B4Peace: Art thou peaceful?

My thoughts on May’s monthly peace challenge creep in at the end of the month so the old adage better late than never is ringing in my ears!  Kozo said “I believe that art has the ability to transform the soul. If art can change a soul, then it can change the world” and asked “What piece of art makes you a more peaceful person?”

This is a difficult question for me to answer because I love art in all its various forms.  From Renaissance artists to contemporary sculptors, obscure jewellery makers to talented instrumentalists I find all forms of art transformative and peace-bringing.  This may well be because I used to study art and music. When life was less complicated I devoted a fair amount of my time to creative pursuits.

I used to make pottery; hand-thrown pots, vases, bowls and mugs. Shaping the clay using only  the pressure of my hands, some water and a manual potters wheel was very peaceful for me.  I could easily drift into another world free from all the constraints of this one. Unfortunately I sold most of my handiwork and my remaining pieces are with family and friends, I don’t have any photos to show you.  If you ever get the opportunity to try making hand-thrown pottery, give it a go.

I also used to draw and paint extensively.  From whole-wall murals like the copy of Hogwarts school that emblazoned my son’s bedroom when he was younger to the pen and ink picture of a geisha below a cherry tree that’s in my Dad’s house.  I sold most of my drawings when I was younger, more easily lured by money and believed I had plenty of time to pursue my interest in art. I still draw and paint occasionally when my joints aren’t too inflamed to do so.  I agree with Kozo, art can transform the soul.  I remember reading Herbert Read’s book ‘Education Through Art’ as a teenager and much of what he said fascinated me. The quote “ars longa vita brevis” stayed with me. After serving in the first World War and being decorated for bravery twice Read became a committed pacifist.  He died the year before I was born but I’d have liked the opportunity to meet him; it seems strangely coincidental that I decided to join B4peace and someone who had a lasting impact on my thoughts about art and education was similarly inclined towards the case for peace.

So here are a few pieces of my own art, drawings and photography, that help me be a more peaceful person along with a few pieces from more famous artists / photographers that remind me why peace is the only way.


Read / See other Art Thou Peaceful posts here:

Anyes – Far away in the sunshine

This is my corn

KM Huber

Inspire the idea


Inhumanity: when a “cause” spawns horrific consequences

Two wrongs do not make a right.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

When I woke up this morning I was preoccupied by thoughts of my 9am hospital visit. My preoccupation lasted approximately three minutes because I quickly discovered that a young soldier was brutally hacked to death on the streets of London yesterday. He was ambushed in broad daylight not far from the largest military barracks in the capital and pictures of the perpetrators soaked in their victim’s blood are now all over the press. Various reports suggest the two attackers viciously stabbed the young man and decapitated him all the while encouraging members of the public to take photographs or film of this sickening event.

Whilst officials were desperately trying to play down the motives for this act of barbarism eye-witness statements and footage of the culprits ‘explaining’ themselves are crystal clear.  One witness said “They grabbed the guy towards the wall then stabbed him – stabbed him, stabbed him, cut his neck, and then dragged him into the middle of the road.  They dragged the poor guy – he was obviously dead, there was no way a human could take what they did to him.”

The poor guy was Drummer Lee Rigby,  a 25 year-old from the Royal Fusiliers. Tonight his two-year-old son no longer has a father.

No doubt when Drummer Rigby joined-up he realised becoming a soldier meant operating in war-zones and placing himself in situations fraught with danger.  No doubt his loved ones also realised the significant level of personal risk that went along with his career choice.  I suspect neither Drummer Rigby nor his family and friends expected he would be ambushed and hacked to death in London all in the name of a “cause.” 

Irrespective of your position on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Falklands, Uganda, the Niger Delta or any other troubled place on our very troubled planet, two wrongs never make a right.  Irrespective of your beliefs or religion, Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Buddhist, Sikhism, Hinduism, Agnostic, Atheist, Pagan or Wiccan, two wrongs never make a right.  Irrespective of your ethnicity, culture, class, origin or status, two wrongs never make a right.  We of all faiths, colours, religions, countries and castes would do well to make this our mantra.  We should ensure our children – let’s not forget the men who committed this crime are someone’s children – respect the sanctity of life, all life, even if it happens to be different to our own.

When a “cause” becomes so all-consuming that it permits one man to murder another, to boast about that wrongdoing and encourage others to do likewise we have slipped from humanity into inhumanity. As a mother and a peaceable citizen living in a country that is supposed to be “safe” I can only echo the words of the person who left these flowers for Drummer Rigby. I hope your suffering was brief and that you are at peace now.  I am disgusted that my child is growing up in a world so full of corruption and unnecessary violence. I am ashamed to call myself human when this kind of depravity exists in our world.


Cancer is Hard When You’re Alone

The far too infrequently discussed reality of breast cancer…

The Sarcastic Boob

I sure do love historical analysis–as you have no doubt observed if you’ve read The Sarcastic Boob with any regularity.  Breast cancer is a fascinating subject and fits right into my love of knowledgeable discourse.  The implications of gender and patriarchy!  The socioeconomic and racial disparities!  The political difference with regard to healthcare!  The swelling in my left armpit!

Wait.  What?  What’s this left armpit crap?  It’s the right boob, remember?

I honestly get so lost in the subject itself that sometimes I forget why I find the topic of interest in the first place.   Oh, yeah, I have breast cancer with metastasis.  Stage IV.  Remember?

Yes, I do remember, but it’s still kind of abstract in a very weird kind of way.  The lesions have resolved, roused the spondylosis.  It was asymptomatic for many years apparently, until the tumor flare kicked it off.  The third nerve block to manage…

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Putting others first

Always willing to help others

James running the Bristol 10k for CLIC Sargent.

This is my 19-year-old son James doing his best Mo Farah impression while running the Bristol 10k in aid of CLIC Sargent. CLIC is the cancer and leukaemia in children charity and he chose to run for them because its something he believes is worthy of more support.  I watched the race and whilst there were some younger runners, I think James was one of the youngest. He decided to enter of his own volition, just called me up and said he was taking part. He trained for it himself and managed a respectable time of 1 hour 5 minutes and 15 seconds. Finishing the race without incident was especially pleasing because he suffered a serious ankle injury playing football 6 months ago and it kept him out of sport until recently.  Sport has been a big part of his life and he’s hoping to visit Ukraine in August as part of an international futsal tournament. He’s also giving up his time to provide free goal-keeping coaching to Under 12’s so is helping another generation of kids to make the most of their talents and find enjoyment in sport.

It was great to see James cross the finishing line and pick up his race medal after the 10k.  When I met him following the race I gave him a huge hug and told him I was proud of him for running and raising money for such a good cause. Two policemen looking on saw the hug, smiled at me in the knowing way fellow parents smile on school sports day and then smiled at each other. That moment will stay in my memory for a very long time. A shared moment of happiness.

I always hoped my son would grow up to be respectful, to think about others, practice being kind, loving and giving. I know he hasn’t always been treated kindly by other people but he’s continued to look for the good in everyone and I’m proud of him for being so gracious. It isn’t easy dealing with the spectre of your mother’s cancer when you’re 18, a time when life ought to be fun, lighthearted and free from thoughts of critical illness or death. I’m sad that the last of his teenage years are marred by my illness and subsequent redundancy at work. He’s 20 in a couple of weeks time and I hope above all else that this year will see a return to a more carefree way of life for him with fewer worries and a lot more fun.

In another act of putting others first James told me a couple of days ago that he’s decided to enter the Bristol half marathon which takes place on 15th September this year. While many students are taking time off to relax after exams he’ll be spending the summer training. He’s running for CLIC Sargent again and I’m already very proud of him. There will be an even bigger hug and more smiles at the end of the next race 🙂

It may linger…

Horror is a feeling that cannot last long; human nature is incapable of supporting it. Sadness, whether it be from bereavement, or disappointment, or misfortune of any kind may linger on through life.” James De Mille.

self portrait of sadness

self portrait of sadness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today one of my cats, the ginger one, caught and ate something before I could rescue it.  I think it was probably a young rat.  I’m not a huge fan of rats (because there are so many of them and they are very destructive) but I prefer it if the cats don’t eat them. Cats are skilled hunters and although they’ve been domesticated over many eons their underlying instincts remain unchanged. They are hard-wired to catch and eat small creatures and my contrary wishes don’t always get taken into account.   No-one here in the countryside is unhappy that the cats hunt down a few vermin; they’re glad the rodent hordes aren’t over-running their outhouses, stables or wheat fields.   Sometimes people accuse cats of being cruel but this is a human label and is best applied to human behaviour. Cats simply rely on their instincts to ensure their survival.

Humans do not need to be cruel to one another but wherever you look you can find evidence that such behaviour runs rife through our societies. Whether it’s the school bully, the autocratic boss, the abusive partner, the over-critical parent or the warmongering militia, human cruelty can be found in so many places.  It operates at all levels, physical, emotional and psychological and whilst the horror of those situations may not last for long, the pain and sadness have the power to linger throughout life.  However it happens, when one human hurts another sadness remains long after the horror of the situation has subsided.

I remember my Mum telling me that for as long as she could remember her step-mother branded her stupid and clumsy. (She had a step-mother from the age of five or six).  Growing-up unsupported and demeaned meant my Mother had little self-confidence. She truly believed she was both of these things and thought she had little to offer the rest of society.  It was only when she met my Father and became part of his family that she realised some parents are different; some are kind, loving, compassionate and encouraging.  My Mum blossomed as a person in the company of my Father and his family, she had the most wonderful life with my Dad (who also happens to be a kind, compassionate, intelligent man who puts other people first).  In spite of this change in circumstances I know for a long time my Mum still struggled with thoughts of being unintelligent and awkward.  The saddest thing about it is that she was bright, intuitive, graceful and amiable.  For a long time she thought she was of little value but all those who knew her valued her greatly.  Her step-mother was undoubtedly a cruel woman who caused so much distress. I chose not to maintain contact with her as soon as I was old enough to make my own decisions.

Someone very dear to me is in the midst of the sadness that comes from acts of human cruelty.  Not physical mistreatment but acts of abuse none the less.  It has suffocated their joie de vivre, stolen their dreams and crushed their confidence.  I would like more than anything to remove the pain, eliminate the sadness and create a space where chi might flourish again. I fear I am not that skilled. I can splint broken bones and alleviate the symptoms of a multitude of minor ailments but I know no easy way to mend broken hearts or relieve lingering sadness from a tired soul.  My inability to recover and restore what has been lost disappoints me greatly.  Sometimes I need to work miracles and it saddens me that I cannot.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape


This week’s photo challenge is ‘Escape.’ Its very apt right now so here’s a recent photo that conjures up escape for me.  I love the sea, its wild, ever-changing nature. It is irrepressible, able to escape it’s confines and break over land or into the air as this shot taken in Barmouth, Wales, manages to capture.

Keep breathing slowly


Tomorrow I’m back in chemo camp. Not, I hasten to add, for more chemo ( I’ve done that and won’t be doing it again).  Tomorrow I’m back to attempt more herceptin following a break of almost 5 weeks because my body retained so much fluid, especially in my joints, that I couldn’t use my hands or walk for more than a few yards.  Dr C has already told me there are no guarantees, pushing ahead with the herceptin could make the joints much worse and he doesn’t know if or when it will resolve. Decisions, decisions. If I’m going to die before for my three score years and ten, and the possibility is real, then I may as well get my money’s worth and have the experience of rheumatism even though rheumatic colicky joint pain is not the problem.

Today has been stressful which goes some way towards my ‘you know what, I’m not bothered any more’ attitude. Totally unnecessary issues came up but they were stressful all the same so much so that I’ve  barely had time to think about tomorrow.  It’s a story for another post or maybe a whole series of books if I get the time.

By now I should be getting slightly twitchy about tomorrow. Instead I’m feeling like the photo of Kingswear in this post – lots going on but the water looks pretty still. The vein issue will no doubt rear its ugly head and three of the four nurses avoid the job of sticking a cannula into me because its so difficult for them (and me.)  The herceptin holiday means we also have to go back through the loading dose procedure because herceptin looks more meek and mild than chemo but in reality it’s quite a tough little cocktail and is known to cause severe allergic reactions. The range of allergic reactions includes death.

Maybe when you’ve been through this stuff for months on end your attitude changes. A year ago I definitely wouldn’t have been blase about any drug that came with hazard warnings, the need for an oncologist to be present in the department and an all day stay in hospital. Now I don’t see the point in worrying about it. Some day the reaper will come for me and that’s that. It would be better if it wasn’t tomorrow because I haven’t got all my affairs in order and chemobrain means that will take some effort; there are also a lot of folks I’d like the chance to say goodbye to. However this whole thing has shown me that although death is final,  it is not the worst thing I’ve had to face in my life.






Guest Post: Heather Von St. James, Mesothelioma.

In December 2012 I hosted a guest post for Cameron Von St. James about his wife, Heather, and their experience following Heather’s diagnosis of mesothelioma.  This form of cancer is caused by asbestos, has a low treatment success rate and often leads to death within a matter of months.  Heather was diagnosed shortly after giving birth to her only daughter, she was just 36 years old at the time.

Cameron recently contacted me to ask if I’d share a video Heather has put together to continue raising awareness of mesothelioma which offers a means to help others know what to do when faced with this diagnosis.  You can find Heather’s very moving story in the video here:

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At the end of this short film you’ll also find a compilation of other videos. Heather’s video titled “The value of my life in Dollars and Tears” is also worth watching. It explains honestly and openly the true cost of facing cancer, the losses that result from this disease not only for the patient but for those around them. It highlights in dollars and tears the array of life changes that are irreversible and enduring.

Heather’s story is, at its core,  one of hope and she very eloquently sheds light on two subjects that continue to be misunderstood – mesothelioma and the true cost of cancer.


One of the (many) surprising things about being a cancer patient is the lack emotional or psychological support that’s available to deal with the non-physical impacts of the disease and its treatment.  It may be this is just the case in my locality because my Healthcare Trust is over-budget and the Government refuses to offer an extended loan. I’d be interested to hear whether other people have a similar experience?   In this area it seems unless you’re on the verge of complete breakdown or pose a threat  you’re expected to take care of yourself.  I imagine this must be very difficult for people who are on their own or prevented from maintaining social contact due to treatment or it’s side-effects.

To aid with my self-managed physical and psychological rehabilitation process I’ve thrown myself into growing things.  I enjoy being outdoors creating aesthetically pleasing flower beds and patio containers, mainly because I’ve always loved nature. The greater variety of plants and flowers in the garden, the more wildlife comes to visit. Back in the early 1990’s I used to grow vegetables as well as flowers and I’ve decided to re-establish this practice in earnest now I have the opportunity to do it.

I’m tired of my post-chemo, herceptin-inflated body and I suspect its tired of me as well.  I want to disperse the gallons of extra fluid I’m retaining.  I also want to regain my physical strength and overall fitness levels both of which have been seriously depleted during the course of the last 9 months.  My target is to lose 3.5 stone taking me back to the weight I was as a teenager at which point I should be lean enough to enter the Bristol 10k next year.  According to popular weight loss calculators a steady 2lb per week will see me hit my target weight in 25 weeks time – 1st November.  The manual labour involved in gardening will help rebuild strength and tone, time on the cross-trainer and bike will help with stamina and cardio-vascular performance.  With luck this will take care of the physical side of things.

Psychologically being outside in the natural world is the most healing activity I can think of so a combination of gardening, walking, tai-chi and yoga will hopefully restore my somewhat frazzled nerves; the past year has been incredibly stressful. The present continues to be traumatic and since I don’t want to turn into an axe murderer to help secure support from my local Healthcare Trust I intend to create some mental down-time without the use of drugs or alcohol.

I planned on spending an hour in the garden today but didn’t bother checking my watch.  I spent six hours out there without a break.  In reality it was probably three hours work but the 2013 version of me operates at a much slower pace than the 2011 version. In particular I have to avoid standing up too fast from kneeling or bending as I also get faint far too easily these days and passing out when there’s no-one else around isn’t a good idea.

I was pleased with the results of my efforts.  Although it doesn’t look like much at the moment the flowers in the border will fill out over time to bring some colour and perfume throughout the summer.  There are snapdragons, hollyhocks, foxgloves, grannies bonnets, rock roses, aubretia, various kinds of daisy, violas, primulas, campanula and cornflowers.  On the organic homegrown vegetable front there are tomatoes (cherry, plum and beefsteak), onions, garlic, parsnips, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beans, peppers, rhubarb, lambs lettuce, rocket, thyme, rosemary and oregano.  I’ve also planted strawberries, blueberries and loganberries.

Although it’s officially Spring, we’re forecast to have some very bad weather tomorrow with heavy rain, temperatures down to 5 degrees C and a risk of snow! Fortunately the flowering plants have already been acclimatised and the vegetables are in the greenhouse so they stand a chance of growing into something tasty in a few months time.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Through the Door

This post is a piece of creative writing in response to the Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge, Through the Door. The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?

At the window


My absence was unintentional. An Act of God, fate, a random gypsy curse, call it what you will.  I never planned to be gone so long and after almost three years my life had ground to a halt.  Time in the wilderness had sapped my energy, eroded my confidence and chipped away at my resolve.  My legs trembled uncontrollably as I walked from the lift along the short corridor to the studio. Hearing commotion on the stairs I fumbled for the keys in my purse and quickly moved my shaking hand towards the deadlock.  Neighbours were best avoided. They’d ask questions I’d be unable to answer.

I pushed the heavy door ajar and as I stepped over the threshold music drifted towards me.  The song was somehow familiar but I hadn’t heard it for a very long time. ‘It’s too cold outside, for angels to fly, to fly, to fly. An angel will die.’   I remembered liking the song even though it was tinged with sadness and my weary mind searched for the name of the artist. Ed, it was definitely Ed, but the surname escaped me. There was no music during my sojourn and my memory was rusty. I shrugged my shoulders and thought no more of it.

The hallway was as I remembered, a little too grand given the size of the studio. We’d talked about redesigning it if we owned the place but we were renting. Buying a place like this was completely out of our league.  Light shone into the hall from all angles, gleaming off the polished floor and glossy doors.  Suddenly I felt as if I was in the spotlight and a sea of glowing dots swam before my eyes making me reach out for the coat stand. I knew this feeling; I was about to faint. Tremulously and with caution I turned from the hall to the bathroom, splashed my face with water and sat on the edge of the bath.  Music was still playing softly in the background, ‘the worst things in life come free to us…’

I don’t know how long I sat in the bathroom; it might have been minutes or hours. The mirrored cabinets were as pristine as ever, no fingerprints or toothpaste splashes.  A razor and a bottle of Radox stood on the edge of the bathtub, fluffy towels lay neatly folded over the heated rail.  The linen basket, empty as always, was just inside the door.  My breathing returned to normal and I ventured from the bathroom back into the hallway.

I looked towards the lounge/diner.  The sofas, cushions and side tables were all just as I remembered.  The ugly sideboard, a cross between office furniture and airline baggage storage, still held its imposing position casting a shadow over everything else in the room.  On the balcony a rain-stained chair and some discarded cigarette butts from the apartment above competed for my attention, immediately triggering my need to clean up, to keep everything wholesome and untainted.  I couldn’t find the key to the French doors and as I tried the handle I remembered I was afraid of heights.  I wouldn’t be going outside after all.

As I turned back from the window memories flooded my brain, everlasting feelings of love, companionship and unerring loyalty for my soul mate.  I never intended to be away so long and now I could feel the excitement building, the butterflies that meant I would see Eden again.  Years had passed but I still felt the same, Eden was my soul mate and that was all that mattered.

Something compelled me towards the kitchen. It was spotless as ever, foodstuffs, crockery and cutlery neatly concealed in cupboards or drawers. Except the tea. The teabags sat on the counter next to the microwave ready to be brewed into a refreshing cuppa with minimal effort.  It was such a long time since Eden and I had enjoyed a cup of tea together.   Although I wasn’t hungry (and now I thought about it I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten), curiosity insisted I should open the fridge.  I smiled. Carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, pate, beetroot… and monkfish?  I frowned.  I couldn’t recall a time when we’d eaten monkfish but my memory was so ethereal at times.  ‘…Her face seems, slowly sinking wasting, crumbling like pastries…’ the song was still playing from a speaker somewhere nearby.

Footsteps. I recognised them. Eden was approaching and my heart raced with excitement.  He would be so surprised to find me here, to have me back from… well I wasn’t quite sure where from but the main thing was that I was here and home for good.  Keys turned in the lock and as the handle twisted I moved from the kitchen into the hallway.  I wanted to throw my arms around Eden’s neck, to kiss him,  tell him I was sorry for going away, let him know I loved him more than ever.

“Come on in Rachel, I’ll run you a bath. You must be exhausted.”  Whoa… Rachel?!  I watched as a very attractive brunette walked into the studio behind Eden. “Thanks love,” she said.

My head was spinning, I felt faint again and my heart pounded faster than I ever imagined possible.  Raw emotions flooded through me.  “Who is she, Eden?” I asked.  He didn’t look at me, carried right on into the bathroom and started to run the bath.  In my confusion Rachel had slipped past me towards the kitchen. I turned from the hall and confronted the tall, beautiful woman who had taken over my home and done who knows what with my soul mate. “Hello Rachel. What exactly are you doing here with Eden?”  She called to Eden. “Honey, did you forget to close the fridge this morning?” and then she walked straight through me.

Sheeran, that was it, Ed Sheeran.  The song continued playing… ‘An angel will die, covered in white, closed eye and hoping for a better life.
This time, we’ll fade out tonight.’