but remember to … Respect the Water at all times.

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(Above image taken from RNLI Exmouth Facebook page)

http://www.exmouthlifeboat.org.uk/

#RespectTheWater

 

Of Samaritans and Sacher-torte

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It’s been a while since I posted on the blog, due to our move from Surrey to Devon and the associated busyness related to finding our way round.  We are gradually settling in and getting to know our new home and area. This all amounts to a work in progress!

I wanted to share a rather unique and wonderful Good Samaritan experience that came our way last week.

We were on our way back from shopping in Tiverton and as we rounded a bend on the A396 road to Bampton, we saw a man and a woman standing near to a car.  The man had his thumb out, hitching a lift.

“Shall we stop?” I asked Shaun, who was driving.

“I think we should”, he replied, pulling over into the passing place.

The man and woman approached.  They were wearing hiking gear and didn’t look particularly concerned, so we weren’t sure quite what to expect.

They greeted us cheerfully enough and we immediately gathered they were not English (the red classic Renault with foreign plates should have given us a clue).

It turned out that they were Austrian. “Can you help us, please?” asked the woman.      “We need a lift to Exebridge, where our boat is moored”.

It turned out that they had driven from Exebridge to where we had stopped, a few miles outside Bampton, with the intention of walking back to board their boat, and ride it down the river to where the car was parked, a distance of some five miles in total.  But they had come unstuck …

“The road, it is so busy!” they exclaimed.  “No pavements and it is too hazardous to walk”, they added.  We agreed.  Although not an especially busy road, it is an A road and is thus not ideal walking territory.

“It’s fine”, said Shaun.  “Get in the car and I will drop my wife off at home with the shopping and then take you on to Exebridge”,

They got into the car gratefully.  I was racking my brains for anything to do with Austria to converse about, and eventually rather lamely came up with,

“I don’t know anything much about Austria, but I have eaten Sacher-torte” which seemed to please them.  It was the only common ground we could find and I was amused at the thought of sitting in the car talking about chocolate cake with two Viennese strangers!

Shaun dropped me home and amid much nodding and smiling goodbye from the couple, he set off again to Exebridge, and soon returned having dropped them off.

We thought no more about it, except to congratulate ourselves on having the warm fuzzy feeling of playing Good Samaritans for the couple.

We hoped they would enjoy the rest of their stay and take back to Austria with them an impression that the English can be helpful and friendly, too.

Early that evening, there was a ring on the doorbell. I opened the door to see the Renault outside, and I was presented with a bottle of red wine; the Austrian woman stood there, effusively thanking us for our kindness. There was much waving and smiling before the couple drove off again.

We were amazed and touched that the pair had gone to the trouble of coming back with a gift for us; how very kind!

I had to laugh when I read what was written on the wine bottle label:

“Instead of Sacher-cake, wine from Vienna.                                                                             Thank you for the ride!                                                                                                          Greetings, Claudia and Christian”.

Somehow, this incident makes us feel more settled in this lovely region to which we have moved.  We didn’t present to the Austrian couple as new strangers in town.  As far as they were concerned, we were the locals, they were the visitors.  This instils a new level of confidence that comes from feeling as though we are relaxing day by day into our new environment.  Shaun and I agree that Devon is already offering some unexpected bonuses.

It is markedly unusual for my blog posts not to include something about grief and loss, but it does not have a place in this piece.  Suffice to say that the enormous distractions of leaving work and relocating here have combined to put me into a place where, apart from around the anniversary of James’s passing, I have not had time to think about the ramifications of the changes.

There is something quite refreshing in the shift of focus and I am hopeful that it will give me inspiration in my writing and colour my words in a new way.  Time will tell!

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The View from the Window – 12th Anniversary of Loss

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The View from the Window –  the 12th Anniversary of Loss

During class at the creative writing group I attended for some years, our tutor was fond of challenging us with ‘on the spot’ writing exercises.  One of her favourites was to give us the title The View from the Window.  The view we wrote about could be real or imaginary and we would have five minutes to write on the topic.  That doesn’t sound very long but you would be surprised how easily creativity can flow under pressure.  This technique is sometimes also known as writing from the wrist … allowing the creative side of the brain to entirely dictate what flows from the pen.  It is also a good way to release writer’s block.  Faced with an empty page or blank screen, simply looking out of the window and recording what you see is rewarding to do.  It doesn’t matter whether you end up with a piece that flows like well-ordered prose, or a prosaic list of items that you observe, the important thing is that you have allowed your mind the freedom to wander without constraint.  I am no painterly artist, but I guess it is similar to being faced with a blank canvas and applying the first strokes that will evolve into an artwork.  Confidence comes with practice.

I believe that in my own experience, the ever changing ‘view from the window’ correlates well to the way grief evolves over time.

Next week it will be twelve years since my son James died, and my window view today is substantially different from that at the beginning.

Today I can look out and see sunshine, blue skies, and the rich colours of nature.

Twelve years ago I saw only storm clouds and darkness.

In reality, too, my view from the window has substantially changed twice since James died, in the form of two house moves.  Our first move, in 2012, took us eight miles from Addlestone to Knaphill near Woking in Surrey, and it was a big leap in that I was moving out of the area where my children were born, schooled, and raised.  At the time, I wrote that I was anxious about moving to a house where James had not lived, but I need not have had concerns as I quickly understood the crucial fact that he comes everywhere with me in spirit.

It may reassure others to know that your memories do indeed move with you, wherever you are.  I also felt a certain degree of relief that I was living in an area where I was not constantly reminded of James; for example on a daily basis I saw children in the same school uniform that he wore, and they walked the pavements where he had walked; that was hard, but I didn’t necessarily appreciate so at the time.

There is an element of freedom that comes with being a bereaved parent living in a place where no-one knows your story, and as time goes on, you have a choice whether or not to share it. In early grief you may well have an irresistible urge to tell practically everyone you meet what has happened, but this tends to fade and I have definitely become more selective about the circumstances in which I share James, certainly in social situations where I may only meet people once.

Our second  move is very recent; at the end of June we transported our goods, chattels and two cats to our new home in Bampton, Devon … it is a massive change of pace and environment.  It’s an exciting, if slightly daunting, prospect to know that we have to start from scratch in getting ourselves established in a new area, but we are confident that family and friends will visit regularly and we will become involved in the local community as we get more settled in this new phase of our lives.

When we moved three weeks ago from Knaphill, the family photographs were almost the last thing I packed.  They travelled in the car with me and were one of the first items to be placed in the lounge.  This felt very important to my wellbeing.

As for leaving James behind … The couple who bought our house in Knaphill are called James and Vicky and the middle name of the seller of our new home is James.  I was also amused when our next door neighbour introduced himself … “Hello”,  he said, “I am Jim”,  I assume this to be a diminutive of James.  … thus I have complete confidence in James’s nudges, reminding us he is around!

It is now three years since the publication of Into the Mourning Light and I am still working on my second grief support book; it is coming together slowly.  However, as any writer knows, you have to be in the right frame of mind to write consistently, and planning and achieving a move are mentally draining, so the project remains a rather slow work in progress!

My involvement with the RNLI and the Respect the Water campaign continues and last week I was invited to the RNLI College in Poole to talk to a group of 45 mainly community based RNLI staff and volunteers who were attending a training course.  How different it was go to go Poole from Devon … a similar distance to before but a more scenic route, certainly.

It is hard to express how comforted I am by the RNLI’s continued support for our particular circumstances.  I have chosen to share our James in a way that brings home the ramifications of personal tragedy through accidental loss, but importantly, I am able to give hope and reassurance that life can and does get better after the kind of trauma we experienced.

This time round I called my presentation ‘Making Waves’ as I feel the RNLI certainly makes waves in its continued determination to reduce and prevent drowning tragedies.  The ongoing scenario is a positive and collaborative approach with all the other organisations that make up the National Water Safety Forum, each working hard to drive their initiatives forward.

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(Photo Credit, Nathan Williams, RNLI, May 2017)

In my own way, I am proud to be a wave maker too.  It is immensely gratifying to be able to share what I have learned over the past twelve years with audiences who can positively use some of the tools of working with grief and loss.  These apply equally to both work and personal life situations.

I couldn’t resist finishing my talk with a ‘water’ analogy … can’t get away from them! ….Every individual is contributing to the collective effect and every ripple is part of the wave that eventually breaks and spreads across the shore.

Twelve years of loss can perhaps be equated also to a twelve month turn of the calendar.

In grief terms, year one (January) looks entirely different to year twelve (December).  January is almost invariably a dark and long month, despite its being the first month of a new year.  When you are in early grief, going into a new year without your loved one is a difficult concept to assimilate.  I remember the first New Year without James felt all wrong; to be going into a year that did not have his living presence in it was a tremendous struggle.

Spring time and Easter hold a greater resonance for me today than they did twelve years ago, too.  I can reflect fondly on James’s younger years when he was involved with the Easter celebrations at school that led to the hasty last-minute creation of elaborate miniature Easter gardens and/or decorated Easter hats; Stella was always super organised with her contributions but James would invariably have a rush job on …

The Christian symbolism of Easter also reminds us that life continues, despite loss and heartache.

July remains a difficult month and always feels as though it drags.  This year it has felt very different because of our house move.  I cannot imagine a time when I will not need to place some flowers at James’s plaque at Kingston riverside on the anniversary of his passing.

We will be going to Kingston next Friday as we usually do on 28 July.

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I have always loved the colours of autumn, and the gentleness of that season soothes the spirit.  I find it a pleasantly reflective time now, though I recall well that the year James died, I was dismayed by the passage of time and wrote, “The days – and nights – dragged that summer, yet suddenly we were in late September and I had no real sense of how time had passed”.  Time passing ‘normally’ takes a while to resume.

When the turn of the year’s circle brings us round to Christmas again I can say that I have reached a point where I am able to reflect on how we have managed over the years and as I have said before, though we are without James’s physical presence, “Here we are, still standing, still living, still counting blessings for the life we now have.  The newest generation in our families give the continuum for our future and bring much joy”.

The passage of time has allowed my loss to become woven into this life’s fabric with gentle poignancy, the sweetest of memories and love without end.

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Written in loving memory of James Edward Clark

11 September 1985 – 28 July 2005

Loved and missed, always in our hearts

 

 

From Ceilidh to Calm

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“What’s a Ceilidh?“ I asked, having just accepted an invitation to stay with friends in Catbrook, Monmouthshire, and having been told that the weekend would include such an occasion at the local village hall.

“Look it up on YouTube!”, came the response, and when I checked I realised we had let ourselves in for a specific kind of dance event; having two left feet and little sense of rhythm, I was not thrilled by the prospect.  However, as it turned out, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings Shaun and I have had for a long time.

I can’t think of another scenario where a bunch of 50 or so people, mainly strangers, immediately begin  holding hands, linking arms and learning dance moves together with such an uninhibited sense of fun and pleasure, right from the first tune.  The Ceilidh band, called ‘Cat’s Claw’ are excellent musicians – they describe themselves as “fundamentally an all-acoustic band that gets your feet moving and the tunes are those that the band enjoys playing together, whether Welsh, Irish, Scottish, European or American – it’s all lined up and waiting for the Cat’s Claw treatment!”  Their evident joy in and passion for the music comes across immediately.  It is a distinctive sound, at once ancient and modern with a lively beat that gets your toes tapping and your body wanting to dance straight away.

I guess a Ceilidh also relies heavily on the success of the caller who instructs in the moves and we had a couple of expert dancers among us who led the more inept.  Each energetic dance was a fantastic antidote to the rainy evening outside, as well as being good exercise.  Shaun and I enjoyed a brief sense of satisfaction when we got a sequence of moves right, and collapsed in giggles when we couldn’t coordinate our clapping.  It was hot, spirited, thirst-inducing, tiring, unadulterated, fun!

In direct opposition to the frantic evening, the following day we enjoyed walking with Janet and Steve  in the area.  One walk took us high above the river Wye and we drank in the clear air, enjoying the full richness of the panoply of green around us, listening to the birdsong and relaxing in the warmth of the sun.  Another walk led us along the valley floor close to the river and here we walked through what could pass for an Alpine meadow; all that was missing were cows with bells round their necks.  Horses grazed peacefully in the distance and the buttercups fought for space with the grass.  It was a joy to all the senses.

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Our final walk took us to the fields and ancient woodland of Catbrook and Ninewells Wood that is close to Janet and Steve’s home.  There is always something new and interesting to discover; this time Steve said, “Let’s go and see the fox”.                             Janet replied, “Yes, we haven’t seen the fox for ages”.

We didn’t know quite what to expect but we were led across a field to an old, solid, stile, the centre of which was a large slab of stone. It wasn’t the easiest stile to climb over, I think I need to work on that particular skill!

However, it was worth the effort.  Once we were over the other side and looked back, we could clearly see the face of a fox that was carved into the stone, apparently by a prisoner of war when the wall was built during Napoleonic times.   (I must credit the local resident blogger with the image, which comes from the WordPress blog called “Woodland Wildflowers of the Wye Valley and Monmouthshire”).

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Those who read my blog regularly will recognise that this post is unusual; in that it is a long way from talking of my regular topics dealing with grief and loss.  But in actual fact, it represents very well indeed the importance and efficacy of distractors when you are living day to day with stress, anxiety, bereavement or loss.  We all need our endorphins boosted from time to time, whatever our circumstances.  Finding new ways to do this is a joy in itself.

The sheer fun and laughter in the dancing and the joy of the music at the Ceilidh was a form of upliftment I have never before experienced.  I am reminded of the inspirational book ‘The invitation’ in which poet Oriah Mountain Dreamer writes, “I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human”.                                                                                                                                                           Setting aside all our day to day cares and worries though the simple expedient of the Ceilidh is a great example of how we can free ourselves from whatever is binding us down.  Highly recommended.

The scenic walks we enjoyed in the beautiful surroundings of the Wye Valley in the easy company of friends provided a quieter, shared enjoyment that was balm to the mind, body and spirit. Also highly recommended.

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Respect the Water 2017

 

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This year’s RNLI Respect the Water campaign runs from May to September, and many will have seen media coverage by Ross Macleod, Coastal Safety Manager, and the ever increasing team who contribute and pull together to produce an innovative and effective campaign across the UK and Ireland.

Back in 2006 when we were involved with Kingston Council developing safety measures at the riverside where James lost his life, a friend sent to me the ‘Starfish Story’ (replicated at the end of this post).  The message in this simple story tells how individuals can make a difference for the future, in ways they may never have envisaged.  The story seemed particularly apposite to what we were proposing, and achieved, in Kingston. From the end of our campaign in 2009 to date, it is impossible to measure the effects of the increased safety of the area, but there is no doubt that, like the man throwing the starfish into the ocean, we made a difference.

Somehow, the starfish story has become synonymous with my involvement with the RNLI, which began in 2014 when my book Into the Mourning Light was published.  In Chapter 10 of the book I reproduce the starfish story in correlation with our campaign and the work with Kingston.                                                                                                                The next time the story cropped up was when The RNLI filmed me for a video as part of the awards ceremony for Respect the Water in 2015.

A few months ago I was approached by the RNLI in relation to this year’s collaborative initiative along the Thames.  Pub chain Nicholson’s has joined forces with the RNLI to promote water safety messages to customers across its entire network of 78 locations, via special promotions of their fish dishes, empowering staff with water safety advice to share with customers, and running additional fundraising and awareness activities.

In addition the RNLI are supplying potentially lifesaving throw bags to pubs at key locations along the River Thames in London.  RNLI personnel will then deliver training to staff on how to use them to rescue someone from the water in an emergency.  The message is clearly prevention rather than cure.

On a personal level, I was particularly touched to learn that the RNLI had decided to honour James’s memory by dedicating the community throw bag training manual to him.

I was asked to write the dedication, incorporating the starfish story.

On Wednesday 31 May Shaun and I travelled to the Horniman at Hays, the Nicholson’s pub on the south bank near London Bridge which is launching the initiative.   It was truly inspiring to be part of this event, and we met other members of the RNLI who have been involved, over a period of years, in the development of the throw bag initiative. I was particularly pleased to meet Tim James, another helmsman from Teddington who is a colleague of Andy Butterfield and John Soones, two passionately committed individuals who each form part of the wonderfully cohesive jigsaw of the community safety arm of the organisation.  It was a pleasure too to meet event organisers Bridie and Rachel who, doubtless with other staff in the wings, helped the event to come together.  The pub was very busy and many people passing along the walkway in this tourist-rich part of London will doubtless have taken away with them a new understanding of how to Respect the Water.

They will have seen this year’s Respect the Water video which encourages anyone falling into the water to try to float, rather than instinctively trying to swim hard.

They may have seen the demonstrations of how to deploy the throw bag by Guy and the team and realise its effectiveness.

This initiative and its new collaboration with licensed premises demonstrate an evolution into a valuable community based approach to education, training and safety around these important water-based issues.  As always, the RNLI demonstrate a wholehearted desire to effect positive change through the commitment, drive, passion and enthusiasm of its members.

When I first spoke to Andy Butterfield, Guy Addington and Ross Macleod  back in 2014 I never imagined the association would develop into what represents, for me, an ongoing tribute to my son’s memory.  The remarkable prevention and rescue organisation that is the RNLI facilitates opportunities for an ordinary individual like me to truly make a difference for the future in drowning prevention. I am very proud to be involved.

https://www.respectthewater.com/

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The Starfish Story

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”  asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

 

https://www.respectthewater.com/