Hearing What Is Meant

When I was teaching at Limpsfield Infant School, I would very often look up from taking the morning register, to find a child standing next to me. “What’s the matter Tommy?” I would ask (though it might be Jane or Christopher or Matthew). “I’ve got a tummy ache,” they would reply. And I would guess that whatever the first subject of the day was, they found it difficult. Usually I would assure them that maths gave me a tummy ache too, and we would sit down together and try to sort it out.

(Of course, sometimes they really did have a tummy ache, and I will never forget the day that a girl – whose name I remember clearly – vomited all over me. This was not helped when her mother – who I also remember – came to collect her and seemed to find it terribly funny, even though the child was ill because she’d just been taken to have vaccinations for a holiday. There is so much I could say here, but hey, I’m over it. Sort of.)

Anyway, my point is, children don’t always say what they mean, and part of being a good teacher is hearing what they’re trying to say. Grown-ups also don’t always say what they mean, and sometimes this is good. So when, driving home after an event, my husband turns to me and says, “You were the prettiest one there,” I am pleased. Even though I know that it’s not true. But he’s telling me that in his eyes, I am still pretty, and he’s glad I was there. It made me smile recently, to watch a film on Netflix, when all the wives were told by their husbands that they were ‘the prettiest one there’, because I had thought it was only my husband who said that!

However, sometimes people don’t say nice things, they say horrid things, and part of being an adult—I think—is trying to hear what they’re really saying.

I find it much easier with children, perhaps because I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Or perhaps because they’re not so good at pretending, so it’s easier to see what they’re really saying. My mother always says she likes teenagers, because “they are completely selfish, and they don’t pretend not to be.” Adults are harder, because generally we are also completely selfish, but we try to hide it.

I hope you agree that sometimes, what people say, is not completely what they want you to hear. And usually, they simply need some reassurance, to know that no one else is perfect either, and that’s okay. Sometimes we need other people to hear that we’re vulnerable, and we’re not quite managing to keep up. Because all of us are falling behind with something. And sometimes, we all need someone to say to us: “You were the prettiest one there.”

*****

Thank you for reading.

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All Quiet On The Chicken Front…

I thought I would give you a quick update on my news. First, the family of cockerels. As you may remember, I was fortunate (!) enough for five of the six hatchlings to be male. Now, contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to have a flock with more than one cockerel and not have open warfare. I know this because I had two cockerels who lived very peacefully alongside each other for a couple of years (until a fox ate them). However, five young cockerels, plus their father, seems like a lot.

As the hatchlings grew, and were allowed to roam freely around the garden, the flock separated. The parents and the female wander around the garden together, and the young cockerels form a separate flock. A few weeks ago, they started ‘facing off’ to each other. None of them has spurs yet (the deadly sharp talons on the back of their legs) so I figured they were unlikely to kill each other, and were probably simply sorting out the pecking order. I left them to it. The dog takes a keen interest in this, and has taken upon herself the role of peace-keeper. If they start to fight, she stamps on them – which is remarkably effective.

When we went to Devon for a week, I was worried about leaving them all in the same cage, so I split them up. I waited until evening, when they were all roosting on the perch, and then went to move the young cocks into a separate cage. I have to say, it takes an amount of courage to approach a cockerel, which is staring you in the eye, at head-height, with an elongated neck and fluffed up feathers. But I managed to pick them all up, ignored all the squawking, and carried them, one by one, to a new cage; and I survived without getting my eyes pecked out (which would have made Husband cross).

When I returned home after Devon, I opened both cages, to see what would happen. For a couple of days, the father and both hens roosted in one cage, the five young cockerels in the other. Gradually, as they have established a pecking order, two of the weaker cockerels have started to join the parents. I now have ‘the elite team’ of cockerels in one cage, and the rest in the other. For now, we are at an uneasy truce. If any of them become very aggressive, they will have to go (don’t ask me how – but I am not vegetarian, and neither is the local fox, so I figure I have a couple of options…unless you would like a pet cockerel? Do let me know.)

My other news, which is sort of vaguely related, is my new book, which is set on a farm. The first draft is finished, and I began to send it out to publishers. One publisher sent back a detailed editorial report, saying they didn’t want to publish it as it was, but would reconsider if I rewrote it. I am therefore in the process of rewriting it. This is taking much longer than I expected – longer in fact than writing the first draft, because as I change things, I lose the rhythm of the story, so have to rewrite increasingly large sections. It feels like work, and is not much fun. But I do feel the book is improving, so it’s worth the effort. When finished, I will resubmit to the publisher, and see what happens. I would like it to be released in the summer, but it may take longer than that. I will let you know.

A late Christmas gift was a trip to the British Museum and having a tour of the artefacts that relate to various stories in the Bible. Do you know why it was historically appropriate for Daniel to be put in a lions den? Or the name of the Pharaoh who put Joseph (of the coloured coat) in charge of all the agriculture? Or the Pharaoh who suffered the plagues at the time of the Exodus (because it probably wasn’t Ramesses!) I’ll tell you all about it in next week’s blog.

That’s all for now. I hope you have a good week.

Take care,
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com
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“Oh, you shouldn’t have…”

“You shouldn’t have…”

I have been watching people receive gifts recently (we all have, I suspect) and I have noticed that some people are exceptionally good at receiving gifts—and others aren’t. There are those people, who simply make you feel that what you have given them is the best thing ever, and has made their day. They seem to smile with their whole face, and look genuinely delighted with those slippers or that mug or those earrings. Other people (and I’m afraid that I might be one of these) struggle to appear pleased, even if they are. I am always aware that I’m being watched, that my reaction matters, and so it all goes to pot and even when I am excited by the gift, I’m not sure that I show it very well.

The thing is, I think that receiving is very important, and there are lots of us who find it difficult. This Christmas, I have heard lots of people say things like: “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” and they mean it. They absolutely do not really want to be given anything. They don’t want gifts, and (perhaps even more) they don’t want help. If they need to be driven somewhere, they would rather pay for a taxi than accept the offer of a lift from a friend. They will grind themselves into the ground with exhaustion rather than let someone help them.

Of course, this isn’t true of everyone, and there are a few people who ONLY ever take from others. They will stand by and let others do all the work, ask for favours but never do any in return, and generally are a drain on those around them—but I’m not talking about those people. I want to consider the others, the people who dislike accepting, because I think it’s important.

We talk sometimes about relationships being “Give and Take” and yet we are so loathe to “take”. This makes relationships unbalanced. I find I feel much closer to those people who will let me help them, who are not completely self-sufficient.

If you believe the Bible, there is lots there to show we should accept help. Right back in Genesis, Man was created to need a helper, so Woman was created. Man didn’t say,”Oh, no thanks, I can manage on my own.” Man needed Woman. And later, the absolute example has to be God himself, who came as a completely vulnerable human baby in order to reach us. Many times during Jesus’ life, from the very first time he needed to be fed by Mary, to the times he asked for a drink of water, or for other people to organise things or find things, or provide things, he asked for help. And his needs were genuine—when he asked a woman at a well for a drink, he really was thirsty and needed a drink and didn’t have a pot to collect water.

This is a lesson that I learnt painfully, when I had brain surgery. I changed from an independent person who didn’t need (or want) much help, to someone who suddenly needed lots. It was a tough lesson to learn.

So please, think about it this week. If people offer to help, perhaps you will deepen your relationship with them if you accept. It’s probably good for us, makes us humble, to realise that we all need other people, we can’t manage to do it all on our own. We were created like that.

Thanks for reading, have a good week.

Take care,
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.
Why not sign up to follow her blog today?
anneethompson.com

People Know Best…Right?

People know best…right?

Recently there was a march in London – 670,000 people walked the streets of London – showing they wanted a new vote on Brexit. Nearly seven-hundred-thousand people. Surely, that many people can’t be wrong, can they?

On 23rd June, 2016, 17,410,742 people in the UK, voted to leave – so surely they couldn’t all be wrong – could they? And yet over sixteen million voted to remain in Europe. Which is also rather a lot of people. So who was right? Who had the best interests of the country at heart? Surely, when millions of people vote for something, it shows what is right – doesn’t it?

Yet, as the above example shows, clearly millions of people can vote for something that is wrong, because in the Europe vote, both sides cannot be right, which means millions of people have voted for the wrong thing. Which shows, I think, that we cannot always trust what other people think to be right. Something which has the support of the masses, is not necessarily correct. Sometimes, people are wrong. Sometimes, millions of people are wrong. (Which is a slightly scary thought when you live in a democracy – because populations can vote for the wrong thing.)

If we look at the arts, we can see more examples of what the masses think. I know of many singers, musicians, artists, who will probably never be famous, but not because they weren’t ‘good enough’. Were the Spice Girls the best singers at the height of their fame? Are the acts that win X Factor the best entertainers?

Look at the book reviews on Amazon. Some modern books have thousands of reviews. Other, great books, do not. The Phantom of the Opera has only a few hundred reviews, even though everyone has heard of it – but not many people read it. Sometimes, the number of reviews say more about the amount of time the author spends on social media, and less about the quality of the book. {Small plug here – if you have read one of my books, please scribble a review on Amazon. Even if you didn’t like it! Only 1% of people who read my books bother to put a review on Amazon, and it’s how some people choose books.}

I was thinking about this recently, as I was asked to preach at a nearby church. It’s tiny, with a tiny congregation of mainly elderly people. The service was very traditional, and several members took part, some of them with major health issues (the lady leading the service pulled her oxygen tank around with her) and I gave the talk. It was not a professional product. And yet, it was a service where I felt the worship was very real, the love of God was very evident, these were people who were sincere in their faith.

In comparison, there is a study-guide which is popular at the moment in churches. The author is a well-known American pastor, who leads a huge church. He is an engaging speaker, I imagine his church has beautiful music and up-to-date IT, and a wonderful building. But would you feel God there? Certainly the study seems to be made up of popular sound-bites and clever phrases, the sort of thing that people like to repeat because it makes them feel better about how they’re living. But there isn’t much in-depth Bible study, there isn’t much that encourages you to come in awe to the presence of God and understand more about who he is. It seems, in my opinion, rather glib.

So why does a seemingly superficial church have thousands of members and a sincere group of Christians remain tiny? Perhaps because God wants it that way. Perhaps he wants to bless those faithful Christians, and for them to have a safe place, where things don’t change, and they can worship him. Sometimes Christian churches can feel like scalp-hunters, they judge the value of something by how many people are in the building. I don’t think God does. Sometimes, people don’t know best. Sometimes the most popular is not the best. Sometimes we need to look to God, and make choices based on what our hearts tell us, not simply follow the crowd. Because sometimes, the crowd is wrong.

Thank you for reading. Hope you make some good choices this week. I’ll write again next week – I want to tell you about an author who refused to accept that “what everyone thinks is best” (which perhaps was a mistake).
Take care,
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com
Why not sign up to follow today?

Diary of a Day

Today was just a normal day. I will tell you about it (because spying on other people is kinda fun, isn’t it!)

Got up, and sorted the ducks and chickens and fed the outside cats. Lots of signs of nest building, but no actual eggs, so either rats got there first or the hens are just pretending.

Had coffee, cake, and Bible time. My favourite bit of the day. (I make a very complicated cake which is made with sour cream, so it isn’t too sweet, and has a crushed pecan and maple syrup stuffing. It takes ages to make, so I hide it in the larder, and never share it, and only ever eat it – one slice – on my special Portmerion plate with the fuschia pattern – at coffee time.)

Shopping order arrived. It’s my turn to cook at Lunch Club, and usually I would shop in Morrisons, because it’s cheap, but this week has been hectic, plus I keep having chest pains, so I decided to keep things simple. It costs more, but there will be a dinner at the end and I might survive. This week I decided to make Shepherd’s Pie. I use the term loosely, as it is made with beef mince, not lamb mince, so really should be called ‘Cottage Pie’. Plus, I am too lazy to actually make it into pies, (you should ask my family about my picnics sometime – they epitomise my lazy cooking style). So, really, it will be heaps of mince on plates with heaps of mashed potato. But Shepherd’s Pie sounds better. I put the frozen veg into the freezer (keeping things simple, remember?) and made a start on the mince.

The mince recipe is modified from a Nigella Lawson recipe, because I like her food, even if I don’t manage the flirty eyes when I cook. It is a brilliant recipe as it involves putting lots of veg through a processor so it forms a mush, then adding it to mince. So children (and elderly members of lunch club) eat lots of tasty vegetables without realising it.

Due to a recent decrease in numbers (none for good reasons) I decided to cook for 35 people. I began to peel onions and mush them with bacon, and add them to the mince to fry. Onions for 35 people makes you cry.

Then peeled carrots, feeling slightly guilty. Every week, we have a young woman who is autistic, who comes to help us prepare the veg and wash up. She always peels and chops the carrots. She works really hard, and never complains (except the week when my sister came to help, but that’s another story). However, she does not like things to change, and she always peels the carrots. But I needed to mush them and add them to the mince, so this week I did them. This might cause angst tomorrow. I will worry about it then.

Added whiskey, Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, allspice, cloves, and other stuff. Left to simmer for about an hour while I washed up. When it was cooked, I transferred the mince to plastic containers. This is one of the difficult bits – when you are cooking for lots of people, you must ensure that everything is cooled down and refrigerated within two hours (otherwise it has to be thrown away, which is something of a waste). Cooling down heaps of mince is not as easy as it sounds. Finally was cool enough to go into fridge.

Washed up. Cooked ginger sponges (will reheat them tomorrow with custard for pudding). Washed up.

Packed car with rest of stuff, then allowed dog back into kitchen (she is banished when I cook, in case a stray hair floats upwards and contaminates the food).

Considered whether chest pains were better or worse. Have a slight nagging thought that heart problems begin with chest pains. But I feel I have already had a brain tumour (rare) and that to also have heart problems (also rare) is simply too unlikely. Decided chest pains are more likely due to lugging crates of water around for the ducks, and took an aspirin.

Rest of day spent walking dog, doing washing, clearing up cat sick (old decrepit cat who lives in the utility room) and reading. Got a dinner out of freezer for our own meal – after a day cooking mince, I cannot face making something else for us to eat.

Thank you for reading. By the way, have you read a copy of CLARA yet? It’s getting some good reviews already, which is very exciting. Take a look at the Amazon link, to see what other people are saying.

Love,
Anne x

Bill Wilmot 1918 – 2018

My friend: Bill Wilmot 1918 – 2018

I’ve just come home from the funeral of a friend. Not exactly my favourite thing, but then, most people find funerals difficult. I tend to avoid them if I can, but I couldn’t avoid this one. Bill has been a friend since 1982, when I moved to Surrey with my parents, so I felt I had to go, to pay my respects. He deserved to be honoured, because Bill was special. Let me tell you a little about him.

Now, I wasn’t a relative, so I can only tell you the stories about Bill that I remember. But what anyone who knew Bill will tell you, he loved to tell stories. He had this lovely west country accent, and when he spoke (and he could talk for a very long time, so it was no good being in a hurry) you listened. His best stories were about being a medic in the war. He told me that before he went away, he tried to find someone to care for his dog, but no one would. So one day, he spent his week’s money on meat, gave the dog a feast, and then shot it through the head. Because he said, he loved that dog, and refused to have it suffer when he wasn’t there to care for it. There was a strength to Bill, and a determination to do things right.

Bill specialised in ‘landings’, and he seemed to have done a lot of them. So when the troops landed on a coast, Bill would be in the next wave of landings, helping anyone who was wounded. He told me that once, he jumped off the boat, and almost immediately, something exploded next to him, and he was completely covered in mud. He thought he’d die, but one of his friends had noticed, and dug him out. Later, when he rejoined his unit, they were surprised to see him. “Oh,” they said, “we thought you were dead, we saw you being blown up”.

As a medic, Bill treated anyone who was injured, irrespective of country. When he was in Burma, he helped both British and Japanese soldiers. He told a story about bending down in the make-shift hospital to help one soldier, and a Japanese patient next to him, slipped Bill’s knife from his kit, and stuck it into his leg. Bill said (and you have to read this in a west country accent):
“I won’t tell you what I said, because it wasn’t suitable for a lady to hear, but I was not very happy.”

When Bill returned from the war, he went straight to where his fiancee lived. But while he was away, she’d died of an illness. Bill never married.

Although a hero, Bill was no saint. He told me that when he later worked in a reform home for boys, teaching them gardening skills, one of the teachers annoyed him. So one evening, when everyone was eating dinner, he went out and slashed all the tyres on his car. Later, Bill worked at Godstone Farm, and was keen that children living in London should have some knowledge of the countryside.

Bill was always interested in boys who were in trouble. I met him long after he’d retired (Bill was always old, even back in 1982). He would talk to the boys in the village, get to know them, and give them advice and help. He told me that once, he was driving a couple of boys into Redhill, and one of them turned to him.

“Bill,” he said, “I could get out a knife right now, and stab you, unless you drive us where we want to go.”

Bill continued driving, and answered: “Yes you could. But before you do, remember that I’m pretty old, and I shall die soon anyway, and I know exactly where I’m going because God has promised me a place in Heaven. But things are a bit more unsure for you. So bear in mind, that if you do get out that knife, I shall drive straight into a wall, and then you’ll be in trouble.”

The boy put away the knife.

I’m not sure that Bill was afraid of anything, even though as he got older, he was very frail. He told me that some men tried to sell him a scam recently, so he told the police. The police went to his flat, and hid in the bathroom, while Bill spoke to the men who’d come back to sell him some dodgy deal. They had to wait until the men actually asked for money, and Bill had actually written the cheque, and then they emerged from the bathroom and arrested them. I asked Bill if he’d been scared, but he said no, it was exciting. He was no fool.

Bill was always willing to help with young people. Whenever Husband was away, and I had breakfast club, Bill would come to help me, just to be the second leader, and to talk to the boys.

When Bill was 98, he asked us if he could pay for the meal at Lunch Club, and if it could be his birthday meal. We said we would do it anyway, but he insisted that he had savings, and he wanted to pay. So we agreed. He chose a roast lamb lunch, with a pudding, and I made a cake and we decorated the hall. Bill arrived with an inflatable hat, which had birthday candles on it and an “I’ve lost count” slogan. We sang happy birthday to him, and he stood, and made a little speech. It was a real honour to be able to help him mark his birthday.

Then after the meal, Bill came into the kitchen to pay. The cook for that week, asked me what she should do. We’d had 40 people that week, and roast lamb for 40 people is expensive, and probably cost much more than Bill realised. I told her to ask him how much money he’d brought, and then to tell him the meal had cost slightly less than that.

I heard her ask him how much money he had, and then tell him an amount which was £20 less.

“Right,” said Bill, “well here’s your money for the food. And here’s a £20 tip for the workers!”

I will miss Bill. The last conversation I had with him, was at Lunch Club. I held open a door for him, and as he walked through, he positioned his walking frame, so I was trapped behind the door.
“Aha! I’ve got you trapped now!” he said. If I’d blown, he’d have fallen over. But that was Bill, he had a wicked twinkle until the end.

I cannot pretend that his body wasn’t ready to die. After 99 years, everything is worn out, and the last year has been very tough for him. He didn’t want to die, he was determined to live until September, when he’d have been a hundred. But he didn’t manage it. He had asked my dad if he would go back to Godstone to do the funeral. But my dad died 10 years ago, so that wasn’t going to happen!

The funeral was very dignified, and Bill had written a letter, which was read out. He told us all about his faith in God, and talked about “agnostics who hide in their foxholes of darkness”. If anyone had the right to give advice about life, it was Bill. He honoured God, and although his life was often not easy, I know he never regretted that decision. I feel privileged to have known him. Though, I was surprised at the funeral to learn that actually, he wasn’t called Bill, his name was Oswald, and all his family called him Uncle Ossie!

Thank you for reading.

*******
anneethompson.com

Life has been busy…

Life has been busy since we arrived home from India. We had barely unpacked before Husband set off again, for Germany. I’m sure this was an essential work trip, and not because I am very irritable when I’m jet-lagged. It took me a few days to readjust my clock, which was fine because waking before the rest of the country is not unpleasant, though I did have a tendency to collapse at about 7pm. I was cooking at lunch club on Friday, so the first couple of days were busy with shopping and making ginger sponges for pudding. I cooked my default meal: roast gammon, roast potatoes, carrots, cauliflower cheese, and sweetcorn. It went okay, and we served 36 dinners.

The following day, we were organising a church social. Well, to be precise, Husband was organising a church social, as when it was planned way back in October, I told him that after Christmas and new year and a trip to India, I would NOT be helping to then arrange an evening of entertainment for the church family. But he didn’t listen. He arrived home from Frankfurt Friday evening, and spent all day Saturday getting things ready.

Due to my refusal to help, he ordered fish and chips for everyone. This worked really well, and the shop delivered 45 portions, all boxed and ready to eat, with tiny sachets of salt and vinegar. All I had to do was hand them out to people. Everyone had brought puddings, and we had a table of drinks.

It was a fun evening. Everyone was put into teams, and each team was given a box of challenges to complete in 45 minutes. These ranged from drawing a portrait of a team member, to building the highest tower with the paper and tape provided. It was an evening for the whole church family, so we had young children and elderly, but there was something for everyone, and lots of opportunities to chat. Which is probably the main purpose. One of the activities was to complete a jigsaw puzzle, which was probably impossible in 45 minutes, but it was rather pleasant to join puzzle pieces while chatting to other people on the table.

On Sunday, daughter and dbf popped home. We went for lunch at The Bell in Godstone, which is the only pub I know which offers a complete alternative menu for vegans. (I pretended I had known this in advance, and chosen it specially, but actually it was a complete fluke!) Then we went for a very wet dog walk and lazed around watching television.

I found an old book about grammar, and read out interesting snippets to people, which I’m sure added to their enjoyment of Lord of the Rings. For example, did you know that you should use ‘was’ for things that are certain (I was at the cinema) and ‘were’ for things that are uncertain (If I were to go to the cinema…)? Or that Samuel Johnson put together the first English dictionary in 1755, and thereby standardised spelling. But Noah Webster found all the silent letters very annoying, so he produced an alternative, American, dictionary in 1828, which spelt words the way they sound: center not centre, and color not colour. Which is why, even today, American spelling is different to English spelling.

I also made a Kindle paperback of JOANNA. I was hoping it would be listed first on Amazon, above all the annoying secondhand copies. But it’s not, it appears to be listed separately. So, if you live in the UK, don’t buy that version – the first edition version can still be bought, which is a nicer quality book. You just need to check you are buying a new copy when you order one. However, the Kindle paperback version does now mean that people in other countries can order physical copies of the book, so I will leave it there. I’ve sold quite a few other books in the US, Australia, and various parts of Europe, and now JOANNA is available in those countries too.

Today, I will try to catch up with life a little. I feel as if I have been running since November, and I have piles of stuff around the house which need to be sorted. I then need to start planning the launch of CLARA, which I’m very excited about. The manuscript is finally with the printer, and the order placed. I had to decide how many copies to print. I was very tempted to print fewer books than previously. I really find the selling bit difficult – since my operation, I find approaching strangers and telling them about my books, to be really scary. On the other hand, I feel that CLARA is a book that should be read. I know it’s controversial, that some people will find it difficult, but it says so much. It tells the story of the women I met in the slums, and it has layers of messages hidden in the depths of the story. It is a gripping story, but I hope it will be more than that. So, I was brave, and have ordered 500 copies. I need to work out the price, as it’s a fatter (and therefore more expensive) book than JOANNA, but I think £12.99 will be about right. I’ll let you know. If you want to preorder a copy, send me a message via my Facebook page.They sent me a copy of the cover to approve, so I’ll let you have a sneaky preview.


Thanks for reading. Have a good week.
Take care,
Anne x