Morning Tears

I pulled over into a driveway, the usual busy morning traffic continuing to flow steadily past me; tears streaming, body shaken with sobs. As I heard the opening lines of Judy Collin’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”, all my senses were flooded with vivid flashbacks to Scotland, 2011: the texture of the grey skies above Inverness; the feel of my mother’s icy hand in the casket at the Undertaker’s rooms; the full-bodied sense of loss and disbelief in the first days of heart and mind trying to understand a world that would never hear her living voice again.

As I felt my chest constrict, breath burning against my raw throat, I welcomed the pure intensity of feeling and expression – waves of relief as I simply let the grief flow freely for a few minutes, before thoughts started to intrude and I began to draw back into the present once more.


Yesterday, I sat in a room where she had sat many times, years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day beginning to concretely conceptualise and draft a plan for an exciting new project, as I prepare to move into a new era: leading an organisation where she had worked, planned and created change for many years. I have been very clear within myself that I have not made the decision for sentimental reasons (although the synchronicity is certainly pleasing), but to satisfy my own aspirations and passions. I am not rigidly or blindly following my mother’s path, but making my own unique way – and my skills are in many ways quite different to hers, yet there is no doubt that as not only mother but friend, first employer, mentor, teacher, coach, support and guide, my values and interests overlap to a large degree with her own.


I found myself energised and excited throughout the day yesterday, but by the evening I was exhausted. This morning I woke sore-throated and flu-achy, flooded with sorrow, and this evening (cuddled under a warm blanket, the winter rain pouring outside, load-shedding candles flickering), I feel calm and reflective. Thus flows life, and my very human emotions: never static, flowing onwards, unfolding as I embrace each moment at a time.


Across the morning sky,
All the bird are leaving,
Ah, how can they know it’s time for them to go?
Before the winter fire,
We’ll still be dreaming.
I do not count the time
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Lucky (Kat Edmonson)

Feels like this;
Your heart upon your sleeve.
There’s a place,
In time and space,
We can all be free.

So meet me at the rainbow’s end.
We don’t even have to pretend
That we know what it is we’re looking for,
We’re looking for.

Life is just a dream…
Lucky you;
Lucky, lucky me!

Life is just a dream
Lucky you;
Lucky, lucky me!

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You Begin (Margaret Atwood)

You begin this way:

this is your hand,
this is your eye,
this is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye
This is your mouth, this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colours of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.

This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colours
than we can see.
It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

The Power of Conversation

I have had some interesting exchanges in various mediums following my posting on The Power of Listening a few days ago. One of them was an email conversation with someone for whom I have enormous love and respect, and I have shared some of this discussion below. I am left, as so often in my life, with a heart full of gratitude for each person that provides me with fresh perspectives, and the opportunity to explore, expand and better express my own thinking. Thank you to each one of you.

DH:You put it well, Laurel. If only all people who worked in development began their work listening and learning from the people they aim to “help”, development might be a lot more productive. I’m constantly appalled by the belief that this relationship is one way: from me the provider to you the beneficiary. And your observations are definitely the correction needed.   Continue reading

Glühwein recipe for a winter’s evening

Glühwein is one of our favourite drinks for a sociable, chilly evening, and tastes especially good when sitting outside around a fire, as we did tonight. With the winter solstice fast approaching, and the evenings long and cold, we’ve taken to making our Glühwein in an enamel kettle, so it can sit keeping happily warm next to the fire.


After some experimentation, we have typed up our current favourite version of this traditional recipe. Continue reading

Epiphanies (Chris Zithulele Mann) – Yourfavourite poem

Laurel's Reflections:

Ah, they published the poem I sent through… It’s been one of my favorites since I first read it, nearly two decades ago.

Originally posted on




If suffering, its persistence

is a mystery

then so is joy.


Walking at dawn I found its music

drenching me utterly,


and couldn’t convey

more than a trace of it,


a man with headphones, stepping out a subway


leaping with a laugh in the air.



Whoever grew wise without sorrow?


Whoever loved

unless they trusted enough to bleed?


And who understood

till they’d shivered in fright at their ignorance?


Like dew

smoking off the bumpers of parked cars


such epiphanies

from time to momentary time



then evaporate.

Chris Zithulele Mann




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The Power of Listening

I have been meandering my way through “The City of Joy”, a remarkable book written by Dominique Lapierre and first published in Great Britain in 1986. Some of you may be more familiar with the 1992 film adaptation starring Patrick Swayze, which whilst having a powerful influence on me as a teenager, doesn’t begin to capture the complexity and subtlety of the book.


Within its pages, in beautifully flowing and descriptive text, we are introduced to some of the characters the author met and interviewed during three years of extensive research in India.

Tonight, as I read the passages I have quoted below, I was struck by how many profoundly simple lessons need to be constantly gone over, decade after decade, as we continue to struggle to uplift those living on poverty – or, rather, as we should be conceptualising the issue, to support and enable those living in poverty to uplift themselves. This simple shift in phrasing highlights two of the main recurring errors of much aid and development work:

  1. To think that we are indispensible in ‘rescuing’ the victims of poverty. This view tends to lead to solutions that require the continuing presence of such saviours.
  1. We – as development practitioners – think that our education, research, experience and knowledge make us the sole experts, and that we can use these alone to develop the best solutions for others.

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