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Monday, 13 April 2020

Birds yelling in my garden, and books on Listening and Sex

Actual birds from my garden in Bognor

I had no idea that birds were so loud.  I can hear them now that the traffic and aeroplanes have stopped and my busy schedule, from before the lock down, has released its hold on me.   I sat in my garden yesterday for some quiet time, and became aware that the birds were not just singing, they were yelling, from tree to tree, roof top to roof top and having a rare old time.  It was a lovely sound, I simply had not been aware of it before.  It was not the quiet time that I had expected, but it was very lovely and so instead of having a ponder, I listened to the birds instead.  Hard not to.  They were like the young people we hear about that gather around an off licence and have loud banter and set off fire works.

I have woken up about an hour before dawn too, to hear a bird clearing it's throat to give a little tweet into the darkness as a kind of warning shot across the bow.  I've been ready for ages, it says.  Just saying.

A few minutes ago I went into the garden to eat eggs on toast.  Another thing that I have noticed is that food tastes much better when there is so little else to do.  The house is clean, the garden is clean, I have changed all the beds and there's nothing I want to explore on YouTube.  I even had my allocated walk early this morning and as there is nowhere else we can go right now, my mind turns to meals.  Food.  What to have next.  Food has become a dear friend to me in these days of social distancing and isolation, in a way that it was not before.  It used to be like an annoying family member that I loved and couldn't do without but wished would go and bother someone else.  Now, when I have had to narrow my focus and enjoy what is in the house with me, food and I have become close.  I am planning what to eat, cooking it, and enjoying it.  Then it leaves me alone.  That is so much better than when it was like the annoying family member and kept pestering me to notice it and play. I would then snack, and graze, and eat and not give it much attention mainly because I was so busy with the outside world, and doing my thing.  I mean, a month or so ago, I had an exhibition to create and an opening night in May.  I had the Dead Good Day festival to do, and a jolly old twenty six mile hike to do for Macmillan.  With food trying to take over all of my attention then, eating could become fraught.  It was a bit of a battle.

So in the garden just now, sitting and loving my fried eggs on toast, I noticed the birds having a lull.  How amazing, I thought, perhaps they have run out of things to say to each other.  Perhaps they are all having a bit of a rest before shouting about who they are and where they live and what is for their dinner, later this afternoon.  Life, in this lock down, is amazing.  There is so much to notice, and so much to enjoy.  I can almost hear the plants growing and the ferns unfurling.  I can see how fast the foxgloves and the honesty is growing and within no time at all, the flower beds are chucking up the greenery, the new bulbs, the new flowers and buds as if they are fed up with them in the earth, and need to get them out.  And of course we have had sunshine.  So I have felt, with the world outside locked up and put away, that from time to time, it's not so bad at home after all.

I have been reading.  Yes.  BC (Before Covid) I was too busy to read.  I know.   I would spend ages watching FBI Files on the laptop, but was too busy to read.  The challenge of sitting and engaging in a book was too much.  I think perhaps I was anaesthetising myself, but that is a habit that is hard to break, and though a bit of numbing can be a very good thing, it has to be watched as it can take over.

I am not finding a need for numbing at the moment.  The world has taken the metaphorical phone off the hook, and all of us are on hold.  Most of us have had to relinquish overnight every plan or idea we had for anything outside our homes until further notice, we have had to let go of all the people who are not in our homes with us when the lock down order came, and we have had to accept a new reality that feels cartoon like in its absurdity.  What do you mean I can't go to work?  How come I can't see my father?  The whole concert is cancelled?  I can't even go outside or stand next to anyone?  What? And yet here we are.  Doing just that, and more.

After a few weeks of this isolation, I am feeling something close to relief.  Perhaps I was too frazzled before with so many things to do, so many directions to go in.  I thought I was doing fine, but I am astonished at the way I am now giving myself permission to do the things I had banished to the corners of my mind because I was so busy.  Things like sewing nice buttons on my jumper.  Planting in the garden.  Painting some furniture blue.  Making stories and drawings for the grandchildren and posting them. Talking online to my brothers. Painting my garden furniture and the garden fence blue.  (Job lot of blue paint.)

And of course reading. 

This leads me on to two wonderful books, both written by dear friends and both polar opposites to each other and their subject matter.  The first book is about listening, and the second is about sex.



Being Rock by Mandy Preece.
A guide to being there for yourself and others; redefining listening so we all feel heard. 

"I could laugh, cry, speak, or be silent and still he listened."


What is it like to really feel heard?  To know that someone is listening to you, allowing you to say all that you have to say in whatever way you need?  What is it like to know that someone will hold the space for you when the world my be crashing around you, or if you are facing the fearful unknown, or you are so angry that you don't know where to begin?

Mandy has spent years on an inpatient ward at her local Macmillan unit, listening to and being with people facing the end of their lives.  She has learned, through so much trial and error, how to not only listen to people, but to hear what they are both saying and not saying.  Her determination to offer the best of herself to honour the last times of those she listened to over the last ten years has resulted in this book of true wisdom, insight and techniques that we can all use to be with those that need someone to be there for them, to be a Rock for them.  And not just to end of life patients, but to each other, family members especially children and teenagers, friends, colleagues and strangers that may chose us to talk to.

Being someone's rock means standing firm, and silent, and still and strong for them while they speak.  We have all experienced someone throwing a statement at you, says Mandy, such as "I slept with my mate's wife." "I think I'm gay". "I'm an alcoholic". "My mum's dying" and we have no idea what to say.  This is what Mandy's book is about.  She says there is a way for us to respond, to simply be there for someone not in an insincere, sentimental or soppy way, but the real thing: being present, being alongside, so that someone feels heard.  It is and it isn't simple, she says. It took practice for her to discover her "beingness" so that she could be truly present for the people she was rocking.

I have known Mandy for years.  I have witnessed her struggle in the days when she knew she had a calling, a gift to offer, and yet it all felt so much like hard work.  When she started this work, Mandy read up about how to be a good listener, how to sit properly, and how to have the right facial expressions. She could not understand why it did not work and no one engaged with her.  Finally, she realised that she was trying too hard and that all that was needed, really, was to be herself and to make herself totally present for those she was with.  It worked.  And now, she has developed her willingness to be truly present as a listener into what she calls Being Rock, and into this beautiful book where we can all discover how to rock each other.

The contents of the book cover

  • Part 1 - rocking others.  In this section, we learn about presence, observing, reflecting, empathy, gremlins (that get in the way of our listening), inhibitors.  
  • In Part 2 - rocking ourselves, we learn about hearing ourselves, self-care and being heard.                     
It is truly the most down to earth, inspiring, exciting and enabling book about listening, hearing, being heard and being held that I have ever read.  I am so proud of Mandy.  Apart from being a rock herself, she absolutely rocks.  Here is a story Mandy shares in the book

Mandy Preece

"I was chatting to a terminally ill patient.  Every so often he 
would drop into the conversation that he realised he would soon 
be meeting his "Maker". On the third occasion, I reflected the 
word "Maker" back.  He didn't acknowledge what I'd said 
but carried on chatting.  When his family arrived, I got up to 
leave, he took my hand and said, "Can you come back 
tomorrow when my family aren't here?  I'd like to talk 
to you about that Maker thing"".


Mandy has received the Princess Royal Training Award for her communications training, and last year she was quite and utterly rightly awarded the NHS Unsung Volunteer of the Year.   I thoroughly recommend that you read this book.  You will be wiser for it.  www.mandypreece.uk


Why Sex Doesn't Matter by Olivia Fane
Is Sex Natural?  Is Sex Dirty?  Is Sex Loving? Is Sex about Beauty?  Is Sex Political? 
Mench Publishing


I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this funny, furious, well researched, personal and highly thoughtful book by another dear friend, Olivia.  It is controversial.  No doubt about that, and it will infuriate many, but it will hugely chime with others.  Olivia believes sex is highly overrated.  She thinks it is great fun, and very pleasurable, but that it has nothing to do with love.  Love, says Olivia, is entirely something else, and sex is biological.  It is, she says, a rather selfish act in that the doing of it, we think entirely of ourselves.  She has no problem with it being selfish, I think she means that it is not actually, in the nitty gritty of it, about the other person.

In the book, Olivia explores sex being all of the above - natural, dirty, loving, about beauty, political, and adds two more chapters, on whether sex is pleasurable, or profound.  I will quote a small bit here for you - get ready -

Olivia Fane
Those who revere sex might talk of a raw honesty between
the lovers, yet it's hard to think of a more dishonest activity.
To begin with, there's the adoption of a 'sexual persona' ...

... Equally, you have to pretend you have no inner life at all.  
No, you do not tell your potential lover about the death 
of a parent, or your anxieties about your daughter who is 
refusing to go to school.  You pretend that qua woman and 
qua man you are perfect and uncomplicated, and a pleasant 
relief from the previous partners, who were getting rather
suspiciously like real people and had to be ditched 
because the sex was losing its power.

No doubt about it, Olivia is debunking myths.  She is described as throwing a rational and unafraid light on the sexual act, and of never shying away from controversial truths and speaking her mind.  Yes.  That is totally Olivia and totally this book.  I was quite shocked at what my dear friend knows about sex now, from her research for this book.  And amused, because I can just see her taking her research very seriously and shocking a lot of people.   She has read and researched extensively, watched porn and talked to strangers, friends, family and those agreeing to be researched.  She has asked me too about what I think, and I know how insightful and searching are her questions. I have seen with others quite how unshockable she is, gaining huge respect and friendship from those who have been on the receiving end of her deep and witty investigations.

Olivia is a wonder.  Read the book.  She is very controversial and at the same time, deeply loving, loyal, generous of spirit and very, very clever.  She may annoy the pants off you, but you will not be bored for a minute and you may well agree with her.

This is Olivia's sixth book.  She and Mandy can both be found on Amazon and Olivia's book is in all larger bookstores, not that that means anything right now, because no one can go there.  Try Amazon.

Mandy is here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=mandy+preece&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Olivia is here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Doesnt-Matter-Olivia-Fane/dp/1912914085


And now, the day is closing.  The birds are getting a bit tired, and some of them need an early night so that they can tweet before dawn and get in first before the others wake up.  I have read both books and since I am once more a reader of actual books, I must find another to while away my hours here.  That, and planning my breakfast.


Practising a bit of Acapella for tomorrow morning

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