On those things we disinterestedly enjoy

This, friends, is a tapestry – a rather large tapestry in fact – hanging on my wall, that I both like and am embarrassed about. I bought it from a Salvation Army shop when I was driving through Nowra on my last holiday, because I saw it on the wall and liked it. Since then though, some days I look at it and think ‘that is so daggy Alison’ (and given the origins of the word “daggy” there is some truth in that) and ‘it is not even retro cool, it is just out-of-date uncool’ etc. But then I look at it again and I decide I still actually like it. I like the impressionism of the trees and shadows and the light. I am wont to think the Heidelberg School fellows would not entirely disapprove. And I like the colours (a greyish green is my current obsession). Then on the back it says ‘Returning Home’ by WE Mitchell, 92,500 stitches. Perhaps because my life is founded on metaphors the idea of sheep returning home through a dying light appeals to me. I do very much like the idea of sheep (the actuality of sheep, particularly the tall, big-headed Australian merinos blundering about when they have just been shorn is a little different) and of the great Shepherd.

I painted the frame of this tapestry though, as it was wooden with gold edges, and there was a little too much gold blazing in parts of it.

I find there’s a temptation on blogs and social media, at least for me, to edit out, or somehow apologise for, those things that, while I shamelessly enjoy them in private, I know are not in any way going to make me look artsy or stylish (I view enough blogs to know all about mid-century and Scandanavian décor and bright abstract wall art and what is hip and what isn’t – and often feel aware that what I like is not quite that, even while I like some of that but it’s just not what I have ended up with in my little house where the only thing in the loungeroom that was bought new is one bookshelf).

At the moment I am re-reading The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, because it was a book club book, and I am very much enjoying revisiting it. I was intrigued again by this little portion, which has affirmed me somehow in my liking of a sheep tapestry, so I am herewith embracing it and showing it to the world:

Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves that ever. Hence, while He is delighted to seem them sacrificing even their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any other reason. And we should always encourage them to do so. The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. I myself would carry this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The main who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.


  • "When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves that ever."

    I needed to hear this little bit just now. Thank-you for posting.
    I wonder, have you gotten to listen to the Radio Theatre version of this book? (http://www.screwtape.com/downloads/) It's quite well done, definitely sounds sinister. Looks like it may be time I listened to my copy again! Thanks for the reminder.

    And P.S. I like the feel of 'Going Home'; it depicts my favorite time of day very nicely–the golden light, the shadows. And best of all the sense of there being a shepherd in the wings bringing us all home. It's a keeper ( :
    –Linda Dawn

  • I love the tapestry! If ever you decide to part with it, it would be welcome in our home. I too have a penchant for the idea of sheep and shepherding, ever since I traveled up into the mountains of Greece and watched from high above the valley and the hills of an olive grove, a shepherd tending his flock, their bells tinkling the only sound marring the silence. My love for sheep was renewed during my trip through the Yorkshire dales and Lake District, home of Beatrix Potter. *Sigh*

    Being trendy is over-rated; being Real is what counts.

  • Thanks so much Linda and Rebecca. I now feel less embarrassed, and maybe less crazy!

    Glad it was helpful Linda. I haven't listened to that version – it is not John Cleese reading it is it? That I would like to hear also.

    Rebecca, I've never been to Greece but I absolutely loved the sheep in the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District also (I have a good many photos – especially of any of the little chaps with the black faces). My Pa (grandfather) was also a sheep farmer, and my childhood and even university days were surrounded by sheep, so there is a good measure of nostalgia mixed in there also.

    I shall keep the tapestry!

  • Love this, and the tapestry.! Fond memories too of the sheep from our recent trip to England, Scotland, and Wales. Also remember seeing sheep in Bulgaria about nine years ago and noticing that there was always a shepherd nearby. Thanks to Linda for the link, I must listen to it soon. I once loaned my copy of The Screwtape Letters to a dear old man who returned it very promptly and in distress, declaring he couldn't continue to read it and "had to question Lewis's salvation!" The poor dear had little sense of literature and irony.

  • Oh, I wish shepherds were still a thing here (though imagine it is not the most efficient means of raising sheep in this vast country). Oh dear, that is too bad for your dear old friend. It is a strange mental adjustment you have to make to read the book, but that is part of what makes it so clever.

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