Thoughtful, Uncategorized

On your own at Christmas?

Husband, pillar of the church, run off with the Sunday-school teacher?  Partner of twenty years gone and died on you, after harrowing illness, leaving you bereft and penny-less?  Wife of even longer, your right-hand and practice manager (married to the job, not you, apparently), upped and off on the day you retired?  Daddy/ Mummy just gone to have some me-time — but what about me?  Gone to live with your grown-up daughter and her family’s just fallen apart?

That’s who we all were that first Christmas, the first Christmas after Armageddon, our own personal Armageddons — so what could we do?

As it approached we all knew that it would be terrible, that Day so laced with expectation and us with our open sores.

323feat Chris Tree

For the first time we realised that there were people who were alone, not freaks but people like us.  Not all strictly alone;  some had children, but all were bereft, abandoned.  We felt bad that we’d never thought of them before — you see good things do come out of bad.

On Christmas Day four women, all supreme in their own kitchens, their own Christmases, stood stirring around the central hob, with no vying for dominance, we stirred as one. Tom attended the Turkey and the children watched their new almost grown-up friend, almost a cousin, eat fire in the garden and had goes on his unicycle and tried their new diabolos and blew bubbles that made rainbows  in the winter sunshine.  When the sprouts boiled over we laughed until the tears ran down our faces,  it was the first time that had happened to me (the tears of joy, I mean) for years and years but, you know, it was to happen more and more.

After lunch, we lolled on the sofas and on cushions on the floor to watch the Queen’s speech, in the euphoria of full stomachs and alcohol, moulded to each other, inspecting singed hair and smelling slightly of paraffin, in comfortable congestion, like a pride of circus lions.

That was how we had our best-ever Christmas.



My dog can’t read

My dog can’t read – but he can smell where I’ve been.

He can eloquently remind me when I forget something in our shared routine.  He does this by urgently engaging my attention by gazing through my eyes into my mind then shooting a glance in the direction of the task that I have forgotten (usually one that he enjoys).  His body-clock is not, like mine, regulated by an unreliable stomach – it has pin-point accuracy, ‘Gosh, is that the time Pedro (that’s his name) you’re right, we’d better feed the sheep before it gets dark,’ or, more likely, ‘Alright!  Alright!  Don’t nag — I hadn‘t forgotten!’ which I had.


‘What did you say?’ asks my husband.

‘I was talking to the dog!’

His empathy is as finely tuned as his sense of smell (the dog, not my husband).  He knows exactly what I am feeling and he is not alone in this – I read of a dentist who had the greatest difficulty in separating his blind and nervous client from his guide dog — you’ve never heard such a kerfuffle.  Not until the master had removed his fluorescent harness, rendering him off duty, would the dog sit edgily in the waiting room.

The point I’m trying to make is that in pursuit of more and more exacting verbal communication we may be missing something.

My dog can't text  but uses the internet- BT

My dog can’t text
but uses the internet-

Non-verbal conversations can be the most eloquent, exchanged in an instant, are fluent in different languages, understood by other species and are rich in emotional content.

If you ask any parent who has a child on the other side of the world if they’d rather video-call or have a conventional telephone call they’ll tell you the importance of seeing their loved one’s face to know how they really are.

I suspect that, like everything in nature, the ability to talk without words is normally distributed, some of us have a lot of it and some of us have very little and most of us are somewhere in the middle.  I think that where we are on this spectrum is probably, like most things, a bit genetic and a bit learned.  I have had two babies, both normal: one arrived as a blank canvas and learned facial expression gradually by watching and mimicking, the other came out of the womb with, to our surprise, a complete repertoire of facial expressions.  Right from the beginning this child could express, pleasure, disgust, alarm, fear, pain, puzzlement, interest, attraction, satisfaction, surprise and wind.  Children like this are an open book and can engage more easily and earlier with others – we are not all born equal.

For those children born at the opposite end of the spectrum, endowed with little inherent understanding and deprived of opportunities to learn from others all those non-verbal cues that inform us about what other people (and my dog) are thinking, for whom other people’s thoughts are a mystery, life is confusing.  It is as if all their social interaction is by telephone. Worse than that: even the non-verbal elements of speech are removed; the secrets of prosody are hidden, the nuances of intonation and rhythm in speech that can change a statement into a challenge, or a rebuke, or a question, or just a ruminative echo.

The question is: when Nature alters brain structure or function a little further in one direction so that we notice it and call it a syndrome, what is it making room for?  What new possibilities may be opening to us.

I also read (in the Christmas Good Housekeeping, or maybe it was Prima – I went to the dentist this week) of a little boy with Asperger’s syndrome (which includes difficulties in understanding the non-verbal) who was helped by having a cat – this brings us full circle to my dog who has no words but communicates perfectly and could, like the cat in the article, teach others the art of non-verbal communication by repeated reinforcement without any parental pressure or angst.



Snapshot in the wind

The fallen leaves are rushing about the field like demented mice, agitated by the wind, running and leaping then taking off in a murmuration, swirling about joyfully then crashed against the window by the heartless wind.

The air roars and tumbles and swats around the house and crowds of raindrops suddenly applaud — driven from different directions, in thral to the wind, their little bodies clapping against the walls, the roof, the glass.

The trees on the horizon rock with uneasy mirth, the firs more nervous than the now bare oaks that stand complacent and let the gale comb through their nakedness. The lone pine thrashes like a wet sail in the hands of a novice, tested by the flailing gale.