Monday, November 12, 2018

I hate Christmas

Therfield Heath, December 2017
As you get older, it’s easy to forget. You start to view Christmas through the prism of shit-tinted glasses instead of the rose ones you wore as a child. Christmas becomes about ‘making the kids happy’ or ‘doing the right thing’ and commercialism.  Our cynical brains engage with the hype and see it for what it is and forget the fun, delight and anticipation that it brought when we were children.

Some are deeply sad that Christmas seems to have lost its Christian message, but for me the sadness is about losing the spirit – the feeling that this celebration allows, cultivates and brazenly promotes. Whether you believe in a religion or not, it’s hard to ignore Christmas. The television channels fill with movies where the grumpy cynic is transformed by a magical (or evangelical) intervention, and songs about love, peace and harmony (and good old rock ‘n roll) pervade the airways. 

I am one of those whose associations with Christmas have been soured by a past event. From 1973 all my Christmases henceforth were coloured with a brushstroke of experience that left me feeling distanced, cold and downright Scroogeish.  There’s nothing I could ever do to change what happened, so regret has been my constant reminder every Christmas. This is partially why I do not like Christmas very much and have, in the past, said that I hate it.

Do I still see the blatant commercialism as distasteful? Do I still feel the pang of angst as I revisit that past Christmas and wish that things could change?  I do.  But I now enjoy the balance of the season of goodwill because I choose to do so.

No matter how much money is being prised from the fingers of the susceptible public, no matter how schmaltzy the movies, there is something wonderful about making one time of year (for most in the Western world) about being good, kind, and giving.

It’s taken me a long time to shift from that distrustful cynic to someone who can enjoy Christmas. I engage with the family and my joy at their delight never ceases, but for my own heart to be at peace and happy at Christmas it is still a challenge.

No matter how commercial the adverts, no matter how predictable or thin the storyline of a Christmas movie, no matter how much I react against the religious aspect (due to other incidents in my past and my own atheist inclinations), I have to say that Christmas does endear many to goodwill. And that, in this world of such terrible and tragic loss and violence daily, cannot be a bad thing.

I will enjoy this coming Christmas heartily and honestly; my values brought into sharp focus as life throws up yet more new challenges and promises. It’s easy to forget, and sometimes hard to remember, but it should be the living for the now, for the good of all, for the best reasons you can think of, that can make Christmas or any day of the year, a day worth celebrating.

Photo credit (C) Carolyn Sheppard

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Thursday, November 01, 2018

Adelong morning

It’s cold in the mornings. Rain clouds the skies and floods the roads. Sometimes the frost prickles the grass by the roadside. It’s a world away from waking in Adelong, where the musical, haunting song of the magpie heralds a blue sky day. 

The scale of distance in Australia seems different. To get a long view here, you have to go high. In Adelong, just look out the back door.  Rolling scenery draws the eye onwards, into a vanishing point that diminishes with the curve of the earth.

The clatter of timber trucks rolling by – full one way, empty the other – echoes against the tin roofs of the last houses in the town.  Crimson rosellas, loud and raucous, shoot past at speed.  Galahs, the rowdy boys in pink and grey, gather in the field and browse – feathered and feisty. The dogs bark,
attention seeking. 

The air is warm, spring promise a comfortable temperature as the day grows and the light, clear and bright, contrasts the grey of the trees against the verdant green and almost blistering blue of the sky. A few clouds, white and distinguished, sometimes graced the scene, promising some relief, yet reluctant to do so.

The magpie warbles, the galahs chatter, the rosellas squawk and the European goldfinch – familiar and yet strangely out of place – sings his syrupy song from the telephone wire.  The air is clean, the day bringing promise of exploration.  A wood fire burns, to chase away the last of winter’s chill from the stone floors and walls. 

And now at home, the fire burns constantly, for winter has come crashing in after a false start; warm October missed as I spent weeks at the other side of the world. Now it is cold, dark, wet, and the world closed in on itself both by proximity and the need to pull close, keep warm, and shut out the weather and each other.

Photos (C) Carolyn Sheppard


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A lovely day out


Imagine you are high in the mountains. All you can see for miles across the valleys is trees – beautiful gum trees.  Deep within the karst hills are huge, cold caves. Glistening rocks, sparkling under the lights, huge stalactites ranged like an army, and wafer thin sheets of white and gold.  Above you, tons of rock. Around you, the scars of lost rivers and winds. Stories and secrets in stone.

You wander down from the caves, and swim in warm, green water.  Serenaded by the gentle call of the pobblebonk frog, look up to see a startling blue sky and hear the chatter of small, excited birds in the bush.

The chill of the cave washes off you in the warm water, even though the air is brisk this early spring day.  The sounds of children laughing, the wind rustling and rattling the trees, and the soothing call of the frogs relax and release you.  Legs tired from walking, but enjoying the push through water. Eyes smiling with delight at new experiences, new sounds sights and smells.  Heart bursting with delight at the sheer scale and beauty of a natural landscape that welcomes the visitor and shares its precious past and future with us.

Photos (C) Carolyn Sheppard


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Friday, October 05, 2018

Voyage of discovery

I wrote this as a competition entry.  The theme was 'voyage of discovery' and we had a limited word count.

I thought this was going to be hard to write because it’s a very personal voyage. But it turned out to be easy:

Let me take you back just a few years to when I was a depressed, unhappy wife to a man I loved but who didn’t love me. This poorest version of me was a lost soul at sea who had abandoned her hopes dreams. I only held on for the kids.  I saw myself as a failure, as the reason for his infidelity, as not being worth anything, not deserving. There is low and there is suicidal, and between these two is where I placed my self-esteem.

Can you picture it? A sad, middle aged woman with haunted eyes.  Even so, there was some part of me that was still strong, still struggled to be my normal self despite the voice in my head that said “You failed. You aren’t worth it. It’s your fault.”  (My mantra was “old, fat and ugly”.) This voice, that we maybe all have, was a voice bequeathed me by my parents, peers friends and my husband. Yes, this destructive self-talk was prompted by those around me. 

So jump to now – see me strong, confident, knowing it’s OK to not be OK, knowing that I may have  failed sometimes but I am not a failure. You see the voice in your head is just a script, handed down page by page throughout your life. It can’t be unwritten or even edited, but it can be recognised for what it is – not the enemy, not something to be cured or fixed or forgotten, but understood and put in context.  No matter what the script says, it is just a voice – a thought. It is not your true identity, just a role you play.
failed sometimes but I am not a failure.

My voyage was painful one, but I was not alone. I spent five days with people who understood my state, and who had turmoil of their own; feeling suicidal, been raped, struggled with drug addiction, abuse...  and yet we all shared equally.  Our voyage together turned us from eight random strangers into a strong crew who believe the best of each other. That is a rare and precious thing.  Each of us told our intimate stories and – we realised - that these shaped how we saw ourselves. We were always surprised that each of us carried such distorted identities in our heads.  Seven friendly voices reflected back the truth they saw, shouted down the script and helped us to find and be our true selves. To love ourselves again.

There’s so much more I could explain, but for now I’ll just say that after years and years of self-dislike I am very happy in my own skin. I also feel happier than I have ever been. It’s never too late to be good to yourself.  You do deserve it. You are worth it. I know I am.

With thanks to Richard Wilkins and Liz Ivory.


Ministry of Inspiration
Royston Arts Festival

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Ghost stories
The curious tiger

Friday, September 28, 2018

Field day

Mid-September, the weather is on the turn. Gone are the heady days of summer, but the hay needs bringing in, so the wildflower meadow can flourish.  There’s lots of wildlife in the meadow – lizards, frogs and insects.  The grass has to be hand raked to preserve the wildlife and to stop the rotting cuttings putting too many nutrients into the ground and changing the meadow’s plant life balance.

The field had been mown with a brush cutter (giant strimmer to you and me) and now the long rows of cut grass and other plants needed raking up and putting into the woods where it could rot nicely, and provide further havens for other herpetological inhabitants. 

It all came about when I asked my team if they wanted to do something different for a ‘team day’, and the result was this – we volunteered our services (humanpower) to Pensthorpe, which has around 700 acres of land that it manages for conservation.

The idea was proposed by one team member so she was team leader for the day, but our work was of course directed by the Pensthorpe team.  We spent all morning raking and moving the grass and saw lots of wildlife including butterflies, dragonflies, and the already mentioned lizards and frogs.

After lunch we moved to working on fence repair, and I learned how to dig a 3 foot deep post hole.  It was hard work, but we worked well as a team, and the three missing fence panels were erected securely and the electric fence to keep the less popular wildlife out of the nesting grounds was pinned back across.

It may seem odd that charity staff should volunteer for another charity, but in my mind it was a fitting example of how our charity (an air ambulance) contributes to the wider community – not only through our services, but through our thoughts and deeds as community members.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and so did my colleagues, and though we were a little tired, the objective of effective teamwork was not only achieved, but Pensthorpe had a clear wildflower meadow and a new fence erected.


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Friday, September 14, 2018

In the club

I’ve not blogged in a while – but I’ve been busy!  Earlier in the summer – on one of the hottest days – my friend Sheena and I hired a car transporter and solved three problems in one day.  Problem one – my daughter’s mini had been assaulted by a badger and had come off worse. Problem two, she had another old car she needed moved as they were moving house and needed the car ‘gone’. Problem three, Sheena had killed her old Ford and it had sat outside her house slowly deteriorating under the trees. 

Have transporter will travel!
The cost of getting the cars moved by a recovery company was horrendous, so we hired a transporter and did the car shifting ourselves.  I’d never driven a transporter (and still haven’t, Sheena got to drive), or operated a winch, or – and this is tricky – driven/guided a car onto a transporter up two narrow ramps before.  This was the day!

Trip one was taking the mini to a garage about 12 miles away to see if it was rescuable (it wasn’t).   Trip two was taking the old car (a Ka, which we could save with a bit of TLC) to Sheena’s – a 75 mile journey.  Trip three was taking her Ford from home to a peaceful resting place for possible rehabilitation or to where, like Miss Haversham, it could wither away gently and deteriorate with a bitter, sly grace.
Chizel in the cab

The transporter club
One thing we noticed when driving all the miles in our transporter, requisite car on the back, was the waves, flashes and smiles we got from other transporter drivers. For one day, we were in the ‘car recovery driver’ club!  What was even better was the sudden change of expression from camaraderie to shock as the fellow transporter realized our truck was occupied by two women (and a small dog).  We didn’t see a single other female transport driver, though we know you are out there!

Waggytails club
Axle in the garden
My story leads on from the dog in the cabin (Chizel) to a whole team of dogs.  I don’t have a dog, haven’t had one since I was a child, but I do love dogs, and luckily they seem to like me.   This year I have become involved with a dog agility club and have been helping out at the agility displays during the summer – mostly being an equipment shifter, but once having the luck to run a dog (or rather let the dog run me), and once as a commentator.  I have taken Sheena’s large and handsome Caucasian Shepherd cross (Axle) and his pal (Chizel) out for walks, and all of a sudden I’m in the ‘dog club’.  Other people with dogs will stop and talk to me.  People without dogs will stop and talk to the dogs. 

The ultimate club!
We’ve been working with my daughter’s dog too, helping improve behavior because… the last and rather corny link to the title of this blog is my delight at the onset of grannyhood. My daughter is, to put it colloquially, in the club.   I am sure I will have a whole new range of things to blog about next year!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dog days

Life has a way of turning up unexpected challenges, and delights. I haven't owned a dog since I was a child, but I am now in the position of having two dogs (and more!) in my life on a regular basis.

I loved my dog, Petra (pictured here with a slightly younger me), and she would accompany our family on holidays all over the country.  We used to drive to Devon, and I remember stopping at a pub called the Pig and Whistle (I have no idea where it was, but somewhere between London and Devon, and there was no motorway in those days).  This pub was just over a bridge by a river - and the bridge was about 20 foot above the field and water below.  I was in the field, and my brother on the top with the dog. Petra jumped!  I can still remember it now - a flying dog. Amazingly she didn't hurt herself.  Another time after we'd left the pub, my brother said 'Can we have the dog in the back please?' (in a big old Humber Super Snipe there was room front or back for her).  'She is in the back'.  Oh dear.... we turned around and drove back to the pub to find her sitting patiently by the bridge, just waiting for us.  She'd jumped in one open door, then straight out another!

Petra had a best buddy, my cousin's dog Dusty. She was a black mongrel (where have all the mongrels gone?) and was probably a distant relative of a Labrador somewhere along the way.  Her claim to fame was thinking that seaweed was grass and sinking in surprise into a salty lagoon. No harm there either, thankfully.  Petra used to go to the pet shop in Whetstone High Road on her own - travelling there from our house by going up the road, across on the zebra crossing, and then back down to the pet shop where she would get a doggy treat. In those days you let your dogs out on the street, and dog poos dried in the sun in the gutter to a chalky white.

Getting comfy
Now my life is very doggy-ful again. And I am loving it. My daugther has a very cute Bichon Frize (see Two Walks), and I am sometimes left in charge.  She's a real cutie.  And I spend lots of time with Axle (see him in Gift of Snow) and Chizel (see below), my two new best friends.  A couple of weekends ago I assisted at two dog shows. My job was to help move the equipment for an agility display team. I wasn't that slick and had to be prompted more than once, but had great fun watching the pooches perform with their proud owners. And the show dogs watched too, or more often commentated very vocally.

Chizel and I
(Photo by Hannah)
The dogs (and a couple of cats) belong to the owner of the dog training and agility club, and I am now used to being sat upon, going for long walks, finding dog hairs in places where dog hairs shouldn't be, and generally enjoying their companionship.  The coming weekend is a bank holiday, and predicted to be hot. I shall be going to a dog event again, and helping with the display team equipment again.  Later in June I am going to be promoted to (temporary) commentator, talking the watching audience through the antics of the dogs, talking about their histories and what kind of dogs they are.  I am looking forward to that - and hopefully I won't make a mess of it.  Dog days ahead.


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Monday, March 05, 2018

First Aid

I work for a charity that focuses on saving lives. So even as a fundraiser I am trained in first aid. I think this is an amazing attitude for the charity to take, and who knows – one day it may come in extremely useful.

My colleagues and I did our annual refresher today – keeping up to date with changes in practice (such as when to call 999 in relation to a choking – advice that has changed in the last 12 months) to refreshing our knowledge and practice of CPR.

The pace of change that we see in every aspect of our lives, especially technological, is also affecting how first aid can be delivered. There are now some amazing apps you can download on your phone that will teach you more about CPR, that will alert local first responders, and eventually there will be other innovations like drone delivery of urgent medical kit like AEDs (automated external defibrillators – those things that deliver the shock to the heart).  
Stopping the bleeding

In some Scandinavian countries, up to 80% of the general public know how to do CPR and use an AED. In the UK it’s more like 40%.  Given that CPR dramatically increases your chance of survival after a cardiac arrest, the more people who can deliver CPR and are confident in using an AED the better.

What would you do if your loved one had a heart attack? What would you do if your child started choking? If you suffered a major injury that resulted in a lot of bleeding?  If you can find the time, you could save a life.  I feel more confident now that if needed I could do the basic first aid that could buy the vital time you need before the professionals arrive.

If you have an AED in your town or at your place of work, know where it is.  Don’t be afraid - find out how to use it - as our trainer said, you can't do any damage as they are automated to help you do it right, even if you've never touched one before.

Useful links:

And do search for First Aid apps on your phone.

The Gift of Snow

When the snow comes, it brings many things. Sometimes it brings real hardship, and for those without homes I felt concern, and for those without water I felt sympathy.  For those who have been cut off without supplies, I am so glad that we have a military who are able to respond not just to conflict but to the needs of our people. However, for me the snow that came in the form of the ‘Beast from theEast’ was a gift.

A snowy lane
in the forest
We live busy lives, and taking the time to just enjoy our environment is not always easy. But when you are snowed in, there’s no option.  Of course, you have to be in the right place to be snowed in, and with the right resources, and I was amazingly lucky.

On the Monday evening I headed to Suffolk so that my journey to Norfolk the following day would be easier. Well, I was wrong there!  The journey to Suffolk was fine, only one briefly worrying snow flurry on the way, but the roads and the weather for heading to Norfolk on the Tuesday (even in a four by four) was impossible!  We were stuck in traffic, and then the weather deteriorated and we headed back to the forest. Oh yes, the forest, near the sea! 

We returned home, abandoning the queues of traffic and the journey back to my friend’s house in the forest was much easier. We had plenty of food, plenty of wood (hardly surprising) and the internet. I could work from my temporary home.

Enjoying the snow
I was visiting my new friend, who I didn’t know that well, but who I instantly hit it off with. The first few times we have met we laughed so much; both with a slightly off beat sense of humour and a sense of the ridiculous, we also both love the natural world.  So being snowed in with someone I didn’t know that well (and who didn’t know me well either) was an interesting test of our friendship. Especially as I didn’t actually get home until the Sunday so it wasn't just a day or two.

My friend has two dogs, and dogs love snow when they can run around in it, play in it, and chase each other through the trees and round the garden.  On the Tuesday I phoned my boss – it made sense to work from home, but I also took some time off too. I was in a snow filled wood, I was going to take advantage! (And most of my colleagues hadn't made it to work either, so a lot less emails than usual.)

The time we had together was a gift – we were able to get to know each other better and indeed had a lot more laughs and fun.  From walking in the woods and trying to find the dog after he’d gone tearing off after some (much faster) deer, or chopping wood in the garden with a chain saw and log splitter, the  
I discovered I chop wood left-handed
beauty of the world covered in snow far outweighed the disadvantage of not getting to work.

Snowy tracks told
their own stories
My delight in Suffolk has stemmed from my childhood when I spent many happy holidays near Foxearth (where I also met my first ghosts, aged just 3).  My week being snowed in near Southwold has only confirmed my love for this beautiful county.

All photos (C) Carolyn Sheppard

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