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Archive for October, 2013

Friends At Last: Building Trust in the Animal World

Molly has now overcome her resistance  to the idea of an alien cat in the house with her (albeit her mother)

But it took  Willow a little while to overcome her annoyance at her daughter Molly’s initial rejection of her.

Willow and Molly 27 Oct 2013 (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Willow and Molly 27 Oct 2013 (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

She spent a few days expressing her annoyance, and trying to exert some discipline.

She was a strict mother,and we watched her setting the boundaries.

“Behave!” she would say to Molly.

And then she discovered what it’s like to have your young one defying orders.

And later I was reminded of  one of those classic situations which many young mothers bemoan; the toddler who won’t even let her mother go to the toilet alone.

Molly has been pushing at the door of  the litter tray while Willow is in it, trying to jump in with her.

“Can’t I even go to the toilet in peace?” cries Willow.

Now we hear the scampering of feet across the floor as the two play-fight with each other and chase each other from room to room.

Relaxing? No. And sometimes those play-fights look horribly real.

But I reassure myself that the claws are retracted.

Otherwise the squeals and  squeaks and cries that  come from 8 week old Molly would be screams of pain.

Watching a relationship of mutual trust being built in the animal world has made me reflect on how this may apply to us humans too. Suspicion breaks down, the first tentative steps are taken; building trust is a process of experimentation and small moves forward. So we see ourselves and our own characters partially reflected in animal behaviour.

Mother and Daughter Relationships – Poignant Family Drama in the Animal World

Mother and daughter relationships – a popular trope in TV sitcoms/family sagas/romantic fiction/women in jeopardy/social and romantic comedies and many other stories.

And in the last few days my family have been immersed in a poignant drama in our home between a mother and a daughter.

A mother who was separated from her little girl three weeks ago, and  is excited to be together with her, and who longs to come close and look after her again.

And a baby who was separated from her mother, but now they’re reunited, she’s suspicious  and hostile.

She spits, hisses and growls at her mother. And the hurt mother, cross and rejected, growls back – through the glass door that separates them.

The name of the mother: Willow, age 18 months.

Willow investigating the scratching post (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Willow investigating the scratching post (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

And the name of  her little daughter: Molly, age 8 weeks.

Molly age 8 weeks (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Molly age 8 weeks (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Willow is a tortoiseshell/tabby cat and Molly a sparky little dark tortoiseshell.

Ever since Willow and Molly arrived in our home, side by side in their cat-carrier,  courtesy of the Cats Protection League two days ago, I’ve watched this little family drama in the world of felines with a mixture of emotions.

And so has my own teenage daughter.

“It’s your mum! She just wants to be nice to you!”

No, she’s hiding in a hammock of her own creation at  the back of the sofa; a hammock we’d never known was there.

Perhaps next week when I blog  again, mother and daughter will be reconciled and happily curled up together again.

Challenging False Ideas of God: The Judge-Who-Could-Never-Be-Pleased, or Perfect Love and Limitless Goodness?

‘”These things are sent to try us.”

Rev Kenny Borthwick, Church of Scotland minister (photo credit holytrinity-westerhailes.org.uk)

Rev Kenny Borthwick, Church of Scotland minister (photo credit holytrinity-westerhailes.org.uk)

This is just one among many cliches in the English language that we use without thinking.

Yet how often do we stop to realise they are meaningless?

Who sends these hard things to ‘try’ us? An almighty sadist in the sky?

This  stands as one of the most popular arguments against Christianity. How can a supposedly all-loving sovereign God allow  terrible things to happen to innocent people?

When I was in the sixth form at school we had an atheist English teacher who enjoyed challenging us on a personal level, arising from discussions about Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Thomas Hardy was “a philosophic pessimist” and in Tess’s tragedy he suggests there is no purpose or meaning to her suffering, other than that “we live on a blighted star.”

Our teacher said, “All the evidence suggests that there is a random pain-inflictor, scanning round over human affairs, occasionally dropping a huge lump of tragedy onto someone.”

Discuss.

This would indeed be a good exam question in Religious Studies.

Two days ago I listened to a Church of Scotland minister, Kenny Borthwick, talk about why God does not send things to try us, and why  the real battle when we suffer is to hold onto the goodness of God.

Kenny spoke to a large audience as part of a day organised by The Well Christian Healing Centre in Leamington Spa.

God, he said, is not a harsh God whose main aim is to teach us hard lessons through hard things.

Although it is  true we can sometimes learn valuable things through suffering, we must be aware of this danger: if you over-stress a truth it can become a lie.

God does not send cancer to teach us a lesson.

God sent Jesus to teach cancer a lesson.

Kenny Borthwick is exactly the opposite of a traditional fire-and-brimstone preacher so beloved of numerous novels written by Catholic authors about their upbringing among religious authorities with a harsh view of God (how can I ever forget the sadistic priest in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?) No religious authority figure has ever spoken to me like that; and yet we somehow recognise the cruelty and the fanaticism in this character.

Benny Borthwick spoke of Christians who magnify badness and repentance and magnify the strictness of God with a zeal He would not own.

Kenny’s message to Christians was this:

“You have been saved into the love of God, the goodness of God that He wants to pour into your life day by day.”

The face of God-the-Judge-Who-could-never-be-pleased disappears for ever.

BUT once we accept this, there is still a process.

When we live from the goodness of God which is limitless, we realise that today and every day we always have something to offer, whoever  we are, even if we believe we have  nothing – we always have something to give.

We need to reject a false spirituality which is frightened to use words like illness or depression, and  frightened to cry and be distressed.

We can live each passing moment as a gift from God.

Jesus gave the water a new history when he turned it into wine.

He can give us a new history, with a sense of our new identity. When we are able to accept this, we can realise that our present doesn’t need to be controlled by our past.

Then we are able to make new choices – hope and trust rather than fear.

Then we can replace the old false spirituality and lies with a great truth:

“God can give me a new destiny”.

What Do We Do About Art? There’s Always a Little Shop At The End

What do we do about art  when we wander around great art galleries and museums?

How I integrate art into my own life, on the wall of my writing space (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

How I integrate art into my own life, on the wall of my writing space (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

We see wonderful things on the walls and maybe we’re overwhelmed.

These great art works are distanced from us, somehow, by the awesome spaces and dimensions of the gallery.

We could never have these original art works on the walls of our own homes.

But they speak to us. There’s something in them we want to take away, something we want to claim for our own lives. Something that tells us about ourselves, our own hearts and souls.

So what do we do?

As David Tennant’s Doctor said to his  assistant Donna in the Doctor Who episode Silence in The Library, “Quick! The shop! There’s always a little shop at the end!”

On BBC Radio 4 Today programme at 8.20am on Wed 9 Oct 2013, two writers with new books out, Desmond Morris (author of The Artistic Ape and Alain de Botton (author of Art as Therapy) discussed art and how it affects our lives. And one of the things they said struck me: “If we did not have art in our lives, the world  would be very drab. We need it in our lives. But what do we do about art? We go to the gift shop, and we buy postcards. That way we can integrate the art into our daily lives.”

Desmond Morris made this point:

Art is not to be confined to museums but is part of something much bigger in life….. we do like to surround ourselves with objects that  make our lives less drab.

Alain de Botton said what he proposes is that  We treat the whole museum much more like the gift shop.

I now say that to my teenage son and daughter whenever we’re in an attraction. Ah-ha. The shop. There’s always a little shop at the end.

Why did  I find this striking? Because of what I do, at home, in my space where I write.

I cover the wall with brochures, leaflets, postcards from art exhibitions.  Bear in mind that the room needs redecorating, which is why I’ve stuck those images directly onto the wall!

No way can I afford to display original Rembrandt, David Hockney, Verneer on the walls of my home.

But I still integrate art into my life.

I have invited art into my writing space. Each of the images I’ve stuck onto the wall, is a window. A window into another world, another artist’s imagination, another dimension.

In this way, no matter how humble, I integrate something of the artist’s spirit into my own working space.

Without art life would be very drab indeed.

The Dream of William Morris at Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds

My dream, wrote the designer William Morris, is a dream of what has never been… and therefore, since, the world is alive, and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be… dreams have before now come about of things so good… we scarcely think of them more than the daylight, though once people had to live without them, without even the hope of them.

view from the top of Broadway Tower 1 Oct 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

view from the top of Broadway Tower 1 Oct 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

William Morris, along with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and the members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, was one who inherited and took forward all that was good in the Romantic Movement.

Among all things most romantic to me is a high place.

I go to high places for calmness and peace.

There are a number of high places I love to visit, from where I live in Warwickshire.

Broadway Tower, Cotswolds 1 Oct 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Broadway Tower, Cotswolds 1 Oct 2013 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

And just such a place, 35 minutes drive from my home,  is Broadway Tower in the heart of the Cotswolds, which I have visited many times, most  recently the day before writing this post.

From the top of the tower one may see, on a fine day, thirteen counties.

No wonder idealists and romantics  went there in the nineteenth century after their friend took a lease on the Tower, following the death of the Tower’s creator and original owner, the Earl of Coventry. For the Tower, a picturesque folly on the summit of Broadway Hill, emerged from the romantic movement. So, too, flambuoyant, theatrical and sensual, did Painswick Rococo Garden emerge from this tradition, as I wrote in a recent review on Trip Adviser.

William Morris was just one of the many idealists and romantics who came here. His rich, complex and exquisite designs now adorn soft furnishings, and a selection of them may be seen on the second floor of the Tower.

William Morris design image 1 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

William Morris design image 1 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

He is a beacon of romantic idealism, combining a love of medieval craftsmanship and Gothic design elements.

And his association with Broadway Tower – together with that of his contemporaries of like mind – is appropriate.

William Morris design image 2 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

William Morris design image 2 (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

It’s certainly true that I, too,  feel an affinity with the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the members of the Arts & Craft movement, and their dreams and visions.

For where would we be in this life if none among us aspired to, or dreamed of impossible ideals?

Impossible?

Read the full text of The Dream of William Morris here.

The Dream of William Morris (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The Dream of William Morris (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

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