Sunday, 13 October 2013

A dozen Mills and Boon and a book about Romans

Stony Stratford is a great community to live in. It's friendly place with many different events going on, most of which are family-friendly. I often tell people who don't know the area (and who know we are part of the car-is-king, sprawling Milton Keynes) how great it is that we have everything we need in walking distance: a mix of shops, restaurants, banks, pubs, riverside walks, the library.

Ah, the library. What a shock to the town when its closure was announced a couple of years ago. As regular visitors with the kids we really felt a special piece of Stony Stratford was to be taken away and feared a general decline of the High Street as a result.

Fortunately we were not the only ones to feel this, and there were some passionate people ready to co-ordinate protests against the plans. Posters appeared in shop windows, a petition circulated, but then a truly inspired idea took hold: everyone was to take out as many books as possible over a few days to create empty shelves - an imaginative way to show commitment to the library and the cause of keeping it open.

So a couple of days before the end of this protest I went along to find the library was already looking sparse. It was moving to see it in this state - what an endorsement for the library staff who must have feared for their jobs, to know the library was valued so greatly by the local population.

The kids wanted to join in this 'Wot no books' campaign too, but there were hardly any children's books suitable for them left by then (they were only five and two at the time). We took out a few books, including a relatively advanced text book about the Romans, and I ended up with a load of Mills and Boon (well at least they would be light to carry home). We didn't quite reach our quota - 15 books each for three of us would have been rather too much for me to carry, but we did our bit. The library was stripped of books and the story was covered by local and national press adding weight to the campaign.

What jubilation when the library was given a stay of execution and now the Town Council have stepped in to look after the building while Milton Keynes Council continues to provide the library service.

This week we had the pleasure of being invited to the screening of a documentary film about campaign which included interviews of people involved, including local children (Pippa among them). It made me feel very grateful to the Friends of Stony Stratford Library (FOSSL) who made it all happen. Without these people supporting the great asset that is the library, and the strength of the community spirit in our town, we may have lost our local library.

The film is on Youtube at:

I'm pleased to say it is not all Mills and Boon and Romans for our library borrowing these days. Pippa is devouring all the Jacqueline Wilson books in sight, and my most recent read was the thought-provoking 'Long Song' by Andrea Levy.

So thank you FOSSL and library campaigners of Stony Stratford, we are very appreciative of all you did to preserve our access to quality books and the wonderful place that is the library. May it continue to thrive for years to come.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Making the most of every day

I'm not the only person who's had cancer who feels that, having been shown how short life could be, they need to make the most of the life they have. But this is often more easily said than done. How do you make sure your life has purpose and meaning? And that it is blessed with fun and love along the way?

When I was ill I was fabulous! Even if I do say so myself - I was focused on being well. It was almost as if I was thriving on showing how well I was, and how I was dealing with it all. Of course I had my moments (and I thank the family and friends who took the tears on their shoulders), but I managed to more or less ignore the gloomy statistics for someone with Stage 4 bowel cancer and get on with whatever the medical profession advised was in my best interests, never really doubting that I would not get through it in the end.

I don't think those are the rose-coloured spectacles looking back. I do remember the pain and exhaustion in hospital sitting alongside a very powerful urge  and determination to do whatever was necessary to get out of there and to be back with the family. I am rarely so assertive. Generally, there was no time to think about long-term work and life plans because it was all about making sure that I got better and that the family were looked after through this phase.

After a year of treatment, followed a year of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. It was great to be putting something back and doing my bit to support people going through some of what I went through. Now, though, it is hard to know where to put the effort. I've been inspired by various events and people recently, but I still don't know what it is I'm inspired to do!

At Yorkshire Friends Holiday School this summer I was inspired to think about my Quakerism and what that means to me. I came back and for the first time wrote to my MP to protest against the proposed military action in Syria. I wonder whether I will start to become more political or more of an active pacifist?

I'm inspired by people who follow their dreams. I have some half-baked ideas of things I might like to do one day, but I am not harbouring any burning ambitions that I know in my heart I need to pursue. I just keep churning over the ideas because although I lack that obvious goal, I just have that nagging sense that I'm not fulfilling my potential at the moment. This is where a desire to make the most of precious life can turn into unhelpful pressure. It is probably also not helped by balancing my needs with those of the family (not that our needs are always at odds, but we have an uncertain time ahead of us and we need to be flexible to cope with potential upheaval down the line. We need an income!).

At the same time as this niggly feeling that I now need to be doing something else, something more. something bigger, something better, I do realise that even thinking about how to live your life is a bit of a luxury. When you are facing extremes (illnesss, poverty, sudden bereavement, etc) you have no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and get through the day ahead.

So, until I start the next big thing I will continue to do a little bit of this, and a bit of that - enjoying being around to pick up the kids from school, a Macmillan coffee morning or two, time with family and friends, keeping up with exercise. When it comes down to it, these things too are important and precious. While waiting for the next big thing I mustn't forget to enjoy all of the many little things. Not making the most of any given day, shouldn't overshadow the opportunity to make the most of the next day, and the one after that.