Saturday 6 June 2015

On wildness

It's Sunday and I should be gardening.  I should be tidying, chopping, weeding, pulling things up and throwing things away.  But I'm not.  Why?  Because I rather love the wild.
Yes, the garden is becoming a bit of a jungle but I like that - I like the profusion, the abandonment, the sheer greenness of it all.
"A green thought in a green shade" indeed...have you read The Garden by Andrew Marvell?  Do, do.
Then it puts me in mind of Hildegard of Bingen and her veriditas, her greening...that juiciness of spirit.
There is a craving in my soul for the green, for the wild wild green...not for neat rows of flowers forced into obedience but wild, wild, abundant, reckless, feckless green.  Nature left to its own devices.  The beauty of frond and flower, of curl and crevice-cling.  So, I leave it be.  I just sit for a moment, a blessed moment, while the house sleeps, watching the branches lazily sway, moved by invisibility - the wind's negative image.
It will take a special person to love this house, this garden... Will they change it?  Of course they will. Everyone seeks to impose their will, their vision, their desire on their abode.

Does it matter? Of course not. Everything changes.

Might you love the Bonkers House and its feckless garden?  Check out its blog.
Or visit the estate agent's website and see it here.  Come view - I won't be here...I'll be a spirit hiding in the green.  

Monday 1 June 2015

On being thingless in Dulverton. And balls.

So, James and I were walking Dan out over the fields by the river, me half-trotting to keep up with his loping stride (when did he get so tall?).
On the narrow track on the way back, we came across a middle-aged couple with a spaniel.
'Is he a male?' called the woman, gesturing at Dan.
'Er...yup,' I replied, slightly discombobulated by the question which contained its own answer.
'Is he intact?'
'Er...' I paused, thought about it, thought about what a strange phrase that is.  'Er, no.'
Poor Dan.  Having his balls, or rather his ex-balls, discussed in public.
'Oh good!  Only she's about ready, you know...' gesturing at the spaniel who looked about ready for anything, in the way that spaniels do.
Oh okay.  TMI already.
It put me in mind of when we used to live on the Levels and there was a certain track beloved of dog walkers.  You'd walk along and people would call out, imperiously: 'Dog?' to which the correct answer was not, 'Of course it's a dog, you stupid bint!' but 'Yes!' to which the person would either nod and say, 'Ditto!' or instead call, 'Bitch!'  Only in England.

Anyhow, we smiled, walked on and James, Dan and I paused at the cricket ground, leaning on the fence (me and James, that is) and watched the match for a bit.  It was all so calm, so peaceful, so rather delightful in that quaint bucolic traditional English way.  The sun shining.  The thwack of ball on bat.  Oh lordy, back to balls again.
And so we were.  Because something thwacked into my leg and it wasn't a ball but Dan, pursued by the not quite but almost on-heat spaniel bitch.
And that voice again: 'Is he male?  Is he intact?'

Wait.  We'd been here before.  Were we on some kind of Möbius loop?
'Er, yes... and no,' I said.
'Oh!  He's mounting her!'
I shrugged.  'Well, nothing will come of it.  He can't do much.'  Rather wistful at how it would have been rather lovely to have some mini-Dans.
'Do you know any good dogs?' asked the woman.
'I beg your pardon?'
'Spaniels?  Good spaniels.  For mating her?'
What?  Did I look like a dog pander?
'Er, no,' I said. 'Maybe try Woods?  Paddy will know.'
'Good point.  Where do you live?'

It all started to feel a bit Kafka-esque, as if I were being interviewed for some job for which I hadn't applied, of which I knew nothing.  My dog breeding failure soon compounded by my lack of any kind of expertise whatsoever.
Had I watched the latest play at the town hall, she asked.
'No,' I said.  'It's not really my thing.'
'Hmm.  What about the ballroom dancing?  Do you do that?  Is that your thing?'
'Er...No, not really.'
'Well, what is your thing?' she demanded, sounding deeply irritated at my lack of thing.
'Er...'  I paused, feeling deeply pathetic.
What was my thing?
I used to have things.  I used to have interests, passions even.  When did I become so disinterested, so apathetic, so thing-less?
'That's it,' I said to James, when we finally escaped, wiping a sheen of sweat from my brow, with a strong suspicion I'd flunked the exam. 'I need a thing.'


Sunday 31 May 2015

Post a poem. The Seafarer - an Old English lament of loneliness.

There's been this 'thing' going round on Facebook, asking people to post a poem a day for four days. My old pal Cheryl tagged me along with the three other members of our short-lived Yellow Dog Sex Toy Clan (don't ask, it's better not to know) and it made me think.  I'm not good with poetry, not really.  But I pondered and The Seafarer came to mind.  When I was studying English, I really loved Anglo-Saxon/Old English/call it what you will. I think I've told you this before.

There is something about going far enough back into a language that the letters themselves are different, that it isn't just a case of altered spellings and word-shifts; it really is a different tongue. Plus the poetry of this time showed society at a seismic spirit-turn - seguing from paganism to Christianity.
There are many poems of this period I love but The Wanderer and The Seafarer were my favourites, and The Seafarer nudges ahead by a briny nose (because I love the sea).  It's raw, it's sensory, it's tearing and yearning in a way that might surprise.

So I looked it up and read it again and found myself in tears.  It had a huge effect on me when I first read it, aged 19 and fresh at college.  All that crisp alliteration and word-smash, like swords crashing together, like waves scything against the bow of a boat, alone, small, hopeless in stormy seas.
Just listen to it...

Forþon nu min hyge hweorfeð And now my heart twists
ofer hreþerlocan,                         out from my breast,
min modsefa                                 my spirit
mid mereflode,                         out in the sea-flood,
ofer hwæles eþel                         over the whale's path
hweorfeð wide,                         it soars wide
eorþan sceatas -                         to the corners of the world -
cymeð eft to me                         it comes back to me
gifre ond grædig;                         greedy and longing;
gielleð anfloga,                         the sole(soul)-flier screams,
hweteð on hwælweg                 urges onto the whale-way
hreþer unwearnum                         the unresisting heart
ofer holma gelagu.                         across the waves of the sea.

Want to read it all?  This has a pretty good translation alongside.  Ezra Pound did his own version but, to my ear, it's not so good.
After all these years I can still remember the debate over 'anfloga' - does it refer to some specific breed of seabird (I once sat through a whole lecture on that particular question) or even a cuckoo (surely not?).  And, because the text was a bit hard to read in places, whether it should be 'hwælweg' (whale-path) or 'wælweg' (death-way).

It doesn't matter, not really. It's a poem of intense loneliness, of loss and yearning. An elegy of exile, of the cold - physical, emotional, spiritual.  A journey - not just over a stretch of sea but through life maybe; towards death certainly.
Re-reading it, I find myself remembering my 19-year old self, how disconnected I felt, how separate - or was that just general late teenage angst and romanticism?
Reading it now I am surprised how much it still resonates, all these years on.  I am surprised, too, at how lonely I feel.

I have never considered loneliness; never really understood it when people complained of it.
I have always loved my own company, lost in thought or not-thought.  I have been self-sufficient, independent, aloof maybe (some might say).  I enjoy company - with the right people - but am never lost alone. But, I am beginning to wonder, is that really true?  Is it healthy?  It's a Sunday afternoon and I'm aware that many people are doing normal nice things - out with families doing stuff together while I'm here, all alone-e-oh, reading Anglo-Saxon poetry. Which is fine and good.  But then again, there is a sadness - a feeling of opportunities missed, of time never to be recaptured.
When I think back, back to when I first read The Seafarer, there was a balance of sorts in my life. Whenever I went out too far on that sea-flood, that whale-path, I would have people to tug me back to the mead-hall, to anchor me with warmth and laughter.  Maybe I need some fellow warriors?

Tuesday 26 May 2015

REVIEW: MIMI Green Goddess Fresh Face Mask

So, as I was saying a while back, I used to love making up my own skincare creams and unguents.  But nowadays I just don't seem to have the time, energy or, let's be very honest, the inclination to faff around sourcing stuff, mixing and murgling. 
Then Juls of The Body Retreat said (on Twitter, as you do), 'I reckon you'd really like MIMI kits.'  And one thing led to another (the way it does on Twitter) and Jess, the founder of MIMI, offered to pop a kit in the post for me to try.

The weather was gorgeous this Bank Holiday weekend here on Exmoor so, having powered through house cleaning and a mega dose of clutter clearing, I figured I'd relax in the garden with the mask.

MIMI kits are all 100 percent natural - absolutely no parabens or petrochemicals.  I like that.  I also like that absolutely everything you need is provided in the kit.  It is deeply irksome to start out doing something and then realise that, really, you needed to go shopping for essential bits and bobs first.  All you need to add to this is water.

The packaging is neat - all wrapped up like a letter, clasped in green (of course) tissue paper.  Everything is neatly named, so you can't go wrong.
Open it up and there's enough here for four treatments.  Here's what you do:
1. First up you pop a green jasmine pearl (detoxifying and skin-protecting) in a mug and add hot water.  The pearl (which looks like a gnarly old seed) unfurls in the heat and you sip the fragrant tea, remembering to leave just a bit for the next stage.
2. Next up is the Green Goddess Powder, a mix of Fine Green French clay (that absorbs excess oil and impurities from the skin, then tones and revitalises); Rhassoul mud (a mineral clay from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco) that helps to cleanse and soften the skin; and Spirulina that gives a mega boost of vitamins, minerals and amino acids to the skin.  You shake one measure out into the mixing pot and add enough jasmine water to make a smooth paste.  
3. Add a few drops of oat oil (soothing and calming to the skin) and mix with the spatula provided.
4. Cleanse your skin thoroughly (I used Celgenics Deep Cleansing Lotion - a new discovery of mine) and then use the hairband provided to keep hair off your face.  
5. Apply mask (I started off with the spatula and then used my fingers) and relax for up to ten minutes.
It dries out quite quickly, which is why this pic has a rather unpleasant two-tone effect - as if I've got slugs wandering over my face.  It tightens swiftly and, really, you wouldn't want it on for more than the ten minutes (I left it a bit longer and then rather enjoyed gurning so it cracked and bits dropped off.) btw, ignore the odd bits on my neck - I had this idea that it might look graphically interesting.  I was wrong.
Then you simply remove the mask (warm water and cotton pads do the trick) and gently rinse  your face.  If you've remembered to keep some cooled Green Jasmine infusion, you can tone with that (I drank it all, so didn't).  Then you pop on some moisturiser (I stuck with Celgenics - this time using their Moisturiser Plus) and - ta-da! - you're done.
I looked a bit 'glowing'  (aka pretty pink with slightly red splodges) but my skin felt really good - toned yet soft.  
I had pondered getting some pals over for a pamper-session with the remaining ingredients (there's enough for four masks) but I might just be incredibly selfish and keep it all for myself.  I confess that, when I opened the pack, I thought it might be all too much of a faddle but, actually, it's simplicity itself and it does feel good to know it's completely fresh.

The Green Goddess mask kit I tried costs £22.  MIMI also do a night face oil kit (£35) and a body rub (£25).  They would make really nice presents and I could also imagine they'd be great for teenage daughters having friends over for sleepovers.

Good call, Juls, good call.
Check out MIMI here. 

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Magma in the heart - a super-volcano of emotion

It's getting harder and harder to breathe.  It really is.  I have a huge pain in my chest, lodged in my heart, and it won't shift. Today it's beautiful on Exmoor, the sun is shining and the garden is looking soft, shy around the edges as if someone started to rub them out. Green blends into green, so many shades of green - there aren't enough words for green. Nowhere near enough.  Not in English.  Is there a more verdant language I could learn?  I feel the urge to speak in Greenish.  Did you know that there are more shades of green recognised by the human eye than any other colour?  How come we do it such a disservice?  Maybe because we are more enamoured of grey? 

Mind you, look at this - a Colour Thesaurus!  Not bad, not bad...but still...
The house hasn't sold yet.  Maybe I am holding onto it too hard?  However much I tell myself that moving is good, moving on is good, change is good, my heart sobs at leaving this place.  Yes, it's a wilful house, a tricksy house, but it is just so damn beautiful.  And, you know me, I fall in love so hard, so fast...with houses.  

Moving to the city will be...different.  Moving to a very small, very normal house, will be...different. I tell myself I don't need space - I can find space in my mind - but still... 

So, in the meantime, I am still shedding, trying to cast off all the 'stuff' that can be forgotten in a large house but can't be hidden away in a small space.  It's not just physical, is it?  It's not just a question of piles more books to be given away.

And I went on Pinterest, as you do, looking for some kind of wayward oracle (even though I find it harder and harder to believe in oracles these days) and found this (left).  And there's truth in that, I feel.  I cling, I cling by the very nibbled-down remnants of my fingernails.  

I think I'm calm; I think I'm being all chilled and Zen but, you know, it's bullshit.  Underneath the surface, it's all bubbling like bloody magma.  I'm a sodding volcano. 
Talking of which, I am having BIG volcano anxiety at the moment.  It's been floating around a fair bit for the last few months but really erupted as James was teaching me about natural 'disasters' as part of his geography revision.  
'You know about Yellowstone, right, Mum?' he asked.
'Sure,' I said.  I went there, way back when I was 20-something, as part of my crazy 'around the USA in 21 days' trip.  
'You know the whole thing's a caldera, don't you?  You do know what a caldera is, don't you? Yellowstone is one freaking supervolcano, right?'  
Yup, I knew.  But I think I had conveniently blanked it from my mind.  We talked about what would happen if it blew - and, you know, it's scary freaky.  
'Where would be safe?' I asked.
'It would affect the whole world,' he said, sadly. 'But they reckon it's not that likely it's going to blow any time very soon,' he continued, trying to be comforting (since when did sons have to comfort their mothers?). 
And, as I sat here, writing this post, I began to wonder - I was talking about magma, wasn't I?  Not lava?  So I Googled and the first hit was less than reassuring...have a look

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Why do we do stuff that makes us feel crap? Was Freud right?

Why do we do stuff that we know makes us feel crap? Why do we hurt our bodies and harm our hearts and minds?

I know what makes me feel good. It's so very simple.  My body feels great when I eat light, easily digestible food (and not too much of it).  When I cut out alcohol and coffee and too much tea.  When I exercise, when I do yoga, when I stretch and sleep well.  My mind smiles when I meditate, my heart smiles when I laugh.
When I'm on retreat (doing all of the above) I feel pretty good.  Last year on holiday in Poland I added lake swimming, cycling and kayaking to the mix and felt fabulous (well, apart from a couple of rogue nights on vodka).

So what happens when I come home?  What's to stop me carrying on with what clearly works? Nobody is making me eat shit; nobody is forcing me to down half a bottle of Cointreau in one sitting. I can't make an excuse of time. I could easily fit in an hour of yoga and meditation; a salad or soup takes little more time to make than a crap sandwich.  Okay, so I can't go lake swimming or kayaking every day but I have weekends, don't I?

It's as if I want to scupper myself; to hurt myself.  Why? Why?

I remember when my (adopted) father was alive.  His doctor told him that unless he radically overhauled his diet and started exercising, he would have a heart attack.  It was that simple.  He chose to keep eating (and eating and eating) and to sit on the sofa.  He had a heart attack - a fatal one.  So, effectively, he chose to die.  It sounds brutal but that's the bottom line, isn't it?

Was dear old Freud right?  Remember, he reckoned that we all have 'an innate death drive' that impels us to pursue our own downfall and death.'

I hate to believe that.  So I started mosying around the Internet and found that what I'm doing is called 'self-defeating behaviour' (nice to have a name for it). It's defined as 'any deliberate or intentional behaviour that has clear, definitely or probably negative effects on the self or on the self’s projects.'

I carried on reading through the psychological literature and, really, it struck me as a load of twaddle. I read about 'trade-offs', about 'self-handicapping', about 'counter-productive strategies'.  I read about how we're more likely to behave in a self-defeating or destructive manner when we have low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or emotional distress.  Apparently 'highly distraught' people are more likely than others to do self destructive things. Well, doh.

Then, apparently, there's 'self-regulation failure', a lack of self-control.  When self-regulation is working right, we can prepare for situations and adapt to situations.  We can make sure we succeed, or allow ourselves to fail (because sometimes failure is useful).

Okay, but why?  Is it back to Freud?  Is there really an urge to entropy?  Or is it lack of hope?

Today I am trying...once flip the switch.  I've done it before so I know I can do it.  If I've done it once, I can do it again, right?  So I went to the gym and did some yoga.  I am trying to switch my mind, to feed myself messages that support health, life, happiness rather than sickness, failure, misery.  Because, really, it's all in the mind.  Don't you think?
Yes, yes, that's a baby least to you all Cross Fitters out there.  But steps.

Friday 15 May 2015

Man and Superman - it's a (National Theatre Live) Shaw thing

'Do you and James fancy coming to the cinema on Thursday, with me and Gabs?' said Rachel.  'My treat.'
Cinema? An evening out? Entertainment?  Free entertainment?
'Sure!' I said.
'Exactly!' she said.
Turns out she had tickets for Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw.
'But that's a play thing,' I said.
'It's a National Theatre Live thing,' she said.
Turns out that the National Theatre has started filming certain productions in front of live audiences in the theatre so that us benighted souls out in the boon-docks can get a bit of know, something to save us from our relentless foxhunting, pheasant shooting and kamikaze cider drinking sessions.

I confess my heart sank a bit.  Back in the day I used to review theatre in London and, awful but true, it sort of put me off live theatre. And the one thing that can be worse than live theatre is live theatre filmed.  The only advantage I can see is that you get a decent seat; no chance of being stuck behind a pillar or with an infeasibly tall person plonked in front of you.  Rachel knows me; she could hear the curl of the lip, the crinkle of the nose.
'It's got Ralph Fiennes in it.'
'Oh come on! You know...Ralph Fiennes?  Voldemort!'

I paused.  'Hang about.  How did you persuade Gabs to go?'
There was a very long pause.
'Er...I went a bit heavy on the "Superman" bit and...sort of coughed over the "Man and" bit,' she said.
I nearly choked.  'So my poor little godson thinks he's going to see some version of Superman?'
'Yup,' she said brightly.  'I'm going heavy on the popcorn.'

I really didn't think James would countenance it for five seconds but, to my utter amazement, he shrugged and said, 'Sure.'
'Exactly,' I didn't say.  Nor did I say that it was billed at three hours and forty minutes.  Silence is golden.

Five minutes in and he was glaring daggers at me.  'It's a play!' he hissed.
I smiled brightly and broke open the popcorn.

What can I say?  I'm not going to reprise my theatre critic days but, suffice to say, it was well-acted, very well-acted.  I found myself in awe of Fiennes' memory, above all.  The man (like many men, has to be said) doesn't stop talking, an incessant flow of rhetoric.  The modern setting looked pretty good but sat uneasily with the social set-up (woman needing man as guardian, when father dies).

The highlight, for me, was the hell scene.  Apparently this was commonly excluded from past productions which seems nuts because it is, as far as I see, the crux of the whole production. It's what stops it being another comedy of manners (a reverse Taming of the Shrew, a quasi Emma). Shaw explores the basis of love, the nature of...well...nature, inspiration, eternity and the meaning of life - clothed in Nietzschean concepts of life affirmation and the Übermensch.

Anyhow.  At some point, we left, nearly four hours later (James having given me one of his 'you are the worst mother in the entire world to keep me up so late when I'm in the middle of GCSEs...and for theatre' looks) and walked back to the car.
'I don't get the superman bit,' said Gabs.
I frowned.  Poor lad.  If James had found it interminable, how the hell (ho ho) had he stuck it out?
'I mean, that bit where she says, "Tell me where I can find the Superman?" and the Devil says he hasn't been created yet, and she says that she will look for a father for the Superman.'
We looked at him.  'Huh?'
'So he hasn't evolved yet, right?'