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Sometimes I wonder if I should really have been in another time. If I could pick my life up and transport it somewhere else, high on the list would be post-war London’s East End, where Jennifer Worth’s books ‘Call the Midwife’ were set.

These stories are many things I love – a warm and wise spirituality, a beautifully compassionate and industrious nursing ethic, a pervasive concern for politeness, and setting the table properly for tea. It is honest enough not to be shallow or romantic, though I’m sure the reality was still much worse.

If I could meet one of those remarkable women in particular, it would be the irrepressible Chummy. Though she is a little bit awkward, she is entirely without pride – a most lovely virtue in someone who has chosen to abandon her high-born life for a genuine vocation to care for others in the messy reality of a poor neighbourhood.

Chummy has many fine moments, but the one that has me reaching for the hankie every time is the episode in which she cares for her dying mother. A prickly, class-conscious woman with a predisposition to judginess and insensitivity, Chummy’s Mum is not easy to love. She is rude to her family, perpetually critical, and ungrateful for their kindness. Nor does she have any interest in discussing the realities of her illness. It’s a tough wall to get past.

Enter the wisdom of the eccentric old Sr Monica Joan, who confesses over tea with Chunmy that she did not enjoy a warm or affectionate relationship with her own Mum, and did not regret it at the time, but certainly has since. And so at her next visit to her palliating Mum, Chummy goes about the business of a simple manicure, full of tenderness and love. In return, her Mum reaches out and strokes her daughter’s hair back – a gesture not ventured since Chummy’s childhood. And then it is time for Chummy to set aside her nurse’s uniform (with the help of a beloved and practical friend who understands), put on her Mum’s dressing gown, curl up beside her, and hold her as she says goodbye.

So perhaps it does not always take an extravagant gesture to heal a past hurt, even if it has been a very long time in the making. Perhaps a fresh start can be as easy as a cup of tea or a little pampering, if the time is right and it is important enough.

Chummy, I wish we could be friends in real life. ❤


Of my many shortcomings, a lack of any significant musical ability is probably the most disappointing to me. I’ve never really learned an instrument, can’t particularly sing, and lacked the attention span in primary school to make the recorder sound any better than a cheap kazoo. Which is frustrating, because sometimes words on their own just aren’t enough to express what needs to be said, felt, or shared… Whether it’s that exquisite agony of fresh love, or the immense thankfulness that follows an unexpected kindness, or united rage against the man, or the still and quiet contentment of one’s own company.

Perhaps because I am fated to be stuck hearing but not making, I’m particularly appreciating playing my way through the modest little vinyl collection I have been building, now that I have inherited a humble turntable. A few thoughts on that before I move on:

  • Vinyl really does sound better than a CD or mp3 file. REALLY. I’m no physicist, so I don’t entirely grasp ‘the recording is less compressed and therefore the amplitude of the sound wave etc’ business, but there’s a richness and balance that definitely raises the bar.
  • Listening to vinyl is inherently a more attentive experience, mostly because you can’t just hit ‘repeat playlist’ and walk away to do housework or whatever. Rather, hunt through the collection for a record, unpack it from its various sleeves and load it, find that lead in groove (now there’s a band name in the making), gently set down the tone arm… Just for half a dozen songs. Repeat. Somewhere in there – dust is the devil and must burn.
  • Higher end audiophile equipment is becoming increasingly beautiful, and with all the fancy business. Lust territory for sure. Hey there Pro-Ject, with your delicious mahogany plinths to complement a beautiful pair of walnut Ruark active speakers. I see you.

My mismatched wee stash of records is a bit nostalgic – some inherited, some found randomly, some hunted down. Not quite a tune for every occasion just yet, but getting there. So, the albums that have helped this week along its way:

1. Horse Feathers ‘Thistled Spring’

These gentle Appalachian folk are the definition of warm, slightly haunting tunes for when your melancholy needs to be let out. It got a spin because I am firmly of the view that the great United States have contributed more to modern music across a variety of genre than any other nation by far… But aren’t they hurting something fierce at the moment. So in honour of the creative, prophetic, hopeful types speaking truth to power in an increasingly dangerous and bigoted time… You keep on keeping on.

Said it better than I could: ‘There’s a pain in the west, a sinking feeling deep down in their chests… A little town like a lamb. Well a lion came down and took their dam. February was lean, and March came to scream.’ (Vernonia Blues)

(Also you make BEAUTIFUL records. To look at I mean. I heart you).

2. ‘Odetta Sings’

This courageous and graceful lady covers the greats with the best of them. I really like a good reinterpretation of an old hit. And there’s something about a southern dame of Alabama lending her voice to a lilting gospel tune that settles the soul of any old body searching for a little peace and perspective.

Said it better than I could: ‘I don’t build no heathen temples, Where the Lord has laid his hands, there’s a well on the hill. Let it be.’ (Lo and Behold)

(Look at her!)

3. Jamie Lawson (self-titled)

This album has been sitting at the top of my favourites for an unusually long time. I could listen to his honey-coloured voice and soft acoustic guitar for days on end. Well timed reminder; I can just occasionally be guilty of a little attempted self-sufficiency, which has never really been remotely helpful. There are far more good people in my world than I possibly deserve, and I need reminding from time to time that life is best lived in good company, not in safe isolation or deliberate busyness. Thank goodness for gracious friends and better angels.

Said it better than I could: ‘I know I make mistakes and I can let you down, don’t always find the words to say. For all this searching you’re the best thing that I’ve found – I’ll be hoping you stay.’ (Don’t let me let you go)

Thus ends the soundtrack of this week, with all it’s lessons and loveliness. x

So ends 2015, with the byline ‘All The Life Lessons’. Here are a few of them in writing, in the hope that they will be properly reinforced and as such not need to be revisited in the near future! Far more important is the thanks owed to those who helped me learn them, in whatever capacity.

1. Lessons learnt from a bit of travel here and there:

Always wear shoes in an airport. ALWAYS.

One does not simply sing karaoke in Nashville.

One should always be willing to try new things, and explore new territory. It is perfectly acceptable, however, to settle on a favourite bar/restaurant/cafe early upon arriving in a new town and frequent it on a daily basis. This is just good sense.

Matching t-shirts are never the good idea they seem to be at the time.

Nowhere in the world does coffee as well as Australia. A drinkable latte turns out not to be a thing we copied from elsewhere… We invented it.

2. Lessons learnt from a day in the life of an ED Nurse:

The human capacity to create new and interesting ways to get into proper strife must sometimes be seen to be believed. Likewise, the human capacity for perseverance in the most devastating circumstances is sometimes beyond understanding, and tends to put things in perspective very quickly.

It’s ok to run out of panadol/pump sets/pillows, so long as there is no shortage of compassion, patience, and energy (or oxygen).

Paramedics are the unsung heroes of the world.

Sometimes the right course of action is to pull out all the stops and try anything and everything to save a life. Desperate times, desperate measures, etc. Sometimes the right course of action is to step back, give the patient a rest, and let healing take place in its own time. This truth may at times apply beyond the ED.

Stay calm.  Keep your eyes open and your wits about you!

3. Lessons learnt from being all too human:

Don’t take things to personally. It really is true that most people are just trying to get on with their own lives, are doing the best they can, and are not trying to be difficult.

I think it would be fair to say that I’ve made more mistakes this year than I have in the rest of my life put together, doubled, then tripled. At times, layering fresh disaster upon still-unfolding disaster. Like Neville Longbottom tripping over dynamite in a Potions Shop, really. I would very much like to forget most of them. Instead, I get to relive them over and over, in near-perfect detail, courtesy of my exquisitely good memory. Cue popcorn and screaming at the screen, ‘Who are you and what the hell are you doing??! Jesus, don’t do that. Oh God. You did that. I can’t watch.’

The aching conscience that follows tends to go one of two ways – obnoxious excuses/blame/crankiness, or overthinking self-loathing pity-party. So far as I can tell, neither of them accomplish anything. An honest but generous look in the mirror, a serving or two of humble pie and a bit of time tends to work a bit better. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to work that out, or why I am still so bad at it, but I’ve at least learnt that there are more important things than pride/reputation/being right. It seems a lot easier to forgive the slings and arrows shot by others in their imperfect moments when I remember that I too live in a glass house, and especially after a year like this, have absolutely no stones to throw.

On the upside….

The especially wonderful gift of a year that frequently feels like it’s raining shit is the greater excellence of the outstanding people who rise to the occasion and  dash out of their own safe shelters with an umbrella and a hug. To those who been there at any and all points of this year, I have nowhere near enough words to say thank you, but you know who you are, and I hope you know that you have my enduring gratitude. I plainly would not have survived this year without you. Acknowledge that I owe a lot of favours/tea/scotch/baking/flowers/chats/laughs/general loveliness. Call them in at your leisure, friends, ‘because 2015’. Yet again, a few of you feature in the following summary of a year that for all its chaos, had some good fun moments:

1. One Favourite Book: ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson.

2. Two Favourite Movies: ‘Inside Out’ and ‘The Dressmaker’. I cried in both.

3. Three Tunes I Sang the Loudest in the Privacy of my Car: ‘Landslide’ by Dixie Chicks, ‘Mango Tree’ by Zac Brown Band & ‘She Keeps Me Warm’ by Mary Lambert.

4. Favourite Outfit: Scrubs.

5. Best Meal: Chicken and Leek Pie courtesy of one of my favourite people, who I will dearly miss in the new year, and not just for her gourmet cooking and impromptu dinner invitations from the next suburb over!

6. Best Drink: Old Fashioned at the finest Speakeasy in town with my fellow whisky woman.

7. Best Day: Epic 17 hour Disney extravaganza in fantastic company, Florida, USA.

8. Stupidest Attempt at a New Hobby: Knitting a hot water bottle cover. I nearly died, throttled in kilometres of tangled yarn. Ridiculous idea.

9. Favourite Addition to my Happy Home: Cheeky Duck.

10. Thought Heading Into the New Year: ‘Don’t rush and never settle. If it is meant to be, it will be.’




A little while ago, over a wee dram of single malt (Glenfarclas, in honour of my Speyside clan, of course), I thought I might read up a bit on a little family history. Out of a fantastic story about burning mountains and defending ‘The Rock of Alarm’, I was mostly glad, but also mildly irked, to discover that our common motto is ‘Stand Fast’. Glad because it’s a nice familiar phrase that’s long taken up residence in my muscle memory. Irked because I’ve never been very good at it. I’m more a ‘take life at a brisk striding pace’ kind of girl. Places to be, people to see, things to do. There is so much that is interesting, wonderful and important in the world, and I am of the view that we should always be getting on with being part of it. My trouble has never been enthusiasm, but rather the finer points of execution. Because I am me, I fall over A LOT. I’m pretty used to it. And just occasionally, I have lost my footing so completely that I’ve ended up in one of those terrible rolling fiascos that are thoroughly undignified, unprepared for, and leave behind more than a few bumps and bruises. I think maybe I am not alone in this…. Most of us have had ‘That Year’… When without warning we are right in the path of an oncoming storm, and before we know it we are waking up miles from where we started, wrung out, and wondering why the rest of the world looks like nothing has happened.  It’s a bloody messy, disorienting, lonely place to be, and very tough to recover. The obviously sensible solution (and path of least resistance) is to cut and run. Those of us prone to bad luck get very good at that. Packing up, moving on, starting again gets to be a faster and faster process.

The flaw in that plan, I’ve discovered, is that along the way you run into  ‘Geographical Error’. She is a most infuriating acquaintance, kind of like the Ghost of Christmas Future. She shows up just when every fibre of your being is convinced that life is in such an irretrievable and ghastly shambles that the only option is to pack your bags immediately, disappear to the far side of another continent, and assume a whole new identity. She hovers around just behind you with all of the problems you are running away from wrapped up in a nice red polka dot handkerchief, slipping them into your new life at the worst possible moment. The long and the short is that you didn’t escape much of the bad stuff at all, you just lost most of the good stuff that balanced it out.

So what’s to be done, when life has you trapped between a rock and a hard place, about that overwhelming instinct to get the hell out of Dodge? I think, having got this wrong, many many times, that the only real option is to take a deep breath and stand still. Don’t fight, don’t try and hold on, just stand still. It’s hard. Instinct kicks in and you will probably reach for the most precious things in the hope of protecting them from the shock. Don’t. If they are supposed to break, they will, no matter how hard you try to save them. Some people, some occupations, some possibilities were only ever supposed to be in the previous chapter, even if you didn’t realise it at the time. Don’t try to rescue them, just stick to damage control. Some of it turns out to be for the better. After all, that kind of disaster only happens when life really wasn’t working anyway. Ignore the crowd that wants to stand around and gossip about your misfortune. It is the cheap habit of people who want to distract themselves from their own faults and failures. Shake it off, make a cup of tea, salvage a bit of dignity, and save your energy for the people who actually reach in and help you out. You might be surprised at who your real mates turn out to be. You will probably be disappointed to discover a few of your favourites aren’t among them. Try to be gracious about both. Learn to forgive yourself when you can’t be, but don’t allow yourself to be treated poorly by people you have treated well, under any circumstances. It’s a toxic combination when your defences are down – they need to go. The ones worth keeping will survive your bad days, even if you have to make significant amends along the way. Extremely tempting as it is, we do not do ourselves any favours in running from people who have witnessed us at our worst. In facing that reality in the company of people we love and admire, we find the way to face it in ourselves. Yes, it will probably involve uncomfortable levels of humiliation, vulnerability, tears. But proper, deep trust is made of that sort of strong stuff. If nothing else, you will learn hitherto unimagined degrees of patience and perseverance. Have another scotch and learn to apologise properly – genuinely, for the things that have caused harm, but not for your own struggle or suffering, and certainly not for your general existence. Avoid walking the road of self-loathing for too long. Chin up. Learn to like yourself again, and enjoy what is good in the new chapter you find yourself in. Seek advice, but make your own decisions – nobody else knows quite what is right for you. Some days it will feel like all you have left is your integrity. That’s a valuable and rare enough possession in itself. Plenty don’t have it. Stand your ground, and as Maggie Kuhn wisely said, ‘Speak your own truth, even when your voice shakes.’ When the sun comes out (and it always does eventually), you will want to be able to live with the way you weathered the storm.

Tenons Ferme, Craig Elachie….


Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner


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