To the wind.

  • By Maxine Gregory
  • 18 Feb, 2017

Today,  I'm throwing caution to the wind (a quality my husband loves about me!) and consequently adding a blog to my Maccy Books website. It's a good way to share any information and is probably also quite cathartic! The website is up and running, the books are in and we're ready to go. I'd like to give a little shout out to Sabena J Hawthorne for her bright illustrations, which makes I Can See the New Testament such a fun read, and to my husband for setting up the website.

So, Happy Saturday everyone!

Earth Day

By Maxine Gregory 05 May, 2017

Mental health is always a tricky one. Not only are our wonderful minds completely unique, which makes managing mental health a minefield, but there still seems to be a stigma attached to seeking help or providing support when things go wrong. Comments such as ‘stiff upper lip,’ ‘men don’t cry’ or ‘man up’ are thrown around with little thought. These coupled together with other comments such as ‘she’s got everything she could possibly want in life’, ‘he’s too young to have mental health issues,’ ‘it’s just hormonal’ or ‘find yourself a real problem’ are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to unhelpful attitudes and remarks. Not only do these attitudes make it worse for those suffering individually with mental health but they can also dishearten the family and friends who have recognised the problem and are trying to help their loved ones. Seekers of help can be made to feel as weak failures and those who try to help are sometimes viewed as indulgent, pandering to attention-seeking, feeding misery… and so on. When you are desperately thinking of ways to stop your loved one from hating themselves, before it escalates into something irreversible, a little kindness and understanding goes a long way. Anything else creates walls so tall you can barely see the light at the top.  


Thankfully the Royals of my generation, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are tackling this stigma head on. They realise that this stigma prevents people from obtaining help and that leaving people to suffer with their mental health alone can destroy lives beyond repair. They have put together a fantastic charity called Heads Together. You may have heard about it in a certain royal conversation on Radio 1 or you might have seen a sea of blue headbands bopping up and down during the London Marathon as wonderfully courageous runners sweated their way around the streets of London. The charity ‘aims to change the national conversation on mental health and wellbeing’ and has drawn upon the support of many existing partner charities: Best Beginnings , CALM – (The Campaign Against Living Miserably ), Contact (a military mental health coalition) , Mind , Place2Be , The Mix , Young Minds , The Anna Freud Centre .


I regret to say I only knew that one of these above partner charities existed. Sadly, my attention was brought to this charity when a former younger colleague (who was incredibly bright, kind and on the brink of a really promising future) took his own life. Everyone at work was stunned as he seemed so happy and positive. It was - please excuse the cliché - completely out of the blue. His family did not want flowers for his funeral but asked for monetary donations for their chosen mental health charity which, before this point, I knew nothing about. I thought that if anyone was desperately struggling with their mental health they could contact Samaritans (another fantastic charity) or speak to a doctor. However, thanks to Heads Together, the message is getting out there that there is so much more help available. The difficulty therefore now seems to be how to make people feel ok about receiving this help. It’s not enough for the help to simply be there if it is not utilised – people need to use it, especially as it can and does save lives.  


If we have a terrible cough we go to the doctors. If we fall over and suspect a broken bone, again we’d be there like a shot. There would be no problem in picking up the phone to make an appointment or asking a family member to drive us to A&E. Yet some of us might feel silly seeing a doctor because a loved one’s death from three years ago is still distressing us. We should be better after all that time. Some of us might not want to admit to anyone that they curl up in a ball crying every night, with their legs clamped together, desperately trying to repress giving birth to their beautiful child – it’s meant to be one of the happiest moments ever. Some of us simply don’t want to admit that we’re unable to shake an indescribably dark feeling and feel increasingly unable to go on living under its shadow. Nobody else walks round with a permanent black cloud around their head. Or do they?


The problem stems from the fact that there is nothing to see physically. Misery, fear, stress, distress do not show up on an X-ray. Mental health conditions can be denied altogether, ‘My Jimmy has nothing wrong with him; he’ll snap out of it.’ Perhaps it is why some teenagers I have worked with in the past cut themselves – they needed ‘to see’ their pain. Thankfully these young people have had or are receiving much needed help with their mental health but it got to the point that they first had to harm themselves physically to initiate the dialogue. They, like so many of us, were unable to talk about their mental health. Their struggles seemed unmentionable, insurmountable problems that could not be voiced because society is not used to discussing them. But for the sake of our mental health such challenges needs to be discussed, no matter how uncomfortable the topic. Our wellbeing comes first and this is what Heads Together is trying to get the nation to recognise.


If you suspect someone is struggling with their mental health, what should you do? Find excuses to pop round, of course. You need to be their sunshine. Sunny intervals are better than impenetrable cloud. Nobody likes a completely overcast day. Knock on your friend’s door and say, ‘I went to the shops and forgot my purse; can you spare some milk?’ Tap on your cousin’s window and announce, ‘As your gorgeous boy is such a massive Paw Patrol fan I’ve brought round my son’s old T-shirt; it’s getting too small for him now.’ In my opinion the wackier the excuse the better; it might get a smile. Tell your lonely neighbour, ‘There’s a spider in my house and I’m too scared to get rid of it. I think it might be watching me.’ Even if you don’t initially tackle the bigger questions, the person will know you’re there for them (literally, because they can’t get rid of you and you keep turning up like a bad penny!). Hopefully they will begin to feel less isolated and more willing to open up.


I feel very lucky. If I feel a problem becoming bigger, gnawing away, I like to blurt things out onto a page. When finished, I often feel that I’ve talked things out of my system. I call it a page belch. If I read it over to better organise my thoughts it becomes a page burb. A bit more editing allows it to become a page hiccup. Sometimes I’ll see it through until it resembles a coherent and structured piece of writing (Well, almost!) You do not want to see one of my page vomits – they’re very messy and most people would be unable to make head nor tail of them! Including me! Sometimes a page belch become a basis for a poem or a short story. The cathartic process turns things around for the better – the worry or feeling triggers the creative process and takes on a completely different shape. This process has also proved helpful for a handful of pupils I’ve taught over the years, allowing them a way to start a much needed discussion about their mental health. This then, of course, is passed on to the correct people who get in touch with different agencies to ensure the individuals receive all the support they need. It all amounts to the same thing – a way into that difficult but necessary discussion. Making mental health part of our everyday discourse and discussing it when we’re mentally healthy might be a way of easing discussions when something goes wrong.


At the end of this blog I am going to include a page burp which helped me get my thoughts in order to write this week’s entry. Do not fear – I would never let you see a page vomit or belch – that would be far too unpalatable! I’ve published it already on my Squiggly Scribbles and Wordy Wibbles Facebook page as I’ve recently only taken to writing haiku (a much more measured form) and sometimes I think it is healthy to open up and blurt out – something at the very heart of this piece.



So here it is!

D is for …
D is for Disappointed,
Sunshine glimmers into your darkness
And then it’s gone.
D is for Disappointment,
Sunshine flickers across your darkness
And gone.
D is for Disappointing,
Deflated, Depreciated, Disregarded, Defeated,
Disparaged, Diminished, Devalued, Degraded,
Downturned, Downgraded.
Sunshine struggles,
Scarcely surfaces.
D is for Devastated,
Dangerously Dwelling,
Dark Drop
Sunshine sinks,
Suffocates in shadows.
D is for Disaster,
Dejection, Deterioration, Desolation,
Darkness, Deadly Darkness,
No sunrise;
Impenetrable Darkness.
D is for Desperation,
Deterioration, Disintegration, Degeneration,
Debility, Disrepair, Dilapidation,
Dilemmas, Desperate, Decisions,
Decrepitude, Decay, Dereliction.
A young girl
giggles, startles you.
Sunshine strains to start another day;
A faint rainbow tints your darkest hour.
You don’t know the girl. You don’t know me
But we come
Each day, whether it’s for ten minutes or an hour.
Even though you don’t want us to.
I recognise your Darkness and Dread its return:
Dread it ever Despoiling my girl,
With its indifferent, deadly, far-reaching fingers.
So when you Despair,
Worrying about tomorrow,
Whether again the sun will surface or if you even want it to.
We’ll knock at your door
And turn D into Day.
D is for
Day after Day.
One Day at a time.
By Maxine Gregory 23 Apr, 2017

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Dame Jane Morris Goodall

The awesome Jane Goodall’s words seem to be a very good starting point for today’s blog which takes a look at Earth Day. I am unsure of when I first heard about Earth Day; I certainly do not remember knowing about it as a child. However, it was founded as far back as 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson. The day is celebrated worldwide (or Earthwide!) and allows us a whole day to reflect upon our environment and the ways in which we can look after it.

Off the top of my head, ways to help the environment would be to walk or cycle, leaving the car at home whenever possible; to switch over to clean energy suppliers; to recycle; to find interesting ways to use our leftovers; to grow some vegetables in our gardens alongside our flowers, shrubs and trees; to make sure we take part in local initiatives such as grow a tree day …etc. The list goes on and on. There are soooo many ways to have more of a positive impact on the world but why is it so important?

 I often think of the world as something we rent for a lifetime and then pass on to the next tenants (our beloved children, their beloved children and so on). You would hate for your child to live without a clean water supply or to live where food sources were unsustainable or somewhere at permanent risk from flooding and lack of sanitation. While we are here we need to look after the Earth as well as we can, to hand it over in the best possible condition. I would be proud of my time on Earth if I left it feeling I could not possibly have looked after it any better than I did. Obviously, I have got a very long way to go. Although I recycle I could probably do better. I should probably take the time to find the least packaged produce but sometimes a speedy shop (especially with children in tow) is preferable. While we cannot walk to the children’s school, as it is too great a distance, when we go on other journeys we should choose public transport now and then; the hulking buses are going to heave round the roads irrespective of whether we use them or not.  

One way to enjoy our fantastic Earth is to simply go on a bug hunt round the garden with our children, nieces, or nephews. They get so excited when they find an ant, woodlouse or worm that is impossible not to feel uplifted. Their excitement is contagious and becomes almost uncontainable at the discovery of a caterpillar – for some reason they are worth so much more - perhaps it is the promise of what they might later turn in to!  If you are lucky enough to live by the sea, or a river or woodland, these are landscapes of manifold treasures: crabs concealed under craggy rocks, tiny tadpoles wriggling in the pondweed, badger tracks and snuffle holes. Equally, if your legs are not up to such a walk, sit outside in the warming air, wander onto the balcony, open the window and hear the drone of bees and birdsong.

An important and interrelated part of looking after the Earth is also enjoying it. Conserving something you love and cherish is so much easier. So, no matter the time of year, put on your wellies and waterproofs, your woolly hat and scarf, or your suncream and sunhat and get out there! Make every day an Earth Day!

By Maxine Gregory 28 Mar, 2017

Perhaps it is because there is an abundance of daffodils right now, or perhaps it is because it’s the month of Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal or perhaps simply it is because it was World Poetry Day a week ago today and for me the choice was obvious.

Miracle on St. David’s Day by Gillian Clarke.

Gillian Clarke’s poem has been playing on my mind. It opens with a quote from The Daffodils by the wonderful William Wordsworth and tells the story of Gillian Clarke ‘reading poetry to the insane’ in the 70s. It is March and outside there are thousands of daffodils. During the session a dumb man suddenly stands, finds his voice and recites ‘The Daffodils. We are told ‘He is hoarse but word-perfect.’ A vivid memory triggered by the poem miraculously brings the man to life.

I believe I was in Year 8 when I first encountered Miracle on St. David’s Day. I felt genuinely moved and, on looking up, I was surprised that nobody else seemed to be absorbed. The boy on the table opposite (still a Facebook friend!) continued picking his nose, others were staring out of the window, a couple of girls were examining their fingernails... However, what recently struck me about this memory was that my normally vocal classmates were quiet; maybe appearances were misleading and they too were spellbound, “observ[ing] the flowers’ silence” in their minds’ eyes.

As a writer and a reader, I am fully aware that Literature remains alive long after the piece has been penned. The relationship between reader and writer is in a constant state of flux. Shakespeare can speak to our time about issues that never existed when he was alive because we bring our experiences to everything we touch. Gillian Clarke as a reader of The Daffodils was inspired as a writer and allowed Wordsworth’s words to overflow into her poem. When a writer writes they know what they mean to say but they have no idea what the reader might make of it. One of my year 8 classmates might have been touched by the man remembering something a lifetime ago, another might have appreciated the rich descriptions of the gardens.  Likewise a reader does not live in the mind of the writer and can only glimpse what the writer allows to be glimpsed (whether intentionally or unintentionally).

The line that I always remember from The Daffodils is “They flash upon the inward eye” and the line that has stayed with me from Miracle on St. David’s Day is “the daffodils are aflame.” Both lines capture the lasting impression inspired by daffodils. The brilliance of the yellows and oranges being ‘aflame’ is forever captured in my mind and, while Gillian Clarke might equally be referring to the man’s unfolding memory being ‘aflame’ (I would have to ask her!), I think she has beautifully depicted the daffodil as a symbol. A symbol of hope, joy, celebration... A symbol strong enough to move those struck by a ‘dumbness of misery’.

By Maxine Gregory 21 Mar, 2017

Yesterday was the Spring Equinox which means Spring is finally upon us. It has well and truly sprung! We have warmer air (today’s chilly breeze aside!), beautiful flowers and blossoms spreading flashes of colour and, at last, we seem to have lighter mornings and evenings. No wonder people are smiling more!


It seems to be a time of celebration, hope and fresh starts. There is Easter or Passover to look forward to, the Holi Festival of Colour, the Japanese televised Cherry Blossom Countdown, Nowruz, the last week of the Great Daffodil Appeal for Marie Curie, Red nose day this Friday and the list goes on... There are so many things, many of which I am still to learn about, which pull us together no matter our walk of life.


We also have our own traditions. Every Spring, my husband, children, sisters, their others halves and I head to Blean Woods for our annual Spring walk. We are all big kids and get extremely excited about going: looking forward to seeing who will spot the first bluebell, pretending we can still climb trees (celebrating when we stand on a branch about two foot from the ground!), pointing out the fairy homes (mossy tree stumps!) to the children, laughing when dogs emerge tinged green from jumping in the little brooks... The smiles and firsts from our Spring Walk are often talked about all year and keep us going until the next Spring.


What strikes me about Spring, and the vibrant versatility of ways in which it is observed around the world, is that there is a chance to have that new beginning or make a change - a chance to do that crazy fund raising activity! There is a chance to come together with family, friends and the greater community. There is a chance to be grateful and    thankful for whatever and whoever we have in our lives.  A chance to discover something for the first time or to see something in a new way. Spring, it seems to me, is bursting with hope and possibility . So go out there and enjoy Spring in the way that makes you most happy and sweep up your family and friends into your celebrations along the way!

By Maxine Gregory 15 Mar, 2017

Hopefully, this is the end of my technical issues and blogging will become at least a weekly occurrence rather than once in a blue moon!

Over the last few days, I asked fifteen children aged between 4-6yrs what do you like about Easter? There was no question about Easter’s relationship to chocolate – all fifteen children mentioned getting or eating lots of chocolate on the big day.Easter egg hunts were high up on the list too. Seeing family or having more time to play with Mummy and Daddy, making Easter cards (with surprising amounts of glitter) and getting another cuddly bunny for the collection also featured in the responses! 

What was not included in any of the answers was glaringly obvious so I rephrased the question to ask why do we celebrate or have Easter? The answers were very varied: some children listing several reasons, others struggling to think of one. Again, chocolate featured highly but some of the responses were very revealing about the values absorbed by our children early on. A highly perceptive boy told me it was so the shops could sell their eggs and make lots of money. Another boy said it was to say thank you to the donkeys and a little girl said it was for stroking the baby chicks and feeding milk to the lambs! What I loved about the responses was the enthusiasm and excitement generated by the question. I love the fact that children value time with their loved ones and look forward to seeing family they might not have seen for some time. I love the idea of them wanting to thank donkeys, cuddle up to lambs and care for our animals. The response however that tickled me most was ‘we have Easter to celebrate Jesus rolling a big, big rock like an egg out of the way.’ Besides this there were just two more responses that recognised any religious foundation: ‘because Jesus died and came back’ and ‘because God said it was good!’

Whether children have had a religious or non-religious upbringing, if you ask them why we celebrate Christmas, beyond the giving or receiving of presents, they recognise that it is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. However, it would seem their knowledge about Easter is much sketchier. Clearly, I know that the handful of children I spoke to were by no means representative but I wonder, if there is any truth in it, why do fewer children know about the meaning of Easter? Is it because there is no Easter equivalent for the yearly Nativity performed by excited children almost bursting with pride when their grown up comes to watch? Is it because adults dislike the idea of telling children about Easter because it makes for an uncomfortable subject – the reasons, the suffering…? After all, the birth of a baby is a much happier topic. Is it simply because no one equates a chocolate egg with anything more than a chocolate egg? Perhaps if we told stories about giant chocolate egg  shaped rocks  across tombs then children would know as much about Easter as Christmas!

By Maxine Gregory 18 Feb, 2017

Today,  I'm throwing caution to the wind (a quality my husband loves about me!) and consequently adding a blog to my Maccy Books website. It's a good way to share any information and is probably also quite cathartic! The website is up and running, the books are in and we're ready to go. I'd like to give a little shout out to Sabena J Hawthorne for her bright illustrations, which makes I Can See the New Testament such a fun read, and to my husband for setting up the website.

So, Happy Saturday everyone!

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