LJ Idol Season 8: Week 1
When you pray, move your feet

The facile response to this is that, yes, if you're kneeling through the prayers and you don't move your feet, you'll get pins and needles and will have difficulty even hobbling up to the communion rail.

But that's the facile response. The real meaning behind this is "if you're going to talk the talk, you'd better be prepared to walk the walk".

When you hear that so-and-so is sick, don't hesitate to ring and see if they need help getting their groceries (or whatever). And sometimes you may have to be firm and not take "no" for an answer.

When you hear that someone has died, and you know the people left behind well enough to make an approach, offer them help (if they need it) with sorting out stuff like the funeral tea, which is a burden. The funeral details probably aren't. Those should be left to the family unless they're visibly not coping.

Heal the sick (inasmuch as you can, and it's surprising how much you can do just with your presence). Feed the hungry (if they'll accept it). Clothe the naked (Red Cross shelters and clothing banks are grateful recipients of donations). Visit the imprisoned (however they be imprisoned, if just locked in their own homes due to agoraphobia).

Without social action, prayer can become mere idolatry; *with* action, it becomes what makes us human, and humane.

And, whilst yes I am deeply religious, I am (apart from the bit about idolatry) using "prayer" here in the context of "fleeting thought that crosses your mind".

Don't assume that the only people on benefits are scroungers. Don't think that those who are out of work have chosen to be in that position. Don't assume that that beggar/panhandler you see on the street has no-one to blame but him/herself. Don't imagine that the disabled are malingerers. These are all people in need of our help. We all need to move our feet.

And, don't forget, tomorrow you could be one of them. Uh, I mean us.

LJ Idol Season 8
OK, I'm in. (Guess I know what not to post this time. In fact, I'll privatise that post, as it had no business being on the public internet anyway).

It's a trap: LJ Idol Week 3
It is a cold, misty, polluted November evening in Cambridge. Many of the streetlights are out in the tourist centre, as are those just round the little snicket on the way home where no sane tourist would venture. For this snicket is also used as the cut-through by the damaged and addicted homeless people on their way to the largest of the town's several refuges. Every day I see the battered and bleeding as I make my way up the hill from town to home. Every day I see fights; I hear incoherent angry rantings; I see people insulted and aggressed; I see people who eyes are dead and glazed as if they have lost their souls.

Most of the homeless are not on the streets by their own choosing: many served in Iraq or Afghanistan and then were discharged without adequate resources either to deal with what they have seen whilst they were out there, or with the basic administrative support to help them adapt back into civilian society, such as how to get a job, or rent a flat.

Others have found themselves on the streets as the result of relationship breakups. They have not seen their children in years; they have been given a one-way bus ticket out of the places they knew to more opulent places such as Oxford and Cambridge, in the hopes that rich tourists and idealistic students will provide them with sufficient money to re-establish themselves. Finding that this fails to happen, many of them turn to drink, drugs, petty crime and worse.

Some of them are together enough to get a job selling The Big Issue, which is described as 'a hand-up, not a hand-out'. The reality is that there are so many such sellers on the streets of Cambridge that most of them are lucky if they manage to make enough in a day to cover the upfront costs they had to pay to buy the magazine, let alone to secure them a place in a homeless hostel for that night. It is no wonder that so many of them look so desperate. And as for 'a hand-up, not a hand-out'? The same faces grace the streets of Oxford and Cambridge year after year, giving the lie to the hope that this might be some way of helping them sort themselves out. (I have actually seen one former seller get a regular job, and that was largely due to his own sterling efforts in stopping drinking).

With the recession, and the cuts announced in the Spending Review, more people will be moving from the poverty trap into the homeless trap. Last week, a friend got up one morning and found someone sleeping in his dustbin. A fortnight earlier this poor chap had had a job and a roof over his head.

There will be more such tales, mark my words.

De(con)struction: LJ Idol Week 2
When people think of an engineer (if they ever think of one at all, that is), the concept of "construction" is more likely to spring to mind than that of "deconstruction" (or indeed "destruction"!)

However, one of the first signs that a child might be going to become an engineer is the dismaying sight of dismantled clocks and other household apparatus. If, on being questioned why they did this, they respond "because I wanted to know how it works", this suspicion is likely true. (If they are going to be a skilled technician they will probably have reassembled it before you even notice, with pieces to spare; if not, you may have a research-minded engineer on your hands).

Many engineers, having finished their training, will go on to construct things, rather than deconstruct them. But there exist those who have to analyse the aftermath of structures (buildings, aeroplanes, cooling towers etc.) after they have failed. And there are also those who try to deconstruct possible failure mechanisms before they occur, and to help develop new building codes to ensure that such failures never happen.

Sometimes the authorities are too pig-headed to listen. The UK's failure to adopt one such supposedly Europe-wide code led almost certainly to the Ferrybridge disaster. The lessons of the Tacoma Narrows bridge have still not been learned properly: the Millennium Bridge in London having proved that; but there are other bridges which also still suffer from resonance problems.

It is not an easy road being a disaster analyst, whether scrabbling through the wreckage looking for telltale clues, or being the prophet of doom who has to advise on remedial measures before the disaster has yet happened. You will not be thanked. On the contrary, big business may tell you to shut your mouth (or worse), or governments may suppress your work for 20 years in the hope that it can be written off as "freak accident" rather than "man-made disaster".

An inveterate need to know "how it works"?  Deconstruction as a way to learn how better to construct in the future? You decide.

Winding up: All Souls' Day: LJ Idol Week 1
All Souls' Day has been and gone, and the year draws inexorably to a close.

The All Souls' Day Mass is one of the most beautiful Masses of the year. Candlelit; black vestments; special incense; the long lists of relatives of the congregation, and members of the congregation, who have died; a sense of quiet and reverence; a sense of sadness and yet of hope.

I did not attend the All Souls' Day Mass this year, nor did I last year, nor the year before.

My mother was born on All Souls' Day in 1930, to a former cotton-mill worker and a shoemaker, in a mill town in Lancashire, UK. All Souls' Day 1935 she spent in hospital, having being run down by a lorry when my nana delegated the task of walking her home from school to a ten-year-old, who promptly forgot about my mother, and left her to attempt the walk home by herself.

They said she would not survive the night: but she did. Then they said she would be permanently paralysed: but she wasn't. She did ballet to rebuild her strength, and by her teenage years seemed to be as good as new.

By All Souls' Day in 1940 she was at the local grammar school, where she excelled in every subject apart from art. Her teachers were privately excited at the thought of getting their first ever pupil into Oxford. But she had other ideas: she had no wish to become a teacher or a nurse, which at that time seemed the only possible options. All Souls' Day 1946 was spent in conflict with her school, who had written to the local authority to ask that her scholarship to the Manchester College of Commerce be rescinded, as it duly was. But she went anyway, to study French, Spanish, and Business, and finished top of her year. She then worked as an interpreter for Sabena in Manchester for 5 years before moving out to the US to marry my father, just over a fortnight before All Souls' Day 1953.

All Souls' Day for the next ten years was also spent in the US: in Connecticut, where she studied German and Italian at Yale; and in San Francisco, where again she worked for Sabena. My parents travelled all over the world and thought they would never want to have children.

By All Souls' Day in 1964, they were back in the UK and about to move into a brand-new house. My father was one of the youngest full professors ever appointed at that time; but my mother could not find a job within sensible commuting distance. So children came back onto the agenda.

By All Souls' Day in 1973, they were about ready to despair. It had been a sad year: my mother had lost her beloved father, and my father both his parents; and now it looked as if she must be going through the menopause. She went, feeling depressed, to the doctor only to be told that by All Souls' Day of 1974, if all went well, she should be cradling a bundle of joy. And so it proved.

The years slipped quickly past, and All Souls' Day cast not its deathly pall over the Crawford family again until 1999, when my mother was diagnosed with the onset of Alzheimer's. She deteriorated fairly rapidly, just about managing to recognise old friends when my father took her back to the US to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary in 2003.

A fall on Ash Wednesday 2006 landed her in the hospital, and then a nursing home, as my father reluctantly had to accept that he could no longer look after her properly. She no longer knew who any of us were.

By All Souls' Day 2008, we had been told that she also had advanced colo-rectal cancer and, given her advanced Alzheimer's, we opted for palliative care. She died 3 and a half months later. At her Requiem Mass, I sang the Pie Jesu from Fauré's Requiem: a piece she had always loved and wanted to hear me sing, but by the time I had enough confidence in my voice to attempt such a thing, she was already gone from us.

I did not attend the All Souls' Day Mass this year, nor did I last year, nor the year before.

It is all still too raw. I do not know how long it will be before I can face it again. I know her name was read out, and she was remembered. But the people who knew her as the vivacious brilliant young woman before the disease robbed her of all her memories are dying out, and soon it will only be her name that is remembered, except by me.

All Souls' Day has been and gone, and the year draws inexorably to a close.

Introduction: LJ Idol Week 0
In another life, I might really have been called Erica Crawford. I'm a descendant of a sept of the Crawford clan and my parents would have called me Heather had my initials not then spelled out a synonym for a witch. Instead I got Australians thinking I was lame and laughing at me. Thank you, Neighbours and Home and Away for extending that privilege to the English as well!

I'm 36. Both too old and too young for Livejournal in most senses. Engineer, musician and poet. Of Scottish, Welsh and English heritage, but shortly to be moving to Corsica, where my heart is and where my talents will be appreciated. So I'll be sitting exams to get myself certified as a professional translator in January.

Apart from that, I'm also about to become principal carer for my 82-year-old father, a former professor of engineering, who has just been diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Onwards and upwards, as they say.


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