A walk on the moor

Those who venture on foot onto Dartmoor fall into one of two categories; walkers – and ramblers. I am unashamedly in the latter category. My rucksack rarely holds more than my lunch, a map and some waterproofs, and I set out only when the weather forecast is favourable. I do not yomp.

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Today is September 9th. The sky is that very clear mid-blue of early autumn and there is just a hint of coolness in the breeze. I feel invigorated. The weather refreshes my spirit as a sorbet cleanses the palate. As I descend from the bus I experience a glow of anticipation for the solitude and purity of the open space.

I haven’t reached it yet, though. The first mile is along a lane between two high Devon hedges; pleasant enough walking, but asphalt underfoot and only the occasional glimpse of the moor proper. Mixed with my enjoyment is a little tension. This is the big one, the walk I’ve been building up to over the summer, seventeen miles during which time I shall be as isolated as it’s readily possible to be in England. I’ve left details of my route at the shop by the bus stop, and with friends at home. I have my mobile phone with me. There’s no real danger.

Gradually the stone walls peter out. The road is flanked by grass, and water hurries in the leat on my left. The scenery is beautiful but very familiar to me, and my daily concerns, unprompted and unwelcome, insinuate their way back into my consciousness.

What am I going to do about my mother? I must face facts; she’s definitely gaga. I could see it start during those horrible last days of my dad’s cancer. We were all distraught, but she – well, she seemed to retreat from reality. One evening she spoke about going on holiday. Dad was next door, choking on his own flesh as the tumour in his throat swelled, and she was inviting me to join them in Como in a few months time. I’m afraid I yelled at her. I feel so bad about it now, but I was half mad with the strain of the death-watch. She looked at me, and then began sobbing softly. I think that was last time that she really understood what was going on around her.

I can safely leave her at home during the day while I go to work, but for how much longer? I try to avoid overnight business trips as much as possible because she worries so much. When I can’t avoid going away, I ring her early in the evening and talk for at least half an hour, but even then I feel guilty. Last time, every five minutes she was saying, “I don’t like it when you’re not here, Patricia. I get all in a tizz.”

This is not what I came out here for. I look around, to appreciate consciously where I am and what I am doing. The road bends in a slow curve around the tor. Skylarks pipe their magical songs at the limit of human hearing. It is easy to imagine that they are merely the mortal manifestation of an unheard symphony of surpassing loveliness. And there ahead of me is a patch of moorland that is sometimes a passport to the immortal; the mires. How deceptive that verdant green! What a trap for the unwary that level land! An incautious step and you can be caught and held, sucked down, your struggles only causing you to sink more quickly.

Still, it’s safe enough as long as you stay on the track, which picks its way through the treacherous ground. Never, never try a shortcut here! At least I’m now off the tarmac and onto the moorland proper.

Past the mires the path climbs steeply, and at ten o’clock in the morning it’s in the shadow of the tor. Out of the sunshine the breeze feels noticeably cold, but my exertions are keeping me warm enough. I don’t need to put on a jacket; I’d only have to take it off at the top.

And what am I going to do about that job offer? My employer wants me to do a two year secondment in London. It’s a very generous package. In fact I could hardly believe the proposal. As well as a substantial salary increase, they’re prepared to pay the rent on a flat there for the whole period. My boss explained, “We need your lobbying skills there, Trish, but you’ve got to be on the spot; you can’t do this one at a distance.”

He’s absolutely right, of course. You have to be there to take advantage of every opportunity to make your case to the people who matter. And that’s usually in the evening over dinner and a drink; or in the early morning at a ‘power breakfast’; or even at lunchtime in the gym. No question about it, working from Devon I couldn’t accomplish even a tenth of what’s needed. If I’d imagined that sort of lifestyle when I was a student, I’d have gawped and said “No way, José.” Now, I’d love the assignment. What could be more intoxicating than to influence policy at the highest level? But what am I going to do about Mum?

My brother Tom says that she should go into a home. “She’s got pots of money since she sold her house and moved in with you,” he says. “That’ll be more than enough to cover the costs. She could afford excellent residential care from the proceeds.” Residential care; a nice euphemism.

It’s not that Tom is heartless. He’s an excellent dad, and he and his wife Mary have been happily married for two decades. He just lacks imagination. Of course, he hasn’t been close to Mum over the last two years, as I have.

“Promise me you’ll never put me into a home, dear.” It’s been a constant refrain. I never promise, naturally, but the weasel words to avoid the commitment sometimes stick in my throat. She plays on my feelings of guilt, but like a child would. It’s deliberate, but almost as though it’s no longer under her control. I can’t imagine the strong woman who brought me up being anything other than scrupulous in leaving others to make their own decisions. Perhaps this should tell me how terrifying she finds the idea of dependency?

The path has passed its apex and swung around to run almost directly due south while I have been musing. South, into the sun. The golden bracken flames in the noonday brightness. A buzzard hovers, and then stoops. It’s too distant for me to see whether it catches its prey. The walking is easy, and I swing along. I remember a performance of Bach’s ‘Italian Concerto’ that I heard a year ago in St Martin in the Fields church. Walking through this landscape feels like that music, exuberant, embellished, affirmed. Life snatches me up, lifting me high, soaring joyfully. The path runs down, down to a stream, and when I reach it I leave the track to splash the chill water on my head, as much for exhilaration as the need to cool myself.

About halfway there. The way climbs again, but gently and I’m heading eastward. I cross the brook on the stone clam bridge, marvelling that this primitive human structure should have stood since before history. Up the hill I go, to join the old trackway along which the miners’ railway once ran. Gravel crunches under foot, until I decide that it’s pleasanter to walk on the grass beside the way.

It’s lunchtime, and I’m feeling strong. I leave the track and climb steeply until I’m standing at the very top of the tor. Looking to the south-east I can see right down the valley, clear to the edge of the moor and beyond, to the rich, rolling South Hams. I open my pack and pull out the food. Sandwiches. A round of prawn with mayonnaise in granary bread. Half a round of rough paté and lettuce. Is there any pleasure more visceral and intense than the pleasure of food?

Over my head there is a deafening buzzing of insects. It’s as though I’ve sat myself under their equivalent of Spaghetti Junction. Where are they all going, so busy, expending such energy in getting there? The horizon looks a bit misty. Nothing to worry about, though. The weather forecast was unambiguous. “A glorious day over the whole of Devon and Cornwall” was what the man said. No problem. I set the alarm on my phone and doze for twenty minutes.

It’s such a pleasant dream that I don’t really want to wake up, but I suppose that I must. There’s still eight miles before I reach the end of the route. Yawning, I sit up, take out the vacuum flask, pour myself a coffee and look down from my perch on the tor. It’s much mistier below, and I can’t see more than a hundred metres or so; I’d better get moving.

I pack my bits and pieces into the rucksack, pull on my jacket and trudge down the slope. Sleep has enervated me and my limbs lack strength. Never mind. The coffee and the movement will soon revive me.

Walking into the mist is sinister, stepping into a shadow world. My senses feel more acute but perceive less. At first I can make out the sun as a bright patch against the grey, but as I descend it disappears and colour drains from the landscape. The grass is dull, the bracken mud-brown and dripping damp. It’s cold, colder than I’d expected. Lucky I have my waterproof over-trousers in the rucksack; I may need them.

All I need to do now is climb over this mound and descend the far side and I’ll rejoin the track. Then it’s just follow the path all the way to journey’s end.

My feet skid on the grass and I slip onto my bum. There’s no harm done apart from a damp patch on my trousers but I need to be careful. It wouldn’t be funny if I were to turn an ankle. It’s quite eerie in the fog.

I keep descending. The downward slope is gentler than I remember, and I haven’t struck the track yet. I’m walking fast, getting hot. Is that sweat on my face or moisture from the fog? Slow down, girl! Panicking will not get you anywhere.

“I’m not panicking.” I say the words out loud, annoyed with myself, and moderate my pace. All I have to do is go downhill until I reach the path, turn left, and keep walking. The miners’ track will see me home.

But where is the track? Surely I set out in the right direction? And I’ve kept pretty straight, haven’t I?

I steer well clear of a pond on my left; the ground around it looks wet and treacherous. As I turn away from it, a gentle breeze rolls thick fog up the valley, engulfing me. It’s cold. I pull on my waterproof trousers.

The pause gives me a chance to pull myself together. When I left the top of the tor I could still just see the sun through the mist, and I walked slightly to the left of it. The time is 14:45, so the sun would have been almost south-west, and I would have been moving more or less south. I look at the map and see the pond I’ve just avoided. There should be a path to the west of me. I need to cross that and keep walking downhill. Where’s my compass?

Once more, I delve into my backpack, feeling for the familiar plastic rectangle that houses the compass. I can’t feel it. I unpack everything from the bag. It’s not there.

“Come on, Trish! What kind of halfwit walks on Dartmoor without a compass?”

I check my pockets. Not there. I’ll just have to wing it. If I walk away from the pond, I’ll cross the path and strike the miners’ track. Where’s the pond? I can’t see it; it’s hidden in the fog. I think it’s over there.

I’m filled with doubt about my exact orientation. It takes an effort of will to turn ninety degrees to my right and walk forward. I move carefully, because I can’t see more than about five metres. “So much for the weather forecast,” I think. I try to relax, because I can feel tension in my legs and that will tire me quickly.

The ground is rough, tussocky. I must have walked several hundred metres and I still haven’t crossed the path shown on the map. Is it approaching the time to phone for help? I check my mobile. No signal. “You’re on your own, girl,” I tell myself, firmly.

Aha! What’s this? A path, as I live and breathe. Unless it’s a sheep track… I shall define it as the path I’ve been looking for. I don’t want to follow it, because it bends around to take me in the wrong direction. I must cross it.

It feels wrong to leave the relative security of the little track, and plough my way across lumps of grass and reeds, but that’s what I must do. I acknowledge to myself that I’m frightened. It helps to admit the feeling.

It’s soggy under foot. Every step squeezes water out of the ground. I must be careful not to step into a bog. According to the map there shouldn’t be one, but am I where I think I am? I squelch onwards. Thank goodness for proper equipment; at least I’m dry, and not cold. I wish I’d remembered to check I had the compass, though. What a stupid thing to forget!

I think of my mother, and hope that Tom is coping alright with her. I said I’d be back by six o’clock at the latest. It’s now half past three.

At last! A grassy ditch full of water, and beyond it a stony track. This is the miners’ track! I’m safe!

I hitch my backpack into a more comfortable position, relax my muscles and stride out.

Now that I’m confident of where I am, it seems lighter. In fact, it actually is lighter; there is a patch of brightness in the sky. I walk about eight hundred metres and the sun is warm on my right cheek. The moor is familiar; I’ve walked this stretch several times. I’m tired, more tired than I should be after the distance, but I suppose that’s down to the tension when I thought I was lost.

The walk is no longer the intense pleasure that it was when I set out, but I feel satisfaction at being within sight of completing it. I follow the track, putting one foot in front of the other, ignoring the fatigue.

So, what am I to do about Mum?

She’s lost in a worse fog than I was, and she doesn’t have any way of helping herself. I would have been mightily relieved to have had someone alongside me when I was lost, even if they were only saying “Yes, you’re heading in the right direction, you don’t need to worry.”

I’m going to have to turn down that job offer.

It’s after five. I can see the gate at the edge of the moor. Is there a signal yet for my mobile phone?

I call Tom. Back in thirty minutes, I tell him. Put the kettle on – I need coffee!

 

 

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From a liberal point of view – April 2017

Six weeks today, we in the UK vote in a General Election.

Let us leave aside the reasons why it was called (which are incoherent), and the reasons why the opposition MPs voted in favour of it (which are incomprehensible). Let us consider instead some information that may influence how we vote.

General Election 170427

What are our liberal values in the context of this election? The hallmark of a liberal society is that it accords equal respect to every member. An absolute pre-requisite is that the society looks after its weak members. People should not go hungry. They should have good accommodation. They should receive good healthcare promptly.

One measure of whether people are going hungry is the number of people requiring help from a food bank. A major provider of such help is the Trussel Trust Foundation. They provide 3-day emergency packs for people who cannot afford to buy food. They report figures showing a dramatic and continuing rise in the need for these packs.

Period 3-day emergency packs provided during the year
2008 – 9 25,899
2009 – 10 40,898
2010 – 11 61,468
2011 – 12 128,697
2012 – 13 346,992
2013 – 14 913,138
2014 – 15 1,084,604
2015 – 16 1,109,309

You can find the data here.

https://www.trusselltrust.org/2016/04/15/foodbank-use-remains-record-high/

How about adequate accommodation? Homeless Link is an agency that works with government and other providers to help reduce homelessness. They have reported the following statistics.

Calendar year People sleeping rough Households in temporary accommodation
2010 1,768 48,000
2011 2,181 49,000
2012 2,309 53,000
2013 2,414 56,000
2014 2,744 63,000
2015 3,569 69,000
2016 n/a 76,000

The data for temporary accommodation was taken from a graph, and has been rounded to the nearest thousand. You can find the data here.

http://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/rough-sleeping/rough-sleeping-explore-data

The King’s Fund reports quarterly on the performance of the NHS. This data is from their latest report:

  • The target time for Ambulance Trusts to respond to Red 1 emergency calls is 8 minutes. When this was introduced in June 2012, it was missed 24% of the time. This has now risen to 33% of the time.
  • A&E Departments have a target that no-one should wait more than 4 hours from arrival to admission, or transfer, or discharge (as appropriate). During 2009 – 10 this was missed less than 2% of the time. It’s now being missed 10% of the time.
  • The target for waiting time after diagnosis is that fewer than 8% of patients should wait longer than 18 weeks before the start of treatment. In 2012, this target was being met comfortably; fewer than 6% of patients waited longer than the target time. The latest report notes that the target has now been missed for ten consecutive months, and exceeds 10%.

You can find the data here.

http://qmr.kingsfund.org.uk/2017/22/data

I haven’t ‘cherry-picked’ these numbers. The data are largely from government bodies. There are many more statistics saying the same thing.

They’re saying this.

Over the period during which we have had a Conservative government, more people have gone hungry; more people have gone homeless; and people have found it harder to obtain care from the NHS.

We are one of the richest nations in the world; our government has been steadily and knowingly providing less help for those who need it most; and this is having an impact on the lives of millions of people.

Today, now, we have people who don’t have enough to eat, don’t have anywhere to sleep, who are dying because they’re not receiving medical help in time.

So, back to this election.

I would normally vote Green. I’m a Green party member. However, if this Conservative government remains in power, the data above suggest that life for the poorest will become even worse.

Consequently, if it starts to look as though a particular candidate can challenge the current Conservative MP in my constituency, then I shall vote for that candidate. It goes against the grain for me; I would far rather vote Green; but the stakes are just too high.

In the moment – the power of a symbol

Sufferers from anxiety know that the condition can be debilitating. I was in that state some years ago; thankfully I’ve now recovered. In the recovery, I learned a number of mental habits that help me to avoid recurrences; living ‘in the moment’ is one of them; hypnosis for relaxation is another. I recently came across another influence, namely the power of symbols.

Miyajima cherry blossom 170425

I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Japan. I’ll start this post by confirming what a wonderful holiday it was. It was full of interest, full of beauty, full of emotion. My wife Daphne and I really enjoyed it.

It was a big, important holiday; we cashed in savings to be able to afford it. I was looking forward to it eagerly – but I was also apprehensive, because I am prone to anxiety attacks. They are sometimes very unpleasant, and they’re triggered by stress…

Travel – especially long haul flights – can be stressful. A different culture – and Japanese culture is pretty different from European culture! – can be stressful. Visiting a place where you don’t understand the language can be stressful – and although English is taught to all children in Japan, it’s not widely spoken, and only the most important signs are in English as well as Japanese.

And yet I have returned feeling tranquil, and the feeling has endured. This was sufficiently unexpected that I have tried hard to understand it. I wouldn’t say that I’ve reached any definite conclusions, but here are some of the thoughts.

Before going to Japan, I recognised that I might suffer from anxiety, and I accepted the possibility. I find that acceptance is a big deal. It goes at least halfway towards dealing with anxiety symptoms. I must make a very clear distinction at this point. To accept the possibility that something might happen, is definitely not the same as expecting it to happen. It’s the exact opposite of worrying about something. It’s realising that something may happen, and saying “Yes, I understand that, I accept the possibility. I don’t have to worry about it.”

So I considered in advance what might happen.

The anxiety would be very unpleasant. Could I get through an attack without going home? Yes. Could I get through two attacks without going home? Er, yes, probably. What about repeated attacks? It would spoil the holiday but I’d survive.

What about a worst-case scenario? The worst case would be that I would have repeated anxiety attacks that would leave me feeling so vulnerable that we would have to return home before the end of the tour. It would be a great shame to lose the holiday. It would cost a lot of extra money to change flights for an early return.

I consciously accepted that this could happen, and used my usual hypnotic relaxation regime to put aside any worrying about it.

I’m sure it helped. But I’m equally sure that it’s not the whole story.

Could the tranquillity have arisen as a result of having succeeded in surviving the stress of the holiday? I took on the challenge of a visit that in prospect I found quite intimidating, and came through it unscathed. Was I just feeling relief?

Well, I suppose it’s possible. But the tranquillity seems such an active feeling. I’m a slightly different woman from the one who set off to Japan. I would have expected relief to be a reactive feeling, and to dissipate quickly.

One of the features of the holiday was that we visited some important Buddhist temples, and Shinto shrines. Buddhism is based on the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eight-fold Path, and includes a recognition that human suffering is unavoidable. It also teaches, among many other things, that true happiness can be attained despite human suffering, by relinquishing useless craving and by living in the moment. Surrounded as we were by pilgrims, it seems possible that some of their piety ‘rubbed off’ on me, so to speak.

Beyond any of these possible explanations, though, my emotions tell me that the answer may lie in the symbol of cherry blossom. It was the ‘Cherry Blossom Tour’ that we took, and there were several occasions when the symbolism of the blossom overwhelmed me emotionally. The blossom is beautiful – and transient. But the symbolism goes far beyond the recurrence of beauty in the world despite personal tragedy. I can’t explain it; I had to experience it.

I suspect that Japan has given me a most valuable gift. I’m so glad we took the holiday!

The man who hated his job

During my holiday in Japan, I saw both the little man and the hotel manager, and the story demanded to be written! Just in case you don’t know; bushido was the moral code by which samurai warriors lived and died; the Yakuza are Japan’s equivalent (very approximately) of the Mafia; members of the Yakuza wear elaborate whole-body tattoos declaring their clan affiliation. Note: This story is strictly fictional!

Tokyo cityscape hotels

The little man with the scowling face walked across the hotel lobby. His white shirt, worn under a dark-grey pinstripe suit, failed to conceal the elaborate tattoos surrounding his neck. By and large, the hotel guests paid him no attention; why should they? He was nothing to them, and they were less than nothing to him. They were there to holiday, to see the sights – to spend money. Yes, he approved of that, as it made his leader happy.

The guests mattered to the hotel manager, Akira Hisakawa, though. His position meant far more to him than merely a source of income. It was a source of pride. It was his purpose in life. He patrolled the restaurants, the lobby, housekeeping, the “in-house” convenience store, to make sure that everything was flawless. Nothing untoward or ugly should come between his guests and their enjoyment.

“In modern Japan,” he would say to his immediate subordinates, “We administrators are the new samurai. We must be meticulous. We must be as familiar with our procedures as warriors with their weapons, as if our lives depended upon it. We must live by bushido.” They would nod, and remember apprehensively where they had fallen short.

Not that the manager was a harsh man; he didn’t need to be. The disappointment on his face when something was less than perfect was all that was needed by way of admonition. And if he were to say quietly, “Bushido, Nobu-san, bushido,” why, Nobu would be so mortified that he would do anything, literally anything, to put right the deficiency.

Every day at eleven o’clock in the morning, seven days a week, Akira-san sat at the desk in his office to update his action plan to make the hotel even better. It was a beautiful desk made of glass. There was no clutter. Close to Akira-san’s right hand was a fruit bowl. If a subordinate distinguished himself, he might be rewarded with an invitation to spend five minutes sharing a piece of fruit with Akira-san.

It was cherry blossom time, all rooms were fully booked, and Akira-san was at his desk. He frowned at the report for breakfast in the restaurant. There had been a short period when saucers had not been available by the coffee service. Worse, at nine-thirty there had been three groups of people in the queue for a table. They had all been seated within ninety seconds, but that was not the point; they should not have had to wait at all. The restaurant manager’s plan to improve was not good enough.

His office door opened; but staff had strict instructions never to disturb him in his office.

The little man with the scowling face walked across to Akira-san’s desk, threw himself into the chair in front of it, and crossed his legs.

“Good morning, Hisao-san.”

The little man’s scowl became even more ferocious. How did this man know his name?

“Hironori Kurosawa is not happy.” The little man took out an extremely sharp knife and began to clean under his fingernails. Akira-san hid his distaste.

“I am grieved that Hironori-san is not happy. Perhaps if I could meet him we could arrive at an arrangement that would suit us both?”

“You can pay now, and he will overlook your insolent behaviour – this time.”

Hisao-san impaled a bright red, perfect apple with his blade. Akira-san’s hand strayed under his desk.

“I have no quarrel with paying Hironori-san for what he provides, but he has not done enough to justify the very large monthly sum. Two of my guests were approached by a drug dealer last month.”

“No negotiation.”

“I am not an unreasonable man… ” began Akira-san.

The little man catapulted out of his chair, knife in hand, towards Akira-san. There was a soft “phut” as the taser, concealed under the desk, fired. Hisao-san shrieked, struggled, and finally dropped to the ground. Two members of the hotel staff burst into the room to find Akira-san standing on the little man’s wrist, removing the knife from his flaccid fingers.

“Check him for weapons,” he said. The baggage handler picked up Hisao and held him firmly, while the manager of reception frisked him carefully. Hisao was shaking and strengthless.

“I suggest a twenty percent discount this month to compensate for the poor performance in protecting us. I’m happy to meet Hironori-san to discuss this, if he wishes. Good day, Hisao-san. He bowed, in a perfunctory manner. Automatically, Hisao-san bowed in response, and left.

“Police?” queried the manager of reception.

“No, of course not.” The reception manager quailed.

Outside the office, Hisao-san tried unsuccessfully to recapture his swagger; his scowl had become a grimace that even a heedless tourist might spot. Sometimes he really hated his job…

If you enjoyed this story, I would be very grateful if you would share it with your friends!

 

 

Poem – Persistence of Vision

This poem celebrates my forty-two year marriage to Daphne. It started life as free verse, but gradually, without my conscious design, iambic pentameters started to elbow their way in. Finally I realized that my sub-conscious was wiser than my conscious; iambic pentameters, with their remorseless di-DUM, di-DUM, are the very thing for conveying the brutal march of time.

Daphne portrait for poem 170420

Persistence of vision

Maybe the outline always has been blurred.

You stand before me, upright, curly-haired

And blonde, your blue eyes steadfast, thoughtful, kind.

Attraction blossoms, sight leads on to touch

And we become, as near as dammit, one.

Then two are three and four and more, a girl,

A boy, another girl; skin stretches, care

Writes lines of love upon your loving face.

The days, though gentle, tug and dull and hurt

And suddenly the curly hair is grey,

The skin is scarred. Despite the pain, you will

Not bow your head; your courage is undimmed.

The person that you were is who you are.

Wisdom and love defeat the passing years.

 

In the moment – driving

“How are we today? Are we happy, relaxed, in good shape?” My boss was full of bonhomie at eight o’clock in the morning.

I shrugged. I had a meeting in Coventry at ten o’clock. There was no time to waste in small talk. I drove onto the ring-road, my mind full of my forthcoming meeting. It was going to be tough, explaining to a customer why we were having difficulty meeting his product specification, and persuading him to change it. Even before the meeting I had eighty miles of rush hour traffic to negotiate in a little under two hours.

A silver Ford pulled out in front of me at a roundabout. I swore, and braked harshly. I was too busy checking the other traffic to extend the middle finger of friendship to the idiot, even though he richly deserved it. Still, it wasn’t too long before I was on the motorway.

I’m a careful driver. I don’t break the speed limit. I was in lane two travelling at seventy when this stupid person in a blue Vauxhall wobbled out of lane one right in front of me. He bumbled along at sixty-five. Lane three was full of traffic, so I couldn’t overtake. I just had to sit there grinding my teeth until he completed overtaking the car transporter and pulled back into lane one.

I reached my customer with five minutes to spare, feeling like I’d already done a day’s work.

I felt that other drivers had driven badly, and maybe they had, but did my anger at this do any good? Even if they’d noticed me, would it have changed the way they drive? Of course it wouldn’t.

Driving becomes a lot less fraught when we realise that we aren’t responsible for the way other people drive. It’s not our job to fix their bad habits. There is absolutely no need at all to become angry, because it won’t get us to our destination any quicker, and it might make us less safe.

Mindfulness can help with this. When we practise mindfulness, we aim to become aware of our emotions as they happen. The first step to avoiding anger is to recognise when we are becoming angry. Being aware of the emotion as it happens gives us the space to say, “I don’t need to be angry,” take a deep breath, and relax.

Mindfulness can help us to be more relaxed when driving. Why not give it a try?

 

 

 

The Two Brothers

John was twenty-eight when he was promoted to department manager, and Linda, his wife, suggested that they should start their family. John had been hoping to have a little spare cash so as not to need to budget quite so stringently. However, he knew Linda longed for a baby and he wanted her to be happy, and so Michael was born, and, two years later, Robert. They hadn’t planned for a third, but three years after Robert’s birth, little Amy came along. They coped.

Michael was always a quiet boy, but Robert was noisy right from the start. He woke frequently in the night. He was active. When he was only nine months old, he managed to climb out of his cot. Linda found him and scooped him up just before he could tumble down the stairs.

At school, Michael was the bright one, but Robert was the one that the teachers liked. “He’ll go far, that lad,” said the headteacher at his primary school.

And he did. He took a gap year before university, which became two gap years, which became wandering the world doing casual work, acquiring skills and languages. He visited the South Pacific and Patagonia, the rain forest in Brazil and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was bitten by a venomous snake in Australia, and by a tarantula in South America. His complexion was mahogany, and his countenance cheerful and untroubled.

Michael studied at Nottingham University, and, after graduating, became an accountant. He was an excellent accountant. He prospered. By the time he was forty, he was married to the beautiful Caitlin, and had one son, Tarquin, and two daughters, Anastasia and Persephone. They lived in a large house in Winchester, and Michael had a pied-a-terre in London where he lived during the working week.

Occasionally Robert would phone Michael; to give him news, to find out how their parents were, and to make sure that Michael knew where to contact him. Michael seldom tried to phone Robert; he knew from experience that Robert’s phone number changed frequently. Several times a year Michael would despatch some luxury that he knew Robert particularly enjoyed – Cuban cigars were a special favourite – to the most recent address he had. And Michael would pass on a circumspect account of Robert’s latest exploits to their parents when he telephoned them once a fortnight.

The day came, of course, when Michael needed to contact Robert urgently. Their father, John, was ill; a major heart attack. Michael sent a letter to all the most recent addresses he had for Robert, and then sat down with his phone and a list of all the phone numbers that Robert had used for the last five years. It wasn’t until he tried the last number on his list that he made contact.

Jungles aren’t as impenetrable they used to be, especially when you’re as resourceful as Robert. He was in London with Michael, beside his father’s hospital bed, within seventy-two hours. John looked at him, and grinned weakly.

“You’re both here? I really must be on my last legs,” he joked, and, closing his eyes, drifted off into that halfway house to death that is unconsciousness.

“You know, I think I’d better stop tramping the world,” said Robert to Michael, across the bed.

Michael raised his eyebrows.

“Well, I’m not getting any younger, and what have I achieved? Nothing. I’ve no children to carry on the line. I’ve not created anything that will survive me. I look at you, with your beautiful wife and your talented children, and I think it’s about time I married and settled down.”

“Ah,” said Michael. “I’m going to tell you something that I’ve not told anybody else yet. Before Dad had his heart attack, I was planning to talk to you about whether you could help me find a more adventurous occupation. I’ve plenty of money; I don’t need to work; but it’s slightly less boring than not working. Which isn’t saying very much. I’m trapped Robert. I love my kids, but I’m raising them to be prudent citizens, just like me, and I don’t think that will fulfil them. It doesn’t fulfil me, anyway.”

The two brothers looked at each other over the unconscious form of their father.

At the foot of the bed, their sister Amy was focussed on him.

“He’s looking a bit better now,” she said. She smiled with love and relief as she gazed at him. “The consultant told me he’s out of danger. Can you two stay here with him until I get back? I need to cook the children some tea. Jack’s on nights this week. Mum’s staying with me, of course, while Dad’s poorly, and she’ll need feeding too.”

She stood up, bleary-eyed after her vigil.

“Oh, what beautiful flowers!” she exclaimed. “Did you bring them, Robert? They’re gorgeous! I hope you’ll come round and see us now you’re in England for a few days.” She hugged her brothers, beamed at them, and went home.