Thursday, 29 September 2011

Blugger? Chlogger? Who cares? This is a good cause

I ran away from home once.  I was about six and I’d taken extreme umbrage over something (I forget what but, trust me, it would have been trivial to the extreme). I marched purposefully down the street until I got tired and then I sat on a wall and waited.  Waited for someone to come and find me.  Depressingly they didn’t and so I slunk home and just pretended nothing had happened.  Nobody ever knew. 
It’s a funny, sad, silly little story.  But I was lucky.  I never had a real reason to run away.  And when I did nothing happened, except a little wounded pride maybe.  But other children?  Ah hell, they aren’t so fortunate. 
According to the charity, Railway Children, 100,000 under 16s run away or are forced to leave their homes every year. A scarily  high number are under twelve.  And they often end up living on the streets because they have nowhere to go and no one to turn to.   Railway Children aims to help them – both here in the UK and internationally.
I dunno about you but the idea of my son living rough on the streets, open to abuse, violence, exploitation, cold, hunger, fear…turns me cold, it really does. Can you imagine your child?  Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?
I know times are tough and there are endless appeals from charities – which do you choose, how do you give?  I don't want to become a blogger-chugger.  A blugger? A chlogger? Whatever.  But actually, in this case, you don't even need to stick your paw in your wallet - someone else will give for you.  All you need to do is click your mouse to get funds to this rather vital charity.

You can also strut your stuff, should be of that persuasion. The charity's campaign Street Dance for Change is looking for people to show off their best dance moves.  All you have to do is record your own 30-second street dance video and share it with your friends.  Aviva will donate £2 to Railway Children every time it’s viewed.  Yeah, two quid!  And it’s not all altruistic as the most viewed videos will be in with a chance to win tickets to Diversity’s 2012 tour and to meet the group. 

You can find the Facebook page right here.  

Personally, I rather like this one...

And, if you really can’t be doing with street dance (yeah, I know, it’s not everyone’s shuffle) then why not get your Christmas cards from this bunch – or even just a wrist band


Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Breakfast Nirvana

wake before the sun rises and slowly become aware of my body. I stretch and give thanks for the new day ahead of me.  I drink a glass of room temperature water, wash my face, scrape my tongue and have a good crap. Next up I oil my entire body and then shower, all the time mindful of how I feel, how I think, how I breathe, how the water feels on my skin.  
Time for exercise, so I run through several rounds of the Salute to the Sun, as the sun itself starts to cast its cool golden rays on my stretching limbs.  From here, it’s natural to spend some time in pranayama, conscious breathing, and around twenty minutes of meditation.
Aaah.  Breakfast.  Fresh juice (thank you Oscar) and warm quinoa porridge with nuts, seeds and yoghurt.  We eat mindfully but peacefully as a family, all together at the breakfast table, fresh flowers scenting the room.  Then we walk, calmly, mindfully, down through town to drop James at the bus, smiling and waving at our neighbours, before taking the SP for a beautiful walk in nature.
Are your jaws on the floor yet?  Are you chewing at my jugular?  Relax. This is the moment where, were this a film, there would be a screeching noise and someone would yell “CUT!”.  Is that my morning routine?  Is it heck!  That is how the ayurvedic sages say I should start my day – and, oh my, how I wish I could. 
But the ayurvedic sages don’t have to juggle family and work, do they?  Complacent bastards.  Shall we take a look at what really happened this morning?
6am and Adrian’s revolting phone ring-tone drags me out of sleep.  Yes, it’s still dark but, as I become aware of my body, I realise it is tired, verging on exhausted. Am I feeling grateful? Nope, I’m feeling close to murderous.
‘Sleep well?’
I resist the urge to fling a punch and grit my teeth. ‘Not really.’ 
He looks puzzled.  ‘Did I snore?’
No, dear, but you did a good impersonation of a large pugnacious brewery throughout the night – thrashing around, holding surreal conversations with nobody in particular and exuding enough fumes to set fire to a small conurbation. But there’s no time to go into that as we have to run around like the Keystone Kops cooking breakfast, making industrial strength coffee, trying to make space on the breakfast table to put a plate, trying to find the lost scrum-cap, the mislaid compass, the god knows what else.  Meanwhile James has his laptop out and is typing and swearing.
‘You’re not on Facebook? For pity’s sake, not now?’ I say, glaring unayurvedically.
‘No, actually. I’m doing my homework, alright?’ He says, in a very snippy pitta-ish fashion.
What?  ‘But you were up until 10pm doing it last night!’  Me, flying off the handle vata-fashion.
‘I forgot this bit.’
Even putting aside the fecking ayurvedic sages, I have this dream of a calm family breakfast, the kind you see on the adverts, the kind (come to think of it) we have when we go to stay with my MIL in Wales. The table is set, with a tablecloth and bowls and plates and things. There’s a toast rack and marmalade and jam.  Radio 4 is playing in the background and a cooked breakfast is sizzling in the pan (even though I don't eat it). Proper breakfast.
We talked about this, when I went up to London earlier this week for a presentation by Kellogg’s – about how so few children actually have any kind of breakfast at all, let alone with toast racks and table cloths. 
* One in seven children don’t eat breakfast and, by the time they get to secondary school, one in five don’t eat it.
* One in four girls say they skip breakfast because they’re dieting.
* Children in the UK spend £650 million buying food on the way to school and that food tends to be crisps, chocolate and, bleeugh, burgers – yup, if they’re eating breakfast, they’re eating junk food breakfast.  Great eh?
* Of those who don’t eat breakfast, a third won’t eat or drink anything until lunchtime.
Now, I’m not the best of example of sensible eating but I do know that children need fuelling if they are going to learn.  Kellogg’s had some research on this too (and yeah, yeah, I know they sell breakfast cereals for a living but the statistics behind this seem as firm as statistics ever can be)…
Children who skip breakfast are:
-          * More likely to be obese
-         *  Less likely to enjoy school
-         *  Less likely to perform well in work or play
-          * More likely to snack during the day
At the presentation we talked about breakfast clubs, something (I’ll be honest) I hadn’t really given much thought.  Because Adrian and I work from home, we’ve never needed to use one.  But it seems they do have benefits.  According to the Kellogg's research they:
         Improve  attendance and punctuality
         Improve concentration in class
          Improve behaviour in class
          Improve relationships between teachers and pupils
          Improve educational attainment
          Provide breakfast for those children that don’t get it at home
          Provide essential and affordable childcare for working parents.
Since the cuts, many schools have been struggling to keep clubs going and Kellogg’s are fronting a campaign called Help Give a Child a Breakfast in which, for every box of Cornflakes you buy, they donate to a Breakfast Club Trust.  Schools can apply for grants (it’s a one-page application) - check out this page
Now I’ve always been a bit sniffy about Cornflakes and commercial breakfast cereals in general but it seems I may need to eat my words, or at least chew them a little.  But, hey, I’m not in the mood for eating humble pie right now so let’s talk about that another time, alright?
For now, let’s just say our breakfasts aren’t exactly calm and peaceful; they certainly aren’t remotely ayurvedic but at least James has a breakfast.  Do you make sure your children have a decent breakfast?  Do you know a school that could benefit from having a breakfast club? If so, maybe nudge them in the direction of the website – and urge them to set up a club.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Is ignorance bliss - or plain stupid?

How much do you know about your body, your health?  How much would you want to know?  A while back I had an email asking if I’d like to try out a health screening – to get tested for cheery things like carotid artery disease, atrial fibrillation, abdominal aortic aneurysm and peripheral arterial disease.  Hmm, I wondered, would I? Should I?
Because, see, I’m one of those people who Like To Know.  As in, I like to face up to things full-on, if I possibly can.  Obviously there are things one can never know but for some stuff, the answers are there – you simply need to ask the right questions.
When it comes to health, I figure prevention is better than cure. If I’ve got fatty plaque building up in my aorta, I’d kinda like to know because then I could figure out what to do about it.  Presuming, of course, that I wanted to live.  And I do wonder about this, frankly, sometimes. Is it just me or do you all have friends and family who seem intent on some lemming-like race to chuck themselves over the cliff? 
I have watched not one, but two fathers kill themselves. Yes, beyond careless, I know. My birth father did it with fags.  My adopted father did it with fatty food and lack of exercise.  I don’t really blame the former – FFS doctors were saying cigarettes were ‘good for the lungs’ back in the sixties.  Hmm, doctors eh?  But Erik, my big bad lovely Viking Erik, he knew what he was doing.  He’d been told, in no uncertain terms, that he needed to eat less and walk more.  He chose not to and dropped dead of a massive heart attack watching the news. His last words were: ‘Bloody Israelis’.  Not sure how he would have felt about my recent trip. J
But anyway.  Some people say they’d rather not know the state of their arteries, or if they’re at risk of a heart attack or a stroke or osteoporosis.  Why? Presumably because, if they knew, they’d feel they ought to do something about it?  I dunno. 
Anyhow, I went.  It was all a bit surreal really.  James and the SP sat outside in the car while I wandered into a village hall taken over by Life Line Screening for the day (they travel around the country, it seems, so you can usually find a screening nearby).  It was a relief not having to go to a hospital (our local hospitals all have extremely bad memories for me).  I filled in a form and was then called in to get tested, passed around from station to station like a parcel.  Everyone was very efficient, very pleasant; it was all done and dusted in half an hour and off we went to Taunton to buy yet more trainers for the child with the ever expanding feet (btw, if anyone has any spare size 8 cool trainers or walking boots, please feel free to post them!).
They told me the results would take three weeks and, to the day, they arrived.  It seems I am, once again, remarkably and reassuringly normal.  Of course, human nature means I am now wondering about the things I wasn’t screened for (osteoporosis, cholesterol/lipid panel, coronary heart disease risk) – but hey…
I asked a doctor friend what she thought about this kind of screening and she was enthusiastic.  ‘Preventative screening is not 100 percent accurate but I totally believe in it,’ she said. So when, I asked her, should we start getting ourselves tested?  ‘PAP smears once you’re sexually active,’ she said. ‘And most other tests after 40, depending on your family history.’
And yes, that’s great – if you can afford it.  The basic package of tests I had (free, I hasten to add) would cost £139 and a full workout would set you back £199.  Yes, it’s small fry if it saves your life – but if you can’t afford it?  See, what really and truly pisses me off is that prevention simply isn’t seen as an important part of our health service.
I have always maintained that if doctors' surgeries incorporated nutritional therapists, osteopaths (and Alexander Technique teachers), fitness instructors and hypnotherapists (for starters) we could have a much healthier population, far less reliant on drugs and requiring far less hospitalisation.  Add in breathing, meditation and yoga workshops and, by heck, we might be getting somewhere. Yes, it would cost – initially – but those costs would be recouped quite swiftly.  A few years back, we tried to get this model up and running on Exmoor but, sadly, it didn’t come about.  At which point you have to wonder, don’t you, about what truly runs our health service – the doctors or the pharmaceutical companies? 
Okay, conspiracy theories aside, I do think this kind of screening is useful.  I just wish, so much, that it were available to everyone, for free.  And that, when the results come in and show bits of plaque build up or whatever, that people might heed the warnings and look after their poor bodies. Of course, you could also talk to your GP who might be able to arrange testing for you on the NHS. - but I think that that is a  bit of a lottery. Would be interested to know people's experiences on this/
Thanks to Life Line Screening  for organising my tests.  There are a range of packages available - see the website. And the promo vid clip belows shows what happens...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Why ivy bothers me

You know what bothers me?  Ivy.  Yes, ivy.  Okay, gardeners and wildlife people, stand down – I know it can be a wonderful thing; I know it doesn’t really harm houses; I know it gives a home to a host of bugs and other critters.  But, but, but…it fecking well clings. It’s so bloody needy. It wraps itself, it insinuates itself, it doesn’t let things sodding well breathe.
For a long time now I’ve been bothered about one particular piece of ivy; the bit that clambers up “my” tree in the wood just below the hilltop fort.  See, there is this lovely oak – not old, not young but somewhere in the middle; straight, true, real, rooted to the earth, reaching to the sky.  Beautiful. And then there’s this fecking ivy, clutching it, cleaving to it, twining itself around the tree’s trunk.  So, a while back, I gave it a tentative tug.  Oh my, it started to ease away.  Was it really that easy?  No.  After a fair amount of pulling and tugging and yes, to my shame, even swinging (thank feck nobody wandered past) it remained, firmly attached at the top, solidly rooted at the bottom – with now a huge ivy rope wildly bending out in the middle.  This, I thought, won’t do. I can’t become a tree vandal.  If it doesn’t want to let go, who am I to insist?  So I let it be. Well, okay, so I just gave a little pull every so often. 
Then, the other day, I looked at it again.  I held onto the rope of its middle and pulled it, gently this time, towards me. And, you know what? It fell into two in my hands. Just like that. Funny eh?  All that tugging and effort, all that fighting and all that was needed was to find the soft spot and then all resistance dissolved.  It reminded me of the exercises in Cutting theTies that Bind – in which you energetically free yourself from claustrophobic, possibly destructive relationships, by visualising a cord between you – and then symbolically and simply snipping it apart. I often recommend it to people and they frequently baulk. ‘But I don’t want to end the relationship,’ they say.  And I say, ‘Well, maybe you won’t have to.’
Because, see, cutting the ties doesn’t necessarily mean the end of something.  It simply means you’re giving up the possession, the clinging, the hanging on. Recently this question of freedom and containment keeps coming up – both in real life, online life, in the columns I have to write. Because, in relationships in particular, we can all become ivy-ish and, lately, I’ve had the same kind of issues pushed under my nose, again and again: people worrying that their partner doesn’t love them as much as they love in return; people scared of their partner’s possible infidelity; stories of partners being controlling and jealous, and so on. And I find myself thinking and sometimes saying, the same thing. 
If you love someone, let them go.  Set them free. 
I’m talking energetically; psychically.  I’m talking about freeing people to be themselves.  I’m talking about withdrawing the need, the clinging, the compulsion. Recently someone said to me: ‘But, Jane, I love him so much. I just don’t think he loves me anymore. What can I do? How can I change?’
The answer is, quite simply, you can’t. You cannot force love, you cannot insist on love. You cannot change yourself to fit love. Love just is. Sometimes love lasts, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it changes.  But you can’t force it.  My advice to her?  Stop worrying about this hypothetical person he might want you to be and be yourself. Love yourself first and foremost; be true to your Self.  And then, who knows?  Maybe the cracks will widen and the vessel won’t hold. And, in that case, it wasn’t meant to be and you should, as graciously as possible, let it go. Or maybe, just maybe, he will fall in love with you all over again; this ‘real’ you.   
I dunno.  Do you really want relationships in which you have to worry all the time? In which you cannot be yourself, your true self?  Do you want to live your life pretending?  Being stressed about what he or she might be doing, who they might be seeing?
It’s not just romantic relationships either. We are often tied in these claustrophobic, clinging, ivy-ish patterns with parents, with children, with friends, with work colleagues. 
Cutting the ties, pulling off the ivy, can be hard, so hard.  It can be scary and it evokes that primal fear of being alone.  But, seriously, you know what?  I’d rather be alone, totally alone, than have people be with me because they felt they had to be.  I don’t want pity relationships; I don’t want relationships built on need.  I want people with me who love me for what I am, warts and all. And, in return, I hope I give them the freedom to be the people they are.  And then, truly, there is an end to all fear and suspicion and jealousy and sadness.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Today I am grateful for...

This morning I’ve been going through my PC, clearing out, clearing up.  I found a pile of documents and information sheets from when my mother was so ill and I binned the lot. Why keep all that pain eh?  But one document made me pause and I opened it and read the words I had spoken at her funeral. And, I dunno, I had a sudden feeling that I should post it here. So, well…here you go.  This is what I said, standing in the aisle of the church in Bampton, Devon, my hands shaking like fury…
“Mum was a thinker, a deep thinker, a seeker and a true mystic.  As a very young child she loved nothing better than to stay up, quiet as a mouse, and listen to the conversation at the supper table – of religion, of psychology, of philosophy and mythology.  When I, in turn, grew up a similar love of knowledge and a deep yearning for the divine imbued our home.  Yet Mum was no saint, no nun, she was a practical mystic and, above all, a grateful one.  Mum believed in gratitude above all else – and she practised it assiduously throughout her life.
Like most people, Mum loved nice things (heaven only knows she liked nice clothes) yet she never needed them.  She saw the beauty and the bliss in the small things, the quiet asides of life – and she gave thanks for them.  
When she died I found a journal. This journal.  Not a diary – just a collection of thoughts, of favourite poems and sayings.  The words that follow all come from there.
Above all, there are her gratitude notes.  Every day she would think of things for which she was grateful.  Sometimes she would write them down, like this, written when she lived in Chedzoy.

"Today I am grateful for:
Beautiful warmth and fresh air on my walk to the meadow and beyond.
Minnows (hundreds of them) in the ditch, darting about as my shadow falls on the water.
For my shadow – that shows I exist. For the wonder of my shadow.
For being part of the universe and for loving it.
For the comet seen last night so clearly with its wondrous tail."

Sometimes they were far more prosaic.

"Today I am grateful for
A good night’s sleep
A happy mood
The energy to do my yoga
Finding a parking space easily
Clean windows
Fresh carrot juice made from organic carrots!"

As many of you know, she loved Bampton – and I have to include this short note written when she heard that the offer on her house here had been accepted.

"I have a house
I have 9 Brook Street
I am happy, so happy
I am grateful
I am so lucky.
Even the birds are singing for me
My whole body sings for me
But my hand cries so I must stop."

She never gave herself an easy time.  She was a fervent perfectionist and demanded hugely high standards of herself, frequently berating herself for not getting it right – not so much on practical matters, but on spiritual affairs.  However, she learnt – and taught – this hugely valuable lesson.  Again I quote from her journal….

"I have learnt a great many lessons over the years, as everyone does, but when you reach old age, you realise  that you have to accept that there isn’t time to atone for all the wrongs, but there is time – or should I say, it IS time – to drop all the old luggage and find peace without perfection.  Maybe a better word is serenity and always gratitude for all I have had – which is the ability to love this world and all it offers.  Even Bad makes us appreciate Good."

Looking round this church I can imagine Mum scribbling down another gratitude list.  She would love that she has been the cause for so many dear dear friends being together.  For her family – far-flung as we are – to all be in the same place at the same time.  She would look at every much loved face and add you to her list. 
She would probably also take this opportunity to make a few points.  She might well want to say the words of Nathaniel Branden from her journal:

"To honour the self is…..
To be in love with our own life, in love with our possibilities for growth and for experiencing joy; in love with the process of discovery and with exploring our distinctively human potentialities."

She would want us to be grateful for all that is good in our lives; to focus on the good and to learn from the bad.  She would want to be remembered, not with sorrow but with joy and pleasure, laughter and love. 
Then I think she would end with the Irish Blessing that was also tucked into her book.

"May the roads rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand."

God bless, Mum.  I am so grateful I knew you.” 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A message from Pisser summons me to the Past

‘Mum, are you ever going to answer that phone?’
‘No. If whoever it is wants to talk to us, whoever can damn well leave a message.’
‘But they’ve been ringing for four days now and, if you answer it, you can tell them to leave a message next time. It’s not some kind of peeing contest, Mum.’
‘Oh, for pity’s sake.’

I snatched up the phone. ‘YES???’
A tinny voice emerged. Obviously a text message. ‘Blah, blah…Pisser…blah blah…three in a bed…ha ha…blah blah…Daddy wants to see you…’
What the…??? I threw myself over the machine so James wouldn’t hear what was clearly some pervy nutter. Fat chance.
‘Who is it? And why are you tackling the phone? And who’s John Warren and why isn’t he coming?’
‘I really don’t have the foggiest.’

But, hang about… John Warren. I knew that name. Way back in the mists of time. And, slowly, I deciphered it. It was my friend Fi, at Pisa (not Pisser) airport asking if I wanted to stay at her house as there would be room (because JW wasn’t coming). And Daddy? Another friend, usually called by her surname Dady (Daydee).  Stupid phone, as Milla would say.

Turned out that tomorrow, now today, was the City Limits reunion party, in London. City Limits was a London listings magazine, a worker’s co-operative, which started when Time Out stopped paying parity. I left my nice well-paid job doing the accounts for the Royal Tournament (where I was fed champagne and had my own pet Commander) to become the magazine’s office manager (on a pittance).

On my first day, I walked in and said hello to the first person I met. ‘Oh good. Glad you’re here,’ he replied. ‘The cellar’s flooded. It's full of shit - literally.’ Kinda set the tone.
I met some wonderful people there and, truth be told, some totally repulsive ones. I started reviewing (theatre, books, food and, weirdly, museums). Ended up as Shopping and Travel editor before being poached by the London Evening Standard. And, to be honest, by that point, it was all over. The spirit and soul of the place had been sucked out. It had lost its way.

But, in its heyday, it was wonderfully, blissfully bonkers and packed with some serious talent. John Fordham and Nigel Fountain were the editors. Duncan Campbell, Bea Campbell and Melissa Benn were in the news room. Ros Asquith and Lyn Gardner were the theatre editors. Sheryl Garratt was music editor. Kim Newman used to wander in swishing his black cape. And on and on..  Ah, the memories come flooding back… some good, some bad.

‘You are going?’ said Lyn (Gardner) on Twitter.
‘Yeah, I guess. Though I think I may be wearing dark glasses.’
‘I’ll have a wig,’ she responded firmly. I could her her voice in my head, clear as a bell.
‘Will we recognise one another?’

I wonder. I also wonder this, as I pack my overnight bag and try to erase the bags under my eyes. Should one revisit the past? All those people who shone so bright…will they still shine? Many won’t be there. Some, like my lovely mate Nicky Pellegrino, cos they live so very far away. Others because they are, not to put too fine a point on it, dead. Daddy sent me an email (she was always of a depressive bent) giving a list of our deceased former workmates. 14 of ‘em. Fecking sad.

Should one go back? I dunno. But I do know I’m looking forward mightily to going back to Dalston to stay at Fi and Andrew’s house (and seeing Daddy of course). Cos, in my twenties, I spent so much time there – at their kitchen table drinking wine; in their back garden chatting over the fence with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (and drinking wine). Arguing animatedly about art and politics, waving our arms around, laughing our heads off, occasionally shouting our heads off.

Should one go back?  Time will tell.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Meningitis - your help required

Okay, so this isn't my usual type of blog post at all - but I need some help.
Next month I'm attending a forum, organised by Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Limited, on  public perceptions of meningitis.  I've been asked if I could provide the opinions of my blog followers.  The survey follows and if you could spend a couple of minutes filling it in, I'd be very grateful.
If you have any thoughts or opinions, do feel free to share them with a comment.  I'd be really interested to hear. For obvious reasons, I won't give my own thoughts right now... :)

Breathe damnit!

There’s this blog post I keep wanting to write but, every time, each and every time I start, something stops me. Ah well….never mind.

I went to the gym yesterday after walking the SP. Got on the exercise bike to warm up and it was like peddling through treacle. I didn’t have one bit of energy, not one bit. But I figured I could work through it, just keep going. Anyhow, I wanted to try out the new TRX. So I peddled on and got talking to the woman on the bike next to me. ‘Gonna try out the TRX?’ I said.
‘Nope,’ she replied. ‘It’s my first time back; I’ve been ill, so I’ve gotta take it easy.’
‘Oh, sorry to hear that,’ I said. ‘What was wrong?’
‘Pleurisy. Viral pleurisy.’ Ouch.

Then someone else came in, but in mufti, not gym gear. I hadn’t seen her for absolutely ages.
‘Hey, you! Long time, no see… What’s been going on?’
‘Pleurisy,’ she said.
If you wondered - this is the TRX
No shit.
And we chatted for a bit – about doctors and shrinks and floatation and diet and so on. And then she said. ‘Bottom line, I didn’t listen to my body.’

And I thought about that, as I half-heartedly went round the weight machines, every muscle crying quietly. But thought is all mind, right? And then I strapped myself into the TRX and did some planks – and then started doing crunches and then – right there – in mid-air, my body just shouted: ‘For pity’s sake, woman, enough already!!’

So I untangled myself, came home and went on Twitter and asked: ‘Do we listen to our bodies?’
And Twitter said: ‘No. Because my body alternates screaming at me "stop eating!" with "eat more!" :-/’
And Twitter also said: ‘My body tells me to sit on the couch and drink coffee.’
And Twitter said: ‘My body is shouting “Give me cake, chocolate and Ben&Jerrys!”
But does it? Is it? Is it really?

Cos that’s it, isn’t it? Mind tells us one thing; but body can talk a totally different language, if we learn to listen.
I’ve recently put an old book of mine, The Energy Secret, up on Amazon in Kindle format and in that I went through a series of stuff that might help us get in touch with our bodies. Note to self: sometimes you should follow your own advice, Jane. Not often – but sometimes.

And then I opened emails and read through one from a dear friend who has pulmonary edema right now and sighed. All these people with lung problems. Breathing. So fundamental we don’t even think about it very often; we just take it for granted.
I wrote about that too in The Energy Secret. About how there is a yoga proverb that says: “Life is in the breath. Therefore he who only half breathes, half lives.” The Buddhist tradition regards every breath and giving new life and every exhalation as a little death. In fact, look at pretty well every ancient system of healing, every branch of spirituality and will find lessons in the lungs. Breath for thought, eh? There are a whole batch of exercises you can use to shift energy, to change your physiology, your state of mind.
But really I like Bija Bennett’s approach best. Bija is a yoga teacher and writer and her little book Breathing Into Life is very lovely…it doesn’t ‘instruct’ per se, it’s more like breathing medication/meditation, with each page like a poem.  Like this...

Breathing into Life

Most likely
if you
to fall into a lake
you may
remember to breathe
for a moment
fully appreciate
your life
and your breath.

Her breathings are both poetic and (quite literally) inspirational – with lovely titles like The Wave, About the Sun and the Moon, A Daily Bath, The River Flows, In a Cage, Reach in the Dark, Absolute Uncertainty, Ride the Waves, Return to the Well, Secret Spirit, The Disappearing Act.

Ah, I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Flogging someone else’s book, rather than my own. Ah well. What goes around comes around eh?
I emailed Bija to ask her if she'd mind my reproducing one more…and she came right back and said "Of course! Use whatever you want!!" Which didn't surprise me in the slightest.  And I was so pleased as, see, all those people with lung problems, I reckon fear often has something to do with it…fear of feeling, fear of life...and this is all about just that… 

Dive Deep

Don’t be afraid to feel afraid.

Leave the safety of your sanctuary
and wander into something rare.
Instead of pulling away
turn around and face it. Because whatever happens
you won’t die. (You might cry or laugh, but you won’t die.)

Pay attention to what is going on inside you and
dive deep
into the depths of your fear.
Even when it feels like you are drowning
keep the agreement with yourself
to go deeper. Keep breathing.
The other side of fear is love.

Redirect your attention and change the pressure within yourself.
Don’t doubt, get discouraged, and stop the loving.
Feel into the feeling in your heart.
Really breathe fully
and continue to let it circulate and swell.
Allow a simple love of life to emerge.

Take time with it. Go further.
Expand the currents of your breath inside you and around you.
Discover more flow.
It may well be that you need to work through a lot of tensions.
And that’s all right. But the purpose is not just to work through them
but to move beyond them.

Your breath is the vehicle that moves you through.

Diving deep
you’ll find
that your love is what’s really alive.

Note: Bija tells me that she's creating a new site which sounds really exciting... make a note of this URL and see how it develops...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

My Proustian potato cake

For Proust it was madeleines; for me it’s potato cakes.  Well, okay, I'm talking about university while Proust was lurching to childhood but the Proustian scent of childhood for me is, bathetically, creosote and, sorry, but I’m not going into that here and now.  
Potato cakes on the other hand...  A big box arrived last week and we fell on it like starving shipwrecked people (which, actually, sums us up pretty well).  Food parcel!  Huzzah! Tally ho!  And not the usual sweets or popcorn or lollies but the very staff of life. Good old Bakestone had sent us enough baked goods to feed the proverbial (or should that be miraculous?) five thousand.  Big loaves, rolls, muffins, scones, buns…you name it…but what I grabbed - lasciviously - elbowing aside my child even - were the potato cakes.
I grew up in suburban South London.  We didn’t eat potato cakes there. I’d never even heard of the things until I went ‘up North’ to university in Manchester.  In our second year, six of us rented a house in Whalley Range:  three girls, three boys and a neurotic kitten called Guinevere (not my fault – Sig was heavily into Arthurian romance and technically she had installed the creature and claimed naming rights.)  What we hadn’t realised, as we naively took our keys from our toe-rag of a landlord, was that there was a seventh room.  And in that seventh room lived four people (a tired looking woman, her young pretty boyfriend and her two children) plus three ferrets and the most depressed cat I have ever met – named, suitably, Blue.
Image by Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum
I hadn't had a wealthy childhood, to put it mildly.  We were ‘hard up’ (as in I was the kid who got free school meals, free bus pass, coupons for school uniform and so on) but I’d not seen the kind of poverty that literally stunts children’s growth.  The older boy was 13 (if I recall) but he looked about eight.  He used to take the ferrets to Victoria Park to go rabbiting – in the hopes of getting some protein for the pot.  He used to shoot rats out of the window (and we half-suspected they went in the pot too).  But mainly the family lived on potato cakes. 
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, they’re not really cakes per se.  They're not a pancake, not a fritter, not a rissole, not a farl...they're...ah, the hell with it, here's a recipe…make 'em yourselves. 
Potato Cakes
150g mashed potato; 80g plain flour; salt and pepper (I like black; some prefer white). 
Season the mash and add flour to form a soft dough. Flour your worktop and roll out the dough to about 6mm thickness then flour the surface of the dough and cut into 5cm diameter circles.
Heat a non-stick pan without oil and gently brown the potato cakes.
Got it?  Now all you do is score the top lightly and slather on butter.  Utterly delicious.  But hardly a balanced diet huh? 
Anyhow.  The potato cakes got me on a memory jag and I was right back there, a skinny girl with long red hair and hurt eyes. 19 years old and neurotic as hell: physically fearless yet emotionally cauterised. My room was at the very top of the house, the old attic, shaped like a coffin with a balcony that looked out over a tree-lined street.  Our neighbours were mainly prostitutes – soft-hearted women who searched the streets when our cat went missing. The woman opposite said she’d seen the Yorkshire Ripper; that she’d told the police but they hadn’t come quickly enough.  And she called the police again when she thought I’d hanged myself – one of us (I forget who) had hung a life-size Batman in the hallway window.  We hadn’t realised how it looked, shadow-form, back-lit, head lolling to one side, from the street below. 
I overdosed on culture – saw so many films, so much theatre, so many bands, so very many bands.  Listened to albums in my room, wrote appalling poetry watched by baleful Blue.  Ah…but hey, enough already.  You don’t need to see my old life; that funny mixed-up muddled-up girl I was once…
Back to Bakestone.  I have to be honest (because, truly, life is pretty crap if you can’t even be honest on your own blog, isn’t it?) their bread isn’t really my bag.  I like my loaf earthy, shall we say…sort of like solid oblong muesli, stuffed with seeds and nuts; the kind that wags its finger sternly at your bowels and then puts them through an army assault course. Adrian, on the other hand, goes for freshly cooked baguettes, straight from the local bakers. But James, has to be said, loved Bakestone, the whole fell kaboosh of it and is lobbying for more.  But I did scarf the potato cakes. :)
Memory eh?  Funny thing.  Bodyworkers know it can be held in muscle, in fascia, in the bone.  You can press a point and jump back in time, clear as day. But then, hey, it’s also in the nose, in the tastebuds, in the fingertips. And – riddle me this - how can some sensory experiences you come across be so so familiar, when you are pretty damn sure you’ve never had them before? 
Where are your memories held?  What transports you to a different time, a different place?  

And, because music can do it too - here's one of the tracks that hurtles me back to that room (and, incidentally, I used to share a house with the bass player on this clip - but years later and in London - yeah, go Vern!) 
And this... (no, no Tom Petty stories)

btw, check out Bakestore's Facebook page for recipes and stuff...

Friday, 16 September 2011

I trust therefore I float.

Trust. One of those words you think about, long and hard and deep.  Do you trust? Totally? Utterly? Unconditionally?  Very difficult.
But, you know…at some point, somewhere along the way, you have to trust.  You have to let go, lean back and just…float; knowing you’ll be held; that you’ll be okay. And if you're not...hey ho. You'll still be okay.
And ah…floating.  I first floated in London for a feature.  I didn’t like the idea of it at the time – couldn’t help thinking about William Hurt turning into a wolfman in Altered States.  But then I tried it and…oh my…total love in 18 inches of Epsom salts.  Every so often I’d Google floatation tanks and not find anything round here – at least not a proper floatation room (rather than a poky pod). But then, last week, I had a message from a lovely woman called Jules I met a few years back.  She practices Chavutti Thirumal, the Indian ‘rope massage’ – where you lie butt-naked on the floor and the therapist uses his or her feet to massage you, using an overhead rope for balance. It is, quite simply, bliss. Possibly the only massage I’ve ever had where, come the end, I feel sated, finished, done – rather than biting the therapist’s hand and wimpering ‘just another five minutes, please?’ 
Anyhow.  Back when I had an income, I used to go to Jules for the occasional Chavutti and heaven it was.  And now it seems she’s working at a new centre in Braunton and she asked if I’d like to come over and check the place out, have a massage, have a float.  And I said… well, what do you think I said?  
Actually what I said (about 15 years ago) was this.  Floating was developed in the 1950s by Dr John C Lilly, a medical doctor who was also trained as a psychoanalyst and a specialist in neurophysiology.  He found that floating helped people think better, learn more easily, concentrate more fully. Some said their creativity improved; others felt younger and healthier.  Some even claimed their sex lives rocketed.  Almost without exception, people insisted they felt much calmer and more relaxed.
This gives an idea but you float naked and in darkness
The almost complete sensory deprivation caused by floating seems to agree with both our bodies and minds.  Blood pressure and heart rate become lower and calmer while oxygen consumption improves.  People suffering chronic pain find that they can obtain relief, often not just for the hour or so they float but up to three days afterwards.  Floating seems to stimulate the body to produce endorphins, natural pain killers.  Meanwhile musicians, actors and writers frequently float because floating allows the right hemisphere of the brain to operate freely, allowing much more creativity, imagination and the ability to solve problems. 
One of its most successful applications is in the treatment of addictive behaviour:  overeating, smoking, drug-taking and alcoholism all respond remarkably well.  Phobias often clear up quickly and anxiety states frequently disappear altogether.
Apparently an hour’s float is the equivalent of four hour’s sleep. Oh, bring it on…(incidentally, the last four words I said last week – or rather I thought them).

If you’ve never tried it, really you should. And if you’re anywhere around North Devon or West Somerset then shake a leg over to Hands On (okay, that clause bothers me but never mind).  Their float room is lovely – with lights underneath and a star-spangled sky above. You simply shower, bung in some ear-plugs, lie back and then, when you’re ready, turn off the lights and…float.  And I did and it was fabulous. At first my neck hurt and my shoulders hurt and I realized just how tense I’d been.  So I let go, leaned back into the water and trusted it would hold me and do what it needed to do.  And it did.

As if that weren’t good enough, I also got myself massaged by Phil, who owns the place.  Now I’m not fussy about a lot of stuff in life.  Okay, so I have an apostrophe issue and I can’t bear jeans that aren’t long enough and bananas have to be blemish-free and just ever so slightly under-ripe and…oh, okay, so maybe I’m more pernickety than I thought. But when it comes to bodywork I seriously take no prisoners.  Back when I had a job I reviewed massage for a living (yeah yeah, jammy or what?) and I can tell the second someone puts their hands on me if they’re going to be good or not. Phil was good.  More than good.  Up there in my top five bodyworkers actually.  He’s trained in sports massage, ayurvedic massage and Reiki but there was all kinds of stuff going on and, yeah, at the end I had to resist biting his hand and going, ‘more, more, more.’

Sooo.  Bottom line.  Nice place.  Small, nothing to look at from the outside but bright as a pin inside and – if Phil and Jules are anything to go by – damn good therapists. They do all kinds of bodywork too (osteopathy, aromatherapy, reflexology etc) - and also hypnotherapy and medical herbalism. 

It’s about an hour’s drive from me but I’ll be back… in that, at the very least, I trust.  J