Home Sweet Home

Working from home once seemed like a distant dream. Imagine, I would think, I could go to meetings without getting stuck in traffic jams. I could write reports in pyjamas. Pyjamas!

Like most dreams, once it’s achieved – or more accurately once it’s foisted upon you – it falls rather flat. Zoom gatherings (pyjamas just on the bottom half naturally), driving nowhere at all (thus avoiding any traffic), and then a surprising arrival in the form of lack of purpose. Turns out maybe I did enjoy the external working life after all. There’s really nothing like getting back home after a long day. Traipsing down the stairs to sit on a different seat is somehow not quite the same.

“Home is the most important place in the world” says IKEA (who should know) and I tend to agree. It’s a place of safety, shelter, comfort and filled with people and things you love.

Or it should be. I’m haunted by reports during last year outlining the rise in domestic abuse incidents with adults and children at risk trapped in their house. These places are not a home. There are wonderful organisations and individuals working around the clock to do what they can in these dire circumstances and I’m glad they’re there. I feel helpless.

What I can do, apart from give donations when possible, is find gratitude in this little terraced house I now call home. Yes it’s damp (the hall wall is mostly dispersed plaster on the stair carpet), yes it can be noisy (that’s terraced living for you), yes it’s small (I can sit at the kitchen table and reach out to the cutlery drawer without getting up) but it’s home. It’s cosy with a fire and candles lit, it’s got dark Edwardian green walls, it’s got a huge picture of Paris (ah Paris), it contains things I love (millions of books mostly), pictures from travelling days (remember those?), and of course a warm relationship with a lovely husband. 

Being in lockdown with someone you love and respect, in a cute little house with an overgrown garden (and the all-important shed for writing and thinking) is a blessing. I am safe.

And if I find myself drifting from this gratitude I can simply click my red heels together (or my red DMs) and repeat with Dorothy: “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

It’ll be Okay

Today feels like a poetry reading day. Press play and take a deep breath and repeat after me: “Everything is going to be all right.”

You can find this and other life-affirming, life-altering poems in The Emergency Poet edited by Deborah Alma (Michael O’Mara Books Limited, 2015) p. 118

A poetry reading to end the year

John O’Donohue has become our official 2020 poet – he has so much to say about life, faith, doubt and had more than his fair share of wisdom. He has been my guide for this year of years. This is a reading of ‘At the End of the Year’ from To Bless the Space Between Us (2008).

Wishing you and yours a blessed New Year filled, most of all, with hope. 2021 – we’re counting on you!

Perchance to Dream

I love sleep. There’s nothing like climbing into a warm bed at the end of a long day and drifting off. I’ve always loved it. Even as a child on Christmas morning I was fairly grumpy about having to get up.

Now that the clocks have gone back our sleep patterns are coming to the fore with chronotype differences aplenty. Circadian rhythms are strong and we each fall into specific categories, usually described with helpful animal analogies. The old birds (larks and owls) have been superseded in modern sleep psychology by new creatures that describe our nocturnal habits: now we are bears, wolves, lions or dolphins.

Bears are the most common apparently, working within solar patterns and having a doze late afternoon, while the lions are up early, getting lots done and then it’s off for an early night. Dolphins account for a smaller group. These incredible creatures sleep hemispherically, one side of their brain remaining awake, and even one eye still open. Their human counterparts haven’t worked out how to do that yet but they are the insomniacs who sleep only a little, always hyper aware.

I know I’m a wolf – get up late, slink around the place being a bit useless until darkness falls and suddenly spring into action. Maybe bite, on occasion, if someone gets too close.

Since chronotype is fairly fixed (as impossible to change as the colour of your eyes) it can be challenging to share time with a different creature – a bear will struggle to understand the dolphin who simply can’t get to sleep. (Stay with me, I know the image is odd, bears swim don’t they?) And the need to remain unconscious for several hours every day is a strange species requirement anyway. Our brains are surely carrying out tasks of immense importance while we sleep: memory encoding, dreaming and everything in between.

In spite of its importance to our wellbeing, sleep is still overlooked in a modern culture that tends to reward busyness and early risers while tutting at those who sleep late and take their time. “Look”, they say, pointing at the bird with its worm, “that’s how to get on in life.” For wolves like me, who are still snoring happily away while the birds (or lions) skip around getting stuff done, it can be frustrating to be dismissed as lazy. We work hard too, it just happens to be dark at the time.

Whatever your type, or life circumstances, seek sleep – your brain will thank you.