different ways of being lazy

I’ve always been the sort of person who prefers the easy way of doing things. When I was living and working in London, with access to Oxford Street and all its shops every lunchtime, that meant buying things: ready-made meals for one, ready-made desserts in individual portions, even bags of prepared vegetables, peeled and sliced carrot batons, broccoli florets, shelled peas, mixtures of veg that were ready to just go in the microwave and accompany the ready-made individual-sized pie which I’d stick in the oven when I got home from work – ok, partly this was because I actually didn’t know how to cook… but partly this was the lifestyle I was living: rushing to work every day, always feeling short of time, and being surrounded by shops selling any kind of luxury, so basically I bought time, I paid money so that someone else would save me having to spend time on peeling carrots.

About a decade ago I left London and said goodbye to the rat race, and went to live with friends who run a small retreat house in a tiny little town in North Wales. One day my friend Maggie took me to visit her sister, who lived further out in the sticks, and her sister welcomed us with tea and scones. Home-made scones. “But, Babs, you don’t bake,” Maggie exclaimed in surprise. Her sister, who had some long-term health issues, explained that yes, she normally doesn’t, but she wasn’t feeling all that brilliant and wasn’t up to going all the way to the shops, so she decided to be lazy and make her own.
As someone who had recently arrived from London (and even before London, had always lived where there are shops within walking distance) this just cracked me up laughing. This is the difference, I thought, between town and country life – out in the sticks, where the shops are far away, the lazy option is to make your own.
Why am I suddenly thinking about this? Because last night I sat here and made a card to give my husband for our wedding anniversary. And I’m not generally a person who makes cards. I’m not naturally inclined towards that type of creativity – I’ve always been a words person, not a cut & paste or draw or paint person. But I’m not living in a place with lots of great shops within walking distance – no, we’re not out in the country, we live in a sprawly kind of town and the particular bit we’re in just isn’t brilliant on the shopping front. The town centre is about 10 minutes away by car, but then there’s the question of parking, which is very expensive, unless you’re willing to park far away from the shops and then walk for miles carrying your shopping back to the car. And I have a lot less energy than I did back in my London days. There is stuff that seems so easy when you’re in your thirties, but when you’re 49 it feels a bit of a chore.
So last night, like my friend’s sister back then who made her own scones, I chose the easy option and made my own greeting card.

Choosing what to focus on

Image

When you’re walking along, carrying heavy shopping, you can choose what to focus on: you can look down and focus on the weight of the bags, or you can look up and drink in the glorious beauty of the sky and the trees and the flowers. I chose to drink in all that beauty. I stopped and looked at a bee that was buzzing from flower to flower on a shrub with pretty red leaves. I feel so awesomely blessed, just from five minutes of walking home from the shops. Wow!

The more we know, the more we care?

An interesting question came up in last Saturday’s Times – they’d had some criticism from readers about the apparently-out-of-context inclusion of property values in news reports, e.g. ‘Speaking at his £600,000 home in Hampshire, Mr Yeates…’ in an item about the murder of Mr Yeates’ daughter. Some readers wrote in, and Sally Baker, who writes the fascinating Feedback column, responded with an explanation about the need to add ‘colour’ to news reports, or else they ‘would consist only of the barest “who, what, when, where, how” details, and leave too much to the imagination.’ She ends with this: ‘if we know a little more about them, doesn’t it help the rest of us to sympathise with those caught up in such rare and ghastly events, while we offer silent thanks that our own lives have been spared?’ [emphasis mine]

And I think the answer to this question is: yes and no… it’s tricky.

Yes, a bit of detail does help to make a person more real to us, less of an anonymous “statistic”. That’s one of the reasons for giving people made-up names when for some reason you need to protect their identity – it’s a lot easier to feel for someone if you read about them as John or as Ann than if they’re nameless.

But as soon as you add any detail, as soon as you start colouring in the picture, you also risk alienating some of your readers, you risk a collision with some of your readers’ prejudices – including those we’re not conscious of.

Even a name says something – a person’s name can give you clues about ethnic origin, or social class, or it can kind of ping a connection in your brain because you’ve known a person called, say, Sandra and you have an image in your mind of what Sandras are like.

And mentioning the value of someone’s property – that definitely pings into people’s prejudices, big time. It’s right up there with mentioning in the UK that someone was privately educated – that definitely reduces the sympathy levels amongst a large chunk of the population (though possibly slightly less amongst the readership of The Times).

On the counselling course we had to write an essay about prejudice – to identify some of our own and look at how they may affect our ability to be of help to certain clients. It was a fascinating and humbling exercise, because once you start listing all your prejudices you see you’re not quite the totally impartial and accepting kind of person you’d like to be… none of us are. We take one look at a person and have a whole set of preconceived ideas about them just based on their looks, their clothes, their hair style, their jewellery. oh, and their body language of course… I heard a really interesting example about body language from someone who came to England from Jamaica: about youngsters from her culture getting into trouble with the police here in England because these boys had been brought up never to look an adult in the eye, they were taught it’s not respectful, they would lower their eyes as a mark of respect; but to the English policemen, that looked like they’ve got something to hide.

But I wasn’t going to get into misunderstandings, just prejudice. Just the fact that we humans do have certain preconceived ideas about people who live in expensive houses/who went to certain schools/who drive certain cars/who give their kids certain names/etc etc etc – it’s endless. So the more detail you include in a news report, the more chances are for people to lose sympathy for the person caught up in “ghastly events”… whilst at the same time it is necessary to fill in some detail so that the person will become real to us. And of course some of the details will affect different people differently – my prejudices are not identical to yours.

From now on, do not say, “you’re going senile” but: “Your brain is blessed with a discernment that allows unnecessary thoughts to scurry away whilst you ponder deep, inner contemplations.” (credit goes to my friend Michael for this beautiful phrase)

Image

I’ve come to the conclusion that God is in the business of making stews, not casseroles.

Image

He doesn’t just bung us in the oven and shut the door and leave us there till we’re done – no, it’s more like cooking a stew on top of the stove, taking a look every now and again to see how it’s doing, adding another ingredient, giving it a prod, stirring a bit, even turning the heat up a bit or down a bit…

Save

mirrors are only useful when we recognise what they are. how often do we look at the image with distaste, spit at it with disgust, point at it and say to our friends: look at that horrible thing… or tell the image that it really needs a haircut…

Image

The Court in Session

The court sat in session (that’s what courts do, right?) and the defendant was found guilty on all charges. The jury was almost unanimous: how could she do such a thing? they all shook their heads in fury.

How could she do such a terrible thing? Why did she do it?

One of the jurors said: yes, that’s a really good question, wouldn’t it have been great if the prosecutor had bothered to ask her that?