Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Fluffy Like Concrete

Several years ago, an online acquaintance accused me of being "fluffy New Age." In his opinion my spiritual views were vastly inferior to his own. He saw my optimism, my belief in a generous and kind God, as... fluffy.

At the time I was shocked. I had never thought of myself as New Age and I’d never thought of my spiritual beliefs as “fluffy.” I felt very insulted at first, but then I remembered something my husband once told me.

My husband had worked on a building site with a Welsh guy who was in charge of the concrete mixer. He'd admire the concrete and say, in his thick Welsh accent, “Nice and fluffeeee!”

I remembered that and it all clicked into place. I think spiritual faith should always be fluffy like concrete – soft, gentle, loving and compassionate, but built on a strong, personal foundation. Being gentle is not being weak. Standing in your own personal faith does not have to be done with aggression.

 It is possible for the meek to inherit the earth... if your heart is fluffy like concrete.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Set in Stone

I wrote this several years ago, but decided to post it again for friends and family.

What do New Orleans, Rhodesia and this very impressive stone building in Scotland have in common? Some things I never knew and someone I would NEVER have expected!

© Copyright Ann Harrison and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

This gorgeous neo-Gothic building is a school in the Morayshire town of Fochabers; we pass on our way to Aberdeen. I love it because it looks like a place Harry Potter might have gone to school. I decided to look up more about the place and what I found has led me on a most amazing (and very moving) journey through three continents and my childhood memories. I hope you enjoy this remarkable adventure as much as I have.

The school is the Milne Institute; it was built by a man named Alexander Milne who was born in Fochabers in 1742. He worked at Gordon Castle (on the edge of town) until he had a disagreement with the Duke of Gordon. It seems that the Duke wanted Alexander to tidy up his unruly red hair and Alexander, being a thrawn Scot, took such offense to this command that he quit his job... and sailed off to the Americas. Alexander made a fortune brick-making in New Orleans. When he died, he left instructions for lots of good works, including the "Milne Asylums" for orphaned boys and girls to be built in Milneburg, New Orleans... and the "Milne Institute"free school for all the children of his home town of Fochabers.

That might have been the end of this blog post, except in finding the story of Alexander Milne I stumbled onto a name I knew very well... Allan Wilson.

wikimedia.org Shangani memorial panel postcard

To most people that won't mean much, but to any Rhodesian it means a LOT. Allan Wilson's story was one I learnt about in school history, but I never knew he was born right on my "doorstep"  until I found him listed as a "famous Fochaberian" and read that he had been a student at the Milne's Institute school.

The Famous Fochaberians site says this:

Allan Wilson was educated at Milne's Institution, excelling in outdoor pursuits. In 1878 he emigrated to South Africa and joined the Cape Mounted Rifles, later being commissioned as a lieutenant in the Basuto Police. He was appointed Major in command during the Matabele Campaign in which he and many of his soldiers were killed.

He led his small band of soldiers across the Shangani River seeking to capture Lobenguela, the King of the Matabele. The King escaped them. On their retreat, Wilson and his men found the Shangani in flood … after a brave fight, they were all killed. Buried in the Matopo Hills near Cecil Rhodes' grave, Allan Wilson was long regarded as a national hero.

Reading that brought back so many memories, especially of childhood visits to the Shangani memorial, where Allan Wilson and his men now rest, in the absolutely stunning spot high high up on those giant granite Motopos hills that will always be home.

Some friends sent me photos of their own memories of the Wilson Memorial, to share. The first two are lovely family shots, courtesy of Bill Teague. He's the little guy pointing up in the bottom photo. :-)

This colour one if from my friend, Robb. It looks just as I remember it and gives a tiny glimpse of that glorious view that led Rhodes to demand that he be buried here.

And here's the song I can still sing -
the ballad to Allan Wilson and the Shangani Patrol.

I feel near tears writing this, as I did this past Mothering Sunday, when we took a drive out to another memorial site to Allan Wilson that I suspect very few Rhodesians know about. The people of Fochabers placed two standing stones in a memorial garden in 2002, to commemorate all the brave, remarkable people born in their town. So we went there to take a look...

The stone on the left has Alexander Milne's name first (and a William Marshall, which is the same as my grandfather's name! Would be nice to think we could be related.)

...and the stone on the right has Allan Wilson's name at the top.

We took photos, shed a few tears, and stood in awe that we'd come a full circle in such a story; so wonderfully complex, this journey of lives and deaths...

Another stone memorial, another stunning view.

It's a long walk up to that burial site on the Motopos hills. As a child I remember hating the walk in the searing African sun, but once you were up there... oh what a view! I'd turn in a circle and feel like an eagle, flying free.

Did Allan Wilson's spirit fly free and return to his own home on the River Spey?

Eagles fly here too...

Friday, 10 November 2017

Old Songs and New Adventures

I know I've been a ghost on the blogs the last few years. I've been busy with real life and also busy writing words elsewhere. Most of that is completely uninteresting and not worth blogging about, but this is ... I have published another book. This time it has been truly terrifying as this one isn't fiction, it's about myself and my life...


You can purchase my latest adventure on all Amazons worldwide, Barnes & Noble and (hopefully soon) most other internet book sellers.

Please do remember, whether you like it or hate it, reviews matter! Nowadays a book without reviews is a book going nowhere. So please leave a comment if you read it.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

The Story of Wow

I met her for the first time, sitting outside our local grocery store in Africa. She was sitting on steps by a parking area and what made me take notice at first was the fact she was still wearing the traditional Xhosa turban style head scarf and long skirted dress. As if aware of my stare, she turned and smiled at me, which was a bit startling as she had only one tooth in her mouth as far as I could tell. She looked ancient, but a hard life can age people fast. Judging by her traditional dress and bare feet, this tiny elfin old woman was probably rural. 

 By John Reynolds - Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove.

Much to her obvious delight, my route to the shop entrance took me straight by her. She began to talk to me, waving tiny skeletal hands as she chattered away in Xhosa in this very high pitch old voice. She sounded like a Xhosa chipmunk. I smiled and nodded as I walked by. I only know four words of Xhosa. I had no idea what she was talking to me about, but she was smiling and laughing as she spoke and her happiness was infectious. 

On the way back to the car with my groceries, I saw she was still there, looking equally thrilled at my return. I wondered how I could dodge another super-long and incomprehensible conversation and, completely on impulse, I handed her the money I was holding. My change from the grocery purchase.
That was the first and last time I ever heard her speak English. She gasped and said (loud and shrill), "Wow!" Then she took my hand in both of hers and kissed it.

I felt like such an ass, but two Xhosa people passing by smiled at me and commented on my kindness and that helped. And it did shut her up. I managed to get to the car with only a chorus of "Wow! Wow!" She waved as we drove away.

And so began our family's friendship with Wow. I never found out her real name. It's possible she did tell me, because from then on... she told me a lot. I just have no idea what it was. Every time my mother or I saw her in town, she'd wave madly as if we were family she hadn't seen in years. If we met out of the car, she would talk and talk... and talk. The fact we never spoke back never seemed to bother her. Did she know we had not a clue what she was saying? I don't know and I don't think she cared. And always, regardless, she was in a good mood. Always. 

I could have called over someone to translate for us, but I never felt the need either. There was something strangely delightful about our long chats without verbal communication. Something lovely about the fact we could stand smiling and laughing, two women of completely different ages, cultures and races just enjoying a moment of sharing time with each other.

What do I know about Wow? She was a charmer and knew how to use that. I never ever saw her begging for money, but our local store knew her well as a low-grade con-artist. She'd take her groceries to the counter, put down her money... and it would always be not enough. And almost always, whoever was in the queue would see this wispy little old dear counting out her coins and offer to pay. But she never pushed it. Her purchases were humble: a half loaf of bread or a small carton of maas (a very popular sour milk drink).

One winter, my mom and I decided that rather than giving our bag of clothes to charity, we'd offer the warmer goodies to Wow. We had noticed how threadbare her only jumper was, a hole at one elbow as she waved her hands talking. We found her on the side of a road and, slightly anxious as we didn't want to offend her, stopped and showed her the clothes. Once again she was full of delighted "WOW"as she rummaged through our offerings. Then she put everything on. All of it. Transforming herself from an elfin twiglet into a multi-layered Babushka. That fitted our hunch that she probably lived in the nearby squatter camp. Another friend of ours who lived there had told us how things worked. When you lived in a house with no real door, you have no security from thieves. You keep your valuables on you and that includes wearing all your best clothing.  

There is one particular time I saw Wow that is especially poignant. It's the only other time I heard her speak something other than Xhosa. At the time, my grandmother's weak heart had led to her needing to be on an oxygen machine 24/7 at home. She also had an oxygen bottle that was meant for emergencies, but gran used it up mostly on trips out in the car. Nothing was going to keep my gran home! This particular day, my mom and I had taken her out for a drive. We stopped at the shops for a few purchases. I was in the back seat, gran's oxygen bottle on the floor next to me. Wow spotted us from across the road and came over for a chat. 

Wow stood, leaning against our car as she chatted to all three of us, clearly enjoying herself as always. But then, somewhere in all the animated squeaky chatter, Wow noticed my gran's oxygen tubes and leaned sideways to follow them to the oxygen bottle on the car floor. as the realisation hit her, her eyes welled up with tears. For the first and only time Wow was silenced. With tears brimming, she looked at me and said, "Ag shame... Ag shame." A South African phrase that stretches to fit anything from outrage to deepest sympathy. 

Wow leant in and patted my gran on the arm, repeating the only words of comfort and sympathy she knew in our languages, "Ag shame..."

I remember how stunned I felt to realise that this frail, homeless woman that most would hold in pity was feeling the deepest pity for my gran. It was a realisation that whilst we had thought of ourselves as rich and Wow as poor... at that moment Wow considered herself far richer than my grandmother. 

How do we judge ourselves and others? What makes our lives rich or poor? Wow was a huge lesson in the fact that every life has richness, things that are a blessing or a strength, it's all in the perspective.  

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Stronger ~ Dona Nobis Pacem 2017

I've been doing Blogblast for Peace for nine years and this was the first time I felt like quitting. Why? Because I felt a complete lack of hope. Let's face it, 2017 has been a year of stark revelations. Our climate is going crazy with fires and floods, our media is full of stories of abuse, lies and corruption and too many of our world leaders have turned into petulant toddlers.  

But then the most unlikely event brought me back - a complete lack of hope. 

You see, one of my dearest blog and internet friends died this Nov 1st. "Tint" had been fighting cancer for several years and I do mean fighting quite literally. This was an epic battle, but Tint was never a quitter, no matter what life threw at her. I haven't one single memory of her acting negative or defeated. She tackled every setback with cheerful determination. Tint had a rainbow aura, full of joy, humour and kick-ass hope.  I've never seen a photo of her where she isn't smiling or laughing.

I've spent this past week in a chat room vigils with Tint's friends and loved ones, all of us waiting and waiting.... We were gathered together by Tint's daughter and we have stayed there in love and support, but in the full knowledge that there was no hope of a last minute miracle.

No hope. 

Now I'm sitting here writing this and thinking.... It seems to me that all of us who want Peace and a better world have been just the same, constantly setting out with cheery optimism and hope that change is possible. But what do we do when there is no hope? What do we do when a war is inevitable, violence explodes around us and the world staggers towards hate and fear? What do we do when we lose hope?

I think I know. When you lose hope... you find Grace. 

Hope is wonderful, there's no denying, but it can also be a burden. It implies that failing is bad or wrong; that we didn't try hard enough. Truth is that sometimes we can try as hard as possible and still fail.  So here's the thing, dear Peace bloggers and world-changers. We may never stop war entirely. We may never see humanity reach a stage where there aren't some still capable of violence and destruction. We may never save every species from extinction or save every child from trauma and tragedy. 

The loss of hope does not automatically mean failure. Tint's death has shown me that. Her life was a rip-roaring adventure, full of unexpected twists. She lived it to the full and left a legacy of friends all over the world whose lives are changed for the better for knowing her. And she leaves behind a daughter who is one of the most lovely young women I have ever been honoured to know and a new baby grandchild who shows every sign of growing up to be as wonderful as his mother and grand-mum.

When Hope leaves... love remains.

Love doesn't bring about miracles, it is the miracle. Nothing is stronger than Love. The greatest gift we have is this connection to each other. The love found in friendship is a miracle we often take for granted. I have spent this past week in vigil for my friend Tint with the most amazing bunch of men and women. I am now asking you all to join me and hold vigil for our planet. Do we have hope? I don't know... and maybe I no longer care. We have each other and we have love. That is enough.  

For you, Tint, see? pink hair! <3

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

The Compass of our Compassion

At a time of human evolution when we should finally be moving towards greatness as a species we are still driven to destroy ourselves en masse due to the fact our world leaders  have lost their inner compass. 

I've always said that the problem with world politics is Big Business. Today I realised that the problem with Big Business is that it has no compass; it follows the money, regardless. It will cosy up with criminals, dictators, senseless cruelty, waste and pollution. It will always do what is best for profit, regardless of how much disaster that causes for everything else. 

In a way... I can understand Big Business being as it is. It has no morality and no function beyond making profit. It suffers severely from tunnel vision, but it gets the job done. The worse problem is the fact that so many politicians worldwide are either endorsed, sponsored or friends with those up high in Big Business. That's where the problems start... and what will be our downfall as a species unless we find a way to deal with this. Oh yes, I do mean the "as a species" because science has been warning us for decades that we are capable of creating our own mass extinction. 

This isn't being pessimistic, it only takes a casual glance through modern history and geography to see what is happening. We are a dying a race. It may take a few more generations, but unless we change... we will die out just a certainly as the dinosaurs. We are the new dinosaurs, you see. So stuck in our out-dated thinking that we cannot evolve. And Nature has shown us, over and over, that the life forms that cannot adapt die out. We are Dodos in business suits and high street fashion.  

Our leaders have no compass. Too many of them have had to shake hands and make deals with those whose only sense of direction is "make money at any cost". This time... the cost might just be more than they can handle. 

So how do we change? How do we find that sense of direction? By realising that we are a dying species and acting accordingly - by finding some way to reconnect as a species and see beyond the superficial. This will soon be no longer a case of colour, race, religion or country... this is about saving the planet, our Mother and our only home. It's no longer okay to buy things you don't need that will end up as floating garbage in the ocean simply to keep a global economy based on frantic profit going. It's no longer reasonable or sane to continue to use energy sources that poison our water, our environment and our children.

We need to find the compass of our compassion; for humanity, for Nature and for our planet. And we need to find every conceivable way of handing that compass back to our world leaders before it truly is too late.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Blowing Away the Cobwebs

I can't believe how quiet blogging has become in recent years, but then I'm as guilty as everyone else with no longer reading the many blogs I used to. Life has been too busy lately for me to keep up my morning routine of coffee and reading friends' blogs, so I suppose I can't complain that i'm no longer writing either. All things have a season and sadly... it does feel as if the season of blogs being "The thing" is over.

So... a much belated updated on me. I'm here, I'm still busy writing, just not on blogs. My family are all fine, bar a few health issues that slow us down. We keep keeping on and we still laugh more than we grumble. Although... watching the TV news it is hard not to want to beat your head against a wall and cry.

If you are still out there, still reading and/or writing... leave a comment. 

Have a great weekend!