Well I meant to have a little rest after all the Advent blogging, but not to be away for quite as long as this. I went down with a virus just after handing in a particularly demanding assignment – there are many things about student life that are actually easier when you are older, but staying up late to write essays is not one of them.

Still, there were some consolations about languishing in my sick bed and one of them was fellow mature student Jacqueline bestowing the ‘one lovely blog’ award on me. It was a wonderful surprise and cheered me up completely. Thank you so much, Jacqueline.

Although the award did not stipulate this, I would imagine I am supposed to pass it on. The problem is that nearly all the blogs I read are written by people who have been around for years and have thousands of followers and probably hundreds of awards too. So instead of directly passing it on, I thought I would share with you some of my favourite posts from the many I have read in the last couple of weeks.

Even if you don’t like knitting, you should take a look at this amazing design from Kate. I think it is something like a work of art. And in many ways it is typical of Kate’s blog, too – done to an extremely high standard but full of fun at the same time.

I have been visiting the Lake District since I was seven years old and many of my very happiest memories involve tramping the fells either alone or with people I love. So I was quite envious when I read that Felix was heading that way to record some sheep and develop a wool-related art project. Of course sheep are an essential part of the Cumbrian landscape; even so, when I listened to her first recording, of a Rough Fell ram, I was amazed that tears immediately sprang into my eyes. It seems that for me the sound of sheep has a direct link to some pretty deep emotions. Her sheep pictures are fabulous, too.

Moving some way away from sheep, this review of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American deals brilliantly with issues of colonialism, culture and mission.

Official ‘eco nomad’ Nick recently returned from Romania where he witnessed at first hand a fast-vanishing way of life on some remote hillside farms. His thoughts and pictures are fascinating.

Finally, here is a beautiful post from the ever-wise Soulemama on the importance of living life at the pace of your children (when they are small, that is – I definitely don’t plan to live life at the same speed as my teenagers do).



children of silence 1

I went to Bulgaria to look at the work of the Cedar Foundation,a charity run by some good friends of ours who have a passion to see abandoned children moved out of orphanages and into high quality, community-based care. As part of my trip I got the chance to look around a couple of orphanages. This is the first of two posts about some of the children I met.

The orphanage is a bit tatty outside but the inside is clean and bright with freshly painted walls. A lot of overseas donors have invested here and it shows. There is equipment to help some of the disabled children and the grounds are reasonably well maintained.

Nevertheless, there is something that bothers me. As we walk through the rooms, I try to put my finger on what it is. Despite the colourful furnishings and the jolly pictures on the walls, something is very wrong.

It is only when we reach the babies’ dormitory that it hits me. Eight babies, all awake, lie silently in their cots. I have a sudden flashback to when my own children were that young. I know only too well that a wakeful baby in a cot might burble for a bit if you are lucky, but sooner or later that child is going to yell to be picked up.

There can only be one explanation for the silence of these babies, and that is that they have long since stopped expecting anyone to respond to them.

I walk over to a gleaming white cot where a little boy of about 10 months is lying quietly on his side. I crouch down and smile through the bars. His limpid brown eyes barely flicker. Slowly I push my hand towards him and stroke his finger. Suddenly his expression quickens and he sits up and looks at me. Then his face cracks open into a miraculous smile. I notice his two top teeth are just pushing through the gum.

I reach down and pick him up; he snuggles into me. The director of the orphanage tells me his name is Stoyan*. He arrived aged three months and weighing only five kilos. I bury my face in his wispy brown hair and inhale the delectable smell of baby. He is plump now and his fat fist grips my little finger.

The group I am with is moving on. Reluctantly I turn to put him back in the cot. As I prise open his hand to release my finger, his face crumples.

Now I am leaving the room and it is no longer silent. Stoyan is wailing, a high, heart-rending cry of distress. And I, like every other adult he has ever known, ignore it and walk out of the door.

For the rest of my stay in Bulgaria, I am haunted by the memory of Stoyan, and of the other children in that room. The twins who were abandoned by a woman who already had six children. The little girl with a kidney problem who was going to have her photograph taken for an adoption magazine. ‘Wish her luck,’ said the carers, cheerfully.

I am ashamed to remember how my children’s yells used to irritate me. On the flight home, a girl in the seat behind me cries on and off for the entire three-hour journey. I am no longer annoyed. I have understood something about crying children – that their distress is a sign that they are healthy and that they expect, rightly, that when they are upset, someone will respond to them.

*names have been changed