Friday, 28 September 2012

You have the right to remain silent...

So the SP and I were walking in the woods, the way we do. And the leaves are turning now, starting to sigh into Autumn. They’re not quite falling…except for those which seem to want to immolate themselves, tumbling perfect to lie stark, graphic splashes of saffron, vermilion and chestnut against the dark mud.  And all my usual medicine walk messages popped up – oak leaves, blackbirds (male), grey feathers. But I always want more. 

‘Y’know,’ I said to the SP, who listened intently, his eyes bright, his tail quivering.  ‘We haven’t had a sign lately. Not a big one.’  And he agreed, licking my hand with quiet intent.  And then, as we walked down the very steep bit at the end, coming back towards town, I saw something bright on the path right in front of us.  As in really bright pristine white.  With big pink lettering.  And a zip.  And it said:


Huh?  I picked it up. It can’t have been there for more than a few moment – it wasn’t even damp. Yet there was nobody around.  And I thought about how that applied to me and pondered.  But then I thought. Hmm, it’s not always about you, Jane, you spoiled greedy little bitch. J  Cos it was a leaflet from Amnesty International.  An organisation for which I’ve always had time and respect.  And it took me back to what I was saying the other day about how there’s nothing much we can do about stuff – y’know, about Syria and all.  But, hey, I figure maybe we can do a little bit, by supporting organizations like this. 

Anyhow, what did it say, this sign?  When I opened it up…

* When a 13-year old girl in Somalia is buried up to her neck and stoned to death.
* When peaceful protesters in Syria are arrested, beaten and murdered simply for voicing their opinions.
* When a woman is sentenced to 20 lashes and three years in an Iranian prison for wanting the same rights as a man.
* When a family in Nigeria is violently evicted from their home to make way for corporate development.

Whenever and wherever a fellow human being is persecuted, tortured, oppressed or abused you can have the right to stand silently by.

Or, of course, you can help people like Amnesty who try to help people like this. And I thought, shit yeah.  We don’t know we’re born, right?  Because so many people can't speak - they really can't. And it's not just places like Syria, and North Korea and Somalia. Look at Pussy Riot, look at what's going on in Russia and Belarus. Look at what's happening on the Internet. Check out Amnesty's campaigns - they might open your eyes to a little of what's going on.  

But what good does it do, for me to raise my puny arm here on this little blog?  Isn’t it just a case of making myself feel better, of feeling less guilty about swanning off to some lovely spa, while people are rotting in cells, while children are starving in Africa, when people are being tortured, FFS?  Well.  I feel like this.  If everyone who read this sent a donation to Amnesty or, if you really can’t afford a tenner, wrote about it and encouraged others to do so, then I guess it could make a difference.  Hey, it’s worth a try, huh?   Just remember…that while you have the right to remain silent…


PS...they also have a nifty shop... :
That's the badger! 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Blissful beauty in Bampton

So the phone rang and, to my utter amazement, I picked it up.
‘Hello, stranger.’
My friend Nicky. My cohort in extreme exercise crime. Except since cracking myself on the nose I haven’t seen her for…weeks.
‘I’ve left you tons of messages,’ she said. I glanced at the ansaphone and winced. Thirteen messages? Eek.
‘Shit. Sorry.  Er, wanna coffee?’ I said and we both laughed cos we don’t ‘do’ coffee. We usually ‘do’ three hours of Zumba or killer Pilates with weights and wotnot. Come to think of it, I don’t even drink coffee but hey…
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘But let’s go to Bampton.’

So we went to Bampton.  Lo and behold a parking space right outside my mum’s old house. Sigh.
And we toddled over the road into Toucan, which is this really nice café/bistro on Front Street.  When Mum was alive it was her second home – she loved the place.  So Nicky and I shot the breeze and then she said, ‘Come and have a look at this…’ And she pulled me up the stairs. 

Huh? She wanted me to go to the loo?  But it seems that Toucan has a brand new beauty room, all beautifully clean and fresh and kitted out in tones of cool grey and zingy lime.  Soft music playing - Rumer.  Aromatherapy candle burning - possibly fig. 

Well, blow me down with a feather - it turns out that Nicky’s daughter, Charlotte Richards, is setting up shop as a beauty therapist here.  Now this is seriously good news if you live in or around Bampton.  Cos Charlotte is good, damn good. Actually more than damn good.  She doesn’t do healing and wotnot but if you want really professional, effective beauty treatments, she’s your girl.  I used to visit her a lot while she was training and she’s a total natural.  Firm assured touch, lovely manner and she doesn’t feed you any bullshit.  Yes, she’s young but don’t let that put you off – it means her training is up to the minute and she’s fresh and enthusiastic.  And, to be honest, she’s way better than the majority of people who’ve been doing it for years. 

What can I recommend?  Well, all of it really.  She uses Dermalogica products which are pretty nice. Not my absolute favourite but still...they ain't half bad.  She’s given me lots of facials and they were all really good. Her body massages are divine. Pedicures and manicures are the business.  Eyelash and eyebrow tinting?  Yup. And the girl’s a whizz with the wax.  Let it be said – very clearly – she was NOT the one responsible for the butchered badger – no sirree. She does a very neat bikini line - and makes you laugh at the same time, which is no mean feat. 

Anyhow…check it out.  Book yourself a treat or buy a voucher for a friend. Go see her and say hello from me.  She doesn’t know I’ve posted this so hopefully it will come as a nice surprise. J

Brook Street Studios, Toucan Café, Brook Street, Bampton, EX16 9LY

Who's reading your private messages?

Yesterday I received an email from, an ‘online reputation management consultancy’ (Jeez, now there’s a hole in the market that was ripe for plugging).  It said this:

“Facebook Users Private Messages Made Public
Facebook users report that private messages from years 2006 - 2009 are being displayed on users timelines”.

And I’m like, er…wow.  Really?  So all those bitchy comments you made off your public Timeline, on private message, could suddenly show up all over the shop?  Oops. That could be embarrassing.  Or, as GotJuice pointed out, in a more business-like manner, private details like credit card details and addresses and so on could be ‘out there.’

You’re all looking – aren’t you?  I mean, right now?  Checking out your FB timeline, huh? :)

Relax. I looked into it a bit more deeply and it appears the scare started on Monday after French newspapers reported private messages mysteriously popping up on timelines.  But really it’s all a bit of a storm in a teacup, something about the formatting of wall posts reading like direct messages – so it’s now easier to locate previous wall-to-wall interactions.

But really, are you that surprised?  Everyone (surely) knows that whatever you do online has the potential of just leaching out there, endlessly wafting around cyberspace. Even if, like me, you delete everything pretty much as you go along?  Why should we be surprised that things like DMs on Twitter or private messaging on FB should be any different?  The possibility that they will seep is always there.  It’s probably safest if you assume that nothing is ever truly private.

But that’s awful, I can hear you say. Yes, it’s pretty crap that social media companies can’t keep your privacy assured.  But then, is it really their responsibility to keep your peccadilloes, your bitchiness, out of the public domain?  Your private details?  Well, that’s not so great but hey, there is email or phone for that.

Sometimes it amazes me, the huge underbelly of social media.  Up atop, the ocean ebbs and flows, the odd big wave but generally it just swells along.  Yet underneath, ye gods, there is a whole other world seething and moiling and erupting. 

I’m no angel – I’ve been swept along with it from time to time but generally, I try not to feed it though and I don’t like gossip.  Unlike Adrian, who is an inveterate lover of news, the more salacious the better, I simply glaze over when I hear about who did what or who said what. That’s other people’s business – unless it directly affects me, of course. And even then, half the time, it’s still not my business. 

Social media is a great networking tool; it’s huge fun; keeps you in touch with friends and family and can certainly help drive business too. There’s a lot I don’t like about it – like the way it gathers information about you (hence my probably futile deleting) and also the way it does seem to foster a culture of gossip and snide bitching.  Not to mention the sheer timesuckery of it. But hey, it’s all in the nature of the beast. 

Anyhow.  Most of us online are old enough and ugly enough to know what’s what.  But, on the very unlikely off-chance that anyone young and naïve is reading this (hey, Christian – that would be you!) I asked GotJuice what we should learn?  And their chap Mark Hall said: "Individuals need to think twice before sending any messages, posting status updates, sending a tweet or writing on forums or blogs, as on the web private information is not so private, and it just may come back and haunt you one day.

"Every time you update your Facebook status, upload a photo or send a tweet the information becomes public information. Even if you delete the photo or remove the tweet, it’s more than likely that a problem won’t go away, a friend could of retweeted the information, a photo could have been copied onto another site or a multitude of other things may happen. The end result is the same, things tend to stick around for a long time in cyber space.

"Your online actions could be used against you in later life, such as university admissions, recruitment managers, even potential dates. They will be able to view this information and form an opinion of you without having met you or having any further knowledge."

All I can say is, thank feck I’m unemployable.  

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

In which my chakras are brushed into shape with crystal wands

Warning: contains woo woo stuff... (yup, probably more than usual).

It often seems like life is so darn unfair; like we’re being thwarted and vexed at every turn. But I dunno.  Maybe you have to trust that things are working out for the best, in their own weird way.  Maybe we just have to be patient. Maybe everything you really need comes to you - in its own good time.  

I’m still feeling rubbish.  It’s so weird because I really truly don’t get ill normally.  Just the one cold a year to boost my immune system. But this virus thing has been wretched – and weird.  I'm saying weird too much, aren't I?  And I whined – just a little – on Twitter (before quickly deleting it).  But clearly not quickly enough as lovely Nicki Hughes sent me a message saying, simply: ‘This isn’t right. Come and have a treatment – as a treat – on me.’  And she said she’d like to do this new healing treatment on me – so new, it barely had a name.  And I said…well, what do you think I said? J

So yesterday I drove through the wind and rain to the Levels, back to Nicki’s lovely peaceful centre.  And she gave me rose tea and looked at me and looked…worried.  ‘When did this all start?’ she asked.  And I thought back and realized that, curiously, it had all kicked off after I smashed myself on the nose with a kettlebell.  ‘You should see a cranial osteopath,’ she said, and I thought, ‘Doh, why didn’t I think of that.’  Because everything in our bodies and minds is interconnected so if you whack one thing out of balance, everything else can go skew-whiff.  And, honestly, why else would my eyes be permanently brimming, like I’m on the verge of tears?  ‘But I can’t…y’know…’ I said and she said, ‘Yeah, I know,’ and then said she’d do what she could.

So there I was, lying buck naked on Nicki’s couch in her gorgeous room overlooking the garden. Covered with a light blanket, looking like death not even vaguely warmed up (me, not the blanket).  And she started by smudging me (to cleanse out my aura).  Interestingly she placed the smudge bowl on my abdomen and actually touched my skin with the feather, rather than just wafting the smoke over me.  And the energy started fizzing, reminding me that I really should smudge myself more often cos it’s so easy to pick up negative rubbish. 

The treatment itself is really unusual.  The aim is to break up and release any blockages on an emotional or energetic level.  So she handed me a couple of quartz wands to clutch and took me on a guided journey through the chakras, placing the relevant crystals on each chakra and getting me to visualize all the crap being sucked out with my out-breath.  Yeah, I know – it sounds totally weirdy-beardy but, y’know, it was great.  

I’m into shamanic stuff, as you know, and this sent my bioenergy tingling all over the place.  Particularly in my third eye.  And that was interesting cos I figured it would be my heart or throat which would do the fandango but no. Third eye whizzing, pulsating, going totally bonkers, having a party all on its own. 

Anyhow, once we’d cleared the shit from the top to the bottom, she massaged me using specific oils for each chakra and using…crystal wands.  It sounds odd but it’s really very lovely.  I never did tell you about the bamboo massage at Champneys, did I?  Well, it’s nothing like that.  Very gentle, very soothing and there’s this wonderful little click click every time the wands meet. 

Then, just when I was floating off into the ether she plugged me back to earth with hot stones. I’ve always been less than blown away by these in the past but as part of this treatment they worked…a treat.  And they made me realize just how cold I was. Cold to the bone. Cold to the soul. Again.  And really, I could have stayed there all day, cuddling the ‘father’ stone – a big bruiser. 

But all good things come to an end (or so they say)...  and so the SP and I said farewell to Nicki and drove back down the motorway feeling…a bit blissed out really. By the time we got home I was totally wiped.  And so we snuggled us up by the fire and…slept.  Cos sleeping is also healing…right? 

Do check out Nicki if you’re anywhere within kicking distance of Taunton or Langport in Somerset.  Truly – she’s worth the trip.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Love letters straight from the heart...

So, I was saying yesterday about how I’ve been looking through old letters, right?  Well, one of the reasons they've been on my mind is because a book I wrote last year has just come out.  It’s called Kind Regards and is basically an anthology on the lost art of letter-writing. 

Yes, I love letters. Real letters. Hand-written letters. Ideally letters that have been written from the heart, rather than from duty. Honestly, how can you not love them?  I have, not just the one box that I showed you yesterday, but a fair few boxes of old letters.  I can throw away most things without a backward glance but not letters, and not photos.  Reading old letters is like time travelling – it takes me back to the person I once was, with all my insecurities and anxieties and hopes and dreams. It reminds me of people who are no longer in my life. It’s a record of the loves and losses I have enjoyed and suffered over the years – my own personal history captured in ink.

Researching the book was a revelation.  At times it was quite emotional.  I knew many of the great letter-writers, but others came as delectable surprises.  Tender and passionate love letters stole my heart. Tragic last letters from people facing death brought a lump to my throat. The correspondence between parents of sick or dying children made the mother in me weep.

Psychotherapists believe that writing letters – honestly and from the heart – acts as a powerful form of self-therapy; that it can bring clarity and a means of expressing emotions. Somehow the act of putting pen to paper gives a further depth and meaning to the words – one that an email can never quite duplicate. Do you have to send the letter?  No. J

“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for, thus friends absent speak.” John Donne

I have many beautiful letters in my collection and many that make me laugh out loud.  For years my best friend Jane and I used to write long long letters to one another – looking over them makes me smile so much. We were so damn pretentious as teenagers – writing to one another in Latin, and quoting left, right and centre.  But the one that really cracks me up is where she carefully transcribed all the lyrics from several Black Sabbath songs.  Only downside? Her writing is atrocious! 

Sadly there are no beautiful love letters in my collection. Maybe I never had poetic lovers.  Maybe I just didn’t inspire beautiful letter writing.  I do have one curious declaration of adoration from a guy who wrote me a (very long) short story about how I couldn’t love him because I loved my cat too much – and then went on to describe how the cat was stolen and had experiments conducted upon him and lost his mind (the cat, this is).  Yeah, nice one, fella.  And nope, he never got into my knickers! J  

Then there were the weird sex psalms from this musician who had a wicked imagination and wonderful handwriting.  I tell ya, I nearly fell into bed with him over the shape of his Ss alone.  And, hilariously, the letter sent from a boyfriend when he was abroad and drunk.  Followed (apparently the moment said letter had slipped from his fingers into a mail box in Paris) by a frenzied email begging me to ‘Burn it! Throw it away! Please. Don’t read it.’  Umm, yeah…well, what would you have done?  

But love letters?  Real true love letters?  That stuff that scorches your soul? Nah. Nary the one. L

I mean…not letters like Katherine Mansfield wrote to John Middleton Murry… Not like those from John Keats to Fanny Brawne. Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf. Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas. Anais Nin to Henry Miller. Zelda to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Flaubert to Louise Colet. The list goes on and on. The kind of letters you would read again and again, hunting for yet more nuances, more levels of meaning. 

But anyhow. J Modern lovers, mainly - it has to be said - the young (whose idea of romance is a quick text) could learn a bit.  All I'd say is this:  if you love, write a letter.  Of course, it's not just about romance.  A letter doesn't have to be about soul-rending love: write newsy letters, thank-you letters, "I'm thinking about you" notes, a "Hello" card...whatever... Write, not just to your lovers, but to your friends, your children, your parents. If you can’t bring pen to paper, then yes, an email will suffice but the thing is – you can’t unfold an email; you can’t smell an email; you can’t trace your finger over an email and know that the other person's hand has moved over the selfsame paper.  Can you?  A letter is a direct psychic link with another person – it’s way beyond physical. 

Okay, so that’s a bit tangential and Kind Regards covers all manner of things to do with letters, not just soul attachments and so forth.  There is a little bit of history, some snippets about stamps and envelopes and anecdotes about this and that, and even a few hints on how to write letters, for those who may have forgotten.
And, if the name on the cover looks unfamiliar?  Well, what can I say?  I used a pen-name. J

Kind Regards is published by Michael O'Mara Books. It's available now in the UK and on Kindle - released in the US in December.  

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The past in a box...

So I’ve been sitting here, in my study, on the sofa, by the window, with the SP, with tears dribbling down my face.  And not just from the virus thingy.  I dunno why…(well, I do, but it’s not really important) but I opened up the wooden box that my brother had given me way back in the late sixties or very early seventies or thereabouts.  He’d been working in London with this guy who dealt in antiques (and who, incidentally, hung out with all kinds of major rock legends) and he gave it to me (my brother, not the guy, or the rock legends).  The box, that is. And it’s a bit of a memory chest…with stuff in it going way back. 

I haven’t looked in it for years but this morning I did.  And, oh my.  Such strange things; things I’d forgotten all about; letters from people that I haven’t read in…what?...forty years in some cases. Things like...
A photo of me and my sister with Father Christmas.  
A pic of me and my mum and the ridiculous dachshund, Bella, with the bald stomach (the dog). 
Invitations to 18th birthday parties, including one I designed for me and my (foster) sister’s joint party (the one which started off so well but ended in hilarious – in hindsight - disaster).  
Good luck cards, Congratulations on passing your driving test cards. Medals from the war. A rosette. Clippings from the local newspaper.  
My great-uncle’s indenture papers, his merchant seaman reports and his astronomical notebook.  
A Blow Monkeys’ single, with a large bite taken out of it. Why? Not a clue.
'Chin up' type postcards from friends...including one of Harrison Ford, which did make me smile.
And I read the letters – in this box mainly from my family.  My mother’s – practical, newsy, talking about animals and the weather, worrying about my manners and various coughs and colds and whether she should send me stamps and if I’d get a train back from somewhere or other because the petrol would cost £5 (obviously in the days when it was cheaper to travel by rail than car!).  My sister’s – well, just the one, laughing at how rubbish she was at writing letters and telling me about the Sunday joint (the meat one). And so weird, hearing her talk about her baby (my eldest nephew) and her bump, my second eldest nephew who hadn’t been born then, not to mention their three younger siblings who were…where? 

And the funniest, loveliest letters of all, strangely enough, from my brother.  From when he first went to America to live.  A few years after our father died.  He’s one of those rare people who writes pretty much exactly the way he talks (unlike his emails which are terse and to the point, to put it mildly).  And one bit really struck me…

‘Janie. Bean. I’d like to hear how you’re feeling – not so much how you’re doing at school – I’m sure you’re doing as well there as you want to.  So tell me – it occurred to me that you kept most of those feelings to yourself.  So let me know if you feel you want to – otherwise it’s OK if you don’t want to?! (if you see what I mean).’
I wonder what I replied?  I wonder if I did reply?  Cos he was right.  I did keep feelings to myself.  Always did. Always do pretty much.  Which is probably wise in many ways, but equally probably not very healthy.  Cos when you suppress feelings, they sort of stagnate and have a  nasty tendency to go bad.  And that, I wonder, is why I've been so ill?  Maybe it's time to get out my paints again.  Cos, though I never say or write what I really feel - I can't ever lie in paint. 

And then, at the very bottom, I found this - one of several 'Biff Kards' (anyone remember them?) and it made me laugh and laugh... 
So, tell me...have you got a box like this?  :-)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Please don't dose your baby with formaldehyde

The other day I was talking to someone on Twitter.  She was looking for wooden bunk beds and I said, ‘Hey, try and get ‘em secondhand.’  Not just because of cost (though heaven only knows that’s a big consideration) but because you won’t be running the risk of your child breathing in nasty toxic chemicals. 

It reminded me of when I was writing my little book Spirit of the Nursery.  It struck me that  parents always want the best, the freshest, the newest, for their babies and yet, sadly, newest and brightest and sparkliest often isn’t best for babies.  It’s ironic that many parents, acting purely out of beautiful best intentions, may unwittingly be providing a toxic nightmare for their baby. 

I hate to be alarmist but I figure in this case ignorance really isn't bliss.  Reports state we’re exposed to up to 300 volatile organic (carbon-based) compounds within the home. It’s thought that thousands of cancer deaths annually are brought about by indoor air pollutants – the hoard of chemicals that quietly seep into our homes.  And the greatest threat comes from new materials – from paint, soft furnishings, carpets, furniture, wallpaper – exactly what you’re probably planning for that gorgeous new nursery, huh?

Sadly, it’s a real concern as babies are even more vulnerable than adults to toxins. They’re smaller and have faster respiratory and metabolic rates, so they inhale pollutants far more easily and swiftly, and the build-up in their bodies is more concentrated.

So, what do you do?  Keep it all as natural as possible really.  Look out for paints which are water-, milk-, plant- and mineral-based.  Sure, they aren’t as mark-resistant as your average vinyl matt but who cares when they offer peace of mind.  Choose natural thinners, such as linseed oil and pine resin turpentine.  Recycled wood floors (carefully sanded) are lovely – lino and cork are also non-toxic.  Natural floor coverings (sisal, coir, seagrass etc) look great but are harsh on the knees and are a pure horror to clean (ever tried picking playdough out of seagrass? I don’t recommend it).

Don’t be sniffy about buying secondhand furniture.  Sand it down, clean it up and it’ll be good as new (and have more character).  Please, above all, avoid MDF.  I dunno if you know but they use formaldehyde in the manufacture of pressed wood products and it is released from the products over time – a process known as outgassing. How long?  Nobody’s quite sure but five years, possibly even ten, maybe even more.  What effects can it have? Watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, difficulty breathing. It may even be a trigger for asthma. And it’s not just used in MDF – formaldehyde outgases from many new products – carpet, carpet adhesives, and some fabrics. L

Funny thing, while I was writing this, a press release pinged in from VUPbaby.  They hadn’t crossed my radar as, well, my own baby is coming up fourteen now.  J  But I like their ethos.  They were concerned about the amount of toxins and chemicals, not just in nursery stuff but in children’s toys and general products.  They’re celebrating their third birthday this month and are offering lots of their best-selling products at a pound a shot.  Check ‘em out.

You might also be interested to know that Spirit of the Nursery is now available as an ebook for Kindle.  It’s not an interior design book but more a musing on how to provide your baby with the best possible environment for his or her early years. It includes a lot more safety tips but also more esoteric information on providing a safe space – physically, emotionally and spiritually – for babydom.  Obviously it doesn’t have pictures but I’m making up for the lack with a Pinterest board with all kinds of ideas and inspirations.  Hope you like it. J

Wine tastings are so last's the thing

Adrian’s away again.  Last week it was Zagreb, this week it’s northern Bohemia in the Czech Republic and then straight on to Munich for the Oktoberfest.  I can’t say I begrudge him one little bit – beer festivals aren’t exactly my game. J 

People (well, mainly men; well, okay mainly beer-drinking men) always say he has the best job in the world.  To which he always shakes his head.  ‘They think all I do is stand around boozing,’ he says, with a hangdog expression. And I raise an eyebrow. ‘Or sit around boozing,’ he adds and I nod.  He looks hurt. ‘There’s a lot more to it than that,’ he says with a sigh.  And I say, ‘I know.’ 

And, to be fair, there is.  He prepares for ages before these trips, talking to people, checking out the details of obscure bars and breweries, making contact with even more obscure brewers and publicans, making lists of which particular obscure beers and lagers he needs to taste.  And when I say taste, I mean taste as in the whole swirling it round the glass and sniff sniff sniffing thingy. And yes, the gobbling and swilling round the cheeks malarkey too.  

Because beer, you see (taste, smell, hear) is just as complex as wine.  I’ve never been much of a beer drinker (even when I drank) but I used to quite like the sniffing bit – yes, things like woodsmoke and grapefruit and mango and coffee and …oh you get the drift.  Adrian swears that beer is actually more complex than wine and that there is certainly way more variety.  He’ll even tell you that beer has ‘terroir’ – just as much as any grand cru.

Years back, when he announced that he was going to make a living out of beer, I laughed (and, I hold up my hands and admit, quite freely, that it was not laughing in a jolly way but more in a bitter and twisted way).  ‘Good luck with that,’ I said, mentally figuring I would need to write a couple more books a year to make up the shortfall.  But I was wrong.  Now he writes regularly for the Telegraph and for the Sunday Times travel magazine and for a host of specialist publications around the world.  He's won shedloads of awards for his writing. And he’s written a fair few books too – all in praise of beer and things beery.  So I eat my hat (or rather neck back my pint – or I would if…oh you know what I mean).  The Bonkers House now keeps afloat

Some of you already know this of course.  But what you probably don’t know is that he also does pretty damn good beer tastings and talks.  Honestly, I thought they’d be grim as hell but nope – turns out my husband can actually be damn funny and informative and…erudite.  People love them. They smile. They laugh. They make notes. They sip and slurp and nod at one another. They say he makes them thirsty.  Apparently you can't even get rid of them at the end of the night - they just wanna stay chatting and drinking and wotnot. 

So, I guess what I’m saying is this.  If you or your company or whatever is considering a wine tasting (you know – for one of those corporate thingies, or team building or wotnot) then maybe think again.  Go for beer.  It’s cool.  It's different. It's - er...edgy.  No, really, it's not just louts necking Stella or old guys in tweed caps with whippets nursing warm pints of mild. It's...y'know...rock and roll.  Jesus, even rock stars are doing it... 

Drop him a tweet or check out  his blog.  He’ll happily travel if you meet his expenses – and his fees aren’t aimed at city bankers.  Seriously – give it a whirl.

Ti Sana - Italian for "sort me out quick!"

Okay, so I have to confess (and I don't like confessing weaknesses), I’m still feeling rubbish.  Funny thing, loads of people lately have been saying to me, ‘Oh, you need to eat properly – you know, normal food.’ I suppose they mean as opposed to my usual funny diet of fruit, tofu and muesli (and lately not so much of the muesli).  But -  get this – I’ve only been feeling rubbish since I started ‘eating normally’ – ie proper meals (vegetarian still of course).  So maybe my body liked the light diet?  Or maybe I just need to be ill for a bit?  Who knows?

Anyhow…if I can just hang on a bit longer, I’m heading off at the end of the month to Ti Sana Detox Retreat, in Italy. Testing out their raw food detox for Natural Health magazine.  Oh yeah! 

And what do they promise?  ‘Bright eyes, a beaming complexion, a toned physique and a brand new positive outlook’ Bring it on, babes!  Cos, not to put too fine a point on it, I look like forty shades of shit right now. J

Actually I’m more than a little excited about this.  I love Italy (one of my bestest old friends is an Italian contessa) and this place gets great reviews.  Alongside a diet of organic raw foods and juices (with most of the ingredients home-grown), there’s a gym, a sauna, pool and steam plus plenty of exercise classes and I get scrubbed and massaged and generally fiddled around with… Okay, so I’m not quite so wild about the idea of the Angel of Water treatment (fancy Italian for colonics) but hey…I’m going with the flow. Basically I'm going to let them do with me what they will. 

Plus there’s a consultation with the spa doctor and a battery of tests.  And I like tests.  Hey, I even used to like exams.  So, all I gotta do is limp through the next week or so and then, I’m off, off and away…and the nice people at Ti Sana can sort me out. 

Where is it?  Oh yeah.  Forgot to mention it’s in an 18th century village in Lombardy – the centre’s been created out of an old Italian noble’s house near the River Adda.  Not far from Milan, not that far from Lake Como…

Fancy coming? J

Wellbeing Escapes - a nifty UK company specialising in spa and wellbeing holidays are sorting it all out for me...Take a look at their website and drool...  

Monday, 17 September 2012

Knee-deep in mud... why? Why?

I haven’t been hanging around social media much over the last few days.  Truth to tell, I’m still  not feeling great and the screen has been doing my eyes in, so I spent most of the weekend curled up by the fire, watching the flames and…y'know...dozing, dreaming.  J

And then I logged onto Facebook and came back to earth with a crash.  Saw this picture, posted by Hen (she of the wondrous yurt) and just thought, why?  WHY? L

At first I thought they were pigs.  But no. These are sheep, Australian sheep.  The caption read:

Six weeks after being packed into a live export ship and sent halfway around the world, this is the miserable end for the thousands of Australian sheep caught up in the Ocean Drover disaster. Rejected by Bahrain and 'fast-tracked' to Pakistan, this photo taken in Karachi on the weekend shows they are now knee-deep in mud in hot and humid weather, at a clearly unsuitable holding facility. Pakistan has declared them diseased, and ordered them culled rather than sold for slaughter.”

And I know awful things are happening – to people, quite apart from animals – all over the world. But sometimes an image is so graphic it just hits harder than any number of words. And while there is not a huge amount you and I as individuals could do about, say, Syria... we could surely do something to stop this kind of cruelty?  I mean... why?  Why do we send live animals over the ocean, subjecting them to huge stress and misery, just so they can be killed and eaten elsewhere? Why? 

As some of you know, I don’t eat meat but please…this isn’t a case of rampant vegetarianism. I’m not telling you what to do; I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat meat.  I’m just saying, this kind of thing surely wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t the demand for cheap meat?  If you’re gonna eat meat, then please – think about where it comes from. Think local, think small-scalefarming.  Think about supporting farmers who actually care about the animals they rear.  Yes, it will be more expensive; probably a lot more expensive.  But then, I guess I’d say – maybe don’t eat so much or so often.  Even Adrian, who is a confirmed carnivore, has a meat-free day once or twice a week.  

One of the best cookbooks ever (IMHO, from back in the day when I used to cook) is Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery.  In it she explains that the healthiest (and tastiest) cooking (all over the world, not just in Europe) tends to use meat in moderation, as flavouring rather than the main event. 
It makes perfect sense to me.  But then, we just don’t like to think about where our food comes from, do we?  It puzzles me, it really does, that people will happily munch a steak that has come from god knows where yet will wrinkle their noses with distaste at game – which has at least lived free with space to breathe and run and fly.  It’s a mixed up, muddled up world for sure. Or will carefully ensure their children get their five pieces of fruit and veg a day but will happily feed them burgers and sausages made from heaven only knows what. 

All I’m saying is…just maybe think about it.  Eat what you choose – truly, it’s your choice – just be aware of what you’re eating and where it came from. It's not only better for you and your family but, by  heck, it's one helluva lot better for sheep like those poor sods in Karachi.  

Okay, that's it.  Back to the fire.  

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sleep meditation, dream yoga and astral playdates

So, I’m reading The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep.  Slowly. Cos every time I read a page I fall asleep. J

Why? Cos I wanna be able to meditate when I’m asleep. Seriously, how cool would that be? The idea is that, eventually, you learn to remain aware at all times, even during deep sleep.  Why? Um, cos it’s possible I suppose. Because I love meditating while awake so figure more of a good thing is great. Because sleep seems like such a huge waste of time. And also because I’ve had a glimpse, just the tiniest glimpse, of what maintaining consciousness during sleep can do.

When I was younger, I used to be able to lucid dream really well, quite easily. At first I used it just for fun. I'd go eavesdrop on friends or I’d head off travelling.  It was awesome – shooting over huge waterfalls in Brazil or scooting over the desert in Arizona. Or flying up and up and up, through the atmosphere and out into space. 

But then, after I did art therapy and  read a lot of Jung, I started using lucid dreaming in a more serious way.  I trained myself to ‘go lucid’ whenever I had a nightmare – and I would confront the monster or whatever and find out what it really was, underneath its scary skin, beyond its sharp teeth.  And, once the skin was removed, the teeth had stopped tearing and biting, once the bright light of consciousness had shone on it, had brought it out from the shadows, the monster stopped being fearsome – and that particular nightmare would cease.  

If you stay lucid in a dream, you can ask anything – and receive answers that just aren’t possible in the waking state.  

But now? Oh who am I kidding?  I can’t even keep control of my mind during daytime consciousness. I really am like Dory in Finding Nemo – a two minute, nay two second, memory span. And I have lost the ability to lucid dream entirely.  But I'm not giving up.  Nobody said it was easy but if I’ve done it before, I can do it again, right?  Because really, it shouldn't be hard.  After all, everything is a dream anyhow.  We dream our world, our experiences, each and every one of them.

Whether we’re awake or asleep aren’t we just experiencing our mind’s projections?  Of course there are logical limitations – if we jump off a building we won’t tend to fly (in waking life); if we walk into a fire we will get burned (ditto) and so on.  Though humans can do extraordinary things under certain circumstances - I've had a few strange experiences myself.  And bear in mind that there are yogis who think nothing of flying or walking through (not just over) fire or translocating. But I think I’ll have to save that training for another lifetime. Unless, of course, I take a quantum leap. J

But the dream training is actually quite helpful, particularly when it comes to emotions, desires – even if it doesn’t result in lucid dreaming.  When a reaction arises, you simply remind yourself that you, the object or person and your reaction to said object/person are all dream. Your reaction to anything and anyone does not originate ‘out there’ but 'in here'. Your reaction is entirely down to you, your thoughts, your mind.  Your choice. 

Easy huh?  I wish. Maybe I’ll start by going back to astral touristry, or astral playdates.  Y’know…baby steps. J