PERCEPTION / COLOURBLINDNESS | Pause for Thought | 27th June BBC R2

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PERCEPTION / COLOURBLINDNESS | Pause for Thought | 27th June BBC R2

I felt it was my duty to share with you all this morning that it’s actually National Sunglasses Day today.

 

It’s a day to celebrate our beloved sunnies, so I’ve learnt, and to share the mission of UV protection. So a nice bit of a fashion balanced out with some health awareness.

 

Discovering this important day got me thinking…

 

Because all glasses, sunshine related or not, share that feature of altering the lens through which we see the world; whether that’s by giving a bit of shade when the sun has got his hat on, correcting our eyesight itself, or even tweaking our memories with a metaphorically rose-tinted pair.

 

As someone with relatively bad vision, (I’m about a minus-3-point-something), I’m always so grateful each morning to pop in my contact lenses or pop on my specs.

 

But a new type of vision enhancer came to my attention recently after seeing an ad in a local magazine, because there’s now a pair of glasses to correct colorblindness. (And I mean the real thing, not the affliction suffered by popstar Darius in the early-noughties…)

 

“Give the gift of colour” – the flyer read, alluring potential customers with the prospect of days and nights in all their technicolour glory.

 

The glasses use a new technology and, for those living with colourblindness, wearing them can be life changing; some spoke about their moods rocketing upward as they enjoyed abundant tones.

 

Now we’ve heard it many times before but perception really is everything. How we perceive the world (the lens we choose to wear), often rather than the reality itself creates our life experience.

 

When explaining his faith, C. S. Lewis famously said that he believed in God like he believed in the sun, “not because I can see it”, he said, “but because by it I can see everything else.” It was his lens.

 

And as Oscar Wilde wrote: “we are all in the gutter; but some of us are looking at the stars.”

 

So as you Zoe and the prod squad, (and any lucky listeners out there) head to Glastonbury this weekend to party in musical and muddy communion, your eyes can thoroughly revel in the stages just below those stars. (And the rest of us? Well, we’ll just have to rely on the camera lenses and microphones of the wonderful crews to beam all those highlights to our tellies and radios!)

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THICK RELATIONSHIPS | Pause for Thought | 4th July | BBC R2

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THICK RELATIONSHIPS | Pause for Thought | 4th July | BBC R2

As we heard from Tanya yesterday, we’re in the midst of wedding season, and with it, the accompanying appetizers - hen and stag parties. One of my favourite writers Dolly Alderton mocked up a typical email from a fictional bridesmaid to the hens ahead of their ‘do’. She has this great line: “included in the money you’ve transferred will be a delicious mezze sharing platter, entitling you to one falafel, three olives and half a flatbread each.” There’s talk of threatened eviction for underachievers during game-time, laborious outfit changes and the reserving of a single chair in the club - all tables were taken. (She jests, yet we relate!)

 

The recent hen-do of my wonderful friend, Rosie, spectacularly swerved these typically millennial pit-falls. Perhaps we can put it down to the unpretentiousness of camping? Maybe it was our dedication to a Harry Potter theme and the omnipresence of J. K. Rowling’s wise words on hen memorabilia? “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Or was it that sign in the loo, “live simply, laugh often, love freely”?

 

The book I’m struggling to put down at the moment has some light to shine. It’s by journalist and commentator David Brooks. His theory is that there are two mountains we can climb in life, the first is about defining the self and acquiring stuff, the second is about contribution and aligning your life toward some ultimate good. David encourages moving from the first, (where you tend to be ambitious, independent, living for yourself), to the second (living as a gift for others, relational and intimate). This is where real joy, as opposed to its more shallow relation, happiness, is to be found. Joy in nurturing what Brooks calls ‘thick relationships’; people who are on their second mountain are never thinly attached but instead are deeply committed, deeply rooted. This can be to a vocation, a spouse or family, a community, or a philosophy or faith.

 

I’m convinced I caught a glimpse of the essence of Brooks’ vision in our hen weekend - relationship, community and commitment at the centre. As one of the proverbs from the Bible’s wisdom tradition affirms, “a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.”

 

Society might praise independence, but I believe it brings only transient happiness – lasting joy, as this brilliant author writes, “is to be enmeshed in a web of warm relationships”.

 

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Sparking joy in life's pilgrimage

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Sparking joy in life's pilgrimage

Pause for Thought | Rae Duke | The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show, BBC R2 | 2nd May 2019

Tomorrow’s a big day for me, and my husband and baby, as we’re moving house! We spent the weekend clearing out and packing up (and yep, I did try to subscribe to Marie Kondo’s de-cluttering method that involves only keeping stuff that ‘sparks joy’!)

 

As D-day approaches we’ve found ourselves jumping from total eagerness to be in our new home to sentimentally reflecting on the big-life-moments met and memories made in our flat: the highlights - fun parties, singsongs around the piano, bringing our daughter home from hospital, and lowlights - receiving sad news, consoling friends and burning a lasagna or three.

The hashtag #thebestisyettocome has an astonishing 1.2 million posts on one platform alone. Hopefulness - being future embracing - is a popular mindset. The Christian pastor Joel Osteen uses the design of a car to illustrate this: “you’ve got a big windshield on the front. And you’ve got a little bitty rearview mirror… because what’s happened in your past is nowhere near as important as what lies in your future.”

 

With moving house fostering a deeper sense of life as a pilgrimage, (my primary school self wants to burst into a verse of hymn ‘One more step along the world I go…’) I loved hearing author Paolo Coelho speak so inspiringly recently on the idea of pilgrimage not being just a physical journey, but a state of mind too.

 

Maybe over Easter you watched the BBC2 series, ‘Pilgrimage, The Road to Rome’ and longed for an adventure involving a rucksack, somewhere new and the chance to abandon all responsibility – and it’s amazing if you’re able to do that, but obviously popping to see the Pope as those lucky celeb pilgrims did isn’t always doable.

 

Paolo Coelho believes that by paying attention to seemingly minute things in life and being open to its path, it’s not just the biggies like moving house or trekking to Rome that hold the possibility for new discovery.  All of life has the potential for exciting, meaningful experience as we put one foot in front of the other, smell the roses and progress forward.

 

So as I drive toward our new home tomorrow morning, watching our old one disappear in my rearview mirror, I’ll try not to shed a tear but embrace this new chapter of my life’s pilgrimage. I’m sure plenty more burnt lasagnas lie ahead!

 

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Tree Wisdom | Pause For Thought | BBC Radio 2 | 17th April 2019

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Tree Wisdom | Pause For Thought | BBC Radio 2 | 17th April 2019

Last week I went to the beautiful Kew Gardens in London and at one point I found myself listening to a tale given by one of their guides that, though actually about the growth of trees and their interaction with soil, did have a lot to say about our human growth and navigation of life.

 

We were filled in on what happened after the ‘great storm’ of October ’87 when Britain awoke to some pretty serious damage. 500 million trees were destroyed across the country with Kew losing nearly 700.

 

But one tree in particular, Turner’s Oak, provides a nugget of Wednesday Wisdom this morning. Planted back in the 18th century, this guy was well loved, and worn out by all the visitors who’d found shade and shelter under his branches (yes, lets personify the tree!) So after the epic storm, Kew staff went tentatively to check out how he was doing, only to discover that he’d been granted a whole new lease of life. 

 

Having been uprooted in the gales and then thumped back down again, this special woody plant had managed to find more room, water and air for its roots; the soil, after all that compacting from human pressure above, had finally been zhuzh’ed-up. As a result, the Oak grew better post storm than it ever had done in the calmer years leading up to it.

 

And it’s here I saw the thread of connection between the tree and us lot - because I reckon storms, though dreaded, are often the making of us. And becoming stronger when you have the right, as it were, to break down is an amazing thing indeed.

 

Now as we head towards Easter and remember its story of resurrection, one that as former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams put it, jolts us ‘out of the rut of what is usual and predictable’ and into ‘a new world where anything is possible’ - a smattering of the Turner’s Oak approach wouldn’t go amiss either; using life’s hiccups, whether great or small, as chance to re-root and seek out better connection with those people and things that emanate light and nourishment.

 

Thanks to Turner and his weathering of that ‘great storm’, tree surgeons (the greatest job title of all time) have developed a whole new method for treating trees. As the American pastor, Joel Osteen once said: “There are some things you can only learn in a storm”.

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'Come From Aways' | Pause For Thought | BBC Radio 2 | 8th April 2019

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'Come From Aways' | Pause For Thought | BBC Radio 2 | 8th April 2019

Last night was the Olivier Awards; and I adore a good musical. Even before the winners were announced, such was my belief in one new musical that I felt mentioning it this morning would quite likely tie in with its well-deserved success (subject to change depending on results!).

 

Come From Away tells the extraordinary true story of a small town that, in the wake of disaster, welcomed the world. In the days after 9/11, Gander in Newfoundland hosted the 7000 people (more than half the number of the town’s entire population) who had been aboard the 38 planes grounded there after the American airspace was closed. The locals called them ‘Come From Aways’…

 

Scrolling and typing away recently I’ve been pushed a few ads by companies providing an ancestry and genetic breakdown service - thanks to their DIY kits you can discover where in the world your DNA comes from, going back over 1000 years; its quite amazing. The ads usually feature someone who reckons they know their cultural ancestry, only to then discover that their make up is much richer than they’d ever imagined.

These fun tests aren’t just an indulgent form of self-analysis but scientifically prove something that needs constant affirmation at this moment in time; that we all have, really, ‘come from away’. No one actually belongs to a particular geographical grid reference.

 

One of the real Come From Aways’, Kevin has compiled some of his stranded in Gander tales into a book, ‘Channel of Peace.’ Its title echoes one of the most powerful moments in the musical when the cast sings the hymn, in various languages and from a medley of faith perspectives; Make me a Channel of your Peace. They belt; “Where there is hatred, let me sow love,” and that gem, “for it is in giving that we receive.”

 

Now, if ever we were looking for a model for how to live well, channeling the generosity, warmth and fun shown by the community of Gander wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Out of one of the worst days in modern history, comes a story that restores our faith in humanity and in the notion that difference need not divide us.

And Zoe I thought of you as, at the heart of the story is Beverly Bass, American Airline’s first-ever female Captain. As the first female host of the Radio 2 Breakfast Show, your experience of sitting at the helm, steering the course and making history whilst doing so will no doubt resonate! Perhaps there’s a musical in your story too?

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'Pink Tinge' gets thoughtful

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'Pink Tinge' gets thoughtful

Broadcast on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show, BBC Radio 2 on 28th February 2019

The excitement of having an actual Spice Girl on the show today got me thinking back to the girl group two friends and I formed back during our first year at secondary school.

 

We were called – don’t laugh – ‘Pink Tinge’, for the life of me I can’t remember where we got that from. We cared deeply about harmonies and dance routines, less so about plagiarism (it was a dark day indeed when one band member tried to pass-off a B-side track from a big single at the time as one of her own compositions.)

 

Our most cringe-worthy moment was covering The Corrs, ‘So Young’ to serenade the residents of an old people’s home my Dad was then chaplain of. Never has the lyric,  “‘cos we are so young now, we are so young, so young now” been quite so inappropriate.  

 

Pink Tinge is, alas, no more. But I’m ok with that.  After all, I’m older. Writing Pause for Thought scripts is now more my style as opposed to, ahem, catchy tunes. And such is the ebb and flow of life: relishing the different chapters, knowing that the full book they create is a goodun.

Sometimes I can stress that things aren’t happening at the time or pace I’d hoped. But on a good day I try to trust its timing – relishing the best bits, trotting along through the vanilla and quietly mumbling ‘this too shall pass…’ during the difficult.   

 

There’s some good poetic wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible that says; “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose… a time to plant and a time to pluck up what’s been planted… a time to weep, and a time to laugh… a time to break down, and a time to build up…’

 

So maybe you’re out there now starting up a band or maybe you’ve long since broken up. Perhaps, like Geri, you’re reuniting! (ladies of Pink Tinge fame, I hope you’re listening!) but may the particular life episode you’re at now be enriching the full box set that is you.

 

I always remember what the ever-wise Oprah said: “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”

 

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Good Morning Britain - September 2018

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Good Morning Britain - September 2018

I had the pleasure (!) of debating alongside Anne Widdecombe (and Piers Morgan) on Good Morning Britain this week. Pretty tough, where PM is concerned, to get a word in edgeways - and open minds - but here is the clip nonetheless.

Julian of Norwich, oh how I wish I’d used your quote (“as truly as God is our father, so truly is God our mother”) from way back in the 14th Century; would’ve put a serious spoke in the wheel of Anne Widdecombe’s, ‘its all newfangled, politically correct tripe’ argument. Ariane Grande’s lyrics could’ve been useful too.

Watch more here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1_vU7Cty9c

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Holidays & Playtime! Pause For Thought with Ricky Wilson | Saturday 8th Sept 2018

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Holidays & Playtime! Pause For Thought with Ricky Wilson | Saturday 8th Sept 2018

This time last week I was at a pretty wacky pop up experience in London. It celebrated the beauty and wonder of the natural world by creating an interactive space filled with giant fruit and veg installations – as you do, hey! Now, it had originally started out life as an art exhibition for adults but the brains behind the operation soon realised that it held great appeal for babies and kids.

 

And, with a 5 month old of my own, I can certainly vouch for its fun factor. Imagine exploring an avocado ball pit, swinging on a huge pea pod, navigating your way around a UV grape room or pushing a giant cherry hanging from the ceiling back and forth! It sure was a unique play experience.

 

But one of the greatest things was seeing just how much fun the adults there were having. Yes, we might have grown up, stopped screeching and got jobs - but the inner child was very much on show that day.

 

Deepak Chopra, the brilliant new age thinker, has wisely said; 'be happy for no reason, like a child. If you are happy for a reason, you're in trouble, because that reason can be taken from you.'

 

Of course playing and having fun helps to boost our short-term happiness, but a recent headline that caught my eye reported a study confirming that time-out actually helps us to live longer. Yep, having some well-earned playtime, three weeks holiday a year to be precise, is the key to a long life.

 

The famous quote from Jesus that we ought not to hinder children but rather ‘become like them’ resonates with me more than ever now that I’m a mum. The total exhilaration of watching a brand new human mind and personality unfold before my eyes is second only to the joy of joining in too.

 

And it might be for this reason that Mother Nature has made it so that in order for my baby to let loose one of her loudest, most impressive laughs, I’m required to play along and make a total fool of myself also. 

 

So yes, it might be September and the next holiday could be a while off but the essence of my day with the gigantic fruit creations, that heaven-sent vacation-life-extending study and those ridiculous performances needed to get a giggle out of my daughter certainly can be injected into the Autumn Winter of 2018.   

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Saving the Day (wedding dresses, tailors and refugees) | Pause for Thought | BBC Radio 2

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Saving the Day (wedding dresses, tailors and refugees) | Pause for Thought | BBC Radio 2

It is truth universally acknowledged that things often have a tendency to go wrong on
big, important days. And there’s no bigger a day than a wedding day.

A story that has been retold to me many-a-time is that of the zip on my Mum’s
wedding dress breaking as she stepped out of the car to head into the church.

Thank goodness, there was a lady with a knack for haberdashery sat in the
congregation who was able to pop out, after being given the nod, and lend a talented
hand – the delay no doubt alarming my Dad!

This little family tale echoes a greater story that took place when Aleppo was being
bombed terribly in 2016.

Jo Du, just a few hours before her wedding ceremony in Ontario, Canada, suffered a
similar wardrobe malfunction to my Mum – her zip went. Her family and bridesmaids
had no idea how to fix it, or (crucially) where to find a tailor on a Sunday.

Meanwhile, the quick thinking wedding photographer noticed that the next-door
neighbours of the house they had rented for the wedding, had their garage doors
open, so he floated the idea of a bridesmaid popping over to ask for a pair of pliers.

The girls agreed that it was their best option and, in a fortuitous turn of events, it
emerged that the neighbour had been hosting a family of Syrian refugees for the past
four days and – amazingly - the father had worked as a tailor in Aleppo for 28 years!
The family’s house and the tailoring business had been bombed and devastatingly
destroyed several years previously – and they’d since been waiting to move before
Canada eventually welcomed them.

But, back to saving the day! The Syrian father kindly said yes to the dress and set to
work. Without speaking a word of English, and with his family and the team of
bridesmaids anxiously looking on, he gave this bride back her dream day with its
starring outfit.

The Indian yogi and guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, once said - “Kindness is the light
that dissolves all walls between souls, families and nations.” This story, brilliantly
demonstrates the demolition of all three of these potential walls.

And of course this story is particularly powerful given the all-too-often negative
press that immigrants receive globally. Small-scale events like this are valuable
reminders of the shared humanity behind the passports we do, or do not, hold.

 

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The Wisdom of Youth | BBC Radio2 Pause For Thought | with Nicki Chapman

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The Wisdom of Youth | BBC Radio2 Pause For Thought | with Nicki Chapman

At my Dad’s retirement service last year, he’s a Methodist Minister, he chose to use the words of Bob Dylan to tie the ends of his working years together.

You might take a guess at The Time’s are a-Changing;

“If your time to you

Is worth savin',

Then you better start swimmin'

Or you'll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin'.”

Or perhaps Blowing in the Wind;

 “Yes, 'n' how many years can a mountain exist

Before it's washed to the sea?

Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist

Before they're allowed to be free?

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.”

But no, instead he went for – what is now my favourite Dylan track - Forever Young.

Many of you will probably be au fait with some of the lyrics to the song. It’s a poetic list of wishes from a father to his son, and whilst it encompasses some profound life lessons that we all could take something from – “May your hands always be busy, May your feet always be swift, May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift, May you always be courageous Stand upright and be strong” as just a reminder, or taster - it returns at each chorus to reiterate the importance of remaining youthful, staying Forever Young.

He does this, I’m sure for a myriad of reasons; (we know for instance that he’s never been overjoyed about the prospect of ageing), but I choose to interpret this focus on youthfulness as being indicative of Dylan’s greater sense that there is a wisdom beyond those of us with life experience under our belts - and that wisdom comes from children.

This thought isn’t unique to Dylan of course. In Kahil Gibran’s the Prophet, he parallels children to the living arrows from which adults, likened to bows, are sent forth. He then reminds us to strive to be like them but seek never to make them like us. This echoes the verse in the Gospel of Matthew that says we enter the kingdom of heaven only if we are able to become like children.

The Dylan tune and lyrics are set to make another appearance in my life as Dad will be singing them again – this time at the other end of the age spectrum – at my daughter’s Christening in September. And whilst I, of course, do wish for her that she ‘builds a ladder to the stars and climbs on every rung’ my greatest hope is that she remains ‘Forever Young’.

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Heaven in the Ordinary | BBC R2 Pause for Thought

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Heaven in the Ordinary | BBC R2 Pause for Thought

Eating and drinking with friends has taken on a whole new meaning for me lately. Something that used to be, yes – lovely, but still rather ordinary now has a smattering of the heavenly in it.

And that’s all thanks to my great friend, Ellie.

She’s started a new initiative that revolves around food as a vehicle to get us talking about, and hopefully soothing one of the greatest struggles of our time - mental health.

It’s called Mind-full Supper. 

Anxiety and depression are issues that will have affected every one of us, whether that’s directly or via someone we love. They can be, I think helpfully, thought of as a cancer of the mind, and luckily – similarly to most cancers, treatment is available – and one treatment comes in the form of open and honest conversation.

Ellie’s brainchild builds on this idea of actively choosing to have a decent chat about how we’re all doing and providing a focused way in which to do this.  Talking – something so ordinary, but possessing a heavenly power to heal.

So how does Mind-full Supper work? Simple really - over a BBQ, a sandwich lunch at work, or a full blown dinner party – you commit to discussing mental health with your colleagues, friends or family and everyone present gives a donation to the charity, Mind. 

It’s about taking the powerful ritual of sharing a meal together and elevating it; giving it super charged meaning. It makes me think about the vast collection of moments I could use better if I tried.

Rather like the poignant Richard Curtis film, About Time - in which the male protagonists have the miraculous ability to relive any day of their life in order to live it to the full. The crux of the film comes when they realise that they can actively choose to do this on their first attempt at the day and no longer utilise their special gift.

The philosopher Wayne Dyer, who credits St Francis of Assisi as an inspiration, brilliantly said that heaven is a choice you must make, not a place you must find.

So whether, like my friend Ellie, you can turn something that on the surface seems so every-day into a movement with the potential for great impact, or can, like in a particularly moving scene from About Time simply engage better, show more compassion to – your boss, your kids, or the person you buy lunch from, we all have an ample selection of opportune moments from which to glimpse a bit of heaven in the ordinary.

 

https://www.mindfullsupper.co.uk/

 

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Pause for Thought | Faith in Art

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Pause for Thought | Faith in Art

When I heard this week’s theme, Faith in Art, I knew I had to share a recent special sequence of events with you. A sequence that unmistakably demonstrated to me the mystery of the spiritual - the stuff that’s beyond us - being revealed via the medium of art.

 

The only backdrop needed for this tale is to know that I have, for many years, loved the name Aurora and had always dreamt of giving the name to any future daughter I might have, and now do have. And also that, we’d been trying for a baby for a little while.

 

So, if I can take you back to last summer; almost a year to the day.

 

My husband arrived home from his work as a GP one Tuesday lunchtime. “What are you doing home so early?” I asked, at that time enjoying the long summer holidays - a perk of my teaching job. He told me that there was no afternoon clinic booked and so was a free agent for the remainder of the day. “Great!” I exclaimed, “Let’s go do something.”

 

Sometimes that would mean the cinema or a nice walk but this time we plumped for an art gallery, the Tate Britain, to see an exhibition there.

  

In one of the rooms towards the end, I was immediately drawn to a particular painting. I walked over, took it in and then looked at the description box next to it - my eyes widened when I registered the name of the painting: The Aurora Triumphans. The painting shows the Roman Goddess of the dawn, Aurora, breaking the shackles of the night and welcoming the rising sun.

  

Standing in front of the painting,  (with what I appreciate now was a slightly crazed confidence) I whispered with that silent voice in my head to the little person I reckoned was just starting out within me, ‘Hello Aurora.’

 

Getting pregnant isn’t always easy, but luckily on this occasion the rest of the story continues as you might hope; we found a nearby pub for a bite to eat which just happened to have a chemist next-door. I popped in. A test was bought, we took it at home and there were TV-ad-worthy squeals of joy when that famous blue line emerged.

 

That day reminds me of the verse in Jeremiah that reads: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

For my, self-confessed, non-medical mind, the Aurora painting sighting was all the pregnancy test – and later, gender reveal test - I needed. (Yes, I actually did say to the sonographer when she announced I was having a girl – “Oh yep, I knew that.”) Embarrassing, but such was my total faith in that piece of art.

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Motherhood | Pause For Thought BBCR2

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Motherhood | Pause For Thought BBCR2

[You can listen to the below, as live on BBCR2, here]

As the card shops and flower ads keenly remind us, it's Mothering Sunday this weekend – a day when we celebrate Mums, motherhood and the influence of mothers in society.  And there is, of course, a lot to celebrate, as the Jewish proverb reminds us: God could not be everywhere so he created Mothers. This Mothers Day will be a particularly special one for me – I’ll be exactly 37 weeks pregnant on Sunday, meaning baby Duke is fully cooked and could make her appearance any day… (Oh my!)

Now there are many things that I’ve done over the past eight months to prepare for the birth of my baby and impending motherhood. Of course there’s the nursery to sort / build/ paint, the medical appointments and scans to attend, NCT classes if that’s your kind of thing and that big buggy purchase. But a modern-day right of passage prior to becoming a Mum that we have - admittedly - stolen from the US, is the baby shower.

The point of this celebration, or so my researching tells me, is to shower the mother-to-be with gifts and wisdom before she embarks on her new life chapter.

Well I had my baby shower a couple of weeks ago and this did indeed happen! And there was one gift in particular that I – and I hope in time, my daughter – will always treasure.

Each of the girls there had written their (sometimes lengthy!) life advice, amusing nods to embarrassing stories that will, one day, need explaining, touching references to attributes they hoped our little girl would inherit from both me and my husband and general wise and kind words to guide someone starting out on planet earth.  All of this had then been compiled into a seriously special book.

So, I thought I would share some of my favourites with you this morning:

“Offering to make someone a cup of tea when they have had a bad day, or creating a spag bol (even from a jar) to show you care has the power to lift people more than you will know.” Swiftly followed by another foodie tip, “Never underestimate the power of a milk chocolate biscuit. ”

And rather poetically:

“My darling child,

Be kind, be gentle and try to be brave,

Quick to forgive, sometimes misbehave

Be daring but thoughtful, be your own soul,

Understand some things are beyond your control

Love and smile away that tear

For we are the prodigy of stars, my dear.”

So, as we all focus on the wonder that is motherhood - the creation and sustaining of life - I’m reminded of some of my favourite words from Saint Mother Theresa – currently framed above the kettle in my kitchen: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

Have a lovely Mothering Sunday!  

 

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I have a confession...

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I have a confession...

[You can listen to the below, as live on BBCR2, here]

For the last few years, I’ve been a pescetarian, (like a vegetarian but I eat fish) – and I can be, admittedly, fairly vocal about my diet choice. So, I was delighted to discover that Sir David Attenborough became pescetarian last year; and surely he’s the guy to follow when it comes to protecting wildlife and the environment? (I must be in with the right crowd.)

But why have I dragged Attenborough away from the beauty of our blue planet and into my confession?

Well, you can imagine my horror when – at 10 weeks pregnant – shopping for a lunch party with friends, I found myself irrepressibly drawn to the smell wafting from… the two rotisserie chickens in my trolley. Thankfully, some self-restraint was shown as I managed to wait until I was home to rip open one of the bags and – after years of meat free life - tear off a bit of chicken and start chomping.

My husband found this so amusing that he quickly got out his phone and filmed my moment, or five, of chicken fueled weakness. Not a video I’m particularly proud of but hopefully a blip I can put down to the crazy cravings of pregnancy.  

Now I’ve told you though, does confessing help? Yes – I believe it does. The guilt begins to leave you. It’s almost shared. Because, once you’ve done the deed – there’s no going back. The chicken is forever eaten! What else is there to do, but confess? I love this quote from Ghandi: “Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.”

With all the unrealistic ‘New Year, New Me’ resolutions being bandied around, confession is the ideal secret weapon and antidote. Perfection is impossible – yet consistent admission of when we’ve got it wrong genuinely is achievable. The Latin writer Pubilius Syrus wrote in one of his moral sayings: “Confession of our faults is the next thing to innocence.”

So I’m going to aim for that – ‘fessing up when I’ve messed up… Sorry Sir David – but now you know!

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The Spirit of Christmas  | The Unexpected / Heightened Senses

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The Spirit of Christmas | The Unexpected / Heightened Senses

[You can listen to the below, as live on BBCR2, here]

On Saturday night, I was out with some friends for our Christmas celebration. We have a bit of a routine going now. A pub, followed by dinner and then onto a karaoke booth. We pepper our, this year Turkish, meal with several rounds of a specially devised quiz (thanks to one particularly talented pal) – and of course, things get rather competitive.

Favourite rounds include General Knowledge, Best of the Year, and the hilarious Face Fusion – where we struggle to identify pictures of ourselves that have been merged with famous faces. But last weekend saw the arrival of a new, and unexpected addition: the sensory round.

So, how does it work? Well, two people sit blindfolded across the table from each other and race to identify the mystery object placed in their hands – using any sense except their sight.  

It was a pretty messy business that invariably involved chunks of edible items flying across the restaurant as opponents tried to feel, taste or smell their way to Christmas party victory.

I soon found myself head-to-head with Dom, an accomplished chef and pub owner. We each unwrapped a small glass jar. Yells of “Open it! Smell it!” ensued, and before we knew it - having vigorously shaken the contents all over ourselves, we were howling the names of various kitchen herbs.

Anticipating a major defeat - surely Dom’s culinary nasal palette was far more refined than my own – I screamed ‘OREGANO’, whilst his now infamous cries of ‘HERBES DE PROVENCE’, fell on deaf ears.

Victory was mine. An out-of-the-blue triumph that saw us revelling in the joy of the totally unexpected…

For me, the spirit of Christmas is one of great unexpectedness. The nativity itself sees the unlikely arrival of God’s climbing down; of coming as a vulnerable baby amidst the poverty of a lowly stable.

The author, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”

So, may your heightened senses at this magical time of year see you relish the paradoxes, the surprises, and those unannounced ‘memory-bank moments’ in your own lives – and, whatever sense you’re using - best of luck to you and your respective teams for any upcoming festive games!

Merry Christmas! 

 

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Good Morning Britain | Loggerheads with Piers | Gender

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Good Morning Britain | Loggerheads with Piers | Gender

Catch up on my appearance on ITV's Good Morning Britain this morning. Discussing the new guidelines from the Church of England re gender identity and trans/biphobic bullying in schools with Piers and Susannah. Nothing quite like a debate with Piers! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruT9L-j0_5o

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CALL BARRY! (& serenity...)

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CALL BARRY! (& serenity...)

I’ve never been particularly gifted when it comes to directions or map reading. I probably should have made this clearer when I embarked upon the expedition for my Duke of Edinburgh Award. My poor group, staggering beneath bursting rucksacks, mistakenly gave me the role of leader. I foolishly agreed, hoping that my inner explorer would soon be revealed - a classically optimistic teenage move.

Ever the townie, I stuck to the main roads - avoiding the trickier smaller paths. With nothing but a map and a compass to guide us, it soon emerged that my grasp of a moral compass was rather better than that of the small plastic device now resting upside down on the ordinance survey map. Was it along the corridor and up the stairs, or were you meant to do the stairs first? I can never remember. Four hours later we were back at the stream we’d passed several hours earlier and I realised we were completely and utterly lost. Combine this with the realisation that snack supplies had finally run out and you can picture the scene – morale was low!

A change in approach was needed. Barry, was the school caretaker who had come along to help with the weekend, and more crucially drive the minibus. Breaking the rules completely, and throwing all compasses to the wind – particularly the moral one – I pulled out my mobile and put in an urgent call to Barry. Within minutes, we were all aboard the bus and being delivered to a more reasonable distance from the night’s campsite. (The teachers would never know!)

Though my reliance on Barry is probably not what the Duke of Edinburgh had in mind when he set up the scheme in 1956, (and of course I’m not advocating such behaviour to any aspiring D of E participants… don’t think you could get away with it these days) it offered the help we needed, moving us along our journey and enabling us to complete the weekend (almost) independently.

Changing direction or simply changing approach, can aid us in both our growth and achievement. As the Theologian John Henry Newman once said, "to change is to grow, to change often is to become perfect."

The serenity prayer, which you may already be pretty familiar with, perfectly encapsulates the distinction between when it is best to continue along the same path with the same approach, and when it’s best to (as it were) call Barry... 

“Grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

 

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Teachers = Angels | World Teachers' Day

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Teachers = Angels | World Teachers' Day

My script for BBC Radio 2's Pause For Thought segment on the early breakfast show with Vanessa Feltz. Broadcast live on 27th September 2017. 

 

 

We can all think of people who’ve unexpectedly inspired or helped us. The very best of these do so without expecting any praise. Angels you could call them.

 

So often its teachers that step up to the mark, appearing angelic despite the obvious lack of wings or long robe – unless you happen to go to school at Hogwarts!

 

Now a teacher myself, I often think back to those that taught me and feel incredibly grateful for the effort and care they put in behind the scenes. Ok, I probably didn’t; realise it at the time, but some of the characters that come to mind directly altered the path I pursued – whilst others simply provided funny sayings that still make me smile today. On reflection, my history teacher was right…. Yes, my glasses are ALWAYS filthy!

 

My husband Oscar, recently travelled to Tanzania to make a documentary about the persecution faced by people living with the genetic condition, albinism. There he met a teacher, Madame Molly - and she’s become a bit of a legend in our house! Though technically a teacher, Molly doesn’t just teach, but acts as a guardian and protector for the children with albinism at her school who are likely to be attacked so their body parts can be used in witch-doctor’s potions. Madame Molly has been a particularly remarkable figure in the life of 15-year-old Festo. Having lost his right arm in an attack, he became understandably traumatized and withdrawn, but also worried about whether he’d be able to continue drawing and painting despite his injuries. Under Molly’s guidance, loving but firm (you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her) Festo is now back on track, loved by his classmates and still heralded as the best artist in the school. Amazing. 

 

Madame Molly encapsulates the essence of a verse in Philippians that says we ought ‘not look to our own interests, but to the interest of others’. Be angels.

 

Heroes like Molly remind us that true goodness can come from the unexpected. Michael Angelo, the famous sculptor, once requested a less than perfect stone for his next creation. The stonemason didn’t want him to have it – it wasn’t a good enough stone in his opinion. Angelo told him: “There’s an angel in there and I can set it free.”

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Content not branding

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Content not branding

With the begrudging help of my husband, I’ve recently repainted our entire home. Aided by an army of pretentiously named tester pots dotted around the house – you know the type, deep ocean spray and cooling desert sand – we eventually whittled down the contenders and set upon our finalists. Now, the requirement of the tester pot is of course only fully realised when you decided upon a colour that on your wall, in your home, looks remarkably different from the colour you plumped for based on the tin. A classic reminder that things are not always quite what they seem and that deeper interrogation, testing and heated discussion (“no, it’s definitely not too dark”) is needed.

 

Last week the peaceful chaos of London’s rush hour was again terrorized by the detonation of an improvised explosive device on a tube train at Parsons Green. Within minutes, social media was showing the world photos of the exploding bucket, contained within a carrier bag bearing the name of a well-known value supermarket – a nightmare on so many levels and a potential disaster for the supermarket’s PR team. One of our nation’s favourites – I personally am a massive fan of their freshly baked pastries – suddenly became inadvertently embroiled in a terrorist act, now claimed to be the responsibility of the so-called Islamic State. Much like the paints, looks can be deceiving. We’d no sooner rush to the conclusion that the supermarket was involved with the attack than we should that Friday’s events represent the beliefs and values of the Islamic community at large.

 

For the teachings of Islam are undoubtedly ones of peace. The Quran says: “Whoever kills a person, it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he has saved all mankind.”

 

So whether you’re about to embark on a spot of DIY this weekend or are contemplating which supermarket to do your weekly shop in, one of the pathways to a peaceful execution of these tasks lies in understanding their true substance – and not being affected by packaging and labels. As they say, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it… and if it’s that paint pot we’re talking about, don’t knock it over at all. That’s sure to destroy the peace.

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Dignity | Pause for Thought | BBC Radio 2

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Dignity | Pause for Thought | BBC Radio 2

Karaoke is a controversial social divider. Some, showing what I consider to be an extraordinary amount of self-control, refuse to renounce their dignity (even for an hour or two) and drop the mic, opting out of the belting, off-key antics altogether. Others, contrastingly, happily surrender to the (hopefully) soundproof walls, putting their faith in the unwritten mantra of; “what happens in the booth, stays in the booth.”

In fact, at my father-in- law’s 40th birthday party, a decent chunk of his friends left once the karaoke man arrived with his machine and lyric screen; their dignity remaining intact. Interestingly, I have no such story of my own to evidence this sort of aversion to karaoke – clearly I hang around with a much less dignified bunch.

Women are often informed by their midwives as they go into labour; “you leave your dignity at the door”, but - rather crucially - are comforted with the closing line, “you’ll pick it up again on your way out.”

I think most of us recognise that we have a deep-seated, human hunger to be treated as something of value, as somebody who is dignified. But I think we also realise that this isn’t necessarily possible, or indeed even desirable, for the entirety of a lifetime. There are moments, nights, phases, transitions in which our dignity is left very much at the door. Our salvation must lie in the hope that we will, hours, days or weeks later, pick it back up again.

For it’s the things that matter to us most, that we love most, that are so often the cause of our shedding of dignity. Be it a messy break up, a hot-headed argument, fighting passionately for a cause we have great conviction in or even – dare I say it – an unquenchable thirst for a proper sing-song with our mates.

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