I was doodling in my notebook, a variation on something I’d done before, when I noticed it looked a little like a fingerprint. Doodling is a form of meditation for me, it keeps me busy so that the other side of my brain can get a word in. So, I started thinking about fingerprints and wondering why we have them and why they are unique to us. Which led to creativity being a bit like a fingerprint and how each of us has a unique way of expressing things. All the while making these shapes on the page in black and red.
Some time ago, I was thinking about the Incarnation, the Christian belief that God became a human being, literally “made meat”, and it struck me that Jesus had a unique set of fingerprints – God with fingerprints. We’d been watching a lot of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation at the time and I started to imagine Gil and the team turning up to the crucifixion crime scene. This is what I wrote…
He empties himself,
The limitless, limits himself,
Sheds forever and takes on …
God with fingerprints.
If only CSI had been there in their beetle black SUVs shining blue light on wine jars in Cana,
Dusting the faces of the untouchable,
Touched by the one who loved them.
Peering through microscopes at crumbs of bread; analysing fish oil,
Extracting DNA from a flake of skin found in a pool of expensive perfume,
Cordoning off the crime scene with tape,
Taking blood samples, slivers of wood,
Checking iron nails on the spectrometer,
And later looking on in confusion as a living, breathing victim shakes their hand and says that an autopsy is unnecessary.
I looked down at the slightly dishevelled 9 year old in his blue school jumper. His grin was ear to ear, obviously very pleased with his find. It’s the sort of question that sets off alarm bells in someone who has worked with children for a long time. I immediately had visions of sharp and jagged things.
“Yes,” I said emphatically.
He held out his hand.
This time last week I was sitting in the sun and working on a mini metal art piece; 75 small objects all connected together for people to explore. I got some very encouraging comments when I posted a picture of it on social media. One of our lovely American friends, a brilliant photographer and artist, mentioned that she hoped it included a metal washer. This is not as random as it may first appear – she collects washers that she finds lying on the ground and then makes beautiful art with them. I said I would add one but I could only find a corroded old washer and I was worried it might discolour some of the other objects. Never mind, one would turn up eventually – they always do (which is worrying in itself; shouldn’t they be doing the thing they were designed to do?).
I looked down at the boy in blue. In his hand was a small, shiny metal washer.
“That”, I said, “is just what I’m looking for. I’m going to put that in a piece of art.”
He beamed at me, gave me the washer, and went off to make mischief.
I may have an overactive imagination (I do) but in that moment it felt I heard a still, small voice whisper, “Don’t worry. I’m still here”.
So I spent some of the day, sitting in the Spring sunshine, making an element for one of my prayer boxes. There are 8 prayer boxes currently under construction and I’m working on the one called Wonder at the moment. When you open the box you’ll discover, amongst other things, a mini sculpture made up of 75 small metal objects. Some of them were found, some were discovered, some were made.
Purposely, there are no instructions. I want people to discover their own connections to God, to forge their own links, and to allow themselves to get lost in Wonder.
I remember Lauren Laverne talking on BBC Radio 6 about the vastness of music and how sometimes we need maps from those who’ve gone before us. It really resonated with me. There is so much music out there, more than ever before, and sometimes it’s difficult to find. Of course, there’s Spotify (and other platforms) but where do you start with 50 million songs to choose from?
I’ve been lucky in my life to meet lots of people, many of them music fans, so I can get some starting points from them and explore a little on my own. Sometimes one song recommendation opens up a whole new genre and I can spend days lost in French Cafe Music or Soul or Delta Blues or even German Industrial Electronica. Sometimes the recommendation doesn’t do it for me but that’s OK, I can usually find something else that does.
Occasionally though I strike gold and along comes someone who is obsessed with music. They live and breathe it. They know how everything is connected. Best of all they know, after just a few questions, what I’ll like. They don’t give you one recommendation, they give you a hundred, and each new link opens doors into whole worlds of music. I was lucky enough to meet another one of those people yesterday and now I’m neck deep in new music, at least new to me, and “kid in a candy store” doesn’t quite cover it. I have armfuls of tracks which I’ll drop because there’s something wonderful over there that I haven’t tried yet (don’t worry I’ll go and pick them up later), then I’m distracted by some piece I knew but had forgotten, and then there’s that version of that song that is even better than the one I already love. Oh my.
While sometimes the world seems to be falling apart (again) and our leaders seem to have totally lost the plot (again), it’s good to remember that there is infinite wonder out there. Not just music and literature and images and makes but ideas and grace and love and peace. And, yes, we have to try and help to make the world a better place to live in, but we can grab handfuls of wonder to help us.
Bik & Bok is the third story in the Tales from a Small Blue Planet saga (it’s not really a saga but doesn’t that make it sound grand?). After this we’re going to take a break for something different but we’ll revisit the denizens of that strangely familiar planet later in the year.
Bik & Bok
On a small moon circling the small blue planet, there lived two creatures. One was Bik and the other Bok. Some people said they were different, but that didn’t even start to explain this strange pair! They were total opposites, like the chalkiest chalk and the cheesiest cheese. Like the hottest fire and the coldest ice. What one liked the other did not. What one did the other did not. Except… They both loved meteor storms, huge big rocks falling out of the sky. Well, it takes all sorts! They were both members of the Intergalactic Debris In Our Time Society (IDIOTS to you and me) and each had one hundred books on the subject of meteors. But apart from this they had nothing in common.
Bik was happy but Bok was not, Bik was bright yellow but Bok was not, Bik liked lime jelly sandwiches but Bok did not, Bike played the trombone but Bok did not.
It so happened that during the month of Do (the other month was Don’t) a huge meteor shower was due to light up the sky of the small moon where they lived. Never before had so many rocks fallen from the sky. This was the big one, the main event, the real deal, the unmissable, unstoppable, greatest of al – it was quite important! Bik and Bok were very excited but, of course, in very different ways.
Bik looked for a good spot but Bok did not, Bik packed himself a nice lunch but Bok did not, Bik wore an “I love meteors” T-shirt but Bok did not, Bik picked a snazzy hat but Bok did not.
And so came the day of the meteor shower. Bik set out with his lunch nice and early and strolled to the place he had chosen on a leisurely walk the day before. He had decided that to get the best view he would climb to the top of a huge, solid rock as old as the moon itself. He climbed steadily and carefully, taking time to work out all his foot and finger holds. At the top he looked at his clockometer and found he had time for a lime jelly sandwich before the show started.
Bik was early for the show but Bok was not, Bik was full of yummy food but Bok was not, Bik was ready and relaxed but Bok was not, Bik was enjoying his morning but Bok was not.
Bok woke up late and fell out of bed in a panic. He ran around in circles for a while until he realised that it was not getting him anywhere and then ran outside. He ran back inside and changed out of his pink pyjamas and into some proper clothes. Then he half ran, half walked, trying to tie his shoelace on the move. Not a good idea unless you like falling down a lot. He completely forgot his hat, his coat and his food.
Bik was playing the trombone but Bok was not, Bik was watching the sky but Bok was not, Bik had lots of time but Bok did not, Bik was ready but Bok was not.
At the last minute Bok arrived at the site. He was tired, hungry and generally discombobulated. He looked up to where Bik was happily waiting; it looked like a good place. It looked solid, reliable and had a great view. He looked down to where he stood. It was muddy and he could not see a lot. But Bok stayed where he was. He couldn’t be bothered to climb the rock – it was too much effort. “It will be just as good from here,” he said to himself sulkily, but he didn’t really believe it. He knew the rock was the best place to be. On top of the rock Bik started to count down. “10, 9, 8…” In the mud Bok was shrinking. At least, that’s what it felt like. He looked down. He wasn’t shrinking, he was sinking. Right up to his knees. “7, 6, 5…” Right up to his waist. “4, 3, 2…” Right up to his neck. “1!” Bok sank completely into the sticky mud making a tiny shloop sound as he did.
Bik watched the biggest meteor shower ever but Bok did not, Bik saw the sky turn orange, crimson, and pink but Bok did not, Bik jumped up and down with joy but Bok did not, Bik was as happy as could be but Bok… well, Bok was not.
This is another story from the mostly forgotten, Tales from a Small Blue Planet, a book I wrote in the early Noughties (is that what we’ve finally decided to call that decade? Seven Billion people and that’s all we’ve got?). The stories are based on the parables of Jesus and this one is obviously (I hope) a re-imagining of The Lost Sheep. I hope you like it.
One of Our Bloopers is Missing
As you may know, bloopers come in all shapes and sizes. You probably even have a favourite. Maybe the wooly blooper or the spotted blooper, maybe the giant blooper or even the big-bottomed blooper. You may also know that bloopers gather together in herds with a mixture of every kind of blooper. If you have studied Bloopology (as I know many of you have) you will also know that each blooper makes its own sound and when mixed with the sounds of all the other bloopers, this makes music. This is no ordinary music. The music made by bloopers is soothing and calm and makes even the grouchiest person happy. It is like the first spoonful of your favourite pudding. It is like stretching in bed when you know you do not have to get up. It is like your favourite day.
But did you know that if just one blooper stops singing, the music goes wrong? It sounds almost the same but with something missing. Then it is like going on a journey and knowing you’ve forgotten something but not being able to work out what it is. It is like that feeling in your tummy when you first realise something has gone wrong. It is like an itch, an itch you cannot scratch. One day El got that itch. El looked after the bloopers. He knew them all by name, even Bo and Jo the twins, who he never got mixed up. He helped them to find snuzzleberries (a real treat for a blooper), he removed tangles from the wooly ones, he made sure the smaller ones were not accidentally trodden on by the larger ones and sometimes he would sing to the music they made. He loved them very much.
On the day that El got that itch he was sitting on his favourite rock on the hillside above Blooperville watching the bloopers at play. He had just finished curing San, a crested blooper, of the hiccups when he noticed that something was not quite right. He looked around and there in the distance was Bloo in a place he should not be. Bloo was a spotted blooper, a curious one at that, and sometimes he would wander off. Most of the time it did not matter because he did not go far and always came back when El called him. But this time Bloo could smell snuzzleberries. The smell was so strong that at first Bloo thought they must be quite near. So he went a little way from the herd in search of the snuzzleberries but he couldn’t find them. He crossed the stream and started to look around on the next hill but still he could not find them. At the top of the hill Bloo heard El calling his name. He knew he should go back but the snuzzleberries could not be far away and they smelt so good. What a feast it will be, thought Bloo. He pretended not to hear El calling him. I will just get the snuzzleberries, he thought to himself, and then I will go back.
So Bloo carried on his search, getting further and further away from the herd. Over streams and across fields he travelled, around huge trees and through small bushes. Soon he found himself at the edge of an emerald forest. The afternoon sun shone through the dancing leaves, the birds sang and the grass was soft under his feet. He looked all around but still couldn’t find the snuzzleberries. He searched under the jumble bushes and behind the findle trees but still nothing. The smell was very strong now and Bloo searched even deeper into the forest, and there he found it. What he found was not a snuzzleberry bush at all but a thorny snaggleberry bush. As all good Bloopologists know, snaggleberries smell a bit like snuzzleberries but they do not taste as good and they give you tummy-ache. Maybe I should go home, thought a disappointed Bloo. But when he looked around him all he could see was trees and their branches did not seem so pleasant now that the light was fading. He could not remember which way he had come and could not think which way to go. He was lost. Back on the hill above Blooperville, El shouted as loud as he could, calling Bloo’s name, but Bloo did not turn around. In fact, Bloo disappeared over a distant hill. “Do not go anywhere, and stay out of trouble,” said El to the rest of the herd and with that he set off to find Bloo. When he reached the top of the hill Bloo was nowhere to be seen but El guessed he must have gone into the forest. He sniffed the air. “Snaggleberries,” he sighed.
Bloo, meanwhile, was trying to get home but no matter how he tried, he always seemed to end up back at the snaggleberry bush and now he was hungry. He looked at the snaglleberries. Just one will not hurt, he thought – and ate three. He tried to convince himself that they were not that bad and ate five more. Soon his tummy started to hurt and he felt woozy. Bloo fell over, right into the thorny snaggleberry bush. He tried to get out but he couldn’t. He was tangled in the spiky branches and the more he struggled the more tangled he got. Why did I wander away? thought Bloo sadly, and he gave a little bloop: “Bloop!” “There you are,” said a voice. It was El. “Oh Bloo, you have got yourself into a real mess. Let me help.” El waded into the snaggleberry bush and though it scratched his hands and his feet, he didn’t care because he loved Bloo and wanted to see him safe. Soon El had lifted Bloo from the snaggleberry bush, and gently carried him back to the herd. When he got back he had lots to do. Two sticky bloopers had stuck together, a short-legged blooper had fallen over and could not get up, and a long-tailed blooper had a sore tail from being stood on by a (very embarrassed) big-footed blooper. El put Bloo on the ground and watched him for a while as he played with the othe bloopers. “Bloopers,” said El, shaking his head. And he listened to the soothing music they made.
In 2004 I had a book published containing some of my short stories. Tales from a Small Blue Planet, still available on Amazon if you search really hard, is a re-imagining of the parables of Jesus set in a fantastical world. I rediscovered it recently and set myself the task of recolouring the illustrations. This is the first of nine stories. I hope you enjoy it.
Once on a small blue planet, a long way from here, there lived people just like you and me. They may have lived in different houses and played different games, they may have eaten different food and spoken in different languages but inside they were just the same. Now this small blue planet was closer than normal to the stars, so close in fact that on occasion, dust from those stars would fall through the sky and land twinkling on the ground. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you might be walking through the jumble bushes and see, on a flower petal, a shining speck of stardust. The people of this small blue planet spent lots of time searching high and low, far and wide, hoping all the time to find even the tiniest speck of stardust. It wasn’t the fact that it shone even in the day or that the colours were so beautiful – the real reason was that when you held the stardust in your hand something very special happened. As you closed your hand around it a warm feeling started to grow somewhere deep inside you. The feeling grew and grew until you were warm all over and then it happened. Suddenly you remembered all the best bits of your life, all the happiness, goodness, fun and laughter, and not only that, the stardust reminded you how special you really were. Special, not because of what you had done or how much you had, but because you were you. So you can see why so much time was spent looking amongst the twizzleberries, just in case a small speck of stardust had fallen there. One day, one of the people of the small blue planet (she was called Halbonbaltiddlyaljofal but her friends called her Hal for short) was out in search of stardust. Like all of her people she was loaded up with all her possessions. That’s the way her people liked to do things – they carried everything. When i say everything, I mean everything: all their clothes, all their bedding, all their shoes, all their special things. Hal kept all her special things in a beautiful red leather bag. People even took their not so special things everywhere, like the pink bunny suit a distant aunt had sent them for their birthday. Some people believed that the more things you had, the more important you were. Hal dreamed of finding even a tiny piece stardust but no one had found any in such a long time and Hal had never even seen any. Now Hal was very clever and instead of looking under the snoring stones or among the dillydaffs like the others she stopped and thought for a while. Where can I find some stardust? Where does it come from? Where would it land? she asked herself. She looked up to the sky and then looked all around and when she had finished thinking she knew just what to do. Across the river was a high hill and on the high hill was a findle tree which grew higher still, higher than anything around. That’s the place, thought Hal. With all her possessions still strapped to her back, she crossed the river and climbed the hill until she came to the base of the findle tree. It was enormous. Even though she was already tired from scaling the hill, Hal started to climb the findle tree branch by branch, rising higher than any of her people had ever been before. Finally she reached the top of the tree. The branches were narrower here and could barely hold Hal’s weight but she would not give up. Very carefully she pushed her head through the last of the findle leaves and looked around. There, not far from her, she saw a piece of stardust, not small at all, but as big as a pebble. Hall just stared. She had never seen anything so beautiful, so bright, so alive with colour. Just looking at it made her want to cry with happiness, to sing and dance and shout. Not that she did, you understand, for dancing and thin branches are not a good combination. Eventually Hal reached out, stretching as far as she could, but she couldn’t get the stardust. She climbed a little further up the ever-narrowing twigs but her weight made the branch bend further away. No matter how she tried she couldn’t reach the stardust. Tears of frustration filled her eyes but she wasn’t about to give in. As we already know, Hal was very clever and she stopped for a while and thought. How can I reach the stardust? What can I do? she said to herself. She looked up to the stardust and then looked all around and when she had finished thinking she knew just what to do. Hall undid a buckle and removed a strap, and a sack of not very important things, including a ghastly pink bunny suit, fell from sight and crashed through the leaves never to be seen again. The branch moved a little closer but nowhere near enough. Though it was hard, Hal undid some more buckles and straps and three bags of important things fell away, never to be seen again. The branch moved a little closer to the stardust, and Hal reached out, stretching her fingers as far as she could, but it was still not enough. Though it was harder still, and not many others had ever done it, Hal undid even more straps and buckles, and two bags and a box of very important things fell through the tree never to be seen again. The branch moved a lot closer to the stardust but still Hal could not reach it. Hal had one bag left, her beautiful red leather bag containing her most precious things. After a moment she even dropped that too, never to be seen again. The branch moved, Hal reached out as far as she could and plucked the stardust from its resting place. Carefully Hal climbed down the findle tree and sat with her back against the trunk, exhausted. She could not take her eyes from the shining beauty of the stardust. Carefully she closed her hand around it and felt, deep inside, a warmth that grew and grew until it filled every part of her. She started to remember all the best bits of her life, all the happiness, goodness, fun and laughter. Then she remembered how special she was, not because of what she had done or what she had, but because she was Hal, Halbonbaltiddlyaljofal.
I love bacon. This is going to be a short post because there isn’t much more to it than that. Good, responsibly sourced, well fed, piggy goodness, is one of the things that makes life, not just good, but great. Biting into a bacon butty (that’s a sandwich to those of you not from the North West of England) is just pure joy and if it’s accompanied by fresh ground coffee, freshly baked bread, and BBC Radio 6, then surely this is the forecourt to Heaven. And, if God is even partly who I think he is, he’ll be along very soon to share this moment with us. Yep, I love bacon.
When I say I went to Catholic schools and had a very non-tactile, emotionally remote family, you’ll understand that I didn’t receive the best sex education during my formative years. In fact, I’m squirming a little bit just writing this (I didn’t giggle when I wrote the word sex, so that’s progress).
Sometime around 13 years of age, the girls in our class were taken away for some mysterious reason that was never mentioned again – all we gleaned was that they came back with glowing red cheeks. The boys remained with a very uncomfortable male teacher who described, in a monotone voice, how we might have urges and, if we did, to just – don’t. I was looking out of the window at the time so I didn’t get the full story.
The playground, however, was a rich learning environment where the wiser, older kids imparted their knowledge and experience. It turns out (sometimes embarrassingly late in life) that most of of it was wrong, dangerous or impractical; but we were in awe of their prowess and maturity and longed for the day when we too would do the thing – you know, the thing.
One day at home, there was a knock on my bedroom door. The door opened before I could get there and a book was quickly propped against the wall and then the door was closed again. This was not uncommon; Dune and Lord of the Rings had both appeared in a similar way. I gathered up this new treasure only to discover it was different to the others.
It was a pop-up book of the human body.
It took me quite a while to realise, (I think it was pages 10 and 11) that this was meant to be my complete guide to intimacy, sexuality and gender.
It happened. Yesterday. The thing I’d been waiting for. After a busy but rewarding day at work, I drove home, tired but content. It wasn’t quite dark and the light lingered a little longer. The traffic was bad but I didn’t mind, I like driving, I like the flow of it, the streams of red & white lights and I was enjoying the music coming from the last in-car CD player I’ll ever own.
Finally, I pulled into the drive, turned off the lights, the engine, the music – reluctantly – and took a breath. To the west the sun was finally surrendering with a watercolour flourish. I got out of the car and stood for a while enjoying the scene and there he was.
Three houses down, singing his heart out, a blackbird. If ever there was a symbol of hope, there he was, perched on a chimney pot, his beautiful song announcing that Spring was not far away.
Every year I wait for him. Every year he fills my heart with joy. Every year I know that Winter is nearly over.