The Struggle and the Cup of Coffee

I write this with no sense of where it might end up. The title came first: The Struggle. A stream of consciousness or, maybe, a river of unconsciousness that might transport me, who knows where? Maybe? Anyhow, I thought I'd share it with you all.

At four this morning (yesterday now), I woke up, made a Camp Coffee (yes, you can still buy it from Sainsbury's, and it is still delicious). I burnt the milk because the saucepan is a cheap one and far too big for the amount of milk needed for my cup. The rim of browned milk around the inner surface of the pan caught my attention: 'why does it do that?' Concern came over me that my coffee was going to taste burnt like a lapsang souchong camp coffee. I need not have worried; it was a delightful brew. Amid this micro saga, the word struggle popped into my head. Why would I think this? However fundamentally important this first drink of the day maybe, I cannot justify the word struggle even with the potential lapsang thing. I stared at the used saucepan in that 'morning bewilderment' we have all experienced like a trance, but not at the same time! 'Milk is a water-based fluid, an emulsion, it has loads of stuff in it like protein, minerals, and carbohydrates' I thought randomly.

'There are many modern variants of milk (are they milk at all?)' the randomness continued.

'Full fat, semi-skimmed, completely skimmed, lactose-free, soy, almond, rice, oat, Yak's, goat's, sheep (why don't we put an S on this as all my European friends do when they say 'look at all those sheeps'? It always makes me smile), buffalo, A1 and A2, hemp, kefir, coconut. So many, it must be a nightmare working in Costa, I would struggle to remember them all!' There's that word again - struggle. I thought of a Costa Coffee, milk-related, struggle - a decaffeinated, yak's milk frappuccino, came to mind. I initially thought of a decaffeinated sheep milk frappuccino but decided the issue with the S would be too much to bear. Despite the complexities of lactation and how we have had to make multiple versions to satisfy our changing tastes and health fears, it couldn't justifiably conjure up the word struggle! Or could it? The Oxford English Dictionary defines struggle as to contend (with an adversary) in a close grapple as in wrestling. There is no doubt that the notion of struggle is poignant right now. The world seems to be struggling. I can hear her breathing a big sigh of relief as we're all locked away. The air is cleaner, and the seas are bluer, there are more wildflowers, the sky is free of contrails, the waters of Venice are clear, animals are reclaiming city space, I even saw in Country Living that cows have been reintroduced to The Giant's Causeway. I read an inspirational article on BBC Future by Isabelle Gerretsen on how the lockdown is helping wild bees - how lovely. As we look out of our windows or take our daily allotted walk, we are appreciating the beauty of nature. The other day I cycled through Firestone Copses and saw the bluebells. The sight took my breath away for a moment. This blanket of blue, this sheen of colour punctuating the greens of Spring, a breathing living lapis lazuli. At that single moment, I felt elation and great sadness in equal measures. The contrast between these feels as distinct as the line between the green and blue of the forest floor. They struggle for position; dominance in my mind.

Maybe herein lies the struggle? In the contrasts. Yes, in the contrasts that are all around us and especially so at the moment. The dissonance between beauty and destruction between kindness and exploitation between hope and despair between past and present. There, at that moment, a whole world of contrast filled me, caught in the bluebells whos 'blossoms have the mightiest power to soothe my spirit's care.' The Earth, as she gifts us such beauty, also faces 'contrasts', those of overconsumption, acid rain, global warming, habitat destruction, ocean acidification, plastics, and many more. She is struggling. Or is she, I tend to think she's got in all in hand.

As a species, we face a time of technological miracles, a never seen before mastery over our environment, but also poverty, inequality, bigotry, misinformation, marginalisation, simple human requirements like clean water and sanitation, sexism, racism. Vast populations of displaced people with an unprecedented 59.9 million around the world forced from their homes. 20 million refugees. World starvation and the distribution of food and nutrition with 800 million people around the globe undernourished in 2016, I am not sure of today's statistic, but I can only assume it has gone up! There are also profound challenges to and discontentment with democracy. Increasing polarisation, political paralysis, perfidy, and the monumental, almost redefining, impact of the use of data gathering. When we look at the Cambridge Analytica saga, and the use of data profiles from 87 million people collected by Facebook, we begin to see how targeted political advertising during elections redefines, or adulterates, the word democracy. Struggle takes many forms and is embodied by contrasts. At a personal level, the struggle can be as vast as it is for the planet. The struggle to be seen, recognition, struggle for meaning, feeling heard, having to justify ourselves, being taken seriously, or humorously, of feeling loved or completing our homework. Sometimes walking across the room is a struggle. For some getting up in the morning is a struggle, cooking breakfast, affording dinner, or even having the confidence to talk, go out, get a bus. The struggle to be - just be.

I think of those bluebells, that beautiful blue hue, that 'this' of the moment. I want to sit amid those flowers to contrast the struggles I feel, the struggles I hear and see. I cannot find the words but am reminded of the wonderful poem by Anne Brontë The Bluebell. When I first read it, I thought the ending sad, but I think the core of the poem is a message of hope and that is it better to learn from the past than to be caught up in it. The mourning rising from the bluebells is a turning point. It is a new insight and a new beginning from previous struggles. The beauty of the bluebells is the contrast to the 'toilsome life'.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells In every little flower, Each one its own sweet feeling breathes With more or less of power. There is a silent eloquence In every wild bluebell That fills my softened heart with bliss That words could never tell. Yet I recall not long ago A bright and sunny day, 'Twas when I led a toilsome life So many leagues away; That day along a sunny road All carelessly I strayed, Between two banks where smiling flowers Their varied hues displayed. Before me rose a lofty hill, Behind me lay the sea, My heart was not so heavy then As it was wont to be. Less harassed than at other times I saw the scene was fair, And spoke and laughed to those around, As if I knew no care. But when I looked upon the bank My wandering glances fell Upon a little trembling flower, A single sweet bluebell. Whence came that rising in my throat, That dimness in my eye? Why did those burning drops distil — Those bitter feelings rise? O, that lone flower recalled to me My happy childhood's hours When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts A prize among the flowers, Those sunny days of merriment When heart and soul were free, And when I dwelt with kindred hearts That loved and cared for me. I had not then mid heartless crowds To spend a thankless life In seeking after others' weal With anxious toil and strife. 'Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times That never may return!' The lovely floweret seemed to say, And thus it made me mourn. As my brain finishes this journey looking into the saucepan, I trott upstairs to the study to write it all down, muttering to myself 'Don't cry over spilt milk (or burnt milk) Gaz' Remember you might feel like a lone bluebell, isolated, alone, but remember you are also beautiful, and your blue hue is precious. Stay safe Gaz

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