Lockdown Musings

I have often wondered what would prompt me to begin writing my blog again. It turns out, what I needed was a global pandemic.  4 months into lockdown, and though the rules are easing, there is little sign of an end to this.

So how have you all been? I’ve been busy – sort of. Relocated to Billingham, a different church, some new people – exciting! St Columba’s congregation are a lovely bunch of people and we’ve been working together on trying some new things.

We started an activities group for the young people, called Busy Bees – great fun – I like playing games and making things!

We did some stuff at Christmas and our ladies friendship group began sharing lunches

It’s hard to say exactly how things happen in a new post – they just do.  We hold some events, I walk and talk and make connections – and everything was doing just fine – until the covid virus turned up; and everything just stopped.

What now? I thought. No ladies group, no Easter activities, no guides or scouts.  I volunteered to carry on helping at the local school, but their take up of places for key workers children was only 16, which they were well able to cope with.

I was already doing a day at the local foodbank and as many of their volunteers were vulnerable or shielding, I offered my services there.

As the weeks went by, I wondered if there was anything we could do to reach out to people in our community – and I thought about a project I’d heard of involving ribbons.  I thought we could probably adapt it to our situation in Billingham.  So I bought a rainbow of ribbons, made some drawstring bags to hang on the gates, made a couple of notices, and waited to see what would happen.

It seemed to strike a chord with passing strangers

I was thrilled!

By the middle of July, as lockdown began to be lifted, I noticed a few ribbons on the path up the road from the church – and decided that was the time to take them down and do something with them. I had never wanted to be a “litter lout! – and definitely didn’t want the church to be responsible for messing up the streets.

I brought the ribbons home – there were 285 on the 2 gates.  So began the task of making them into some kind of banner.  I ironed the creases out of them, got some material to use as backing – and began weaving them.

It’s taken a while – and i still havent finished it, but it’s definitely getting there!

Other stuff moves forwards slowly – we are preparing to reopen the church building for worship – risk assessments, sanitising equipment – all that kind of stuff. I’m working on trying to get some funding to improve the kitchen so we can feed people when we reopen for groups. I’m also hoping that we can work with our community on some new ventures.

We’ll never forget this strange and challenging time – but I hope we can remember some of the lessons we have learned about what is really essential to our happiness. I also hope it won’t take another pandemic before I write again

Keep safe all!!

love Annie xxxx

Moving on

It’s been 10 years since I started working in Fenham – and now I have to move on.  The last few months have been spent consolidating the work I’ve done so that most projects will carry on for the foreseeable future.  I’ve done all I set out to do – and now I have to start all over again somewhere else (more of that in a future post I hope!)

I had hoped to leave my post quietly, perhaps leaving a little note saying “so long and thanks for all the fish” – but it wasn’t going to be allowed.  I turned up as requested for what I thought might be tea and cakes an a nice chat with some people I have worked with…… and walked into a church full of lovely people waiting to wish me well.  I felt humbled by the work that had been put into Saturday evening – I didn’t count heads but there were a lot of people there!

This is a photo of me lost for words!!IMG_8678

I can’t even count how many times I’ve stood at that microphone to lead worship – and there I was desperately trying to think of something relevant/funny. The whole thing took my breath away.

We moved into the back hall where there weren’t only tea and cakes, but a fabulous array of other tasty eatables too.

What I liked best though – were the conversations happening right there in that hall – people meeting and talking and planning for future events and projects after I had gone – it was amazing.

I’m going to miss every one of them and I hope the good work in Fenham continues (I’m absolutely certain it will!)

Bye bye Fenham – and thank you for your love and support – I’ll leave a big piece of my heart in this place

tata for now xxx

Greenbelt was Awesome!!!!


Its hard to believe it’s now 2 weeks since I arrived at Greenbelt – my equipment on my back – and erected my tent in pouring rain.  They say you haven’t been camping unless you’ve done it in the rain – so now I can say I have really done camping! It was by turns; too hot, too cold, too wet and too noisy!! 5 nights in a tent told me a great deal about what I need. I need to be warm – I need to be dry. Other than that, I can manage.  By the Monday I was craving a decent piece of toast, but I wasn’t desperate!

Greenbelt was awesome.  I hadn’t planned to see anything in particular – I thought it would save me being disappointed if I didn’t get to see something.  I heard some of the interview with “Whispering Bob Harris” – but I couldn’t hear very well cos I was outside in the rain and he was whispering. He does have some good stories though.  I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury answer a young man who asked “in a fight between you and the pope – who would win?”.  I heard some excellent music – especially liked the new Orleans style brass band.  I met a Blues Brother too! (see pic) I spent hours in the URC tent talking to people about what they would scrap about church.  Our “scrap the church?” t shirts proved to be quite a talking point – many people stopped by the tent and wrote their opinions on pieces of paper and posted them in the box.  These will be collated and some will be printed in a future edition of Reform magazine, I believe.  They will make for interesting reading – and perhaps make a difference in how we “do” church.  I listened to Lucy Berry read some of her very pertinent poems.

Did I have a good time? Yes, definitely – will I go again? Absolutely! I’m looking to book my ticket for next year while the prices are low.

I’m so proud to have been part of the URC team – and proud of the URC for being part of Greenbelt, and also for asking the question that had so many people talking.

I’m also proud of everyone who was at Greenbelt – they were asked to “leave no trace” – take home their rubbish and care about the environment.  And they did. Well done everyone!!


Twas the night before Greenbelt…..

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And all through the house………

I have strewn camping equipment – only repacked the rucksack twice today

My brain is awhirl with the things I should take

And a journey ahead is making me wonder

If I should have said I would go?

But I’ve bought the tickets now – so I’m definitely going

To spend a few days

In a field

With a few thousand other people

And while I’m not “sorted for E’s and whizz” – I am definitely sorted for

Teabags, toothpaste, clean knickers and socks

I have cheated a bit.  My dear friend Helen is taking a spare bag – because she is going a day later, in a car (what luxury!) She picked the bag up yesterday – so I can’t repack that one any more.

I’m going to cheat in the morning too – I’m going to get a taxi to the train station – oh shucks, failed at the first fence – so much for independence!

I’ve checked all the train changes – and looked at maps of the various stations online so I can figure out where to run to.  I have to change trains twice tomorrow – and only 9 minutes between trains – eeek!  Am I the only one who worries? Some people seem so laid back about travel – I wish I was.  I can guarantee I will have to nip to the toilet “just once more” at least 3 times while I’m waiting for the taxi.

But then – by tomorrow night, God willing, I will have arrived at greenbelt, put my tent up, had something to eat, blown up my air bed, decorated a star for the URC tent – and be enjoying the atmosphere at what promises to be a most excellent festival. I’m sure it will be worth all the worry – most things are.  Where would we be without a bit of worry – we’d never try anything new!

I am drawing the line at abseiling, zip wires, and anything that’s a bit high – but otherwise – I’m up for giving anything a go!

Oh – and I’ve just had a text message saying if I want to help setting up and painting tomorrow I should bring some old clothes – hahahaha – I wonder where I can fit those????

Not a chance – I’ll just have to walk around in painty clothes.

I have heard that we are going to be tweeted, instagrammed and facebooked throughout the weekend – so keep an eye on social media #URStars and you might just catch a glimpse of me (or someone else you recognise) having fun, and hopefully by then I will be feeling a little less fraught!

Chow for now!

Analogue soup

I consider myself a very privileged person – because I have an automatic soup maker.  Any time I want, I can make myself a bowl of soup in 20 minutes, or rather my soup machine can do it for me, if I put vegetables in the top and turn it on.  I like it best in the winter when I need something soothing and hot. and quick.

But sometimes, there is nothing better than making a pan of soup the old fashioned way.

I had thought when the summer holiday time came around that I would have a quieter time at work.  Once the school sports day, summer trip, integration class presentation day etc were over, I had expected that perhaps I might get my day off every week.  Well, it hasn’t happened yet.  At the end of July we had a community barbecue – lots of organising and bringing people together – and it went well.  Someone even won the huge teddy bear:

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This was not the first prize winner – who said they really didn’t want to carry it home on the bus 🙂

We have also been host to the local residents association youth playscheme:

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Today has also been a very full day – and as with everything, nothing goes as smoothly as we might imagine.

So this evening I arrived home a bit “chewed” (is this just a northern phrase? I’m not sure – but it means a little frayed at the edges).  What I craved was some comfort food.  Something warming and healthy and tasty.  SOUP!  But I didn’t get out my soupmaker.  Today I did something I find more therapeutic.  I got out the old grater. Peeled the carrots and turnip – and really put a great deal of effort into preparing the vegetables:

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There’s a lot of talk on the internet about mindfulness – but what I needed today was mindlessness.  Using all my energy doing something I didn’t have to think about at all – grating away the cares of the day.  Some people swear by making bread to rid themselves of their frustrations – but I honestly didn’t have that kind of energy!! This evening I spent a whole hour – peeling, grating, stirring, simmering – until I had a big pan of comfort food.  Something I had done just for me – and I heartily recommend it to anyone!

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I’ve also been away practising camping.

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This was my little tent a couple of weeks ago when some of my scout leader friends took me away for the weekend.  This was to prepare me for Greenbelt – I have never put a tent up in my life, let alone carried everything I need in that little rucksack. I say little, but when I left the house I almost fell over backwards!!  I’m quite proud of myself, i have to say – I learned to put the tent up by watching youtube videos – I only needed help with a couple of things: firstly, the groundsheet goes shiney side down, secondly, there are no “spare” guy ropes and pegs – they DO all have to be used, and thirdly – if you blow up your air bed too much you will fall off every time you turn over during the night (owww!)  So I’m all prepared for Greenbelt – 5 days in a field near Kettering with a load of other old hippies – bring it on!!! (I’m now wondering if I can fit my soupmaker into my rucksack – perhaps not)

A personal view

It’s been a week since as a country we voted to leave the EU, and I haven’t written anything, because to be frank, I couldn’t think of the words.  There were those who said “wait a while – it’ll be fine”, “we don’t know what will happen yet”, “we all have to pull together” – but strangely it did’t help the feeling of foreboding.

Now, I’m no financial expert, so I have no valid comment about how things will pan out – whether the recovery of the pound will hold, whether the stock market will recover – I don’t know, althought the governor of the bank of England says it will “weigh on our economic prospects for some time”.  We just have to wait and see on that one – and certainly we won’t see immediate permanent changes. And I already know one man who did very well out of the collapse of the pound – buying Euros last Wednesday and selling them on Friday netted him 20K.  The rich will always find a way…..

There is one thing that I can talk about though, something that is happening now, something that was apparent from day one.  If there is one thing this vote has done – and I have seen it, so don’t tell me it hasnt – is that it has consolidated and in some way legitimised racism.

Those who tell me not to panic, or not to get disheartened – I wonder where they live? Because I live in a city – a glorious, multicultural city, and I love it. I don’t have an ivory tower, I don’t even have a car that will take me from place to place without interacting with people.  I walk, I use public transport, I am on the streets with the crowds, and it’s here that I see the difference an “out” vote has made.  I see it in the “integration project” sessions – the very name could almost be a sick joke – those ladies who we are trying to help resettle here, they were already nervous, never went into town alone – and now? They have already been subjected to verbal abuse by people who think that because we voted to leave the EU these people will immediately be packed off to some unknown “where they came from”.  I know someone who is afraid to let her little sister go to work on the bus for fear of racist attacks, so she takes her to work every morning in her car – and sees her in the door.  We have all seen the “calling cards” left at the homes of Polish people.  I saw someone online justifying the shooting of Jo Cox by saying she would have “filled this country with sub humans”

All of this is breaking my heart.  And it’s making my job as a community worker almost impossible. All I can do is keep on doing my best, reassuring the lady on the bus that we don’t all feel like that, apologising for my fellow countrymen, being there where and when I can.  I’ve also started wearing a safety pin in my coat – as part of an online idea that if anyone is scared or just doesnt know who to sit next to on the bus, they will see the safety pin and know I am a safe person to sit with.

I want this feeling to go away, and I’m waiting and seeing – like they say, but I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon.

When you go to sleep smiling!!

I’m aware that I’ve been quiet for a while – did you miss me? Well, I’ve been doing a thing.  A thing just for me.

I love singing – that’s no secret – I’m not particularly good, I don’t have a “solo” voice – but I can provide volume and pitch in a choir, which is where I’m happiest.

So, a couple of weeks ago my choir leader asked if I’d like to be in a special choir because they were short of tenors.  There weren’t many rehearsals but she was sure I could do it because they would send me mp3 files and sheet music.  So I said yes.  Actually I said “who….what…where….oooooooo….yes please please please!!!”  Because the choir was singing at the finale of the Barry Manilow concert at the Newcastle Arena!!!


So that’s what I’ve been doing – and I couldn’t tell anyone because the choir is supposed to be a surprise. And I didn’t care that we weren’t being paid, or that we couldn’t watch the show, or anything – here was an opportunity of a lifetime and I was going to grab it with both hands.

I’ve worked hard at rehearsing – singing along with the music, making sure I could pitch the first note from the preceding chord – attending rehearsals – and I thought I could do it.  So yesterday I got on the bus and went down to the Arena for 4pm.  We had a rehearsal at 5 with the backing singer/choreographer – at which point I realised that nobody had ever asked me to sing and dance AT THE SAME TIME before.  This is much harder than you think – step, close, click your fingers, hands in the air, clap – oh dear 😦  However, we went back to the green room and practiced for the next few hours – and I finally managed a passable dance with singing.  We sounded great, but were well aware that we would barely be heard above the amplified music and screaming fans.  None of that mattered in the end.  It was the experience, the feeling of being part of something spectacular – even though a very small part.  Here’s a photo or two  – and my thought for the day – never pass up an opportunity to make your life fabulous!!

That’s me – second one in from the right in the first picture 🙂

Winning at Friday 13th!

I woke up this morning with a pain in my back – it’s still there, since I wrenched it on Tuesday.  The sunshine this week made me do silly things – like mowing the lawn, cutting the brambles back, scrubbing the ramp outside the church – midsummer madness, and it’s only May! My back is letting me know that I’m not as young as I used to be – but never mind, I have pain killers and it will get better!

I WAS feeling sorry for myself though – whinge, whinge, the sun has gone, it’s drizzling, it’s cold and a bit windy, I have a bad back, I have to be in work bright and cheery for 9am and it’s Friday the 13th.  Nothing daunted, I made my way to work, passing others on the way who were equally glum about the change in the weather.  The first group in this morning were a group from the local JET (jobs, education, training) – they work with the BME community and have a small group of young mothers who come in on Friday mornings.  There was lots of laughter (as well as babies crying) coming through the walls into my office and I guessed they were having a really interesting session.

While they were busy, the scout leader came in to sort the scout cupboard and fill his car with camping equipment ready for taking the cubs to camp this weekend.  We had a lovely chat about the increased numbers in scouts and how well it’s all going – thanks in no small part to the enthusiastic leadership.

And then it was lunchtime, and the place was empty, I felt lonely and my back was hurting and I thought I’d just go home and have some painkillers and be ready for scouts at 5.30.

“Just a quick visit to the loo before I go” (I talk to myself regularly when the building is empty!) – and there they were – 3 empty toilet rolls – gah – not a scrap left anywhere.  So I knew what was coming – I’m either going to have to leave the new rolls on the back of the cistern, or I’m going to have to fight with those blummin toilet roll holders again.  I almost went with the former – but then I remembered that a couple of weeks ago someone had removed the old toilet rolls (possibly they had run out at home?) and left the holders open so I replaced the rolls and got some kind of clue how the mechanism works.  I have to say, I wasn’t confident, but I set to with a will.  and it worked!!!!!! I did it – after 7 years of NOT being able to work the flipping toilet roll holders – I did it – not just the once, but 3 times!!!  I was moved to take photographic evidence in case you doubt my prowess:

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Hah! I win!!

They don’t teach you how to do this at Northern College, though possibly they should – and it always seemed to be such a complicated thing – or maybe I wasn’t doing it properly?  In my defence, there are very few people in church who can do it – only the caretaker’s husband seems proficient in toilet roll changing.  But today, I did it – after 7 long years of not being able to, I did it – yaay!  Only goes to show that given time, and patience, everything is possible 🙂

Chow for now!

An Angel in the north

Last Tuesday I helped with a school outing.  Armed with my list of young people who were my responsibility (so I couldn’t lose any of them) and 4 sheets of paper with the risk assessment on it – I boarded a bus full of excited “year ones” and we set off to visit the Angel of the North.

I like the angel – though many don’t – and I have to say it took me while to get used to it, but now? well, I love it, although I don’t see it up close very often – this was only my second visit!  I find I have this in common with lots of people around here – we see it regularly, drive past it often, see it from the train – but almost never get up close.

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It was a cold day, and while this photo looks quite sunny, it was freezing cold; not long after I took the photo, it started hail stoning so hard that it stung the children’s faces.

Their task was to draw the angel – and they did their best , with freezing fingers, to do the angel justice.  And while the children were busy drawing, I had time to wander around and take in the sights.

It’s a special place up on that hill. The angel has become a focal point, not only as a landmark, but as a special place; a place where people bring memories and prayers.  At the bottom of the hill there is a small area of newly planted trees, some with ribbons and teddy bears tied to them.  Many with prayers and cards attached.  I had heard that not long after the sculpture was finished, it was discovered that people were writing prayers on pieces of paper and tucking them into crevices under the angel.  And it seems that people visit regularly, almost as a pilgrimage?

While a relatively new addition to the northern landscape, it appears that this has become a very special angel for some visitors.  They have no need of a church, or a pastor – simply a focal point in a special place with the open sky over their heads, and to be left alone with their thoughts.  I don’t know how many of these visitors would call themselves “religious”, but somehow they are finding comfort by bringing their concerns and spending time with the angel.  Would you call that God working in their lives? I might!

As we left it seems that the gigantic figure had made an excellent impression on the children too – as we walked through the snow to the bus, they all turned around and waved and shouted “goodbye angel”  I was touched – I had a lump in my throat – and I don’t even know why!


Community Lounge

Last Wednesday our church hosted something new.  A community living room – or “lounge”.  This is an idea from the Greening Wingrove project, providing space for people to simply meet and talk.  These community sitting rooms are going to be held in different venues at different times, but with the same purpose. We had balloons, knitting, a guitar (just the one and out of tune), a laptop (with internet), coffee, fruit, samosas, music and a whole array of other stuff for people to use while they chatted.

We didn’t have many takers – but it’s early days – and those who came enjoyed just sitting and talking about anything that came to mind.  Subjects ranged from world problems to knitting patterns – it was fun and stimulating and I really hope it takes off.

Building community isn’t easy, we chatted about this while we were knitting squares for who knows what – trying to find some kind of “focus”, even a temporary one, that might bring people together – not necessarily always agreeing with each other, but at least facing in the same direction.  We all went away with a resolve to meet again soon (this Saturday at the bike garden) and hopefully come up with some more ideas.  Well done to Johurun, Abi and Alice from Greening Wingrove, who put so much effort into everything they do!