Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Why Kili and Tauriel won't snog in The Hobbit

So I watched The Hobbit – the Desolation of Smaug over Easter – cosied up by the fire with a dog on my knee, wearing a beanie.  Yes, yes, I know, I know.  I said I wouldn’t watch it; said I hated The Hobbit.  But a few people told me to stop being so picky, so finickity, that I should forget about how it bears precious little resemblance to the book and that I should ignore the fact that it’s been stretched so far that its plot might snap into three overworked exhausted pieces.  And then the nice people at ThinkJam sent me a copy, along with a very fetching beanie hat so, really, it would have been rude not to…right?

And, actually, it was fun.  But then it got me wondering.  About dwarves. They’re having a bit of a moment right now.  I mean Gimli in Lord of the Rings was a bit of a false dawn but those Hobbit dwarves are pretty darn cute (well okay, three of them) and then there’s Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones and then there’s…well…okay, but that’s still four dwarf sex icons going on, isn’t it? 

But then I started thinking about it.  In practical terms.  And there’s a problem, isn’t there?  I mean, you just can’t get around the height differential.  You can’t snog someone who’s a couple of feet shorter than you are, can you?  Well, you can, but it can’t be spontaneous - you’d have to sink to your knees or hoik your snogee up onto a handy nearby wall.  Okay, you might say, so skip that bit and go horizontal. But then…well… you can’t attend to both ends at the same time, can you?  

Am I being picky here?   I’m not being dwarfist btw.  You’d equally have a problem if your chap was mega tall.  I was looking at these pics of celebrities who have huge height differences and my neck ached just thinking about it.
It’s a funny thing this height thingy, isn’t it?  I clearly remember when I was at school, a (to my mind) hulking 5’ 8”, a veritable Sansa Stark, thinking that I would have to spend any date shuffling along the gutter in flipflops, dodging drains, while my hypothetical boyfriend strode along the pavement in stack heels.  I even started developing a bit of a hump from hunching over.  It took me years to walk tall.  
But why?  Why does it matter so much?  Why do women want tall men?  Or rather, why do they want men who are taller than they are (because it’s all a question of degree – if you’re 5’2” you’d probably settle for a Tom Cruise-alike, right?)?  And if you’re 5’2” and still going after the over-six-footers, basically you should back off and leave them well alone.  The gangly tall girls need them way more than you do. 

But really, why?  I hunted around and found very little research.  All that’s out there simply confirms that women like men to be taller than they are, and men like women to be shorter than they are.  The women surveyed said they wanted to feel delicate and secure, while the men said they wanted to feel masculine and protective.  Yee-awww…

But again, I started pondering practicalities.  Cos all the attraction stuff comes down to procreation, right?  Bottom line, we are hardwired to fall for people who will give us good babies (when we're young enough to have said babies, of course).  And big tall men could be perceived as being a better bet (to our slow-to-catch up primeval hardwiring) than stumpy little shrimps.  But then, if you’re a tiny woman you don’t want too big a guy, do you, or you’d be stuck trying to push out a monster baby through your size sub-zero pelvis (now I'm thinking of Twilight – yes, I watch way too many crappy films and no, I know he wasn't taller but he was dead for pity's sake and rock hard - yes, yes, enough already).  So basically I reckon it’s way better to stick to someone who’s kinda roughly the same as you – just a bit taller for those snog practicalities. 
Which made me think about that dwarf-elf romance going on in The Hobbit.  Are we going to see some elf/dwarf love action in part three?  Probably but they'll fudge it. Cos, let’s be honest, it’s just not going to work, is it?  I mean, the snogs would look downright daft (unless there’s a handy gutter). And yes, yes, I know he's 'tall for a dwarf' but still...I went checking for pics of Kili and Tauriel together and, yup, you guessed it - there aren't any - well, not standing next to one another. Game of Thrones, of course, is braver - no shilly-shallying there.  And, well, Tyrion Lannister...
What you reckon? Would you?

Anyhow.  The Hobbit – the Desolation of Smaug (which reminds me, something else - ‘Smowg’ rather than ‘Smorg’? – do they know that’s how Tolkien said it?  Cos I’ve always said Smorg) – not bad.  Sorry, very very infeasibly long bracket there.  Oh, and nice song at the end too.

What?  The beanie?  Sure.  Here you go.  J

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Noah, Ham, Eggs, incest and Arne Naess.

We never go out as a family...well, barely ever.  Should it worry me, I wondered?  I asked one of my family-friendly friends about it and she laughed bitterly.  'Sure, we go out,' she said.  'But it always ends in tears. Someone has a hissy fit, someone gets drunk, someone sulks, someone stalks off and we all come back not talking to one another.'  
'But at least you try,' I said wistfully.

So last Sunday I watched people talk about trips to the beach, to the park, to the cinema, to the...well anywhere and everywhere really. Even church.  And I thought, well really, this is ridiculous. If you want something, you have to do something about it, don't you?  You can't just sit and wish. Adrian was in Amsterdam, so he was out of the equation.  But surely James and I could do something?  So, when he came home from work, I smiled brightly.
'What's going on?' he said, suspicion etched across his face.  'What do you want me to do?'
'Nothing,' I replied.  'I just thought we could go out.'
'Go out where?'
'Taunton.  Grab a pizza and then see Noah at the Odeon.'
I shrugged. It seemed pretty self-explanatory to me.  'Well?'
'Not today.'
And he switched on his XBox.  I shrugged, lit the fire and sat and watched The English Patient until it got just too sad and so I switched off and just watched the flames instead wondering which would be worse - to be dying in the dark in a cave or to be unable to rescue the person in the cave.  And I figured the latter was definitely the worst.  By a long shot. 

Then, suddenly, on Tuesday.  
'So, are we going to the cinema tonight, Mum?'
'Yeah.  Y'no, Noah. Pizza. Pizza.  Noah.'  

It felt weird.  I haven't been to a pizza place for years.  Literally.  I don't even eat pizza, for pizza's sake.  But it was fine.  And Noah?  Well, having booked the tickets, we read the reviews. Yup, wrong way round, I know.  Dire. Really dire.  

But, you know, it wasn't that bad.  Okay, so every time someone shouted 'Ham!', we whispered 'Eggs!' to one another.  And I can't remember the Bible saying The Watchers helped Noah and Co build the ark, nor that they looked like stone giant transformers, but hey.  And it was quite a neat idea to turn Noah into a sort of deep green eco-warrior (Arne Naess might have approved) - though, again, not terribly Biblical.  And, of course, you have to suspend disbelief at...well, everything really.  But hey...
'You know they've still got a problem,' said James as we left the cinema.
'I mean, they'd have to wait for the babies to grow up and, even then, it's still incest, right? Pretty much.'
And then we fell to thinking about the animals. Whether the moment they woke up from their incense-induced sleep and got off the ark, the meat-eaters would just go nutty and decimate the herbivores or whether they would give them some kind of headstart.  And how would the carnivores survive if they were expected to wait for their food sources to get up their numbers?  
Not to mention the fact that, having been asleep for all that time, none of them would be able to move anyhow, cos of muscle wastage. 
'Why are we even doing this?' I said. 'You can't take the Bible literally.' 
'You can't take the Bible at all,' said James.  

Anyhow.  We did it.  Half a family outing.  In fact, we even managed to tie up all the ends very nicely and pick up Adrian on his return from Amsterdam.  And the fact he hadn't seen the film didn't make one iota of difference.  In fact he had far more opinions on it than we did.  *smile*

What about you?  Do you do family outings?  Are they a generally 'good thing'?  I mean, you could argue that there's Noah and his family off on a boat trip (with the family pets).  And how does it end up?  Bonding exercise?  Or... someone has a hissy fit, someone gets drunk, someone sulks, someone stalks off and they all come back not talking to one another?  :-)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Please help my lovely talented friend

Now then.  My friend Solange Noir, Soli.  You've met her - and her stunning photographs - before. Here. And here.

Here's the thing.  Soli needs to move.  Pretty urgently.  And, like most of my dearest closest soul friends, she's...well...pretty broke.  She's been offered an amazing place to move to in Tucson and now she's just gotta get there.  And, yup, America's a big place and moving is expensive so...she needs funds urgently.

And it occurred to me that if even a tiny fraction of my readers bought one of her stunning photographs, that would be it. Problem sorted.  It's another of those win-win scenarios really.  Soli gets to move herself and her kids into a healthier, happier environment while you get...something amazing.

Her prints start at $60 - though I confess I'd love a truly vast one.  Maybe those lips...maybe a flying squirrel...maybe a dark and silent pool.  Anyhow...please take a look.  She rotates her shop every month but will merrily dig down through the archives if you're after something in particular.  And please, if you know any cool and delicious shops or cafes or businesses that might like something rather special for their walls, put them in touch?  And if you're broke?  Hey, I understand, truly I do...maybe just spread the word instead?  That's good karma. The fox will bless you.

Come on, guys.  This is what the Internet does really well - spreading the word, doing a little bit of good from time to time.

Is there any rampant self-interest here?  Well, sure.  At some point I'm gonna go visit her and I'd much rather loll around in Arizona than Washington DC.  But...seriously...I just want all the people I love to be happy and healthy. That's the bottom line.  Please help any way you can.  
Forgotten the link?  Here we go again...  Solange Noir.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Gomasio, pomegrates and ras-al-hanout - cooking for mind, body and soul

Okay, so I've been trying to cook a bit more.  Make more of an effort, kitchen-wise.  And my inspiration this week has come from the divine Shruti.  Shruti runs Fairfield House, a vegetarian bed and breakfast in Williton in Somerset - mid-way between Minehead and Bridgwater.  Fairfield House also hosts gentle detox weekends, silent meditation retreats and mindful cookery courses.
Shruti's food is all cooked with total mindfulness and love, and somehow you can tell, by the taste and the way it makes you feel.  Did you know that the nutrient power of food is boosted if you cook it with intention? Apparently tis true.  You can read more about mindful cooking and soul eating in The Energy Secret, should you be interested.
Anyhow.  Shruti gave me some of her recipes and, continuing the spirit of giving, I thought I'd share them with you.

Soda Bread (makes one small loaf)
Now then, I rarely eat normal bread because, although I love it, it doesn't love me.  Three slices of toast and my intestines are outgymnasting the Olympics and the resultant wind could power a small nation all by itself. But Shruti makes this with spelt flour, which is a lot kinder on the guts.  You can use whatever flour you prefer, of course - rye and whole wheat also work well.

2 cups (220g) spelt flour
1 cup milk (almond, soya, or dairy)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Mix the apple cider vinegar and milk and set aside to curdle.
Mix the dry ingredients together, sifting so they mix well.
Add the curdled milk (it will look a bit yellow) to the dry mix and make a rough textured dough. Don't over-knead.
Roll into whatever shape you fancy (round is traditional) and bake in a hot oven at 180 C/gas mark 4 for 45 minutes.  Eat warm from the oven.

Note: You can add anything to this really - herbs, seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, olives.

Oh my!  This was a revelation to me.  It's a macrobiotic seasoning that is said to de-acidify the blood.  In addition it's supposed to strengthen the digestion and improve energy levels.  But, above all, it's totally delicious. Sprinkle it over grains, vegetables, salads, whatever.  Utterly yummy.

Dry roast sesame seeds (do lots as I guarantee you'll regret it if you don't make lots).  Add some pink Himalayan salt or tamari.  If you're using salt add it to the hot pan, after roasting.  If you're using tamari, wait until the seeds have cooled down.
Now grind them in a coffee grinder.
Keep in an airtight container out of direct sunlight.  They will be fine for up to a week (but I challenge you to keep them that long).

Lovely version of an old favourite.
225g red or white quinoa/frekeh/bulghur wheat
pinch of salt
350ml cold water
Flat leaf parsley
Seeds of one pomegranate
Bunch of spring onions
75g pine nuts - dry roasted
2 medium carrots, coarsely grated
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice

Cook the grain until al dente.  Make a dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, honey and seasoning to taste). Add all the ingredients to the freshly cooked, warm grain and then pour over the dressing.
Quinoa is an ancient Inca grass that purportedly contains all the amino acids the body requires.  Pomegranate is high in fibre, vitamin C, potassium and flavonoids. Plus it's delicious.

Beetroot and carrot salad
1 beetroot
2 carrots
1 clove garlic
Cumin seeds, ras-al-hanout
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh mint
Organic cold-pressed rapeseed oil
Sea salt or Himalayan salt, freshly ground black pepper
Toasted pine nuts

Grate the beetroot and carrot.
Make the dressing with the oil, lemon juice, garlic, mint, salt and pepper.
Dry roast the cumin seeds and the ras-al-hanout.
Mix all the ingredients and then pour over the dressing.  Mix well.
Garnish with mint and pine nuts.

Beetroots are  high in fructose, B9 and vitamin C.  Carrots are high in beta carotene, vitamin A and fibre.

I confess I love this because it gives me an excuse to use the ras-al-hanout I brought back from Morocco. You can either buy this spice mix on-line or make your own.  Shruti, of course, makes her own...mindfully.

Anyhow try them...let me know how you get on. Oh, and don't forget to eat mindfully too - savour each mouthful.  Put your cutlery down in  between mouthfuls.  Breathe.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Meditating on pain; arguing with the boot

So, I have been meditating on pain.  Not out of choice (because that would be a bit perverse) but because one meditates on whatever comes up really.  I was lying there, in bed, wondering quite how to get through the night, and I thought about how pain is a message.  Pain is simply the way our body tells our mind that something is wrong.   So I acknowledged it, thanked it for letting me know all wasn’t quite right (okay, not remotely right), and promised I’d sort it out in the morning.  But it didn’t go.  So I furrowed my brow and said, ‘Okay, body, what’s this pain about then?’  And my bodymind threw out an image of a sort of dark cloud that coalesced into a boot which kicked me in the guts again and again.
‘Ouch,’ I said.
‘Yeah,’ said my bodymind.  ‘Ouch indeed.’
‘So you’re not going away?’ I said.
‘In the dreams you won't be having, baby,’ it said, and ramped up the pain factor a bit, just to show who was boss.

Well, screw you, pain, I thought.  But, of course, becoming tense and angry just made it ten times worse.  So that was when I figured I might as well meditate it.  I mean, pain is just our mind, right? It’s just messages from the brain.  So there must be an override switch, right?  And meditation works pretty well for emotional and mental pain, so why not physical?  After all, where does one end and the other begin, huh?  The boot laughed and said, 'Just our mind? Just messages? Just?  Just? JUST?'
I tried breathing it away but that didn’t work – the breaths were too long, they stretched too far. So I took the focus smaller and smaller, into each moment.  And started wondering what exactly a moment is; how small it can be.  My focus shrank smaller and smaller still.  And smaller...  Until, suddenly, there it was – no pain.  Just a sensation.  And this is nothing new but it struck me that pain is a time construct – a combination of past memory and future fear.  Rather like music.  More and more these days, as I listen to music, I find myself thinking how funny it is that we can ‘like’ a song, a piece of music, a symphony, a whatever.  When really all we ever hear in the ‘now’ is a single note or even just a part of a note.  It is purely our mind, flicking back and forth over time past and future, that creates a hologram of the whole piece of music.  And, of course, that goes for everything really – every poem, every book, every meal, every drink, every joke, every dream, every kiss, every orgasm, every day, every year, every life.  Every thing.  Strings of moments that we tug together to create meaningful ‘wholes’, chunks of time that become events or things. 

Again, nothing new.  All very Zen.  But, actually, very damn useful.  Of course, it’s hard to keep it going hour after hour.  I would struggle with pain-free meditation for eight hours.  But it bought me time.  It's buying me time. J

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Should you disarm the axe-murderer before torniqueting limbs?

So, this morning I packed my son off to Dartmoor for a practice hike and camp for the Ten Tors Challenge. I double-checked his rucksack, his rations, his waterproofs and overnight kit.  And felt a huge wave of nostalgia wash over me at the sight of him, in his girt big walking boots and gaiters.
James and I don't share much in the way of common pursuits.  Outside school, he lives for sport and gaming. He's a sociable animal on the whole.  Whereas, at his age, I spent the majority of my spare time in my room, painting, drawing, dreaming by candlelight, listening to music, strumming my guitar (poorly).
So it's pathetically pleasing to me that my fifteen-year old self and his share one pursuit - getting out into the countryside with a bunch of pals and doing stuff, usually in bad weather, usually in considerable discomfort. When I was fifteen or so we used to go to the wildest places we could (geography and funds allowing) and camp (usually in mud and rain and sleet) and then head off hiking or kayaking or whatever.  Return to our tents soggy and shattered, and usually try to brazen our way into the nearest pub in the hopes of drying out in front of the fire (if we managed to snaffle a pint or two of Old Peculier or similar, so much the better).
'You're so lucky,' I said to James.  'In my day...'
'You didn't even have a tent? And you walked barefoot.'
'Ha ha!  No.  But we didn't have all this high-tech kit.  It took weeks of blisters to break in a pair of walking boots.  We used to douse our feet in white spirit to toughen them up.'
'Not drink it?'
'Ho ho.  But seriously, my rucksack weighed a ton before I even put anything in it.  And there just weren't tiny super-warm lightweight sleeping bags and our waterproof gear wasn't breathable so, at the end of a day's hiking in the rain, we'd be all soggy and cold.'
He just nodded, blithely unaware of just how much has changed in the last forty years.
'Now turn off your phone, okay?' I said. 'So you don't run out of battery.'
I phones, for pity's sake!  Sat nav!  We had to rely solely on map and compass and orienteering skill.
In fact, we used to do bonkers extreme stuff, like hiking all through the night in teams with bizarre challenges being thrown at us.  For instance, you'd be wandering along when someone would come racing out the trees at you, waving his arms and shouting in some foreign language - the challenge being to discover what he wanted and how to help him (or, alternatively, how to disarm and disable him).  Or you'd come across a mocked-up accident scene and have to triage the whole thing.  Or get across a river using bits of wood and pulleys.  Or rescue people from smoke-filled basements.  Now I come to think of it, it was all a bit odd.  But the idea was that you had to work as a team, problem-solve, keep a clear head and just...manage.  I loved it.  So much so that, our team having retired after a few years, we used to return to take charge of the accident scene.  Having a dramatic and macabre turn of mind (and being overly partial to gory horror films at that point) I masterminded scenes of ever-increasing carnage until the organisers quietly thanked us and said our services were no longer required (this might have had something to do with the four boys who fainted when confronted with the dilemma of what to do first: take out the axe-wielding madman on the roof of the mini, torniquet the various stumps, put scattered limbs on ice or slap the hysterical shock victim.
I could never figure out pulleys, sheer legs and so on...that was Jennie's job. 
Anyhow.  I digress.  Today I am staying warm and dry (in the car, hopefully later by the fire) while outside it is pretty foul.  But, you know, I envy my son, I really do. Out on the moor.  In the wild.  In the wet and wind. Wonderful.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

Meditation is the pudding of yoga
So, it was lovely to be back in my normal yoga class with the fire roaring inside and a horse mosying around the garden outside, in front of the window.  But at the end of the class I puzzled, as I always do.  When it's time for our final meditation, the vast majority of the class pack up and leave.  Why?  WHY?  I love the asanas, the vinyasas and so on but, well, meditation is the best bit of all.  Isn't it?  Leaving before meditation is like having a fabulous meal at a smart restaurant and getting up and walking out before pudding.   Or, if you'd rather have a sexual metaphor, it's like having tons of foreplay and then going, 'Nah, I won't bother with an orgasm, thanks.'
Each to their own, I suppose, but really the whole idea of physical yoga, yogasana, is to prepare oneself for meditation.
Yesterday Lucy and I were the only two who stayed and Miranda led us in a really lovely meditation.  I thought I'd run through it here in case you wanted to try it.  Truly, there is no one right way to meditate, you can do whatever floats your boat.  This is fancier than my usual practice but I like it.

Sit comfortably.  I tend to sit in half-lotus (purely because it's my most comfortable seated posture) but really just sit in any way you feel comfortable - cross-legged, or in a chair. But do try to keep your spine straight if you can.  If not, again it's fine - you can lie down if sitting hurts (but you might nod off!).  The main thing is to find a position which is easy to maintain.  You may well want to pop on a pair of socks and put a blanket or throw (snuggly of course) around you to keep warm.

Place your hands somewhere comfortable.  I usually have my hands on my knees, palms up, thumb and forefinger touching but yesterday we interlaced our hands in our laps, with our thumbs touching. Curl your tongue up so the tip touches the top of your mouth.

Become aware of all the sounds around you.  There's no need (and no point) in trying to block out the world around you - become acutely aware of it for a while.  If a sound intrudes when you're meditating, simply acknowledge it and then let it go.

Now do the three-part breath.  Breathe in to your belly and, two, three, four.  Without exhaling, take the breath further up into your chest and, two, three, four.  Now take the breath right up to the top of your head and, two, three four.  And then exhale, let it all go.  Of course, if you struggle to hold your breath so long, take it at your own pace.  Repeat the whole process once more.

Now become still.  Imagine you are sitting on the top of the highest mountain in the world.  You're calm, peaceful, warm and safe.  Bring your attention to the area just above and between your eyebrows, your third eye area.
The mountain drops away beneath you, becoming smaller and smaller as you find yourself floating up into space.  The Earth falls away beneath you and it too becomes smaller and smaller until it becomes a pinprick and then vanishes altogether.

You are alone in space, in perfect warmth and darkness.  You feel total peace.  You are a part of the universe and it is a part of you.  Feel it.  As you breathe in, you can say the word Relax in your mind.  As you breathe out, you can say the word Peace.

If you find your mind wandering  (and it will) don't be cross with it, just gently bring it back to the breath and return your focus to your third eye.
Stay like this for as long as you like.  It's pretty addictive.

Once you feel it's time to return, simply pause and become aware of the room around you, the world outside your mind.  Now perform the three part breath exercise three times to bring you firmly back into your body.  Rub your hands together vigorously to generate warmth and then place them over your eyes.  Open your eyes inside the palms of your hands and feel the warmth.

Bring your hands together in the prayer position in front of your heart chakra and give thanks to the universe. Namaste.

via Christina Renee