Burning Trees

We stand
In cool, blue winter air
Field space, acre clear.
But the trees!
The sun has set them on fire
Burnt bronze and amber,
Hot orange, radiant,
Shimmering they blaze
and yet remain entire.
Is this how Moses saw the bush,
When barefoot he bowed
before the One
Who would set him alight.

Poem by me Susie Stead 2015
Photos as background and header by Hugh Turner

NEW YEAR – MINDFUL CHANGES

Me, a chocolate bar?  don't be ridiculous..

Me, a chocolate bar? don’t be ridiculous..

I’m told that if you want a beautiful garden the first thing to do is spend 1 year watching it. You see what plants flourish and what don’t – in each season.

English country garden

At the end of the year, you’ll have a strong sense of the character of your garden. Now you can begin to plan. What do you want to keep? What do you want to get rid of? Is there anything new you fancy trying?

I’m no gardener. I’m interested in people. I’m interested in myself. It seems to me that the same rules apply if you want to change yourself. I’ve been practising mindfulness now for over 3 years. This is what mindfulness is. Paying attention to what is.

You want to change? Start by observing yourself for a year or 6 months or a week. Don’t change anything. Just notice. Maybe write it down.

Bad Hair Day

Bad Hair Day

At university, I wasn’t working. Finally I went to see a student counsellor. He advised me to simply record what I was doing for a few weeks. Then report back to him. I never went back. I started to note when I worked but it was pitiful. I was so ashamed, I gave up and went back to socialising. Nothing changed. I did not do well at University….

So:
a) Notice what you’re doing,
b) Notice how much shame you feel
c) Stop judging yourself, justifying yourself or lying to yourself!

If you have ever tried this, you will know how difficult this is. You may need support from a friend or partner.

Let’s take an example… Deciding to cut back or stop eating so much fatty food. Start by just noticing how much you do eat of it. After a cholesterol test, without blinking or even noticing (at the time) I lied to my doctor.

She asked me what my diet was. The words that came out of my mouth said that I had a breakfast of wholemeal cereal, a lunch of whole meal bread, soup and cheese and an evening meal of meat and 2 veg….. oh yes and the odd glass of wine. I failed entirely to mention the chocolate biscuits, crisps, snacks, the puddings with cream, the yoghurts, the bars of chocolate or precisely how many glasses of wine constituted the ‘odd’ glass….

And even though I’ve been trying recently just to notice what I’ve been eating, I hear myself feeling bad and saying ‘well it’s Christmas, it’s New Year, it’s January, it’s been a hard day…. I haven’t had any for AGES….’

So. I’ve noticed something. I’m lying to myself and justifying myself. That’s interesting. And uncomfortable. I’m not the self-disciplined healthy eater I like to imagine. I’m an ordinary person with sugar cravings. this is not shameful. It simply is. I think I’ll start here, this year.

‘The Choice’ – FILM TEASER

4 women, 1 night, 1 block of flats and ‘the choice’ that will change lives .

Thank you Andy for putting this ‘teaser’ together. We’re hoping to have the completed short (around 11 minutes) ready for 14th March showing at Pegasus Theatre in Oxford as part of Film Oxford screening:
http://www.pegasustheatre.org.uk/shows/film-oxford-screening/

BEST FLAPJACKS EVER!

tasty flapjacks!

These are easy and quick to make (honest!) and truly the best flapjacks I’ve ever eaten. Crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. I think its the golden syrup that does it….

A friend gave me this flapjack recipe and I’ve been making them for 10 years. The only problem is that when I make them I just keep eating them…. I’ve made them for my children, for school events, social events, church events. People love them!

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees or Gas Mark 6. I have a fan oven and put it to 180 degrees.
Get a large deep baking tray, grease it and line it with baking parchment. If you don’t the flapjacks will stick like cement!
(the one I use is about 30 cm x 35 cm)

Take a large pan and melt the following:
450g block margarine
450g Sugar
4 tablespoons of golden syrup
(hint: put tablespoon in bowl of v. hot water before scooping out golden syrup. Stops it sticking)

Once everything is melted take it off the heat and add the following mix:
450 g porridge oats
340g Self Raising Flour
Adjust if too sticky or too dry.

Now put the mixture in the baking tray and cook for 10-15 minutes. Afterwards the flapjack mix in the baking tray to cool but start cutting it into pieces while it’s still warm.

You can do half quantities but use a small swiss roll tin instead for the right size.

with thanks to Clare Tomlinson for giving this recipe to me years ago.

Underground Weather

london-underground-logo

The tube is full.

The grey upright pensioner
Reviewing the advertisements –
That’s me.

Silently
I sit,
Hands folded – body still.

The hurricane within
Continues unabated.
Shaking, shattering,
Sheering, breaking.

The shell holds.
No fragment escapes
To challenge the shapes
Of your reality.

Tell me –
What’s the weather like in you?

by Susie Stead©2008

Making a Short Film

“THE CHOICE”
Gillian and Marley the cat10633587_10152330301406222_8340966665857971963_o

We’ve finished filming. My 12 minute screenplay has being filmed out of sequence over 2 weekends, at 6 different sites. We’ve now got the film equivalent of 10 boxes of jig saw puzzle pieces except they could be put together in an almost infinite range of sequences.

It’s been an intense experience – thrown together with a wonderful eclectic crew, some of whom I’ve never met before. Over the first weekend there are up to 20 cast and crew plus baby and cat at any one time. We start on Saturday at 7.30am and part company about 11pm on the Sunday. Then 9 of us re-group the following Saturday.

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Among the crowd are a baby, a cat, a group of teenage hoodies (my daughter and friends from Cheney) and Barbara Deane, who is approaching 90. There are 4 exceptional professional actresses from London, otherwise everyone else is local. There’s our make-up artist, Diego who creates a silicon pregnant belly over the weekend, just for fun; Danny, camera-man and tree surgeon who scales walls to cover a skylight, and Ollie who feels someone should be holding a clip-board. Polly sorts our sound (with Ollie) and helpfully informs one of our actresses that childbirth is like being chopped open with an axe.

barbara and diego

Andy directs with almost inexhaustible energy, arguing over a shot from time to time with Phil, DoP and cameraman who can be overheard growling ‘get on with it.’ Alex and Adam regularly save the day by finding essential bits of equipment or collecting forgotten people or things. Laura brings our star cat and an endless stream of cakes and food, Dan quietly sorts the lights and Jo patiently changes her baby, Isis into the correct clothing for each scene, sharply aware of continuity issues.

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There is a strange mix of all-consuming activity and waiting. Everyone on the team is switched on. Until they are switched off. Suddenly they laugh, grab biscuits, water, coffee. People coo over the baby or the cat or share stories. Swathes of time pass as each set is prepared: skylights covered, camera angles argued over, lights shifted, locks blue tacked to doors. There are beats when we’re told to be silent as the sound is tested or a scene is shot. I find myself holding my breath. The actresses are made up, and wait with an extraordinary patience. Lights are adjusted. Director and camera men obsess about the image. They repeat the scene. Mel grabs a photo. They repeat the scene. Every now and then, a particularly intense moment seems to transmit itself
through all of us, a collective hit. Sometimes a shot is repeated and repeated, with exhausting commitment.

I obsess about details which turn out to be irrelevant. The curtains MUST be ironed! We must have a ‘real’ rape alarm, the hoodies look too nice, One of the actresses has forgotten her dressing gown… At other times, I observe only just in time that the scene needs a mobile phone or glass of wine or…

hoodies

There are great moments – The cat runs off on cue in the right direction with the camera on him. Andy, the director, has been angsting over how we achieve a flickering light – Adam appears with one he’s made earlier. The corner by the stage must look like the entrance to a flat. A piece of flowery staging is discovered which fits perfectly as a wall.

Then there are the glitches – an actress who can only come for one of the days, the central venue is suddenly not available on that day except between 8am and 1pm. A furious care-taker has not been told about us, Crew mistakenly take food supplies from a theatre production when we leave the venue after filming (we return them). Then there’s the bemused employee who reports CTV footage of some apparently relaxed fly-tippers dumping old mattresses, bin bags and a fridge outside his place of work.

Throughout all this and over all this Mel, our photographer, casts her spell. She is everywhere, snapping photos with speed and ease. At the end there we are – caught and transformed. We are cast and crew of “The Choice”.

choice team photo

Happily Ever After

Once upon a time a long time ago, there lived a king and queen of a great kingdom. They had one daughter. Like any parent, they did not want their child to suffer. But unlike most parents these two had the power and the money to achieve their aim. They had a huge wall built and their daughter grew up within these grounds. All the servants and visitors were required to be happy and positive at all times. The Princes was blissfully happy. Everyone loved her – they were paid to.

One day, on the cusp of adulthood, the Princess became curious and found her way onto the streets. The suffering she saw there overwhelmed her. She wanted to make it all better. Her parents tried to tell her that these people were used to their way of life – they were mostly lazy or brutalised and would not appreciate her warm and caring heart. However to please her they gave her a generous allowance which she spent on the poor. The poor were very grateful.

However, some time later, an arthritic old man seeing the warmth in her eyes decided to tell her the real problem. Her parents. It was they who were the main employers in the area – they paid low wages and charged high taxes. She went home immediately and told her parents his accusation.

The old man was brought before the court tried and summarily executed for treason.

The Princess never left the castle grounds again. She married, had many children and lived happily ever after.

Susie Stead 2014

Time and Light

DSCN0798

Sometimes on a crisp, clear day, I walk through the light
And do not consider it because I am walking
To somewhere.

Sometimes the light becomes opaque. It is all I see.
Instead of walking through, I pause and allow light’s beauty
To enter me.

Sometimes I walk through time like I walk through light.
I do not consider it because I am walking
To somewhere.

Sometimes time becomes opaque. It is all I see.
Instead of walking through, I am watching myself walking past,
Becoming old,
Dying.

Does time like light, have beauty?
Or is it merely one loss after another?

By Susie Stead
© 2013

holding tree

Unfinished Business

2011 335They say that people with schizophrenia hear voices and can’t discern between which voices are real and which are not.

I don’t have schizophrenia. I do have voices. You know them – the ones who tell you ‘that was a stupid thing to do’ or who trawl over unsatisfactory conversations. They pop up frequently when I’m alone: in the bath, on a walk, in the car. Sometimes it’s only one but occasionally the whole lot emerge like zombies from a bad movie. It doesn’t matter how often you hack their limbs off, they just keep coming. Sometimes I summon them, especially if I think I’ve got the clinching argument. The one I should have used in the real conversation. In these internal dialogues, I’m always witty, sharp, and brilliant. They are always slow, stupid and put in their places… briefly.

They are all ghosts of real people, living and dead. They are all unfinished business.

Occasionally I have moments of clarity. I say ‘why am I spending so much time with YOU?’ But like sticky, over chewed gum, I can’t get them off my metaphorical fingers.

Except I can.

They are not holding onto me. I am holding onto them. I have my hand fisted round their shirt collar and I won’t let go. I’m intense and angry or else I’m cool and reasonable. But I never let them go. I want my view of the world to be accepted, agreed. But it is only the ghosts who concede. Their real counterparts obstinately and continually refuse to collude with my interpretation of matters. And I will not collude with theirs.

It seems that it’s not possible to resolve unfinished business with ghosts.

Recently I wrote a screenplay for a short film. It wasn’t until at least the 5th draft and complaints from others that I realised that my main character was unfinished business. I’d created her and set her up so I could destroy her. I was pretending I had sympathy when actually I wanted her to suffer.

Who wants the difficulty of real people? Next time I’ll go for a Fairy Story. Forget attempts at inclusion and go for full on dualism – I’ll have a fairy godmother, a crowd of wonderful mythical creatures (all on my side) and zombies. Lots of them. It’ll be a hard and difficult journey but just before the closing credits, good will triumph (my side of course) and all the zombies will be buried forever under concrete or thrown in the sea or turned into deformed statues to be ogled at by strangers. A few of my beloved creatures will have sacrificed themselves for me on the way and I will remember them always.

There. Done. If only.

Singing Bowl

by MALCOLM GUITE

Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

http://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-singing-bowl-a-poem-and-a-new-book
You can hear him read this by going to this link

Malcolm read this at the Bloxham Faith and Literature festival and commented that if you put any objects into a singing bowl, it will not sing….

It is the emptiness that allows the song.