Nobody Understands Thee. What Tu Du?

I am happy to report that depression is lifting; this is thanks in no small part to actually writing about it.  I am all too prone to interacting with people only when I feel good and hiding away when I’m depressed, thinking that no-one will want to know me in this state and that all I’ll accomplish is to bring everyone down.  But to write about it honestly has been very therapeutic and has allowed lots of other people to open up about their depression: I’ve had many messages of support as well as testimonies from others about what they are going through.  People have offered to visit or meet with me; people have said they miss me and one friend even said I was fantastic.  This has given me a real lift.

I guess you could say in these situations you find out who your friends are: it used to be that one would distinguish between intimates and strangers by the use of pronouns.  A lot of languages still do this, such as French, Spanish, German and Italian, using the informal ‘tu/du’ to distinguish intimates from more formal contacts.  Of course it can also be a way of indicating status, which is why the equivalent probably died out in British English.

Interestingly, when Quakers began, one of their distinguishing characteristics was that they addressed everyone as ‘thou’, this being the informal pronoun (the equivalent of ‘tu/du’) and thus putting everyone on the same level.  The odd thing is that, thanks to ‘thou’ surviving in religion, nowadays it sounds formal rather than informal.

The trouble is, no-one knows how to use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ any more.  So here’s my handy guide.

  1.  ‘Thou’ is equivalent to ‘I’ and ‘thee’ is equivalent to ‘me’.  Examples: ‘what dids’t thou say?  I gave it thee.’
  2. the verb form usually ends in ‘est’ contracted to ‘st’, as in ‘did’st, could’st, hast (the ‘d’ is forgotten)
  3. the possessive is ‘thy’ with a noun following and ‘thine’ without: ‘thy socks be wet’; ‘these socks be thine.’

Here’s a fuller guide to using ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ correctly, so you’re not caught out.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thou

Don’t be like the person who posted this joke on Facebook:

A 19th century Quaker farmer woke up in the middle of the night hearing noises downstairs. He crept down the stairs, cap-lock rifle in hand to discover a burglar in his living room. He took aim and announced in a loud clear voice, “Excuse me, friend, but would thee please move? I am about to shoot where thee is standing.”

The correct version should of course be: ‘Excuse me friend, but could’st thou please move?  I am about to shoot where thou art standing.’

Oh, and if you want an archaic plural of ‘you’, try ‘ye.’

Kirk out

Advertisements

Futility

There’s something about a Wednesday afternoon.  When I was a student this midweek time was given over to sports and leisure: you would wander round during fresher’s week signing up for boxing and ice skating and generally end up by week three hanging out in the coffee bar with your friends.  But this tradition seems to have gone by the board now, so that, instead of being a fallow period, Wednesday afternoon is a slump, a time when the enthusiasm of Monday has waned and the fun of Friday seems a long way away.

I’ve come to the conclusion that fallow periods are important.  Quakers, for example, traditionally don’t celebrate Christmas as every day is supposed to be special: and that’s fine, except that Christmas and New Year for many people are times of hibernation; a period when you can legitimately disconnect from everything and everyone.

In farming, too, it used to be the tradition to leave land fallow every fourth year in order to rest the soil – but that seems to have gone by the board now in favour of more and more fertilisers (there’s an evolving story on The Archers at the moment where Home Farm seems to have poisoned the River Am with nitrates.)

Then there’s the principle of Sunday as a day of rest (it doesn’t have to be Sunday but it’s convenient to have a day when nearly everyone’s off work.)  This morning on Thought for the Day Giles Fraser talked about the boringness of church being a good thing, as it’s important to allow time and space for the mind to wander.  I agree with him up to a certain point (though as a child my mind was never allowed to wander because you were supposed to pay attention.)  But there’s an important principle at stake here, which is that boredom is not some kind of disease to be eradicated but a fallow state which can be a prelude to great creativity.  When our kids said they were bored, instead of entertaining them we’d say ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to do.’  And they usually did.

I am more and more aware of the need to allow my mind to lie fallow.  It’s all too easy for the work ethic to sit on your shoulder and crack the whip, so that if you haven’t produced a certain number of words, you’ve done nothing.  This is not the case.  When the mind is in that fallow, ‘dreaming’ state, there’s no way to tell what you’ve done, because it’s happening under the radar – just as the regeneration of the fallow soil is happening in subtle, invisible ways.

Even so, on days like today I can feel a sense of futility.  What have I achieved?  What am I doing?  Where’s it all going?  What is the point?  These questions bump around in my head like particles in a Large Hadron Collider.

https://home.cern/topics/large-hadron-collider

But if I stop trying to ‘work’ and just let things be, something interesting will happen.  I’m not sure what, but I’ll keep you posted.

The final thought for today is that there are parallels between the First World War and the state of the NHS – not in the severity of the situation, but in terms of the leaders and those on the ground.  Doctors and nurses working in the NHS today truly are lions led by donkeys – and the sooner we get rid of this government, the better.  So now that we’ve arrived at the First World War, here’s a taste of true futility:

Futility

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
Kirk out

Are Facebook Friends Funny?

If Quakers have a fault, it’s that they tend to be a Bit Serious.  There’s a Puritan streak in there somewhere, what with the teetotalism and all, and even though there are at least two jokes about Quakers (I’ve told them before but I’ll tell them again in a minute) they – or we – don’t tend to be great comedians (Stephen Fry excepted, but then he’s not actually a practising Friend.)

So it was with immense joy that I pounced on a new Friends Facebook group.  In addition to my ‘Withnail and I Appreciation Group’ which keeps me mentally healthy (see https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/hamlet-is-not-quite-as-funny/) the Quaker groups I belong to are all relatively respectful and calm, considering it’s Facebook, and people post lengthy screeds on subjects such as renewal and worship.  But it’s not a bundle of laughs.  Enter the Association of Bad Friends.  I have high hopes that this will be a great source of merriment since it is a requirement of membership that you Be Funny – and if, as I hope, my membership is approved, I will tell them this story:

Once upon a time a local meeting decided to have a weekend away.  They went to Woodbrooke and held lots of sessions on different subjects; then on the Saturday evening they decided to put on an entertainment.  Part of this entertainment was a skit called ‘The Worst Meeting’ during which people arrived late (and noisily) a mobile went off and was answered, and I got up and told this joke:

Three pieces of string walk into a bar.  The first piece of string walks up to the bar: the barman says, ‘Are you a piece of string?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, we don’t serve pieces of string in here – get out.’

The second piece of string walks up to the bar.  The barman repeats the question: the string admits to being a piece of string, whereupon he says, ‘I told your friend.  We don’t serve pieces of string.  Get out.’

The third piece of string is somewhat the worse for wear, all ragged at the edges and bulky in the middle.  He waddles up to the bar.  The barman sighs.  ‘Are you a piece of string, too?’

‘No,’ he answers.  ‘I’m a frayed knot.’

Such was the unusualness of this joke that some members of that meeting still call me ‘String.’

OK so here are the jokes about Quakers:

Q:  Why are Quakers like economists?

A:  Because when you ask three Quakers a question you get four different answers.

Q:  Why do Quakers sing hymns so slowly?

A:  Because they’re reading the next verse to see if they agree with it

I’ll let you know about the Facebook group.

Kirk out

 

 

 

Many Quake, but Few are Quoken…

My absence from the blogosphere for the last week or so can be explained by this: I have been at a Gathering.  Or perhaps it was a Meeting.  Was it a meeting of minds?  Or a gathering of bodies?  Or both?  Where was it?  Who was it?  What was it?  All questions will be answered, though only in the Quaker way.  This is much like the economists’ way: ie if you ask three Quakers a question you will get four different answers.

Quakers.  As Romeo might have cried, wherefore are ye Quakers?  The answer lies in history, in an insult hurled at Friends who, inspired to speak, might quake in body or voice.  In true Friends’ fashion they took the insult and turned it into a name for themselves.  (I don’t know, there are so many words we can’t use any more: queer, Quaker…)

A week is a long time at Quaker Yearly Meeting, also – confusingly – known as Yearly Meeting Gathering.  A Gathering happens but one year in three, and is a residential affair, a sort of cross between a conference and a retreat.  There are meetings for worship and meetings for business (thought it’s often hard to tell the difference) and a bewildering profusion of workshops, lectures and plenary sessions (I’ve never been quite sure what a plenary session is, though OH helpfully informs me that it’s ‘when everyone gets together.’  Thanks…)

So: that took place at Warwick which, apart from being Margaret Thatcher’s favourite university is a pleasant place, open and airy with lots of trees and leading quickly onto farmland and woods (where I walked one morning with a group of Friends.)  By the end of the week it seemed I’d been there half my life; long enough, indeed, to write a poem about my experiences.  I read this out at the final meeting and it was well received: many people asked for a copy, and you can read it below.  There were a couple of interesting lectures from Quaker politicians; one MP and one MEP, on their experiences of bringing Quaker ethics into politics.  I even managed a couple of early-morning meditation sessions.

After that I had only a day’s rest (or half-rest, since I did a poem at the Hiroshima day vigil in Loughborough) before being plunged into an unexpectedly ferocious walk.  At the moment I’m good for seven miles on the flat or up gentle hills; however this walk was seven miles not on the flat or up gentle hills.  The first bit was fine, meandering through a valley, but being Derbyshire there was no getting away from the hills, and up we went.  And up, and up some more and then much more seriously up and finally I could take no more and declared that it was time for lunch.  After lunch we climbed the final bit to the top, and I was assured it was all downhill from then on.  However, what was not specified was exactly what sort of downhill.  And this was not a gentle downhill; nor was it even a steep downhill, it was a quite unfeasible downhill.  A path quite clearly marked on the OS map was simply not there; and following where it ought to have been led us down a vertiginous and unreasonably thistly slope to a thicket of bracken and thorn bushes.  The way seemed hard, if not impossible.  The words ‘going back up’ were pronounced, whereupon I mutinied.  I could not, and would not, go back up.  And that was flat.  It was the only thing that was flat but flat it was.  So we hobbled, skidded and fell down the bumpy slope into the valley and struggled through an inhospitable landscape to find the path which our more sensible friends had found half an hour before.  It was not fun.  The rest of the walk along the river Derwent would have been delightful had I not been so exhausted.

However, the views were tremendous.  And the company was good.

And that’s us up to date.  How have you been?

Kirk out

PS Oh, I nearly forgot – here’s the poem.

Gold Star

(on my first Yearly Meeting)

 

First I was afraid –

you might say, petrified –

when the plan was laid

that QYM be tried;

I wanted to refuse

curl up like a recluse

but something told me: choose

to be a Yearly Friend

 

From early intimations

upon a box of oats

of wholesome men with hats on

dispensing Quaker quotes;

vague notions of the logo,

love and peace and cocoa

(though not like John and Yoko)

that’s what I knew of Friends.

 

As the years increase

I find my spirit’s kin,

witnesses to peace

that never were sworn in

link arms around the fence

sing madness into sense

and speak the present tense

that’s what I learned of Friends.

 

Midway along this road

I happened on a Meeting;

I sat, I shed my load

amid that silent seating;

but I had no prognosis,

no great apotheosis:

it happened by osmosis

that I became a Friend.

 

So here at QYM

(or is it YMG?)

I’ve come to sense the stem

of something that is me:

though I wobbled at the gate

and got into a state

something told me: wait

and find your way with Friends

 

And now I am afraid –

you might say, petrified –

because our time is played

and, Friends, I need a guide

to light me back to earth

where peace has little worth

and where there is a dearth

of people who are Friends.

 

Let’s lift up that gold star

and set it in the sky

so when we travel far

we hold its halo high

the circle growing vast

we feel the light that’s cast

until we come at last

to meet again as Friends.

 

© Liz Gray, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good News is No News

It has probably not escaped your attention that the news nowadays is unrelievedly gloomy.  Douglas Adams spotted this decades ago when he invented a spaceship powered by Bad News, since this travelled faster than light:

http://www.clearwhitelight.org/hitch/harmless.txt

At Quaker meeting this morning a Friend spoke of rationing their intake of news: later on another Friend spoke of the wisdom of avoiding news bulletins first thing in the morning or last thing at night: because in the morning it colours your day at a time when you’re just waking up, and late at night it affects your sleep.  Midday is considered to be the best time: and whilst that doesn’t work for me as I’m otherwise engaged, I do generally allow an hour for waking before I put on the headlines.  I listen to the main news at six, though I usually find myself switching it off and turning to some joyous music on radio 2 instead – because what I hear generally causes me to feel either angry or depressed, neither of which is good for me.

Of course it’s important to keep up with what’s going on – but there’s a question as to how far the mainstream news actually informs us about real-life events.  There is a bias in everything; and as Owen Jones points out in his book ‘The Establishment’, at the moment it is a pro-business and (god help us) a relentlessly anti-Corbyn bias.  This can be seen in the BBC as well as most newspapers.

I could have a rant about political bias, but what concerns me most right now is the bias towards the negative.  As I said in the post about drama, happiness is considered dull: only misery, it seems, makes good news.  So that even when a positive item makes it onto the agenda, it is usually qualified by doubts about how long it will continue – doubts which are never expressed, say, about a war or an economic crisis.

I don’t think this is necessarily conscious and deliberate: the news outlets may even be unaware that they are doing it.  They may simply think that this is what news is: good news is no news.  But it means that our vision of the world – as we see it through these outlets – is overwhelmingly biased towards the negative; and (which should concern them more) it means that people like me are reaching more and more for the off-switch.

Kirk out.

A Rather Whizzy Weekend

I spent a rather whizzy weekend in Leicester, buzzing there on the excellent skylink bus which gets you from a to b almost as fast as the train, thanks to intermittent stops and smug bus-lanes; then charging up to the Martyrs for Tomatoes where we eventually completed the Telegraph prize crossword and I fielded varied questions about our current status (where are we?  what are we? and most importantly, how are we?) before heading back into town, spending an hour or so at the library and succeeding in locking the toilet key inside the toilet.  The librarian smiled in a resigned sort of way, indicating that this was probably an almost daily occurrence.  After that I positively fizzled up to the Friends’ Meeting House where I was convinced that an afternoon of exciting events was scheduled to kick off at one; only to find a lonely refugee in a hat who turned out to be Ruth, my hostess for the evening.  We chatted until others arrived whereupon we learned the art of felting (I made a coaster) and heard some stories from Ruth.

Then back to hers: Ruth lives in a rather surreal building called John Woolman House (JW being an early Quaker) which is basically a row of houses all knocked into one.  It’s a bit like a friendlier version of the storage place, with rows of doors and endless corridors, but all very friendly (and Friend-ly) with a guest room which I inhabited, a wet-room with shower and bath and a gorgeous sun room where I meditated and later slept.

And god bless that woman! for she not only organised a guest room but took me out and fed me at the new-ish and delish South Indian restaurant on London Rd called Chettinad.  The thali was to die for and over its many tiny dishes we discussed past lives in India, America and various parts of Britain.  Most enjoyable.  And so to bed.

Sunday was Quaker meeting followed by Local Business Meeting where I learned about the Quaker tapestry, an artefact which bids fair to rival the Bayeux one in its scope and splendour.  And so back to Ruth’s for a rest in the gorgeous sun room, a cup of tea and then home.

I can hardly believe that was just yesterday…

Must crack on now.  I’m doing a course on Quaker history.

Kirk out

A HemidemisemiQuaker

Years ago I used to have piano lessons: they were taken by one K. Stuart Hart, a well-known and respected figure in that part of West London.  He was a mixture of parts; a gentle teacher (‘the Amos of another age’ as one student put it) but also both staggeringly egotistical and genuinely humble.  He never told me off when I didn’t practise but just sighed in a distracted way while chain-smoking B&H as I fumbled through my latest Mozart.  I took lessons from the age of 11 (when we were given a piano) until my late teens and once showed him the sheet music for ‘Tubular Bells’ which completely baffled him.

As a teenager I used to go up to the Royal College of Music for my exams; an ornate and deeply intimidating building in central London.  The experience was made much worse by precocious three-and four-year-olds running through Bach’s Toccata and Fugue on the practise pianos, so that I never managed to practise before my exam unless the room was quite empty.  The exam itself consisted, as I recall, of three prepared pieces, some aural tests (I was very good at these) and a sight-reading test which I always failed abysmally (to this day I cannot sight-read).  There were theory tests as well which were far less scary as they were written: I quite enjoyed learning music theory and I can still remember that a quaver is half a crotchet, a semiquaver half a quaver and a demi-semi-quaver half of that; after which it goes quite silly and becomes a hemi-demi-semiquaver.

So OH and I were joking that, since he comes to Quaker meeting about half the time, that makes him a semiQuaker.  If he came once a month he’d be a demi-semiQuaker and to be a hemi-demi-semiQuaker I guess he’d have to come once every two months.

Is that right?

Have a good week,

Kirk out