Even the small things. Especially the small things.

Some times the huge moments in the Bible grab me by the shoulders and throw me against the wall and shout in my face “Look! Look! Take this on board!” and I reel away, dazed and breathless and amazed by the power of the living Word of God. Yesss!

Other times some tiny detail will snag me, catch at my sleeve like the minute hook of a bramble, hoiking me into a moment of appreciation. And sometimes those moments grow into hours or days of pre-occupation and revelation.  Is ‘revelation’ the right word? Maybe it’s more ‘realisation’.

What seems to be an incidental detail, unconsidered by the writer, will sometimes attest to the truth of the writing and then that tiny detail becomes part of the indestructible cornerstone of my faith.

Listen to a few words from the Gospel of John (Chapter 20:11):

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb…

As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb….  this incidental detail has beamed me up across the ages and the oceans, and it’s taken me right there, to the tomb where the lifeless body of Jesus was laid, all those long long years ago. It would be ridiculous to say that I was there, but hey – stand by for the ridiculous – “I was there”.

Mary was Mary Magdalene, the same woman who had been possessed by demons, the same Mary who (tradition has it) knelt down to wash the feet of Jesus.

Joseph and Nicodemus (and maybe Mary too) had already begun the final services due to Jesus’ body immediately after the crucifixion. I say ‘maybe Mary too’ because she was one of the women who followed Jesus in life and she never abandoned Him, she never denied Him, and we know that now she wanted to serve Him in death. Maybe she had already washed His poor battered body, on the day of the crucifixion, watching the two men as they wrapped Him in linen cloths and packed the layers with spices and aromatic herbs. Women then were more practised with the tender physical services of washing and caring than men were, so maybe they stood aside as she sponged His wounds and combed His hair.

I know Mary. I know that all through the long night after Jesus’ death she was awake, thinking of her Master alone in the cold grave, longing to serve Him still. Love and devotion don’t end when death comes.

I know Mary.  Even before the first light crept across the room she was up and out, gathering everything she needed to finish the job and to lay Jesus to rest. She didn’t wait for fires to be lit and the menfolk to wake, she was up and off! Her last service. So precious. A last few moments alone with her Lord.

When she arrived at the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away, how she must have panicked! Where were the Roman guards? Who could have done this? Was it the work of body robbers and if so, were they still there? She ran then, straight back, to Peter and John “The body’s been taken!” I see her distress, hear her voice, know her confusion. When my husband died I was about three miles away, and although I knew he was dead, the urgency, the longing, the fever to be with him, to hold him, it was all-consuming. Nothing else mattered. I know Mary’s distress.

Peter and John ran to the tomb, and there they saw the grave linens folded, the head cloth separate, all neatly left. These would have been several layers of  linen cloths, impregnated with ointments and oil and herbs, all applied the previous day. To remove grave cloths would have been a huge task – to unwind caked, hardening and saturated linen bandages…. from a heavy and unresponsive body…. even with knives or tools it would have been a messy, time consuming task… but why? Why would anyone even try? And to leave the linens lying there… we’re told that John saw and believed.

What did he believe? The Greek word used here is ‘eiden’ which means ‘understood the significance or meaning of what was seen’. So John understood that Jesus’ body had risen, not taken by any human hand. Maybe this suggests that the way the grave cloths lay was evidence that the body had miraculously left the linens, travelled through them, so that they folded in on themselves.

The why and the how. It must have paralysed them. None of it made sense. Who would take the body? Where were the guards? Why were the cloths left? How was the stone moved? Imagine their exclamations, the questions, the confusion.

Peter and John leave, but Mary stays, weeping.

I know Mary. I know many Marys. Women whose love and loyalty last beyond the grave, women who have lost loved ones, and washed their bodies, kissed their lifeless faces, held their cold hands, tenderly soaped and dried and served them even beyond death. Now Mary was yearning to do this for her Jesus. She was longing to place the last herbs on his shroud, to arrange the winding sheet with love, to tuck Him up ready for eternal peace, to give her Master one last gentle kiss. And she couldn’t. He was gone.

So she stood there, weeping.  She didn’t leave to get on with her life like John and Peter. Her grief was all consuming.

That telling phrase: As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb…

It was a rich man’s tomb, donated for Jesus’ burial. As such it would have been a cave the size of a room, usually with a bier on one side cut into the soft rock and maybe a place for mourners to sit, too. But the door, the entrance, would have been small. Maybe not much more than waist height and just wide enough to allow a person to pass in. So she bent over to look into the tomb. 

Aren’t you there with her? Can’t you see her? This woman full of love and longing. Had the body been there she wouldn’t have hesitated, dropping all the things she’d brought with her, the aloes, the spare cloths ‘just in case’, maybe a sprig of lilac, maybe some more of that beautiful perfume she had once poured onto Jesus’ head…. she would have reached out to touch His shrouded feet one more time…. but he wasn’t there, so she stood outside, weeping, lost, nothing to do but love Him. Long for Him. Drowning in grief.

She saw angels. There were angels. I’m glad there were angels but they don’t touch my heart like the stooping Mary does.

And then Mary finds someone behind her. When you’re in the shock of loss, in this first few hours, the world is off-kilter. Your horizon shifts, everything falls away, you’re in a desert, a sandstorm, a snowstorm, buffeted and deafened, blinded by tears, choked by snot, your heart pounding, your brain racing. Disbelief. Your hands and feet icy cold.  I remember having icy cold hands and feet for days and days after George died. Distortion, clamour, grief.

And then she hears her name “Mary”.

He says her name. A broken sinful despised woman was the first to see the resurrected Jesus.

He says her name. What a gift. What a heart wrenching wonderful painful gift. To hear the voice you love say your name.

To hear the voice you love say your name. What a gift that will be.

 

 

And mistress of none….

It’s been 10 days since I last posted a blog. I think it might be longer until my next one.

When I was a 15 year old convent schoolgirl I had my first job in Harris Sausage factory in Calne. I loved it! When I left school I became a Military Police Woman (loved it, no good at it but had a great time) , then a nurse (loved it, quite good at it), and in between house moves, responding to the needs of the family, I also did brief stints as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool (loved it, really really loved it, in the water at every excuse, saved people when they didn’t need saving etc) , I assisted at a nursery school (loved the children, was OK, quite good at making sandwiches) , and I was also, for a while, a clerk in a paper mill (loved it, had a great boss, good parties) but mostly I was a nurse (a proper grown up! Amazing fact) . Then I spent 35 years as a writer (parson’s egg). Then a very brief and stuttering (on/off) stint as admin at my church. Now I am…. none of the above.

It’s weird being a none of the above. Recently I was asked to witness a signature and part of the requirement was that I should be a JP or Solicitor or an MP or … the list went on. I was none of those things either, but by the time we saw the list it was too late, I’d signed. So we added an apologetic gesture  – MBE, HonDUniv. Wonder if it’ll fool them? Doubt it, somehow.

Of all of those jobs, which did I enjoy the most? Well, writing. But a very close second comes the Summer I spent in that old sausage factory. I loved the people, the hum and thump of the machinery, the laughter and the teasing. I remember the work bus in the early mornings, so thick with ciggie smoke that you couldn’t see from end to the other, windows running with condensation, the banter and the nonsense. I loved learning to mouth silent shouts across the noisy factory floor and to lip read the answers. I loved making new friends who weren’t religious and convent and  respectable. I loved living as me for 8 hours every day that summer. I think I was born to be a factory girl. Tell me what to do, where to stand, and give me a simple task, and I am truly, truly happy.

Now I can live as me every day. But I don’t know how to. I’ve lost me. I have no idea who I am. Absolutely no idea. The last five years have stripped me of who I was, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone stepping into the vacant space.

Last week I read the words of Blaise Pascal, writing of man’s desire to find happiness without faith, Pascal wrote:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

So, Blaise, this strange emotion, this emptiness, is what I’m experiencing now your ‘infinite abyss’? And will it be filled only by God Himself? But what if God has created that infinite abyss? What if He’s slowly and surely taken away everything, everything, by which I know myself so that even I don’t recognise me any more?

Don’t think, dear reader, that what I have now is better than what I had then. It is poorer, colder, emptier. So, what to do?

What to do?

I don’t know.

All I know is that I never want to return to the worldly ‘happiness’ I once knew.

Ah. Maybe I get it. Maybe I’m beginning to get it… He has taken away everything in order that I will turn to Him.

But will I? Can I? Do I happily leave behind my me-ness and turn to Other?

We’ll see. Check in later, in a few weeks maybe, or months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mutton Jeff

Walking on the beach with a friend, we were struck by the grey beauty of the winter’s day, by the cloak of low cloud and the deadening of sound. I searched for, and didn’t find, the words that would explain what silence is to me. He’s a poet and came up with a zillion. Well, five.  His words explained what silence is to him, but the words I wanted were elusive, just out of reach.  But I have it now; Silence to me is woollen, woven, enfolding, gathering. Silence holds me together.

Until 5 years ago I lived in the middle of defiant noise; when I woke I would turn on the radio… speech, rock, dramas, anything. In the evening there was my juke box, party, friends, drink, noise….. And all the while, all through that noise, I wrote. Music on, loud-as-you-like and then start to work! TV series after series, story after story, play after play.  And as I thumped on the keyboard my internal soundtrack was as vigorous as the garrulous conversation of people who should have put the cork back in the bottle three drinks ago. My head was full of characters and dialogue. Clamouring. Funny. Heart breaking. Exciting. Life was a cabaret, old chum. And then I heard a question that challenged me and all my ways, and the answer that came to me, from outside me, changed everything, whipped the ground from under me, silenced the bedlam.  A question from God. An answer from God. Deep calling to deep. I fell in love with the God of peace.

Silence fell on me. That’s the only way I can describe it. Overnight I found silence.  I worked in silence, walked in silence, drove in silence. Folded into peace. Silence woollen, woven, enfolding, gathering. Silence holding me.  One day I was singing “A whiter shade of pale” at the top of my voice, engine roaring, bass speakers buzzing, racing along the M4, the next day the music was off, and I was lost in thought. It was that sudden.

This is one of the things I say when I’m asked why I believe in God, how I know that He is real. Only the real can create real.  And that includes real change. God created a new world for me when I surrendered to Him – a world not of my making, but of His. I’d battered along unchanged and ungrowing (yeah, alright, pretend it’s a word) all on my own for years. He took hold of me and everything changed. My life, my work, my inner world… changed beyond recognition.

Work stopped. Overnight. Two huge projects cancelled. Income cancelled. Life changed.

And my inner world fell silent. Peaceful.

What can I say about the gift of silence?

In prayer, just sometimes, that silence becomes enchanting. Overwhelming. Like a blanket of snow, like the very first snowfall on the very first day, the sounds of the world dwindle away, as I step into the reality of God. Silence. Woollen silence.

When that happens, when everything is stilled, when time is lost and the heart overflows with love and worship, then I recognise silence as a precious gift.

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Only recently did I discover that I’m following my father into his world of deep silence. Indeed, if I live long enough my silence will be complete. And (here’s the great and wonderful gift that God has given me) I am ready for it. I don’t fear what’s ahead.

I’m going deaf. Like millions of others.

There’s a funny side to being deaf.  The things I hear are often a lot more interesting than the things everyone else hears, so that the answers I give to the simplest questions make my granddaughter laugh aloud. On her way to bed I asked “What time are you going to school tomorrow?” and she replied “I’m going to a wedding.” There followed a series of confusing questions “Whose?” “What are you on about?” Whose wedding?” “What?” “You said you were going to a wedding.” “No, Nana, I’m going in at eleven.”

And in a hushed Cathedral one Summer’s evening, in the Evensong Worship, a friend’s exaggerated gestures and unorthodox sign language sent us into snorting giggles, until we slithered away guiltily, exploding into laughter as we hit the outside air.

It creeps up on you, this deaf thing. Like grey hair and disapproval. But it’s not so terrible.

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

Here’s the blessing in all this: For a few weeks there was a misdiagnosis of aphasia, a slow and medically inevitable decline in speech and understanding. During those lonely weeks, it really didn’t feel great. But it wasn’t terrifying either. I would not, I knew, be swept away by the waters or burnt by the fire.  It was part of what God might have in store for me, and that was OK.  At 3am as I lay awake, there was sadness, but God never left me. He was at my side, my Paraclete. And He was enough. It might be inevitable medically, but with God nothing is impossible, and I put my trust in Him.

I realised that God had already prepared me for silence. He’s gone before me and smoothed the road.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

I am so thankful for faith, for peace, for friends and for new life, for humour, and for woollen, woven, enfolding silence. For the written Word of God, speaking to me in silence.

In that silence God gathers me up. Holds me still. Brings peace. His silence, His gift.

(By the by, I don’t have aphasia. I’m simply mutton Jeff, or mutt’n’jeff)

 

Imagine

I’m beginning to feel a bit self-conscious about writing so many blogs. Do you think I’m mad? I bet you all think I’m a tad unhinged.

Well, hard cheddar. Here comes another. I shouldn’t be writing it –  it’s already 9.20 and I have to go into town and pay my tax (Not the 47million of JK Rowling) and then go on Skype and then talk to an editor about my book and then decide if I can face three days in studio… and all those ‘and then’s’ are crowding in, malevolently, like nasty old rooks lining up on a fence… bright eyed, hard beaked and demanding….  but some things can’t wait. Some things bubble up and over and you just have to give in. Like blogs.

I heard a question in a Christmas message, two years ago, “Who could imagine a God like this?” . It’s a fabulous question from a sharp mind, and I keep returning to marvel at the thought, to wonder at the answer.  What man in his right mind would imagine a God like Jesus?  I mean, seriously, GOD, the God who rules supreme over time and eternity, space and … erm, no space…. who could imagine that God,  who made the oceans and the cosmos and life itself, showing Himself to the world as a poor man, in the dusty near-primitive Middle East, in an occupied land, heading inexorably to an early death in shame and agony? What writer in his or her right mind would dream up that scenario? Can you imagine the reaction of a Commissioning meeting, as they listened to the impassioned pitch of a writer? “So, let’s get this right, you want to tell the story of the God of all creation who comes into the world, and lives this short primitive obscure life and ends up beaten and defeated by swaggering bully-boy Rome and the sneering contempt of his own religion… and all his mates abandon Him….”

An eager younger commissioner leans forward “But then all his followers rise up and rescue him and he leads them into victory like Henry V at Agincourt? We could get Daniel Craig…”

“No,” see the poor writer, sensing this is not going to be easy , “then He dies.”

Why am I burbling on? Well, I read John 17 this morning. Think about the man Jesus Christ. Flesh and blood and emotions just like you and me. Imagine the scene: it’s happening.  The purpose of His birth is right now. Tomorrow He will be executed.

He’s saying a lingering farewell to his small group of followers, but they’re blind to the significance of this night. He’s seen Judas slip away to betray Him, He knows that, from this moment on, the wheels are in motion.  Judas is scurrying to the temple, and soon the armed guard of the synagogue will be on their way, and He knows that this is it. It’s happening. It’s a set-up darker and more dangerous than any Sopranos episode, more treacherous and more heart breaking. He looks at the people He loves, longing to impart all the wisdom and faith and trust they’re going to need. He knows that most of them will be put death, that there will be persecution and disgrace and beatings, that they will have huge troughs of doubt and great peaks of faith, that each life will be hard and brutal without Him. He knows that tonight He will be torn from them. He will lose them and they will lose Him.

Does He hold His mother’s hand for just a few seconds longer than she expects? Do His eyes fill with tears of affection as He sees Peter bickering with James, and when He sees one of the women smiling at Matthew? Does He slip into a reverie as He looks around at that noisy table? How His heart must break at the thought of leaving them all. Do any of them notice? Surely His heart must quicken at the thought of the execution ahead? Does His hand shake? Does anyone wonder at His quiet distraction? Or is the evening, preparing for Passover, just too busy, their nonsense just too engaging, for anyone to see His quiet distress?

Then they leave and walk across the Kidron Valley towards Gethsemane. No one, it seems, wonders why. Then He heads off into the olive trees to pray. No one, it seems, wonders why.

Jesus Christ was walking into the night to pray and this wasn’t a remarkable thing to any of His followers. It was a normal thing to happen. Jesus lived a life of prayer, it was the weft and weave of His life, they saw and heard Him pray day after day, heading into the wilderness, walking the hills, going into the temple, devoted – always devoted – to prayer. As they sat at that last supper He prayed, amazing prayers of love for His followers and for us. For us! And when they had finished supper He walked out into the night to pray some more!

No one said “Hey, our Master’s praying a lot more than usual tonight.”

He was a man of prayer. A God of prayer. On the brink of the most terrible death, He was full of loving prayer.

So, there they go, walking across a small dark valley, this small group of men, stepping between stones… did His ankle twist on a boulder, did His feet slip a little on a patch of scree? Did He reach out to touch an olive branch as He passed by, the symbol of peace? Did Peter drape his arms across the shoulders of Jesus Christ as they walked? Did their voices lilt and sway in the heavy night air? Was Jesus aware of all this, and more? Were there stars in a clear sky and did He look up, up into infinity? Was that night precious to Him? The heartbreak and the loss, was it locked in His aching heart, too terrible to share?

Jesus had held the hands of simple men and women. I love the thought of that. That’s the single thing I miss most with my husband dead, the feeling of a hand in mine, of my hand in his. Jesus knew the feeling of another hand in His. In Mark 5, where we read about the daughter of Jairus being brought back to life , ‘He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old).”  Imagine, just imagine, Jesus taking you by the hand. What I would give for that!

Jesus  knew the comfort and the reality of a hand in His. And He knew the pain of losing a hand in His.  He knew the sorrow of parting, the emptiness and longing of loss.

He was man and God. Wholly man. Wholly God. As man, like you and me, He knew what it was to hold a hand in His. And He gave that up for me.

Read John 17 when you get the chance and maybe think about the word ‘anguish’. In the Catholic Church, as I grew up, there were meditations on Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The terror and dread of Jesus as He contemplated His death, there among the olive trees, His heart breaking. But I have never, until now, understood that His prayers as the disciples ate that last meal with Him,  were already full of anguish and longing – an agony in their own right –  a desperate desire to protect us, you and me, and to extend to us the love of God the Father. In the other gospels we have the vivid, visceral image of Christ breaking bread and saying “This is my body”. What an image! What a terrible, awful, wonderful image. This man, breaking bread to show us how His body would be broken, what a message. How the thought of that, the reality of that image must have seared into His mind, must have caused Him pain and sorrow.

But then He walked towards it, praying, for me.

It amazes me. The love of God amazes me. It will never end and it has no beginning. It’s all consuming, all enveloping, all powerful, all joyful.

Prayers of longing, passion, desperate need, complete submission, absolute trust, selfless petition.

Who would imagine a God like this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting star

I woke at three this morning. It’s not a problem. I love to lie awake in the peace of the night. There’s a skylight above my bed, angled so that I don’t quite see the sky, just the geometry of the walls and the moonlight casting shadows. At about 3.15 something changed, something indefinable, making me look up. Gentle light was pouring in. It lasted a couple of seconds and then was gone. There was no sound that I could hear, it seemed too cool to be electric light and anyway, there’s no lights on that side of the house, just a small garden belonging to the neighbours, unlit. After puzzling for a few minutes I returned to my thoughts for a while, cosy and drifting.

I pottered through to the kitchen a little later to start the day.

If you ever drive down a street in West Wales in the middle of the night and see a woman in her PJ’s standing on her doorstep, drinking coffee and looking at the velvet sky… give me a wave. I don’t have a garden so I often wander out to the pavement and look up at the universe, marvelling. Here, at the rural coast, we don’t have light pollution so on a cloudless night the sky is dense blue-black with a million pinpoints of light (OK, a couple of hundred, give us a break, what can I say? I’m a writer).

I’d never seen a shooting star until tonight. What a sight, what a sight! If you had been with me I’d have grabbed your arm – you’d have heard my gasp – we would have met each other’s eyes, searching for words. But sometimes there aren’t any words to be had. Sometimes there’s only God and the cosmos and our tiny beating hearts, hands cupped around a warm mug, silence like a blanket, wonder like a gift of love.

God is good. God is so good.

Tonight I didn’t feel alone. Tonight there is just deep joy and calm. Tonight a shooting star sent light into my bedroom, and then, as if to confirm His love, another shooting star in a silent street brought me right into God’s presence, full of wonder and dazed delight.

So I wandered back indoors and started to write this blog. And as I wrote an email pinged in, from a very dear friend, sending a sort of blessing.

How good is our God?

 

 

Yesterday, a grave

Yesterday we buried a lovely, kind, warm, funny woman.

I can’t go to bed tonight without paying tribute to her because I’m finding it hard to truly lay her, and our friendship, to rest.

But lay her to rest we must. And this is my attempt to do so – I have no one to say this to except you bloggies, you are my companions in the silence of the night. I need to say it. Bear with me?

When some people die the waters close over them swiftly, but some don’t slip away so easily. Trix is in my mind and in my heart and I’m finding it hard to let her go. She was a vibrant woman, indomitable, warm, funny, and honest. As we grow older (she was just a few months older than me) we discover that there are not many people in our lives who are truly honest. She spoke honestly to everyone and in turn she expected honesty from others. She didn’t hedge and say the right-on thing, neither was she mean or unthinking, she was just honest and brave and kind. She didn’t gossip, or judge, she never belittled anyone or took pleasure in the failings of others, but she was so straightforward, so uncomplicated. It takes a special kind of wisdom and grace to manage that.

I miss her so much.

I wish that I had told her how very much I loved her. I hope she knew.

If you love someone, for pity’s sake, tell them. Tell them.

Tell them. Not just the easy painless unthinking  ‘I love you’ but considered, truthful words of weight and meaning. Don’t cheapen the sentiment by spraying it wild and free, but instead consider it and pray about it, and be honest. If it’s true, it will hurt, realising how much you love them, realising that one day there’s going to be loss. The pain is worth it.

Talk to them about who they are and what they mean to you. Pay tribute while they’re still here.

As we age we lose so many people we love. Get into the habit of telling them that they are in your heart and you value them, and long to be with them. Don’t be afraid to say it. Just bloody well say it.

One day it will be too late.

 

 

 

 

The cat with 9 lives

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This is a photo from The Times today, of a deer in Richmond Park, London. For those of you who don’t know London, this park is three times the size of Central park in New York, and five times bigger than Monaco. Created in the 1600’s, as a Royal Park, it’s home to a herd of  more than 600 Red and Fallow Deer, roaming freely. There are lakes and ponds, hills and woods, an out door swimming pool (only the Summer!), gardens and arbors and magnificent views across London to St Paul’s Cathedral. Just a few miles from the noise and bustle of Central London, Richmond Park is the city’s lung, the air clear and crisp, even the roar of traffic and the sound of flights into Heathrow too distant to intrude.

The image of this wonderful stag, his breath a mist among the copper ferns, took me right back to the years I lived in Central London. Most mornings I would take my bulldog to one of the many small local parks but when I needed a longer break from the keyboard, we’d head off to Richmond and wander for hours. One very misty morning in November, able to see only the next step or two ahead, we went for a long ramble, one pocket full of dog treats and a flask of coffee in the other.

Did I mention that it was November?

November is the rutting season, when deer will charge, trample and kill. Full of testosterone, the male deer is ready for trouble, itching for a fight, primed to protect his females, a fearsome beast.

It was a lovely morning to be lost in the mystery and enchantment of the mist, as we headed off towards Sawyer’s Hill, not needing to see where we were going, familiar with the climbs and dips of the Park. We’d been walking for an hour or more when I sensed, more than saw, movement ahead of me in the grey shrouded mist. A dark shape, moving slowly. I have always been a little bit deaf so I don’t hear the sounds of atmosphere, the breaths of the Earth, small sighs of movement…. maybe that’s why I didn’t see them until it was too late. And then I remembered. November! I had led Mr Punch, my lumbering playful young bulldog, right into the middle of the rut, and there I stood, in the damp silence, frozen, lost, blind. Should I call Mr Punch? Would my voice startle the deer? Did they know I was there? Surely they could hear Punchie… happily charging through the fern, cracking twigs, snuffling and snorting? Should I stand, frozen until the mist drifted away? I tried a low soft whisper “Punch. Punchie. Come.” I tried a slightly louder mumble. Punch was too busy. The dark shape moved nearer and now I could see the mist pluming from his nostrils, wreathing around the antlers. Yes. It was a stag. A big bloke.

There was another shape to the right of me, smaller. Maybe a female. This wasn’t looking good. I’d like to say I prayed. I didn’t. I don’t think I even managed a coherent thought. Now I could hear the deer chewing, and breathing. Or was I just imagining it? I could see other shapes as the mist drifted. I really was right in the middle of a herd of rutting deer. Heads were lowered, grazing, but the stag held his head alert, poised, his eyes gleaming. Watching. Wary. He had me in his unblinking gaze.

Where the hell was Punch? Would he suddenly see what I saw and joyously run up to play, or would he be startled and bark… my lovely clumsy bully…. in my mind’s eye I could see him being gored and tossed, thrown in the air, vanishing into the grey.  What a fool I was!  November! I hadn’t given it a thought…. November!

And if that head was lowered… the hoofs pawing the bracken floor….  how easily would he break a rib, puncture a lung, pierce the heart?

Now the stag was inches away. Staring at me. How long did we stand there? I don’t know. Could I smell him, hear him, feel the warmth of his breath? I don’t know. Was it two minutes or five? It felt like an age. And then he lumbered slowly past. The female vanished into the grey, another shadow melted out of view, and another…. now I could hear the hooves…. the herd was moving on. All was silent.

My legs were stiff and my heart was hammering… I moved down that long hill a lot faster than I had ambled up it. Ahead of me I saw Mr Punch’s fat little bottom, his wrinkly tail, and I have never been so glad to see a dog’s bum in all my life.

One day I’ll tell you about being shipwrecked off Sheppey Island, crash landing at Orly airport, ricocheting down a spiral staircase, coming off a motorbike on Charing Hill, etc etc