Tag Archives: medicine

6 October: Up in the air.

640px-Hot_Air_Balloons_,_Albuquerque_,_Ektachrome_by_Scott_Williams.jpg (640×428)
Photograph by Scott Williams via WIkipedia

Doctor Johnson, unwell and soon to die, is visiting his home town, and answering letters from London. The recent flights of a hot air balloon attracted much attention in London, and set Johnson thinking. Around 200 years later I was in Lichfield when a hot air balloon flew over. We called to the old lady next-door but one, who was glad to have seen it. but even in the 1980’s, even in the 2020’s indeed, their course cannot be directed so as that it should serve any purposes of communication, a hot air balloon is simply an amusement. But Asthma is better understood; perhaps the relatively clean air of Lichfield helped Johnson’s breathing.

Lichfield, Sept. 29.

On one day I had three letters about the air-balloon: yours was far the best, and has enabled me to impart to my friends in the country an idea of this species of amusement. In amusement, mere amusement, I am afraid it must end, for I do not find that its course can be directed so as that it should serve any purposes of communication; and it can give no new intelligence of the state of the air at different heights, till they have ascended above the height of mountains, which they seem never likely to do.

I came hither on the 27th. How long I shall stay I have not determined. My dropsy is gone, and my asthma much remitted, but I have felt myself a little declining these two days, or at least to-day; but such vicissitudes must be expected. One day may be worse than another; but this last month is far better than the former; if the next should be as much better than this, I shall run about the town on my own legs.

October 6.

The fate of the balloon I do not much lament (it had been destroyed by fire): to make new balloons, is to repeat the jest again. We now know a method of mounting into the air, and, I think, are not likely to know more. The vehicles can serve no use till we can guide them; and they can gratify no curiosity till we mount with them to greater heights than we can reach without; till we rise above the tops of the highest mountains, which we have yet not done. We know the state of the air in all its regions, to the top of Teneriffe, and therefore, learn nothing from those who navigate a balloon below the clouds. The first experiment, however, was bold, and deserved applause and reward. But since it has been performed, and its event is known, I had rather now find a medicine that can ease an asthma.’

From Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784 by James Boswell.

Photograph by Scott Williams via WIkipedia

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10 July: Going viral LXXXIII, PPE and bad science.

Mrs Turnstone was talking about a neighbour who cannot visit elderly friends because her partner refuses to take the Covid-19 vaccine in any form, yet they are the products of good science and hygienic manufacturing.

The picture above shows a 17th Century plague doctor in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). It was not realised that the black rats around his feet were beset with fleas which passed the plague onto humans. The Doctor was well protected against airborne diseases, not against fleas. Note the poppies at hand to prepare opiate drugs, still very much in use today.

Another disease that was thought to come from bad air was the ague, a Northern European strain of mal – aria, that is bad – air. 150 years after the plague doctor appeared in Canterbury (you can see him on the mural in the subway by St George’s and the bus station), WIlliam Hutton wrote An History of Birmingham (1783). He attributed the absence of ague to the air of Birmingham, which stands on red sandstone, a free-draining rock. Hutton wrote:

Thus eminently situated, the sun can exercise his full powers of exhalation. The foundation upon which this mistress of the arts is erected, is one solid mass of dry reddish sand. The vapours that rise from the earth are the great promoters of disease; but here, instead of the moisture ascending to the prejudice of the inhabitant, the contrary is evident; for the water descends through the pores of the sand, so that even our very cellars are habitable. This accounts for the almost total extinction of the ague among us:–During a residence of thirty years, I have never seen one person afflicted with it, though, by the opportunities of office, I have frequently visited the repositories of the sick.

Thus peculiarly favoured, this happy spot, enjoys four of the greatest benefits that can attend human existence–water, air, the sun, and a situation free from damps.

Like tropical malaria, the ague depends on mosquitoes to spread among humans. Mosquitoes need still water to breathe, perhaps especially drainage ditches and ponds, less and less common in what was becoming a major built up area. And there was plenty of pollution in the air from factories great and small burning coal, but still Hutton was jumping to conclusions.

. . . . .

We have much to be grateful for. Thirteen years after Hutton’s history, Edward Jenner gave the first cowpox vaccination, which would eventually lead to the abolition of smallpox, and inspired so much progress in public health. Now to get at the covid virus around the world!

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22 June: Of a Piece

The brick-built Roper chapel at St Dunstan’s, Canterbury. Here Margaret Roper brought the head of her father, Saint Thomas More, which she rescued from London Bridge where it was impaled after his execution.

Here’s something to ponder on, today being the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, two martyrs with Kentish connections: Cardinal Fisher, bishop of Rochester and More, chancellor of England, both fell foul of Henry VIII. The post is taken from a footnote to The Life of Johnson, Volume 5 by James Boswell.

Addison says:—’The end of a man’s life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written play, where the principal persons still act in character, whatever the fate is which they undergo…. That innocent mirth which had been so conspicuous in Sir Thomas More’s life did not forsake him to the last. His death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced, or affected.’ *

Young thought, or at least, wrote differently.

‘A death-bed’s a detector of the heart.
Here tired dissimulation drops her mask.’+

More’s innocent mirth was able to bubble up at his execution in large part because he had been able to prepare himself for this moment, and to approach it fully conscious.

On the other hand, a deathbed may be a scene of agitation for the patient and distressing for witnesses because physical decay impacts upon thought processes and muscular self control. Scenes at the end of life do not necessarily reflect the true state of the principal character; those who lived with the dying person should and will remember many precious, shared moments. And it is to be hoped that the right medical care will make the patient as comfortable as possible, so that they can approach death with serenity.

But let us pray for the grace to be ready to die at any moment, accepting that we will always leave behind plenty of unfinished business.

* The Spectator, No. 349;
+ Night Thoughts, ii. 

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31 May, Going Viral LXXVIII: with homeless people in Canterbury

CATCHING LIVES WINTER PROVISION

REPORT 2020/2021

Catching Lives is the agency that looks out for homeless people in Canterbury. One of their projects is to provide winter shelter and support for those living on the streets. It has been clear this winter that some choose not to come in from the cold, but for those that do so, some impressive help has been given. This is the report on their work this winter.

INTRODUCTION


During the winter of 2020/21 Catching Lives worked alongside other agencies, such as Canterbury City Council to offer a form of emergency accommodation under Winter Provision to as many rough sleepers as possible, giving opportunities to work with such individuals to try and find more permanent housing options for those who wanted it. The Covid-19 pandemic meant that this winter we were unable to operate our usual Canterbury Community Shelter, as clients staying would have been sleeping in a church hall, sharing the airspace, and therefore at risk of catching and spreading the covid-19 virus.

We explained to Canterbury City Council at an early stage that we would not have the funds to secure a venue at which all those staying would have their own rooms.The outcome was that Canterbury City Council were able to negotiate a licence to occupy all the rooms at the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) building on New Dover Road from 14th
December 2020 to 27th February 2021, meaning that 17 rooms were available for rough sleepers to occupy. This included their own shower and toilet facilities so they did not have to share with anyone else.

Assessments for rooms were carried out by Catching Lives Project Workers at the Canterbury Open Day Centre on Station Road East. Those allocated a room were able to keep it until they either found other suitable accommodation to move into, or had to leave due to serious behavioural issues that would have put the safety of others at risk. The YHA was staffed by two catching Lives Project Workers in the evening, who welcomed the clients in and provided them with evening meals prepared by Catching Lives volunteers earlier in the day. Two staff members were on duty overnight (one Catching Lives Project Worker and one Serveco staff member). As with previous winters, the funding for the Catching Lives staff members came from usual sources, namely generous donations from Charitable Trusts and individuals within our community.

Those staying in the YHA could access from 5pm and had to leave at 8am the following morning. They were provided breakfast and lunch, and access to other facilities such as phone, computer and washing machine use, at the Day Centre every day of the week. Art and activity packs were put together by Catching Lives’ Art Coordinator Miriam Ellis, with the support of local artists, for those staying to do in their rooms. Catching Lives Project Workers, and Outreach
Workers operating under Canterbury City Councils’ Rough Sleeper Initiative, provided ongoing support to help clients take steps towards finding housing.

This included, but is by no means limited to, help registering with a GP, referrals to mental health services, looking for work, applying for benefits, referrals for supported accommodation and signposting to the adult drug and alcohol support service run by Forward Trust.

As well as the rooms available at the YHA, Canterbury City Council also offered people temporary placement in a variety of B&Bs, hotels and shared houses (both in and outside of Canterbury). The decision whether to offer one of these locations instead of a room at the YHA involved several factors such as their level of support needs, including physical and mental health considerations. Those placed out of area were supported by the outreach workers, including two taken on by Catching Lives on a temporary contract funded by the MHCLG Winter Transformation Fund.

As always we would like to thank our local community for supporting us by donating items such as money, food and clothing, and also to those who organised fundraising events for us. We’d also like to thank all our volunteers, such as those who prepare meals for clients at the centre, and our bookshop volunteers who bring in a substantial income whilst also spreading much needed awareness of our work, for their valuable donation of their time. This is especially the case over the last year as we are aware that many of our supporters have been effected by the pandemic themselves yet have still been able to show us such tremendous support. Thank you also to all staff at the Youth Hostels Association for use of their building, and for their cooperation in making this particular part of the local winter provision possible.
s

Catching Lives staff

Terry Gore – General Manager
Maria Summerson- Catching Lives Winter Provision Coordinator
Graeme Solly – Project Leader
Charlotte Hill- YHA Project Worker
Davinia Downey- YHA Project Worker
Gill Key- YHA Project Worker
Iwona Waligora – YHA Project Worker
Niki Reynolds- YHA Project Worker
Richard Hopker – YHA Project Worker
Zo Defferay- YHA Project Worker
Emma McCrudden – Outreach Worker
Megan Johnson- Outreach Worker
Paul Wardell- Outreach Worker
Dorota Witczak – Project Worker
Paul Todd – Project Worker/ YHA on call
Stephanie Hagen- Mentoring Coordinator/ Project Worker
James Duff- YHA on call/ Trustee/ volunteer
Miriam Ellis – Arts Coordinator
Karen Baxter – Mental Health Outreach
Denis Tweedie – Mental Health Outreach
Luana Ali – Client Data Coordinator
Simon Rice- Volunteer Coordinator
Paul Willoughby – Administrator
Michael James- Fundraiser

Comparison statistics
During winter provision:
27 different people stayed in the YHA for at least one night, with an average of 7 staying per night.
14 people in B&Bs were supported by Catching Lives

Why were people homeless?
Relationship breakdown 9
Loss of work/ moved for work 6
Eviction- Antisocial behaviour 10
Sale of family home 1
Issues with other tenants 3

Feeling domestic abuse 3

Eviction- could afford rent 2
Release from prison 4
Discharge from hospital 1
Passed tenancy to relative 1
Unsure 1


ACCOMMODATION OUTCOMES (as of 20/03/2021)
YHA
3 moved into private rented accommodation
2 moved into Porchlight supported accommodation
2 placed in further Winter Provision temporary accommodation by Canterbury City Council in Canterbury
7 placed in further Winter Provision temporary accommodation by Canterbury City Council outside of Canterbury
1 refused further temporary accommodation due to it being out of area and returned to rough sleeping
1 refused temporary accommodation due to it being out of area and currently sofa surfing
4 rough sleeping. Unable to contact to offer accommodation
1 sofa surfing. No offer of temporary accommodation made
5 unknown. Loss of contact.
1 in prison or custody
B&Bs
3 moved into private rented accommodation
7 remain in winter provision outside of Canterbury
4 currently sofa surfing

All clients in the B&Bs were registered with a GP; this may be because more of the clients staying in the YHA were newly arrived foreign nationals who had yet to make contact with local health services.

ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In contrast to the conditions at the rolling night shelter, clients at the YHA had their own room, including their own bed; shower; and toilet. There were several positive outcomes of this, which are summarised below.
In the rolling night shelter there have been issues with clients snoring; clients have informed us that they do not want to access the rolling night shelter because their sleep is disturbed by others snoring, or making other noises during the night. Conversely, some clients have chosen not to stay at the night shelter as they themselves snore and have experienced hostility from others as a result of this. The benefit of better sleep extends beyond the night-time and reaches into other aspects of clients’ lives. Crucially, better rested and safer feeling clients are better able to access support in the Day Centre. Further, some clients are working, or seeking work, and find the conditions in the rolling night shelter unconducive to securing, or maintaining, an employment position.

The sex aspects of homelessness wherein more males than females present as rough sleepers, means that the number of female clients accessing previous rolling night shelter provision has been consistently small. On occasion, the rolling night shelter provision has seen one female sleeping in a communal area with up to nineteen male clients. Thus, for females, the communal nature of the rolling night shelter has constituted a very real barrier to their accessing the provision. One female client who had terminated her place at the rolling night shelter the year before, as the communal arrangements had escalated her anxiety to an intolerable degree, told us, “I’d rather sleep in my car”. For her, the YHA provided a safe and accessible space, in which her only objection was the lack of a TV in the private rooms, as this would have provided something for clients to occupy themselves with in the evening. The importance of developing sensitive policy responses to women’s homelessness has become a central theme in the recent research literature on homelessness, therefore these aspects of accessibility in relation to the rolling night shelter deserve further consideration.

In addition to these factors, clients often present with a history of complex childhood abuse and trauma and therefore, may feel disinclined to share a small space with other rough sleepers. Both clients and staff felt that the conditions in the YHA were more dignified than with the rolling night shelter. Staff observed that for many clients, this may be the first time in a long period that they had slept in their own private room: the YHA “was ten times more dignified than clients sleeping on a cramped floor, often within a foot’s reach of each other.” One Project Worker observed that the pandemic meant that socialising with the clients was reduced and it was “a lonely experience” for both clients – who are the main concern – and also for Project Workers. Another commented that it would have worked better if the overnight workers could have begun earlier, at 9pm, for instance, so that they could spend time with the residents, getting to know them, “making them a last drink or something to eat. You don’t see anyone until the morning when it’s all rushed and you’re rushing them through the door”. This arrangement, “would benefit clients as it would give them extra human beings to talk to”.


Other key Points are:
The task of managing and resolving conflict was enhanced as people had their own private spaces to withdraw to in the event of disagreements, or arguments.
Having a centralised location meant that bedding did not need to be transported daily therefore this aspect of the night shelter provision was less labour intensive than is usually the case.
We must continue to ensure all rough-sleepers are fully aware of the winter shelter and how it operates to hopefully allieviate any concerns some may have about accessing it.
To ensure ongoing training in how to de-escalate conflict is provided for Project Workers and staff from outside agencies who are to be involved in facilitating the night shelter, to make sure all boundaries all clear and maintained consistently.
If winter provision is carried out as a partnership in future years it is vital that all services are aware of how the referral procedure, and access arrangements work, including Out of Hours Canterbury City Council, so that communication is swift and clear.
Some staff at Catching Lives reported difficulties in communication with Canterbury City Council: “the council were frequently unresponsive to emails or phone calls, and generally did not respond in a timely way. When this happened, it impacted on our ability to provide the highest level of support for our clients.”
For Project Workers to be provided with a synopsis of each client – their current circumstance, history, if known, and particular needs – in particular, for those working on the overnight shift.

Catching Lives are incredibly grateful to the Churches who have demonstrated huge generosity in providing use of their halls during previous winter night shelters, and also the volunteers who have supported people by providing activities and food preparation. The experience from both our own perspective and also our clients’ is that the model in which
they have their own self-contained rooms is beneficial for clients in the ways that we have discussed. An ideal scenario going forward would be to continue involving the community, providing volunteering opportunities where we can, as the support of our community is vital for us to be able to keep doing what we do, but to also secure an arrangement whereby it is possible for clients to be able to access their own room or space, which would be a better model for allowing a greater number of people to access the shelter, with or without a pandemic. We are keen to have discussions with the churches who have supported us in the past, and also Canterbury City Council in order to find a model for the coming winter that best meets the needs of our clients.

Feedback from clients


When clients were asked for feedback about what could have been better with the provision, one central theme emerged. This is that the YHA could have been opened in the day for clients to use, “it was pukka, but the only thing was that they kicked you out between 7-8am and you couldn’t go back until 5pm”. This same client pointed out that if a
client presented with a temperature, they would be barred from accessing the provision due to the pandemic, but that “you’re [clients are] more likely to catch a cold outside in cold and freezing temperatures”.
Other comments echoed this: “I wish it was open longer”. Given that places such as cafes, and the library had to remain closed, in very cold weather of snow and ice clients struggled to find dry places to sit down whilst waiting to return to the YHA in the evening. For clients who were self-sufficient with an income, the situation was slightly more manageable. For one weekend clients were able to stay at the YHA during the day, and we would like to express gratitude that the Council and the YHA enabled this. Moving forward, we would like to extend this arrangement across the entire period within which the night shelter operates.

Generally, feedback from clients about the YHA was positive, with comments such as “it was better than what he had before”; and “it was very good”. A few clients expressed appreciation that their views on the provision were being sought. Other feedback includes, “staff were helpful”; and “it was good that it gave me structure to my day”.

Feedback from Project Workers


A couple of Project Workers highlighted the importance of clear and consistent communication from the outset, from both Catching Lives and Canterbury City Council. Generally, feedback was positive, with one Project Worker commenting that the night shelter, “was brilliantly run by Catching Lives” and that staff at the day centre were
“knowledgeable about almost everything I needed to know for the job”. The benefits of positive teamwork amongst the Project Workers were also highlighted with one worker stating that, “I think we pulled together well when we needed to […] covering sickness, etc.!”


Case study of a client’s experience of winter provision


-written by Megan Johnson, Project Worker supporting clients in B&B’s

Usually during the winter months churches open their doors and provide overnight shelter for people with no home to go to. The need for social distancing during the pandemic means this has not been a viable option this winter. The government issued funding to enable local authorities to address this and provide emergency winter provision.
Canterbury City Council has done so by accommodating people in hostels, B&Bs and studio flats. In some cases people could stay only overnight , in others, they could stay 24/7. For those provided with a room available day and night, they have had a time of relative security and stability, this has laid the ground for people to cope better with the challenges they face, engage consistently with our support and potentially change their situation of homelessness. Thanks to additional government COVID19 funding Catching Lives has been able to temporarily employ additional staff and spend more one-on-one time building relationships and supporting clients to progress with their recovery.

One notable example of this is a woman who lost her cleaning job due to COVID19, with the stress of being unable to pay her rent and the rampant fear during the height of the pandemic, she experienced a mental health breakdown. English not being her first language she didn’t know who she could reach out to or what statutory support was available and she ended up sleeping on the streets for several months. Canterbury City Council accommodated her in a B&B and Catching Lives have been working with her for several months now. We have been able to support her to make a successful application for the Right to Remain in the UK, a new requirement due to Brexit. Not only did this mean she could access public funds, it was a huge relief for her to know that she will be able to stay in the UK where her grown up children are living.
We accompanied and supported her for an assessment with her Mental Health Social Worker and they found that her mental health had improved significantly since the previous summer when she had been hospitalised several times. They agreed she was fit to work and so we supported her to prepare a CV and start applying for jobs, which she was
able to do from her accommodation using her mobile and the wifi of the B&B. We began searching for private rented accommodation, she wanted to stay in Canterbury where she has lived for the last seven years. During our house search a potential landlord who couldn’t offer a room but was highly empathetic to her situation gave us a lead on a
cleaning job. We contacted their recommendation and she was offered work to start once she was living back in Canterbury. Within a week we had found a room in a shared house where she felt safe and welcome. We successfully applied for a grant from the Vicar’s Relief Fund to help her pay her deposit and first months’ rent. Though happy to offer a room, the new landlord wanted ideally to see a contract of employment first. We hurriedly arranged a trial shift at the cleaning company and provided transport to and from her first day in her new job. She worked hard and successfully secured a contract which we were able to show to the landlord and we helped her move in to her new home a few days later.
Things are slowly getting back on track and for the first time in a long time, she is starting to think about the future and building the life she hopes for. We have been supporting her to improve her English with a free online English Language course so that she will be able to apply for a variety of different roles in the future and we remain her first port of call if
anything starts to go wrong.
Without the safety and stability of a room available to her 24/7, things might have turned out differently. The emergency winter provision has provided many of the homeless people we are supporting a safe place to rest, and also a base from which they can take the first steps towards recovery.

THANK YOU


Thank you to all those who provided financial donations towards our Winter Provision, and
thank you to all our volunteers and other members of the community who have supported
us, not just during the winter but for the duration of the time we have spent in lockdown,
including everyone at St Paul’s church for the generous weekly food donations that were
dropped off for those staying at the YHA which were gratefully received!
Thank you also to all of our staff members, for pulling together and really making a
difference.


FINANCIAL STATEMENT


INCOME EXPENDITURE
DONATIONS £45,000.00 SALARIES £44,946.80
GRANTS £22,921.00 NTS £79 PURCHASES £201.81
STAFF EXPENSES £686.41
CLIENT EXPENSES £249.49
INCOME TOTAL £67, 921.00 EXPENDITURE TOTAL £47,645.02

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6 September: Wesley upon Slavery VI; exposed for sale.

Slave merchants in Goree, Senegal

 When they are brought down to the shore in order to be sold, our Surgeons thoroughly examine them, and that quite naked, women and men, without any distinction; those that are approved are set on one side. In the mean time, a burning-iron, with the arms or name of the company, lies in the fire, with which they are marked on the breast. Before they are put into the ships, their masters strip them of all they have on their backs: So that they come on board stark naked, women as well as men. It is common for several hundred of them to be put on board one vessel, where they are stowed together in as little room as it is possible for them to be crowded. It is easy to suppose what a condition they must soon be in, between heat, thirst, and stench of various kinds. So that it is no wonder, so many should die in the passage; but rather, that any survive it.

 When the vessels arrive at their destined port, the Negroes are again exposed naked to the eyes of all that flock together, and the examination of their purchasers. Then they are separated to the plantations of their several masters, to see each other no more. Here you may see mothers hanging over their daughters, bedewing their naked breasts with tears, and daughters clinging to their parents, till the whipper soon obliges them to part.

Image by Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, non-copyright via Wikipedia

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3 August: Examine all you can by your own senses.

Johnson’s friend, the surgeon Dr Staunton, was about to leave for the West Indies when he received this advice in a letter from Johnson. America here includes the Islands; New England was still a collection of British colonies. I hope you have the chance to enjoy examining something on holiday, a natural or even man-made curiosity.

In America there is little to be observed except natural curiosities. The new world must have many vegetables and animals with which philosophers are but little acquainted. I hope you will furnish yourself with some books of natural history, and some glasses and other instruments of observation. Trust as little as you can to report; examine all you can by your own senses. I do not doubt but you will be able to add much to knowledge, and, perhaps, to medicine. Wild nations trust to simples; and, perhaps, the Peruvian bark is not the only specifick which those extensive regions may afford us.

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765 by James Boswell.

Cortex peruvianus study by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 1706; better known today as quinine. A simple is a plant-based medicine; a specific is a medicine for a particular disease; in this case malaria.

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June 15: A faithful Biblical dog.

sam-the-dog

When we were on pilgrimage we always had at least one dog with us, so we adapted parts of the book of Tobit for our midday prayers. Dogs don’t always get a good press in the Bible, but in this book the dog is a faithful companion, as was Sam, seen here. 

Old Tobit was blind and worn out. One day he remembered that his cousin Raguel was looking after some money for him in a town far away. He sent his son Tobias to collect the money. Before he left home, Tobias met the Angel Raphael, who was in disguise.

Raphael says he knows the way across the river, through the desert and over the mountain and agrees to go with Tobias. They say goodbye to Tobit and Anna his wife, and the dog follows behind them.

The first evening they camped beside the River Tigris. Tobias was washing his feet in the river when a monstrous fish leapt out and tried to swallow his foot. He gave a yell and the angel said, ‘Catch the fish; don’t let it get away.’ The boy caught the fish and pulled it onto the bank. Raphael said, ‘Cut it open; take out the gall, heart and liver and throw the rest of the guts away, but the gall and heart and liver make good medicine.’ The rest of the fish they cooked and pickled to eat on the way.

Reflection

Look how the dog is faithful to Tobias! ‘Wherever you are going, I will go.’ he does not know that they are going across the river,  through the desert and over the mountains, for days and days. He just knows Tobias needs him.

And God gives Tobias another companion, a real angel in disguise called Raphael. All Tobias knows about him is that Raphael knows the way across the river, through the desert and over the mountains.

But he knows more than that! He knows how to use part of the fish for medicine, so they save that and eat the rest. Fish and chips tomorrow for us and nobody nibbling out toes.

Let’s thank God for our companions on the journey, for our guardian angels, and our friends and family. May we be as faithful as Tobias and the dog.

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February 6: And then comes what shall come— Brownings IV.

APRICOT.MAR2017.small

Robert Browning is writing to Elizabeth Barrett, his secret fiancée. She has told him of her dependence on morphine, as prescribed by her doctor, who is reluctant to take her off it, but agrees to do so, ‘slowly and gradually’. Robert is keen for her to get out and about, for she has been housebound for a long time, and offers her some encouragement. He writes this day, February 6, 1846.

‘Slowly and gradually’ what may not be done? Then see the bright weather while I write—lilacs, hawthorn, plum-trees all in bud; elders in leaf, rose-bushes with great red shoots; thrushes, whitethroats, hedge sparrows in full song—there can, let us hope, be nothing worse in store than a sharp wind, a week of it perhaps—and then comes what shall come—”

Elizabeth (‘Ba’) had written of when the drug was prescribed:

I have had restlessness till it made me almost mad: at one time I lost the power of sleeping quite—and even in the day, the continual aching sense of weakness has been intolerable—besides palpitation—as if one’s life, instead of giving movement to the body, were imprisoned undiminished within it, and beating and fluttering impotently to get out, at all the doors and windows. So the medical people gave me morphine, and ever since I have been calling it my amreeta* draught, my elixir,—because the tranquillizing power has been wonderful. Such a nervous system I have—so irritable naturally, and so shattered by various causes, that the need has continued in a degree until now, and it would be dangerous to leave off the calming remedy, Mr. Jago says, except very slowly and gradually.

  • The drink of the Hindu gods, conferring immortality.
 from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846”, available on Kindle or online. 
The Apricot is also in bud now, and will soon flower, leaving us to fret about late frosts killing off the developing fruit. Comes what shall come …

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29 November: Unexpected Autumn gifts.

apricot.leaves.broom

The leaves are not all down, despite the winds’ best efforts, so I can still share an autumnal story. LAudato si!

It was a little damp for sweeping leaves, but the apricot was shedding its gold over the public footpath and we didn’t want passers-by slithering at the corner, so out came the broom.

Perhaps it was the dampness that brought it out: a distinct scent of apricot rising from the leaves! I never noticed that before. Let’s hope it’s a promise of harvests to come.

aprcot.leaves.night.nov

A few days later, as I went to lock up for the night, I noticed the remaining leaves glowing and dancing in the lamplight. (I wish I could say moonlight, but she was obscured by low cloud.)

A silent disco; people pay good money for such entertainment!

I am always grateful when my sense of smell surprises me in this way. I lived largely without it for years. Laudato Si! for the apricot tree, for the leaves – and yes, for the lamplight – on this occasion. It is not necessary and pollutes the night sky, but just this once, Laudato Si! And Laudato si! for the surgery that, as an unexpected side effect, allowed me to smell again.

WT

(A version of this post has appeared on the Will Turnstone blog)

 

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Filed under Autumn, Daily Reflections, Laudato si'

May 28, Inter-Galactic Explorations XXV: At High Tide.

margatesands (640x387)

It was a neap tide, so even at high water T and the Chihuahuas could walk along the beach without getting their feet wet. The high tide line was always fascinating to the diminutive pseudo-dogs just as it was to the Turnstones, but having instinctively snapped up a sandhopper once, Ajax, and for that matter Alfie, was not keen to repeat the experience.

‘All salt and scales,’ Ajax said, ‘I don’t know how those birds eat them.’

There were other treasures. T once found a battered Maria Teresa piece-of-eight, but he was sure it was a nineteenth century minting. Still, keep on mooching, sniffing, looking … until there came an involuntary yelp from Alfie.

‘I’ve hurt my back foot’, he signalled. He had stood on a badly twisted beer can, hidden under seaweed and scraps of nylon netting.

T staunched the blood with clean tissues then picked up what people thought was his pet and made for the vet at the pet shop.

‘I’ll have to stitch his pad,’ said the vet. ‘He’ll need a local anæsthetic.’ She swabbed and sutured and bandaged, T holding Alfie’s paw and sweating beneath the lamp. ‘Keep the foot dry and we’ll have a look at it on the 20th.’

T here they were again on the appointed day. As she cut the dressing away, the vet exclaimed at the state of Alfie’s foot. ‘A remarkable recovery! What have you been eating, Alfie?’

While Alfie understood the question perfectly well, he could not break the Ossyrian discipline of earthly silence to tell her that T had accidentally bought a large sack of the StarStud Breeders’ Mix edition of their usual food. And he did not want to draw T’s attention to the mistake.

T’s reply to the vet reassured Alfie. ‘Just the usual Kanine Krunchies. And the odd whitebait and chips from Peter’s Fish Factory.’

‘Well he looks perfectly healthy to me. Not too much crunchy batter though. We don’t want you like those obese cocker spaniels that die before their time.’

‘No chance of that,’ beamed the 5,027 earth-years old Alfie.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry