Notes from The Old Chapel – First Winter

We have survived the first winter in our new home: The Old Chapel in Norfolk. Winter is not good for me these days. As the days shortened and the darkness gathered my mood darkened with it. I used to love the winter, the stark beauty, the promise of snow but I have lost the appreciation of it. My health deteriorated and I have  undone a lot of the good work I did in the summer. I had a sinus infection that would not shift. My dog walks became shorter and I stopped doing yoga. I tried to rest to get well. I had a new business to keep me busy so my writing also ground to a halt. I have started to sell things online: on my website and on ebay. I am selling boho gifts and Buddhist items. It was hard to get noticed and to get customers at first. It has grown slowly. I bought stock some of which sold and some of which didn’t so I was pretty poor through the winter. Christmas was quiet but there was lots of good food. We went to the Church and sang carols which made me cry. To my surprise it was packed full of people who never normally go. I still don’t really know anyone in the village. We say hello as we walk our dogs but it doesn’t go beyond that. There is the usual English stiff reserve. I felt guilt I hadn’t made more effort. I could have volunteered to clean the church like the other local worthies but I didn’t. Services are sporadic, less than once a month. I kept meaning to go. I didn’t go. There is a village pub but we don’t go to it. Maybe we should. My love of pubs has also diminished.

The fields became stubble. The footpaths were mud. There was still wildlife. Pheasants everywhere and the odd glimpse of red deer running in the distance. Winter birds and owls hooting at night. I love the animals. My dog didn’t want to go far. He liked the fire.

The chapel is built of clay lump which is common in Norfolk. It is faced with brick. It was never meant as a home and we found it to be freezing in January. The oil fired heating could not keep it warm. The log burner could if it was set first thing. It ate logs like a greedy dragon. We ran out. More and more. My daily aim became as simple as to stay warm. This was the goal. Life was reduced down to the basics. Eventually I gave in and bought an electric heater for the conservatory. Finally I could work at the computer without feeling too cold and heading back into the living room to the fire. We will have to figure something out for next year. The cold got into my bones and filled me so I could think of nothing else.

In January there was a death in the family. Winter would not let go. In England it doesn’t get as cold as the north and Scotland where I have lived for much of my life but I don’t cope will with it now. There wasn’t even any real snow, just a light covering for a couple of days. How do people manage in Canada and Alaska where they know real cold? In England the winter is damp. The wet gets inside of you spreading sickness with it. I dreamed of warmth, of summer and gardens in Italy, Mediterranean vegetables and blue skies.

I spent my days working on my websites and delivering my parcels to the post office in town. I have learned a lot about postage rates and packaging. The rules are multifarious. I kept making mistakes with the shipping. I walked my dog in the village, avoiding the long paths we had trod in summertime. We cuddled together in front of the log fire and read and watched films.

I kept meaning to write and never did. I kept sneezing. My infection hung over me like an elderly relative.

Late in February something started to shift. I could feel the ground waking up, warming. There were rare glimpses of sunshine. Snowdrops came and the little daffodils. My good mood returned with the sun. I have become more productive. I have tidied and organised and started to garden.

Spring has come. We have endured.

Tibetan Singing Bowls What are they?

Tibetan Singing Bowls What are they?

The origins of Tibetan Singing Bowls are shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that the tradition of using singing bowls dates back to the time of the Buddha (560-480 BC). The bowls were brought from India to Tibet probably in the eighth century AD. Singing bowls can be found all over the Buddhist world and are used in temples, monasteries and for private meditation. Their use is increasing in the West as people become more and more interested in Buddhism and meditation to calm the “monkey mind”. The bowl can be struck with the beater to mark the beginning and end of meditation or can be played by rubbing round the rim to create calming sounds. Tibetan Singing Bowls are increasingly used in psychotherapy as the sound has such a therapeutic effect.

The first question must be: which singing bowl should I buy? Good question. There are so many different kinds. It is possible to buy antique bowls from Tibet and India but these are very rare and very expensive. Care must be taken that the one you buy is authentic as sadly some people will pass off new bowls as antiques. Most bowls available to buy are newly made. Very few bowls come from Tibet these days. Most are made in Nepal or India. Many would say that singing bowls from Nepal are the best. China also produces singing bowls. The size of the bowl can vary from as small as 6 cm to as huge as 50 cm or even more. The size you choose depends on your purpose for the bowl. You may want it as an ornament for your home or altar or you may want to play it and make it sing. If you are going to play it it is prudent to buy a bowl that can fit onto the palm of your hand. There is also variation in how singing bowls are made. The cheapest ones are made by machine and will usually be made of brass. There is nothing wrong with beginning with this kind of bowl to learn how to play. Many of the bowls from China are made like this.If your bowl seller does not say the singing bowl is hand hammered then it probably isn’t. They are often very reasonably priced. However, for me there is nothing to beat the quality of sound you will find from a hand hammered or hand beaten bowl. Most of the bowls I sell on this site are hand hammered in Nepal by artisans in small workshops in the foothills of the Himalayas. They are made in the same way they have been for centuries. These bowls are made from a combination of five or even seven metals. Each bowl is unique and has its own tone and resonance. It is a matter of trial and error to find the best bowl for you.

Beaten Singing Bowls: Beaten or hand hammered singing bowls are made by way of a complete hand hammering process. Every single singing bowl is carefully hand beaten, which requires several processes to finish up and shaping it into a perfect hand hammered singing bowl. In the making process, first the various composition of metals as raw materials (copper, tin, zinc, iron, lead, gold and silver) are melted in furnace, depending on manufacturing needs such as for the making of bronze singing bowls or for seven metal singing bowls. The hot melted metal is removed from the furnace and poured into dice to prepare a metal mould for the various sizes and weights. Then, the round metal moulds are cut into round metal discs in needed size and thickness. After that, these discs are hand beaten or hammered, after precise measurement and categorized for weight and sized bowls. Regarding the hand hammering process of singing bowls, 4 to 5 metal discs are piled up, one upon the other, and then heated to red hot. The red hot metal sheets are hammered by a group of expert artisans, as long as the heat remains in metal, and then again processed to red heating, for a continuous beating process. This heating and beating of the bundled and piled up metal discs continues until a desired shape and size is formed. (That is why the hammered or beaten singing bowls will be proportionately different in a size and diameter with each individual singing bowl.) During the hammering process of these singing bowls, the metal disc can only be hammered during the time of being red hot, while it remains soft and flexible. Because when the metal gets colder, it will loose its softness and flexibility, which in turn makes the metal brittle and thus the bowl could be ruined. The reason behind this intensive working process is that the metal content (bronze or seven metals mixture) is very sensitive to heat and gets harder when it loses its hot temperature and will get cracks and breaks. After completion of shaping the desired bowls, the individual work will start. At this stage, every bowl is brought into uniform shape and size, and once more, this can only be done during the red burning and heating and beating process. After finalizing the shape and size, more hammering is done for a final fine tuning and shaping of the singing bowls. The individual singing bowls are then chiselled and scoured for the finishing touch, at the inside and outside.

There are many kinds of hand hammered singing bowls depending on the finish you require. Some are smooth and polished, others are rough. Some are golden coloured while others are black. Some are hand carved with Buddhist patterns or writing.Some are tuned to particular notes. The bowl you choose is a matter of personal preference and taste. Hand hammered bowls are more expensive than the machine made versions. Personally, I much prefer the richness of the tone and the beauty of the metal of the hand hammered bowls. You will also need a stick or beater to play your bowl. These can be made of simple wood. Some are bound with leather or suede and they vary in size to match the bowls. A cushion should be purchased to rest your bowl on to protect it.

Bowls should be cleaned with lemon juice solution. Abrasive metal cleaners should not be used as they will scratch and leave marks. All bowls will tarnish over time due to the oxidation from the air so need cleaning from time to time. Hand hammered bowls will often have hammer marks and delves clearly visible. These are not flaws but show the authenticity of the bowl.

Learning to make a bowl sing is an art form which will take much practice. I will write more about this in another blog. I hope this has been of help to those who are just deciding which Tibetan Singing Bowl is right for them. They are the most beautiful and calming objects.


Tibetan Singing Bowls

Book Review. David Baldacci True Blue


3.0 out of 5 stars What is the big deal about thrillers then?

Format: Paperback
I have made an effort to get into thrillers but I kind of still don’t get why they are so popular. This is a very standard thriller format and apparently very successful. There is nothing wrong with it but it just didn’t really grab me. We meet Mace, recently out of prison, framed for a crime she didn’t commit. She is the standard modern feminist thriller female character. She is very strong, attractive, she works out, she doesn’t need anybody…You get the picture. She has no flaws, no insecurities, no weaknesses so she is completely uninteresting and unbelievable as a character. On her release she sets about solving a murder seeming to have unrestriced access to the crime scene in spite of being suspended from the force. The plot is quite interesting but again not very realistic. There is a brief love interest. There is action where Mace manages to trick a guy out of killing her. What a gal. It is simply written, fast paced with lots of dialogue. There is not much memorable prose here. The book is long and I ploughed doggedly through it more out of bloody mindedness than anything. I only read this because it was left in my house. Seasoned thriller readers will probably enjoy it. It has all the ingredients they seem to lap up. For me it didn’t hit the button but I am not really a thriller reader. They really have to be something special to grab my attention.

Meditations on a funeral

New Year 2017 dawns in an unexpected way. A phone call in the early morning. My husband’s father is in hospital, rushed in that day. New Year’s Day. The prognosis is poor say the doctors. My husband rushes away to Scotland to try to get there. A very long journey in the car. I stay because we have pets. Alone with my thoughts. The weather is terrible. Snow. Rain. Fog. The cruelty of January all around. I am left alone with my thoughts. I am shocked. There was no intimation of illness. No expectation. People roll on, seemingly forever. I hold on to hope. The doctors will do things. It will all be fine.

He isn’t. The phone call comes he died at eight o clock with his wife and step son there. Neil his real son is not there. He is still stuck on the road, on the motorway. The indifference of fate strikes me. I keep thinking of that line from Waugh, “A blow falling on a bruise…” I don’t know why it comes into my head. We don’t know the cause of death though we can imagine. I feel numb. I am confused, my thoughts jumbled. I perform tasks in  a daze, a dwam they used to say in the Highlands. I am always in a dwam, just now in more of one than usual.  I hadn’t seen Douglas for years but I had always liked him. He was a gentle kind person.  I am given the task of informing Neil’s mother, Douglas’s first wife. There is always the awkwardness of broken relationships, things not fitting as they should. She seems unsurprised. “He was always a heavy smoker.” She starts to talk about gardening, Christmas presents and trivia. I am endless surprised by the British way of not dealing with things, not facing things, avoiding the issue. I don’t know what else to say and ring off. Neil’s family are not religious. Neil’s mother wears her atheism with pride. There is no mechanism to deal with death. I am different. I don’t fit in with this family. I think of myself as a Christian Buddhist. I believe in some sort of after life, some sort of soul. It comforts me and it is a deep belief I cannot shed. I long for meaning and ritual to deal with the occasion. Post-Christian Britain offers no succour. I make my own rituals. I pray. I meditate. I light a candle. Someone told me long ago candles help people pass over. So do prayers. I don’t know where these beliefs come from. I hope I am helping in my small way with my small rituals. I don’t know if  am.

Neil stays up in Dunfermline to help with funeral arrangements. Douglas’s second wife is devastated. She seems helpless like a child. She needs support. Neil is good in a crisis. Unflustered. Calm. Not passionate. Emotions are held deep inside and not allowed out. It is the Scottish way. I am a half Scot. I don’t fit in in either country. I am left alone for a week. I perform functions like a machine. My faith should help me but it is weak. I am more upset than I expected to be. I see nobody. I stay in the house apart from walking the dog. The weather is as foul and evil as January can be. I snuggle with my dog. Comfort. I make simple meals. I sleep. I can’t think straight. I write a memoriam to Douglas on Facebook. This is the modern way. I am attacked by some distant relative who is livid at not being informed first. I don’t even know who she is. This is why I keep giving up social media. People making issues. She is making the death all about her. I doubt she has seen Douglas for forty years. I delete my memoriam. What is the point? I don’t even have technological contact with the world. I prefer it this way. I can process things alone. I pray to Uriel. He is my guardian angel. I feel comforted. I hope Douglas is in a better world. I am not sure of it. I have such weak faith. I find out from phone calls it was lung cancer that killed him, spread throughout the body. He was a lifelong smoker, tobacco and other substances. It is not a great surprise and yet nobody knew he had it. He had always coughed. It seems strange that doctors had not picked it up sooner. He had lost a lot of weight. All the signs had been there but nobody put the pieces together. I feel guilt we had not visited recently. It is so far away and yet we could have done it. Perhaps we would have noticed the change. But we didn’t. Guilt.

Neil comes home. He is hurt. He is withdrawn. His mood is black. There is no way around it. We go back to Dunfermline for the funeral. I enjoy the car journey. There is snow. I love looking at the landscape. I love the north. The moorlands are as wild and bleak as it is possible to be. I feel at home with them. Isolated stone farms crouching in the lea of the wind. Moors. Sheep. Wind. Snow. More moors. Stone walls. Everything is hard and grey. Stunted trees stretch from the moorlands “as if craving alms of the sun.” Emily Bronte’s line comes into my head. How fitting. I am the north and the north is me. I would like to live on one of these farms, hidden and alone. I could write. I could walk on the moors.

We stay at Neil’s mother’s house in rural Perthshire. It is modern built, quite grand. They have a big garden with nothing in it. There is snow. The husband is a retired academic. I do not get on with these people. They are very scientific. They are not like me. It is all about eating and drinking wine. I don’t feel hungry. A selection of curries has been prepared. She is a good cook. I don’t have an appetite. Neil’ sister arrives with one of her many daughters in tow. I have not seen her for about twentyfive years. She is the same but bigger. Everyone else has a huge appetite. Douglas is never mentioned. The dead are never mentioned. The Scots have no vocabulary for dealing with death it seems. They avoid it. They behave like nothing is wrong. People are so strange. We sit in the living room after dinner. Wine is poured but I don’t have any. Once I start I can’t stop so I don’t start. I don’t have a normal relationship with alcohol. I watch the flames in the log burner. It is modern and state of the art. It burns well. The house is full of things. Things are important to these people. They start talking about wine. Neil’s sister says, “This wine is aromatic and I would say old world.” I look at her. Her statement has no meaning. Aromatic. You could say that about any wine. People pretending they know about wine. It is all so tiresome. People pretending they are more middle class than they are. British social structures are absurd. I claim tiredness and go to bed. I am irritated. They have not mentioned Douglas once. They have not asked after anyone. They are caught in a world of charade. It is like visiting the Queen except the Queen is probably more relaxed. I have no love for these people. I feel completely alien.

The day of the funeral is bitterly cold. I wear a 1950’s black suit I bought on the internet with a fur collar. If anyone asks I will say the fur is fake though I know it isn’t. Nobody asks. Neil and I leave in the car. It is commented on that we don’t eat. We do eat. Just not as much as them. We arrive in Dunfermline far too early. The town is grey. It starts to snow. We go for coffee. There is a coffee shop in the art gallery. It is almost sophisticated. I was married in this town. I used to live here. The accents are coarse and the people abrupt. The don’t mean to be. It is just how they are. They don’t know any different. Everything is grey. The town seems to be trying to keep out of the wind, hunkering down against the cold. The buildings are low with windows poking out of the roofs. We go to Douglas’ flat. It is a development of council flats built for the dockyard workers. They are increasingly dipapidated, showing their age. There is no dockyard now. Douglas’ wife seems small and tired. She is helpless. At least there was love here. Love and no money. The house is full of grandchildren, dark boys who look the same as each other. I feel as out of place as always. I have never fitted in this place. Eventually, the funeral car arrives and we all go to the crematorium. It is to be a humanist funeral. It is not what I would have chosen but it is not my choice. I always thought Douglas had faint, residual Christianity like a lot of Brits but apparently he didn’t. It is none of my business. In spite of the humanist service there is a huge cross above the coffin. It is part of the fabric of the building.

The man does well. I don’t know what his title is. He describes the life. Douglas was a character. He worked in the dockyard until early retirement but his real life was other. He loved clothes and embraced the gothic 80s with enthusiasm. He was usually clad in black leather, a tall thin figure. People mistook him for Andrew Eldritch. We had that in common; a love of playing dress up. He often used to tell the story that the first time I met him I was wearing a ball gown and DM boots. It wasn’t quite a ball gown, more of a cocktail dress but he was right about my mismatched style. He loved music. He used to dj at alternative discos in Rosyth and Edinburgh. They were popular, a place for lovers of the darkness to hang out. I always think at the funerals of working class people how much more their lives could have been. If only given more opportunity he could have been a music promoter in London or some such thing. But working class men know their place. Douglas rarely left Dunfermline. It held him like a vice.

It is over. We head to the function room of a pub for the wake. There is bad coffee and sandwiches. I drink a lot of coffee. I don’t drink. Neil plays a selection of music Douglas liked. It’s music I like too. I enjoy listening to it again. The funeral is well attended. He was popular. There are prehistoric relatives I have never met before. Some of Neil’s school friends are present. Their stories revolve around getting drunk in various situations. None of them live in Dunfermline now. I was never accepted in this circle. I felt like Yoko Ono breaking up the Beatles. I don’t have many happy memories of this place. I got married here in the registry office and had the reception in the glen. It was a good day. The weather was sunny. Apart from that my memories are hazy. We had a tiny flat on Rose Crescent. I read a lot. We left.

I still feel alien though I like the music. Eventually it is over. We stay in a hotel in Dunfermline because it is going to snow in Perthshire and we are afraid of being snowed in. Neil goes out drinking with his friends. I stay in the hotel alone. It is freezing in spite of the heater. I doze off. Neil brings pizza. I finally feel hungry. The pizza is terrible. The Scots can’t cook. The cold is bitter. It snows in the night.

We wake the next day and drive back to Norfolk. The snow recedes when we get to England. The journey is easier than we thought.  Home to Norfolk.

A funeral. A life. RIP Douglas Matheson. I hope you are in a better place. I remember a kind, funny person who wasn’t afraid to have his own style. You were a one off. A character. An eccentric. You were loved.