Sunday, 27 February 2011

Hades' bride

I intended to be productive today. I was going to sort out my admin and then crack on with my rewrite of Samael while the boys were at rugby. But my overzealous PC clean-up had deleted the wrong cookies so I couldn’t pay my bills and, while I was hunting through my desk for the codes, I kept crashing up against the past, time and again.

Letters from Therese, who died last year. A booklet on ‘handling grief’ given to me by the hospital when Mum had just died. And then an envelope full of bits and pieces of hers – her scratchy writing, little notes, bills, a signed blank cheque. And I just started sobbing all over again. Thankful that I could, that there was no-one to hear my sobs turn into howls, apart from the dogs.

I have been thinking about my parents a lot lately. Since I became ill, to be precise. My chest infection came seemingly out of nowhere. I had no cold, no sore throat to presage it. As usual it worried me. I have had weak lungs since childhood; bronchitis and I have been on first name terms; I’ve been hospitalised for pneumonia.

It runs in the family. My father died of lung cancer; my mother of pleural empyema. I tried to write about it the other night but could only come up with disjointed words (hence most certainly not a poem).

Both my parents died
betrayed by breath.
Father courted cancer,
inhaled the Cell Shifter,
hugged it close;
permitted the past to eat his future
Consumed by sadness,
rejection locked deep within

Mother hoarded secrets:
a dragon’s lair of loss
Betrayal and sick seduction,
passion bruised,
shame locked tight to ice.
No movement.
Nothing moves in winter’s hold.
No breath.
Lungs harden,
a carapace
too weak, heart broken, to break out.
Flesh turned shell, then stone.

My sad (inhe)rit(anc)e
(b)eaten black and blue.
Blue of ice,
black of decay.
Legacy of fear.

Can we change our patterning? Researchers into PNI (psychoneurimmunology) think so. But what if we’ve made a deal? If we’re already signed the pact? Can we renegotiate? Can we renege? That’s what I’ve been worrying at this last week. Because, see, I think I accepted the pact a long, long time ago. I nodded and took the hand of the Dark Lord, sad lost Persephone in a sea of poppies, feeling life was over anyhow so nothing of value was lost.

Now I take a deep breath and lift a knight.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking

Every so often (actually quite a lot) I get sick of the sound of my own voice. I bet you do too (mine, that is, not yours). So I shut up and let someone else do the talking.  Hence this is one in a very occasional series of My Favourite Blogs. Every so often I come across a blog which I love so much I have to force it on other people.  

Not that long ago, I *met* Vivienne Tufnell on Twitter. If I recall, she mentioned Susan Howatch (a favourite author) and I followed a link to her blog, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. I read the post – about the wonderful Starbridge novels (c’mon TV people, now there’s a series just crying out to be made) and then poked around a bit more and emerged several hours later with ideas buzzing all over my head.

You only have to look at the sidebar of the blog to see why it drew me in: dreams and dreaming; magic and mystery; parable and poetry; depression and anxiety. What’s not to like?

How does she describe herself? “I’m a writer and poet and a longterm sufferer of depressive illness. I try to keep smiling but sometimes I fail.” Ah, this I get.

“I write about life, I write about what is important to me. I write fiction and poetry and I ought to warn you that some of what is billed as fiction is true and what is billed as….non-fiction may actually be something else entirely.” Ah, any journalist would attest to this. And our ‘fiction’ always finds us out. ;)

Her blog is one of those places I go when I’m feeling out of sorts with the world; when I want to be taken out of my head and into someone else’s. I love the breadth of her posts and the humanity and the sheer poetry of them.

Above all I love her aromatic meditations/visualisations. She has written a whole series, taking a specific scent as their starting place. Scent is powerful – it hits the limbic brain (the oldest, most primal part). It can stir up forgotten emotions, lead you down curious pathways. It bypasses the conscious mind and the ego.

Her subjects range from everyday scents (orange, bread, chocolate, vanilla) to the seasonal (snowdrop, pumpkin, bonfire) to the exotic (sandalwood, amber, myrrh). I’d love to see these gathered together in a book (any smart editors or publishers reading?). I’m also badgering Vivienne to put them out on YouTube. You can find a selection on her blog – click on meditations on the sidebar titled Things to Read and See.

Explore, enjoy...what catches your eye might be quite different from what catches mine. But I will leave you with this, as a taster – one of my favourite posts.

The texture of silence

Silence has texture.

You don’t realise how different those textures are until you stop to listen.

There’s the broken glass, bleeding edge texture of the awkward silence that falls in the ringing aftermath of a fight. You can feel the sharp fractured edges as the shattered peace falls to the ground like glass bird-scarers in an old fashioned kitchen garden.

Then there’s the hungry salivating silence of expectation, that bated breath hush, like the dying tones of the dinner gong where only vibrations and eagerness remain.

And finally there’s the silence you find in holy places, where worlds meet and touch and even overlap. You walk in and are struck by the depth of the quiet, self conscious suddenly of the creak of a door or arthritic knees, yet any sound you make rapidly vanishes, absorbed into the deep silence as a stone dropped into an underground lake. The ripples spread out to infinity and are lost, and the silence returns. It has the texture of the finest velvet, rich and soft as forest moss. When you let yourself be still, you can hear the silence over the roar of traffic or the bustle of a busy kitchen, like a kind of celestial white noise.

When you find a place where this sort of silence prevails, cherish it. Hold it in your heart, explore that texture in your mind till you understand that beyond all the sounds of the world, from the discordant roar of aircraft, the inanity of human chatter to the melody of springtime birds and the wind in the wheat, this silence is the song of the spirit that plays on whether we choose to hear it or not.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Books for boys

Someone recently asked if anyone knew of good books for older boys; any books with good male protagonists. So I have had a bit of a delve and come up with a few possibilities.

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh (Chicken House).
Well, I loved this. Absolutely loved it. It’s a bit like Karen Maitland (Company of Liars, The Owl Masters) mixed with Brian Bates (The Way of Wyrd) for younger readers.
It’s 1347 and Will lives with the monks at Crowfield Abbey. He rescues an injured ‘hob’(oh come on, you don’t know what a hob is??) and sneaks it back to the Abbey to be healed. But somewhere in the forest behind the abbey lies a grave containing something that shouldn’t be able to die. As Will uncovers the secret, he has to make harsh choices and wise decisions. So, medieval life lessons. Bit of leprosy.  Angels. Snow and hardship. Cracking book. 
But seriously, it does have a real poetry to it and its magical elements are anchored in a very visceral depiction of tough monastic life. James, I have to say, won’t touch it with a bargepole. I think girls would like this too, actually. I want a hob.

Dancing Jax by Robin Jarvis (HarperCollins).
This one is a mystery to me. It’s clearly marketed as a YA book but it breaks what I always thought was the cardinal rule of YA – that the protagonist be a teen. For sure, there are teens in it, lots of them – some straight out of Little Britain - and for two thirds of the book I thought that Paul was going to be our hero – but no (he gets sucked in as well). By the end of the book (‘to be continued’ tantalises) it’s left to an adult to try to save the day. Ho hum.
It’s a dark fantasy... A strange, out of print children’s book is found, full of colourful stories of castles, knights, princesses and unicorns. But it’s no fairytale. Written by Austerly Fellows (a sort of Aleister Crowley/Austin Osman Spare amalgam) it sucks anyone who reads it into an alternate, all-consuming world. I was ambivalent about the writing here but loved the ideas. Curious book. Would love to know anyone else’s opinions.
Oh, and isn't that cover just totally edible?  Actually, I'd buy it for that alone.

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott (Corgi).
John Dee and Nicholas Flamel seem to be pretty popular lately. In this series, they appear as ex-allies, now adversaries, brawling round the world with a vast supporting cast of ancient gods, heroes and magical beings. Our heroes are twins Sophie and Josh who (of course) have magical powers that need igniting – and a destiny that needs fulfilling. I’ll be honest, I found this quite hard to get into (despite its subject being right up my alley). It shares similarities with the Rick Riordan books but doesn’t quite pull off the pacing the way Riordan does. Scott clearly knows his magick though...and there are some great characters here (Scathach, the wild red-haired martial artist is probably my favourite). Equal boy/girl appeal here.

Gone by Michael Grant (Egmont).
In the blink of an eye all the adults in a small Californian town disappear. Nobody knows why. It’s a premise that has been explored before but somehow Grant makes this working particularly bleak and merciless. I found myself getting quite distressed at the repercussions the characters sombrely point out: babies trapped in cars; toddlers alone in houses; kids injured when parents crashed and no hospitals to fix them. What happens when you take away leadership? Can anarchy really work? Inevitably some try to impose order for mutual good while others take power for power’s sake. Even more scary – some of the survivors have scary powers.
I think this is a cracking and thought-provoking series. Anyone who enjoys Marjorie Blackman would probably go a bundle on it. Strong male and female characters. Tough bleak stuff.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (Little, Brown).
Adrian bought this for James when he was in the US and James inhaled it in nearly one sitting. Strangely it doesn’t seem to have made much impact in the UK as yet. I confess I haven’t read it but James says it’s smart, pacy and intriguing. Four children have to use their intelligence and wits to figure out dastardly puzzles and complete the quest. He reckoned it would appeal to those who enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events but ‘it’s more cerebral’. Parents will love that it doesn’t remotely cringe away from difficult words and wordplay (maybe why it hasn’t been taken up in the UK?).

btw, James has been involved in a new children's book website for The Guardian which is launching soon - I'll flag it up when it goes live as it sounds pretty exciting. 
btw 2, you know I mentioned Russell Hoban and Riddley Walker the other day?  Well, while trawling The Guardian website to see if the btw above had gone live yet, I found they were discussing Riddley Walker.... go here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

No dragons

So. Wales. Snowdonia.  Land of Dragons. Where the mountains come down and kiss the sea. Lost worlds under the waves – drowned palaces. Home of eagles no more. Some kites, but mainly a banality of seagulls. Place of ancient wild elemental magic.

And we came to it as grumpy pilgrims; all out of sorts with the world. Adrian stressed. Me still sick and despondent. James pending sick, in a foul mood. And, as we turned onto the motorway for the endless slog, with the mood in the car hovering somewhere below freezing, I didn’t dare suggest a jolly game of Twenty Questions, or Who am I? or circular storytelling.

The silence got heavier and heavier and then, out of the blue, Adrian said: ‘Badger or Pheasant?’
‘Roadkill roulette. Badger or Pheasant?’
He was pointing ahead at a small bloated hump on the side of the road.
‘You sick bastard.’
‘Come on. We’re nearly on it.’
‘Oh, for God's sake. Badger.’
We passed it.
‘Ha! Pheasant. 50 points to me.’
‘What?’ James forgot to sniff for ten seconds to peer at the corpse.
‘Yeah, new game,’ said Adrian, and went on to spell out a hugely complicated set of rules and scoring.
‘Do dogs count?’ said James.
‘This is revolting,’ I said and stuck my headphones on. And thought about an email I’d had from some parenting website asking for my tips ‘as a top Mummy blogger’ (hollow laughter) on how to keep children amused on long journeys. And felt almost tempted to send them an example of a ‘typical Exmoor game’.

And Wales was cold and wet. Adrian visited pubs and breweries and went on long hikes in the pelting rain. James sulked and watched TV. And I felt sicker and sicker. I needed fire but was drowning in water; frozen by cold. No smoke on the water; no fie-yer in the sky.

And bless her, my lovely mother-in-law sent me to bed, in the middle of the afternoon, with a hot water bottle – swinging me right back to childhood and reminding me (again) how strange and sad it is not to have a mother anymore. Even when you’re a grown woman with a child of your own. Even when for years upon years you had to mother your own mother. She took James off to see The King’s Speech and I curled up in foetal position, clutching the soft heat, head spinning while the SP took up his newly discovered protective stance, glaring out the window, growling at squirrels. My funny little medieval hybrid beastie turned brave knight.

And the days passed in a kind of blur. Wobbled out shopping for clothes (as nothing fits anymore and I have a pile of Next vouchers burning a hole in my purse) but ended up buying books and CDs instead. Watched more TV in four days than I usually do in two months (and confess I rather enjoyed South Riding and became morbidly mesmerised by The Biggest Loser). Went to Wetherspoons for a bit of Twitter banter and did manage to smile.

But it was a strange trip, unsettled and unsettling, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we came home.

Final tally? Badgers = 4. Pheasants = 10. Plus one partridge; two faithful black bin liners (20 bonus points) and one man peeing by the side of the road (50 point super-bonus). But no dragons. :(

Friday, 18 February 2011

Random housekeeping blog

Bear with me today. I’m feeling totally rubbish (chest infection making me very dizzy and weird) combined with a beyond intense breathing/meditation session for several hours last night followed by another crap night without much sleep. Ah ye gods. I’m falling to bits.

Anyhow. I will NOT, I repeat NOT have more antibiotics. The last lot (thanks a bunch, Asbo Jack) knocked the socks off me. So I’m blitzing this thing. I am mainlining vitamin C and bioflavonoids (bowel tolerance? Haven’t reached it yet!), annointing my chest with Fushi Winter Rub and snorting goldenseal. Tweeted my woes yesterday and, behold, the incredible people at Victoria Health sent me 10 Day Results Get Well, Stay Well which promises to get me fixed in a few days (pray they’re right). If you don’t know these guys, check them out as they are awesome. The parcel was with me in under 12 hours.

And, oh heck. I’d entirely forgotten we were due to go to Wales tomorrow. Today is the last day of half-term (how the hell did that happen without me knowing?) So I have to pull myself together somehow and get sorted. And do some quick blog housekeeping.

First up, congratulations to Michele (banana-the-poet) who wins the Douwe Egberts coffee and Tesco vouchers. The SP was responsible for licking (I mean picking) her entry (maybe he likes poetry).

And congrats too to PlotTracer who wins the Kinect and YourShape – I think Asbo liked the tough guy avatar.

Huge thanks to all of you who entered. I’ll try to get some more decent competitions up and running soon. By the way, I do have a spare copy of Your Shape, so if you’ve already got a Kinect, drop me a comment below and I’ll get the dogs to pick out someone to send it to.

Random things I love right now:

Ila Beyond Organic Fragrant Candle for Inner Peace. Honestly, this is not just a candle. I swear it’s a soul workout. Tuberose and rose scented in a pure pink glass. Funny thing, I don’t usually like rose as it can be sickly but this seems to hit the spot – wham bam right in the heart chakra. I’m undone every time I burn it.

• Russell Hoban’s Linger Awhile (Bloomsbury). I read Hoban’s first book The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz when I was really young and adored it. Loved Turtle Diary and was blown away by Riddley Walker (his novel written entirely in his own post-apocalyptic language. Anyhow, Linger Awhile is about an 83-year old man who falls in love with an actress who’s been dead for 47 years. Undeterred (don’t you just love the optimism of age?) he persuades Istvan Fallok (that name alone would make me buy the book) to take magnetised particles of videotape and reconstitute her into a living being. Particles and waves, peeps...particles and waves. This knocks the socks off Romeo and Juliet for doomed love and of course it all ends horribly...but I won’t spoil the fun.

Diva Gourmet Popcorn – if you’ve got to give your children snacks, make ‘em classy. This stuff is gluten free, less than 4% fat (cos they air pop it rather than use fat) and comes in at 100calories per pack. Funky flavours include Sweet Chipotle Chilli; Camembert, Gouda and Brie and Sea Salt and Balsamic Vinegar. Genius, pure genius.

• My iPod. Sigh. Love. Stroke. Sigh. Love. Stroke. Still can’t quite figure out how to work it properly so do sometimes end up veering from U2 to Hildegaard of Bingen (which is a tad disconcerting) but it is just beyond heaven.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Don't give up...

Appearances can be deceptive. Always remember that. When I first pitched up at Lifehouse, I confess my heart sank. It had a wonderful setting (planted in 130 acres, including twelve acres of historic listed gardens) but the building looks like a series of white concrete boxes. The layout is a bit wonky and the decor is decidedly airport – striped carpets, blond wood and colour blocks.

Also, it all seemed a bit fluffy. A bit unfocused. But I figured this was probably me. I’m a bit old school with spas – I like the rough tough ones where you see the doctor as soon as you land and s/he tells you what you need, rather than you saying what you want. But nowadays spa is commodity, it’s all about pampering, about the whole ‘you’re worth it’ malarkey. Which kind of grates with me, though why it should I really don’t know. Spartan upbringing maybe? Underlying belief that I’m not worth it? Hell, who knows?

I puzzle as it sits weirdly with my belief that you should be gentle with people. I have always believed that you can’t force people into things. And that if someone makes a tiny change, tries something slightly new, it might just nudge them into making another change, and another. People used to ask me why I worked for the Daily Mail; how I could have sold out in such a cavalier fashion. But really it was the best way to reach people. To show them what was out there in the world of natural health and wellbeing. Why preach to the converted? People also say I dumb things down – well of course I do! Make it easy. Don’t put people off straightaway. Coax them in.

And, hmm...actually that’s what Lifehouse does, rather cleverly. Scratch under the surface and there is some pretty amazing stuff going on.

I wasn’t sure what I’d make of Pete Cohen, the man who was apparently going to ‘sort out my life’. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be ‘sorted’. I’m not a parcel. And, actually, I have a pretty clear idea of where I want to go (workwise at any rate).  But, bless him, he just asked sensible, pertinent questions and he listened to my answers. And we laughed a lot and swapped stories about big-headed bores and talked movies and got all excited about a lot of spiritual stuff.
‘You know where you’re going, don’t you?’ he said. ‘And you’re very nearly there.’
Interestingly, en route to our meeting, I had pretty much made the decision that rewriting my YA book, Samael, was making me miserable and that I should just call it a day.  Pete suggested I reconsider. ‘Get the bastard out the way,’ he said. ‘Just do it. Then you can move on to the next book. Don’t give up.’

Hmm. Interesting.

My health consultation was with a naturopath who used to work at Chiva Som. Sue Davis didn’t just take my blood pressure (‘absolutely perfect’) and go through my diet and lifestyle (‘sickeningly virtuous’) but she offered to give me an Australian Bush Flower remedy reading and treatment.

I had to pick out the flower images that I loved and those I loathed. The results were fascinating: about finding self-approval and acceptance; about releasing deep fears; about being willing to try new concepts, new ways of living, about unblocking creativity. The bottom line? ‘Don’t give up,’ she said. ‘Never give up.’

Sensing a theme here?

And as I wandered into the juice bar I found a woman in a bright purple top in front of me. ‘Hello,’ she said. ‘I’m Moon.’
Well, of course she was.
‘Shall we sit down and have a chat?’
Of course we should. A totally unscheduled chat.
Moon is a healer, a shaman and so naturally we were off and away. Talking the deep stuff. And I won’t bore you with that. Except that, as we parted, she turned and said (you know what’s coming, don’t you?’

‘Don’t give up.’
So I won't.  :)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


And today I am so tired. I thought I would get up at 6am and get down the gym for an hour before breakfast but my body just started whimpering a bit. And my lungs hurt. I’ve been feeling the onset of a chest infection since I’ve been here.

So I took myself to the hydrotherapy area instead. Sat solo (halleluyah) in the steam room and breathed. Shallow, gasping breaths. Not good. Couldn’t figure out the whirlpool so got into the swimming pool. All alone. And it was beautiful.
The sun glanced through the windows and I swam a couple of lengths slowly, mindfully, thoughtfully. And then I dunno, I just flipped onto my back and floated.
And breathed. And breathed. And just was. Listening to the water in my ears and fighting the thought that the seals were broken and I was filling up slowly and steadily with water until my whole body would be suffused and I’d sink and become one with the water. Then realising, that (doh) I’m nearly all water already anyway. And letting go.

Bliss. Nothing. Everything.

Every so often I’d feel a gentle tug as the water moved my body; adjusted me. Shifting me in slow circles.

Please God – I sent a silent prayer – don’t let the lifeguard (who must surely be watching on CCTV or something) think I’m drowned and race in and haul me out in some heroic gesture. And my prayer was answered.

How long was I there? I have absolutely no idea.

And when I finally emerged, I stumbled upon the salt steam room – again empty, just for me. And sat and meditated there too, breathing in the salt from the wall of Himalayan salt. And, as I came out, I thought about how tough we are on ourselves; how much we struggle. Okay, I’m including you guys here, but I have no right as maybe you don’t. But I do.

Anyhow, I thought about The Mistress of Spices, which I’ve just re-read. The first time I read it, I thought it was about magic mainly. The second time I read it I thought it was about love mainly. This time, I think it’s mainly about kindness. About being human. About trying to get through life the best you can, about being a bit of everything all rolled into one. And about not believing in surface appearances, about looking beyond the obvious. About looking for the deep truths that lie beneath.

And then I coughed. Again.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Valentine's Day? Aaghhh

So. I’m at the Lifehouse spa, newly opened in Essex. I had an hour to kill before my ‘Oriental Bathing Experience’ so figured I’d do a few laps of the pool and then have a bit of a steam.

Hmm. Interesting. In the UK, the ratio of men to women in spas tends to be about 1 to 40. Not here. It’s raining men. Except, hang about, they’re all neatly paired off, wandering obediently behind their women.

People are swimming in tandem; the pool loungers are all cosied up. Ah well, it’s Essex. Maybe they do things differently here. So I swim a bit and then figure I’ll steam to loosen up before my massage. So I wander into the steam room and, umm, there’s a couple sort of writhing on one of the benchs. Okay, so I’ve been to tons of spas and maybe I've led a blinkered existence but I haven’t hit this situation before. Soo...what’s the etiquette here? Do you:
a) back out, apologising?
b) get terribly British and go ‘tut tut’ and ‘well, really!’
c) shout ‘Aha, so this is where the action is!’ and jump in, scaring them senseless?

Actually I just sat in the opposite corner, stared at the little lights in the ceiling which were going through the colours of the rainbow in a somewhat frenetic disco sync and said a silent prayer that in this particular spa people wear swimsuits. And felt the waves of frustrated lust and intense irritation crashing (rather unpleasantly) against my etheric body. And thought, well tough.

So they went (letting in tons of cold air, the miserable bastards) and I stretched out on the bench. And was floating off into a little reverie when the bloody door opened again and a man (solo this time) poked his head round the door.
‘Er, are you okay in there?’
‘Fine, thank you.’  Or I would be if the bloody heat ever rose about tepid.

And off he went. Took me a moment to realise that he probably thought I’d passed out. Or maybe he was just on nookie patrol for the night.

By now it had dawned on me. I know, a bit slow. It was Valentine’s Eve, nay Valentine’s weekend, and the good men of Essex were collectively fulfilling their loverly duty and taking their sweethearts to spa.
Bloody great.

I really intensely dislike Valentine’s Day…  It's not that I'm not romantic, just that I loathe public displays of obedient dutiful romance. I hate boxes of chocolate, can’t abide stiff red roses, feel nauseous at schmaltzy cards. Why do people feel the urge to go out to restaurants on VD (see, even the initials are disgusting)? The prices are inflated and everything is heart-shaped. Is it that they feel the need for public validation of their relationship? It’s so effing smug. Okay, I’ll shut up. I did write a whole post about this but decided it was too curmudgeonly by half so deleted it.

Anyhow, I took myself off for my Oriential bath thingy. Now I’m not a huge fan of spa ‘rituals’ – I think they’re a bit gimmicky… I’d rather have a really good massage (preferably deep and probing) from someone who knows their stuff rather than be wafted and floated around for a couple of hours. But, I have to say, this was rather nice. My therapist promised a ‘journey’ and by heck, we positively hurtled round the East… We went from Thailand (foot massage) to Bali (tsunami shower) to Malaysia (I forget what happened there) and…oh, I lost track for a bit and came to in Japan where I was left soaking in a pool with a crashing waterfall and a mug of Jasmine tea. At this point the lovely Victoria told me to make a wish and then sprinkled me with gold fairy dust. And then something else dawned on me. The baths were huge and the massage rooms had several couches.
‘Do you usually do more than one person at a time?’ I asked.
‘Oh yes…this is great for…’
Don’t tell me…

Anyhow, there was exfoliation and I said a fervent thank-you, this time to myself for remembering to defuzz so I didn’t look like a demented hobbit. For this gratitude goes go to Bluebeard’s Revenge, which really is pretty damn good stuff..
And then Hot Stones massage. Now I’m sorry but I just don’t really get hot stones… but by this point I was somewhere beyond mellow (despite going solo through the bonded pair bathing experience) and Victoria, bless her, really made some serious inroads into my stress shoulders… And she did that lovely stroking thing… I tell you, if I ever become a millionaire I will pay someone to stroke my back for several hours every night. Now that would zap my insomnia, I bet you.

Anyhow, I came out after nearly two hours in a bit of a daze and decided I couldn’t be bothered to have dinner. I could hear the champagne corks popping in the restaurant and had a pretty fair idea of what it would be like. So I went back to my room and stretched out on the absolutely vast bed.

And then I did think…well, actually, this is a bit of a waste really...

Particularly on Valentine's Day... ;)

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The universe cares about my washing machine

Okay, so I was putting off buying the washing machine. I don’t know – it was all just too complicated. Too many choices; too many considerations. Spin cycles; energy ratings; load weight; integrated or non-integrated. Heck, who cares? It’s why I hate shopping nowadays. Too much choice is killing us. Good book incidentally.

But then the old one chewed another set of branded towels and spat globules of snot over my one remaining halfway decent bra and so I sighed, girded my loins (love that phrase) and turned on the PC. Sometime a while back, someone on Twitter talked about some website that gave really good reviews and helped plough a meaningful furrow through all this endless tedium but could I remember the name? Could I hell. Brain is disintegrating so fast, there will be just vague shreds of words left soon and this blog will be unintelligible to all but those loyal (foolish) souls willing to put in the hours plugging the gaps.

Well, blow me down with a feather, Trevor. Or rather, Ian. An email from Ian Goodall. Who he? Well, only he of Appliances Online. Now THAT was the badger! And you tell me the universe isn’t listening? Heathen scum. Shit, the universe even cares about my washing machine.

But seriously. Neat site, if you have to buy dreaded domestic appliances. Otherwise, it is (let’s be honest) probably your worst nightmare.

So. I was dutiful. I checked a few models. Even browsed a few videos. Then I thought WTF? As long as it doesn’t deposit slime and makes clothes appear reasonably clean and fragrant, I don’t really care. So I did the usual eeny meeny miny mo and picked one. Don’t even THINK about asking which one and don’t for the love of God tell me why I should have bought this or how you adore that because I don’t care. It is done. I have probably chosen poorly again (still puzzling over how tiny my iPod is – it didn’t look that tiny in the picture) so I don’t want to know.

Enough already about this bunch. You’ll be thinking this Ian chap is paying me to talk about it. Huh? Oh. Yeah. Well, he did offer me £30 of Amazon vouchers. And I have just got a new iPod and a new Kindle and am about to go to life rehab (necessitating ten hours of rail travel) so...well... y’know. Life is tough and we are living on cereal (don't panic; I’ll save that for tomorrow - so you can purposefully avoid it).

So now I have a whole new set of dilemmas. Because, really, £30 goes nowhere if, like me, you a) speed read and b) haven’t bought any new music for years.

So...suggestions anyone?  

While I’m dithering, I’ve been downloading some nice music for free from here.... the composer is a bonkers Scouser who warns that there may be subliminal messages in the tracks...(he can’t quite remember). Just don’t blame me if it does your head in, alright? He’s just some weirdo I met on the Internet. :-)

Friday, 11 February 2011

The problem with oracles

The trouble with oracles is that they often aren’t clear-cut. The fatal flaw in believing that the universe is sending you messages is that you might not be reading them right. Know what I mean? Ask the ancient Greeks – that Delphic ditz regularly did their heads in.  I mean, look at her - you can almost hear her thinking, "Hmm, how can I make it really really confusing? Is there a more complicated way I can say that?"  She ought to write technical manuals.

Last night (yup, my usual 2.30am (not)friend) I was reading In The Dark Places of Wisdom about the Phocaeans who asked said oracle where they should go, having been booted out of their home by the Persians. They thought the oracle was telling them to go to build a town on Cyrnus (Corsica) so off they sailed only to get their asses royally whooped by the Corsicans. Eh what? They had done exactly what Apollo said and been almost totally destroyed. No wonder the poor bastards were confused. Then along came a stranger (as they tend to) and said, ‘You got everything wrong.’ Which is why you usually want to fecking thump the stranger. ‘That’s only what you thought. What he was really saying was to build a place for Cyrnus.’

Eh what (again)? Well, Cyrnus did mean Corsica but it was also the name of the son of Hercules. Anyhow, it doesn’t really matter. Though it did to the Phocaeans of course. ‘Everything had seemed so hopeless. But all they had done was interpret the oracle too narrowly, understood it on the physical level instead of at the level of myth.’ Stupid fecking Phocaeans.

Sorry. This is really long-winded. But bear with me. I try to follow the clues, I really do, but I’m beginning to wonder if I get it all wrong; if I’m blindly following a string when the end has been untied (sorry, mythical metaphors really getting tied up in (Gordian?) knots now). Shit. *smites brow*

Last night though (earlier, before the 2.30am interlude), at least, it all seemed pretty clear-cut. I had fed and watered James, watched a few sky burials with him and then sat down to go on the Internet. The screen started to swim. Migraine alert. Weird. I get, what, maybe one a year? But there was no arguing with it: darkened room, eyes shut, no choice whatsoever. The idle though ran through my head, unbidden, that the Louise Hay prescription for migraine is masturbation. Shit, Louise, have you ever tried it when the whole room is pulsating and the lights are flashing (but not in a remotely orgasmic way?). Anyhow, I reckoned that this (the migraine, not the non-masturbation) was a pretty clear message: stay OFF the internet.

But then, today. I was halfway through an email to the Daily Mail (yes, yes, I know) when Everything Died. Power cut. Sooooo? Is the message ‘Don’t go back! Don’t sell your soul to the devil?’ or is it more a case of ‘Hey, you sad loser, the sun is shining and you’re sitting in front of the fecking PC. Grab the moment! Walk the SP!’

See what I mean? You don't? Do I think too much? Don’t answer that. Just a power cut? Ah, whatever. You’re probably right.

Anyhow. We walked and I saw one person in the distance walking towards us over the big field and, instead of veering off the way I usually would, I headed on a collision course. And the person turned out to be my friend Maggie. And she turned around and walked with us again. And the big field worked its magic in its usual way. And it was good.

And...this will make you laugh. I came back to find the power was back on and that I’d been invited, nay summoned, to a four-day course called Sort Your Life Out. With this guyHere. This Sunday. Sort out my life in four days? Bring it on, sunshine.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Free coffee and £100 to spend in Tesco

So, in the last post I thanked all you dear adorable people who clicked for me over the Christmas Next promotion. You did me proud, you really did. If you didn’t read that post, I’ll save you the bother (and, seriously, I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s one heck of a self-absorbed dirge) and recap here: basically you made this the winning blog (out of the 100 in the promotion) and so it’s all thanks to you that we, the sorry denizens of The Bonkers House, will no longer smell rankly offensive and won’t die untimely deaths through inadvertent electrocution. My gratitude is deep and enduring.

So deep and enduring that I figured I ought to offer something in return. So, when a very nice, very polite PR said: ‘Would you like to offer your readers the chance to win £100 of Tesco vouchers?’ I said, ‘Tell me more.’ Trying not to sound my usual cynical, suspicious self.
‘Along with some free coffee,’ he said.
‘What’s the catch?’ I said.
‘No catch,’ he said. ‘Honest, guv.’ Well, okay, he didn’t say that, but he did in my mind’s ear.
‘It’s just it sounds like you have a pretty busy schedule and we thought you might like to try some coffee to give you a bit of a boost.’
Yeah, right. Like coffee, however nuclear, could sort out my deep soul sickness, career suicide and severe writer’s constipation (block doesn’t even touch it).

Anyhow. Turned out that Douwe Egberts, the Dutch coffee company, are launching a new ground coffee product on 14th February (why does that date ring a bell? Ah yes, my lovely agent’s birthday) and, in order to launch it with a swing, they’re offering one of you lot £100 of Tesco vouchers. So, basically, you can have your next food shop on me (or rather on Douwe Egberts).  Oh, and they’ll even throw in two tins of the coffee.  See, I said he was a nice guy.

So I said yes. Well of course I did. But I did warn him that we take our product testing very seriously chez Bonkers and that I couldn’t guarantee a glowing report. Bless his heart, the PR gulped manfully and said, ‘Okay, go for it.’

So we did. Now I don’t drink a lot of coffee. I love coffee-flavoured things but neat caffeine just sends me slightly ga-ga (okay, more ga-ga than usual). So it was down to Adrian and Lulu (who was staying) to test.

‘Ewww,’ said Lulu. ‘It looks like a tin of Whiskers.’
‘I think it’s supposed to look sultry,’ I said.
‘It looks like Whiskers,’ she said, firmly. ‘What’s it called?’
‘Aromettes,’ I said.
‘What? No!’ She snatched the tin from me and peered closely. ‘Shit. I thought you were kidding.’
‘Why the surprise?’
‘It sounds like some kind of sanitary product.’
‘Mixed with essential oils,’ I added helpfully.

I tore off the lid. ‘Well, it smells nice,’ I said.
She dug her hand in the tin and pulled out an “aromette”. ‘Ooh, neat idea!’

Lulu, btw, is a marketing guru so she knows about this stuff. And, lo and behold, the ground coffee had been squished and squeezed into coffee bean shapes (coffee beans on serious steroids, it has to be said).  I reminded me of something but I'm not entirely sure I want to recall exactly what it is...

Basically, you bung one bean (let’s not say aromette, it’s starting to disturb me) per cup desired into your cafetiere or filter machine, bung on the hot water and lo and behold. No mucking around with measuring; no need to clip the top of the packet or bung it in the fridge or whatever (and yes, I know all that doesn't work anyhow).

Did my testers like them? Well. Hmm.  Put it this way – they’re the kind of coffee snobs who think Starbucks is a dirty word. Who buy fresh beans to grind – only after lengthy discussions about the very field in which said beans were picked and the precise humidity level of the day on which they were picked. So we'll gloss over that.  Instead I offered them to normal people (a random selection around town) who reckoned they did the business very nicely, thank-you.

Anyhow...don’t take this lot’s word for it – try ‘em for yourselves. You can buy them from Tesco only from 14th February and they come in two varieties – Smooth (strength 3) and Intense (strength 5).

Anyone who comments before February 14th will be entered into the draw (sadly, you have to be a UK resident and I will need to be able to contact you in some way other than mind reading). Simply tell me what your take is on coffee – love it? Hate it? Uber-snob or anything goes? Oh, and give me a reason why you'd like to win (go on, make me feel better about my crap life - gimme your sob stories!).

Rules? Not many. One entry per person. Winners will be notified within 28 days and prizes will be sent out a further 28 days afterwards.

btw, if you want to read more of Lulu's reviews, check out her blog.... (in which she also relates her views on the Bonkers House and its inhabitants). Lies, perfidious lies!

Sorry for myself blog plus a heartfelt thank-you

Why do I wake at 2.30am precisely, nearly every night? Why? Last night I just lay there and hurt. It felt like something malevolent were scraping my bones. I tried meditating; tried amplifying the pain to find out what it meant but it wasn’t playing ball. It just settled in my hips and started screaming. So I switched channels; tried listening instead and all I could hear was the clock ticking louder and louder: time crashing in. And then an unsettling arrhythmic scrape from somewhere in the room. Scrape. Then nothing. Then a couple of scrapes. And so on. It bothered me. Okay, I’ll be honest, it scared me the way strange things can sometimes do in the dark of night.

The SP started to shift and I figured he needed to go out but no. He just moved himself so he lay right along my hip, as if to warm it, to heal it. Dear little dog.

When the light came it was measly, half-hearted, as if really it couldn’t be arsed. Grey, overcast, gloomy. And today I am trammelled, constrained, held in the grey no-man’s land. I am waiting for a delivery that needs a signature so cannot take the SP for a long walk; cannot go to the gym. My parcel is going to be delivered by Hermes apparently which, I confess, did bring a smile to my face. The image of a glowing Greek god with winged sandals knocking on my door was rather delicious, if madly incongruous.

Anyhow. I checked good old Louise Hay over breakfast – well, James’ breakfast. I had a glass of pomegranate juice in good Persephone fashion. She says that hip problems are ‘fear of going forward in major decisions’. Okaaay. She also reckons that perfect balance is an issue. Hmm, can’t argue with her on that. Apparently I should be affirming ‘Hip Hip Hooray – there is joy in every day’. Well, Louise, love - sorry, but today you can shove that little thought where the sun don’t shine.

But I did think about the balance bit. As always, I’ve gone a bit extreme again. First the food (or no food) thing; now exercise. No wonder my poor body is in shock. Maybe it’s a good thing that I can’t race out and pummel it again today. So I did my Tibetan exercises which get pretty well most muscles but aren’t harsh or cruel. And then I thought about what Lulu had said about the laundry room being a bit iffy and needing a good smudging. So I whipped off my furry boots and socks and lit up a smudge stick and gave myself a good going over and then smudged the laundry which is, indeed a pit and a total feng shui nightmare. The SP followed me, looking approving, so I carried on and, before I knew it, I’d done pretty much the whole house. He nudged the door down to the Staircase of Darkest Despond.

‘Are you sure?’
He nudged it again. So we went down, my feet rapidly turning into small iceblocks, and threw smoke all down the SoDD. Opened the door to the Siberian freezer aka the Loo of Doom and gave it a blast. Then took a deep breath and walked briskly into the Cellar of Despair. Whoah! This place really could feature in a Poe short story. So I gave that a bit of a whoosh and retreated. By now the entire house was swathed in smoke (and I'd burned a series of small holes in my sweater) so I just hoped Hermes wouldn't choose that particular moment to flutter in. 

Looked in the mirror and thought my mascara had also been smudged before I realised I didn’t have any on and it was just huge blue-black circles round my eyes. Had a good cathartic sob. Got some damn good advice from some damn good friends. Pressed a few acupressure points.  Sobbed again. Got angry with myself for being pathetic and faintly ridiculous. Will I ever fecking grow up?

those aren't my fingers, btw

Then Hermes arrived, not fluttering, more plodding:  stout, unwinged but with the sweetest smile. And my iPod is SO small. How can something so tiny have been so expensive? Now I sound like my mother. Anyhow...I am not going to download any music today because this iPod is supposed to life my mood, to soothe my tattered soul. I already have plenty of Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell and SoulSavers and Nick Drake and Ray Lamontagne and Mark Lanegan and Jeff Buckley and their ilk. I need uplifting, purposeful, inspiring. Suggestions?

PS – I owe the iPod to you, dear readers. Remember that Next campaign before Christmas? The one where I asked, cajoled, begged you to click the little icon? Well, get this – you done good, so so so good, because this blog won. Yup, came top out of the 100 that took part. And so I snaffled a shitload of Next vouchers.

What have I bought? Okay, don’t laugh – this part is really sad. Did I buy a whole new wardrobe? No. I’ve ordered a washing machine (one which hopefully won’t make clothes smell of public lavatories); three bedside lamps (so we don’t have to risk electrocution every night); two BRIGHT PINK (don’t ask – they flirted) bath sheets (when Lulu came to stay she remarked that every single towel in the house has some form of branding on it!).
And then my hand wavered over the PSP (James’ went kaput ages back). My finger was ready to click; it really was. But then I saw the magic word iPod and for the first time ever I gave in to total wanton selfishness.
Please God, don’t let James see this post.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

My Mother isn’t a Cushion (and the Beagle Oracle)

So Jane rang up to congratulate James on the rugby (and to smirk at Adrian). When that was done and the dust had settled, we picked up where we’d left off.
‘This quantum flirting,’ she said.
‘It’s not happening. I just don’t meet the right people.’
‘Noooo. You do. You’re just not listening.’

And I explained that it really is a huge mistake to dismiss people and things because they appear mundane or stupid. That you don’t necessarily get the answers or the illuminations from the great gurus or masters (and I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who calls themself a guru) – that sometimes the universe winks at you through the most bizarre channels. It’s all a bit Forrest Gump, I suppose.

‘Look. Take Random Twitter Guy for example,’ I said. ‘He’s coming along nicely.’

When Jane was here at New Year, we were sitting in my study and I was explaining how messages can come from curious and interesting places. At that precise moment, an email pinged in to say I had a new follower on Twitter. Nothing odd about that – but the timing was, well, interesting.

‘See...’ I said. ‘This guy here. I don’t know him from Adam but he could be a conduit. He might have some important stuff to say. Hey, I’m not sure I need another one: maybe he’s your oracle.’
‘Hmm.’ She frowned so deeply I could have fallen down the crevice between her eyebrows. ‘I’m not buying it.’
‘Fair enough. But I’ll follow him back and let’s see.’ I clicked the mouse.

Frankly I was only playing but, hey, get this.  RTG does say some pretty cool things sometimes. Very gnomic, but I like a bit of gnomic. A bit depressed, but I can relate. Basically kind though, and I lap up kind. Nice RTG. Jane wasn’t buying it though.
‘I still prefer the Beagle Oracle.’
‘You would.’

The Beagle Oracle had been my second offering. The Soul Puppy (thankfully no longer Shag Puppy) is now just plain Bad Puppy. But still cute. Jane is helplessly in love (who isn’t?) and so I’d suggested he could act as her oracle. ‘When in doubt,’ I said to her, in my cod wise sage voice. ‘Ask yourself: “What would The Beagle do?”’

No, I know he’s not a Beagle but everyone assumes he is and I think you’ll agree that 'Beagle Oracle' (while a bit of a spluttering globule of a phrase) is less of a mouthful than ‘JackRussellterriercrossedwithaSpringerSpanielandCavalierKingCharles Oracle.’

Jane laughed. She loves Beagle Oracle (BO). I send her emails with his picture and a pithy BO saying every so often when she's low.
‘Yeah, but now he’s become so bad, is he really still an oracle?’
‘Sure he is. Go on, try me. I’ll give you the hidden message in anything he does.’
‘Okay. Running off chasing blackbirds he won’t ever catch.’
‘Sometimes you have to follow the impossible dream.’
‘Oh very good. Hmm. Rolling in fox crap?’
‘Sometimes it’s wise to hide your true colours. While truth and honesty are beautiful; disguise and deception may sometimes be necessary and even wise.’
‘Ho ho. Very Machiavelli.’

She paused. ‘Right. Um...taking strong drugs?’
The BO had, very stupidly, broken into a friend’s handbag and snaffled a heavy duty pill (don’t worry, we checked online and it seemed he’d be okay – just a bit spacey and maybe he’d get the squits – sound familiar?).
‘Shit (ho ho), I dunno. Um, chill out, let go, get high?’
‘You’re struggling. What about wrecking the cushion you needlepointed for your mother?’ In an ‘I got you on this one, honey’ voice.
‘Easy. Let go of attachment to things. Yes, even things you worked hard for; that caused you huge struggle and effort. Love isn’t a cushion. Memory isn’t a cushion. My mother isn’t a cushion.’

Helpless laughter followed.

‘So. You gonna give the flirting another go?’ I asked.
‘Maybe. But you haven’t told me about Zumba yet.’
‘Oh, okay. But not now. And that’s not flirting; you do realise?’

‘Oh no. Zumba is more a case of throwing you up against the nearest wall and shagging you senseless.’
‘In that case,’ said Jane. ‘Sod the bloody flirting lark. I’ll move straight to Zumba.’

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Lulu gets medieval on my art

So, I was chatting on Twitter with Milla and Lulu and we were doing the usual ‘we must meet up’ thing (which we do periodically) and then Lulu got medieval with me and threw down the challenge.
‘Your place. This weekend. Right?’

Aaaghh. Errrr.....
I’m such a hermit nowadays. I make vague plans and then never follow through with them. I just don’t think I’m very good company right now. I’m trying to rewrite Samael but it’s sheer torture. Words have turned mean and are bullying me; they really are. They’ve got me pinned in the boys’ loos and are shoving daddylonglegs down my jumper. They’re throwing my books in the nettle patch and laughing.

‘You’re not doing anything, are you?’
Um, no.
‘Great. I’ll be with you at 9pm and we’ll grab supper at the pub.’
Um, okay.

Of course, 9pm was nearer 11pm by which time it was too late to eat but not too late to talk. And we talked, and talked, and talked. I swear, I spoke more in 24 hours with Lulu than I have in the entire last six months (since I last saw her, come to think of it). See, Lulu is one of the VERY few people in this world to whom I can say Absolutely Anything However Mad and she will just shrug and go, ‘Yeah. Of course, sweetie.’

So we talked by the fire and we talked up the stairs (where she identified the tricksy thing that always tries to trip me up) and we talked in the bathroom and we talked in the bedroom. Eventually we got to bed and the next day we talked as we walked the dogs (by the river, in the big open fields) and we talked so much we didn’t even realise we’d lost the SP until someone returned him, looking a bit flustered (the SP, not the woman). And we talked about infinity and beyond infinity, and death and oblivion and whether the universe is Good or Bad or Both, and about love and fear and madness.

And she said she’d never had her tarot done. So I pulled out one of my packs and she dealt and I told. And we laughed our heads off as the exact same phrases we’d used earlier in the day came up again and again. And then I showed her the report I’d had on Samael, the one that said I had to pick it to pieces in order to make it saleable. And she went, yes, and yes, and no, and yes and no, no, yes, yes. And then she put me straight, she really did. And for the first time in months, I felt like maybe I could do this. Maybe I really can. Only now I’m scared. I have the images in my head, so clear, so strong. But will those damn words play nice? Will they fall into line, however straggly a raggle-taggle line? Or will they just lie in wait, on the stairs, and trip me up yet again?

PS - you have to be a really sad film buff to get the (atrocious) pun in the title.  Anyone?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Big Bang v X Factor

I don’t usually listen much to statistics (I’ve massaged enough in my time) but something about the one I was sent yesterday rang alarm bells. When it comes to their children’s career choice apparently ten percent of parents would rather their children followed the TV talent route, rather than try for science or engineering.

WTF? Now X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent are guilty pleasures in The Bonkers House – Adrian won’t even be in the same room when they're on but James and I sit with a bag of popcorn between us and lap ‘em up. Only... Hmm. Maybe we’ll eschew the next series.

It seems science still has an image problem. A further ten percent of parents denigrate scientists and engineers as ‘geeks’ and over a third still see engineering as ‘man’s work’. Ye gods. Most weird of all is that, while a lot of parents say they would like their children to follow a scientific path, nearly 70 percent baulk purely because they don’t understand the fields.

WTF#2. My parents had NO idea about languages, yet it didn’t stop them encouraging me. C’mon people.

I have always cherished a small hope that James would consider science as a career. He’s good at it and, I dunno, is there anything more sexy and exciting than researching and understanding life – which is what science fundamentally is? He’s still hanging onto professional rugby player followed by corporate lawyer (aaaghhh) but, hey, there’s time yet.

And, in order to plant the seed, I may just take him to The Big Bang: UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair, this March in London. See – we need scientists, we need engineers. UK employers have huge difficulty recruiting the people they require. And, hand on heart, do we really need more Beyonces or Justin Biebers? Just sayin'...'s the plug.  The Big Bang Fair aims to “unleash the scientist from within” with 120 exhibitions and interactive activities.  It's aimed at all ages, from young children to school leavers. Plus there are live performances every day, including Wallace and Gromit with their “World of Invention” road show.

My top ten cool things you could do if you were a child (I have restrained from adding comments - you can imagine them for yourselves):

1. Discover how to weld big structures using chocolate.
2. Make your own earthquake.
3. Find out how the liquid crystals in an LCD TV can be used for bullet-proof vests.
4. Uncover the weird science behind sound with The Feel Good Vibrations workshop.
5.Take a look at your blood up close and visit a Stem Cell Lab of the Future.
6. Have a go at handling real bionic implants and uncover where they fit in your body.
7. Step inside the BodPod and discover your body shape and why what you eat matters.
8. Use pedal power to help generate electricity. Challenge your mates to see who can create the most energy.
9. Find out how algae can be used to produce hydrogen, electricity or other forms of green energy
10. Get behind the wheel of the latest McLaren innovations (yeah, James would LOVE that).

Then came a quote from Brian Cox, which rather puzzled me until I realized it wasn’t the actor (the original Hannibal Lector, of course) but the "funky" physicist.
‘The Big Bang exists to give young people and their parents a better understanding of how just fun and inspiring science and engineering can be,’ he says, in a rather unfunky way. ‘You can find out for yourself by visiting The Big Bang this March. It’s free to attend, and the ideal place to find out about the exciting career options out there.’

You tell ‘em, Brian. Except....oh come ON!  Tell 'em all about the really cool stuff, why don't you? 

Oh, for pity's I get the statistics.  Maybe science needs Simon Cowell.

The Big Bang takes place at ICC London ExCeL from 10-12 March 2011. Find out more by clicking here

Hmm, I know which one I prefer ;-)

Uniforms, twibes, vague meanderings

James phoned me from the school bus this morning.
‘It’s a non-uniform day,’ he said.
Oh shit.
‘I forgot,’ he said.
‘I didn’t even know.’

Damn. I really must get a grip. Start using a diary again. Maybe even get a battery for my watch. Did I mention that the batteries in both my watches packed up on the same day? I think I may be out of time.

Thankfully he didn’t sound too perturbed.

‘I suppose you could wear your tracksuit?’ I suggested, hopefully, uncertainly.  Knowing that, even if I drove in with some clothes, he wouldn't get them until lunchtime.
‘Yeah, I guess I could.’
Bless him.

But it worried me and it will bother me slightly all day long. I know how important it is when you’re his age to fit in, to be the same as the rest of the gang. Children desperately want to bond with the pack. Then, in the teenage years, comes the urge to differentiate (just a little); to identify with a ‘set’ – wearing another uniform (usually of the music you like), finding your tribe. All the time fighting vehemently for your right to be ‘different’; all the time yearning for people who feel the same as you do.  One of these days, if I ever get a scanner, I'll give you all a laugh and load up pics of some of my more, er, interesting, fashion incarnations (as a taster, I offer you the 'Haystack' phase - bleach blonde, backcombed to death, leather jackets and spiky heels).  I made those earrings, btw - hearts and demon baby faces.  Some things never change. :-)

And it doesn’t stop, when you grow up. Maybe we all – consciously or unconsciously – seek others like us: who won’t judge; who won’t call us crazy (or, if they do, at least do it lovingly, with a fond shake of the head). People who understand. And if you can't find them in everyday life, you can look for them online.  On Twitter people are joining ‘twibes’ – online tribes.

Not me. I’m not a joiner, never have been. Adrian's the one who does committees; joins societies; belongs to things. I made an exception just once to get an integrated health care centre up and running here on Exmoor. I've always believed that if our doctors focused on preventative healthcare, they would create health and save money. If they taught people how to eat properly; how to meditate or do autogenic training; how to relax and exercise... If they employed osteopaths, bodyworkers, taught Alexander Technique...and good (firm emphasis on good) psychotherapists (just for starters)...we might have a health service, rather than a sick service. But anyhow, it drove me crazy. Sitting going round in circles; endless meandering; talking, talking, talking: everybody thinking he or she were right.

It didn’t happen. Of course.

A backwater of Epidauros - my dream healing spot
You know (or maybe you don’t), the more I hear of words, the less I trust them. The more I read, the less I know. One of the most blissful weeks of my life was on silent retreat – painting into the night, music in my ears, sometimes dancing, sometimes crying. Another was in Greece on dream pilgrimage, visiting the ancient healing temples, stretching out on the warm sunkissed stones, being bitten by the snakes of Asklepios. Or just sitting in the bus, as it wound through the mountains up to the plains of Sparta, to magical Mystras, staring out, wondering... No words, just feelings. Sometimes nothing. And nothing is alluring, so alluring. Then it tips into everything and...

Sorry, I’m meandering, wandering off again...  Not to the woods today but to the gym – in my uniform of course. Chatting to my neighbour, our lovely vicar; to my instructor, just back from Austria, high on mountain air and cross-country skiing. Chit-chat. Chit-chat. Nice really. I guess it’s what we humans do.

But, then again, why? Are we so scared of what lies beyond silence? Ach, I can’t explain it. Words, see? Useless. If I could only show you...